Tuesday, May 23, 2023

Anime North 2023

It's that time of year again when the flowers bloom, when the pollen drifts, when spring comes to Ontario and when Anime North comes to Toronto. Since 1997 this festival of all things Japanese animation-related has been a yearly highlight of the Canadian anime fan calendar, and as the nation's top non-profit fan event the convention provides a weekend of excitement for, let's say thirty thousand or so attendees. And as is my custom, I'll be behind the tables hosting a host of panels and events revolving around classic Japanese animation.



Friday evening in Plaza 1 in the Delta, we'll be taking a look at the life and career of recently departed manga legend Leiji Matsumoto, both as a retrospective of his many works in the comics field, the animation those works inspired, and the fans and fandom that grew from it, both in Japan and in the West.


Friday night at 10, Anime Hell returns to the TCC North Ballroom for another two hours of whimsical, poorly defined audio-visual nonsense culled from the streaming feeds and thrift-store VHS of a lifetime of hoarding. 

Saturday at noon, join a panel of convention veterans as they explain the scams and flim-flams of fandom, how bad actors, grifters, predators, and other creeps victimize the world of fan organizations and activities. 

At 2:30pm Saturday, join the Mister Kitty Dot Net team of David Merrill and Shaindle Minuk as they take you through the confusing, sometimes licensed, always culturally appropriative world of The Great Anime And Manga Swindle. 


Shotaro Ishinomori is one of the giants of manga and Saturday at 4, Mike Toole and Dave Merrill will examine this record-breaking, tremendously influential figure, from Android V to Mezzon Z.



Saturday from noon until 6, the Paris Room will once again be host to Classic Anime Afternoon, a daylong celebration of vintage and currently unlicensed in the West anime series and films. 



Saturday night erupts with a tag-team of nothing but trouble as Neil Nadelman delivers Totally Lame Anime followed by Mike Toole unwrapping some Bootleg Korean Anime. Don't miss it!



Sunday at 1 Dave will be taking you through the Japanese anime films of forty years ago. Everything from atom bombs to Arales, from Harmagedons to Final Yamatos to Fantastic Trips happened in 1983 and you will see it all. 


 And stick around Sunday afternoon as Mike Toole takes you on another trip through the world of Dubs Time Forgot, as disrespected voice work and forgotten audio tracks are resurrected to see the light of day once again. Can audio tracks see? I don't know. Let's find out. 


It's all happening at Anime North, May 26-28, 2023! See you soon! 


Wednesday, May 17, 2023

The Mister Kitty Story


As many Let's Anime readers may be aware, when I'm not writing for this blog I'm usually working on something for the website Mister Kitty. My partner Shaindle Minuk and myself started Mister Kitty in 2006 or so as a website to publish our comics on the internets, which was the fashion at the time. 


Since then we've both released hundreds and hundreds of pages of our original comic stories in a variety of genres and media. We both hosted galleries of our artwork on the site. For a few years I put together a weekly audio feature called "Found Sound" where I'd highlight some particularly goofy singles or album tracks from my collection of offbeat vinyl. This has since been replaced by a semi-regular podcast feature, Mister Kitty's Lo-Fi Landfill. 

 But what wound up being the most popular feature has been Stupid Comics, a weekly deep dive into one of the thousands of  comic books that litter our place, a dive into a comic that fails on some level - inept artwork, poorly thought-out stories, shoddy printing, obvious swipes, all kinds of problems can befall the production of an example of the Ninth Art, and in seventeen years of making fun of these comics we've seen and made fun of our fair share of those failures. 

The reason I bring all this up is simple. For years our website was located at Mister Kitty Dot Org. That web address was burned into my brain through countless interviews, podcasts, and convention panels. Name the occasion and there I was, reminding everyone to visit Mister Kitty Dot Org. Well, not any more. It seems that our web hosting company fumbled the ball during an important moment of transition, and our dot org address was snatched out from under our very noses. In practical terms, this means that we're no longer at Mister Kitty Dot Org, and instead the entire website and all its content is now located at Mister Kitty Dot Net

I have but one request for you, dear readers. Please take a minute to visit and bookmark Mister Kitty Dot Net. Maybe give the site a visit on a regular basis (we usually post new Stupid Comics late Thursday night). If you happen to come across an old link to something we published at the dot org site, that link probably won't work. At least, it's not going to take you to anything we have anything to do with. 

