Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Reverse Thieves Secret Santa 2013 - Giant Robo: The Day the Earth Stood Still

One of the joys of the Reverse Thieves Secret Santa project is that it effectively holds a gun to my head and forces me to watch things that have been on my list of things to see for more years than I care to remember.  This is certainly the case with the Giant Robo OVA, The Day the Earth Stood Still - so frequently is it referenced in various discussions that it's almost criminal that it's taken me so long to get around to it.

Anyhow, this seven part OVA imagines a world where the search for a stable, lasting fuel source for the world has been solved thanks to the invention of the Shizuma Drive - a non-polluting and completely renewable source of energy that now powers effectively everything on the planet.  This energy source is, however, under threat from an evil organisation known as the Big Fire Group, who are Hell-bent upon world domination and destroying the status quo and are the masters of powerful individuals known as the Magnificent Ten who work towards that end.  Enter the International Police Organisation, and more specifically their team of super-powered Experts of Justice - a group which also includes the world's most powerful robot, the titular Giant Robo, and it's master the diminutive young Daisaku Kusama.

Ironically, Giant Robo himself is actually anything but the main feature of this series - if anything, he's more of a deus ex machina who is brought into the action as a last resort to save the day when all else fails, leaving him to play more of a cameo role than anything.  In a slightly different sense the same can be said of Robo's owner Daisaku, who really serves more as a foil for the rest of the cast, whether it's motivating them or exposing their shortcomings.  Thankfully the remainder of the cast are a fascinating bunch and the series' plot is equally up to the task of feeding their personalities, as the truth behind the creation of the Shizuma Drive comes to light as the motivation of many of the individuals concerned, taking us on a ride full of twists and turns as friendships are built and dissolved, while children face up to the responsibilities and expectations bestowed upon them by their fathers many years previously - responsibilities that, right or wrong, leave the fate of the entire planet hanging in the balance.

It's the heavy weight upon key members of the cast to "do the right thing" with the powers bestowed upon them by their parents that really makes this series what it is from a narrative point of view, lending this series something above and beyond the usual motivations to save the world or watch it burn - this is enhanced further by the way that bonds of friendship are grown and strengthened over the course of the struggle for Earth's future, which visits some decidedly dark places before largely shrinking back from some of those decisions rather disappointingly for the finale.  In fact, it's the final episode of Giant Robo that threatens to ruin so much of the good work it does in its first six instalments - when it turns out that the entire plan that is about to destroy mankind was built on a misunderstanding between father and son (it seems that "stop Shizuma" is a poor choice of final words when "plug these things in for me, will you?" would have been more successful) it beggars belief, and of course the hook for a sequel that never came is galling for entirely different reasons.

One area where Giant Robo deserves ceaseless praise is for its presentation however - visually its cleaned up Blu-Ray transfer looks gorgeous from beginning to end, and each episode is almost endlessly eye-catching from its character designs through to the detail afforded every aspect of the production.  The show's orchestral soundtrack is also glorious and a perfect accompaniment to the grandiose themes and setting of the series that really couldn't be any better.

For all of the flaws in its finale, it isn't hard to see why Giant Robo is held so close to the hearts of so many - it's a rip-roaring series that is a huge amount of fun to watch but also finds enough time and heart to explore some interesting themes, balancing the simple pleasures of an action-packed cartoon about saving the world with some philosophising about the nature of family and so on.  It might not be quite as much of a mecha series as its titular character hints at, but if anything it's all the stronger for it, and definitely well worth watching at least once to soak in it a visual style and atmosphere that very few anime series can provide to the extent on show here.  Much like Giant Robo itself, this OVA doesn't end up in the best shape by the end of its efforts, but you can't help but love it for trying its best and mostly succeeding.

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