Great Mazinger

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If Gigantor is the grandfather of the giant robot anime, Mazinger is the daddy.

Mazinger Z first appeared in 1972 as as a manga series before making the jump to it’s animated rendition. Created by Go Nagai (the man behind Cutey Honey, Devilman, and UFO Robot Grendizer), the series is in many ways an homage to Gigantor (or Tetsujin 28 as he is known in his native Japan). Mazinger Z is as important a national treasure as Godzilla, with the special metal used to construct the robot (Japanium) mined from Mount Fuji. Forged as a weapon of defense against the forces of Dr. Hell and his assistant the hermaphrodite Baron Ashura (called an intersex in my translated version), Mazinger-Z is piloted by the young Kouji Kabuto… who bangs his head against the inside of the robot many times in trying to get it to work.

While Gigantor was an adventure series more fitting with Herge’s Tintin, Mazinger is straight-out fighting robots and monsters. The result was so influential that it inspired a number of cartoons over the years featuring men piloting giant robots against other creatures such as the magnificent Big-O.

Kouji Kabuto retired his robot jocky suit and went on to guest-star in the UFO Robot Grendizer as the UFO-enthusiast who regularly got shot down by animal robots. The series spawned several sequels including team-up movies with Getter Robo, Devilman and UFO Robot Grendizer. As I had mentioned last month, Mazinger-Z was intended to be part of the Force Five series, but due to complications the series was not transmitted on US soil until much later as Tranzor-Z. Because of the bad timing of the translation the series looked primitive to modern viewers and was not well received.

According to AnimeNation News: “Reportedly director Yasuhiro Imagawa (Giant Robo, G-Gundam) will helm the production of Shin Mazinger Shogeki! Z-Hen, a television anime remake of the 1972 Mazinger Z television series. The new 26 episode series, tentatively scheduled to debut later this year, will be animated by BEEMEDIA and Code,” so the Mazinger saga is far from over.

While there have been many of its kind, this is the real thing. If you don’t have the time to investigate the series proper, I highly recommend the Mazinger Z Movie Collection.

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Force Five – Gaiking

Each school day of my childhood was threatened by the cartoons of Force Five, shown hauntingly close to the time when my bus picked me up… or took off without me as I caught up on the adventures of giant fighting robots. In fairness, how was school prepared to deal with that kind of competition?

Jim Terry Productions had purchased the rights to five separate series and played one each day of the week, including Danguard Ace on Monday, Starvengers on Tuesday, Spaceketeers on Wednesday and Grandizer on Thursday. Each of these program was a knock-out in its own tight, but in my humble opinion the best was saved for last.

GaikingFriday – Gaiking

While each of the Force Five programs shared some tie to existing manga or in the case of Spaceketeers tied to Japanese folklore, Gaiking was something else entirely. Threatened by the Dark Horror Army (fantastic never-to-be-topped bad guy name there), Professor Hightech and his international crew of experts are forced to rely upon the skills of a Greek immigrant minor-league baseball pitcher named Ares Astronopolis to pilot the super-robot Gaiking. Ares narrowly escapes an alien killing spree of baseball pitchers put into action by the Dark Horror Empire by assassins armed with shoulder-mounted baseball launching guns.

Honestly… you cannot make this stuff up.

The robot, like many of its ilk, was housed in parts that needed to be assembled on the fly whenever needed. This required near super-human piloting skills to get the head part on the shoulders part while in flight. If this sounds unwise, Ares insists on being thrown headlong into the role of robot jockey without ever actually seeing one. The series is full of many such bad ideas. In retrospect, the Dark Horror Army are real menshes for just waiting while the crew of the Space Dragon got all of their toys lined up and ready to fight.

Force Five Gaiking opening

The genius behind Great Sky Demon Dragon Gaiking (as it was initially known) is that it centers not only on the giant robot, but also on an entire team of mythical beast-type robots including the flying Skylar, Plesiosaur-shaped Nesser and triceratops-like Bazolar all housed inside of the Space Dragon. Not only did this make the program more visually interesting and full of other characters, it also multiplied the toy tie-ins.
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Part of the Shogun Warriors family of super robots, Gaiking is one of the more visually impressive of his kind. Replete with massive horns and a roaring face on his chest that fired devastating energy from its nose and eyes, this is a robot that makes an impression. Unfortunately, the dignity of Gaiking didn’t exactly translate to the all of the toy versions.

Vintage Shogun Warriors Commercial

For young boys growing up in the cultural cesspool of the late 1970’s, there was little to hope for. Luckily comic books, kung fu movies, Kiss and Japanese cartoons were around to fill in the gap ordinarily filled by illuminating literature, ground-breaking music and meaningful dialog. Each day, Force Five delivered the goods. Super robots ripped giant lizards, UFOs and anything else that came into the light of day in half with Japanese-style disco music and intense battle cries dubbed dubiously into English.

And if that ain’t a blueprint for a solid childhood… I don’t know what is.

Thanks to all who joined me on this week-long journey back to 1978 and to those who had never seen Force Five and have been wondering what happened to my mind over the past five days… regular service will resume tomorrow.