I realize how frustrating this might be for long-time readers of our site to have to replace a well-known, almost reflexive address with a new, slightly different one, and I apologize for any stress or confusion this may cause. Please be assured we are going to continue with Stupid Comics every week; there's going to be a new Lo-Fi Landfill for you soon, and there will be some new comics from us down the road. Both Shain and myself have really enjoyed working on Mister Kitty,  and we're pleased and a little amazed that we've managed to entertain so many regular visitors for so long. If you could bear with us through this speed bump, we'll do our best to keep delivering the Mister Kitty to you.

 -Dave and Shain 

Thanks for reading Let's Anime! If you enjoyed it and want to show your appreciation for what we do here as part of the Mister Kitty Dot Net world, please consider joining our Patreon!

Friday, March 31, 2023

A Time Slip Of Forty Years: 1983 In Anime Film

Let's look at the numbers. In 1982 there were 21 animated movies released in Japanese cinemas with a total running time of 1881 minutes. The next year saw slightly fewer films-  only 19 - and a concomitant shrinkage of total length down to a mere sixteen hundred sixty-five minutes. You could marathon that in less than a day! But when you look at the actual films themselves forty years ago, a different story emerges, a story of Crushers, Fantastic Trips, long-distance murder professionals, magic islands, time slips, Final Yamatos, and horrific disasters both real and imaginary. 1983 was a year of Japanese animation pulling away from its terebi manga roots and finally becoming real, slightly overstuffed roadshow capital-c Cinema in brand new ways. Let's take a look at the anime films in the order in which they were released forty years back!

Urusei Yatsura: Only You planted its tiger-striped-booted feet firmly into February 1983 and said, this is what it's gonna look like for the next few years, anime is going to be an outer space carnival of pop music, cute girls, interstellar hijinks, and frustrated romance. Based on the popular Shonen Sunday manga by Rumiko Takahashi, Urusei Yatsura, or "Those Obnoxious Aliens" as we used to call it, ostensibly is the story of Lum the invader gal and her hapless boyfriend, the dopey, skirt-chasing Ataru. Quickly overwhelmed by its equally obnoxious cast and a creative team that included Mamoru Oshii and Akemi Takada, the series became an ensemble comedy that bent the laws of time, space, propriety and gender. Only You is the first of six feature films that together with with 194 episodes of the Urusei Yatsura TV series would go a long way towards defining the 80s anime style.


One month later would be the premiere of Crusher Joe, a film directed by Yoshikazu "Yas" Yasuhiko, produced by Studio Nue and Nippon Sunrise, their first non-TV compilation film. Crusher Joe is based on the SF novels by Haruka Takachiho, who would go on to create the similarly-motifed and possibly canonically connected Dirty Pair. The far-future galactic troubleshooters known as Crushers operate throughout the galaxy, and the number one team is known as Crusher Joe after its leader Joe. His teammates the pretty princess Alfin, the cyborg Talos, engineering genius Ricky, and the 'droid Drongo uncover a conspiracy that threatens the galaxy while dodging both the murder plots of the space-pirate guild and the red tape of the United Planets. Pulpy science-fiction adventure in the classic style, Crusher Joe would get two more OVA sequels and this film would be gifted a terrible English dub that features new songs from "Bullets." Fret not, the Blu-Ray is subtitled.

The short feature Dr Slump HoYoyo! The Race Around The World premiered March 13, 1983 and the movie is just what it says on the tin. Indeed, this film is a wacky race as Akira Toriyama's zany Arale and the rest of the goofy Penguin Village gang pop the clutch and tell the world to eat their respective dusts. It's part of Dr. Slump's only American video release!

March 12 saw the release of Harmagedon, the first anime feature by publisher-turned-film-producer Haruki Kadokawa. This expensive, overstuffed epic features music from prog rock legend Keith Emerson and character designs by future prog manga legend Katsuhiro Otomo. Harmagedon, or Genma Taisen if we're going by the kanji, is based on the 1960s manga drawn by Shotaro Ishinomori and written by Kasumasu Hirai, who wrote manga classic 8-Man, pulp novel/Sonny Chiba vehicle Wolf Guy and a lengthy series of Harmagedon sequel novels. Hirai's interest in syncretic New Age religions is no surprise considering Harmagedon's script, filled with the vast darkness of Entropy fought across time and space by psychic warriors empowered by universal love consciousnesses. Harmagedon was released on VHS in the US in the 1990s, but earlier in the 80s you may have seen the laserdisk videogame it inspired, Bega's Battle.

