DISCLAIMER: I SAW THIS SERIES WITH LESS-THAN-OPTIMAL SUBTITLES THAT WERE A TRANSLATION OF A TRANSLATION, SO FORGIVE ME IF I AM INCORRECT ABOUT WHAT PEOPLE, ITEMS OR LOCATIONS IN THIS SERIES ARE ACTUALLY CALLED.
I’m not sure if it’s weird to adore kids’ shows when you’re nearly thirty, but I do…especially ones that are (a) made in Japan and (b) contain giant robots. Madou King Granzort (henceforth, just Granzort) is a very good example of such a show. I can easily imagine my seven-year-old self rushing out of my bedroom and into the kitchen, pouring a big bowl of Captain Crunch, and plunking down in a bean bag (located about two to three feet from the television) to check out the latest episode of this show. Hell, Granzort is such a blast that I have done pretty much this exact thing at age twenty-nine…minus the bean bag, unfortunately. And replace Captain Crunch with Great Grains because I am a responsible adult now.
As is my wont, I will be undertaking a serious examination of a thing that probably shouldn’t be taken this seriously. First, I will discuss my own reaction to Granzort because I think it will shed some light on the sort of show it is. Then, I want to take a look at some interesting structural aspects of the series as well as some of its particularly entertaining content.
Suggested Soundtrack for Reading – The Go! Team “Bottle Rocket”
Granzort is a 41 episode super robot television series that straddles the border between 1989 and 1990, the dusk, if not the twilight, of mecha anime’s multiple-decade-spanning day in the sun. The main character, a young boy named Daichi, uses part of his summer vacation to make his first ever trip to the moon, moon-going being a regular thing in the world of Granzort. However, our protagonist somehow ends up getting pulled into this parallel magical world that exists inside of the moon. While there, he meets an odd cast of characters including a tiny, old witch, rabbit people and a giant, magical snail. The rabbit people, or Long Ears Clan, are being ruled and oppressed by the Jadou clan (who are regular, non-rabbit dudes). Daichi, of course, gets drawn into the conflict because he happens to be an important player in it. By way of the tried-and-true Sword in the Stone route, Daichi finds out, due to his unique ability to wield a magical weapon, that he is a magic warrior chosen to pilot the magical giant robot, Magic King Granzort (by the way, this show is about magic). There are two other Magic Kings, Windzort and Aquabeat, that are piloted by Gus and Rabi, boys who Daichi meets that eventually become his best friends. These three shounen set forth on a quest to set things right for the rabbits in the moon.
Nobody I know has seen this show. Mike Toole briefly references it in his final Robot Island column. There is a subtitled version, but it is an HK sub. Who gets excited about poorly translated robot shows? Anyone? Right. Well, it turns out that the other people who acquired the HK-subbed version had seen the show before as young children: I see that the series was licensed in China and Portugal, the latter of which actually dubbed it! So, any demand for this title in the fansub community was largely nostalgia-driven. As I was watching this series, this knowledge colored my emotional response to it.
Granzort was a very good show, and I enjoyed it immensely, but I couldn’t help but feel that I wasn’t having the optimal viewing experience. I thought about those Portuguese-speaking fans, and I wanted their nostalgia. I wanted to be part of that club. I knew what it was like to have nostalgia for this sort of thing, but, of course, one cannot buy nostalgia for a specific something. Instead, I experienced nostalgia for nostalgia, which is a bit of a strange phenomenon I suppose. I can’t think of another show that made me feel this way. While watching Gear Fighter Dendoh, I thought, “I would have enjoyed this as a kid,” but Granzort elicited a response that went further, and was more interesting to me, than that. But, enough about me; more about the show.
