It was the giant robot TV cartoons on Japanese-community TV channels that introduced Japanese anime to American fandom in 1977. Yuushu Raideen, UFO Senshi Dai Apolon, and Getta Robo G were the first to come to America (in Los Angeles, anyway). These were described in one of my earlier columns.
There seemed to be dozens of giant robot TV programs, and many of them looked too much alike to be attributed to their being all giant robot shows. In the following months, we started to get sample episodes of other Japanese TV cartoons, and many that weren’t giant robot programs showed a similarity of art styles. It couldn’t be because they were all from the same animation studio, either, because they weren’t. But they were all created by the same cartoonist, Go Nagai. We gradually learned that Nagai had not only created the giant robot craze, but almost as many others as there were genres of anime. He started a company, Dynamic Productions, to create manga, anime, and toy designs to order. Here are some of them.
Mazinger Z. Let’s start with this because it is the most important. This was the first of them all; the program that set off the giant robot craze. 92 episodes; December 3, 1972 to September 1, 1974 on Fuji TV on Sundays at 7:00 p.m.; created by cartoonist Go Nagai for Toei Animation. Actually, created by Nagai’s Dynamic Production Co. first for the Bandai toy manufacturer or its Popy subsidiary, and then for Toei Animation after Bandai (or Popy) confirmed that it would sponsor it. In other words, the giant robot toys came first, and the story was written around them. An international archaeological team discovers the ruins of a lost civilization that had giant robots sixty feet tall. The German member of the team, Dr. Hell, kills all of the other archaeologists except the Japanese Prof. Kabuto, who escapes. Dr. Hell plans to use the lost technology to create an army of Mechanical Beasts to conquer the world. Prof. Kabuto intends to build his own army to stop him, but he only builds one prototype, Mazinger Z, before he is killed by Hell’s agents. Prof. Kabuto’s teenage grandson, Koji, becomes Mazinger Z’s pilot to foil Dr. Hell’s Mechanical-Beast-of-the week.
Koji was joined by his high school pals and his girl friend with their own giant robots, which of course were also available as toys. Most popular with the adolescent boy viewers was Koji’s girl friend Sayaka’s female giant robot, Aphrodite A, which fired missiles from its chest. “Fire tit missiles!”
Mazinger Z was so popular that “he” was deliberately destroyed in battle prematurely (Koji Kabuto was only critically wounded) so he could be replaced by an improved giant robot, which meant ALL-NEW TOYS. This was Great Mazinger, which ran for 56 more episodes; September 8, 1974 to September 28, 1975. By then, Koji Kabuto was out of the hospital, and it was time for UFO Robo Grandizer; 74 episodes, October 5, 1975 to February 27, 1977. (The main thing that I remember about UFO Robot Grandizer was that it was supposed to be set in the American Wild West, and the Japanese clearly did not know the difference between longhorn steers and dairy cows. Or maybe this was Nagai’s sense of humor; with Go-chan, it was hard to tell. A stampede of dairy cows is a unique sight.)
I assume that you aren’t interested in the details; the important fact was that this was essentially a single TV cartoon series that was a half-hour toy commercial that lasted for 222 episodes and five years. Japan’s toy companies took notice in a big way.
Samples of a very few of Nagai’s other giant robot TV cartoons:
Getter Robo G. See my previous post, Anime Fandom in North America, for this one. There’s no point in repeating myself.
Steel Jeeg. Kotetsu Jeeg. 46 episodes, October 5, 1975 to August 29, 1976. Professor Shiba, a famous scientist and archaeologist, was examining the superscientific relics of the ancient Yamatai Kingdom. When his son, racecar driver Hiroshi, was mortally wounded in a laboratory accident, Prof, Shiba used Yamatai science to keep him alive by turning him into a cyborg. Then it turned out that the Yamatai were still around and plotting to conquer Japan. Queen Himika had Prof. Shiba killed, which of course made Hiroshi her mortal enemy. Hiroshi uses his cyborg power to become the head of Jeeg, the giant robot, to fight the Yamatai. We did not know it at the time, but Nagai used some semilegendary Japanese history from 200-300 A.D. in the names of the Yamatai and Queen Himika.
