The Nihon Review - Anime Reviews & Editorials

Giant Robo: The Animation

Title: Giant Robo: The Animation aka Giant Robo: The Day the Earth Stood Still aka Giant Robo: Chikyuu ga Seishisuru Hi
Genre: Action/Drama
Companies: Hikari Productions/Bandai Visual
Format: 7 OVA
Dates: 22 Jul 1992 – 25 Jan 1998

Synopsis: Enter Shizuma Drive. A magnificent energy source, which has led humanity toward an era of peace and prosperity…or so it would seem. In the shadows of society lie the Big Fire group, an organization dreaming of global conquest. And beneath even the Big Fire Group awaits a mysterious figure bent on revealing the ugly secret of Shizuma Drive by bringing forth the “Beautiful Night.” Now, the only ones who can stand in the way of these people are the International Police Force’s Experts of Justice, along with a young boy by the name of Daisaku Kusama and his partner Giant Robo.

The Highlights
Cast: A quirky and well characterized bunch.
Giant Robots: Clearly from a different era.
Themes: Surprisingly complex for something seemingly simple.
Clichés: This entire anime is built on them.
Ending: The ultimate irony. Deserves a sequel.
Animation, music, and seiyuu: The combination that made this masterpiece possible.

When Tomino left Gundam back in 1994, he personally handpicked Imagawa Yasuhiro to direct the next full-length project. A sensible choice considering how both are perfectionists who are known for their stubbornness. However, to hand over such a large name with such confidence, there had to be a good reason. And after viewing Imagawa’s magnum opus Giant Robo, it is easy to see back then what made him the right man for the job.

To some degree, every single giant robot anime can be traced back to the works of Yokoyama Mitsuteru, namely Tetsujin 28 Gou. The difference here is while most works of the genre have more subtle, and possibly unintentional roots, Giant Robo is blatant, anachronistic, and more than willing to remind you of that. These are not you father’s giant robots and even less yours. These are your grandfather’s robots. In both form and design, the machines in this OVA are 100% taken from the ‘50s and ‘60s. The intent is obviously to capture to spirit of Yokoyama’s creation, even though their looks may not click easily with modern viewers.

The same can perhaps be said about protagonist Daisaku, who takes about four step backs from the now typical mecha protagonists. He is no self-destructive Shinji Ikari, indecisive Hikaru Ichijou, immature Amuro Ray, or even a hot-blooded Koji Kabuto. Instead, Kusama is the good boy hero found in most pre-Nagai Go manga. And being a “good boy” is not that he is devoid of flaws or insecurities. Just the opposite actually. As his friends fight and die alongside him, Daisaku is forced to grow out of his naiveté and into a young man of strong principles. And as he grows, the rest of the cast grows with him. There may be a generational gap at first when it comes to most characters, the robots included. But beyond that, a genuinely good story awaits.

Don’t let the name “Giant Robo” fool you. This is far from the traditional mecha series, and not even close to the generic good vs. evil scenario the opening suggests. For all of the plot devices there are not really any plot gimmicks. And that’s saying a lot with clichés and contrivances being the lifeblood of this anime. There is also little mecha combat to boot. What we do get is a morally complex story about duty and family, a deep character study, and what could perhaps be the most ironic ending in the history of anime. So much ground is covered, but it’s unfortunate that much of it is merely treaded. The conclusion does indeed bring up the fact that this OVA is merely a portion of an even greater epic. But alas, after over 10 years of waiting, it is unlikely that Imagawa¸ or anyone for that matter, will ever get the chance to see the final fruit of his vision.

For all the strength Giant Robo draws from its story and thematic elements, its grandeur doesn’t stop there. A moving symphonic soundtrack, grade A animation, topped off with an amazingly dynamic seiyuu, all play there part in bringing to life one of the most compelling tribute pieces to date. Celebrations of mecha like Gurren Laggan and Gunbuster may work by bringing out the best in the genre’s tried and true clichés. But Giant Robo is down in the core, exploring the themes that have breathed life into the very spirit of giant robots throughout the ages.

The Rating: 9

Reviewed by: Kavik Ryx

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