Don’t think that all of the giant robot TV cartoons were created by Go Nagai. He may have invented them, but others quickly jumped onto the, er, giant robots. The giant robots were all basically the same, but by the late 1970s and early ‘80s their individual plots had developed some originality. Here are some of the others.
Gowappa 5 Godam. 36 episodes, April 4, 1976 to December 29, 1976. Gowappa was the name of the team of 5 kids, and Godam was their giant robot. This was the first giant robot program with a girl leader rather than a boy. The Gowappas, led by Yoko Misaki, go on an outing to a strange island where they find the abandoned laboratory of Doctor Hoarai, who had been obsessed that the surface of Earth was about to be invaded by underground rock people. He was ridiculed, so he built the Godam giant robot and other weapons in secrecy to fight them. He was dead, but he transferred his mind into a computer before he died. He convinces the five kids to take his place, with snazzy costumes and a super-vehicle for each. Yoko gets the A-plane, and the others are the Heli-Marine, the Yakodari Jeep, the Turtle Tank, and the Gasomachine. Not a comedy, but not very serious, either. The peppy theme song captures its mood nicely. Is it just me, or does Godam remind you of a giant robot pelican? Or a giant robot Jay Leno? Developed by Tatsunoko Productions.
Ga-Keen. Magne Robo Ga-Keen or Magnetic Robot Ga-Keen. 39 episodes, September 5, 1976 to June 26, 1977. Doctor Kazuki builds a giant magnetic robot to fight the Izaru space invaders. Ga-Keen was short for “Gathering Keen”, which meant its two parts that magnetically “gathered” together. Ga-Keen’s two pilots were handsome Takeru Hojo and Dr. Kazuki’s daughter Mai. When the two halves joined into one, the two pilots merged into one body. The prudish in both Japan and America thought that there was something risqué about a male and a female sharing the same body; this kept Ga-Keen from making a major sale in America. Ga-Keen was produced by the Toei Animation Co., which did not rely solely on Go Nagai; this was planned by Kenji Yokoyama and developed by Masahisa Saeki and series director Tomoyoshi Katsumada.
Danguard Ace. Wakusei Robo Danguard Ace; Planetary Robot Danguard Ace. 56 episodes, March 6, 1977 to March 26, 1978. Leiji Matsumoto was then very prestigious after Space Battleship Yamato and Space Pirate Captain Harlock. Toei Animation invited him to come up with something in the giant robot genre. In the future, Earth has exhausted its natural resources and must be abandoned. The authorities plan to evacuate Earth for the planet Prometheus, but the ultra-wealthy Mr. Doppler flies to Prometheus in his own spaceship, uses his wealth and Prometheus’ resources to construct a private army, and declares himself Chancellor of Prometheus. The Earth governments begin to build giant robots to defeat him, but Doppler’s agents destroy them before they are finished – except for Danguard Ace. The series is set on the Earth fleet approaching Prometheus, under the command of the mysterious masked Captain Dan, fighting the concentrated forces of Doppler with Danguard Ace. The protagonist is Takuma Ichimonji, the young pilot of the Danguard Ace, whose father is believed to have defected to Doppler.
Daitan 3. Muteki Kojin Daitan 3; Invincible Steel Man Daitan 3. 40 episodes, June 3, 1978 to March 31, 1979. Imagine Batman with a giant robot instead of the Batmobile. Imagine that Bruce Wayne (Banjo Haran) really is an ultra-wealthy playboy, who spends his time, when not fighting the evil Martian cyborgs who killed his scientist parents, at swanky cocktail parties surrounded by two gorgeous women, Reika and Beauty. “Hey, baby, wanna take a spin in my giant robot?” His Alfred-like butler is named Garrison. “Garrison, I don’t feel like fighting the Meganoids tonight. Why don’t you take Daitan 3 out in my place?” “Veddy good, sir.” There is a Robin-like young orphan, too. Daitan 3 was notable for giving each Meganoid an individual personality and intelligent dialogue, when all other giant robot programs treated their main villains’ minions as cookie-cutter cannon-fodder. An imaginative series by Nippon Sunrise, which would go on to still better things.
