Flexibility of Ingredients in Giant Robot Anime

On the recent Anime World Order podcast there was an e-mail from a listener lamenting the lack of “real mecha anime.” The AWO guys (Clarissa was absent) concurred with his view, and said that, while they understand the argument that elements they don’t enjoy in current shows were present in past robot anime, the ratio of ingredients for baking this “cake” has changed for the worse. As one of the people who speaks about elements of current robot shows being able to trace their elements back to previous decades, and who has argued this point before, I agree that the shows of today are different. Different things are emphasized to differing degrees, and the robots are not always used in the same ways as they would in the past. My question in response is simply, what is wrong with this change?

From what I understand, when Anime World Order and their listener say they desire proper mecha shows, what they are actually looking for are shows heavily featuring action, power, and manliness as represented by giant robots. While I too am a fan of cool robots shooting lasers and all sorts of diplays of machismo, and I’m aware that Daryl and Gerald’s tastes are not exactly the same as their listener, the problem is that if you define “proper mecha” as such, then the genre becomes extremely limited.  Who draws the line to say, “this is the correct amount of robot prominence in a mecha show?” You can point to Mobile Suit Gundam and say that it’s a show that has the “right ratio” of elements, but I can point to Mazinger Z and say how actually different it is compared to Gundam in terms of narrative focus and even the ways in which the robots are used, not to mention the differences between Gundam the movies vs. Gundam the TV series. How about Superdimensional Fortress Macross, which (indirectly) takes the Char-Amuro-Lalah love triangle and transforms it into a main draw of that series?

The reason I bring this up is firstly because I want to emphasize how much  that ratio has changed even within the conventional history of robot anime (and I am deliberately avoiding bringing Evangelion into the equation due to its unusual position), but even more importantly because the shows which “get it right” in the current age are the product of adjusting the ratio in favor of a certain perspective on what giant robot anime should be like. Shin Getter Robo vs. Neo Getter Robo is brought up frequently in the podcast as an example of a relatively recent giant robot anime done right (or at least in the spirit of the old stuff), but it does not actually have the same ratio of elements as the robot anime of the past. If anything, it’s somewhere between the tamer Getter Robo anime of the 1970s and the harsher Getter Robo Go manga in terms of action and violence, and to highlight certain elements of each while ignoring others makes not for a show like the old stuff, but one which emphasizes certain desired elements from the previous works. This is hardly a problem as Shin Getter Robo vs. Neo Getter Robo does in fact offer the things that AWO says it does, but it’s also the result of distilling a robot anime into something more focused and specific to the preferences of particular viewers, which is not that different from the objections leveled at the current audience of robot anime.

I understand that this criticism is primarily aimed at Code Geass and other anime like it which put characters front and center in their stories and use robots for flavor. While I could argue that shows like Votoms do the same thing only in a way which emphasizes a masculine ideal, if we assume that current shows simply do not have enough robots, then I have to ask why the thrill of violence and power should be the primary motivation of robot anime? AWO speaks of the sacrifices that robot fans must endure in current mecha shows, but what about the same sacrifices people made in the past to enjoy those old robot shows when the ratio may not have been ideal for them? If people see elements such as romance, attractiveness of characters, drama of war, friendship, or any number of themes in robot anime, then I think it’s fair to say, “You know what, it’s cool that those elements are there, but wouldn’t it be great if there were anime which really brought those things to the forefront for people instead of having them buried beneath layers of action?” Using robots as a means to tell the story at hand, having problems solved by thoughts and intentions instead of by robots as a power metaphor, those sound like great ways to convey a narrative or express an idea. De-emphasizing power in a giant robot anime can and often does lead to interesting things.

Turn A Gundam, which isn’t a “modern” mecha series like Code Geass, but still places both a different level and type of emphasis on its mecha component, results in an overall stronger story because of it. The 2004 remake of Tetsujin 28 is hardly like the old 1960s one, because the theme shifted from “isn’t it cool that this kid has a robot?” to “exploring the post-war condition of Japan and the specters of the war through this robot as a science fictional element.” Yes, the latter theme was part of the original manga and anime to an extent, but by not having to value the proper “ratio,” it was able to do more. Robotics;Notes possesses many of the “flaws” of current robot anime such as an emphasis on high school, a lack of robot action, and a strong dose of drama, but it’s also an anime which emphasizes the thematic purpose attributed to giant robots. It uses the intimacy of a high school setting to show the bonds the characters have with the concept of giant robots, and does so by utilizing the “modern formula” that is supposedly anti-mecha. In all three cases, their amount of straight-up conventional robot fighting is less than expected, but it allows them to serve different purposes.

