15 Dec Robots of the Week
Lo and behold, there came a time when Pinoy kids could come home every day and watch a Japanese super robot mecha anime dubbed into English by Filipinos every weekday! It was a super alloy reward for a long, dreary day at school. It was the tail end of the 1970s, and it was the Golden Age of Japanese Mecha Animation, with super robots fighting against every alien invader imaginable.
Monday: “Mekanda Robo”
Arguably the least known of GMA’s overwhelming robot lineup, Mekanda (originally known as “Gasshin Sentai Mekanda Robo” in Japan and “Mechander Robot” in the West) Robo led off the week with his distinctive double spiked shields, the three Mekanda jets that first combined before docking into the robot and the really catchy repetitive theme song (“Mekanda, Mekanda Robo, ra ra ra ra ra ra!” It was the show you caught in passing, but more a nostalgic oddity than anything else.
Perhaps the most romantic robot of all time, “Daimos” (originally “Tosho Daimos”), the show was actually the last of the three series in Toei’s Co. LTD’s. “Robot Romance Trilogy.” Daimos, who transformed from a truck into a robot was nicknamed of “ninja robot” because of the nature of his weaponry but is probably best known by the Telesuccess Productions, Inc. dub that had the winged Brahmin princess fall for the pilot of the robot, over the dead body of Brahmin Prince Ulrik. You will never forget the soap operatic love of “Richard!” and “Erika!”
Wednesday: “Mazinger Z”
The show may have been in the middle of the week but “Mazinger Z” was the codifier for the super robot show. Go Nagai’s signature creation featured hothead pilot Koji Kabuto riding his pilder hovercraft into Mazinger’s head after the rocket-punch robot emerged from a swimming pool. This was truly inspired show, from evil Dr. Hell and the literally two-faced Baron Ashura, to Koji’s girlfriend Sayaka and her rocket-chested robot Aphrodite A. Mazinger Z is the most famous super robot around the world (just not here), with constant reboots and the fact that without Mazinger Z, there would be no others.
Thursday: “UFO Grendizer”
One piece of trivia about this show is that it is actually the third and last of Go Nagai’s Mazinger trilogy (yes, it’s a shared universe) and is technically the most powerful of the three robots (Mazinger Z and Great Mazinga being the other two). The show is about Duke Fleed. Who flees his homeworld of Vega with the powerful machine to Earth. Once on Earth, he resolves to defend the humans with the robot launching from its saucer section and its distinctive double scythe.
Friday: “Voltes V”
What’s not to know about this one? The second of the “Robot Romance Trilogy” (the first one, “Combattler V” was shown here much later to much less acclaim), the show ( originally “Chodenji Mashin Borutesu Faibu,” or “Super (or Ultra) Electromagnetic Machine Voltes V”)
came out of Japan in 1977 and became the most watched show in the Philippines. It featured the horned Bozanians, led by Prince Zardoz, devasting the Earth with their killer saucers and Beast Fighters. The only thing that could stop them is the Voltes V team. They are the three Armstrong brothers, leader Steve, hefty martial arts artist Big Bert and little aquatic savant Little Jon, as well as cowboy Mark Gordon and ninja Jamie Robinson. Launched from their base Camp Big Falcon, the Volt Crewzer, Volt Bomber, Volt Panzer, Volt Frigate and Volt Lander could combine and dispatch their foes with the iconic Lazer Sword. But it turns out there is a Bozanian civil war, with the horned Bozanians enslaving the non-horned ones. It also turned out the Armstrongs’ father is Bozanian royalty. So the Armstrong brothers’ arch-nemesis is their half-brother. Voltes V turns the tide and soon flies to the home planet to finish the job. Sounds like the story of a certain third-world country? GMA-7 launches the show’s first live-action version soon and even today, Pinoys can sing the show’s theme song “Boreutesu Faibu No Uta” by Mitsuko Horie word for word even if they don’t understand a word of it.
RPN-p had, shall we say, a far more eclectic selection of robot shows, with many of them very obscure by today’s standards. Like GMA’s “Mekanda Robo,” RPN-9 had its most obscure character first. Though it also came from Toei, “Balatak,” known originally as “Chojin Sentai Baratakku,” or “Superhuman Squadron Barattack”) is actually an odd-looking mecha take on the sentai team with five teenagers who form a combining robot. Check out that distinctive head design!
Tuesday: “Jeeg the Steel Robot”
The most popular mecha show on this lineup, “Kotetsu Jeeg” is a later Go Nagai creation with a strange premise. When race car driver Hiroshi Shiba is wounded terribly in an accident, he is rebuilt by his father into a cyborg. Now, he can transform into the giant head that connects to the body parts fired by the Big Shooter jet as they battle the aliens from Jamatai. Interestingly enough, the diecast toy of Jeeg that had magnetic parts that could be removed or combined became the basis of the villain Baron Karza of the American Micronauts line from Mego.
