Sunday, June 8, 2008

GIANT GORG

The giant blue robot never got a US release, never had any sequels or films, and only inspired a smattering of merchandise from its release 25 years ago. But the 1984 Nippon Sunrise television series GIANT GORG became a fan favorite, partly because it was in the right place at the right time, and partly because of good old fashioned quality.

A 26-episode show created by Yoshikazu "Gundam" Yasuhiko, ostensibly it's that most generic of anime cliches, the 80s giant robot show. And yet it avoids the 'monster of the week' scenarios, the outlandish outer-space settings, the armies of super robots waiting to be sold as 6-inch diecast toys, and all the other trappings of the genre. Instead it's a thoughtful science fiction adventure that cheerfully wanders between wonder, comedy, action, horror, and occasional moments of shock, all wrapped up in great Yas artwork and surprisingly high-quality Nippon Sunrise television animation. It's the anime equivalent of all those Newberry-award winning juvenile SF books you spent library time reading in middle school.
Yu, Doris, Sarah, Algos, and Gorg
The series takes place in the future year of... 1998. There's a big secret on Austral Island, a small island in the South Pacific, that was deliberately exised from maps after an undersea volcano explosion. On the trail of this secret are several groups - the giant multinational corporation GAIL, a band of international spies led by the alluring Lady Lynx, and our heroes Yu Tagami, Dr. Wave and his sister Doris, their Great Dane Algos, and their compatriot the giant, hairy, beer-guzzling, handgun-equipped Sencho. Wishing everybody would get off Austral Island and leave them the hell alone are the Austral Islanders, and lurking mysteriously behind it all is the figure of Giant Gorg.

The adventure starts in a graffiti-splattered New York, where GAIL attempts to silence Dr. Wave by the simple expedient of knocking their entire apartment building down with a wrecking ball. There's a rollicking three-way chase across America involving Greyhound buses and a profitable Vegas side trip. GAIL and Lady Lynx shoot it out in the desert as our heroes escape in a stolen RV. Once across the Pacific, they find Austral Island is divided between GAIL's scientific/military expedition - led by GAIL heir apparant, the flashy young billionaire Rod Balboa - and the islanders, who shoot at everybody and worship their ancient god, Gorg. Between the two groups, the center of Austral Island is home to giant monsters. Separated from Dr. Wave and Doris, Yu and Algos are saved by a indigo-hued metal giant.
Dr. Wave, Sencho, Alois & Sarah shootin' it out
GORG hearkens back to an earlier show, a Yoshiyuki Tomino/Yas collaboration - BRAVE RAIDEEN - in which our hero telepathically merges with a super robot left here by an ancient advanced civilization. Yu doesn't "fade in" to Gorg, but he quickly bonds with the semi-sentient mecha. Not to spoil the show, but Gorg is a castaway mecha from a race of space aliens who visited the Earth thousands of years ago, an intelligent machine with a desire to protect humans. The series is an appealing mix of Indiana Jones style jungle adventure crossed with TETSUJIIN-28/GIANT ROBO boy-robot action, grounded with solid, real-world mechanical design and a story that isn't afraid to throw some consequences around when the lead starts flying. Sencho is particular is a tremendous contrast to Yu; he's a brusque mercenary who does whatever it takes to get the job done, whether it's stealing cars from total strangers, abusing women, or shooting guys right in the head, and there's a real conflict between the two characters.
the evil Lady Lynx of the "Cougar Connection"
Together with Islander rebels Alois, Sarah, and Dominic, our heroes brave the interior of Austral, attack GAIL's underground base, are separated, betrayed, reunited, captured, escape, and battle both GAIL-built construction mecha and giant alien tentacle robot-monsters - again, reminiscent of RAIDEEN's Dorohme - and in the end learn the secret of the aliens presence on Earth, while facing nuclear annhiliation from both the United States and Russia. Will armies of alien Gorg-type robots emerge from the caverns of Austral to wreak havoc on humanity - as shown in a great "robots invade New York" sequence - or can Yu and Gorg prevent disaster?
Doris and Tomeniku

Watching the show, you're struck by how it makes modern anime shows look cheap in comparison. There aren't any recycled "transformation" scenes. Every episode features new backgrounds and new characters, and there's none of this business where characters talk in silhouette or with their faces turned away so mouth movements don't have to be animated. There aren't any shoddy digital zooms or pans. There's none of the painfully transparent appeals to fetishes - no maids, no harems, no DD+ cups, no Nazi uniforms or elaborate goth outfits - that make up so much of the modern anime market, at least the anime market we see here. Nope, just good old fashioned adventure anime made the old-fashioned way, by hand.