The Space Battleship Yamato faces its ultimate challenge in Uchuu Senkan Yamato Kanketsu-hen, Space Battleship Yamato the Final Chapter (or as the English language text in the promotional material likes to call it, simply Final Yamato) as the evil Denguils, outer space legions descended from Mesopotamians rescued from the Biblical flood of Noah by the actual Satan, send the water planet Aquarius to literally drown the planet Earth again. Only the Yamato - captained by a surprisingly alive Captain Okita - can save us all. This epic spectacle's extended version clocks in at 163 minutes, which includes scenes producer Yoshinobu Nishizaki added into a 70mm re-release nine months after its initial March 19 premiere. Perhaps this film's butt-demolishing length helped Yamato fans weather the full decade before they'd see another Yamato project (the ill-fated Yamato 2520).


Noel embarked on her Fantastic Trip on April 29 1983. This movie feels like a vanity project for producer and Noel's voice actor Iruka, a Japanese folk singer who since 1970 has released 26 LPs, three books, four childrens' books, 8 radio shows, and acted in a medical TV drama. Iruka is really Toshie Hosaka, and she got the Iruka nickname in high school when she saw a crowd of music students carrying their guitar cases and said "it looks like a school of dolphins (iruka in Japanese)." So this particular Fantastic Trip of Noel's is a loosely plotted string of vignettes that allow the film to express simple concepts about pollution or friendship while delivering various Iruka songs. Noel lives on an island in space with her friend Pup and a bunch of animal friends. One day after singing a song about wanting to be a country girl, she decides the sun's too hot and would like some ice cream. So Noel and Pup take off in her airplane to give the Sun some ice cream. They stop at Planet Gaudy where she convinces everyone to become nudists. 

Meet The Beatles (And Noel)

After giving the Sun ice cream, they sing a few songs with the Yellow Submarine-era Beatles on the bottom of the ocean. Then smog attacks, but they are rescued by the super whale Super Zoomer. The source of the smog is an urbanized industrial planet, and the immediate threat is stopped by Super Zoomer and then there's an extended sequence involving babies on tricycles and a song about pollution controls. The end. Noel is voiced by Iruka in the original and by Corinne Orr in the American version, which aired on cable TV and was released on home video to a confused and bewildered nation.

First he was portrayed by Ken Takakura. Then Sonny Chiba took on the role. But the definitive Golgo 13 may be the 1983 anime film directed by certified genius Osamu Dezaki. The first animation production starring Takao Saito's legendary assassin Golgo 13 was this eponymous TMS film, released May 28. Known in the West as "The Professional," Golgo 13 is jam packed with slow-motion murder, mayhem, early computer animation, and the "postcard memories" Dezaki became famous for, as Duke Togo weathers a series of increasingly bizarre attempts on his life, which, let's be honest, is itself a series of increasingly bizarre attempts to take the lives of others.


Jiron Amos saddles up his Walker Machine and rides out on the vengance trail in the July 9 release Xabungle Graffiti, a theatrical compilation of the Xabungle TV series from Nippon Sunrise that was released in a double bill with Sunrise's Dougram film. Will Jiron and the crew of the gigantic transforming land-battleship mecha Irongear defy both the traditions of their violent land and its mysterious ruling class? You'll say "yes" by the time the new MIO song starts. Available as part of Sentai's Xabungle Blu-Ray set, this Tomino series lacks the seriousness and the death toll of his other works.


On July 9, the compilation film of the Nippon Sunrise Fang Of The Sun Dougram TV series was distributed by Shochiku with the title "Document Dougram". Created by Votoms helmer Ryousuke Takahashi, the film is a condensed retelling of the struggle of guerrilla fighters battling to free the planet Deloyer from the oppressive Earth occupation forces, and is one of the few series we're discussing today that has yet to get any sort of English language release. Come on fellas, let's get it together here. Document Dougram was released along with the super deformed comedy short "Choro Q Dougram," a combination of Dougram sponsor Takara's popular deformed minature spring-powered car toy Choro Q with characters from Dougram.

Another not-available-in-America title, Maya Mineo's serio-comic gagfest manga Patalliro first appeared in Hana to Yume in 1978, switched to Bessatsu Hana to Yume in 1991 and is still going strong. Bratty boy-genius Patalliro is both king of Malynera and heir to a diamond fortune and lives to confuse and irritate everyone around him, including his dreamy bodyguard Bancoran, who attracts a variety of beautiful boy admirers. The Patalliro Toei anime series ran for 49 episodes while this film, Stardust Keikaku (Keikaku means "plan") was released on July 10 and clocks in a mere 48 minutes.