Gerald spoke of Die Hard and how keeping its constituent elements but not understanding it as a whole does not necessarily make for a proper Die Hard. That might be true, but why are we limiting the scope to just one movie? Action movies can be Commando, but they can also be Highlander or The Dark Knight. If that example is too broad, then let’s look at a franchise like The Fast and the Furious. After four movies about racing cars in deserts or highways and having some vague infiltration plot, Fast Five comes out and changes the formula into what is essentially a heist film. By focusing more on action with purpose and the teamwork element, and being less about the cars themselves, the result is a much more solid and well-rounded film which is still undoubtedly of the action genre.

Or to put it in terms of Daryl’s analogy, yes if you change the proportion of ingredients when baking a cake, you get something different. The thing is, cakes are but one possibility. What we have now are robot pies, robot souffles, robot quiches, robot donuts. You might prefer cake in the end, but all of those are equally valid and can be equally delicious.

SRWZ2 Saisei-hen Out Already?! And It Has Tetsujin 28?!

Recent events have made me aware of how out of the loop I am with the mecha fandom. Whereas I would’ve once known and posted about it within days of the first announcement, this time I wasn’t even aware of it until someone linked me to a video the day it came out.

(Thanks, Jorge.)

Probably the most surprising thing about the new game is that, finally, after something like 20 years’ worth of games in the franchise, the grandfather of the heroic giant robot, Tetsujin 28, has made its SRW debut. Now, all of the questions about how Shoutarou factors in will be put to rest (he doesn’t even appear next to the robot, meaning he won’t accidentally get smashed by falling debris).

Granted, it’s not the original 1960s Tetsujin 28 here, but rather the 1980 remake, Emissary of the Sun Tetsujin 28 (not to be confused with Emissaries of Light Cure Black and Cure White, or Brave of the Sun Fighbird). I have to wonder why they decided to go with this iteration, as opposed to the ultra-90s remake, or the more recent Imagawa adaptation, but I figure it probably has to be for one of two reasons (or maybe a combination of the two). First, its style meshes the best with all of the other robots in the series, and so it has the least chance of sticking out. Original Tetsujin, which also appears in the 2004 version, is too clunky and rough, and the 90s version is too beefy and doesn’t share enough of the iconic look of the original. Second, as per the reason Space Emperor God Sigma got into SRWZ (the director said, “I liked it as a kid so now it’s in the games), maybe someone just wanted it in there.

One thing I find interesting, however, is the fact that they managed to get Tetsujin 28 in any form into the game at all. I remember hearing that back when Super Robot Wars Alpha 3 came out that they were originally going to have Giant Robo: The Animation in, just as they had it in the first Alpha game, but that the license had become too expensive after the creator of Giant Robo and Tetsujin 28, Yokoyama Mitsuteru, passed away. But now years later we have what might be his most lasting legacy ever in an SRW game. What gives? Was that rumor merely just that? Is the cost perhaps the reason why there are so few new series in Saisei-hen? Does being an adaptation factor in, much like Godmars?

In any case, check out the game’s animation. It is fantastic.

Crush Them, Giant Pluto

Before I actually talk about what this post is about: If it wasn’t clear from my blog anniversary post, I am thankful for everything going on in my life.

I recently finished Urasawa Naoki and Nagasawa Takashi’s Pluto, a widely acclaimed series which has people hoping it might some day meet its brother Monster in being adapted into anime. The likelihood of this happening is way up in the air, but as I was reflecting on the series, I decided that if Pluto were to indeed become an anime, I would want Imagawa Yasuhiro as director.

