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Thursday, December 11, 2014

Demo Disc Vol. 1: Mecha Magnanimity

Welcome to the pilot post of Demo Disc! For those too young to remember them (at least, I hope I have younger readers...), demo discs were the ways people played demos of video games before the days of digital distribution. Generally, each disc contained a wide selection of demos that covered a multitude a genres, but sometimes a demo disc would be more focused. Similarly, the titles that I'll be covering in each Demo Disc post are ones that I am unable to see in full & properly review, yet still wanted to write about in some way. Taking inspiration from last month's theme, for this pilot I'll be looking at the first episode of four different mech anime, one for each decade from the 70s-00s, plus an extra title that is technically complete but is essentially impossible for me to give an actual review for. With all of this out of the way, let's start this off by going psychedelic & into the 70s!

Don't be shy... Mechander only wants a hug.

The Congistar Corps Invade Japan!
Gasshin Sentai/Combining Machine Squadron Mechander Robo is a fairly obscure mech anime from 1977, but it's not like it was made by a bunch of nobodies. Sure, Wako Pro never really made a name for themselves, Mechander is the closest thing to an "iconic work" for them, but some of the staff was either an established name or would go on to greatness. It had opening & ending themes by Ichiro Mizuki (who was already an iconic singer), mech designs by Kunio Okawara (months before Zambot 3 debuted), music by Michiaki Watanabe (Mazinger franchise, Dangaioh, Godannar), animation direction by Takeshi Honda (Millennium Actress, Dennou Coil), & the lead character was voiced by hot-blood legend Akira Kamiya! So what happened? Well, Bullmark, who were making the toys, went out of business while the show was airing, resulting in the production having barely any money behind it. In the end, Mechander Robo infamously relied on reusing stock footage to such an insane extent that the final episode was literally a recap of the entire show! Still, how was the first episode, before Bullmark's demise screwed it over?

The Congistar Corps, lead by Ozmel of the Doron Empire from the Ganymede System, have attacked Earth & conquered 95% of the planet, with a space satellite able to send devastating Omega Missiles at any Earth weapon that emits energy; only Japan is remaining. Commander Yamamoto holds out for "Mr. X", the moniker Prof. Shikishima is using to keep his secret plans hidden until needed. Shikishima has created Mechander 1, 2, & 3, giant jet fighters that can combine together into Mechander Max, a giant plane that can fight the Congistar Corps. Piloted by the Professor's son Ryusuke, Kojiro Yashima,  & the mysterious Jimmy Orion, it's quickly seen that the Mechander Max may not be enough. With no other choice, Prof. Shikishima launches Mechander Robo, a giant robot that the Mechander Max can dock with & Jimmy can control. Unfortunately, Mechander Robo's energy usage activates an Omega Missile every time it engages in battle, leaving Jimmy & company only 3 minutes to fight before having to retreat.

Like I said, Wako Production has never been a big name in the anime industry, being more of an assistance studio than leading a production themselves. Mechander Robo does showcase this to an extent, because the animation in this first episode is fairly limited, possibly even for its time. Hell, the giant robots that appear in this episode literally use the iconic Godzilla roar wholesale, and multiple times at that! Still, it's a very likeable episode that does a very good job at introducing the story & showcasing who the main characters are. The concept behind the show, where the Earth has been conquered & the heroes have to take it back, was likely somewhat fresh back in its day & the idea that Mechander Robo can only fight for so long before an Omega Missile arrives to destroy it gives the battle a sense of urgency to it. If you want one main reason to watch Mechander Robo, though, it would have to be the robot itself. It's a very memorable Okawara design in general, but what sells it most is the sheer violence it can deliver. Yes, the enemies use giant robots, but Mechander's list of weapons is deliciously visceral. It has two giant spiked shields that not only protect but can be flipped inward & used to stab, eviscerate, & smash against foes. It has blades on the backs on its feet for slicing with no effort. The OP footage shows it having "Shark Missiles" it can shoot from its feet & I know it also has a sword to weild. Hell, the chest has a giant flamethrower built into it! Yes, the animation doesn't look like much, but the second episode preview shows Jimmy's backstory explained, the concept is promising, & the titular robot is all sorts of awesome. If I ever get the chance to see all of Mechander Robo I can guarantee that it will be reviewed; too bad the R2 DVD boxset is still super expensive.

This is the best image you're going to get, people.

