Monday, January 26, 2015

a look at Gigantor's new adventures


The New Adventures of Gigantor! Sure, this 1980 remake of the popular 1963 boy-and-robot anime series (based on the Mitsuteru Yokoyama manga) didn’t make it to American TV until thirteen years after its Japanese premiere, and even then it ran in a weird time slot on a niche cable station best known for Twilight Zone marathons and later, a series of deliberately inane made-for-TV monster epics. And yeah, most anime fans ignored it; in 1993 they were binge-watching Ninja Scroll or Ranma ½ instead. Okay, so the company that released it has been bought and sold more times than I can count and the licensing rights are probably entangled in an unsolvable legal morass.  But all these caveats can’t erase 51 episodes of clean, colorful, very TMS, very 1980s giant robot remake that doesn’t rest on its legacy, but instead takes off running and never stops.

Part of a wave of color reboots that included Astro Boy and Cyborg 009,  1980’s Tetsujin 28 series is distinguished from the ’63-66 Tetsujin right from the show’s full title, which is Taiyo no Shisha Tetsujin nijuhachi-go, or "Solar Messenger Tetsujin-28". Originally the ’80 Tetsujin series was going to be a sequel, starring ’63 hero Shotaro’s son and featuring the first Tetsujin along with the updated model. This storyline was abandoned for the 1980 show, but would resurface in 1992’s Tetsujin-28 FX. Perhaps picking up on this fork not taken, original 60s Gigantor producer Fred Ladd brought over the 1980 Tetsujin series and merging the past with the (1980) present was exactly what he did.  These New Adventures Of Gigantor explicitly link the new with the old, starting with a colorized clip of the ’63 series and including needle drops of the original 60s theme song mixing incongruously with the surprisingly jazzy Japanese soundtrack.


questing for cartoons

Cable’s Sci-Fi Channel aired the show from Sept. ‘93 to June 1997 in a programming block known as "Cartoon Quest," remembered today mostly for having embarrassingly cheesy bumper segments. Viewers who made it past the bumpers were pleasantly entertained by the show's commitment to world-threatening giant robot action, and frequent use of animators like Yoshinori Kanada to liven things up in pursuit of said world-threatening giant robot action. The show is just as emblematic of its time period as the original black and white 60s series; while the 1963-66 show whizzed and bumped through its sepia-toned adventures with a whimsical mania, the 1980 series is smooth, colorful, well-designed, and filled with a sleek yet simple modernity that holds up 35 years later. 
 Jimmy Sparks (Shotaro Kaneda), whose scientist father created 27 remote-controlled super robots along with Dr. Bob Brilliant (Dr. Shikishima) until finding success with #28, now looks a little less like a 50s advertising mascot and a little more like an actual tween. He’s old enough to pilot a giant robot, but young enough to not have to worry about pimples or embarrassing voice changes.  His companion throughout the show is Dr. Brillant’s daughter Bonnie (in Japan, Makiko Shikishma), a new character created just for the 1980 series.  As always, the forces of law and order are represented by Inspector Blooper (Chief Ohtsuka) of the International Police, a goofy, mustached policeman with a beautiful wife and an upcoming role in the next TMS robot anime.

1980’s Gigantor launches from an underground hangar hidden beneath a tennis court, a sports-related note that brings to mind both Mazinger Z’s swimming pool egress and TMS’s successful shojo sports series Aim For The Ace.  Jimmy’s natty blazer, tie, and short-shorts ensemble has been updated to a more casual short-sleeve high-collared IP shirt over a T-shirt. Relax; he’s still wearing shorts. And yes, Jimmy Sparks is still duly authorized to drive and carry a firearm. Let’s face it, you’re trusting a 12 year old to control a super robot capable of destroying cities; might as well let him drive.