Gaiking. Daikuu Maryuu Gaiking; Gaiking, the Demon Dragon of the Heavens. 44 episodes, April 1, 1976 to January 27, 1977. Gaiking, the giant robot, and its semi-transformable support vehicle, The Great Space Dragon, fought to save Earth against the Dark Horror Army from the planet Zeta. The Good Guys were the crew of The Great Space Dragon, which carried a wide range of weapons for Gaiking. Gaiking’s pilot was Sanshiro Tsuwabuki, a famous baseball player. This was the first giant robot series set in different international locales instead of all in Japan. When this was produced, Toei Animation credited a minor Dynamic Prod. staffer as the author in an attempt to avoid paying Nagai higher royalties. Nagai sued, and won after a legal battle that lasted more than ten years.
Govarian. Psycho Armor Govarian. 26 episodes, July 6, 1983 to December 28, 1983. In the future, the Garadain Empire is conquering Earth. Zeku Alba, a scientist from an alien planet conquered by the Garadains, escapes to Earth and forms a team of international youths to fight the Garadains. The most talented of the international squad is naturally the Japanese boy, Isamu, whose family was killed by the Garadains. He uses psychogenesis power to activate the giant robot Govarian to fight the Garadains, assisted by two teammates who have giant robots of their own. This series had a more interstellar and futuristic plot than Nagai usually wrote. He created it for the Knack studio, which has the reputation of one of the poorer in Japan.
God Mazinger. 23 episodes, April 15, 1984 to September 30, 1984. Mazinger Z, Great Mazinger, Shin (New) Mazinger, God Mazinger – the name ‘Mazinger’ was solid gold to Japan’s TV animation and toy industries, and Nagai took full advantage of it. Teenager Yamato Hino is transported to a parallel world where the evil Empire of Dinosaurs is conquering the good Kingdom of Mu. Mu has a legend that a giant prehistoric stone statue of the god Mazinger will come to life when called by someone named Yamato. Yamato activates the statue and uses it to defeat the Dinosaurians. He remains in the parallel world as the royal champion of Mu. See the medieval European Jewish legend of the Golem. Tokyo Movie Shinsa/TMS Entertainment produced this one.
Panda-Z – the Robonimation. Giant robot pandas!? Never let it be said that Nagai couldn’t laugh at himself. This program for little children, mostly in pantomime, was actually created by Shuichi Oshida, with Nagai’s approval. 30 episodes, April 12, 2004 to November 1, 2004. Pan-Taron, a super-deformed robot panda, is the pilot of the Panda-Z giant robot in Robonimal City. They fight against the Warunimal forces led by the evil Skullpander. Produced by Bee Media and Synergy Japan.
Let’s save some room for Nagai’s non-giant robot anime series:
Devilman. 39 episodes, July 8, 1972 to April 7, 1973. Teenaged Akira Fudo is possessed by the demon Amon. He has enough will power to defeat the demon, and uses its supernatural power to battle other demons which mostly threaten his girl friend Miki and her kid brother Tare. Devilman pioneered serious supernatural horror on TV for children. It has been extremely popular, appearing in OAVs, a live-action feature, video games, manga by Nagai, and novels by Nagai’s older brother Yasutaka Nagai, with illustrations by Go Nagai; and a TV series remake featuring the other gender, Devilman Lady. Here for comparison are the opening credits from the 1972-1973 TV series and one of the more adult OAVs.
Dororon Enma-kun. I described earlier that Enma-kun means Li’l Enma, and Enma is a Japanese name for the Devil, so Enma-kun is roughly a Japanese version of Harvey Comics’ Hot Stuff. This is a Devilman-Lite for younger children. 25 episodes, October 4, 1973 to March 28, 1974. Li’l Enma was the nephew of the King of Hell, about ten years old. Despite his youth, he was made the leader of the Ghost Patrol (nepotism counts), assigned with child snow maiden Yukiko-Hime and Kapaeru, a kappa (a traditional Japanese river demon supposed to drown the unwary) to track down spirits that escaped from Hell and returned to Earth, and bring them back to Hell. Bloodthirsty Li’l Enma usually killed them instead. (It was never explained how you can kill a ghost.) In the manga and TV series, there is a massive jailbreak of ghosts who escape to the Big City (presumably assumed by Japanese viewers to be Tokyo; by American viewers to be NYC), and the Ghost Patrol is assigned to return them to Hell. Unknown to them, the ghosts have banded together and are plotting to overthrow the King of Hell. Complications ensue. Comedy-relief was provided by Dracula, who had been assigned as the resident demon in charge of the Big City, but who had degenerated into a drunken wino. Enma appoints Dracula as his assistant, but Dracula resents having to take orders from a kid and is always trying to sabotage him. The original 1973-1974 TV series was a supernatural comedy roughly like Beetlejuice, but a 2011 12-episode remake (produced by an animation studio with the unlikely name of Brains Base), broadcast at 2:10-2:40 a.m., was played for adult straight(?) suspense-horror. This YouTube clip is from the remake.
