//the importance of being gutsy
As much as I like the clean-lined, expressive look of anime, I'm not as easily enthralled with every new series that comes out these days. There were a couple of trends leading into it, other than the obvious coming of age, changing interests thing. Of equal or greater influence is/was the swelling over-exposure brought on through a combination of more of the stuff on TV, and certain larger translation groups' almost obsessive-compulsive release rates. In my day, I waited with bated breath between Slayers releases, while the other titles continued at a trickle or gathered dust. The 'manga shelf' at Waldenbooks was pretty much the bottom shelves below the oversized X-Men compilations. Today, of course, we not only have a broad variety of available titles, but in cases like Comic Party, multiple series/seasons coming out at the same time. About the time the okay Love Hina debuted (I like Ken Akamatsu's manga work, but the animated version was a little too short-bus for me), heralding a new era of dating sim-ish fluff, I was severely burned out. Basically, there were three types of shows that were becoming a bit too popular- dark, murky storylines about vague terrorist/paranormal threats; fan service-riddled gimmicky comedies; and retro homage shows. I'm fully aware that things like Wolf's Rain has its fan base, and who doesn't like a little bouncy-bubbly giggly stuff? But something was missing, that certain goofball je nais se quais. Speed lines and shouting attacks were starting to disappear.
So, there wasn't a heck of a lot out there I was chomping at the bit to spend money on. But when the chance arose to download and watch fansubs for free- well... I won't say that I didn't jump on the boat. Besides, the classic bootleg VHS table has become a thing of the past now that A.D. "What does 'A.D.' stand for?" Vision and the like actually invest time and money setting up tables at conventions. Personally I would have paid money to see the looks on both their faces the first time a fansub seller ended up booked across from ADV.
The first time I heard of GaoGaiGar, it was in one of Animerica's 'Best o' the East' columns regarding the weird sci-fi/horror series Betterman. I figured it must have been pretty good since about 3 of 4 reviewers name-dropped it. And further toward the back, was a capsule review of the vocal collection CD, similarly oozy with praise for its bombastic, march-like themes. So, when the chance arose, I downloaded it to see what all the fuzzy, Viz-sponsored praise was about.
It's hard to be sure, but in Who-ville, they say, Mark's heart grew three sizes that day. The first time I heard the testosterone-pumped refrain:
GAGAGA GAGAGA GAOGAIGAR!
GAGAGA GAGAGAGA GAOGAIGAR!!
The Brave Robot series started in the waning years of the TransFormers. Since the name was losing its impact, Takara and Sunrise formed an unholy blood pact to keep producing new transformer-esque toys, only in a more kid-friendly classic giant robot format. There were a grand total of eight full Brave shows, none connected directly to the next, but sharing certain elements. They ranged from a Power Ranger-flavored hero team (Brave Command Dagwon), to plain goofy adventure almost more suited for Inspector Gadget than some super powerful robot battalion (Brave Express Might Gaine). I'll admit it, most of them aren't all that great past the cheese factor. Then, in 1997, Sunrise decided to smash their piggy bank and end it with one last, and even in title- greatest effort. No mere Brave of the Sun nor Brave Police, he is the KING of Braves. Feel free to insert your favorite Evil Dead/Army of Darkness reference here.
//a brave saga
The main thing that sets GaoGaiGar apart from the typical post-Evangelion mecha crowd, is the overpowering message that belief in oneself and optimism can overcome any obstacle. Cheesy, yes. But between the combination of world events before I started watching, and the abundance of dark, conspiratorial plots in fiction, it was a breath of fresh air. It's a very cut-and-dry, good-and-evil approach, for the most part, allowing for some mindless monster scares and fast-paced battles.
The hook, of sorts for me and this show is the mix of scientific mumbo-jumbo and unlikely technology, some of it obviously intended to be ridiculous. It's like a given science fiction from the 50's in terms of scientific grounding- reversing the polarity of something makes things as good as new, and with proper mastery, electromagnetism can do damn near anything.
