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Robot Detective

Entry updated 24 April 2023. Tagged: TV.

Japanese tv series (1973); original title Robotto Keiji. Toei Company. Created by Shotaro Ishinomori. Directed by Atsuo Okunaka, Itaru Orita and Issaku Uchida. Written by Masaru Igami, Shoichi Nakahara and Shozo Uehara. Cast includes Shūsei Nakamura, Kaku Takashina and Jirō Yabuki. 26 25-minute episodes. Colour.

Veteran Detective Shiba (Takashina) is not pleased to be transferred to the Special Scientific Investigation Lab and teamed up with K (voiced by Nakamura), a Robot (see Crime and Punishment). Shiba, very much an officer of the old school, is dismissive of K; though another colleague, Detective Shinjo (Yabuki), is more sympathetic. Their first case is a locked-room mystery, the culprit being a robot who can disassemble into small pieces then reassemble, enabling it to enter locked rooms through their vents.

The show's regular antagonist is BAD, a criminal organization that hires out robots for dishonest work – usually murder: those who employ BAD discover it is wise not to break their contact. K will fight a different evil robot each week, and sometimes BAD's Cyborgs as well,: their first and sometimes second confrontation usually sees no clear winner or K defeated, but he is victorious in the last battle – usually by finally getting round to firing the small cannon in his chest (later he is upgraded with three cannons on his head and rocket launchers in his shoulders). K dresses in a yellow flat cap, red double-breasted blazer and white trousers, which are all divested dramatically prior to most fights; he also has infra-red eyes, which are useful for detection, and is able to fly (as can his car). If all seems lost he goes to the coast and cries "Mother", whereupon an enormous white robot appears and – off screen – provides advice or repairs. This is not explained this until episode 22, adding a mystery element to the series. We learn that Mother and the founder of BAD are siblings, their late father being a Scientist who had built the giant robot, with the daughter building K to foil her evil brother, whilst hoping eventually to cure him. By the last episode BAD have based themselves on Mars and plan to set Earth's oceans aflame, so K flies to Mars in the Mother robot to stop their leader – who in the end is anticlimactically killed by one of his own robots, to his sister's distress.

BAD's robot's have the eccentric designs and capabilities expected of a Tokusatsu television series: some with reasonably sensible abilities involving magnets, Invisibility, saws, electricity, lightning and suchlike; others with the powers of lockers, springs, gears and suds. The special effects make reasonable use of a limited budget, though occasionally the model work is weak. The fight scenes are sometimes repetitive, but can be fun – as when K battles a robot on a display of trampolines.

Isaac Asimov's Lije Baley and R Daneel Olivaw were an inspiration for this series. A Manga by Shotaro Ishinomori, beginning just before the show was broadcast, is darker in tone; the television version had started fairly seriously but soon became more light-hearted, save for K's occasional bouts of melancholy. [SP]


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