Spotlight
A Boy and His Robot
Emru Townsend · From fps #8 · June 27, 2006 | We live in a pop-culture world that is increasingly made up of retreads, remakes and reimaginings. The majority of them disappoint, but directors, writers and producers know that a mix of familiarity, fondness and curiosity will, time and again, override past experience and keep audiences coming back for more.

Given this reality it's hard to believe that any decent remakes get made at all. But in the last fifteen years, two fondly remembered TV series were remade exceptionally well. One is the current live-action series Battlestar Galactica. The other is the anime OAV series Giant Robo: The Animation.

Giant Robo: The Animation
Directed by Yasuhiro Imagawa
Produced by Amuse Video, Bandai Visual and Phoenix Entertainment
Distributed by Media Blasters, 2004
Originally released in Japan in 1992

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Giant Robo was originally a manga created in the mid-1960s by Mitsuteru Yokoyama, who had also created the seminal giant-robot manga and subsequent anime Tetsujin 28-go (the anime came to be known as Gigantor in North America). In 1967 Giant Robo was also adapted, but into a live-action show that also crossed the ocean, under the name Johnny Sokko and His Flying Robot.

Giant Robo was very much a product of its time. The show's special effects were, to put it charitably, limited; the title character was actually a guy in a suit stomping around with other guys in suits around a bunch of models. The basic plot is that an alien invasion from the planet Gargoyle is being spearheaded by a group known as Big Fire, who have forced Earth scientists to build giant robots for them. A young boy named Daisaku Kusama is one of two survivors of a cruise ship sunk by the alien force, and they are later captured by Big Fire. Eventually Daisaku and the other survivor (who turns out to be an agent working for a secret organization called Unicorn) manage to escape, but not before one of the scientists gives Daisaku a wristwatch with a transmitter before he dies—the transmitter being the only way to command one of the robots. As the robot is now keyed only to the sound of Daisaku's voice, the young boy ends up joining Unicorn so that he and the robot, now called Giant Robo, can fight the good fight.

When remaking a show with such a quaint aesthetic, it's not uncommon to throw in all kinds of elements to update it, or to gently poke fun at the original. But if the updating is too up-to-the-second (perhaps in an attempt to put as much distance from the earlier version as possible), the new version becomes instantly dated and, perhaps unsurprisingly, less successful. The new Battlestar Galactica works because it respectfully interweaves as many elements of the old series as possible into the new, while presenting the show in as sophisticated a manner as possible. While the Giant Robo anime does take elements from its predecessors, its real genius lies in how the old and new are blended stylistically and narratively, as well as in the ambition of its presentation.

Want to read the rest of this spotlight?

You'll find it and many other articles in the June 2006 issue of fps, available for only $1.49 US.
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