Pluto is loosely based on a story from Tezuka Osamu’s Tetsuwan Atom/Astro Boy, taking “The Greatest Robot on Earth” and turning it into a suspenseful mystery. One of the themes in the series is the “human” element of robots, particularly how the Greatest Robots on Earth (and those somewhat less great) are affected by war. In many cases, while they might not be outright traumatized, it’s clear that fighting and killing their fellow robots by the scores has an impact on how they view and value life. This in many ways resembles the Imagawa-directed 2004 Tetsujin 28 anime, which took a manga title from Tezuka’s contemporary/rival Yokoyama Mitsuteru and gave the series the benefit of hindsight by having it be primarily about weapons of war both mechanical and biological and their place in a post-war environment. It’s quite a good show and gives a lot to chew on, and it’s this anime’s success that has me believing that Imagawa would be the best fit for a Pluto adaptation, though he might have to tone down some of his typical stylistic choices.

Besides, a series like Pluto wouldn’t run the risk that Tetsujin 28 did with its retro character designs and would probably be more marketable as a result. Or I guess you could just go around that almost entirely.

I Want to Be the Very Best, Ready to Fight for What’s Right Against Wrong, in America

Heroman feels like a return to an old idea, and probably not in the way you’re thinking.

When we think giant robots, we usually think of robots being piloted from within or being some kind of sentient being, but Heroman is neither (at least, not as of Episode 2). Instead, he’s an entity separate from the human, controlled through a remote device. Sound familiar? It’s the same premise as that progenitor of giant robot anime heroes, Tetsujin 28.

But as I implied, the giant robot moved away from having its hero exist separate from it, and that’s been the trend ever since. While there were attempts to bring back this idea on occasion, I think the reason it failed to succeed was that it just didn’t seem as exciting or as practical as having a cockpit. After all, I’m sure just about anyone who watches any incarnation of Tetsujin 28 will wonder why they don’t just target the completely vulnerable human controlling it. The answer, of course, is that Shoutarou would stab you in the neck and set you on fire because that’s how Shoutarou rolls (no, really), but the basic idea is that it just makes more sense on a variety of levels to in the protective bosom of your mecha. At least, that’s how I see the evolution of that general trend in giant robots.

But then when you think about it, the idea of the remote-controlled giant robot is surprisingly similar to a genre which supplanted mecha in popularity, profitability, and marketability: the monster battle anime, of which Pokemon is by far the most famous. And in time, this turned into not only monsters but mechanical creatures as well.

So we’ve gone from a remote-controlled giant robot to piloted robots to kids battling using monsters to kids battling using mechanical devices, and now with Heroman, a remote-controlled robot servant fighting alongside his owner, it’s  like we’ve come full circle.

As an aside, does anyone else get the feeling that this post is a product of me having recently finished Tetsujin 28 combined with me getting back into Pokemon? Yeah, I thought so.

An Ally of Justice, a Subordinate of Evil, a Symbol of the Past and the Future: 2004’s Tetsujin 28

Yokoyama Mitsuteru’s Tetsujin 28 is one of the landmarks of anime and manga, a classic among classics and a significant influence on the history of comics and animation in Japan. It is widely considered the “father” of the giant robot genre, being the first notable manga to feature a towering humanoid behemoth of steel and jet engines in a heroic role. It rivaled Tezuka’s Tetsuwan Atom in popularity, bringing with it a more base thrill than Tezuka’s stories. One thing Tetsujin 28 did not do, however, was really look at its own contents and try to incorporate them into a greater story, which is where the 2004 anime adaptation of Tetsujin 28 comes in.

Tetsujin 28 2004 was directed by Imagawa Yasuhiro, who is known for his work on shows such as G Gundam and Giant Robo the Animation: The Day the Earth Stood Still. The latter is of particular significance, as Giant Robo is adapted from a manga/live-action show by Tetsujin 28‘s creator Yokoyama, and acts not only as a story of gaining maturity and forging destiny, but also as a tribute to Yokoyama’s works in general. So Imagawa, being no stranger to the works of Yokoyama, approaches this adaptation by putting a subtle, yet profound spin on the story of Tetsujin 28, using in the 21st century what was not available to Yokoyama back when he was creating the original manga: hindsight.

Tetsujin 28 is the titular giant robot of the series, and in the story’s premise it is a product of World War II, a super weapon designed to fight the Allies that finds a new purpose in post-war Japan. Its “master” is 10-year old boy detective Kaneda Shoutarou, the son of Tetsujin’s original creator. With his trusty remote control, Shoutarou uses the iron golem not to wage war, but to protect peace and stop crime. With these essential ideas, that of a weapon of destruction finding a new identity as a guardian of good, and the young boy at its controls, Imagawa transforms Tetsujin 28 into a story about the relationship between the people of post-war Japan and the demons of their past, tying the characters and stories from Tetsujin 28 into actual historical events and paralleling the development of Shoutarou and Tetsujin with the development of Japan.

