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Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Demo Disc Vol. 5: Rowdy Robos

The Spring 2016 season has started, and there are shows that I am looking forward to, eventually, watching; maybe I'll even watch them as they come out. But before I go full bore into the likes of JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: Diamond is Unbreakable, Ushio & Tora Season 2, & My Hero Academia, I have something else to do first. Yes, it's time for another Volume of Demo Disc, and this time we'll be returning to the subject of Volume 1 & checking out another selection of anime featuring robots of the giant kind from the 70s to the 90s, plus a robot of the smaller kind from the 00s.

King of the Vast Sky, Groizer X
Knack (now known as Ichi Productions) will forever go down in anime history for being two things: Cheap & Derivative. Now, to be fair, the studio's later OVA productions of the 90s, like Crows or Grappler Baki, were respectable & overall enjoyable anime, but there's no way that short productions like those will ever remove the mark (or maybe it's just a pit stain) of Knack's TV output of the 70s & 80s. Titles like Gekko Kamen, Astroganger, Chargeman Ken!, & Attacker You! were either very cheaply produced or were very blatant copies of more popular anime (or even both). Oddly enough, however, one prolific creator was more than happy to work with Knack on two occasions, and that was Go Nagai. The first time it happened was in mid-1976, shortly after Toei tried to cheap out on having to pay Nagai for helping create the concept for Daiku Maryu Gaiking; while fighting Toei in court, Nagai worked with Knack to produce another mech anime. Said anime would be Groizer X, which ran until early 1977 for 36 episodes, though nowadays the mech is more known for a different reason, but we'll get to that. Anyway, did Knack manage to make Groizer X different from Nagai's other giants with the first episode?

Joe Kaisaka is a stunt pilot who returns home with his friends after winning another gold trophy in a flying competition. Shortly after arriving to his hanger home, though, a mysterious object crash lands in the woods nearby. What Joe & his friends find is a giant robot piloted by an injured woman. After she comes to at the local hospital, the woman, named Rita, asks for Joe's help in combating the incoming invasion by the alien Gaira Empire, who have decided to start with Japan. Rita comes from Gaira, but decided to defect in order to save Japan, taking the giant robo Groizer X with her. With some teaching from Rita, Joe manages to pilot Groizer, both in its flying form & robot form, & stop an initial skirmish by Gaira on a nearby airbase.

There, so glad we don't look stupid in these.

Considering the mixed pedigree behind it, what with Go Nagai's legendary status yet also Knack's, well, knack for being cheap & imitating, I was surprised to find Groizer X's first episode to be better than expected. That being said, it's by no means anything special; it merely gets the job done. Quite honestly, this first episode sometimes felt like it was padding out more than really establishing anything of note. Sure, we get a fair idea of what kind of person Joe is (professional pilot, steadfast & ready to help, etc.), but that's really it. There are a couple of neat twists to Nagai's usual formula, though, like having the obvious equivalent to Boss be the wannabe partner to Joe, and his Nuke & Mucha equivalents are Joe's buddies instead, while Rita is at least conceptually more of an actual partner & confidant than someone like Sayaka; her being Joe's teacher is a nice start. Also, the concept of Groizer itself, in that it's a giant flying ship that transforms into a robot, wasn't all too common at that point, though Knack's show was competing directly with Toei's UFO Robo Grendizer at the time, also a Nagai creation; Grendizer simply detaches from its flying ship, however, so that's a point for Groizer. Still, there could have been more done with this first episode, especially since a lot of the story given here just feels lazy. Japan is invaded first because of "strategic reasons", but it's obvious it's simply because the show was made in Japan, while Joe is seemingly chosen to pilot Groizer for no other reason than simply because he was the first person Rita saw upon coming to in the hospital; she's lucky the first guy she saw was a professional pilot. I did find the fact that Groizer has a literal "Tachyon Beam" to be amusing, though. Still, Groizer X's first episode, though not terrible (aside from Knack's cheaper animation, which I felt was obvious & not worth bringing up), really is nothing more than simply serviceable. Seriously, though, what it up with those helmets?

