Back when the original animation series Giant Robo: The Day the Earth Stood Still was new on VHS, I rented each episode in succession and was enjoying them up until episode 6 ended on one hell of a cliffhanger. Unfortunately for me and many other fans, the 7th and final episode in the series wasn’t out — and wouldn’t be out for almost three years! In the meantime I lost track of things amidst the likes of Neon Genesis Evangelion and school.
I’ve just spent the last week watching the whole series, more than a decade after its completion, and I’m pleased to say Yasuhiro Imagawa’s mid-’90s re-imagining of Mitsuteru Yokoyama’s ’60s manga series hasn’t aged a day. The animation quality is top notch, and the accompanying orchestral score is still one of the best to grace an anime, with even each credit roll getting its own unique composition.
The story is set in the near future with the third energy revolution only 10 years old. Petroleum and nuclear power have been replaced by the seemingly perfect Shizuma Drive; a non-polluting energy canister-type device that now powers virtually everything on the planet. Mixed with the high tech are turn of the century design motifs like air ships, and characters which seem to have time-traveled from a fantasy medieval China, inspired by Yokoyama’s Romance of the Three Kingdoms manga. This concoction is a bit bizarre but works, and though the late episodes throw new characters into the mix at an insane pace, the early episodes manage to sketch in the key players well enough that you’ll care about them.
The only catch with the Shizuma Drive is the Tragedy of Bashtarle: a catastrophic explosion that wiped out nearly a third of the world’s population during a botched experiment with the drive’s prototype. The accident was blamed on Professor Vogler, one of the scientists who worked with Dr. Shizuma on the drive. The series starts as the late Professor’s spirit reappears to take vengeance on the world, backed by the terrorist organization bent on world domination; Big Fire. The only thing standing in their way is Interpol’s Experts of Justice; super-human special agents that take on Big Fire’s Magnificent Ten in wild kung-fu-inspired fight scenes. Among the Experts of Justice is Daisaku Kusama, heir to his father’s masterpiece, Giant Robo.
Despite its title and genre, there are surprisingly few fights involving Giant Robo, let alone giant robots. The main characters do most of the fighting in hand-to-hand combat that would make the X-Men blush. There’s enough Giant Robo to satisfy fans, but the story doesn’t really revolve around him, or the ones that appear in brief cameos in the introduction. Giant Robo is an excellent example of direct-to-video productions, and despite the somewhat rushed and dissatisfying ending, the road there is worth taking. Some characters and seemingly important elements get tossed aside in the finale without a second thought, such as Big Fire’s robot Poseidon. This is probably due to director Yasuhiro Imagawa’s plan for a saga comprised of many such episodes, with this particular series taking place near the end. It’s a damn shame the eluded-to series that would have preceded and continued the adventures of Daisaku and his giant robot never materialized.
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