Though Tetsujin 28 is most certainly a giant robot series, it is not as much of one as you might think. Many times the episodes feel more like detective fiction, and in a great number of instances the antagonists don’t even utilize giant robots. Instead, the recurring theme among the villains in Tetsujin 28 is that they are all relics of World War II and the weapons developments that were going on at the time, ranging from artificial intelligence to hideous disease to genetic manipulation and a host of other mad sciences. Shoutarou must constantly confront the past and the horrors that came from the very same war in which Tetsujin itself was created. That’s not to say that giant robots are out of the question, of course. The series takes Tetsujin’s greatest rival, the Black Ox, and increases its role in the story. This is actually a hallmark of director Imagawa, his interest in fleshing out villains, and he ends up giving a somewhat similar treatment to Ox as he did Baron Ashura in Shin Mazinger.

The strength of the visuals in Tetsujin 28 are perhaps best exemplified by the show’s portrayal of Tetsujin itself. While Tetsujin’s face is completely static, it is still able to convey a sense of mood and emotion by utilizing a technique from the No plays of Japan, where the apparent expressions on No masks change depending on the angle at which they’re seen. Viewed from below or straight on, Tetsujin’s eyes appear large and friendly. From above however, the visor on Tetsujin’s head turns its expression into a vicious glare, a look often enhanced by changing the color of Tetsujin’s eyes from a bright yellow to a menacing red.

The show’s visual direction isn’t all good however. Tetsujin 28 has this odd tendency to use these extremely awkward digital transitions which can really jolt you out of the show. They really do stick out poorly, though it’s my only real complaint in terms of visual direction.

There is a near-constant gravity in the 2004 Tetsujin 28 series, and it can be a lot to take in, especially if you expect the series to be as lighthearted as its source material, and doubly so when you factor in the potential incongruity of the tone of the series and the character designs. Everyone in the show, from Shoutarou to Police Chief Ohtsuka to scoundrel Murasame Kenji are drawn to resemble the original manga’s look, with only slight updates to their designs. The animation looks new, but the characters look very old-fashioned, and Tetsujin 28 thus potentially runs into the same problem that Tezuka’s work does in front of a modern audience. To the show’s credit however, while the character designs are old-fashioned, almost none of them take on the useless slapstick roles that characterized older series. Ohtsuka in particular benefits from this transformation, as his role as police chief is greatly expanded upon and he is shown to have an iron resolve fitting his position. Many other elements from the original series are taken as well, such as the fact that the 10-year old Shoutarou not only drives a car but also carries a loaded gun and isn’t afraid to bust a few heads to reach his goal. Again, it can be a difficult pill to swallow.

Overall though, Tetsujin 28 is a very intelligent show that asks a lot of good questions, and is thoroughly entertaining throughout, though it can get depressing at times given the subject matter. At 26 episodes, it’s a bit of an investment but I think it pays off very well.

I Don’t Not Not Know About This Not-Ending

I recently finished the Imagawa-directed 2004 anime adaptation of Tetsujin 28, and knowing that Imagawa played around with a lot of the existing material the source manga by Yokoyama had to offer, I began to wonder just how the original manga ended. I could not find any information on how Tetsujin 28‘s manga ended. So I thought, hey, I’ll start researching on Japanese sites, but then I stopped myself for a second and had to ask, why is it that there is so little information on how Tetsujin 28 ends? Or for that matter, something like Tetsuwan Atom?

I do know that Tezuka tried to end Atom a number of times and was forced to bring his most famous character back every time, and that Tetsujin‘s original manga isn’t exactly the most serious and serial of stories. And it’s one thing if something said, “This story never ended,” or “This story just kind of tapers off,” or even, “This story has a non-ending.” But there isn’t even that little. And I’m not condemning anime fans or anime researchers for ignoring this. It’s just that I find it incredibly odd that, despite Tezuka and Yokoyama being such big deals, somehow this information is not common knowledge, especially in this age where it’s difficult to go down two websites without tripping over ending spoilers.