The 1999 War Overture
1983-1984's Tokusou Kihei/Special Armored Battalion Dorvack was the last anime made with the intent to sell toys produced by Takatoku; I swear that dying toy companies wasn't the theme I had in mind. They started out in the 70s, making toys based on Ultraman Leo, Hurricane Polymar, & Mach Go Go Go (a.k.a. Speed Racer), but hit it big in the early 80s when they got the rights to make toys based on Super Dimensional Fortress Macross. Actually working with Shoji Kawamori himself, Takatoku's toys could actually transform between all three Valkyrie forms, making it a massive success. Unfortunately, toys based on Sasuraiger & Orguss bombed & the company died out after Dorvack finished airing. Was this last show the main reason for the death of Takatoku?

It's the year 1999 (you know, the future), & the alien Idelian race have been searching for a new planet to live on for the past 200,000 years. They finally find a hospitable planet in Earth & decide to start war to make the planet theirs. When some recon ships appear in the Alps, the Dorvack Squad are sent to investigate, only to find hostiles. Luckily, Masato Mugen, Louise Oberon, & Pierre Bonaparte have been trained to operate Variable Machines, a jeep, tank, & helicopter that can transform into giant robots to combat the Idelian forces.

I honestly came into watching this first episode with some trepidation for one simple reason: The OP is just too awesome. Seriously, those first 15 seconds upon starting the episode is rocking bliss to such an extreme that you wonder if the show can even have a chance at being anywhere near as good as those first 15 seconds; the rest of the OP is cool, too, but the slow bits just clash against the chorus. Well, to my surprise, the first episode of Dorvack is actually pretty damn good. Compared to Mechander Robo, which starts with absolute decimation, Dorvack starts off with a slower pace that gives off a great "first encounter" vibe. There's a cool building of tension that makes the episode feel longer than it really is, and when that first battle finally happens it just feels right. The characters get more to work with than in the previous show, too, giving them more of an immediate identity here. Oddly enough, though, Dorvack also steals from a popular movie series, as helper robot Pii-tan literally uses Star Wars' R2D2's beeps & boops on a couple of occasions in this episode! Unfortunately, the appeal for this show is solely on the characters & potential story, as the mech designs are a mixed bag. The grunt ships for the Idelian's look good, but the Variable Machines sadly disappoint. When transformed each robot looks pretty bland & unnoteworthy, though I guess they do look realistic from a transformation perspective; Masato's robot looks okay, though. The worst part, though, is that these robots actually look more appealing in their vehicle forms! On the one hand, this episode makes me interested enough in watching Dorvack should it ever get English subtitles, but I'm not exactly in "I'd be willing to watch this raw" territory here, like I am with Mechander Robo or Acrobunch. I guess, in the end, the show does manage to approach the awesomeness of the OP more than I thought it would, but not quite match it.

The Strongest Robo Appears!!
After including the OP in the recent "12 Anime" list about mechs songs that deserve more love it only makes sense to see the only episode that's actually been fansubbed, right? For those who haven't read that list, though, here's a primer. Super Robot Red Baron was a tokusatsu series that ran from 1973-1974 & later had a sequel, Super Robot Mach Baron. From 1994-1995 TMS Entertainment made an anime reboot, simply titled Red Baron, that ran against Mobile Fighter G Gundam. Literally, the shows debuted only a couple of weeks apart & ran in the same timeslot on opposing networks, 17:00 on NTV (Red Baron) & TV Asahi (G Gundam). While the ratings for this forgotten mech anime weren't anything great, the toys apparently sold like hotcakes, resulting in it being extended from 36 to 49 episodes (and having it end only three days before its competition). So let's find out if the first episode can possibly match the awesomeness that its OP has in spades.

The world is obsessed with the Metal Fight, a competition between giant robots called Metal Fighters & the people who pilot them. Ken Kurenai hopes to become Metal Fight champion, but although he has the fighting ability he has neither a Metal Fighter nor a sponsor to support him. Shoko Saeba is a mechanical prodigy who's put the finishing touches on the Red Baron, a giant robot with exceptional abilities. When Baron is stolen from her lab by the maked man Kaizer, Shoko & her robot helper Robby set out to get it back. This will lead to Ken & Shoko meeting up & joining forces, with Ken somehow being able to pilot the Red Baron on his first try.

