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Reviewed by Will Harris
e’s bigger than big. He’s taller than tall. He’s quicker than quick and stronger than strong, and he’s ready to fight for right against wrong. He’s Gigantor, the space age robot, and he’s at your command.
No, really: his power lies in yourhands. Or, at least, in the hands of little Jimmy Sparks. It seems a little odd that you’d give that kind of clout to a 12-year-old boy, given he’d be in the throes of puberty, but hey, it’s a cartoon from the 1960s, so we’re willing to give it a little bit of leniency when considering the version of reality that it presents.
“Gigantor” is what you’d call an Americanization of a 1963 Japanese series called “Tetsujin 28.” What do the two shows have in common? Well, they’re both about a boy and his robot, but precious little else stayed constant. While this would normally be something to grouse about, you can’t really blame us for changing it this time, given that the original premise involved the Japanese military secretly trying to develop a super-weapon during the final days of World War II that would turn the tide and save the Empire. By the time the cartoon arrived Stateside, it was taking place in the far-off year of 2000, and Gigantor’s creation came courtesy of Jimmy’s father, who devised the robot as a weapon but later reprogrammed him to act as a guardian of peace. You have to admit that, in the midst of the Cold War, the latter premise would’ve worked a hell of a lot better in Middle America.
Even with its highly tweaked background story, “Gigantor” still stands out from the other cartoons of its era in a big way, and not just because it was in black and white at a time when most other series were trumpeting the fact that they were in color. TV animation was still very much about wacky comedy in the mid-1960s, but “Gigantor” offered a blend of intelligent science fiction and a surprising amount of drama. (More than “Astro Boy” did, anyway.) Certainly, there was humor to be had, particularly with Inspector Blooper, who sounded suspiciously like comedian Frank “Yesssssss?” Nelson, and for all their evil maneuverings, you can’t exactly take a mad scientist named Dr. Katzmeow that seriously, but even now, you can easily find yourself caught up in the excitement of Jimmy’s exploits. Plus, Gigantor was definitely the granddaddy of super-cool giant robots, a predecessor of the Transformers. (If the upcoming “Astro Boy” film proves to be a chart-topping success, you can count on a “Gigantor” flick being green-lighted about five minutes after the first box office numbers come in.)
The animation may be stilted and the dubbing sketchy at times, but for anime fans, “Gigantor: The Collection, Volume One” is a must-own. The only problem is that some of those folks probably already do own this set, since it originally came out in 2002 through Rhino. Still, if you missed out the first time around (it’s been out of print for some time now), you won’t want to make the same mistake this time.
Special Features: There are interviews with director/producer/writer Fred Ladd and anime historian Fred Patten (Animation World Magazine), as well as a handful of audio commentaries from Ladd, a 16-page companion guide containing episode summaries, and archival publicity materials. It’s hard to imagine that there’s much in the guide, however, that isn’t tackled within the comments made by Ladd and Patten, as they’re not afraid to get good and geeky with their conversations. The real hardcore “Gigantor” aficionados will probably get the most excitement out of the DVD-ROM content, which offers up the first six issues of the “Gigantor” comic book.