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Giant Robo

Entry updated 28 March 2022. Tagged: TV.

1. Manga (May 1967-March 1968 Weekly Shōnen Sunday), written by Mitsuteru Yokoyama.

Big Fire, a secret society planning to take over the world, creates "Project GR", which involves the building of giant Robots. They kidnap and imprison teenaged tourist Daisaku Kusama believing him to be a United Nations Special Agency (UNSA) agent sent to investigate them. When they activate GR-1 a malfunctioning gauge causes an explosion which enables Daisaku to escape, then stumble upon the robot's control system in the rubble; GR-1 registers his voice as its master. Daisaku teams up with the UNSA, whilst Big Fire try to assassinate him and recover GR-1, sending giant robots GR-2 and GR-3 to do so; but GR-1 defeats them. Big Fire also steal a hydrogen bomb and take it to their underwater headquarters – but GR-1 destroys the base and recovers the bomb.

Artist Satoru Ozawa also worked on the manga's early issues. It is noticeable that between volumes one and two Daisaku's appearance changes from someone apparently in their mid teens to that of a boy, possibly reflecting how in the 1967 live-action television series (see 2 below) the character is played by a ten-year-old. [SP]

2. Japanese tv series (1967-1968; vt Johnny Sokko and His Flying Robot). Toei Company. Directed by Minoru Yamada. Written by Masaru Igami, Hirō Matsuda and Mon Shichijō. Cast includes Akio Ito, Mitsunobu Kaneko and Hirohiko Sato. 26 24-minute episodes. Colour.

Though based on 1 above, this version has many changes to the story. A Spaceship arriving in Earth's atmosphere is harried by Japanese fighter planes; it contains the Alien Emperor Guillotine (Sato), who declares his intention to conquer the Earth: after shooting down the jets, he hides in the Pacific. Months later, a liner crossing the ocean is attacked by a Monster: Daisaku Kusama (Kaneko), a boy, and Jūrō Minami (Ito), a secret agent investigating the disappearance of ships in the Pacific, are washed up on an island occupied by Big Fire, the organization set up by Guillotine to execute his plans. The pair meet a Scientist who has been coerced into building a giant Robot: he hands the control device – which resembles a wrist watch – to them, then sacrifices his life so they can escape.

GR-1 is 100 feet tall, has a jet pack and fires missiles from its fingers; its design gives the impression that it wears an Egyptian nemes or striped head-cloth. As the control device is voice-activated and Daisaku was the first to speak into it, the robot obeys only him. So he, assisted by Jūrō, leads the fight against Guillotine. The Emperor usually takes a back seat, leaving his Big Fire agents – which can be human, alien, robot or a Supernatural Creature – to do the dirty work, usually involving a monster of the week – often a Kaiju – which GR-1 defeats. Members of Big Fire are fitted with bombs which explode if they are captured

This is a Tokusatsu series in which GR-1 and some giant monsters are played by men in suits – such as Dakolar, a tentacled sea monster; the Satan Rose, a mobile alien plant (see Triffid); Ligon-Tyrox, a bipedal horned lizard and Drakulon, an alien Vampire who spends most of the episode human-sized, then grows huge to fight GR-1; however, there is some variety, such as an enormous flying mechanical hand and a giant eye. Though regularly outsmarted, Guillotine is at least aware that GR-1's main weakness is that its controller is a child, and in the final episode hires an assassin; however, despite firing from close range, he only wounds Daisaku. In the end Guillotine becomes a giant and warns that, being made of atomic energy, he will explode if attacked, so destroying the Earth: however, without instructions from Daisaku, GR-1 carries Guillotine into space and crashes into a meteorite, killing them both – and apparently traumatizing many young viewers.

This might be considered an early Mecha series, depending on the definition used: GR-1 is remote controlled rather than piloted. Dubbed into English, the series was released in the USA as Johnny Sokko and His Flying Robot; additionally, a US television film, Voyage into Space (1970), was compiled from some of the episodes. [SP]


3. Giant Robo: The Day the Earth Stood Still. Japanese Original Video Animation (OVA) (1992-1998; original title Jaianto Robo – Chikyū ga Seishisuru Hi; vt Giant Robo The Animation: The Day The Earth Stood Still). Mu Animation Studio. Directed by Yasuhiro Imagawa. Written by Eiichi Matsuyama and Yasuhiro Imagawa. Voice cast includes Koichi Chiba, Tomokazu Seki, Sumi Shimamoto and Kappei Yamaguchi. Seven 40-59 minute episodes, plus three specials. Colour.

This is a tribute to the works of Mitsuteru Yokoyama: though more or less centred on Daisaku Kusama (Yamaguchi) and GR-1 (see 1 above), it features many of the characters Yokoyama created throughout his long career: including those from genre works such as: Akakage (1966-1967 Weekly Shōnen Sunday); Babel II (1971-1973 Weekly Shōnen Champion; original title Babiru Ni-sei); Mars (1973 Weekly Shōnen Champion); The Name is 101 (1977-1979 Monthly Shōnen Champion; original title Sono Na wa 101); Sally the Witch (1966-1967 Ribon; original title Mahōtsukai Sarī) and Tetsujin 28 Go (1956-1966 Shonen Magazine); others were drawn from his historical manga. A notable omission is the giant Robot Tetsujin 28-go, which would get its own anime series directed and written by Imagawaa few years later – see Tetsujin 28 Go (2004).

