"This might be their third and final invasion attempt."
-Lead protagonist Sanshiro on efforts by the villainous and evil Zela to attack Earth just three times-
And how exactly would you know it would be a "third and final" invasion attempt? Oh well some of those simple things never change. In an effort to merge the entire classic Gaiking (1976-1977) TV Series into one three film DVD (Gaiking: The Movie Collection), the story has been written as such. The villains essentially make three concerted attempts to take down Earth as constructed by William Winckler in the latest American effort to license the property and deliver it to American fans once again. And yes, there are some of us still out there. That group is perhaps shrinking but fans of the charms of old school animation still live and breath amongst you.
This post is unequivocally dedicated to all the folks out there who ever loved and adored Gaiking and the Shogun Warriors as kids here on American shores. This one, Gaiking I (the first of three films), is delivered just for you.
Growing up as a child the introduction of Japanese animation or anime to American shores unknowingly created a voracious appetite in the hearts and minds of the young and ignorant. We were raised and reared on the American adaptations of Tatsunoko Studios' Gatchaman (1972-1974) and Leiji Matsumoto's Space Battleship Yamato (1974-1975), well pre-dating Star Wars as space yarns go by the way, both in their adapted forms of Battle Of The Planets (1978) and Star Blazers (1979) respectively. So it was easy to understand why Gaiking (Daikuu Maryuu Gaiking in Japan; 1976-1977) would be so darn alluring.
Toei Animation Co., Ltd. was responsible for the hand drawn artistry that infused Gaiking. There's no question the series presented the simplistic formula of good versus evil in the hands of impressively new designed good guys, bad guys and striking new mecha. Does Gaiking have anything profound to offer the mature, discerning anime mind? Not really, but it's fun to marvel at the animation and respect the achievements of the anime forerunners. In fact, lending my mind a much needed mental vacation, I went back to check out Gaiking again and it can be best summed up as an update of the Gatchaman playbook and worked as a nice alternative to those young school bucks looking for more of the same after a hard day at school. This is why Gaiking was so embraced.
Gaiking was certainly not a challenging program, yet in its simplicity it opened doors to the imaginations of the young and that series, like Gatchaman minus the impressive emotional depth established by Sandy Frank for Battle Of The Planets, left an impression that would remain.
When you are weaned on a steady diet of early era anime, it's difficult to make a case against today's children who love their own variations on the medium. Both of my children loved Pokémon growing up and occasionally I will spot my son enjoying a film or an episode. He'll even rousingly support the quality of that program to this day. The same can be said for fans who grew up on Transformers. Of course, I'll never understand that one. That is the affect of the creative minds of anime or animation on children here in the United States. There is a great deal of respect given to the efforts of animators and their works that influence and span the test of time.
As a youngster the orange-colored, skull-shaped Gaiking complete with massive horns was introduced and delivered to us in the form of Force Five (1979-1989). It was yet another Americanized bastardization of the original source material, but again, ignorance is bliss as they say. And while the American version may have been an unworthy stand-in for the original, we were fortunate enough that American producers saw the value in these wonderful animations to bring them to kids stateside even in their edited and dubbed forms. For, ultimately, these programs became unforgettable to us. G-Force! Force Five! Use the Force Luke! Yes, indeed there was a lot of force surrounding and shaping our young, malleable, little minds.
The release of Force Five actually followed the release of the Shogun Warriors (24 inches tall) toy line and thus the cartoon series became essentially a live action complement to those wonderful creations. All of these wonderful mecha heroes came to full on life in the form of giant plastic toys replete with weapon systems and moveable limbs. There was no shortage of fun when it came to the Shogun Warriors toy line. A twenty issue Marvel Comics series even followed of the Shogun Warriors (1979-1980). I recall vividly seeking these toys out in my local Zayre store, the equivalent of Child's World. The toys were fully assembled and were housed in massive cardboard boxes with their full pictures represented in full color on those boxes. It was child ecstasy I tell you. It was toy line crack in a box screaming to children to stop, pick me up and buy me. In the end I think I managed to convince a purchase of a Gaiking and a Mazinger Z. I had no money so much pleading, begging and gnashing of teeth commenced on our toy store visits as I looked up with wounded eyes to my Mom or Dad. I was not above resorting to a nuclear option to get those toys either - yes, the full-on meltdown. Actually I kid. I wasn't that bad, but I did do my best to express a great desire and yearning for these toys. With every effort to sell my wants I attempted to tie a sense of life and death to the required toy and somehow my parents were concerned enough that occasionally they would fold. My very existence depended on it you know. Of course, like most children, my parents would sometimes squint and fall back on economic good sense refusing to relent and I was not always victorious. Nevertheless, I still had a few of the Shogun Warriors and I had Force Five after school.