Gordian. Toshi Gordian; Warrior Gordian. 73 episodes, October 7, 1979 to February 27, 1981. In the near future, Earth has become a desert wasteland except where survivors are struggling to rebuild small towns. Daigo Otaki is a young man raised alone by his uncle. When he becomes an adult, he sets out across the desert on his motorcycle, with his robot black panther, for Victor City where his father is said to be. Daigo finds that Victor City is a paradise amidst the wasteland, mostly built by his father who was a super-scientist; but it is under siege by the criminal Makudoka organization. Victor City’s defense has been led by Saori, his sister whom he didn’t know he had. She begs him to take over Victor City’s defense with his father’s inventions, which only he can use. He joins the Mechacon Mechanic Combat’s 18th regiment unit to help it out while learning to use his father’s inventions. The principal invention is a robot battle suit named Protteser. When Daigo gets into too much trouble for Protteser to handle, they get into a bigger battle suit named Delinger; then Garbin. When all appears lost, Gordian appears as an autonomous giant robot deus ex machina to save them. Gordian is developed as a mystery; first who Daigo and his robot panther are, then who the invaders are and what they want, and finally what Gordian is and what commands it is operating under. Gordian was credited to Tatsunoko Pro’s founder, Tatsuo Yoshida, who died in 1975, making you wonder how long it was in development. The most popular toys were the three increasing-sized battle suits. I always suspected that they were inspired by Russian nesting dolls (matryoshkas).
Trider-G7. Muteki Robo Trider-G7; Invincible Robot Trider-G7. 50 episodes, February 2, 1980 to January 24, 1981. Businessman Uo Takeo, collaborating with a renegade scientist from the evil Robot Empire, builds the Trider-G7 to defend Earth. As a cover identity, Takeo claims to have built Trider-G7 himself for commercial purposes, and forms a shell company pretending to rent it out as a super-bulldozer or steam shovel, with himself as the pilot. He is unexpectedly killed in an accident while his son Watta is too young to run it, with his company taking itself seriously. Watta is just being trained by the Takeo General Company’s employees – the office secretary, the mechanic, the mailroom boy, even the Takeo family butler — when the Robot Empire strikes. Trider-G7 is Earth’s only hope for defense, and Watta needs to pilot it Right Now! Trider-G7 was not exactly a comedy, but its emphasis was less on the giant robot battles and the villains than on how being a giant robot’s pilot affected an enthusiastic but untrained elementary-school kid. Watta was always being called out from class or in the middle of a baseball game to fly Trider-G7 against some new menace. His classmates thought that being a giant robot pilot was cool! When he powered up the robot, everyone in the neighborhood could watch. I felt that if any Japanese TV cartoon would have been perfect for an American live-action adaptation, it would have been Trider-G7, with a child actor like Jon Provost (Timmy on “Lassie”) as Watta, and Edward Everett Horton as the grumpy but lovable old family butler. Produced by Nippon Sunrise. Here are two YouTube clips; the opening credits in Japanese, and the takeoff from Trider-G7’s base underneath the school playground, in Italian.
Daioja. Saikyou Robo Daioja; Robot King Daioja. 50 episodes, January 31, 1981 to January 30, 1982. In the far future, 16-year-old Crown Prince Mito of the galactic Empire of Edon makes a tour of his future realm with his two bodyguards/pals, Kurks and Skade, all disguised as teenaged commoners. They are just supposed to observe, but if they run across any crimes, they have the giant robot Daioja (literally “Big Prince”) to punish the evildoers. They are trailed by the girl spy Shinobu (a futuristic ninja) who is secretly assigned by the king to keep them out of more trouble than they can handle, and to report on what kind of ruler Mito shows that he will make. A pastiche of the fantastically popular Japanese live-action drama Mito Komon, on TV from 1969 to 2011. Mito Komon was a period drama set in 17th-century Japan, about an elderly vice-shogun who disguised himself as a retired crêpe merchant; Daioja updated the plot into s-f with a teen hero. Daioja was played for low comedy and bad puns. In one episode, Mito finds that a tyrannical planetary governor who fancies himself a Patron of the Arts has ordered the commoners to play Living Statues of famous works of art like the Mona Lisa and Rodin’s “The Thinker”, for the rest of their lives. He stations guards with guns near them, so the first time that they break their poses, that’s the rest of their lives. When Mito reveals his true identity and shouts, “You have betrayed your trust! You have lost face!”, the governor pulls out a hand mirror and says, “What do you mean, I have lost my face? It’s still here.” (Groan!) From Nippon Sunrise.