Red Baron's first episode is surprisingly both coy about its namesake & quick to show. You technically see Baron early on in Shoko's lab, though not in a full shot, but it does absolutely nothing until Ken pilots it in the last few minutes of the episode. Ken himself is a fun lead character, cocky & self-sure but he seems to have the skills to back it up. There's also a cool mystery behind him, as "Kurenai" isn't even his last name; he made it up after looking at some roses when asked by a reporter what his name is. There's also the interesting sense that Baron "chose" Ken to be its pilot when he approached the cockpit. The sheer coincidence with G Gundam is really crazy, though, because Ken is a Bruce Lee-esque martial arts expert & is voiced by Kappei Yamaguchi... Who also voiced martial arts expert Sai Saici in G Gundam at essentially the same time. Shoko is similar to Rain Mikamura, too, in that it's obvious that she's the mechanic & possibly even potential love interest for Ken, complete with even the two butting heads during the ED sequence. Still, considering that Red Baron & G Gundam ran against each other pretty much simultaneously, I can't simply state that one ripped off the other; I'm positive these similarities are just an insane coincidence. Anyway, this is a very solid first episode with a bunch of fun humor, colorful characters, good music, & a lot of potential. In researching this show, I found out that, while having a main group of mech designers on staff, the show brought in ten additional designers that swapped around nearly every episode. If anything, it probably gives the show a ton of variety for the Metal Fighters. Sadly, this show never got anything more than a VHS release in Japan, so my chances of seeing the rest is low.

Still, there is a slight hope. For the past year or two, TMS has been getting more aggressive with streaming anime with English subtitles via Hulu, & I mean bringing us stuff that never saw a release here before. For example, you can now watch all of Rokushin Gattai God Mars legally, & just a day ago all of Karate Baka Ichidai was added to Hulu under the name Karate Master. Who knows, there might still be a chance for Red Baron...

Those fansubbers couldn't encode at all, I see...

First Battle Declared! The Burning Dragon Knight Appears!!
The representative for the 00s differs from the previous three in one simple way: It actually aired in North America, though I wonder how many people actually knew it did (I certainly didn't). 2002's Bakuto Sengen/Explosive Fight Declaration Daigunder is actually the debut TV production of animation studio Brain's Base, who have since gone on to make titles like Baccano!, Durarara!!, Princess Jellyfish, Blood Lad, & the upcoming Rin-ne. The English dub apparently aired on Jetix in 2003 & featured the likes of Barbara Goodson, Steven Blum, Joshua Seth, Richard Epcar, Lex Lang, & even Paul Schrier; yes, Bulk from Power Rangers was in this dub (he also voiced Saber in the Teknoman dub years prior to this). Now, yes, this is unabashedly a children's title (it's even produced by Takara), but one episode was randomly fansubbed years ago & it has an OP by Masaaki Endoh & an ED by Hiroshi Kitadani; I can't resist.

Akira Akebono has one dream in life: To become "Daidankrauser", the champion of the Battle Robot Federation. The BRF involves battles between two Commanders, who lead teams of robots against each other in combat. Unfortunately, Akira only has three robots on his team, Blion, ArrowEagle, & Drimog, when he needs four. Luckily, the Commissioner, who's a friend of Akira's scientist grandfather, allows Akira to take the BRF test, but with a handicap to keep things fair. While Team Akira is able to handle the first robot from opposition Team Michael, the next robot looks unbeatable. Luckily, Akira's grandfather Hajime is able to send over his newest creation, the robot Ryugu that can combine with its fellow Daigunder Force to create the (relatively speaking) giant robot Daigunder. Akira may actually have a chance at becoming Daidankrauser, after all.

Of the four show chosen for this Demo Disc post, Daigunder is easily the simplest of them all. There's no battle for the future of humanity to be found & there's no mystery of what's truly going to happen; it's simply a children's show about becoming champion. Still, that doesn't mean that it can't be enjoyable, because this first episode still had a sense of fun & energy to it. In fact, there may have been a little too much energy, especially in the first half. Akira, Grandpa Hajime, & even Drimog all seemed to be high on caffeine in the first half, either talking really fast or simply screaming like crazy. Luckily, the second half calms thing down when the battle between Akira & Michael happens. Amusingly, Akira isn't simply a headstrong, simpleton leader, but instead utilizes some smart thinking & strategy during the first half of the fight, which is honestly neat to see in a series like this. If there's one thing that is both awesome & nearly show ruining, though, it's Daigunder's war cry. It's nothing more than a simple "GOOOOOO!!!!", but Kiyoyuki Yanada delivers it with so much gusto & passion that it sounds absolutely imitation worthy. At the same time, though, it's so absurdly gruff, especially when compared to Ryugu's higher-pitched voice, that it's almost distracting. Still, as far as children's anime goes, it probably one of the better ones that I've sampled, honestly. The plot seems pretty basic, though I'm sure it has some twists & turns as it goes on, but there is a likability to the characters, the first battle was more than a simple "hit it til it dies" fight, & I have to give it points for having great theme songs. The dub is even available over at YouTube, and checking parts of the first episode shows that's it's not just solid but surprisingly accurate to the original Japanese script & even character names. I won't hunt down for more Daigunder, but it certainly wasn't a waste of time.

