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Sunday, March 17, 2013

Attack of the Supermonsters: Defying Tradition & Expectations

With the Idea Factory anime out of the way, for the time being, at least, I am now at 96 reviews, and to get into the right mindset for Review #100, every review up through it will have a theme to it: Obscure Edited English Dubs. To be exact, these aren't simply dubs that ran on TV all the way through; no, these are dubs that either are (purposefully) incomplete or are downright infamous. To start it all off, let's go with what I had originally planned to be Review #100, but later changed my mind on... And, surprisingly enough, it wasn't as bad as I was expecting it to be.

I like tokusatsu ("toku" for short), that style of production that utilizes explosions, giant areas made of models, and suitmation, a.k.a. a guy in a rubber suit. I liked watching Power Rangers as a kid, I enjoy Kamen Rider nowadays (& have tried getting into Ultraman), and I will always love the likes of Godzilla & Gamera. Usually toku is a live-action thing, but in the late-70s a brave attempt at mixing toku with anime was made: Kyoryu Daisensou/Great Dinosaur War Aizenborg (or "Izenborg" in some cases). Aizenborg was a co-production between Tsuburaya Production (the people behind Ultraman) & Studio DEEN (not Toei, as some places indicate), which featured animated characters interacting with live-action environments & fighting against toku-styled villians (i.e. suitmation & puppetry dinosaurs). Lasting for 39 episodes from 1977-1978, Aizenborg was a modest production with an interesting idea behind it (interesting enough to get mentioned over at the Golden Ani-Versary blog, at least), but it essentially stayed in Japan until 1983, when Associates Entertainment International/AEI brought over the first four episodes in the form of a compilation movie titled (The) Attack of the Supermonsters (at least, I'm guessing it's 1983, because the credits say [sic] MCMLXXXIIL, which would be 1982[50], so I'm guessing the "L" at the end is a typo). Featuring some notable old-school voice actors, this compilation movie may be extremely cheesy but it's also pretty fun watch.

Dinosaurs once ruled the Earth, but died away billions of years ago. Unbeknownst to humans, though, some dinosaurs actually survived and lived under the surface, evolving to the point where they have become psychic & can even breathe fire, laser blasts, & radioactive gas, making them "Supermonsters". Now, under the command of the evil Tyrano (Gottesu in Japanese), the supermonsters decide to attack the surface & destroy the humans, unless they agree to become slaves. In order to stop the supermonsters, Dr. John Carmody (Dr. Torii) has created the Gemini Defense Squad (D Sentai/Squad), made up of brother & sister duo Jim & Gem Starbuck (Zen & Ai Tachibana), Wally Singer (Ippei Kurosawa), & Jerry Fordham (Goro Kambara), who pilot the Gemini Vehicles (Izen Vehicles). If all else fails, though, Jim & Gem are actually augmented humans (cyborgs) who can combine into the powerful Gemini (Aizenborg) for 3.5 minutes, transforming their Gemini Vehicle (Izen I) into a force that can defeat the supermonsters.

As I mentioned before, this movie is simply a compilation of the first four episodes of Aizenborg, but treating the entire thing as one single movie. The first part (The Dinosaurs Appear! Launch the D Squad! in Japan) introduces the main characters & their battle against Tyrano, who has a Gorgosaurus hypnotize dogs into becoming red-colored monsters that attack any humans nearby. The second part (Close Call! Ai & Zen) has Dr. Carmody explain the situation to the president until they get attacked by a swarm of giant bats lead by a Pteranodon. The third part (Dinosaur Corps! The Terrifying Rat Tactic!) has a Stegosaurus hypnotize hundreds of rats into attacking a power plant. The final part (Deadly Strike! Aizen Cross Cutter!) is about the team fighting against the duo of a Styracosaurus & an Allosaurus, but an argument between Jim & Gem only makes things harder.

In general each episode follows the same monster-of-the-week format, Episode 1 & 3 essentially follow the same animal tactic, but luckily each part makes up for similar execution by not wasting time. While other shows of this type might take up a lot of time letting everything come to a head at the end, these stories tend to get right to the point as soon as possible, letting the toku portions take the field & focus. The closest any of these parts get to the usual style this kind of show takes on is the third part, which features a sub-plot of Michael's, Jim & Gem's friend, little sister getting involved with the rats, which leads into the conflict. While that does keep the heroes kind of barebones in terms of character development, one must remember that this movie only represents about 1/10 of the entire series, so there's likely enough development in those later episodes. What is here is enjoyable enough, though.

Part of the enjoyment, though, is definitely in the stuff that goes on, and that's all because it's a 70s production through & through. There is definitely a cheese factor in this movie, made all the more obvious with moments like blatantly repeated animation (any time there's a lot of humans or animals running about, it's literally only two or three models being repeated over & over) & some silly moments. For example, during the climax of part three, Michael decides to help out in the battle, even though he can't do anything. Upon seeing him in danger, Gem wants to help her friend out, but Jim feels it's too dangerous, and when she argues with him Jim simply slaps Gem & tells her to keep her priorities in order... Followed by Jim going out and saving Michael, anyway. In that same episode, Michael's sister only gets involved with the rats because she literally chases after one single rat through the entire city for the entire day until she becomes lost. And then there's the live-action bits, which feature all sorts of wacky camera movement when Tyrano is on-screen and the entire production really just looks like Godzilla with 1/100 of the budget. It's also highly entertaining to see all of the Japanes kanji everywhere in the live-action backgrounds, not to mention the Gemini vehicles outright having "Izen I", "Izen II", & "Izenborg" on their sides, even though they are never referred to as such.

