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11/18/2012

Reflections: Giant Robo


So I haven't posted much here this week (if anyone cares) because I found myself dangerously absorbed into this manga that I was recommended, so much so that I literally spent all my free time this week to marathon through all 176 translated chapters of the original manga run (there may be more chapters and spin-offs, but I think I've had enough of it for now). Not to mention there's a four episode OVA of it. What manga was this you ask? Well let's just say I was reading it for educational purposes and may talk about it another day.

At the same time however, I was introduced to this rather special series called Giant Robo, a series that is easily among the must-see classics of the 90s. This particular series is made up of seven movies, carrying the eerie subtitle 'The Day the Earth Stood Still'. First off, I am very surprised that I never once came across this anime prior to two weeks ago, and I thought that I watched most of the essential anime from the 80s and 90s , but after watching Giant Robo I think I may need to look back some more, in case I missed any other superb examples of Japanese animation from yesteryear.


Giant Robo presents an interesting world that has stepped into a major industrial revolution, courtesy of  the groundbreaking discovery of a renewable energy source that has rendered fossil fuels, and even nuclear and solar energy, obsolete. I found this very interesting, and not to mention forward looking, as given the increasingly problematic energy crisis that our world is is dealing with (and the resulting political, economical, and ecological downfalls resulting from it), it was interesting seeing this ideal world presented. It presents a futuristic depiction of our world where they have discovered this amazing new source of energy, which has helped further develop mankind, and prevented the use of environmentally harmful energy resources, thus effectively saving the planet from a downward spiral. 

However, what this anime really does is show a bittersweet consequence of this ideal, suggesting that perhaps finding this elusive renewable source of energy will not simply wave the magic wand on the planet, and make all the problems disappear. If anything, everything comes at a price and anything that is built with good intentions can be just as useful for dangerous and terrorizing acts.


In a way, Giant Robo is a forward looking social commentary with very strong political undertones. This anime was produced in the earlier part of the 90s but the subject matter couldn't be more relevant today. Now you'd think just by looking at the rather simplistic title that this anime is all about giant robots brawling it out, but it's really far from it. If anything, in all seven movies combined, roughly only 10% of it features giant robot battles (which are pretty epic and dramatic nonetheless). The rest of it focuses on character development, plot progression, and on-foot battles.

Now the most misleading aspect of Giant Robo is the opening sequence, as it gives an impression that this anime is about a league of spy action heroes taking on a league of villains with plenty of robot action, and the amusing thing is that this is not the case at all. It starts off as a predictable black and white sort of affair but very quickly you will realize that it isn't your typical bad guy versus good guy type of storytelling, instead it's all very gray and controversial. Now the main protagonists may appear as your confident and optimistic super heroes, but these characters go through great pain and ordeals, and even face situations where they question their resolve and motives. The series is surprisingly dark, tragic, and brooding, with plenty of shocking and unfortunate turn of events to keep you on the edge. 


What's really noteworthy about the anime is how good it looks and animates, and it made me realize that the current digital age has robbed a lot of character from 2D animation. The animation in Giant Robo is amazingly fluid and refined, akin to the quality you'd expect from Disney and Studio Ghibli. It's a wonderfully animated series with some very charming and like-able character designs.

I thoroughly enjoyed my time with this series, and each movie did a great job at progressing the deep story, by presenting shocking twists and really developing characters in a relate-able and humanized manner. The influences of this anime can easily be found in Neon Genesis Evangelion, and even more modern classics like Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann. If you're a fan of anime, then I highly recommend Giant Robo as essential viewing. While fans of the super robot anime genre will more likely check it out, I feel that this is something far more than just robots punching each other, for it prioritizes a deep intricate story and complex characters above everything else. 

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