Force Five – Grandizer

An essential part of growing old is embarrassing yourself with knowledge from your childhood, especially regarding cartoons, toys or cartoons based on toys. In the case of the anthology anime series Force Five, the marks that I have earned this week will stay with me well into my old age. I remember waaaay too much about these cartoons but after I go into detail you may not be able to blame me.

A series of five Japanese cartoons that ruled each school day of the week on UHF channels in New England, Force Five’s series progressed in ambition and absurdity from Monday to Friday. We had already seen a modular robot in Danguard Ace, three flying craft that combined to create any one of three robots in Starvengers and a trio of space adventuring misfits in Spaceketeers… what could possibly be next?

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Thursday – Grandizer

By far one of the most warmly remember and loved of the Force Five cartoons is Grandizer. The towering robot of concussive power which split his enemies in twain with his double-bladed staff made each Thursday morning worth waiting for.

Originally known as UFO Robot Grendizer, Grandizer (as he was known in the US), is an informal sequel to the popular series Mazinger. The returning character of Kouji Kabuto is rather unfortunate as he comes off as a kind of comic relief in comparison to the smokily mysterious farm-hand known as ‘Johnny.’ In truth, Johnny is Orion Quest, the last of his people who escaped genocide at the hands of the Vegan empire. Escaping to Earth in the Vegan saucer ship known as Grandizer, he found solace in the home of a top UFO scientist and even gets hired on at the farm of peanut-head-shaped prospector named Panhandle.

I really think he took the job to get a shot at Panhandle’s sweet daughter, but we can never be sure.

In any case, Koji is suspicious of Johnny and his connection to the alien attacks. In time he is entrusted with the secret of Johnny’s real past and the threat that the Vegans pose… to Panhandle’s farm. This is one of those conceits that I am all too familiar with from watching too much Dr Who. When ‘the Earth’ is threatened, they really mean London. In this case it’s one small farm.

… whatever. This is still one of the best robot cartoons I have ever seen. Each week the evil Vegans send another ‘saucer animal’ to kill Johnny and he laments that he must once again go into combat… he plays the Spanish guitar a bit… then jumps into his secret lair, calls out his real name of Orion Quest and embarks on an exceedingly long process to getting into battle in his robot which is also housed inside of a giant blade-saw-firing flying saucer. This animation sequence stuck with me so deeply that I could almost play it back without thinking about it… because it happened EVERY EPISODE. Additionally, the UFO enthusiast and genius Koji would attempt to defend the farm each week in his sad saucer only to nearly get killed before Johnny saved his bacon. Poor guy.

An additional oddity is that the oddly dressed second in command known as ‘Commander Ding’ (I can hear my father’s laughter every time this villain is on the screen) answers to a man who must deal with a woman residing in his head. No lie, each episode features the lead villain’s head splitting apart to allow a screeching miniature witch to extend and pester his inability to defeat Grandizer.

Scarred for life.

In any case, it was only much later that I learned of the connection between Grandizer and Mazinger and the sweeping epic-style nature of the Japanese storyline that has to be read to be believed. I knew that Jim Terry Productions took some liberties in the translations of these toons but this one suffered a great deal.

That being said, it remains one of the most revered animation robot cartoons to date and a major high point on Force Five.

Much like Star Blazers before him, Grandizer left an indelible mark on my generation. Don’t believe me? Click on the image below to read about the Grandizer amusement park ride.

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Force Five – Spaceketeers

My special review of the daily cartoon anthology series called Force Five continues. New England readers may recall that on local UHF channels during the early 1980’s each day there was a new episode of Force Five, an ingenious series consisting of five unique cartoon programs mainly starring super robots.

The one exception to this rule of giant robots is the program known as Spaceketeers. Originally the granddaddy of giant robot cartoons, Mazinger-Z, was to fill this slot but when it fell through, this program filled its place.

Originally seen in my childhood, I’ve been revisiting this program. To my surprise I have found that the schedule of Force Five built up to an outlandish crescendo of devastating absurdity… but more on that later. While Monday’s Dangaurd Ace and Tuesday’s Starvengers are relatively straight-forward super robot toons, Spaceketeers is a whole other animal.
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Wednesday – Spaceketeers

Many of these programs rely on the rule of three, where our heroes are a tightly knit trio of heroes each fulfilling a different role. In the case of Spaceketeers and Starvengers, we can see that there is a slender guy, an average guy and a goofy portly guy (who replaced a dead portly guy). I’m not exactly sure what this triumvirate of body types but I feel that it is bizarre enough in its repetition to be pointed out.

The story of the program involves Princess Aurora’s mission to restore the balance to the Galactic Energy. The Empress and Prof.Schnitzel assign a bodyguard to accompany her on this mission who remains one of my most favorite fictional characters. An unlikely orphan named Jesse Dart who willingly volunteered himself for transformation into a kill-crazy cyborg is one of the funniest characters in cartoons I have ever seen. Brash, destructive and self-centered, Dart is full of problems but in the end the Princess’ innocence and beauty always win out.

In time two additional guardians join the Princess and Jesse Dart in their journey. First the portly ‘space hog’ called Porkos abandons his empire of mud and later the calculator-obsessed Arimos leaves his planet of water to restore cosmic equilibrium to the galaxy and fight some of the most whacked-out monsters I have ever seen.