Unico In the Island Of Magic was a July 16 release. Osamu Tezuka's Unico was created for the Sanrio magazine Lyrica, a lost little unicorn propelled through worlds of magic and legend on the whims of the Wind Goddess. Here in Unico's second movie he finds himself on the Island of Magic as a succession of increasingly disturbing Madhouse-animated creations threaten him and his friends, and the enigmatic wizard Torby must decide whether to defy his master, or turn us all into lifeless dolls. Both Unico films received English dubs and home video releases, frightening entire generations of 80s kids on both sides of the Pacific.

Based on the semiautobiographical manga by Hiroshima survivor Keiji Nakazawa, Barefoot Gen / Hadashi no Gen, a July release, was directed by Mori Masaki and produced by animation powerhouse Madhouse. This film, the first of two Barefoot Gen movies, details the life of an ordinary Japanese family struggling to survive in a militarized total-war Japan and the aftermath of that war's cataclysmic conclusion. Barefoot Gen's manga was one of the first Japanese comics to be translated and published in America (by Leonard Rifas' Educomics) and the film received a 1992 American release with a subsequent dub and release by Streamline Pictures in 1995.

Prime Rose: A Time Slip Of 10000 Years was broadcast August 21 as part of Nippon TV's 24 hour "Love Saves The Earth" telethon. The demon Bazusu sends both Kujukuri City in Chiba and Dallas in Texas ten thousand years in the future and makes them battle for his amusement. Tanbara Gai of the Time Patrol fights to stop this fighting along with the barely-dressed Emiya Tachi/Prime Rose in this Tezuka Pro/Magic Bus production.

Wrapping up the year, September and December would see two Nine movies from Gisaburo Sugii and Group TAC, based on Mitsuru Adachi's popular baseball manga about Aohide High School's center fielder Katsuya and the team manager, the mysterious beauty Yuri Nakao.  Adachi would keep working that baseball angle in his next 80s series Touch, perhaps his biggest manga hit in a career that is woefully underrepresented in the West.

And that's what 1983 looked like if you spent your year in Japanese theaters watching cartoons. If you ask me to pick a favorite, well, that's a tough question. Urusei Yatsura Only You might not be as critically acclaimed as the next UY film Beautiful Dreamer, but I think Only You is a rock-solid 90 minutes that takes the Urusei Yatsura cast out of Tomobiki and into the kind of big-screen science-fiction nonsense that movies were made for.

I'm always going to have a soft spot for Harmagedon, as maligned as the film may sometimes be. It's a movie made up of some terrific, fantastically realized pieces of animated cinema, separated by long stretches of not much at all. Not to generalize, but Japanese film is, well, we might say sometimes it's deliberately paced. Discursive. Meandering. Tends to wander. That's Harmagedon in a nutshell, it's all over the map.


And as meandering as Harmagedon might be, at least it's forty minutes shorter than the long version of Final Yamato, a film that hopes you're as excited as Nishizaki is about This Being The Last Yamato Film Ever Swear To God. If you're on board with this, fine, and if you aren't, if everything isn't as epic and as majestic and as awe-inspiring as it possibly can be, well then you might think this movie's too long. And it probably is. But as the Japanese iteration of those bloated Cinemascope studio-destroying historical epics midcentury Hollywood was throwing its cash at - your Liz Taylor Cleopatras, your How The West Was Wons, your Fall Of The Roman Empires, your Lawrence Of Arabias, your Spartacuses - as one of those overbudgeted overture-preceded pray-for-intermission endurance contests, Final Yamato fits right in.

As a big fan of Saito's Golgo 13 manga it's interesting to see various G13 stories turn up in the script of the TMS Golgo 13 film, but at times the connecting threads of plot stitching them all together are overwhelmed by the sheer hallucinogenic power of Dezaki's visuals. Not that this is a bad thing, you understand. Similarly, Crusher Joe from Yas and Sunrise looks great and is filled with terrific science fiction action sequences, and those sequences pile on top of each other until the film's had what feels like one or two climaxes too many.

Pound for pound, frame for frame, perhaps 1983's most enduring animated film is Madhouse's Unico In The Island Of Magic, a movie that throws goggle-eyed witches in our faces, fills the screen with nothing but the blue of Torby's cloak, and forces Unico to flee, scared to death through an island made entirely of the petrified remains of Torby's victims. A film that feels as fresh today as it did on that hand-me-down in the kids' mid-1980s playroom, Island Of Magic holds up today against everything forty years has thrown at it, and that's not something a lot of movies - let alone people, even - can say.