Anyway, once I’ve found out this information, I’ll be glad to share it.

Oh!! That’s a New Year

Oshii Mamoru… and a Play About Tetsujin 28???

Below is an article from the Mainichi Daily News’ website, translated for your convenience.

Actually it’s for my convenience as it lets me practice my Japanese, but we’ll leave that aside.

Tetsujin 28: A 500kg Iron Man Stands Tall! Minami Kaho Claims the Robot “Has a Life of Its Own” at Public Dress Rehearsal.

The robot manga Tetsujin 28 [Originally brought to America as Gigantor] by Yokoyama Mitsuteru (deceased) has been transformed into a play by Oshii Mamoru of Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence fame. During the public dress rehearsal on the 9th, viewers witnessed the roughly six-meter-tall [approx. 19.7 ft], 500 kg [approx. 1102.3 lbs.] Tetsujin. They also showed the climax where main character Kaneda Shoutarou (played by Minami Kaho) rides in Tetsujin’s hand as the robot itself stands up.

For the theater edition of Tetsujin 28, Oshii Mamoru helped with both the script and production. Originally known as “Prototype 28,” the giant robot emerged towards the end of the Pacific War as a decisive weapon of the Japanese Army and is later revived in 1964 around the time of the Tokyo Olympics. The story tells of boy detective Kaneda Shoutarou, who takes control of the Prototype 28 in order to fight against a terrorist organization. After the dress rehearsal ended, Minami Kaho remarked that to her surprise she was able to sense life in the robot, claiming, “It feels as if it has a life of its own.”

The performance will be open to the public in Tokyo at the Galaxy Theater  from January 10 – 25. In Osaka, the performance will be at Umeda  Arts Theater’s “Drama City” from February 5 – 8. S-rank seats go for ¥11,000 [$121 US] while A-rank seats go for ¥8000 [$88 US].

Writer: Kawamura Naruhiro (I don’t actually know how you’re supposed to pronounce this name. If anyone could help that’d be great)


People know I like giant robot anime, but at the same time I like to think that my taste in anime is pretty diverse, as is my collection of actual anime DVDs. I’m proud to say I like mecha and super robots, but I don’t like being pegged as solely a fan of giant robots.

Then I passed by a row of anime dvds in my room (there’s other DVDs elsewhere) and I noticed Godannar, Gravion, Tetsujin 28, Eureka Seven, and Infinite Ryvius all lined up next to each other.

At my feet right now are the Gurren-Lagann LE box 1 and Zambot 3, too.

I don’t know if this is actually a lot, but it’s just this feeling that if I were in a tv show or something I would be all, “You cannot simply place me into this narrow category you call ‘mecha fans’ dear,” but then my own room would betray me.

And somehow they wouldn’t notice all the Genshiken DVDs stacked up next to each other. Alas.

We Are Iron Men

Japanese and American comics have been cross-pollinating for a few years now, and it becomes easy to forget that once upon a time the two creative worlds lived in relative isolation. It’s all the more impressive, then, when common themes occur from stories which are decades old. One such example is the comparison between one Tony Stark and one Kaneda Shoutarou, two characters who are associated with the term “Iron Man.”

Tony Stark, hero of the Marvel Comic and recent film “Iron Man,” is a weapons manufacturer who dons a suit of armor to protect the world when he is made to realize that he can do far more good preventing war than being responsible for it. Kaneda Shoutarou, hero of Tetsujin 28 (Iron Man 28, aka Gigantor) is a boy who fights crime with the help of a remote-controlled metal giant, a remnant of Japan’s desire to defeat America in World War II created by his very own father prior to his death. Both characters are faced with artifacts of war, and both characters choose to re-invent their tools of destruction to try and achieve peace.

It’s not surprising that two stories which utilize an “Iron Man” would have such a similar theme of trying to learn from past mistakes, even when applied to different cultures. When speaking of periods of humanity, the Iron Age is always most closely associated with mankind. Golden, Silver, Bronze, and other such precious metals speak of easier, more innocent times, and neither Stark nor Kaneda have quite that amount of luxury. Iron, more than any other metal, is associated with forging and bending to human will, after all. That said, I should point out that their respective comics debuted in what amounts to the Silver and Golden Age of comics, respectively, in their native countries.