Sunday, December 20, 2020

Shin Super Robot Sunday Gaiden: 8 Man and Cyborg 009


As mentioned last time, I'm going to be doing smaller posts for series/stories that aren't about Giant Robots, but are still relevant to the overall development of Mecha concepts; cyborgs, space operas, weird sci-fi concepts, that sort of thing. These are meant to be sidebars, a gaiden, if you will. (Astro Boy, which was hugely influential in the early days of anime, and still is, was briefly discussed in the Ambassador Magma post).  

Starting off, there was the first Japanese Cyborg Superhero: 8 Man. (or Eightman). The creation of science fiction and manga author Kazumasa Hirai and manga artist Jiro Kuwata. 8 Man was their most significant original creation, but both creators would work on adaptations of Western superheroes. Kuwata worked on the Batman manga in the 1960s and Hirai became the main writer for the dark and gritty Spider-Man manga of the 1970s. 

8 Man tells the story of detective Hachiro Azuma, who was shot dead by a thug (in the manga) and run over by a car (in the anime). Either way, he dies, and his consciousness is transferred to a robot body by Professor Tani. Reborn as a cyborg cop who is affiliated with the police, but not officially, he assumes the name 8 Man, because there are seven investigation units in the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department, and 8 Man is effectively a one-man precinct. It also played on a contemporary police drama called “Seven Detectives.” 

At any rate, 8 Man is a human-sized cyborg who can run at super speed, his eyes can work as searchlights that can detect infrared and radioactive materials, energy emitting, disguises, and other abilities. He had vulnerability to intense heat and electricity, and would have to regularly smoke energy cigarettes which also helped cool down his reactor. The manga ran in Weekly Shōnen Magazine from 1963-1966 and led to an anime adaptation directed by Haruyuki Kawajima produced by TCJ which aired on Tokyo Broadcasting System (TBS) from November 07 1963 to December 31 1964 for a total of 56 episodes. The anime was brought over to the US as Tobor The 8th Man in 1965.

Cyborg 009 is one of Shotaro Ishinomori's first major breakout successes, and next to Kamen Rider and Super Sentai, one of the pillars of Japanese superhero franchises created by him. 
Set against the backdrop of the Cold War, young Joe Shimamura was kidnapped by the sinister Black Ghost and his criminal empire and was turned into the ninth in a series of cyborgs. Joe, as Cyborg 009, has super strength, durability, jumping, swimming, and can activate a super speed “acceleration mode.” Joe and the other cyborgs (each with their own powers and exaggerated features) rebel against Black Ghost and escape with the help of Dr. Gilmore, waging a war against the organization and then fighting other bizarre threats against the world. 

The initial manga series debuted in Weekly Shōnen King on July 19, 1964 and ultimately ran across several magazines until 1981. On July 21, 1966, the first anime movie (eponymously called Cyborg 009) was released, followed by a second movie, Cyborg 009: Monster Wars, which released on March 19, 1967. This was followed by an anime TV series which ran from April 5, 1968 to September 27, 1968 for a total of 26 episodes. Toei Animation handled the work of all three projects. 
Both series were quite successful, and would see continuations and revivals over the years, though Cyborg 009 is certainly the more popular of the two. In July 2020, the crossover manga 8 Man vs Cyborg 009 began running in Champion RED magazine, bringing the two cyborg hero franchises together.

Sunday, November 22, 2020

Shin Super Robot Sunday: Go! Greenman (1973)

Twice I've tried to write this post, and twice the power went out for multiple hours making it impossible. That finally ends today. 
Before Zone Fighter, Toho's first tokusatsu superhero was a red and white alien who could grow to gigantic size and defended Earth from monsters. No, of course he's not an Ultraman ripoff, he's Godman. 

He has a blue visor and a giant mane of platinum blonde hair. 

See? Completely different. 
Go! Godman ran for 26 episodes comprised of multiple five minute segments segments from October 5, 1972 to April 10, 1973. The plots were simple affairs centered around monsters threatening people, the people calling on Godman for help, and then Godman arrived to pummel the monster into the dirt.

On November 12, 1973, the spiritual sequel to Go! Godman aired: Go! Greenman (Ike! Greenman). 52 eight minute episodes comprised of 3 parts each ultimately aired, and this time there was more of a plot tying everything together. 

