Saturday, November 8, 2008

GO! GO!! RAIDEEN!

It's 1976 and America - gripped by Bicentennial fever and torn between folksy peanut farmer Jimmy Carter and clumsy Washington insider Gerald Ford - is about to be transformed forever by a transforming giant robot! Or would have been, had anybody noticed.

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BRAVE RAIDEEN, the pioneering Sunrise/Tohokushinsha super robot cartoon with the top-notch anime industry pedigree (Yoshiyuki Tomino, Tadao Nagahama, Yoshikazu Yasuhiko) that brought the phrase "Fade In!" to national prominence and alerted us all to the threat of satanic Fossil Beasts, not only was the first transforming super robot anime TV hero, but also was the first transforming super robot anime TV hero to make onto American broadcast television. Can we get more trivial?

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Summer of 1976 saw Japanese-language UHF television stations across America - New York, Chicago, California, Hawaii - become super robot battlegrounds as a subtitled version of BRAVE RAIDEEN burst over the airwaves. Joined by shows like CYBORG 009, CAPTAIN HARLOCK, and, um, GETTAIGER THE COMBO-CAR, these anime series would become key figures in the embryonic American anime fandom of the day. Part of BRAVE RAIDEEN's legacy were two children's books distributed by Pentacon, a Hawaii-based Japanese import outfit.

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These children's books - printed in glossy full color on heavy paperboard stock - were merely English versions of similar Japanese editions (printed in Japan probably on the same presses busy cranking out indestructible children's books based on Daimos, Candy Candy, Galaxy Express, et cetera).

But even though transmission dates "fade-into" the past, the legend of Raideen continues to inspire. What's the story? Akira Hibiki, Seaside High School soccer team captain, one day listens to the voices in his head who tell him that he's actually descended from the Mu Empire civilization. Only he can psychically control Raideen, which is their ancient giant super robot hidden inside a mountain. And he's got to do it right now because the Demon Empire (who actually worship the actual Satan), led by blonde pretty-boy Prince Sharkin, is about to attack the Earth with their legions of flying monster Dorohome and evil Fossil Beasts!

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Luckily for Earth, Akira's girlfriend Mari is the daughter of a prominent scientist- the best friend of Akira's absent father - who has built a gigantic scientific complex just offshore in order to use super-science and the lost technology of Mu to battle the Demon Empire. This science center is amusingly housed inside a big clam shell. Assembling a team of science fighters called "Cope Rundar" (tough guy, bespectacled smart kid, former motorcycle gang deb Asuka Rei), together with Akira and Raideen they defend the peace of Earth!

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As a period piece BRAVE RAIDEEN is jam packed with 70s signifiers like giant lapels, spoon-bending Uri Geller ESP, outlandish animal-themed super vehicles, and Akira's fringed jacket. But the super robot drama of RAIDEEN is a notch or two up from the monster-of-the-week stuff coming from rival Toei- the Nagahama - Tomino combination means pathos and tragedy lurk around every corner for our heroes. The local populace comes to regret being the battleground for every Raideen/Fossil Beast battle, Akira begins to wonder if he's being taken over by Raideen, and Mari, whose panties are shown with alarming frequency, is jealous of Asuka Rei and every other female who dares to appear in the show. Combined with a stirring marching band theme and jazz-rock songs for use encouraging Raideen to fight and/or to indicate when it's time for Raideen to transform into the God-Bird and slam his pointy beak straight through the heart of yet another Fossil Beast, BRAVE RAIDEEN is nothing but entertaining.

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Two lackluster remakes and about a hundred thousand different Raideen toys are evidence that inside every anime fan lurks the fierce desire to hop onto their motorcycle, take a sweet jump off a ramp, hurl yourself into the air while hollering "FADE IN!" and combine with a sentient, millenia-old super robot to defend Earth. Who says the 70s have to be over? Not me!

Well, except for the giant lapels, those can be over. RAIDEEN! USE THE "GOD GO-GUN"!!!

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5 comments:

Superdeformed said...

Asuka Rei? Jesus, Anno is such a Tomino fanboy.

Kid Fenris said...

Anno has said that the Asuka Rei thing is a coincidence, and that Rei was named after Rei from Sailor Moon as both a pun and a failed attempt to get Kunihiko Ikuhara to work on Evangelion. Perhaps that was a joke.

Asuka was named after the lead of some manga called Chou Shoujo Asuka, or so he says. Perhaps that was also a joke.

Tim Eldred said...

Don't forget, there was also an Asuka in SPT Layzner (Eiji Asuka) and also one of those first three VIZ manga/comic books. Forgot the name, but I'm sure someone will know it.

'Asuka' may not be as common a name as 'Akira' but there's enough padding between Raideen and Eva to let Anno off the hook.

August Ragone said...

RAIIIIIIDEEEEEEN!
I was looking up RAIDEEN and found your blog, and after reading this entry and the comments, I felt I had something to contribute.

The manga Anno is referring to as the inspiration Asuka in EVA is indeed the titular character in Shinji "Sukeban Deka" Wada's『超少女明日香』(Cho Shojo Asuka), which debuted in Suesha's weekly "Margaret" magazine in 1975.

Hope this helps!

As for RAIDEEN, the series premiered in June of 1976 in San Francisco on KEMO-20, as part of our local Sunday night Japanese programming produced by Fuji TV (a local broadcaster, no affiliated with the famous Japanese national network).

Taking over KIKAIDA's timeslot of 8:00 pm, RAIDEEN developed a strong local following, supported by commercials for associated products distributed by Honolulu-based Marukai Trading Company. T-shirts, books, and toys (including the big Jumbo Machinder). Marukai also opened its own West Coast outlet just outside of San Francisco, in Brisbane.

A few months after RAIDEEN premiered on San Francisco television, the series also began running Sunday nights on Sacramento's KMUV-31 at 7:00 or 7:30 pm, so when I was at my older sister's place in San Jose, I could catch two episodes of RAIDEEN in one night.

Too bad that Honolulu's KIKU-TV, which subtitled the show, didn't do the entire series, and left us with a cliff hanger—the final showdown between Akira and Prince Sharkin (IIRC, for lack of new episodes, 31 re-ran the series).

To this day, RAIDEEN continues to be one of my cherished favorites, along with YAMATO and GATCHAMAN.

Great blog, btw! Let's exchange links and "Fade in!"

Cheers,
August Ragone
EIJI TSUBURAYA: MASTER OF MONSTERS

Chris Sobieniak said...

As for RAIDEEN, the series premiered in June of 1976 in San Francisco on KEMO-20, as part of our local Sunday night Japanese programming produced by Fuji TV (a local broadcaster, no affiliated with the famous Japanese national network).

Taking over KIKAIDA's timeslot of 8:00 pm, RAIDEEN developed a strong local following, supported by commercials for associated products distributed by Honolulu-based Marukai Trading Company. T-shirts, books, and toys (including the big Jumbo Machinder). Marukai also opened its own West Coast outlet just outside of San Francisco, in Brisbane.

A few months after RAIDEEN premiered on San Francisco television, the series also began running Sunday nights on Sacramento's KMUV-31 at 7:00 or 7:30 pm, so when I was at my older sister's place in San Jose, I could catch two episodes of RAIDEEN in one night.


You West Coast guys are lucky stiffs!