Wednesday: “Danguard Ace”
Famous enough to become part of the American Shogun Warriors line, (“Wakusei Robo Dangado Esu,” or “Planetary Robot Danguard Ace”) is a creation of anime master Leiji Matsuoto and mecha original Dan Kobayashi. It’s a rather different show, because it is set in space. After Earth is uninhabitable because of the loss of its natural resources, the humans make their way to a new planet called Promete, where Dr. Doppler takes over and builds an army that destroys all the robots sent against it by the remnants of Earth’s governments—save one. Danguard Ace, which is piloted by Takuma Ichimonji, can transform into a space craft. It’s really a space opera more than an action show.
Thursday: “Striker Force (Blocker Gundan 4 Machine Blaster)”
The most unusual of the unusual members of RPN-9’s lineup, this is an older show and the designs show it, and it seems to be targeted for younger viewers. When the Mogul invade the Earth, only the four distinctively colored robots of the Blocker Corps, each with a different weapon, stand in their way.
Technically not a mecha show, “Starzinger” (“Esu Efu Saiyuki Sutajinga” or “Sci-Fi West Saga Starzinger” may seem ordinary but is far from it. It is actually a space anime adaptation of the revered Chinese novel “Journey to the West,” helmed by the aforementioned master Leiji Matsumoto. Princess Aurora of the Moon and her three cyborg heroes, led by the lance-wielding Jesse Dart (Jan Kugo in the original) who must travel through space to restore the galactic energy. This is a very cool-looking show, and once you see the helmeted Kugo in his red and white gear, wielding his lance and riding his space chariot, you’ll realize you really have watched this show before.
“From days of long ago, from uncharted regions of the universe, comes a legend, the legend of Voltron, Defender of the Universe. A mighty robot, loved by good, feared by evil. As Voltron’s legend grew, peace settled across the galaxy. On planet Earth, a galaxy alliance was formed. Together with the good planets of the solar system, they maintained peace throughout the universe. Until a new horrible menace threaten the galaxy. Voltron was needed once more. This is the story of the super force of space explorers, specially trained, and sent by the alliance, to bring back Voltron: Defender of the Universe.” That’s the iconic narration accompanied by the music that presaged each episode.
A long time after those other shows all came off the air, World Events Productions (WEP) took three totally different shows from Japan to re-edit and dub into a trilogy of its own called Voltron. The three shows were “Future Robot Daltanious,” “Armored Fleet Dairugger XV” and “Lightspeed ElectroGod Albegas.” But in a strange twist of fate, a mix-up created the greatest super robot Americans ever knew.
Daltanious is a lion-themed robot and so the WEP asked Japan to send over the “lion robot.” What they got instead was “Beast King GoLion.” But WEP liked it so much that they decided this would be their “Voltron, Defender of the Universe.” After that show aired, “Dairugger” began airing under the same name.
The single most famous super robot in the West was shown here in its butchered American dub several times. Five members of the Galaxy Alliance arrive at the planet Arus which is being attacked by the forces of the King Zarkon. But Keith, Lance, Sven, Hunk and Pidge awaken five legendary robot lions that, when combined, form the robot Voltron. When attack by Zarkon’s robeasts, Voltron ends them with its blazing sword. When Sven is injured, Princes Allura herself pilots the Blue Lion as part of the team. The show was so successful in syndication that WEP actually had to create new episodes of the show for its American audiences. Young Filipinos are very familiar with the “Lionforce” Voltron, which has seen several different versions, most recently by Netflix.
Right after that series ended, another “Voltron, Defender of the Universe” series aired, with the same narration and music, but this time featuring a reedited “Dairugger.” This series is nicknamed “Vehicle Voltron,” and features a large cast of pilots from the planets of the Galaxy Alliance each forming an Air Team, Land Team and Sea Team. The individual 15 vehicles could combine to form three large vehicles, and they could form their own Voltron with its own Blazing Sword to battle the Drule empire which was defending its territory from exploration and colonization by the Alliance. While it has its fans, “Vehicle Voltron” never gained the traction of its lion counterpart. The failed ratings of the second show meant that the thuird “Voltron” show,” to be made from “Albegas” would never be made.
Voltron remains the most iconic super robot for Americans, but, as YouTube mecha expert CJ Irelan, better known as ProfessorOtakuD2, says in episode 5 of his “A Visual History of Mecha” series, “What Voltron is for America, Voltes V is for the Philippines, and I think the U.S. got the short end of the stick on that.”