As in the original, different criminal gangs dress up in various uniforms and use super robots of varying types to carry out evil schemes involving theft, destruction, war, and other bad things.  Recurring villain Professor Murkybottom is always after the secret of Gigantor’s solar energy converter, and even went as far as to kill Jimmy Sparks’ father in search of it.  However, it isn’t long before the show moves beyond the original series’ 60s motif of evil villains, henchmen legions, and secret Bond-villain lairs. We might love the kitschy, clunky charms of the black and white show, but this version is a little more coherent.

beautiful but deadly Marana

Gigantor faces Viking robots, Sphinx robots, space alien monsters, evil arms dealers, and monster Mediterranean octopi.  There’s an episode involving the Guinness Book Of World Records, and a three-part Horror Thriller series involving robot ghosts, vampires, and zombies. Yes, there is a Kung-Fu Robo.  The beautiful robot designer Marana visits from a different TMS show, maybe Cobra or Cat’s Eye, and makes two appearances to disturb Jimmy’s tween hormones AND use her super robot for crime.  An amusement park roller coaster turns into a giant robot and kidnaps children. A robot King Kong wreaks havoc. The Jolly Roger pits his flying pirate ship against Gigantor.  Murkybottom returns with a third, a fourth, a fifth, even a sixth super robot. The evil Doctor Doom hijacks bullet trains and threatens to send them into high-speed head-on collisions.  Professor Graybeard, whom viewers of “Giant Robo” may recognize as a certain Dr. Franken Von Vogler, creates Gigantor’s rival, the almost sentient Jackal (in Japan, “Black Ox”). Against these menaces Gigantor triumphs, usually using the Hammer Punch or his signature finishing move, the Flying Kick. 

evil master of darkest space Modark

Halfway through the run, the show takes a left turn into outer space with the appearance of Modark, the alien overlord who is always referred to as The Evil Master Of Darkest Space.  When his UFOs invade Earth and capture Prof. Murkybottom, an evil alliance is formed that will take our heroes into the void, wrestling Gigantor out of its robot crime roots and placing it firmly into Star Wars territory. Modark and Murkybottom together throw robots and space monsters and a cameo by vintage Gigantor foe “Brainy The Robot With The Dielectronic Brain” as Modarkian robot Antark against Sparks, Brilliant, Interpolice, and the Earth Defense Forces. Transformed into a far-flung space melodrama, the series pits Jimmy against Modark and forces Bonnie to cope with strange new feelings for the space prince Coldark. This hesitant outer space romance would blossom more fully in TMS’s next robot series, another Yokoyama adaptation about a young man’s super robot legacy, titled God Mars

Bonnie's space boyfriend

 Like many anime shows neglected here, Tetsujin-28’s new adventures would prove more popular in Europe (“Iron Man 28” in Spanish and “Super Robot 28” in Italy) and in the Arabic-speaking world, under the title “Thunder Giant.” However, The New Adventures Of Gigantor was a tough sell for the American mid 90s kidvid market, being not kitschy or retro enough for baby-boomer appeal and not cutesy enough for actual kids.  Anime fans accustomed to Robotech or Streamline’s more adult titles might have felt Gigantor lacked a certain sophistication, and after 1990s icons like Sailor Moon and Pokemon impacted North American popular culture, Jimmy Sparks and his space-age robot would become a footnote. Contemporaneous anime fans eager for their throwback Yokoyama robot anime would find that itch more than scratched with the Giant Robo series of OVAs.  

Neglected at its airing, the series has never been released on home video in the United States, and that’s a shame. It’s a solid show that deserved more attention than anime fandom gave it at the time. Apart from the colorized 60s inserts, the localization is well-done and unobtrusive; violent scenes that might have been edited out a few years earlier are left intact. The competent and frequently snappy dub includes longtime industry veteran Richard Epcar and avoids the staccato Peter Fernandez direction of the original, in favor of more naturalistic dialog.  Mr. Ladd reports that the home video rights were held by LIVE Entertainment Inc., a production company formed out of the merger of home-video corporations Family Home Entertainment and International Video Entertainment, all under the corporate ownership of Carolco Pictures. 

According to Wikipedia, Carolco sold its shares in LIVE to Pioneer, which became Geneon, and which is now NBCUniversal Entertainment Japan. This tangled web of corporate ownership presents myriad complications to any potential English language release, the rights of which may involve one Japanese corporation and a completely different Japanese corporation both with a stake in an IP owned in part by the Mitsuteru Yokoyama estate.  Merely locating watchable episodes of The New Adventures Of Gigantor is a nostalgic exercise in fan networking, a throwback to the tape-trading days of its original broadcast. If Let's Anime's referrals are any indication, the interest for this series is definitely out there.


