Saturday, February 20, 2010

SMCS Companion Piece #6: Gigantor

Beta on Gigantor

This week’s cartoon on the Saturday Morning Cartoon Show is the classic Japanese anime Gigantor, despite all my protests. Why did I dread this so much? Simple: it’s an anime from the 1960s. Let me explain; anime is pretty neat. Long time SMCS listeners may recall that back before DJ Muppet joined the show I was co-hosting not only this show but also a J-Pop themed show that came on right after it Cyberia Café (RIP). Like with all other hosts of that show I was a big anime fan. As any anime fan I, like so many of us, tend to get a little annoyed with lackluster dubbing that tries to turn a Japanese cartoon into an American one by changing names of people, places, and even altering plot in order to trick you into thinking this was a product of the West. This has been a problem for years even if it’s not nearly as bad as it used to be. The most recent example I think of is the insanely popular One Piece which due to terrible voice acting, removal of “offensive” violence and cutting of entire episodes caused the franchise in this country to fall apart. While it makes billions and possibly the most successful anime/manga franchise of all time in Japan it’s only a moderate success in the States (It was so bad that Japanese companies are now hesitant to bring their big name anime here for fear of more ball dropping).
Pictured: Axis Super Weapon
Several historically relevant anime had this happened to them as well, including Dragon Ball, Dragon Ball Z, Sailor Moon (Really badly, in fact), Robotech and Star Blazers. But it was the 1960s that the trend started. Speed Racer, Astro Boy, Kimba the White Lion and others brought over to America and altered as the producers saw fit. Now I know that if it wasn’t for these producers anime may have never made it to America but that doesn’t make it any less painful to watch.
EDIT: It has since occurred to me that Gigantor, Seed Racer and the others were imported during a time where the memory of Peal Harbor was still pretty fresh in people's minds and it wasn't all forgive and forget. So naturally they'd want to Americanize as much of this Japanese cartoon as possible in order to avoid offending people. Not that that makes me any less annoyed, of course.
Anyway I don’t plan on writing an entry about bad importing (Not today anyway). Let’s take a look at Gigantor.
If this was real World War II would have ended differently
Like many Japanese cartoons Gigantor, originally known as Tetsujin 28-go (Iron Man 28), started as a manga (Comic Book). It was first published in 1956 and ran through 1966 and was written and illustrated by Mitsuteru Yokoyama. It was turned into a cartoon series in 1963 and became super popular. Later a man named Fred Ladd, who earlier realized that if he brought pre-made Japanese cartoon Mighty Atom (Later known as Astro Boy) he could print money, adapted the show into what we now refer to as “Gigantor”. Armed with an awesome theme song and the usual altered character names and situations the show did well in the West as it had done in the Japan. Testusjin 28-go went on to be a popular franchise getting remakes and movies all the way through present day, some of which have had Gigantor counterparts.
The cartoon was about WWII Japanese scientist Dr. Kaneda who tries to create a super weapon in the form of giant remote controlled robot in order to murder as many Americans as possible. He finally completes his creation after twenty-seven failures but by the time he does the war is long over. Also his heart explodes, presumably because God hates it when you create doomsday devices. Rather than dismantling the weapon or turning it over to the United Nations it’s given it to Kaneda’s 10-YEAR OLD SON! What the hell, Japan? Anyway the boy, named Shotaro, uses the robot to fight monsters or something. Now that’s not the best premise for a Red, White and Blue audience so we need to tweak things a bit. Gigantor, unlike Testujin, takes place in the FAR FUTURE YEAR OF 2000!!!!!! Gigantor wasn’t a diabolical Japanese WMD in this version! Also Shotaro is hard to pronounce so we’ll call the kid Jimmy Sparks with a straight face instead.
Bow down American scum, for I possess Gigantor!
Also get me some juice
Now this show is doubly historically relevant. First it’s one of the first anime to make it to our fair country. Regardless as to how you feel about it certainly planted the seeds for the 80s boom of Japanese cartoons that included Akira’s unexpected popularity. The other thing is that it’s the oldest version of any Super Robot series I can find so therefore I assume it’s the originator of the genre. For those of you not familiar with “Super Robots” as genre just think of any giant robot cliché; that’s a mainstay of Super Robot.
-Giant Robot that may be alive? SUPER ROBOT!
-Controlled by a (Hot Blooded) young boy or a cute high school girl? SUPER ROBOT!
-Said controller doesn’t use cockpit to work the robot? SUPER ROBOT!
-Rocket Punch? SUPER ROBOT!
Not to be confused with “Real Robot” which is shows like Mobile Suit Gundam where the robots are mostly mass production weapons no different from tanks. Gigantor was probably the first robot show and therefore should be celebrated for that fact. I will say that even if it was the original giant robot I would argue that it was Mazinger Z that is the most important for the genre as a whole. That’s story for another day.
Mazinger Z, also a WMD in the hands of the Japanese
Also check out this badass theme song
For more on Gigantor click here
For the Saturday Mornign Cartoon Show blog/podcast click here

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