-Dave Merrill

March 1983 issue of OUT

Thanks for reading Let's Anime! If you enjoyed it and want to show your appreciation for what we do here as part of the Mister Kitty Dot Net world, please consider joining our Patreon!

Tuesday, February 28, 2023

May The Force Five Be With You

Force Five! Not a wind strength measured with the Beaufort scale. Not the 1981 Robert Clouse action movie starring Hapkido master Bong Soo Han. Instead, five different Japanese animation science-fiction sockeroos entertaining us in the early 80's! If you were watching syndicated TV in those days, you might have caught any one of the five on your local UHF station, localized and packaged by Jim Terry's production company and released en masse to independent stations across North America.

Many times this show is identified as "Shogun Warriors", which is, let’s say, in the right ballpark, but the wrong seating section. Shogun Warriors is a Mattel toy line that repackaged Japanese toys for sale in the American market. This is how us 70's kids got die-cast Mazingers, Raideens, and Daimoses in our Lionel Playworlds and our Toys R Usses along with marketing tie-ins that included a Marvel comic. But there isn't a TV cartoon with the "Shogun Warriors" title, and the question is, why not? Why didn't some exec package the Mattel toys along with the Jim Terry cartoons? This isn't rocket-punch science here. Then again, this is the 70's we're talking about, who knows what kinds of handshake deals were going down in the hospitality suites at the big TV distribution conferences? Jim Terry knows, and he ain’t tellin’ why Force Five compilation films were indeed listed as "Shogun Warriors" in the TV Guides.


You can see the early Force Five marketing materials in industry trade magazines, an all-star lineup of UFO Robo Grendizer, Getter Robo G, Space Dragon Gaiking, Planet Robo Danguard Ace, and Great Mazinger. One of these shows would, for some reason probably involving Go Nagai's lawyers, not make the final Force Five team.

Unless you lived in a city with a Japanese-language UHF station, you might not have had a chance to watch the cartoons starring your favorite Shogun Warriors. In fact you might not even know these amazing toys had cartoon tie-ins at all. For a lot of us, the Force Five broadcast was the first time we’d be able to experience something we might have only seen glimpses of, and that something was the Japanese super robot cartoon, brought to us by Jim Terry Productions.

Jim Terry would spend the 80s retooling Japanese shows for the American market, producing several Toei titles for ZIV (Captain Harlock, Candy Candy) and packaging shows from all over the map for a wide variety of home video outfits – Timefighters (Time Bokan) from Tatsunoko, Ninja The Wonder Boy (Manga Sarutobi Sasuke) from Knack Studio, and the Russo-Japanese coproduction he'd retitle Scamper The Penguin. Terry's crew was also responsible for the infamous “Crushers” dub of the Nippon Sunrise film Crusher Joe. Most of the later works would feature musical accompaniment by Mark Mercury's “Bullets” but Force Five thankfully leaves the original music library in place, substituting instrumental versions for tracks with vocals, which work surprisingly well, a testament to composer Shunsuke Kikuchi’s talent.

The final Force Five package wound up being 26 episodes each of the Toei series Danguard Ace, Gaiking, Grandizer, Starvengers aka Getter Robo G, and SF Saiyuki Starzinger, under its new title Spaceketeers. You'll notice how Great Mazinger was mysteriously absent from the final lineup, and we can only speculate as to what kind of letter Dynamic Pro's lawyers sent to Toei's licensing division. How exactly these Force Five episodes aired was dependent on the whims of your home town TV station's program director. For example, Atlanta's Channel 46 aired an hour block of Force Five before a half-hour of Star Blazers on Saturdays for a year or so, making that Saturday morning must-see TV for what we'd later call "anime fans" and leading to any number of conflicts with other, less cartoon oriented Saturday activities. For example one Saturday I had to be at the church yard sale that morning, so I brought a portable B&W television and an extension cord from home, plugged that cord into the wall socket inside the fellowship hall, and ran it out to our garage sale space in the parking lot, just so I wouldn't miss an episode of Danguard Ace and Spaceketeers. Now there's a public display of nascent otakuhood if ever there was one.