Structural similarities to well-crafted shounen action series show themselves early and often in Granzort. The world inside the moon,”Rabi Luna,” is made up of five layers or “areas”with only one point of entry/exit between. Each area is unique from all others, functioning like its own little world. Species, climate, geography and culture differ from one layer to the next, so the exploration of each area keeps the series feeling fresh. The protagonists also have to take time to orient themselves in each layer; to progress, they must figure out the rules and constraints of their current environment. In one memorable scenario, Daichi and co. discover that to exit an area they must enter the body of a whale and be blasted out through its blowhole. However, the mammoth mammal has a virus that is preventing it from blowing water hard enough to push anyone through to the next area. Does our team do battle with the whale’s virus in their giant robot? Yes. Do they join up with an army of cute, anthropomorphized white blood cells to do battle? Also yes. These sorts of structural elements (and the outright craziness) brought both Hunter x Hunter and One Piece to mind.
Another piece of Granzort‘s framework that I find intriguing is the hierarchy of villains. At the top of the food chain is this dormant, malevolent “deity” who communicates with the Jadou Clan via the occasional guttural noise. His preferred interlocutor is the de facto boss whose name I can’t pronounce, but, since he looks an awful lot like Yoda, we will provisionally refer to him as such. Yoda gives marching orders to three lieutenants, Shama, Nabu and Enuma. Now, these guys each have a seemingly limitless supply of subordinates, not because Jadou has a large army, because the lieutenants use magic to create them. This process is really weird. Shama seems to summon dudes from the dead. Nabu makes these straw dolls that he then forges into people. Enuma boils animals in some kind of magic broth that turns them into hybrid animal-people straight outta TMNT. All of this sounds really kind of grim, right? You’d think so, but it’s plays out as pretty goofy stuff. But, if you just think about it…
Now, as any veteran Precure-watcher will tell you, the villainous lieutenants rarely, if ever, confront the heroes directly. Rather, they rely upon the nigh-endless stream of replaceable subordinates to do the dirty work of battling the series’ protagonists. There are a couple of key moments when Shama or one of his colleagues handle their own business, but it is usually when they feel quite certain of their own victory. Given that the lieutenants receive one hundred percent of the praise or blame from their superior for the results of battles, it would seem to make more sense for them to always prefer personally carrying out orders as opposed to delegating responsibility. Perhaps the motivation for leaving important duties to the flunkies lies in the competitive atmosphere that exists among the lieutenants. Clearly, they could accomplish more if they approached their tasks cooperatively; however, they are all in direct competition with one another for favored status, if not promotion. If a lieutenant is seen to personally fail, then maybe the other two acquire a competitive advantage over him/her. At the very least, they can laugh at the screw-up. I just realized that I’m leaving out the oft-abused science and tech division, headed in Granzort by a mad scientist by the name of Dr. Bible. Yup, you read that right.
It should be obvious where I’m going here: parallels between the hierarchy of villains in Granzort (as well as shows like Precure) and Japanese corporate life seem quite strong. My only question is whether this setup is satirizing corporate life or is merely intended to be a more-or-less straightforward exposition of corporate norms and archetypes in Japanese society. Either way, I find the notion fascinating.
No discussion of Granzort would be complete without mentioning the absolutely ridiculous lengths this series went to in trying to establish toy lines. Obviously, the Magic Kings themselves, both their original and “super” forms, would be the first products created. However, if I was a young boy seeing this series as it aired, I would want toys of the Jadou mecha. In a style that anticipates that of Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann, the torsos of these robots serve as giant faces, or second heads (in addition to the “normal” faces on their actual or “first” heads). Now, the important point here is that these huge faces often happen to be those of prehistoric creatures. I mean, what seven-year-old boy wouldn’t want a toy of a giant robot with a pterodactyl head for a torso? In addition to the mecha, the magical weapons that the heroes use to summon the Magic Kings seem ripe for mass production. There’s a plastic-looking, disc-loader gun, a whip and top set, and the obligatory bow and arrow. After discharging their weapons, each of the protagonists is beamed aboard his robot and given a frigging sweet, sentai-esque outfit. Perhaps those were intended to sell? The world of Rabi Luna is also populated by numerous creatures, such as the previously mentioned magical snail, that scream “merch.” I know that children’s anime, especially mecha, is designed to sell products, but it really seems like they went for broke with this show.
Granzort is not “great” anime, but it is a hell of a lot of fun. And if we’re not having fun watching anime, then what are we doing?