The Shogun Warriors I best remember are Gaiking, Great Mazinger, Dangard Ace, Getter Dragon (Dragun), Getter Poseidon (Poseidon), Grandizer and Raideen. Getter Liger (Raider) was another one I loved that I had strictly in a diecast form. Japanese products were flooding our shores and any bad blood from World War II was becoming a faded memory through a well-established economic relationship thanks to kids like us.
So what was Force Five? Force Five consisted of five Toei series rolled up into one American series. Each day of the week represented a certain Shogun if you will. Gaiking was indeed my favorite. Those original series from which Force Five drew upon included:
Divine Demon-Dragon Gaiking or Gaiking (44 episodes; 26 minutes each; 1976-1977) Planetary Robot Danguard Ace or Dangard Ace (56 episodes; 1977-1978)
Getter Robo G or Starvengers (39 episodes; 1975-1976; Dragun, Poseidon and Liger)
UFO Robot Grendizer or Grandizer (74 episodes; 1975-1977)
Starzinger or Spaceketeers (73 episodes)
Each series was edited down to 26 episodes a piece for Force Five. Great Mazinger was slated to be part of Force Five but was replaced by Starzinger, which in effect became something of a favorite too.
Force Five ran for five season for a total of 130 episodes. Sadly, we will never see the release of that show in its original form. I would be positively stunned if it ever happened. But, remnants of Force Five and the original series with which the American show was based have since been released on DVD by Shout! Factory. Though admittedly, some uploads of Force Five on You Tube include many hard to find entries with original English dubs and are of remarkable quality for viewing. For the geeks and physical media enthusiasts, thank God for Shout! Factory really. That's a shout out by the way. Not only has Shout! Factory delivered us Gaiking: The Movie Collection but also Dangard Ace: The Movie Collection and Starzinger: The Movie Collection. These come in edited forms, but at least there is something available to fans here in America. Gaiking too was cut into a three film feature (326 minutes) and we take a look at that childhood favorite here at Musings Of A Sci-Fi Fanatic for a delightful stroll down memory lane.
While Gaiking is not particularly challenging there are visual aspects of the great robot that strike me today. Its influence can be felt in much more intriguing and complex series like Gurren Lagann (2007) by the extraordinary Studio Gainax. The very design of Gurren Lagann complete with a face and teeth on its torso and chest plays like an homage and tribute to the classic Gaiking. It's a very retro design and was quite refreshing as designs go in 2007 despite being a pure throwback. Kudos to the animators and designers at Gainax, true sci-fi geeks, who paid tribute to the glorious past of anime, broke with convention, deconstructed the robot genre and delivered a series of classic mech anime in Gunbuster (1988-1989), Neon Genesis Evangelion (1995-1996) and Gurren Lagann (2007). Gainax never copies a product, but will often reinvent and completely rework old ideas into something new and original coupled with their own unique mind-blowing ideas and design work. Design-wise Gurren Lagann is a bit of a throwback, while plot developments are certainly more intelligent than the likes of Gaiking. But that was the 1970s for you.
Generally, the plot of Gaiking is there to serve the action. It's not entirely daft, and there is an effort to develop character in fits and starts, but it's by no means complex. Still, this three film edited version does hit a good deal of the highlights including some of the best action sequences of the series. Gaiking is classic in its innocence through storytelling. At times, it is incredibly poignant while in other moments completely preposterous or illogical. And our adult minds can spot the holes in logic and the conflicts in mythology a mile wide so check that analysis at the door and have a little child-like fun. Like the very Space Dragon itself you kind of have to just roll with it.
This post works as a historical reflection on Gaiking and Force Five (two of the many gateway drugs to anime for me) along with my personal reflections on those unforgettable childhood years.
Stay tuned for more Gaiking coverage in out next two installments. Until next time enjoy the images extracted from Gaiking: The Movie Collection.
Only in classic 1970s anime. How often do you see mecha come to life like a raging animal?
Look close at those incredibly handsome pencil drawings on the meteor.
Hysterical squiggle nub. Would a shot like that pass today?