Compared to other shows, GORG didn't inspire a whole lot of merchandise. The show features just two robots, an armored personnel carrier, and some helicopters and tentacle monsters, so there isn't a lot of mecha to work with, toy-wise. A 1/100 scale Gorg toy was produced, as well as a sweet 1/20 scale Jumbo Machinder version. A "Kyapi Kyapi" super-deformed model kit was also released starring cutesey versions of Gorg, Yu, and Rod Balboa. A one-volume, tremendously abridged manga adaption -without Yas artwork -was also published. In Japan the show has been released on VHS, Laserdisc and DVD.
Gorg Kyapi Kyapi Kit and manga
For American audiences the show is a treat; New York is lovingly rendered with every decaying brownstone and graffiti-tagged subway train fully evident, in complete defiance of how Rudy Giuliani's NYC of the 90s would actually look. The later half of the series is punctuated with high-level video conferences between GAIL's Chairman Balboa and a thinly-disguised Ronald Reagan. And every episode ends with Batman-inspired text exhorting us to tune in to the next episode, same GORG time, same GORG channel.
New York's all right, if you like saxophones
As a mid 1980s robot anime show, GIANT GORG came at just the right time to catch the attention of American anime fans; the Yas pedigree was enough to leap the language barrier, and GORG's obvious class - as well as the fun of the early New York setting - helped to make the show palatable to 80s Ameriotaku. When Toren Smith put together the program guide for the anime room at the 1986 Baycon in San Francisco, he helpfully included a synopsis for the first two episodes, and as the "Baycon Book," as it would come to be known, became the Bible for anime fans, GIANT GORG became part of the pantheon of Anime That We Happen To Have Information About In English. But the fickle finger of anime fan fate moves rapidly, and the late 80s saw American anime fandom seduced by more current fare like the high-tech rock video world of BUBBLEGUM CRISIS or the cosmos-feeling rock'em-sock'em action of SAINT SEIYA. As the 90s rolled around, GIANT GORG was remembered as just one more 80s show, and if it wasn't GUNDAM nobody had time for it.

But what comes around goes around, and as the American anime DVD market bubble swelled, so did the fortunes of all anime, even overlooked 80s shows about giant blue robots on Pacific islands. GORG was slated for an American DVD release by Bandai along with another cult classic anime series, the stylish SF robot drama SPT LAYZNER. However, production issues - the lack of suitable masters - put the project on the back burner. It's not likely to be fast-tracked in today's post-anime-bubble market as companies scramble to stay afloat and boutique projects - even those of obvious quality and wide appeal, like Giant Gorg - are once again denied legit American release. One may posit that had the industry released more shows like Gorg, instead of fad-packed fetish dominated shows du jour that in future will only be remembered as bargain-bin filling evidence of a culture in decline, the industry wouldn't be in quite so much trouble now.

Today things come full circle as the winds of change blow the sand of time past the rock of ages, and anime fans once again take matters into their own hands and fansub their favorite series. Diligent investigation by interested parties will no doubt reveal fan-subtitled GIANT GORG available through a variety of sources. In the meantime, the ancient gods slumber dreamlessly in their dark caverns. Will they awake again? None can say.


2016 UPDATE: Discotek Media, one of North America's premier anime localizers, has released Giant Gorg on DVD with English subtitles!  Yes, the ancient gods heard our heathen prayers and have answered. We here at Let's Anime encourage all our readers to purchase this DVD set immediately, either through your favorite anime con dealer, your favorite brick and mortar retailer, or for a limited time via a nice discount at Amazon dot com.
same GORG time, same GORG channel

4 comments:

Ardith Carlton said...

Yowza--how can this have no comments yet?! (Sorry my own is so late--just wandered across this, and am bookmarking you, pronto!) Superb summation of this too-long-buried treasure! Have loved this series for years, and your point about its Yuusha Raideen roots adds a brand-new facet--had never occurred to me!

Giant Gorg was actually from the crop of 1984. There had been a flurry of build-up for it in the Japanese anime monthlies in '83...and then, suddenly, silence. The show finally hit the airwaves the following spring. Could well be the delay contributed to the quality.

"Q Robo Gorg," a 4-panel gag strip by mecha designer Gen Satou that ran a few months in...uhhh...jeez, kinda recall it being Hobby Japan, but am probably wrong...was the basis for the Kyapi Kyapi kit series (think there were at least 3), and at least one articulated toy of the cutesified Gorg with accessories, from Takara.

In 2004, Studio DNA celebrated Gorg's 20th anniversary with the release of a manga (here's its front cover and back cover). The cover wasn't familiar, and I didn't recall the artist of that feeble first Gorg manga having a hiragana first name, so grabbed it up quick...but despite that much-improved cover, it turned out to be a larger-format reprint of the Kodansha kiddiefest you have pictured. So watch out, Gorgsters!

Thanks for dusting off this gem and making it shine all the brighter!

d. merrill said...

Hey Ardith! Long time no hear. Didn't I see you on the TV battling for supremacy as Foreign King Of Akiba? I think that Chinese guy was a ringer, is what I think. Thanks for the kind words!!

Dave

Chris J said...

Unfortunately the dvd set (disc 1 at least) has some weird 3-4 second pauses here and there (due to the amount of epsides per disc perhaps?).... wish that wasnt the case. Its not a defect either as I returned my first copy and the replacement has the same pauses in the same spots. Still worth every penny though as its a great series and only a minor distraction.

d merrill said...

Sorry to hear this. I haven't noticed this problem on my Gorg DVD set.