Known in its native language as Science Fiction Saiyuki Starzinger, Spaceketeers is loosely based on the Janpanes folklore Journey to the West. Jesse Dart is a sci-fi adaptation of the Monkey King character of myth.

Dart proves to be such an uncontrollable pest to the gentle and delicate Princess that it is only with the use of a golden crown that she can control his temper. Even as a child I found this to be far more evocative and meaningful than it appeared to be. I mean… what does this say about man/woman relationships? Maybe I’m reading into this too much.

I never tire of seeing Jesse Dart take his attacks too far, causing the Princess to remind him that they are on a mission of peace, cross her arms and force him to calm down. The middle of the week always proved to be one of the high points thanks to the high level of violence and comedy in each episode.

Force Five – Starvengers

The second in a series of five daily cartoon programs known collectively as Force Five, Starvengers was a giant robot series that would spawn an interest in cartoons where multiple vehicles combine to create a collective mecha.

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Force Five – Starvengers Opening

Tuesday – Starvengers

Known originally as Getter Robo G, Starvengers is strangely a sequel to a series that few Americans ever saw called Getter Robo. Starvengers opens with our heroes celebrating the defeat of an old enemy and mourning the loss of a comrade. The search for a new pilot to join the noble Homer and rakish Paladin. With the creation of an even greater trio of vehicles (again, meaningless to an audience not familiar with the previous series), the team welcomes the boisterous and plump ‘Foul Tip’ as their third team member in the fight against the Demon Empire.

The main gist of this series is that the viewers got three robots for the price of one. When the three vehicles combine in a certain order they create three distinct super robots.

Star Dragon- the double hatchet-wielding Star Dragon is a fan favorite for obvious reasons. The red robot has a variety of attacks, but the one that sticks with most fans is the Double Hatchet Boomerang.

Star Arrow- the slender blue robot known for its double drill attack capable of penetrating the toughest of enemy armors.

Poseidon- the less popular undersea robot piloted by baseball enthusiast Foul Tip, Poseidon’s signature Star Cyclone attack was nothing to sneeze at.

If the high drama and intrigue of Monday’s Danguard Ace caught viewers off guard, the all-out action of Starvengers delivered the message that Force Five was all about high adventure and giant robots smacking the Hell out of each other.

All three robots were present in Marvel Comics’ Shogun Warriors and in toy form, but Star Dragon was the real star of this program.


Make sure to visit Plaid Stallions for more vintage catalog action!

Update:

I only just noticed that one of the evil no-good-nicks threatening our heroes on a regular basis is actually a mutant Hitler called ‘Captain Fuhrer.’

Captain Fuhrer

Captain Fuhrer

You cannot make this stuff up.

Force Five – Danguard Ace

Over the course of this week I will strive to introduce my readers to the era of Force Five, a daily cartoon series consisting of a different episode each day of the week. Mainly showcasing mecha anime (aside from the last minute addition of Spaceketeers to take the place of Mazinger Z), Force Five ran throughout the early 1980’s, bridging the gap between the success of Star Blazers and Robotech on American TV.

In my own childhood, these cartoons formed a pivotal role in shaping my creative landscape. Absurd, dynamic, dramatic and packed full of action, Force Five seemed to be from an entirely different world.

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Monday – Danguard Ace

My entire relationship with the days of the week has been impacted by the programming schedule of Force Five. I never did like Mondays and the scheduling of Danguard Ace has long suffered in this regard. A series centered on domination of the tenth planet known as Promete, the main thrust of the program was the relationship between the young pilot Windstar and his estranged and mysterious father, known only as Captain Mask.

Force Five – Danguard Ace Opening

As with many of these programs, the story in each episode was an explosive battle between Windstar piloting the mammoth Danguard Ace robot against the threat of Kommisar Krell and his horde of kill-crazy robots.

Like all of Force Five, Danguard Ace is a rewritten translation of a previously existing anime series from the late 1970’s. The original cartoon, known as Planet Robo Danguard Ace, was co-created by Leiji Matusmoto, famous for his work on Space Captain Harlock and Galaxy Express 999. Again, like many of the Force Five robots, Danguard Ace appeared in the pages of Marvel Comics’ Shogun Warriors, a kind of repository for Japanese robots in comic book form at the time.

While I admit to not wholly enjoying Danguard Ace as a child, re-watching it now I can find a new kind of appreciation for what the program was trying to do. Depicting a future where wars spanned planets and the fate of the human race hung in the balance, this series has a lot going for it. The addition of Captain Mask’s determination to both foster his son through adulthood while refusing to reveal that he is indeed Windstar’s father is so complicated it’s Shakespearean. The robot battles are in keeping with the other Force Five-ers, but the high level of drama makes this one stand out.

UPDATE

I just discovered that there is an episode that Jim Terry Productions didn’t bother to translate that explains all of the background behind Windstar’s dad and the Promete project (both of which you have to pay close attention to catch in the series). I wonder how many pieces of hidden info I’ll uncover as I revisit these cartoons!