Deep underground, the devilish monster Maoh, the lord of the underworld awakens, learning that God has exiled him below the Earth. Plotting revenge, Maoh needs the blood of children to power himself up, and summons an army of minions to hunt them on the Earth's surface for him. 

Standing in his way is Greenman, an envoy of God sent to protect the innocent children of the world from Maoh's depredations. After losing initially, Maoh escalates things (literally) by turning his minions into stronger minions that can also grow to gigantic size. With the phrase “Greenman Giant Machine Change!”, Greeman himself can grow gigantic and battle the demons on equal footing. 

Greenman is a robot from Planet Green, and can grow to a height of 45 meters (148 ft). Designed by Tsuguo Murase and refined by a committee that included his brother, veteran monster designer Keizo Murase, the costume was modeled after Buddha statues from Southeast Asia. The similarity is most noticeable in the head, and the whole design was intended to be bright and ostentatious. Like most all tokusatsu heroes of the era, Greenman has an array of weapons, including flight, super speed, energy attacks, a staff called the Greenman Stick, Leg Arrow, chest missiles called the Greenman Breaster (probably influenced by Mazinger Z), and Ear Boomerangs (which are self-explanatory). Greenman also gave the children a box called the Green Call with a button that, when pressed, would summon him to their aid. 

A notable feature of the show was recycling costumes (and monsters) from Toho movies, including Gaira and Sanda from The War of the Gargantuas, Gabara and Minilla from All Monsters Attack, and the King Kong costume from King Kong Escapes. Kong could only be called “Gorilla” in Greenman because Toho no longer had the rights to the King Kong license. If you ever wanted to see an evil version of Godzilla's son get thrown around and laughed at, then here you go.


Go! Greenman had a successful run, but the character went dormant after the show ended. In 2008, Toho released a 22 minute direct-to-video short movie called Go! Godman that brought back Godman to fight against a group of monsters. At a critical moment, one of the human characters finds a Green Call box, presses the button, and Greenman arrives to aid Godman save the day. As a surprising bit of trivia, the Greenman mask and most of the costume remained intact after thirty-plus years and were re-used for this movie. 

Next time on Shin Super Robot Sunday: A new sub-feature that looks at some series that aren't about giant robots per se, but are worth mentioning in context. Get ready for Shin Super Robot Sunday Gaiden
You can blame Space Battleship Yamato getting into a Super Robot Wars game for this.

Sunday, October 18, 2020

Shin Super Robot Sunday: Mazinger Z vs. Devilman

Mazinger Z began airing in 1972 and finished in 1974. 92 episodes is a long time in weekly television installments. On July 18, 1973, in the middle of that successful run, a 43 minute movie was produced by Toei Animation which would cross over with another Dynamic Production series created by Go Nagai. The result was Mazinger Z vs. Devilman
Mazinger Z was already covered on this project, so today we get to focus on Devilman. In 1971, Go Nagai wrote and illustrated a horror manga called Demon Lord Dante about a student who is merged with the body of an ancient demon. Dante initially ended when the magazine it ran in, Bokura Magazine, was discontinued by the publisher, but Toei Animation approached Nagai for an anime adaptation which evolved into a new manga (and related anime) called Devilman

Devilman (the manga, which ran in Weekly Shōnen Magazine) is the story of Akira Fudo, a teenager who learns of the existence of demons who are trapped in hibernation beneath the Earth and will invade soon. Akira is merged with Amon, the most powerful of these demons. As Devilman, Akira fights against the demons and wages an internal war of good vs evil as he struggles to control Amon. 
In the anime (which began airing on July 8, 1972, several months before Mazinger Z), the demon invasion is still planned, and Devilman is sent to Earth, where he possesses the body of the recently deceased Akira Fudo. There he learns the meaning of love and rebels against his people, and becomes a transformation hero (who can grow to giant size) to fight the demons. Both versions were successful, and while the anime was significantly toned down from the manga to be more kid friendly, they're essentially alternate universe stories of each other. Both carry the trademark Go Nagai mix of hot-blooded protagonists, cool monsters, hot chicks, and hot chicks who are cool monsters. 
Devilman aired for 39 episodes, and the franchise would see multiple manga down the line, as well as OVA miniseries, a spinoff series called Devilman Lady, a live action movie in 2004, and most recently the somewhat divisive Devilman Crybaby from 2018 (which aired on Netflix).