Gold Lightan. Ogon Senshi Gold Lightan; Golden Warrior Gold Lightan. 52 episodes, March 1, 1981 to February 18, 1982. A boy, Hiro Taikai, finds what appears to be a gold Zippo cigarette lighter, but which transforms into the Gold Lightan giant robot. He has just been sent to Earth with his nine teammates, all giant robots which can shrink and disguise themselves as small tools (magnifying glass, pencil sharpener, etc.), to defend Earth against an invasion by King Ibalda’s alien robots. Hiro and his pals, as the Bratty Rangers Club, each take a device/robot. Gold Lightan was a serious drama, but you can’t tell me that the Tatsunoko animation team was serious. It was rumored that someone challenged each of the animators to take some small object from his pockets or desk, and then work them all together into a giant robot scenario. Gold Lightan’s being an obvious and well-known cigarette lighter kept this off American television. This was not one of the giant machines with a human pilot, but I couldn’t resist telling you about the giant gold cigarette lighter. The toy, which looked like a real Zippo but transformed into a miniature robot, sold for something like $85 in L.A.’s Japanese community toy shops.
God Mars. Rokushin Gattai God Mars; Six God Combination (or Hexademon) God Mars. 64 episodes, October 2, 1981 to December 24, 1982. In 1999, evil Emperor Zul of the planet Gishin plots to conquer the universe, but he fears that Earth, which has just developed space travel, may oppose him. He secretly sends a baby, Mars, to Earth to grow up as a human, with a giant robot, Gaia, built by Mars’ father, that contains a super-bomb that can destroy Earth. Zul plans that if he cannot conquer Earth while Mars grows up, he will order Mars to destroy Earth. However, the baby Mars is adopted by a Japanese family who name him Takeru, and he grows up believing himself to be human. When Zul reveals Mars’ true identity when he is 17 and orders him to destroy Earth, Mars decides to fight for his adopted planet. He joins the Crasher Squad defending Earth from Zul’s attacks. However, if Mars dies, the bomb with Gaia will explode automatically, so Zul constantly tries to kill Mars. What Zul does not realize is that Mars’ father built six more robots to protect him. Mars uses the six robots to defend Earth from Gaia. The six can combine into the God Mars super-robot. Developed by Tokyo Movie Shinsha.
Acrobunch. Makyo Dentetsu Acrobunch; Acrobunch: The Legend of the Demon Lands. Acrobunch was so-named because it was a giant robot piloted by a bunch of acrobats. Seriously. 24 episodes, May 5, 1982 to December 24, 1982. Tatsuya Randou, the leader of the Randou family of circus acrobats, is also a scientist and archaeologist in his spare time. He unearths evidence of a fabulous Quetzalcoatl treasure, which can be located by clues in the ruins of lost civilizations all over Earth. The Randous set out in their Acrobunch to discover them, but they are trailed by the evil Gopurin organization which plans to seize the treasure. Acrobunch took its archaeology very seriously, with detailed realistic designs. Developed by Tokyo Movie Shinsha.
That is ten more, with dozens to come. I could go on indefinitely. If you don’t believe me, here to close is someone’s YouTube compilation of “An almost complete collection of giant robot anime TV openings from the 1980s”. Just the 1980s. It runs almost 80 minutes.