Jul 24, 2023
Since there's a new Indiana Jones movie out, I figure now is the perfect time to do some anime archeology! Today, we're going to be examining the very first giant Super Robot anime that was produced in full color. Astroganger the anime was released in October of 1972 and beat Mazinger Z's anime adaptation to Japanese television screens by 2 months. The first super robot anime was Tetsujin 28 but that was in black and white like most all anime from the 1960s.
Astroganger was produced by Studio Knack, who is mostly remembered today for their less than stellar anime projects. The same writer, director, animators,
and voice actors would reunite just 2 years after Astroganger to make Chargeman Ken, considered by most Japanese otaku to be the single worst anime ever made. While nothing can fully explain the magical disaster that is Chargeman Ken, today's anime at least gives some context and clears up a little bit of the mystery behind the worst anime of all time.
Astroganger begins with a story that wouldn't feel out of place in the Silver Age of American comics or the Golden Age of science fiction. A famous astronomer notices that entire systems are disappearing all over the galaxy. One night, he sees a UFO crash near his observatory and meets an alien woman who is the last surviving member of her species. This alien woman named Maya tells him that an evil, shape shifting species known as the "Blasters" are wiping out entire star systems to harvest their energy and raw materials. If they aren't stopped, they will destroy all other sentient life in the Milky Way. Fortunately, she was able to bring a substance from her home planet before the Blasters destroyed it. This substance is a living, organic metal that can be crafted into a giant guardian robot and controlled by a member of her species. However, they didn't have time to make one of these robots before the Blasters invaded their peaceful world...apparently. Mayu and the astronomer, who is clearly modeled after Colonel Sanders for some reason, end up having a child together named Kentaro and building a giant robot that she brings to life by sacrificing her own. The robot is actually organic, fully sentient, and feels pain and emotions, but does NOT contain the soul of our hero's mother. Hideaki Anno is safe. Of all the old mecha he stole elements from I don't think that list includes Astroganger. Kentaro is able to merge with Ganger with a magical pendant, but he doesn't actually pilot the robot in a traditional sense. Ganger can operate completely autonomously, but he fights like an idiot. When Kentaro uses his pendent, he turns into energy and merges with the robot to lend his brains and creativity to Ganger. This allows Ganger to fight slightly less like a dumbass, which is always enough to win because Ganger is nearly invincible due to special material he's composed of.
If you've seen Chargeman Ken, you should already be seeing the similarities. However, Astroganger actually explains shit since the episodes aren't all 5 minutes long. Chargeman was an ill-conceived attempt to recycle Astroganger (often literally in terms of tracing animation) as an abridged version but assumes that the audience has already seen Astroganger. Kentaro violently hates the Blasters and wants to wipe them out before they can wipe out any more species. This makes sense, since they wiped out his mother's entire species and he blames them for her death. Kentaro's father is less quick to violence and acts as a counterbalance to his son's brash youthfulness. Chargeman wants to wipe out the aliens invading Earth, but their background and motivations are never explained. Some are even shown to be good and Chargeman acknowledges this, but still jovially wipes out an entire species without stopping to consider any other alternatives for even a second. While Kentaro's father is a wise and noble guide, Ken's father is somehow even worse than he is! Chargeman Ken took a story and characters that were already bare bones and made it completely incomprehensible by removing all context and explanations for anything.
Astroganger was a low budget anime created to sell cheap robot toys to small children. Having said that, it still looks ok for the time and for what it is. Some scenes even look better than the much more famous Mazinger Z from the same year. While the character art strongly resembles that used in Chargeman Ken, the animation and technical quality are lightyears ahead of its infamous successor. That's because Knack actually worked on this one. Most Chargeman episodes were apparently made in a single day so everyone could go to the beach! That's a direct quote from one of the surviving members of Studio Knack.
While Astroganger is still fondly remembered in parts of the Arab speaking world, this anime is definitely showing its age. Unless you’re extremely devoted to studying the history of anime, you’re going to struggle getting through all 26 episodes of this. If you thought Ideon was dated and hard to watch by modern standards, this is a step below that. Fortunately, you can just watch episodes 1-3 and then 26 and you’re basically getting the whole experience. The other episodes are all essentially filler and follow the same formula. I wouldn’t exactly say Astroganger is a good anime, but it’s a masterpiece relative to Chargeman Ken and Invisible Detective Akira, which is another piece of shit that Knack made. I would highly recommend Astroganger to ironic fans of Chargeman Ken to shed light on the context and background behind that atrocity. I would also recommend this series to fans of Super Robot anime due to its historic significance. If you’re just looking for the greatest, most essential anime to watch from the 1970s, go watch Rose of Versailles or something. You probably want to skip this one.
What did you think of this review?