That's not to say that the live-action portions are all bad, though, because these bits give the show some surprising violence to it. When Jim & Gem combine into Gemini (by the way, since it's a man & woman combining, does that make Gemini/Aizenborg androgynous?) their vehicle becomes more powerful, and also is filled with sharp objects, specifically a giant drill in the front & two sawblades on the wings. These weapons result in the dinosaurs getting cut up & bored through on a regular basis, with some of the results being surprisingly brutal. For example, the Pteranodon in part two has its wings sliced up to the point where it shouldn't be able to continue flying, and the Stegosaurus in part three & dinosaurs in part four all get the Gemini vehicle plowed through them, complete with some bits of the suits flying out the back. Finally, every dinosaur explodes upon defeat, and the chunks of the creatures can go anywhere. The Stegosaurus' head is front & center on the screen & on fire for about a good five seconds after having blown up, and you see the Allosaurus' head fly away after it blows up... That's pretty damn violent for a kids' show! It certainly isn't helped by the dub heavily using words like "kill", "death", & "guns", stuff you wouldn't hear in a kids' show anymore nowadays.

But I know what a big question is: How well do the live-action & animation mix? Surprisingly, the mix actually works out surprisingly well, mainly because it doesn't try to go beyond the technology of the time. Usually you see animated characters on top of live-action backgrounds, which work well enough considering the limitations, but you don't see too much interaction between the two forms of production. In fact, the biggest example of interaction in this movie was a moment when Dr. Carmody opens a live-action door for Gem, which actually worked out really well & looked believable. As long as you don't expect anything along the lines of Who Framed Roger Rabbit? you'll do fine here. Another surprise, though, was the use of Aizenborg's original music for the movie. As I mentioned, this movie is simply a compilation of four episodes, with only the opening & ending sequences removed, so there was no reason to change the music due to edits. In fact, if a portion of a scene was likely removed, like when the rats actually attack a man, the footage simply pauses there for a couple of seconds; granted, it's not a smart edit but it still allows the music to be kept intact. Remember, this movie was made in the early-80s, when anime was usually brought over with new music all the time, so seeing the music kept intact is pretty cool. If there's one main problem in this movie's execution, though, it's that there isn't any ending whatsoever; the fourth part's ending happens, followed by a credits roll & a "THE END" splash, and that's it. I can't really complain, though, since this is only the first four episodes of the actual show...

Finally, there's the cast, which features some good-ol' legends. Jim is voiced by Dan Woren (Caster in Fate/Zero, Byakuya in Bleach), Gem is voiced by Robin Levenson (Sammie Porter in Robotech), Tomy Wyner (Devilmon in Digimon Adventure, Quent in Wolf's Rain) narrates & also is the ADR Director, the venerable Michael Reynolds voices Tyrano & almost every other dinosaur, & there's even Cam Clarke (Liquid Snake in Metal Gear Solid) & Joe Perry. As for the overall dub production itself, it's a mixed bag. It definitely has a cheesy style to it & at times feels like those old Godzilla dubs (i.e. performances sometimes sound awkward & lip flaps aren't always the focus [though flaps generally match here]), but some audio editing is weird. For example, it's pretty hard to understand most of Michael Reynolds' lines because of the echo effect that all of the dinosaurs have. Still, it isn't a horrific dub, and overall it still fits the general mood of the movie: B-Movie Cheese.

I went into Attack of the Supermonsters expecting an extremely cheesy compilation dub of an obscure anime that was only worth watching because of how bad it is, & expecting the mix of live-action and animation to be laughable. What I got out of it was an extremely cheesy compilation dub of an obscure anime that actually was legitimately enjoyable, & the mix of live-action and animation was simple but effective for the time. True, there's a lot of extremely silly moments & the general idea of anime heroes fighting super-powered suitmation dinosaurs using their model vehicles is downright ridiculous, but the execution really worked, & the result is a very, very silly yet still fun movie. My guess is that this movie had rotation of random TV channels throughout the 80s before going into obscurity, but it's not like it never had a home video release. In 1998, Celebrity Home Video released this movie on VHS, and in 2007 Telavista actually put out a DVD release that's still in print today! It's amazing what you can find on DVD, isn't it? Anyway, up next in "Obscure Edited English Dubs" is a dub for a TV anime that's based on a popular video game series, yet was never finished when it came over to North America... And apparently it's a pretty good dub.


  1. I always dig how one of the guys on the team kinda looks like Charles Nelson Reilly in a lame role!

  2. wow, a blast from the past. You might not know this, but it was dubbed in arabic and broadcast in the Middle East back in the early 80s under the title "Iron Man". All 39 episodes were broadcast, they remained true to the story lines but changed most of the character names.