The Moviehunter

Pulp Culture
The original 'giant robot'
cartoon rockets to DVD


November 21, 2002
By Franklin Harris

Before "Pokémon" and "Dragonball Z," before "Robotech" and "Voltron," even before "Speed Racer," there was "Gigantor."

Along with "Astro Boy," "Gigantor" was among the first Japanese cartoons to cross the Pacific. It had a brief but memorable run in syndication in the mid-'60s, but because it was filmed in back and white, it didn't have a long life in reruns.

He's bigger than big, taller than tall, quicker than quick, stronger than strong, ready to fight for right against wrong!
He's bigger than big, taller than tall, quicker than quick, stronger than strong, ready to fight for right against wrong!
Now "Gigantor" is back. Rhino Home Video has remastered the first 26 episodes and released them as a four-disc DVD set.

"Gigantor" revolves around boy detective Jimmy Sparks and his giant, remote-controlled robot, Gigantor. Created by Jimmy's late father, Gigantor is the ultimate weapon against evil. As the theme song says, "He's bigger than big, taller than tall, quicker than quick, stronger than strong, ready to fight for right against wrong!"

(Like the "Speed Racer" theme, the "Gigantor" song is one that gets stuck in your head for days on end.)

In each episode, Jimmy sends Gigantor to fight robots, mad scientists or extraterrestrial invaders. Occasionally, the bad guys try to steal Gigantor's remote control and use him for evil, but Jimmy and his pals always prevail.

Rhino's DVD set, which retails for $59.95, includes an optional commentary (episodes 3, 4 and 5) by director/producer/writer Fred Ladd and an interview with animation historian Fred Patten.

Ladd was the first to bring Japanese animation to North America, producing the English versionsonly not of "Gigantor" but also "Astro Boy" and "Kimba, the White Lion." His commentary provides an insider's view of how American producers adapted Japanese cartoons for the U.S. market.

Ladd and his small crew worked on the cheap and edited "Gigantor" to meet American broadcast standards.

Patten, meanwhile, tells the history of Japanese comics (manga) and cartoons (anime), focusing on the most famous works of Osamu Tezuka, the creator of "Astro Boy" and the single most influential person in the history of manga.

In Japan, "Gigantor" was known as "Ironman 28." Based on a popular manga series by Mitsuteru Yokoyama, "Ironman 28" gave birth to the giant-robot genre of anime. While subsequent series added drama by having their heroes pilot their robots from the inside rather than from a safe distance, they otherwise followed the formula "Ironman 28" established.

The idea of an orphaned son piloting his scientist father's creation finds its way into everything from "Mobile Suit Gundam" to "Neon Genesis Evangelion," although in the latter it takes on a Freudian dimension, and the son is an orphan only in a figurative sense.

The original version of "Ironman 28" ran 96 episodes (Ladd adapted only 52 for U.S. broadcast). It was revived in 1980, and "New Ironman 28" ran for another 51 episodes. This second series aired in 1993 on the Sci-Fi Channel as "The New Adventures of Gigantor."

A third series, "Super-Electric Robo Ironman 28 FX," aired in Japan in 1992. This less successful take on "Ironman 28" lasted only 24 episodes.

But it is the original "Gigantor" that endures, because it is the prototype for most of the sci-fi anime that followed it.

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