Finally, as a bonus I watched the 7-minute pilot Sunrise made for Kanzen Shouri/Perfect Victory Daiteioh. It's too short to warrant it's own review, so it fits fine here on Demo Disc.

Kanzen Shouri Daiteioh was conceptualized in 2001, the 10th Anniversary of the Eldoran Series, as a TV series that could act as both a nostalgia trip for fans of the original shows as well as a new series for a new generation of young children. Unfortunately, the TV series never got made, though it did receive a complete manga run in Monthly Daiteioh magazine after fans gave the pilot a great reception. It's easy to see why the fans liked it, too, because it's a very well done production that actually has a lot to it.

There's no voice work to be found, only some text here & there, but simply from a visual perspective it tells a cool story. A new threat comes to Earth years after the Mechanization Empire were defeated by Saurers, & it's so powerful that Eldoran brings in Raijin-Oh, Ganbaruger, & Gosaurer to fight it... Only for all three to fall in battle, combining into a giant golden sword that crashes into Paradise Elementary School. Class 5-3 of that school becomes the new group that fights on the side of Eldoran, utilizing three robots that can combine into the giant Daiteioh. Paradise Elementary itself even gets turned into a giant flying battleship to help out! Eventually, the previous three Eldoran legends reform from the sword & combine forces with Daiteioh... And, man, doesn't this just sound awesome?!

The pilot is also simply filled with tons of fanservice, too. We're shown older forms of Jin, Kouji, Asuka, & Maria from the Earth Defense Class, the Ganbaruger leads having a rough spat between each other, & even a number of members from Saurers all look up at the monsters that the new threat, officially called the Onigashima, summoned, knowing that they can't help out; Jin's even pissed off at that fact & we even see the same Secretary of Defense try to fight back. Raijin-Oh, Ganbaruger, & Gosaurer all work together, utilizing each other's attacks, & the Onigashima even utilize new versions of older enemies like Exhauster & even the Jaku Satan from Raijin-Oh. This pilot was obviously a labor of love from Sunrise, even bringing back Takahiro Yamada, Hiroaki Kitajima (scriptwriter for Gosaurer), Takamitsu Kondo (character designer for Ganbaruger), & Goro Taniguchi to help create it. Sadly, Toshifumi Kawase didn't return to direct, but his replacement, Akira Yoshimura (first half of White Album), did a great job nonetheless. Overall, it's an excellent pilot that sadly never went anywhere. It will resonate best with fans of the Eldoran Series, but it's still worth watching for anyone who's a mecha fan & just likes really well done short animation. You can find it easily on YouTube.

Luckily, Daiteioh hasn't been forgotten. Much like how Saint of Braves Baan Gaan was planned as the successor to GaoGaiGar but never happened, yet it still officially acknowledged as the ninth entry in the Brave Series, Kanzen Shouri Daiteioh is still officially acknowledged as the fourth entry in the Eldoran Series. Also much like how Baan Gaan would see a complete production via the Brave Saga video games, though, Daiteioh would also gets its time in the limelight. On October 29, 2009 Banpresto & Namco Bandai released Super Robot Wars NEO for the Wii, and one of the most notable things about its series line-up was that it featured the entire Eldoran Series, including Daiteioh. In fact, NEO's usage of Daiteioh would be officially recognized by Sunrise & Takara Tomy as the official take on the story, usurping the manga. All four shows would then come back for last year's SRW OE/Operation Extend, so although the final robot Eldoran gave the children of Earth never got a complete anime, it's been given new life in the past few years.
And that's the end of this debut volume of Demo Disc! I hope you guys enjoyed reading this & you hope you all are now looking forward to the next time I take a short look at numerous other anime productions.

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