Which brings us up to speed for Mazinger Z vs. Devilman
While fighting the robotic monsters of Dr. Hell, Koji Kabuto in the Mazinger Z and Sayaka Yumi in the Aphrodite A accidentally unleash the beautiful female demon Sirene from the earth. The demon flies away before anyone can do anything, but not before beeing seen by Akira Fudo, who turns into Devilman to chase after her. 

Dr. Hell, seeing a potential ally, also follows, and frees a bunch of demons in the Himalayas. The two sides cut a deal. Dr. Hell will help defeat Devilman, and Sirene will help defeat Mazinger. Akira tries to warm Koji, but makes fun of Mazinger's inability to fly, so they get into a heated motorcycle race that ends in a tie. 

Then the bad guys attack and Devilman rescues Mazinger, Mazinger rescues Devilman, and when the situation gets hopeless, Mazinger Z gets its major upgrade: the Jet Scrander. That's right, the Jet Scrander appears in this movie before its debut in the show. With the day saved, the two part as friends. 

The movie is a fun bit of light entertainment that feels like a two-part episode with a higher animation budget. It doesn't exist in either show's continuity, instead acting as a kind of “what if” team up. It would, however, open the door for more crossovers between Dynamic Production series down the line. 


Next time on Shin Super Robot Sunday: Toho goes green.

Sunday, October 11, 2020

Shin Super Robot Sunday: Super Robot Red Baron

Coming off the success of tokusatsu shows like Iron King and the non-giant robot Silver Kamen, Senkosha Productions would follow up with Super Robot Red Baron, which began airing on Nippon Television on July 4, 1973.

Perhaps the most notable staff member who was involved in the creation of the show was Ryu Noguchi (the pen name of manga artist and illustrator Masaru Noguchi). After working as an assistant for Shotaro Ishinomori for a time, he went independent and illustrated the manga adaptation of Alistair MacLean's 1955 novel HMS Ulysses for Weekly Shōnen Sunday. Red Baron was his first television work, where he created character designs. It was the start of a long and successful career in tokusatsu production, and he would work on the Kamen Rider, Metal Heroes, and, most significantly, Super Sentai series. He even did creature designs for Resident Evil in the 90s. 

As for the show itself, Red Baron tells the tale of the the evil Iron Masked Party led by Dr. Deviler/Devilar, who have stolen a bunch of giant robots from around the world and their designers and plan to use them to conquer/destroy the Earth. Kenichiro Kurenai, the designer of the the titular Red Baron (the last robot not stolen), makes it so only his younger brother Ken can operate it, before being kidnapped and killed by the Iron Masked Party. Ken, already a member of the Secret Science Investigation (SSI) group of crimefighters/spies/ninjas, takes control of the robot and uses it to defend the Earth, first against the Iron Masked Party, then against the Space Iron Party, commanded by Giras Q. 
After a slow start, the show was a success and was extended from its initially planned 26 episodes and introduced an entire new faction (the Space Iron Party). Ultimately the show ran for 39 episodes, apparently only ending when one of the main sponsors went bankrupt. Senkosha Productions would make spiritual sequels, but those are stories for another time. 

The comparisons to Mazinger Z are unavoidable. A hot blooded hero inherits a powerful robot made of a special metal (in this case Baronium) that he has to use against a secret society bent on world conquest. What's different here is the presence of the SSI. They're an Ultraman style support team of agents in snappy uniforms and their own character arcs and personalities. There's the strict but kind captain Daigo, the hot-blooded marksman Tetsuya, comic relief brawler Daisaku, Mari, a high kicking photographer and sort-of love interest for Ken. Aiding them is Inspector Kumano, a somewhat silly police officer on a bicycle who has a sword-cane in his umbrella and a gun in his bicycle pump.


As for the Red Baron itself, its a 40 meter (131 ft) tall, bright red colossus with a staggering array of weapons ranging from missiles, to beams, to kicks, to a rocket punch (called the Baron Punch). Its powered by a nuclear reactor, can fly at Mach 10, and after an upgrade, is capable of space travel. Fairly standard kit for a super robot. 

