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Giant Robo, vols. 1 & 2
Retro high-adventure anime never looked so good
Giant Robo
Manga Entertainment
Directed by Yasuhiro Imagawa
Japan, 1992
Giant Robo is a step backward--a step back towards an era of stories where bad guys were really bad, and good guys were undeniably good. The bad guys are bent on world domination, and the good guys selflessly fight to stop them, accompanied by dramatic music, dramatic dialogue, and thrilling chase scenes with lots of character development.

The premise laid out in the first episode is simple: in the near future, Dr. Shizuma and his colleagues invent the Shizuma drive--a clean, recyclable, 100% safe energy source. As every power source from AA batteries to nuclear reactors is abandoned, mankind enters a new era of peace and prosperity.

Then the explosions start.

The first is a biggie--Dr. von Folger, one of Shizuma's colleagues, follows a great tradition of geniuses who help revolutionize society: he goes mad and uses a device that deactivates Shizuma drives to try to take over the world. Dr. Shizuma follows the other great tradition and spends his time gibbering about how he should never have created the drive.

After causing untold havoc in France, the device Folger used inexplicably ends up in three attache cases. Two of them are in the hands of the bad guys; one, naturally, in the hands of the good.

The sides are clearly defined. The bad guys are the organization known as Big Fire, comprised of Dr. von Folger, a multi-talented team of super-bad guys known as the Magnificent Ten, and a loyal cadre of henchmen who scream things like "Allegiance or death! Big Fire!" a lot.

On the home team, we have the International Police Organization and the multi-talented team of super-good guys known as the Experts of Justice. And among the Experts is the twelve-year-old Daisaku, whose two claims to fame are his nerdy school-uniform outfit and the fact that he's the only one who can control the title character, Giant Robo.

Giant Robo himself (itself?) is a nod to the good old days, when giant-robot anime meant there was one central robot "character" who was only meant to be piloted by the hero. Unlike those heroes, Daisuke--apparently unafraid of heights--eschews a cockpit, instead clinging to rungs on Giant Robo's head while issuing dramatic commands ("Crush them now, Giant Robo!") through his special hi-tech gadget watch.

The story is largely carried off by the meticulous attention paid to atmosphere. Giant Robo is fairly bursting at the seams with capital-T technology, insanely retro designs for planes, trains, and automobiles, and semi-surreal flashbacks to von Folger's acts of destruction. The score--performed by the Poland National Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra--doesn't hurt, either.

During my first viewing of the first episode, I found myself terribly unimpressed by the English voice acting. However, after repeat viewings I found them growing on me. In fact, with a few exceptions I find they fit the semi-silly, melodramatic tone quite nicely.

And those cliffhanger endings--I mean, how are they get out of that bit at the end of episode three, anyway?

Originally printed in fps #6 (Summer 1995)