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As much as I would love to see the entire series of "Gaiking", the movies will do...
on July 4, 2013
When it comes to super robots, back in the mid-to-late '70s, Japan had a mecha boom with Danguard Ace, Raydeen, Combattler and Gaiking.
And it was one of the few moments where that mecha boom extended to the United States thanks to the release of the Shogun Warriors die-cast toys and the Marvel comic book series (in return, Japan was able to create a tokusatsu version of Spider-Man, who happened to have a big robot).
And for "Gaiking", having a popular toy was aided by Jim Terry's "Force Five" animated line-up which included "Gaiking" which was produced by Toei Animation from 1976-1977 with a total of 44 episodes being created. And the series was also seen on television in various countries.
While "Gaiking" was remade in 2005, in 2009, William Winckler Productions produced three all new English dubbed movie versions edited from the original series. Winckler, who is known for his work on "Tekkaman the Space Night", wrote, produced and directed the English films.
It's important to note that it was Toei Animation that came to William Winckler Productions to make the film series as Toei Animation felt it would be great to establish a "presence in broadband with the films" and that the three films would be easier to sell to "mainstream America".
Now, all three films will be released in a 2-DVD collection from Shout! Factory titled "Gaiking: The Movie Collection".
"Gaiking" is an animated series that revolves around Earth in war with an invading race of aliens known as the Zelans and under the order of the Great Emperor, the Zelans attack Earth. The Earth's main defense is the Super Robot named Gaiking created by Dr. Daimonji.
But who can pilot such a Super Robot?
This is where professional baseball player Sanshiro Twsuwabuki comes in. An athlete with a photographic memory (and possibly psychic abilities), one day while playing a baseball game, he is attacked by the Zelans and his pitching hand is fractured that he can no longer pitch professionally again. The truth is that it was an assassination attempt by the Zelans who are trying to eliminate anyone who may have psychic abilities.
He is recruited by an elite force serving the United Nations and consists of an elite team of pilots serving on the massive carrier known as the Space Dragon.
The first "Gaiking" film consisting of the first 23 episodes focuses on how Sanshiro became selected as a pilot but also getting to know his teammates and also the woman he would fall in love with. The film features how not all Zelans are bad people but the Great Emperor is forcing his own people to undergo transformation and attacking civilizations. And thus the first attack by the Zelans is featured in the first movie.
The second "Gaiking" film focuses on episode 24 and up to 33 and focuses on the second attack by the Zelans. But this time around, they kidnap Erica and try to transform her to one of their own. Can Sanshiro rescue the love of his life? Meanwhile, the Zelans are trying to provoke a war between the United States and Russia. But what happens when the Zelans capture Sanshiro and the pilots? Also, is there a traitor in the team?
The third "Gaiking" film features the final battle between Earth and the Zelans. Everything is on the line for both humans and Zelans and using Gaiking, can Sanshiro end this battle and prevent the Zelans from colonizing Earth and destroying humanit?
All three "Gaiking" films are presented in 1:33:1 with a black screen around the image (the packaging mentions Anamorphic Widescreen). It's important to note that this anime series was made back in 1976. On DVD, you will see white specks, artifacts can be seen, moreso on blue backgrounds, but this is not a series I was expecting to receive any remastering. I believe if you do see artifacts, it's much more evident on big screen televisions than on smaller screens.
According to William Winckler in an interview with ScifiJapan.com, "What's interesting is that Mr. Morishita wanted both original aspect ratio versions, as well as wide-screen versions... and so that's what we made... for broadband distribution. We produced HD versions, made off the best master sources available, in both original aspect ratio, as well as wide screen."
Picture quality is OK, but the question is, because HD versions were produced, is there a possibility of a Blu-ray release? Personally, I would prefer an HD release of "Gaiking" than on DVD.
But I wouldn't be surprised if this is probably the best we are going to see in the U.S. of "Gaiking", as I doubt the single episodes will be released in the U.S. anytime soon.
"Gaiking: The Movie Collection" is presented with an English dub in Stereo 2.0. I'm not exactly sure if the intention of this dub was to make it sound like it was made in the '70s, but for a new English dub made in 2009, it doesn't compare to other anime series of today in terms of acting. During scenes of where pilots in pain, it's "Oh! Ah! Oh!" and it has that style similar to older anime that worked back then but a bit odd to hear a new dub made to sound this way in the present. But if the goal was to emulate the '70s style of acting, then I suppose the acting of the English dub actors fits the series.
"Gaiking: The Movie Collection" does not come with any special features.
When it comes to "Gaiking", I absolutely loved the character growing up and how excited I was to watching the films based on the character that I grew up with!
Like most children of the late '70s, getting your first "Shogun Warriors" was huge! In America, Shogun Warriors were die-cast metal toys, I was lucky to get Gaiking, Danguard Ace, Poseidon and Mazinger Z.
"Gaiking" was like no other Shogun Warrior. The Super Robot with horns, fists that shoot out and legs that were so heavy, that you can drop them on anything. This was the sign of the times, the late '70s and today, these toys are highly sought after because they don't make toys completely out of die-cast metal anymore. (Note: There was a plastic 24″ Gaiking made and released in the U.S. as well)
But I can easily remember me and my friends really loving Gaiking, despite not knowing the story about him.
While the series was aired on syndicated television in 1980 as "Force Five" (which featured "Gaiking", "Danguard Ace", "Starvengers", "Grandizer" and "Spaceketeers"), unfortunately, the series was primarily shown in New England, Virginia and a handful of other markets for a brief time.
