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Archive for October 15th, 2011

By Bob Clark

To look at the mecha genre from anime works of the past ten or fifteen years, you’d think that there was never really a time when stories about gigantic robots piloted by heroic young people, usually boys just barely into adolescence, could’ve been nothing more than mere entertainment, the kind of juvenile power-fantasies that children are wont to have in their early years, only to grow more and more out of as they age into adulthood and find themselves utterly disenfranchised by the world and its opportunities. In the West, we’re used to seeing these kinds of fantasies play out in the realm of superpowers, magic, or some pseudo-scientific combination thereof, and as time goes on we can see the stories about kids wielding those kinds of abilities turning progressively darker and more ridden by neuroses– the growing pains of the supernatural. But while stuff like the X-Men and Harry Potter franchises find themselves exercising (or exorcising) a fair amount of teenage angst, they can barely hold a candle to the psychological pressure-cooker that mecha-anime have been for at least as long as the most current generations of otaku are willing to remember. Ever since Hideaki Anno’s Neon Genesis Evangelion tore the world a new one and laid bare all the psycho-sexual undercurrents of both its creator and the genre he’d devoted his imagination to as a child and as a director, nearly all the most visible animations dealing with teenage boys and the bigger-than-life robots they pilot have had more to do with wrestling emotions than any kind of external enemy. Sure, stuff like The Big O or the continually rebooting Gundam series may not have been quite as heavy on the soul-torturing abstraction or expressionistic cataclysms, but they weren’t exactly light on out-of-this-world mystery or philosophical mumbo-jumbo, either.

That’s why it’s interesting to look at a severely long-term OVA project like Giant Robo: The Animation as a picture of the giant-mecha genre in all the stages of this crucial time in anime’s developing impact on the world. Began in 1992 as an increasingly loose adaptation of the original manga created by Mitseru Yokoyama (best known as the creator of Tetsujin 28-Go, famous in the West as Gigantor), the seven episode series was produced by Yasuhiro Yamaki (whose work ranges from the action-adventure of Ninja Resurrection to the outright pornography of Urutsokodoji) and writen & directed by Yasuhiro Imagawa (who would later move onto the Gundam and Getter Robo franchises) in a style seeming to aim for nothing more than a good ol’ fashioned piece of adventure, done at the high scales and scopes that the Original Video Animation format afforded creators in the 80’s and 90’s that the quick production and streamlined budgets of television often found lacking. Right from the first episode, it’s easy to see the expense being thrown to the screen in the lavish cel-animation, itself something of a wonder to see in an age where even hand-drawn work is routinely done on computers, and Imagawa’s team makes great use of the resources at their command, conceiving and staging high-wire acts of robotic action set-pieces between the villainous Big Fire group and the heroic Experts of Justice, chief among whom stand young Daisaku Kosama and his towering Giant Robo, in the epic battles waged to control the world’s seemingly perfect energy source, the Shizuma Drive.

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