As an early 80s Saturday morning TV experience, Force Five met all of our childhood needs by combining super robots, space princesses, evil overlords and wholesale destruction punctuating those Kikuchi soundtracks. Jim Terry's localization is remarkably hands-off, leaving a surprising amount of mayhem and destruction present. The English dubbing is goofy but serviceable, the low points being a few bad celebrity impersonations and some poor attempts at British accents. The least satisfying aspect of Force Five is the limited set of each series, all of which had longer Japanese runs. In practical terms this ensures we never find out if the Krell Corps is defeated or if the Cosmos Queen ever makes it to the galactic center. Of course, compilation versions edited from TV episodes of all five shows aired on cable TV and were released on VHS, so we were able to see a few series' respective climaxes.

Everyone has their Force Five Favorites, but in the interests of fairness we're going to discuss these shows in alphabetical order, and that means Danguard Ace is at bat first. I wasn't a fan of the show when it aired. I was settled into Grandizer and Starvengers and was annoyed at the replacement. Danguard Ace was developed by Leiji Matsumoto and behind the 70s super robot window dressing you can see bits of Space Battleship Yamato, Captain Harlock, and Submarine Super 99 trying to take over. The titular robot itself only appears on the last page of his manga (serialized in Akita Shoten's Boken Oh), and I don't blame him, I don't want to draw the thing either. Danguard is about the race to colonize the tenth planet Promete, one of those mysterious wandering planets Matsumoto would use to good effect later in Queen Millennia. Commissar Krell ("Doppler" in Japan) claims this new planet for his own evil purposes. To back this up he commands the evil Krell Corps from his secret Himalayan base, attacking with legions of mind-controlling-mask-wearing zombies and high-tech robot monsters. The only force defying Krell is the super-weapon Danguard Ace, a collection of clunky aerial vehicles combining into a clunky super robot. Danguard's chief pilot is the young Windstar (Ichimonji Takuma), raised in the shadow of his space pilot father, who vanished mysteriously after betraying his comrades on the first mission to Promete ten years earlier.


Turns out Dad was under the control of Krell all along. Eventually he manages to escape with his freedom, but without his memories, still wearing that Krell mind control mask. When Dad, now dubbed "Captain Mask," shows up at the Danguard base in a stolen Krell fighter, he's immediately put in charge of training pilots for the Danguard program, which he does with rigor and ruthlessness. All the while, father and son are oblivious to their familial bond. Oh, what pathos. Windstar learns to pilot the Danguard, Mask grapples with his missing memories, Commissar Krell sends robot monster after robot monster to destroy the Danguard base, and Danguard Ace the robot finally shows up in episode 11. Eventually the entire cast, which includes the comedy relief kid, the comedy relief robot, and the comedy relief monkey, blasts off for Promete.

Suddenly the show's aesthetic becomes more Space Battleship Yamato and less Mazinger Z, reflecting then-current trends in anime. Captain Mask regains his memories and (spoilers) dies a heroic death, mostly because the kids watching the show in Japan hated that character with a passion. Jim Terry's release didn't include the climax of the series, in which the secret of Promete is revealed and Shingo Araki's character designs depict mysterious space women as well as the charismatic and handsome Krell commander Harken, who tries manfully to bring a spark of drama to an otherwise tedious show.

Gaiking may seem like yet another super robot series starring the usual science-center robot team battling the usual alien plot to take over the Earth. What makes Gaiking special is instead of three or five robot pilots, a team of 68 crews the huge Space Dragon, out of which the Gaiking fighting robot is launched piecemeal. The Space Dragon is an impressive Asian-style mecha-dragon, and the feuding between the former baseball-star Gaiking pilot and the rival Dragon pilot leavens the mood as they struggle against Planet Zela's Emperor Darius and his Dark Horror Corps.


The sidekick characters get to pilot dinosaur-shaped sidekick fighting vehicles, most notably in the last story arc featuring a huge pitched battle on the slopes of Mt. Fuji (the American version reflects then-current events and labels the volcano as "Mt. St. Helens") that's fun and well-animated, as is an earlier subplot about a Zelan-built robot spy-child who turns against his programming and attacks his masters with his robot Pegasus.