While overshadowed by bigger contemporary tokusatsu franchises, Red Baron did get a western DVD release in 2010 that included the entire series in one cheap boxed set. For whatever reason, the sequels did not. 
Next time on Shin Super Robot Sunday: Things get spooky as Mazinger Z runs across some deviltry.

Sunday, September 06, 2020

Shin Super Robot Sunday: Zone Fighter

Toho Studios wasn't done with 1973 after Godzilla vs. Megalon. The studio had successfully ventured into tokusatsu television programming in 1972 with Warrior of Love Rainbowman (a name that will come up again later), and 1973 saw a new live-action superhero series with direct ties to the Godzilla franchise: Zone Fighter

The show famously included Godzilla as a recurring guest character, but also Godzilla villains King Ghidorah and Gigan, and a number of episodes were directed by Toho feature film directors Ishirō Honda and Jun Fukuda. The show began broadcasting on Nippon Television on April 2, 1973, but despite its pedigree, only lasted 26 episodes before cancellation. 

Zone Fighter, or Ryūsei Ningen Zone (literally “Meteor Human Zone”), tells the story of the Zone family, fugitives from the destroyed planet of Peaceland who fled to Earth and disguised themselves as the Sakimori family. However, the aliens who destroyed their planet, the Garogans, have come to Earth, and the Sakimori children, take up the fight to save their adopted planet.

The primary hero is the eldest son Hikaru Sakimori, who can transform into the masked Zone Fighter by shouting “Zone Fight Power!” He can additionally transform into a gigantic 62 meter (204 ft.) tall form by shouting “Zone Double Fight!” His sister, Hotaru Sakimori, can transform into Zone Angel, and their kid brother Akira Sakimori, can turn into Zone Junior. Neither Angel or Junior could become gigantic. Their dad, Yochiro Sakimori, is an inventor who works for a toy research institute, providing the heroes with various gimmicks and weapons. 
Zone Fighter himself takes obvious design cues from Ultraman, but with a predominantly silver and blue color scheme with red trim. Abilities include flight, defensive and offensive energy projection, grappling, wrist-mounted missiles, and even teleportation. Like contemporary giant heroes, he has a time limit on his giant form before he runs out of energy. And like the Ultras, Zone Fighter is not a robot, but a dude who can get huge. 
The Garogas are skull-faced aliens who aren't huge either. Instead, they launch their dreaded terror-beasts from space to Earth in rocket pods, like a kaiju ODST. The terror beasts are usually giant monsters or cybernetic mixtures of monsters with various metal parts bolted onto them. 

One of the terror-beasts, Jikiro is a full robot. Appearing in the second episode, Jikiro is launched to Earth to attack a weakened Zone Fighter, and nearly succeeds in killing him. Jikiro is a 78 meter (256 ft) tall metal monster with a hunchbacked, reptilian head and magnetic powers. It also has an adorable parachute that deploys after he hits atmosphere, allowing him to land safely.

Being a monster-of-the-week, Jikiro was destroyed, but he was rebuilt later in the series as Super Jikiro, with more powerful armor and weapons before being destroyed once more. 

Zone Fighter is an interesting side story of the Showa-era Godzilla franchise. Cancelled amidst poor ratings and an oil crisis, it nevertheless exists as an official part of Godzilla continuity taking place after Godzilla Vs. Megalon. After fleeing Earth, Gigan was captured by the Garogas and used to attack Earth, and he was killed by Zone Fighter. There were a few manga that ran alongside the show, but after its run the show drifted into obscurity. 

Curiously, in 2015, the YouTube channel Daikaiju Legends began a fan project/sequel series to Zone Fighter (called Zone Fighter) which uses American actors for the human cast and stop-motion action figures to represent the monsters and heroes including Zone Fighter and a bunch of Ultraman characters. Its odd, and the acting leaves no question that its a fan-film, but the stop motion effects are an interesting workaround to not having suit actors and miniature city sets, and the production quality jumped several levels of sophistication in the intervening five years.

Next time on Shin Super Robot Sunday: Senkosha Productions goes from a King to a Baron.


