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.
Friday – 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.
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.