ANIME'S Giant masterpiece
by Joseph Walter
"Watchmen" has been described as the perfect example of the graphic novel, showing off exactly what the medium is capable of.
1992's Giant Robo: The Animation "The Day the Earth Stood Still" is the equivalent, but instead of proving the worth of comics, it, instead, exemplifies the merits of anime as a medium, while standing out as the perfect example of what anime is capable of.
Although it technically is one, to describe Giant Robo as a "mini-series" would be a disservice to the amount of content and depth it brings to the table (the individual episodes themselves are even referred to as "films" in the credits). The series spans 7 episodes for its main arc, ranging between 45 minutes to an hour (sometimes a little more) for each installment. It also has three significantly shorter supplemental episodes, which were produced to keep fans salivating during the tremendous wait between episodes.
Making its debut on July 22, 1992, and finishing off over the span of six years, Giant Robo tells the tale of the struggle between the International Police Organization's (or IPO's) "Experts of Justice" and the maniacal "Big Fire" (also known as the "BF Society") in their bid for world domination. The sweeping narrative is operatic in nature, while also rightfully and truly earning the descriptor of "epic," unlike so many others being described as such.
The stylish designs are also accompanied by fluid animation that only gets better as the series moves on, coming to a feature-length-film level of quality during the finale. Breathtaking cinematography shows the necessary scale of Giant Robo doing battle against his various foes, along with the kung-fu styled hand-to-hand, power-versus-power showdowns between the Experts of Justice and the Magnificent Ten.
One of the the most extraordinary sequences of all is the repeated flashback to the "Tragedy of Bashtarle," presented in a stark black and white, with minimal sound effects and a superb use of music. It offers a chilling, illusory look back to the moment that defined this world's history, and remains with the viewer well after completing the saga.
Also in the audio department, this set contains a great English dub by NYAV Post, with a very talented cast. Michelle Newman's performance as Daisaku is of particular note, as are Eva Christensen's GinRei, Zachary Alexander's Professor Von Vogler, and Dan Green's (of Yu-Gi-Oh! fame) Genya. The dubbers have done an excellent job, and the emotion each actor puts into their role is out-of-the-ordinary. I swear, in one particular scene, I genuinely believe one of the actors is actually crying!
(Note: As of this review, I have not watched the Japanese versions with subtitles in its entirety, but from what I have seen, there is some deviation between the Japanese and English scripts. I will update this section in the future.)
Lastly, in a theme that was ahead of its time, we also see the ramifications of the devastation scientific hubris can cause. Reminding me of our own world's over-eager push for advanced AI while seemingly ignoring the risks, the Shizuma Drive's potential as both a savior and destructor shows the two extremes of the danger that scientific advancements can bring without proper foresight. However, It's strongly emphasized that science and the progress it brings is not inherently evil, and that it can bring (and has brought) tremendous good to the world, but without proper planning and patience, science can also bring us tremendous cataclysms.
All in all, Giant Robo is a shining example of an anime, and constantly throws all expectations to the side (such as, perhaps jarringly for some, featuring few, actual giant-robot battles) but this is what makes Robo the special, unique experience that it is. The amount of depth it contains in its arguably short running time is quite unlike anything else that I know of. You can tell it was a passion project, crafted with love, lacking any pretense.
With tremendous production values, an original storyline, memorable, fleshed-out characters, and a symphonic score to rival the likes of John William's Star Wars, Giant Robo: The Animation, the Day the Earth Stood Still is something that should be seen by every anime fanatic, and even those that don't consider themselves as such. It is that good.
GIANT ROBO: THE ANIMATIoN "THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL"
The "Specials" are stand-alone episodes: Two of which are extremely comedic (one of them is a satire of the Super-Robot Genre) and the third is a serious, self-contained side-story, with GinRei and Tetsugyuu on a mission deep in the desert.
The disks also contain subtitled Japanese audio, there are two English dubs: A brand new dub for this latest release, and the original English dub from the series original VHS release.
Personally, I think the new dub is superior by a long shot, although a strange sub-group of fans seem to find the original dub better. Frankly, I found the original dub to be heinous, as were its unneeded attempts to "enhance" the dialogue with more swearing, in an effort to seem more mature.
The disks also contain special features, including surround sound, re-mastered video, audio commentary (The composer is featured on one, giving insight into the orchestra and choir, and what his experience was like when recording! A great listen!) interviews, still galleries, trailers, animatics and "3-D intro movies."
Lastly, although "Giant Robo" is a self-contained, seven episode arc, there were plans to continue it (although nothing is lost by the lack of such a continuation.) If curious, the names of the would-be future episodes can be found here. But fair warning, they contain spoilers from the previous episodes!
There is also a manga series, entitled "Giant Robo: The Day the Earth Burned," which takes place in an alternate continuity of the animated universe, but still offers some interesting insight into events in the main series.