Lots of these unique touches make Gaiking something more than standard super-robot fare, and I can't help but think staff like Akio Sugino and Yoshinori Kanada helped to bring a little spark to the show. I wish I'd paid a little more attention to it during the Force Five days, which as I learned later wasn’t the first time Gaiking had been dubbed into English. In the 70s Toei contracted Honolulu-based outfit M&M Communications to dub Mazinger Z and Gaiking. While the Mazinger Z episodes gained fame due to American cable TV broadcasts and the phonetically-sung Isao Sasaki theme song, the Gaiking dub remained obscure, at least to me, until fairly recently. Also obscured was the Go Nagai/Dynamic Pro origins of the Gaiking concept, which Nagai pitched to Toei in the early ‘70s. Toei later developed the series and credited Sugino, which purportedly came as a surprise to Go Nagai and led to some super robot legal battles.

Go Nagai was, however, fully credited for the next series on our list, UFO Robo Grendizer, or as Jim Terry spells it, Grandizer. It's about a guy named Duke Fleed (in America, "Orion Quest"), whose home planet was attacked by the evil Vegans, from the star Vega, not Las Vegas, tough guy. Fleed ditched his doomed planet in the top secret giant saucer-robot Grandizer, or Grendizer, whichever. Escaping to Earth, he was promptly adopted by the local scientific research institute's Professor Valconian and given a job at the ranch next door, run by Wild West fanboy/UFO enthusiast Panhandle and his daughter Brenda.

Johnny, Lance, and the Panhandle clan

Soon enough the Vegans show up to conquer the Earth, while the science center gets a visit from former Mazinger Z star Koji Kabuto, or Lance Hyatt as he's known here. In Grandizer, Koji coasts as a supporting character, flying his homemade UFO against the Vegans, who are a fun bunch of weirdo aliens of varying shapes and sizes. Vegan General Bellicose will belt out ineffectual orders to his subordinate Commander Ding and every once in awhile, Bellicose's face will split open and his four-inch tall wife Lady Gandar will just erupt out of his empty skull to holler at everybody.


When the Vegan scheme of the week threatens Earth, Orion Quest does his thing. Meaning, jumping into the emergency exit chute, zipping through a series of tubes and tunnels, soaring into the Grandizer hangar, exclaiming "Orion Quest!", transforming into his flying outfit, and finally being deposited into the cockpit of the Grandizer robot-saucer combo. When Orion/Duke Fleed feels the situation calls for hand-to-hand action, Grandizer just leaps right out of that saucer and starts kicking robot monster butt with any number of really impressive weapons that include the screw-crusher punch (like a rocket punch, only more pointy), the rainbow beam, the hydro-phasers, the hand beam, the shoulder boomerang, the double sickle, and the Space Thunder.


When our heroes aren't blasting alien saucers there's time for romance; Duke and Hikaru/Brenda have a tentative thing while Koji Kabuto says “Sayaka who?” and crushes hard on Duke Fleed's sister Maria, who also survived their home planet's destruction and appears just in time for Grandizer's mid-show power-up which includes zippy new mecha for Lance and Brenda to pilot, and which is also right around the time Jim Terry quit dubbing episodes for us. So we never get to see the awesome combination robot vehicles featured in the second half of the series, and we never get to see Emperor Vega sliced in two with Grandizer's double sickle. Ooh, what a giveaway. Famously popular in Europe, Grendizer’s record-breaking ratings in Italy were used to sell Force Five to American markets.

Spaceketeers, or SF Saiyuki Starzinger, is the wild card in this pack of shows, one with a female lead and nary a combo super-robot to be seen. This science fiction version of the “Journey To The West” Monkey King legend swaps ancient China for outer space. American audiences might not get the Asian mythological references, so Jim Terry renamed the show Spaceketeers, after the Three Musketeers, which fits the show’s aesthetic reasonably well, I suppose. This series was developed by Leiji Matsumoto to replace Danguard Ace in the original Fuji-TV broadcasts, a fact which will become obvious the minute you spot Spaceketeers’ star, the willowy blonde Princess Aurora, one of a long line of ethereal Matsumoto beauties. 


As our Spaceketeers story opens, mysterious radiation from the center of the galaxy is turning all animal and plant life into weird monsters rampaging through the galaxy. Princess Aurora’s palace on the moon is destroyed and the Empress, or Dr. Kitty as she’s known in Japan, sends Aurora in the spaceship Cosmos Queen to travel to Galactic Center and deal with whatever crazy thing is causing all this chaos. Three mighty space warriors are assigned as her bodyguards for this journey. The cool, aloof Sir Jogo/Aramos, master of the pocket calculator and the Star Copper, is the leader of a water planet. Porkos, or Don Hakka, is our plump comedy relief guy hailing from some kind of mud planet and whose personal craft is the Star Boot. Jan Kugo aka Jesse Dart is the invincible cyborg bad-boy Monkey King character who must learn patience and courtesy when he'd rather be destroying things in his Star Crow.

