#226 : Giant Gorg

You know, sometimes there is nothing better than a show about a young boy and his giant mechanical companion. Mix that with a mysterious island in the South Pacific, natives, a corporate organization bent on owning the secrets of the island, a rogue criminal outfit, a small group of friends and the possibility of an ancient alien civilization. This sounds like one stiff cocktail to drink, care for a taste? I like this basic premise as I believe this could be a winner of a TV series. Let’s look now at a show that did mecha a little differently way back in 1984 by harkening back in a way to how mecha used to be. Have you ever seen Giant Gorg?

Thirteen year old Yuu Tagami is in for a big adventure. After the passing of his father he travels to New York City to meet one of his father’s colleagues Dr. Wave. He also meets Dr. Waves sister Doris and their Great Dane Argos. We begin to learn about the mysterious Austral Island, a place where Drs. Tagami and Wave both did research on, when all of a sudden they are attacked! Fleeing for their lives and also making headway towards Austral Island, they meet the Skipper who acts as their strongman of the group. They trek their way across America and eventually the Pacific where they sail the rest of the way to Austral Island. Again they are attacked leaving Yuu separated from his comrades when soon he encounters a new friend. This is someone much taller and more metallic whose size is threatening, but whose eyes and outreached hand shows a very compassionate demeanor.

Imagine this… if Hayao Miyazaki could have made a mecha series, Giant Gorg would have been a close possibility… and I mean close. Released in 1984, Miyazaki was busy working on Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, Giant Gorg on the other hand was created, directed and designed by the one and only YAS. That’s Yoshikazu Yasuhiko folks, the guy who designed the characters for the original Mobile Suit Gundam, the director of the Crusher Joe and Venus Wars movies and the manga artist and overall director of the OVA adaptation of Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin. Yeah that guy! Giant Gorg is a unique part of YAS’ portfolio as this was his lone auteur project produced for television. As stated earlier Yasuhiko had a hat and say in many areas, but it was definitely not created by him alone… or was it? Either way what you get is one sharp looking, well polished release from a studio well known to many of us, Sunrise.

Giant Gorg may remind me in many ways of Miyazaki, but this 26 episode TV series belongs totally to YAS. Certain elements appearing in Giant Gorg would never appear in a Miyazaki production. Yet my reference of Miyazaki for Giant Gorg is due to the fact that Gorg reminds me so much of Miyazaki’s Future Boy Conan. A boy on a quest in the South Pacific joined by friends and going up against adversaries are similar to both shows. Maybe YAS also drew some inspiration from his work on Brave Reideen, a series from a decade earlier? This was a show that featured a found artifact type of mecha from an unexplainable origin. Yet in reality we have to go back to the giant robot origins appearing in the 1950s and 60s where the robot was more of a guardian for a kid than a piloted machine. No matter the influence, Giant Gorg was a modern retelling of classic ideas brought forth into a 1980s aesthetic.

There is that old saying that a dog is man’s best friend. In terms of Giant Gorg I think we could say that a guardian like giant robot is a boy’s, or girl’s, best friend. A metallic angel strong and brave with eyes as kind as a warm hug could be the best friend we all wished we ever had. Giant Gorg brought many of the elements of classic mecha tropes back into circulation that were left in the dust years prior. I must say… I like the change. There is something magical about Giant Gorg, almost wholesome in a way, that appealed to me from the start among other things including ending every episode on a cliffhanger… Tune in to the next, The same Gorg time, The Same Gorg Channel.

#193 : Armored Trooper Votoms: Big Battle

Hey did you hear there’s going to be a big fight between an ex-Red Shoulder with his friends going up against a fortress like transport? This doesn’t happen very often; good time to place your bets! The stakes are high this time round for Chirico and friends as they attempt to rescue Fyana and stop an up and coming Balarant Army PS (Perfect Soldier) who seems a ‘tad’ on the psychopathic spectrum. Enter now yet another tale from the Astragius Galaxy, the world of Armored Trooper Votoms. Presenting now the second OVA released after the conclusion of the TV series, 1986’s Armored Trooper Votoms: Big Battle.

VBB_1Searching for the elusive energy substance jijirium to feed Fyana, Chirico and Gotho, along with Coconna, Vanilla and Shaka, travel to A’koba settling near a gladiatorial battle arena that is being used by the Balarant Army to test their prototype mecha for use against Gilgamesh. Harkening back to the early episodes TV series episodes in Uoodo City, Gotho tries to get Chirico involved in the battling competitions. Balarant’s star battler, Niva, while in the heat of competition recognizes Chirico as a former Red Shoulder. Niva, who has severe anger issues and a ‘touch’ of the insane in his personality sees only revenge. Outside the arena, Chirico would rather work in the world of stealth and focuses on getting the jijirium for Fyana. That all changes when she is kidnapped by Niva and the Balarant, which brings out the dormant Red Shoulder in Chirico once again.

VBB_2Taking place during the final episode after the climatic showdown against Wiseman and before Chirico and Fyana are jettisoned away to live in peace and solitude, Big Battle does not so much fill in any holes in the plot, but instead adds to the previously laid foundations. The usual mystery and attitude that surrounds the world of Armored Trooper Votoms are here, but Big Battle is a rare treat in that it is mainly an all out action showdown… at least for the last quarter of the OVA’s running. Chirico’s piloting magic in a Scopedog are on full display as he, along with his friends, challenge Niva in both the fortress like transport and Niva’s own mech.