Sunday, August 16, 2020

Shin Super Robot Sunday: Godzilla vs. Megalon


For this titanic twentieth entry in Shin Super Robot Sunday, its fitting that the King of the Monsters should get the spotlight. 
Toho Studios unleashed Godzilla upon the world in 1954 through director Ishirō Honda and special effects director Eiji Tsuburaya (both well-represented in this survey through The Mysterians, King Kong Escapes, and the Ultraman series). By 1973, Godzilla had already been the star of 12 feature-length movies, going from a metaphor for the shadow of nuclear annihilation to a grumpy wild-card monster that mostly wants to be left alone, to an unlikely superhero that defends the Earth from the likes of King Ghidorah, to a single dad trying to raise his son on Monster Island. It was a long, strange trip through the Shōwa era (named after the era of the Shōwa Emperor, Hirohito), and the 13th Godzilla movie would be a high point for the kid-friendly, lovable superhero version of the character: Godzilla vs Megalon
Released on March 17, 1973 and directed by Jun Fukuda (himself a veteran director of several Godzila movies such as Ebirah, Horror of the Deep, Son of Godzilla, and Godzilla vs. Gigan) and the special effects direction of Teruyoshi Nakano (a former apprentice of Eiji Tsuburaya's who became the primary effects director for the later Shōwa Godzilla movies).

In 197X, underground nuclear testing near the Aleutian Islands causes significant seismic disturbances that cause havoc on Monster Island. Unbeknownst to the surface world, the tests have devastated the scientifically advanced underground kingdom of Seatopia, which sank below the surface thousands of years ago like the mythical continents of Mu and Lemuria. In Japan, inventor Goro Ibuki, his kid brother Rokuro Ibuki, and buddy Hiroshi Jinkawa get caught up in a plot by Seatopian spies who hijack Goro's recently completed robot, Jet Jaguar, to guide the underground monster Megalon on a path of destruction across the surface. 


A lot happens on in the first half of the movie, with fistfights, car chases, Hollow Earth-style civilizations, and the giant insectoid Megalon laying waste to Japan. Its all very pulpy in its sensibilities. After some close calls, Goro is able to regain control of Jet Jaguar and sends him to Monster Island to summon Godzilla to defend the Earth. Godzilla can't fly, though, and Jet Jaguar's AI overrides external control and he grows to giant size to confront Megalon to buy time for the King of the Monsters to swim to shore. In the meantime, the Seatopians sent a signal to the M Space Hunter Nebula Aliens, who send Gigan to Earth as backup for Megalon. 

Godzilla really only features in the climactic fight scene of the movie: a two on two tag battle of Megalon and Gigan against Jet Jaguar and Godzilla. Gigan first appeared in 1972's Godzilla vs. Gigan, but Megalon and Jet Jaguar were new entrants to the series.

Megalon is a 55 meter (180 ft) tall giant beetle-like insectoid with a horn that shoots energy beams and two massive drill hands for digging through the Earth's crust. Viewed as a godlike protector by the Seatopians, Megalon isn't very smart, but he is durable, and a well-rounded battler. 


The real interesting story, though, centers around Jet Jaguar and his real-world origin. Initially the result of a contest held by Japanese department and grocery store chain Seiyu (now a wholly-owned subsidiary of Wal-Mart) to design a kaiju for the next Toho Studios movie, the winning design was for a brightly colored robot monster called Red Alone which subsequently underwent significant redesigns by Teruyoshi Nakano into Jet Jaguar, with a deliberately garish/obnoxious appearance to set him apart from the many, many, many Ultraman-like giant heroes of the early 70s. The movie project was initially to be called Jet Jaguar vs. Megalon, but in the crowded tokusatsu hero market of the time period, production was halted to add Godzilla and Gigan to the movie for added star power. 


Jet Jaguar doesn't have many powers at his disposal compared to an Ultraman (in this movie, at least), but he does have flight, super strength, and incredible durability, as well as the ability to speak with giant monsters and can grow to a height of 50 meters (164 ft). 


The movie was successful, making about $20 million at the box office for a cost of $1.2 million, and it would see significant foreign releases, most notably in the US in 1976 where it became a mainstay of home video and matinee TV showings. It earned a divisive position in the Godzilla fanbase for its frequent goofiness, which is also a large part of its cult classic status. In 1991, the movie was featured as an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000 (the first of two Godzilla movies featured on the show, the other being Godzilla vs The Sea Monster AKA Ebirah, Horror of the Deep), and added to the movie's goofy reputation. In the modern era, the movie has a Criterion Collection release (alongside all of the Shōwa era Godzilla entries), which solidifies the Godzilla vs. Megalon as not just a movie, but as a film.