Who knows whether we’ll ever see this show in North American media again? Will it surface on a streaming video site, as its Japanese iteration currently is? Will some forward-thinking exec cut some red tape and release it on DVD? Perhaps Gigantor’s new adventures remain buried beneath a tennis court, waiting only for someone to take the remote controls in hand and command it to life. 

Thanks to Fred Ladd and Daniel Vucci for their assistance.

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X7 said...

I recorded the entire series on VHS back in the day. It was very enjoyable. I really liked the episode where the giant octopus came up to fight Gigantor.

Chris Sobieniak said...

I feel down I never thought to tape this when it was on. Oh well.

and even then it ran in a weird time slot on a niche cable station best known for Twilight Zone marathons and later, a series of deliberately inane made-for-TV monster epics

Hey, my brother made a movie for them (no wait, it was for Syfy, my mistake).

Unknown said...

A remake of the popular 1964-65 animated series/anime series inspired from the novel by Mitsuteru Yokoyama about a giant flying robot & protector of the future & a reboot of the classic animated series aired from 1980-81 television series originally retitled Iron Man 28/Tetsujin 28/New Adventures of Gigantor series. Thanks for the information. From:Wayne

Unknown said...

I watch all the classic cartoons when I was six years old in the Philippines during childhood my favorites like Popeye Casper Gumby Beany & Cecil Moby Dick Wacky Races Gigantor Marvel Heroes & other favorites became classic cartoons in popular culture in world history. Thanks! From:Wayne

Chris Sobieniak said...

You were lucky, nobody gives a s--t for Beany & Cecil these days, unless you bend over backwards for it like some of us.

TV is doomed as far as I know.

Unknown said...

My idol is Popeye the Sailor he is my favorite cartoon hero in films television comics & animation in popular culture as a collectors item. Thanks for the information. From:Wayne

Chris Sobieniak said...

At least someone's honest about Popeye.

I think the best Popeye cartoons were produced between 1942 to '43. "Happy Birthdaze" is the most unconventional Popeye cartoon you could ever write.

Gunstar Green said...

This was my first exposure to anime and I loved it. It made me a lifelong fan of the mecha genre. I've got some VHS rips on a DVD but I'd kill to see a proper release someday, or maybe a properly translated version of the original Japanese show. Alas, I know the demand is low.

Dennis said...

Loved it and never missed it in the brief run it had on the nascent Sci-Fi Channel's experimental animated cartoon programming block (which didn't last, either).

But then, I grew up on the first generation of US-localized anime: ASTRO BOY, KIMBA THE WHITE LION, GIGANTOR, and 8th MAN (another one I've always been disappointed isn't given its due respect in terms of being a trailblazer... not to mention the frustrating lack of an official DVD release). I kept on watching and looking for more, even in the long, long, gap between SPEED RACER and BATTLE OF THE PLANETS (which kicked off another too-brief second wave boom in US-localized renditions).

The early 1980s saw creative refreshes of a lot of the "First Wave" anime classics of the early 1960s in Japan. TETSUWAN ATOMU/ASTRO BOY got one, and so did TETSUJIN-28/GIGANTOR, riding the crest of the explosion of mecha anime kicked off by MAZINGER Z in 1972. An impressive Tetsujin No. 28 GodDaiKin toy figure arrived on U.S. shores first, following in the wake of Mattel's SHOGUN WARRIORS imports. The actual anime took 13 years to get here, but fared far better under my by-then-critical eye than the ASTROBOY remake, and was *definitely* worth the wait. I'd love to find it on DVD *somewhere*, whether in the US-localized dub, or the subtitled Japanese original. I keep hoping Eastern Star/Discotek will pick it up for a newly-subbed release, along with CAPTAIN FUTURE, another little-seen show (briefly released on a few VHS tapes by Family Home Entertainment in the early 1980s).

d.merrill said...

just want to pop in here and let folks know that Discotek has just announced on Jan. 19, 2019 they're releasing the entire 1980 Tetsujin-28 series on 4 BD discs as "Shin Tetsujin-28" -