Still, Groizer X did manage to stay in the minds of the Japanese populace since it first aired. There have been numerous model kits & diecast metal figures released since the 00s (I have one, actually) & it got included in the Dynamic Super Robot Soshingeki/All-Out Attack!! short that was included alongside Shin Getter Robo vs. Neo Getter Robo in 2000-2001 (which, sadly, Discotek's release doesn't include), but the coolest was at the end of the 00s. When Yasuhiro Imagawa created Mazinger Edition Z: The Impact! (generally called Shin Mazinger for short) in 2009, he decided to bring back Groizer X as a series of enemy robots that Dr. Hell uses in his fight against Koji Kabuto. Can't say that for Knack's other Go Nagai mech anime, 1983's Psycho Armor Govarian... Well, okay, Govarian did get to fight in that short, too.

Demon of the Mecha Dimension
While nowhere near the first mech anime Tatsunoko Pro ever created, both Gowapper 5 Godam & Toshi Gordian predate it from the 70s, 1981-1982's Golden Warrior Gold Lightan (it doesn't sound quite as redundant in Japanese) is probably the most well known & iconic from the studio. It's also the directorial debut of a (then) 29 year old Koichi Mashimo, who would go on to direct F, Dirty Pair: Project Eden, Eat-Man ['97], & the Girls with Guns Trilogy (Noir, Madlax, El Cazador de la Bruja), as well as many others. Gold Lightan himself would go on to become a bit of a second tier legend among giant robots, i.e. he's not as ubiquitous as the likes of the various Gundams, Mazingers, & Getter Robos, but once you learn about him you won't ever forget him. Lightan's last notable appearance was as a playable character in the fighting game Tatsunoko vs. Capcom for arcades & Wii, where he was one of two "giant" characters that played without a partner; the other was the PTX-40A mech from Lost Planet. Regardless of his legacy, though, how was his introduction to the populace in Japan?

To the people of the Earth, it was nothing but an underwater earthquake in the Pacific Ocean off the shore of Japan. In reality, however, it was the forces of King Ibalda breaking through their home in the Mecha Dimension to the third-dimensional world. For their first act against humanity, Ibalda's forces emit a soundwave that turns all nearby dogs into crazed beasts. Luckily for humanity, a young boy named Hiroshi "Hiro" Taikai, a member of his cram school's self-named "Bratty Brigade", finds a golden lighter that he decides to keep, not knowing that it's actually Gold Lightan, a Mecha Dimension warrior who fights to protect Earth from King Ibalda & his army.

Just give him a yellow tracksuit & it can be a Bruceploitation anime.

Whereas Groizer X's first episode was nothing more than, well, safe & basic in its execution, Gold Lightan's introduction is nothing but outright fun. The main thing working in this episode's favor is simply the sheer amount of personality it exudes while watching it. Whether it's small things like a complete roll call-style introduction by the narrator for each & every member of the Bratty Brigade, complete with "aliases" for each of them (though Emi's alias is Emi... Okay then.), or the utterly silly but absolutely delightful plot to make all of the dogs in town turn against humans, when you watch Gold Lightan's first episode you know you're in for a good time. Probably the most surprising thing about the show is in how proactive Hiro is as the requisite child lead. The OP sequence shows him beating up a couple of of Ibalda's grunts, which is shocking enough, but when his little sister Ohira tries to follow their dog Chibi & winds up getting surrounded by crazed dogs, Hiro is the one who saves her... By beating the crap out of a bunch of dogs like he's Bruce Lee. Sure, he ends off with a flying headbutt that works more like Jackie Chan than Bruce Lee, but seeing the child lead be a brave little badass in the first episode is definitely different from the norm for this genre. As for GOld Lightan himself, he doesn't do too much here, but he still has a neat introduction overall. The concept of a robot being able to change in size from a Zippo lighter to a giant that literally pulls out the mechanical hearts of its opposition out is just as cool to see in action as it is to type this very sentence. I do wonder if Sentai still has that deal with Tatsunoko, because while it's cool to see a series like Urashiman available via streaming, I'd love to see Gold Lightan given that treatment.

This is the closest you get to a real shot of the robot in this episode.