Haters gonna hate. 
Jet Jaguar and Megalon have not made any subsequent movie appearances, but have appeared frequently in multiple Japanese manga, American comics, and video games.

Mexican heavy metal band Jet Jaguar (founded in 2014 in Cancún) released their first full length album, Endless Nights, in July of 2020. Mixing 80's aesthetics, power metal, and a dash of synthwave, the name can't be a coincidence considering Godzilla vs. Megalon's significant international distribution in the 80's and 90's. After all, what's more metal than a giant robot? 

Next time on Shin Super Robot Sunday: Toho explores a newer zone: the small screen.

Sunday, August 02, 2020

Shin Super Robot Sunday: Jumborg Ace

The third of Tsuburaya Productions 10th anniversary shows, Jumborg Ace was different from Ultraman Taro and Fireman in that it was chock full of robots. Jumborg Ace began airing on January 17, 1973 on Mainichi Broadcasting System, the show ran for 50 episodes and was primarily produced by staff who had previously worked on Mirrorman under the direction of Yoshiyuki Kuroda. While the show debuted in 1973, a prequel manga, Jumbo X, was serialized in 1970, with a number of elements that initially tied it to the Ultraman franchise before it was ultimately spun off into its own project.


Naoki Tachibana is an air delivery boy who flies a Cessna. When the evil alien Anti Go-Ne from the planet Groth invades with giant monsters, Naoki's brother, Shin'ya, a member of the Protective Attacking Team (PAT), dies in battle with a giant monster. In revenge, Naoki tries to ram his plane into the monster on a suicide run, fails, and is transported to an energy dimension where an alien named Emerald from Planet Emerald, saves Naoki's life, modifies his wristwatch, modifies his plane, and sends him back home. Guided by Emerald's voice, Naoki uses the watch and the command phrase “Jum-Fight!” to transform the plane into the giant mecha Jumborg Ace.

Giant robot it most certainly is. Naoki pilots Jumborg from inside the robot's head using a movement control suit to mirror his own actions (a feature that would show up in later Mecha shows like Daimos and G Gundam). 

The 40 meter (131 ft) tall robot features the standard tokusatsu giant hero fighting abilities: grappling, flight (Mach 11, which is not bad at all for a souped up Cessna), strength, and an emphasis on beam and energy weaponry.


But that's not all. During the course of the show, Naoki meets the brother of Emerald, Kain, who gives the hero a second robotic ally: Jumborg 9. Instead of a plane, Jumborg 9 is disguised as a Honda Z minicar called the Jum Car Z, and can transform into a 50 meter (164 ft) tall half silver, half reddish-orange powerhouse. 

Jumborg 9 can't fly, but he can run at 900 kilometers an hour (560 mph), and hits like a truck. He's also piloted like a regular car, with gearshifts, pedals, and steering wheels.


The minions of Planet Groth also numbered quite a few robots, among them Airdolmen (a flying robot); Giant Robot Zero (which was recycled from Mirrorman's Noah robot costume); Flight King (a quadrupedal missile launching robot with a drill on its head); an imitation Jumborg Ace (armed with a whip and rocket punches, see above); Honest King (a king-themed robot that can transform into a dog disguise); Gold Dragon (a two-headed golden dragon robot); Mirrorking (a robot that can invade dreams) and two more that deserve a little more attention:


Dump Kong is a 46 meter tall robot made from a dump truck that looks like King Joe if it had been made from scrap parts, and can shoot hooks and tires at Jumborg Ace. Its awesome. 


The other one is Jum Killer. Much like Ace Killer, Jum Killer is a robot designed specifically for destroying the hero of the show, and actually defeats Jumborg Ace. Jum Killer is ultimately defeated by the newly acquired Jumborg 9. A second robot, Jum Killer Jr., was a bigger challenge, but still also defeated by Jumborg 9.


Reflecting the growing trend of super robots in a post-Mazinger world, Jumborg Ace did well with a piloted transforming super robot protagonist and would see a follow up the following year, but that deserves its own entry.


Next time on Shin Super Robot Sunday: Toho brings out its heavy hitter.