Episode after episode our heroes launch from the Cosmos Queen to battle animoids and vegemoids on the way to the Deklos system while the Princess stands around, worries, and changes in and out of various outer space mini-skirts and outer space prom dresses. Characters zip around space in their little space scooters dodging zap rays and giant monsters to encounter the various villainous space armadas that have been warped into action by the Deklos system radiation. 


The series has a certain charm, the mythological context works with the SF setting, but the show lacks momentum- at one point the Cosmos Queen just turns around and goes back to Earth because they forgot to turn the TV off, or something. There’s a vagueness to the galactic menace and a weird lack of purpose to the galactic journey of the Spaceketeers, but I guess we should just enjoy the ride; 70s kids across Asia and Europe certainly did.

Last but not least we arrive at my favorite of the Force Five series, Starvengers. This series is the localized version of Getter Robo G, itself a sequel to Getter Robo, the seminal Go Nagai/Ken Ishikawa combination robot series that gave us jet planes that slam into each other to create super robots and battle the underground Dinosaur Empire. Jim Terry didn’t bother with this first series, an understandable move considering the animation is a little primitive and things get a little bloody there when the dinosaurs start getting ripped in half. American viewers began with the fiery funeral of the original Getter Robo robot, and we’re thrown right into Dr. Copernicus building a new, improved Starvengers mecha, finding someone to replace the pilot who died at the end of the first series, and doing both of these things in time to confront the new menace threatening mankind. 


The evil hollow-Earth armies of the Pandemonium Empire seek to conquer the surface world with an army of giant robots and secret agents who communicate via mechanical horns (all the Pandemonium people have horns, because in Japan, they're known as the Hundred-Demon Empire, and devils have horns, obviously). Our Starvengers, in their new Star Dragon, Star Arrow and Star Poseidon machines, must battle for the fate of the entire world. Hero pilots Ryo (now Hummer, yes, Hummer) and aloof anti-hero Hayato, or “Paladin”, are joined by comedy relief baseball fanatic Benkei or “Foul Tip.”

The three spend the rest of the series piloting their Starvengers machines against Pandemonium menaces, supported by Dr. Copernicus in his science center and his daughter Ceres/Michiru flying her Space Glider. There are several reasons this series is my favorite. The robot violence is intense and never-ending, the characters are all either driven by revenge or... well, revenge, mostly, and the villains are bizarre Dick Tracy-style freaks and weirdos, including Captain Fuhrer, whose Japanese name was, yes, "Captain Hitler.” 

I only have two Getter Robo G cels, but I like the ones I have


The design of the various Starvengers vehicles are sleek, powerful and bold. Both as aircraft and as robots, their 70s muscle car look makes them my favorites. Starvengers subverts expectations as Ceres falls for Paladin, because he’s the coolest, proven as he single-handedly destroys the flying fortress of the Pandemonium Empire in a climax we’ll only see in the compilation film.

Force Five was off the air by ‘83 in most markets, but the series lived on in home video. Family Home Entertainment released compilation films and a few episodes from all five series to the growing home video market, the tapes landing in the children’s sections of many local video rentals across the country. Two different cheap labels would later release the same episodes under the titles “Roboformers" and "Z-Force” on bargain-bin SLP-recorded tapes to fill discount retailer shelves. Best Film & Video would also take a turn with those master tapes, and eventually they’d appear in Suncoast Video as part of the infamous “Spaced Out Japanimation” collection.

In recent years some of these former Force Five properties would make their way to North America in various new forms. William Winckler would produce newly-dubbed compilation films for Starzinger, Gaiking, and Danguard Ace, while crowd-pleasers Discotek Media would put a subtitled version of Gaiking on both DVD and Blu-Ray. However, English-language media still lacks any iteration of UFO Robo Grendizer and Getter Robo G. In a world where children of the 80s still have a soft spot in their heart for Jim Terry’s Force Five, and where properties thought lost or abandoned are being reissued with alarming frequency, can it be merely a matter of time before our 1981 TV Guide dreams are reawakened, and Force Five returns to us in all its Mr. Angelo-dubbed glory? 

-Dave Merrill

Thanks for reading Let's Anime! If you enjoyed it and want to show your appreciation for what we do here as part of the Mister Kitty Dot Net world, please consider joining our Patreon!