The Big Game of the Century
This year, anime writer Yu Yamamoto plans to debut Ginga Jinpu/Galaxy Divine Wind Jinraiger, which will be the first new entry in the J9 Series after 32 years. Said series originally aired on TV from 1981-1984 & was comprised of three mech anime: Ginga Senpu/Galaxy Cyclone Braiger, Ginga Reppu/Galactic Gale Baxinger, & Ginga Shippu/Galactic Whirlwind Sasuraiger. All three series took inspiration from a specific story that had existed before it, with Braiger taking from the popular Hissatsu Series of TV shows that ran from 1971-1987 (plus various other productions), Baxinger being based on the Tale of the 47 Ronin, & Sasuraiger being a conceptual adaptation of Jules Verne's Around the World in 80 Days from 1873; Jinraiger, in turn, will be inspired by the legendary Chinese novel Water Margin. One might wonder, though, why I'm going straight to Sasuraiger for this Volume of Demo Disc, instead of starting from the beginning of it all. To be honest, it's simply because this series has the least to it in terms of fansubbing. Braiger has been fully subbed at this point, making it perfect to get a review of its own, while Baxinger has about a third or so subbed, which would make it perfect for a single series Demo Disc; Sasuraiger, in turn, has a single episode subbed as a one-off. At the same time, though, Sasuraiger's very concept makes it worth covering first, in my opinion... I mean, a mech anime based on a Jules Verne novel? How the hell does that even work?!

It's the 29th Century, & the solar system is now comprised of 50 planets. In this new system is an asteroid-based complex called J9 Land, which houses both an amusement park for kids & a massive casino for adults. While looking for some fun, two individuals, Birdy & Beat, meet each other & hear of a gambler who's raking in tons of money (called "Balls") at the laser roulette table. Said gambler is I.C. Blues, real name Blues Carl Burnstein, a notorious thief who stole 30 million Balls on Earth & is being secretly hunted after by the police. After seemingly being able to constantly guess where the laser goes next, even though it's rigged to favor the house, the game is ended & a special message is publicly sent to Blues. The current head of J9 Land, infamous galactic mafioso Bloody God, challenges Blues to travel to all 50 planets within one solar year, something deemed impossible by Beat, with 90 million Balls on the line; Blues, however, agrees, adding in his (stolen) money to make a total 120 million. Birdy & Beat decide to accompany Blues on the trip to help him out, as well as Rock, a sharpshooter who "accidentally" eavesdropped on Bloody God's bet & knows that Bloody will try anything he can to kill Blues before he finishes the trip. After purchasing a space train called the J9-III from a man named D.D. Richman, who travels with them, the newly-formed JJ9 ("Double J9") heads off on their adventure.

First thing first, there really wasn't any need for Sasuraiger to be a mech anime, and that's showcased by the fact that the first episode doesn't show the titular robot at all, & it's J9-III train form is only introduced in the last minute or so. All things considered, though, the first episode still does a very cool & stylish (for the 80s) introduction for everything. The four leads are very likable very quickly, though Beat is given the least to work with here, while Bloody God (best villain name ever, I tell you) is introduced nicely by not showing his face & being appropriately greedy. Admittedly, there seems to be no real rhyme or reason as to why Bloody chose the year-long trip as his challenge, though one could argue that it makes it easier to make his attempts at killing Blues look more like accidents or due to natural causes... Until his men start to chase after him almost immediately after he leaves the casino but before he leaves J9 Land; oops. The forming of JJ9 & the purchase of the J9-III is rather sudden & all happens in the last couple of minutes, but aside from that it's still a fun first episode. Sure, the animation by Kokusai Eigasha/Movie International Co. Ltd. isn't always the best here & there, but the studio wasn't exactly known for being a powerhouse visually; the studio did die out only a year after Sasuraiger finished up, after all. Really, this first episode is more about style & substance than visuals, & the music by the legendary Joe Hisashi doesn't hurt, either. While I sadly won't be getting back to Sasuraiger anytime soon, though Discotek is now licensing anime from Enoki Films (who have the J9 Series), I really should finally get to Braiger one day...