But for those who grew up during those Shogun Warrior years or for the anime fan who is interested in classic mecha anime, "Gaiking" has finally been released in the U.S. as a single release featuring three films on 2-DVD's. It's important to note that this is not the same series that people watched on television if you were watching "Force Five". The Japanese names are used, so Sanshiro Tsuwabuki, the main protagonist of the series is used, not Aries Astronopolis.
While I can't comment of how much deviation there was from the original Japanese series and what was featured in producer William Winckler's version on the films, there is a banality to the super robot theme and that is Earth (or another planet) being under attacked and invaded by alien antagonists.
Where Sanshiro has a photographic memory and develops some sort of psychic ability, can also be juxtaposed to the late '70′s series Mobile Suit Gundam and Amuro's ability to learn how to pilot the Gundam quickly and the development of his Newtype ability.
But where Gundam focused on a war and how it affected others throughout the war but also showcased the enemy (and would captivate viewers as "Star Wars" did in the late '70s), the antagonists are not so likable for "Gaiking". The Zelans are starting to mutate and the Grand Emperor's mouth is now showing up on its forehead, while warriors have to be forced to become something they are not. It's a wacky way to feature the antagonists but I suppose back in the '70s, what made the series quite interesting is its adventure aspects that remind me of the '80s second Voltron series (based on the anime series "Armored Fleet Dairugger XV").
The team goes through adventures, for example, in the first movie, the team ends up stuck inside a cave where an ancient Zelan facility is located and they are trapped in a hallucinated state or when both Sanshiro and Erica must go out on an assignment. The series almost has an international feel (not through the English dub) but through the characters names and once again, reminiscent of the "Armored Fleet Dairugger XV" series.
But for many of the super robot anime series of the '70s, it was about the defense of Earth or humanity by alien invaders.
And while trimming a 44 episode series down to three movies aren't anything new to anime (as the "Mobile Suit Gundam" movie trilogy was also derived from the anime TV series), like anything trimmed down for a film, you do miss out on other storylines as not all episodes are featured. But having not seen the original Japanese animated series, I'm not too sure how much viewers are losing out on.
But from what I watched, the film focuses primarily on the Zelan battle and tries to incorporate important elements from the series into each film. The film also includes the inclusion of Sanshiro saying "Shogun Warrior" which is a nod to those who grew up to the toys because the term is a trademark brand-named created by Mattel, Inc. at that time.
And according to an interview between ScifiJapan.com and William Winckler, Winckler explained, "Although these films were to be designed for mainstream Americans, the plots, stories, character names, background music, etc., remained faithful and true to the original Japanese elements."
Now, as I mentioned, this is an older series and if there was an HD version produced, I prefer to watch it in HD. But the DVD was OK and as for the English dub, as mentioned, for a 2009 production, the English dubbing sounds as if it was recorded in the '70s. From the way the acting was, to the overreacting to pain of brief "Oh! Ah! Oh!". It's corny! But having watched some of the older English dubs, that's how things were things back then. And I would imagine the goal was to capture that style of English dubbing than what most anime fans are used to seeing in terms of English dubs today.
But I do feel this is the best we are going to get of this series in the U.S. and that is these three animated films of "Gaiking".
The fact is that classic robot series such as "Gaiking" was a product of our time in the mid-t0-late '70s. We grew up with these mecha storylines and as children, we were amazed by it but also had a toyline that kept us fascinated and intrigued!
Today, mecha anime series have become deeper, CG animated, have a long line of models and robot toys that the companies can capitalize on.
Not to say that "Gaiking" wasn't deep because characters and humans do die in the films. But for those who are able to watch these older series in original form, you realize the Japanese versions were much more deeper than its English counterpart. Japanese television were able to show death, while anime mecha TV series didn't go there. But because this is the film version and not related to the "Force Five" release, deaths do happen in each of the three films of "Gaiking: The Movie Collection".
For example, there is a peaceful Zelan who is a scientist who is raising his young daughter alone. The Grand Emperor has his soldiers take the scientist for conditioning to become a warrior. The scientist worries about his daughter and as she tries to go after her father, the soldiers kill the young daughter. Definitely something you will not see on American television at that time.
So, I'm glad that those elements from the series are retained in the films. And as much as I grew up enjoying "Gaiking", the only thing that drives me crazy about the films is the English dub. Yes, I remember how things were in the '70s through the '90s but English dubbing has evolved since then. But William Winckler Productions was a product of that generation, heck, I am from that generation, but just because things were dubbed and acted a certain way back then, I know this is subjective but the voice acting (despite its use of veterans) featured voice acting style that I wish, stayed in the past.
And it's important to note that I prefer to watch a whole entire series rather than a film that comprises of several episodes. But I do realize not everyone wants to watch many dozens of episodes of a title and the films would suffice.
With that being said, I am a fan of "Gaiking", grew up with "Gaiking" and I'm quite grateful for Shout! Factory for bringing out this title. Because William Winckler Productions also did the production for "THE TOEI CLASSIC ANIME MOVIE COLLECTION!", I hope that also means that Shout Factory intends to release the "Danguard Ace" films, "The Adventures of Nadja" films, "Space Pirates Captain Harlock", "Fist of the North Star" films and "Starzinger" films for release in the U.S.
Overall, "Gaiking: The Movie Collection" takes the best of "Gaiking" the animated TV series to make three feature length films! For those who grew up in the '70s, enjoyed the "Shogun Warriors" toys or even watched the original "Force Five" series or is a mecha/super robot fan at heart, "Gaiking: The Movie Collection" is for you!