The Nihon Review - Anime Reviews & Editorials

Tetsujin 28 (2004)

Title: Tetsujin 28 (2004) aka Tetsujin 28-go aka Tetsujin 28th
Genre: Action/Drama
Company: Genco
Format: 26 episodes
Dates: 8 Apr 2004 – 30 Sep 2004

Synopsis: In the shadow of World War II, Japan has recovered and prospered. However, grim reminders of Japan’s dark secrets from the war are resurfacing — most notably the end result of the top secret Tetsujin Project spearheaded by Prof. Kaneda: The giant robot Tetsujin 28. The professor’s young son, Shotaro, becomes the new controller of Tetsujin 28 and struggles to reconcile the robot’s existence as a weapon and its potential for good and evil.

The Highlights
World War II: The anime confronts Japan’s role in the war in surprising ways.
Mood: More somber than some may expect, but never over the top with it.
Retro: Despite the seriousness, Tetsujin 28 retains the somewhat silly, lighthearted feel of older works.

Director Imagawa Yasuhiro understands the mecha genre better than anyone today. He knows not only what makes these stories work, but also what makes them resonate with their audiences. Imagawa’s forte is taking the great mecha of anime and manga’s past and infusing them with a modern flavor, giving them a fresh spin while still staying true to their origins. Tetsujin 28 is perhaps Imagawa’s most ambitious re-imagining of a classic mecha series.

Tetsujin 28 is a beloved icon in Japan. It is also inextricably tied to World War II; part of the story’s genesis was manga author Yokoyama Mitsuteru’s experiences during the war, such as witnessing the firebombing of Kobe as a 5-year-old. Imagawa knows this and infuses the anime with numerous allusions to the war and the post-war climate. In his boldest stroke, the story directly implicates Japan’s role in the war and has its characters confront the crimes they committed that have come back to haunt them.

I do not know this for sure, but I imagine this rendition of Tetsujin 28 must have been at least somewhat controversial in Japan. There are no shortage of anti-war mecha series (that nonetheless revel in violence and explosions), but I cannot think of one that deals with Japan’s past so openly and honestly. The anime also does not cop out by conjuring clownish villains to take the fall for Japan’s actions: characters who are undeniably good and sympathetic also had terrible roles to play during the war, and do not make excuses for their actions but do everything they can to rectify the damage they caused.

Tetsujin 28 is a valuable series because it dares to bring up serious questions, refuses to whitewash history and acknowledges that mistakes are not limited to the evil among us. It’s a point of view nobody should forget — not in Japan, not in the United States (my home country), and nowhere else in the world.

With this questioning of Japan’s past comes a strikingly somber mood that would probably be surprising for those who don’t expect it. Tetsujin 28 deals with a number of heavy topics, and many of its arcs do not conclude on a happy note. However, the series never ratchets up that bleakness to the point where it drowns in self-importance. Imagawa takes the material to serious places, but he never forgets the story’s origins as a series for the younger set. There’s plenty of exciting, interesting action to be had that doesn’t betray the basic questions and concerns the story raises.

Occasionally, however, the lighthearted feel of some parts is jarring. Serious moments are interrupted with slapstick or other goofy jokes where perhaps it would be better to linger more on the moment. It’s not a major problem, though, and on occasion the tonal shifts do work to clear the air and keep the show from becoming too dark.

Tetsujin 28 is another excellent work from Imagawa. I maintain that Giant Robo is his masterpiece, and his recent Shin Mazinger Z thrilled me more on a visceral level, but Tetsujin 28 is the rare show that provides quality entertainment while trusting the viewer to be intelligent enough to think critically about country and history.

The Rating: 8

Reviewed by: Shinmaru

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