A Hero Will Return
Without a doubt, the original giant robot anime was 1963-1966's Tetsujin/Iron Man 28, best known in America as Gigantor, which was based on the 1956-1966 manga of the same name by the late Mitsuteru Yokoyama. After that original TV anime there were three other series based on Yokoyama's robot that could be either good or evil, depending on who has the remote control. First was 1980-1981's Taiyou no Shisa/Messenger of the Sun Tetsujin 28, a complete remake of the original which was aired in North America during the 90s as The New Adventures of Gigantor. The last version most people know of is the 2004 Tetsujin 28, which was directed & written by Yasuhiro Imagawa. This show took place in an alternate universe version of the post-war era that the manga debuted in, and was the first (& only) time that a Tetsujin anime was brought over without being renamed Gigantor; even the English dub was accurate to the original Japanese. There was also the 2013-2016 series Tetsujin 28 Gao!, but that was made up of 5-minute episodes & is more of a gag series. In between those two, though, was 1992-1993's Cho Dendo/Hyper Electric Robo Tetsujin 28 FX, which was the only one to actually act as a sequel to the original series. So let's see what a new generation of Tetsujin looked like back in the day, even if only for one episode.

Back in the day, Shotaro Kaneda remote controlled his giant robot Tetsujin 28 & repeatedly saved the day. Now, though, Shotaro is an adult & his robot is getting old, so he holds a "World Robot Contest" to see who can make the best Tetsujin-style (i.e. remote controlled) robot & be a new hero for the present day of 2002 (you know, the future). During the initial showcases, however, a mysterious group known as the Neo Black Group, lead by Lord Zone, invade & try to steal all of the robots. With the international child "pilots" held hostage, & Shotaro being out of practice when it comes to using Tetsujin for a real battle, it's up to Masato Kaneda, Shotaro's son who went missing a year ago, to return & save the day with Tetsujin 28 FX, which is controlled by the gun-shaped Ray Lancer.

So we see that Shotaro Kaneda is "Father of the Year" material...

This first episode goes for a neat way to introduce everything by utilizing the friendly competition with an international flair. What works best for it, though, is a lot of the subtle bits of humor interspersed throughout. For example, the now-adult Shotaro looks appropriately experienced & uses his old remote to control Tetsujin, but when the Neo Black Group start attacking, he winds up being more or less useless. Even better, when Saburo, one of his students, picks up the remote, Shotaro tells him to use it to help out, since he was training to use the FX. Saburo, in turn, does nothing & essentially says, "What? But this is the old model!", which is downright hilarious. The international mechs & their respective children users are obviously based on stereotypes, even giving the American boy the last name of Justice, though Shotaro seems to retain some of the highly-zenophobic feelings of his generation. When the villains get a hold of the American robot, because they had to operate just like Tetsujin (which is likewise hilarious), Shotaro decides to use Tetsujin against it, stating that he can't let the American robot be the superior one... Smooth one, our original giant robot hero. Masato only really appears at the end, with the obvious next step in the story being an explanation as to what he's been doing during his year away from everyone. At the very least, Shotaro puts his son in some submission holds to illustrate how dumb of a maneuver that was; I'm not condoning father-on-son violence, but I'll admit that Masato had something coming. Overall, the first episode of Tetsujin 28 FX is a bit cheesy & obviously for kids, but overall it's still a neat look at the world of the original giant robot anime that hasn't been replicated yet. I do know that, eventually, Shotaro helps his son out every now & then, resulting in the villains having to take on two Tetsujins, which does sound really cool. If nothing else, that would make it worth watching more of the show. Now if only TMS can put this out with English subs via streaming, like it has for God Mars...

Finally, let's end with a bonus inclusion. This time around, let's investigate a short OVA from the 00s based on an utterly cute & hilarious manga by Kunihiko Tanaka.

Tanaka debuted Ichigeki Sacchu!!/One-Shot Bug Killer!! HoiHoi-san as a series of single-page comics for Media Works' Monthly Comic Dengeki Daioh (home of manga like Azumanga Daioh, Yotsuba&!, Toradora, & Gunslinger Girl) in the early 2000s. It was popular enough to receive a video game adaptation in 2003 by Konami for the Playstation 2, & when the entire run was compiled into a single volume in 2004, the special edition release included an 11-minute OVA produced by anime studio Daume (Please Teacher! & Twins!, Shiki, Minami-ke) & directed/written/storyboarded by Takuya Sato (Strawberry Marshmallow, Selected Infector & Spread Wixoss). Therefore, let's finish off with the complete opposite of a giant, looming robot of destruction... A small, unnoticed robot of micro destruction.