The story is set ten years after the invention of the Shizuma Drive, a clean energy source which has replaced nuclear, oil and all other Power Sources. It was created, so the official history goes, by five Scientists; they were under pressure to complete their research and one, Professor von Vogler (Chiba), rashly activated an untested sample that destroyed the country of Bashtarle and caused the Still Energy Phenomenon, where the world's energy failed for a week, resulting in the death of two-thirds of its population (see Disaster). The remaining four scientists perfected the drive and a prosperous, Pollution-free world followed: however the BF Group, led by the suspiciously silent Big Fire and whose members include super-Villains and giant robots, wish to repeat the Still Energy Phenomenon: to do this they need three containers holding Vogler's anti-Drive – they already have two. Battling them are a team of Superheroes called the Experts of Justice, who hold the third container, and include Daisaku and GR-1 – the latter having the advantage of being powered by Nuclear Energy rather than by the Shizuma Drive.

However, we learn it was the four other scientists who recklessly went ahead with the experiment whilst Vogler urged caution: but as he died shortly after and the others lived – and they were needed to perfect the Drive – he was made the scapegoat. His daughter, Ginrei (Shimamoto), and son, Genya (Seki), survived: Ginrei joined the Experts, feeling her father's dream of a clean, pollution-free world was best honoured by keeping silent; but Genya – believing his dying father had given him instructions on how to achieve revenge by destroying the world – joined the BF Group. However, the Professor was aware the four scientists' updated Drive was, in the long term, fatally flawed, and had devised a way to correct this: so Genya is surprised to find enacting his father's plan simply betters the world. The series has a subplot concerning the internal politics of the BF Group – whose ultimate intentions remain unclear – with the final episode ending on a cliffhanger regarding them.

Notwithstanding the equivocation voiced under 2 above, in the final scenes GR-1 becomes a true, if temporary, Mecha. With its title nodding to the film The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), this is an exciting series and visually a delight; despite many vivid action scenes, the show is character-driven, with much talk of sacrifice and of fathers – though very little of mothers. The series was not a big success in Japan, but is one of the most memorable Anime of the 1990s.

As the show took longer to complete than planned, three 30 minute OVA specials called Ginrei (vt Giant Robo: Ginrei Special; vt Gin Rei) were released during 1994-1995. Subsequently Imagawa wrote, with Yasunari Toda illustrating, the manga Giant Robo: The Day the Earth Burned (September 2006-January 2011 Champion Red; original title Jaianto Robo – Chikyū no Moetsukiru Hi) which – though set in a different reality – does follow up on the show's loose ends concerning the BF Group. [SP]


4. GR: Giant Robo. Japanese animated tv series (2007). A.C.G.T. Directed by Masahiko Murata. Written by Chiaki J Konaka. Voice cast includes Daisuke Namikawa and Miyuu Sawai. Thirteen 26-minute episodes. Colour.

After a vision of a young woman, V (Sawai), eighteen-year-old diver Daisaku Kusama (Namikawa) is drawn to some underwater ruins near Japan (see Under the Sea); his presence triggers the advanced Technology he finds there. Daisaku's DNA is rewritten; he is told he cannot die and will now control the giant Edolph. An enormous pyramid then emerges from the sea and opens to reveal Edolph – who we know better as GR-1 (see 1 above).

In the past year other giant robots have been appearing: these are controlled by an organization called the Gigantic Rebellion Operators (GRO), who use the actions of the GRs to cause fluctuations in the stock market which they profit from (see Economics). They also own BFN, the world's most popular news channel (see Media Landscape), whose selective reporting furthers their financial manipulation. Unlike previous iterations of the show, where GRs are directed using a control box, here the operators are mentally linked to their robots – which have an organic component called avatars. Whilst Daisuku's connection to GR-1 does not harm him, the GRO GR operators, who use a different method, are mentally damaged by the process. GRO are opposed by UNISOM, technically the United Nations Army, but practically an extension of the US Government. Events lead to a battle between a pair of GRs controlled by GRO and UNISOM.

V explains to Daisaku that long ago the GRs were created to destroy corrupt civilizations: they defended the earth from Alien invaders, so enabling the human race to develop. She adds that if humanity's actions lead to the destruction of the GRs – as seems about to happen – then a GR called Zero will arise to judge us – and V is Zero's avatar. Daisaku asks who is responsible for this; V replying it was the Ancient Gods, who appear to have been beings from another Dimension. In the closing scenes V is trapped inside Zero as its avatar, but with GR-1's help Daisaku frees her, whereupon Zero is destroyed by GR-1.

Though by no means a bad series and having some ambition – at one point Noam Chomsky (1928-    ) (see Linguistics) is invoked – GR: Giant Robo is muddled, slow moving and often a little dull; whilst giant robot fights are not its main focus, those that do take place are unremarkable. [SP]


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