The story opens as a childless couple drives through a bitter snowstorm. In a twist on Superman's origin, a gigantic mechanical LION descends from the sky and delivers them a green-haired baby boy with a pendant containing a mysterious green gem. It disappears into the night sky, not to be seen for another eight years. At that point, a massive UFO appears and crashes to Earth, with an unfortunate young astronaut named Guy Shishio in his path. The gold lion appears again, breaking off its pursuit to save Guy and deliver him home. The purple UFO burrows deep beneath Tokyo and remains undetected another two years.
The boy, raised as Earthling Mamoru Amami is on a class field guilt trip to Garbage Island to see the effects of waste on the environment. Mamoru wanders off on his own, into a cave of sorts lined with televisions that flicker, flashing the faces of strange creatures as well as a homeless man. The junk pile springs to life, somehow, taking on the shape of a kind of unicorn. It starts making its way to the city, armed with an ice blaster made up of hundred of refrigerators, and a fire blaster made from hundreds of microwaves.
You read that right, dammit.
Meanwhile, the mecha-lion Galeon busts free of its restraints in the hangar of the secret U.N. agency, the Gutsy Geoid Guard. Or GGG for short. He charges boldly at the alien, and there's a flash of recognition between Mamoru and the lion before it gets frozen and drops in the ocean. The GGG chief sends out the order to contact Guy, who arrives on the scene (like a sex machine) and pursues the rampaging monster holding the kids inside itself with the aid of the Gao Machines- a flying driller, a bullet train, and a stealth bomber. Galeon recovers, and Guy fuses with him by jumping into his mouth to form GaiGar. The newly-fused mecha battles the alien, but is forced to perform a risking combining maneuver with the Gao Machines to become the awesome GaoGaiGar and rip out its core. Just as Guy is about to shatter it, though, something overcomes Mamoru, who turns bright green, sprouts wings, and flies out crying "You mustn't!" before using strange powers to turn the core into a hobo.
So sets the stage for the series. The aliens are lead by the original intruder, dubbed Extra(terrestrial) Intelligence -01, in reality known as Pasdar (Pronounced 'pasta.') Performing his evil errands are his 'Four Machine Kings,' Penchinon, Primada, Polonaise, and Pizza. Their plans revolve around the use of a sort of symbiotic organic/mechanical substance called Zonder Metal, which attached to a host and warps their surroundings to affect their deep-rooted hatred and despair, usually resulting in a freakish robot monster for the 3-G to beat up. The Four Kings are usually referred to as 'Zonderians,' their monsters 'Zonder Robo.' They seem to hold dominion over one type of machinery or another and seek out victims accordingly. The way they assimilate their surroundings into themselves leads to some nice claustrophobic crises for Mamoru's accident-prone classmates- one of the best episodes involved a Zonderized assistant principal fusing into the school building and forcing the student body to behave, through the time honored aids of killer appliances and lots of tentacles.
//goldion hammer, and other tools of the trade
The GGG's arsenal is mostly powered by GS-Ride, which uses the green G-Stone crystals for power. G-Stones carry a charge opposite to Zonder Metal, making their machines immune to being assimilated, as well as more potent against the invaders. First and most obviously, there is GaoGaiGar himself. GaiGar, the fused Guy/Galeon is light and agile, but virtually unarmed. After combining with the GaoMachines, he goes from looking like a crappier Beast Wars toy to a broad-shouldered, heavy-built ass-rending machine. Unlike many combining robots, GaoGaiGar doesn't look unbalanced or have tons of mismatched colors. The stock footage sequence is lovingly rendered with tons of clamps, pistons, and joints working together and no 'flash of light, now the arm is there' moments. The main 'theme' of his powers is that the right hand is for destruction, and the left protection. So, while the right packs a traditional 'rocket punch' (BROKEN MAGNUM!!), the left is a reflecting barrier called the Protect Shade. His finishing move, Hell and Heaven combines the two into a hammer-blow capable of ripping out the Zonder's core, but protect it at the same time. When the stress of the move gets to be too much for Guy's artificial heart, they devise the coolest fucking weapon ever.
