In many ways, 1984’s Giant Gorg feels like an “anti–giant robot” anime. Sure, it has Yasuhiko “Yaz” Yoshikazu (one of the chief visionaries of Mobile Suit Gundam) as both director and character. And it’s indeed about a boy and his mecha guardian in the middle of a conflict that stands to change the entire world. But where most giant robot series before and after would aim for some combination of bombast, gritty science fictional realism, and/or gripping human melodrama, Giant Gorg often comes across as more concerned with atmosphere and conveying a sense of place in the world.
Giant Gorg follows 13-year-old Tagami Yuu, a Japanese boy who travels to New York City following clues about the death of his father. This takes him on a whirlwind adventure, all the way to the mysterious New Austral Island, where he learns about a mysterious organization named GAIL that seeks to discover the island’s secrets. There, he encounters a massive robot—Gorg—that seems to obey his every command. With a group of allies by his side, as well as the might of Gorg, Yuu works with the natives to push back GAIL, but he may have an even closer connection to the truths of New Austral Island than he realizes.
I enjoyed Giant Gorg for its moody feel, its excellent artwork and animation, and the fact that it feels more like you’re jumping into a specific time and place in world events. On the other hand, I would not call it “riveting.” While I had the ability to watch many episodes in one sitting, I rarely would watch more than two or three because the anime doesn’t really set itself up to compel viewers to keep going. Events that finish a given episode in Giant Gorg feel like the half-way point for an episode of Mobile Suit Gundam. Whereas the latter might leave you off with tears and shouting, the former more often hits the ending credits with the reveal of a hidden cave or something.
Because of this, Giant Gorg feels unabashedly Yaz. Whether it’s a manga set in the dawn before the Russo-Japanese War or his retelling of the Gundam story in Gundam: The Origin, Yaz tends to focus on giving his stories the same feel as a fascinating but dense historical text. This makes it all the easier to see what he and Gundam director Tomino Yoshiyuki each brought to that franchise—Yaz’s attention to detail and physical realism contrasts with Tomino’s chaotic energy and far-reaching visions. It’s like Yaz is a master baker who can produce incredibly well-made cakes, but never quite got the hang of how to do amazing icing. Giant Gorg, in turn, can feel both like a distillation of one man’s style and half an anime.
As a final note, I want to end off by recounting a sort of “personal history of Giant Gorg”:
I was studying abroad in Japan in 2005 when I saw a commercial for the upcoming DVD release of Giant Gorg. I had heard of the series before, but was mostly struck by how fantastic the robot itself looked. It’s an aesthetic that stayed with me for a long time.
Ten years later, I found myself sitting near the front of the Sunrise anime studio panel at New York Comic Con 2015, alongside my friend Patz. The presenter was going through a list of Sunrise series available in the US, when Giant Gorg came on-screen. The series had been licensed for US release just months before, and as mecha nerds, both Patz and I began shouting with excitement. We were sitting close enough to the presenter that she noticed and, with a surprised look on her face, asked, “Really?” The two of us responded by shouting, “GOOORG!” in unison. We were just excited for the opportunity to own such an obscure and gorgeous piece of anime and mecha history. While Giant Gorg won’t go down as one of my all-time favorites, its flavor is unmistakable and appreciated.
PS: There’s an antagonistic group in the show called the Cougar Connection led by Lady Lynx. The jokes are silly and obvious, but I can’t help chuckling every time it comes up.