VBB_3As a product of the 1980s, just like the emerging direct to video OVA boom, Armored Trooper Votoms would ride this home video trend with great results. Three releases would emerge in the decade: The Last Red Shoulder (I love this one), Big Battle and The Roots of Ambition (still need to see!). Instead of previous compilations, the easy way out, Sunrise and Ryosuke Takahashi would introduce original stories for the Votoms universe. Big Battle, or more precisely Battle of the Heterogeneous Species (odd title… I prefer the shortened version) is for me the most fun entry I have seen in all of Votoms. While this does not dive into Chirico’s past as a Red Shoulder, or develops much in terms of character, or plot development, Big Battle is pure fan service (no not that kind!) giving fans a fun ride with the familiar cast and settings.

VBB_4Armored Trooper Votoms was ground breaking for a mecha TV series in that it brought military grit and a heavier mature sci-fi attitude that was not seen before. Piloted robots mixed with Apocalypse Now and Blade Runner became a hit combination that stills draws fans in. Votoms is a series that we don’t grow out of, but grow into as we age; much like a fine wine. If you have watched the TV series, you have only completed the first stage. If you are prepared to move on to stage two, then Big Battle is one of several great choices.

#185 : Aura Battler Dunbine

“Fortunate are those who remember the tales of Byston Well… ,” to quote the text that began many of the opening episodes for the 1983 mecha series Aura Battler Dunbine. Most fortunate are those that learn the lessons from the hardship of war, the downfall of power for selfish gain and the balancing act of dealing with emotional turbulence. Based on an adaptation of a concept from Gundam director Yoshiyuki Tomino that has been reinterpreted several times (Garzey’s Wing, Wings of Rean), Aura Battler Dunbine is a show that one never forgets.

ABD_1Often times I end up in tears when watching certain anime. I often expect this from really great work that brings you into the story. This can either be from something very sentimental between characters, or more often, the death of someone dear to the cast and plot of the show. During the last two episodes of Dunbine, I cried… very hard. The brutality of the war and watching one by one heroes and even sometimes antagonists go down was as painful as many of the largest loses of my life. Dunbine may be Tomino’s most brutal series in terms of his “Kill ’em all” trademark? I would say even more so than the likes of Ideon and Zeta Gundam, two series I truly love. Yet Dunbine is not all dark and gloom, there is a lot of light and at times comedy, but it’s the finale that often defines how a series feels for me in the end.

ABD_2The medieval European influence of Byston Well’s environment was a different take on the usual far future, outer space and/or alien invasion themes so prevalent to traditional mecha anime. Mixed with a form of fantasy laden technology and pagan mythological wonder, Dunbine would include insect like mecha designs (Aura Battlers), psychic powers and even fairy like characters that have a number of translated variations in English. This is a world where individuals like you and me are transported via the Aura Road to Byston Well from Upper Earth to play out in a struggle between power hungry despots, moral crusaders and nature priestesses that control the balance of Byston Well in their hands. A hopeful motorcycle enthusiast, Sho/Show Zama, is one of these select few who lands in Byston Well and learns quickly of the power games and ambitions of one local lord Drake Luft. Sho/Show eventually defects with his acquired Dunbine (his Aura Battler) to the opposing side and eventually earns the trust, as well as admiration of another Upper Earth exile, Miss Marvel Frozen, one of the best female mech pilots of all time. And to top things off Sho/Show acquires a sidekick (maybe cheerleader is a better term?), one of the Ferario (the fairies I mentioned earlier), Cham Huau, one of my favorite characters from Dunbine.

ABD_3Byston Well and the concepts of aura power could relate heavily to our subconscious, both individual and collective. Byston Well was noted for being a place between sea and shore, a land where our souls come to rest after death, or perhaps even before birth. A world of dreams that in one aspect is outside our human existence, yet also running concurrently with it. The use of aura power reminds me of Ideon’s Ide power and Gundam’s newtype abilities. These are latent powers that are within us, where a select few learn to channel them, or awaken to them, like a Gundam newtype. Or perhaps it is the collective energies of our emotions, either peaceful, or destructive that shapes how we correspond with the universe much like Ideon’s Ide. Aura power also makes me think of the concepts: ‘thoughts create things’ and ‘the words we speak create our reality and actions’. Out of the subconscious comes forth our conscious reality.

ABD_4Currently I have watched Dunbine in total twice and I will say like many of Tominos’s shows, it is best to have multiple viewings to gain as much perspective as possible. Tomino can tell a good story, but he does not always give the information in an expected manner. Lastly I can’t dismiss the character designs of Tomonori Kogawa as perhaps my favorite from his vast resume (Ideon, Southern Cross, Cool Cool Bye, Xabungle as examples). As part of a unique trilogy of mecha series created by Sunrise in 1983, including Armored Trooper Votoms and Galactic Drifter Vifam, Aura Battler Dunbine is mecha anime at it’s best featuring a world of fantasy with reality, joy with hardship and spiritual power with technology.

… and let’s not forget Dunbine has some of the most bizarre names ever to be featured in anime. How would you feel to be named Shot Weapon?