The Goldion Hammer is formed when the surly tank bot GoldyMarg hooks onto the Broken Magnum arm stump as a protective gauntlet, and he grasps the detaches head/back portion. The Hammer's head, when activated generates an intense gravitational force, like a black hole, for additional weight/pounding power. It's so powerful it nearly ruins GaoGaiGar's entire right side when used without the gauntlet. The improved finishing blow Hammer Hell And Heaven involves pounding a nail into the core, tearing it out with a crowbar-like extension, then smashing the remains into flecks of light.
There are other giant power tools, of course- the Dividing Driver warps space to make a safe battle zone, then there's the Phillips-head upgrade Gatling Driver. There's even three robots who form a massive set of dimensional pliers.
Of course, there's more than just the big black G-bot. The other Brave Robots are reminiscent of old G1 TransFormers in that they have faces and personalities instead of being simple drones as most series would have. The first pair are the crane and fire truck 'siblings' HyoRyu and EnRyu. They, and their later Chinese counterparts FuRyu and RaiRyu each form half of a bigger robot and combine down the middle through a process called Symmetrical Docking. Hyo and En form ChoRyuJin, Fu and Rai GekiRyuJin. Later they mix and match into GouRyuJin and GenRyuJin, but that starts to get weird. Also, the OAV series FINAL brings up a pair of French, female Symmetrical Dockers. Le rawr. I uh, think.
Rounding up the team is VolFogg- a Ninja police car. I've never seen anything so incongruous work so well as a character concept. You'd expect the lights and sirens to kind of counteract any sort of stealth something that's already 20 feet tall might have. But he makes it work, through everything from literal smoke and mirrors to Predator-style camouflage. He can also combine with a pair of drones to become the cleverly named Big VolFogg. Who, in an interesting instance of actual SCALE, is only about half the size of most of the others.
Oh yeah. There's one last bit of subtle anti-Americanism on the Strongest Brave Robot Corps. Mic Sounders XIII. He starts off as a literally useless cutesy robot on a flying saucer. It is then revealed that his true form is that of a mohawked giant punk rocker that stands on the other side of the saucer. He uses a variety of CD's to produce different effects, ranging from powering up allies to Disc X, which if improperly tuned, is capable of crumbling the whole planet with resonance.
Go ahead and blame us if you want, Japan- that thing's cutesy mode has you written all over it.
//from formulaic to fantastic (the spoiler section)
So it goes, the Zonders infect people, the 3G busts up the robot, Mamoru makes them all better. Not only do they regain things like their opposable thumbs and ability to fit in doorways, they also are rid of their negative emotions and learn to cope with the traffic jams/obesity/college entry exams that caused their infection to start with. Things do get a little dull, even with all the inventive even amusing monsters they could dream up. Eventually, the Zonder Metal supply dwindles, forcing Pasder's minions to conduct more elaborate plans to construct metal plants to infect the planet on a wider scale. Things reach their climax when the Zondarians themselves take to the fore, turning all of Tokyo into one huge particle accelerator so the metal spores can fester. After a precision operation to get GaoGaiGar inside in the first place, a drawn out brawl pushes the whole squad to their limits only to discover that EI-01 himself is awake and spoiling for payback. In the course of the battle, Pizza regains his memory of being a soldier in ages past and apparently sacrifices himself in a blaze of glory. When face to face with the original invader who begins leeching their power and launching indefensible attacks, they resort to the hidden G-stone reservoir Projectile X for a last ditch burst of near-beserk strength. At last, Guy resourcefully pinpoints the core by focusing on the broken knife shard he left inside its body, and vaporizes EI-01 with a last strike of the Goldion Hammer.
As the heroes rejoice, far above the Earth, a doll-like figure, Pagliacio, devours Pasder's escaped core and announces "Information gathering, complete.."