It is the year 20XX & insects have become immune to any & all insecticides ever created. Japanese pharmaceutical companies, in turn, have decided to create something that can not only kill insects but also help give them extra profits at the same time: Create small, humanoid robots called Interceptor Dolls (IDs) that shoot the living crap out of any & all invasive insects while the owner sleeps, while at the same time are designed to be as cute as possible & can be dressed up in all manner of costumes to allow for customization. The most popular of these robots is HoiHoi-san, who by default is dressed as a maid. The focus here is on Aburatsubo, an ID otaku who has a HoiHoi-san as well as a Combat-san, which is created by a rival company & therefore tries to destory HoiHoi-san every night. There is also Kimiko Dewa, a girl who works at a pharmacy that sells ID merchandise & at first found HoiHoi-san cute, but wound up being disgusted by the carnage it delivers.

HoiHoi-san is, simply put, a joy on many levels, and even in this short anime delivers all of the goods excellently. It's a parodic jab at otaku obsession, purposefully designing thing to be "moe", & the concept of "girls with guns", but at the same time works just fine on its own. Just seeing a cute little figure like HoiHoi-san walking out of its charging station to put on its little booties, complete with squeaking steps, followed by it wielding an SMG that's about as big as itself & shooting the ever living hell out of all insects it sees is simply genius. Combat-san's constant attempts at killing HoiHoi-san easily remind one of the antics of Tom & Jerry or Wile E. Coyote & The Road Runner, especially since Combat-san always fails due to some sort of technical failure inherent to itself or the fact that Aburatsubo bought it a bootleg laser gun that overheats Combat-san. On the other hand, you have Kimiko's constant inner conflict, where she hates IDs for what they are made for in the first place, but at the same time does find them cute when they aren't being used as intended. For example, when her friend Mu-chan shows Kimiko her HoiHoi-san & Combat-san wearing custom-made yukatas, Kimiko finds them nice & reminds her of when her mother made her & an old doll matching yukatas when she was a child. Among all of the parodying, sarcastic jabs, & silly references (Combat-san's model # is RRX-7.8, for example), there is a real, honest to god heart to HoiHoi-san that makes it just such a joy to watch. It was also sheer genius to have the two main IDs voiced by Rie Kugimiya (HoiHoi-san) & Rie Tanaka (Combat-san), while Megumi Nasu's Kimiko & Showtaro Morikubo's Aburatsubo do great jobs with our human leads. The lack of any & all music is also worth noting, but it actually kind of works here & makes everything feel more natural (or funny, if we're talking about the IDs murdering insects without waking up their owners).

Though completely understandable why it didn't happen, I am sad that Infinity Studios didn't try to include this OVA alongside the translated release of the manga that came out back in 2007, because while it works splendidly on its own, it's even better as an introduction to an excellent manga. I should probably review that one day... Sadly, the planned 2013 follow-up OVA, based on sequel manga HoiHoi-san Legacy, never actually happened, because I would have loved to see more of this animated.
This brings an end to yet another Volume of Demo Disc. Check back this Summer for Volume 6, which I can already guarantee will be another single series entry. Instead of an anime that was accidentally licensed, though, I'll try out an anime that was purposefully licensed & had actual work done on it, but never saw the light of day outside of a rarely-appearing Video-On-Demand airing.

Oh, Illumitoon, you slay me.


  1. Re: The Sentai-Tatsunoko deal - considering that deal was announced in 2013, and Sentai managed to release only Gatchaman (an ADV re-release), Casshan, the Time Bokan OVA (a CPM re-release), and the Gatchaman Movie on home video, with only the first half of Urashiman released online-only, it really looks like the deal died quietly.

    I'd wonder what happened, but it's probably a simple case of low sales. I do however wonder what the full line-up of productions Sentai originally licensed was, and whether they were ever fully subbed.

    Sentai were canny enough not to make the whole list of 11 titles public, preventing questions on when a particular production would be forthcoming.

    I can only hope Discotek or Right Stuff get some of the older unreleased Tatsunoko series instead at some point.

  2. Thankfully, it seems that Silver Castle Subs have planned to do Goldran, so they'll get started on it soon.