Cutey Honey. 25 episodes, October 13, 1973 to March 30, 1974. If Devilman introduced supernatural horror to children’s TV, Cutey Honey introduced SEX to children’s TV. Honey Kisaragi is a 16-year-old student at the Saint Chapel School for Girls, a Catholic school where all the other girls and woman teachers are mildly humorous lesbians. The Earth is secretly invaded by the Panther Claw gang, who are more menacing lesbian monsters. The Panther Claws murder Honey’s scientist father to steal his invention which will make them all-powerful. Unknown to anyone, Honey is actually a super android, and her father put his invention in her to bring her to life. So the Panther Claws are after Honey to steal the invention from her (one of the Panthers has a crush on her). Honey learns to control her power to change into other specialized girls, such as Hurricane Honey, a biker; Flash Honey, a news photographer; Fancy Honey, a model; Misty Honey, a rock star; and others including her “real” form, a pink-haired super sword duelist. Honey is supposedly helped by two boys who are the sons of one of her father’s friends, but they spend more time trying to get into her pants, and she spends more time rescuing them from the Panther Claws. When Honey changes into one of her other personas, the change in her costume leaves her nude for a split-second, which made the TV series extremely popular with adolescent boys. Despite all of the outrageous elements, Cutey Honey was popular enough to generate an OAV series, two new animated TV series, a live-action movie, and a live-action TV series.
Kekko Kamen. Masked Kekko. This was Cutey Honey carried to an extreme. Mayumi Takahashi is a student at Toenail of Satan’s Spartan Institute of Higher Education. The mildly humorous lesbians in Cutey Honey are over-the-top vicious burlesques here, along with equal-time exaggerated parodies of homosexual muscle-boys. Kekko protects the other students as a mysterious avenger who wears a mask. Just a mask. Nothing else. This was a manga that everyone assumed could never be filmed. Little did they know. Kekko Kamen never made it to TV, but there were two animated OAVs in August 1991 and March 1992, and ten live-action movies. YouTube, the spoilsports, has censored the OAV credits for the American video release. Incidentally, listen to the American announcer and you will understand why most anime fans prefer to watch anime with the original Japanese voices and subtitles.
Magical Tickle. Finally, this shows that Go Nagai could create a standard young girls’ magical little witch program when he wanted to. 45 episodes, March 6, 1978 to January 29, 1979. Chiiko, a shy 11-year-old schoolgirl, gets a birthday present of a magical book that, when opened, releases Chikkuru (Tickle), a fairy who was imprisoned for using her powers to play practical jokes. Chikkuru uses her magic to make everyone think that she is Chiiko’s twin sister. The two were the first “magical little witch” team, and were obviously inspired by Pink Lady, the two megapopular pop singers of the moment. Despite Magical Tickle being a standard children’s TV cartoon, it had an unusual origin. It was produced by Toei Co., Ltd., not its Toei Animation studio subsidiary, and its episodes were subcontracted to several other studios including Nippon Sunrise.
Go Nagai (real name: Kiyoshi Nagai; Go (five) is a childhood nickname because he was a fifth son) was born on September 6, 1945. He started as a 15-year-old assistant of Shotaro Ishinomori, and published his own first manga in 1967. This was Harenchi Gakuen (Shameless School), full of risqué humor. It was controversial but extremely popular, being adapted into four live-action movies and a 26-episode live-action TV series before any of his animated TV adaptions appeared. (Shameless School was finally animated as a 47-minute OAV in 1996.) He became notorious as the first author/artist of erotic, as distinct from pornographic, manga, and for the virulent protests against his comics and TV animation by the Japanese PTA. He founded Dynamic Pro in April 1969 with his brothers to create manga, and ideas and designs for toys and TV cartoons. Nagai or one of Dynamic Pro’s staff artists usually produced a manga timed to appear just before the toy or TV animation came out, giving the impression that they were based on the manga rather than the other way around. Dynamic Pro was one of the first Japanese companies to require written contracts instead of just a publisher’s or animation studio’s verbal promise of royalties. From 1972 through the end of the 1970s, virtually all of Nagai’s original “too hot for TV” manga were adopted into TV cartoons, arguably establishing the brief nude shower scenes that have become standard in Japanese TV animation. Since the end of the 1970s, Nagai has produced fewer original ideas but a tremendous number of TV and OAV remakes, spinoffs, and sequels to his famous 1970s TV series, including lots of live-action motion pictures.