You could accuse the writers of padding pretty easily since the 'real' rise in action starts with episode 31 out of a 49-episode series, but really, the monster-of-the-day format lulled me into a false sense of cheeseball security. The story arc of the 31 Primeval Species starts off with a serious bang, as a trio of purple columns float over the city, systematically annihilating the GGG's undersea base, ships, and even the Space Development building. GaoGaiGar faces the bizarre and unbelievably powerful aliens alone and winds up battered within an inch of his life, only to be saved at the last minute by a transforming white battleship called J-Ark. The newcomer robot, King J-Der towers at nearly two and a half GaoGaiGar's tall and bristles with cannon turrets with a mysterious red power source, the J-Jewel.
Mamoru soon is clued into his Kryptonian origins, and the origin of the seemingly random alien encounters starts to make sense. It turns out the Zonder were a by-product of a program created by the scientists of the Purple Planet in the Trinary system designed to seek out and relieve people of negative emotion. The program was corrupted and began consuming whole worlds in techno-organic form, which of course didn't sit well with its neighbors, the Green and Red planets. Meanwhile, as the Zonder Metal swept the Green world, a son was born to the scientist Cain, immune to Zonderization and able to convert the victims back to normal. Three guesses who Cain's son is. To keep him safe and help protect against the spreading Metal, Cain sent Galeon to Earth with the G-Stones and blueprints for all sorts of protective gizmos. Abel of the Red Planet was a more militaristic type, who used clones of Mamoru/Latio called Almas in conjunction with cyborg-piloted J-Arks to fight the Primevals directly, which proved stupid as Kaidou and J were the only survivors, and J was even Zonderized.
The 31 Primeval Flavors- er, Species, all take the form of body parts, you see. The first to arrive are Jaws, Hair, and Fist. Legs fuses to a drilling rig and tries to destroy the Earth's magnetic field to make it uninhabitable for non-Zonderized humans. Spine pulls off a neat trick by assimilating the Great Wall, tourists and all to give itself the mass to stretch all the way into space for a shot at the GGG's new Orbit Base. ChoRyuJin is lost beyond Jupiter when preventing a satellite possessed by Brain from telekinetically slam-dunking a 100-km asteroid into the Earth. Standouts among them are the Magnificent Seven, humanoid Primevals who utilize unfair Junctioning in battle. Eventually, ChoRyuJin is discovered buried under 65 million-year old strata, kept operational after the eons by another imaginatively named entity, "THE POWER." The Primeval arc comes to a head when the GGG and J forces engage the remaining enemy, who have fled to Jupiter to tap into THE POWER. The collection of the cores goes along swimmingly, except for the part where J chases Arm into an ambush and has all of the parts stolen, leading to the completion of the Z-Master, a freakish giant cyclops.. thing, that must be destroyed from inside. The end result leaves an astounding high score as far as 3G property damage goes- they lose most of the fleet, 12 out of the 13 Mic Sounderseses, King J-Der, and destroy all of Jupiter's moons.
So, just when everything seems peachy keen, something implanted in Mikoto by Pasder two years ago goes off, turning her into an entirely new strain of Zonder capable of sapping GS energy like nothing and seemingly immune to attack. The AI of all the Robo Corps are uploaded into the Gao Machines to allow Guy one more Final Fusion to battle the possessed Mikoto to the bitter end. Just when things look like they're headed for a horrible end (Mikoto begging to be killed as Guy walks toward her from GaoGaiGar's battered frame, carrying Mamoru's broken body), the G-Stone glows with life and somehow not only restores her to normal, but gives Guy back his body and stirs Mamoru. So, the nakie lovers coo and cuddle in GaoGaiGar's hands, while the last GGG ship, the Kagayano reveals its purpose- it's loaded with an entire army of construction robots who rebuild the robot forces and the city as good as new!
OK, so maybe that was a little too damn cheerful considering the build-up, but I fell for it anyway. Realizing that things may not be as peaceful as it seems, Mamoru gets back aboard Galeon and bids everyone farewell as they go to seek out a new world to protect, leaving Guy with some of his powers as a side effect of the new body. The galaxy is at peace, and the menace of the Zonder Metal is at an end.
Until the OAV series, anyway. But we'll get to that when I see it myself- someday, on the sea of stars.
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