Reviewby Carlo Santos, Oct 8th 2005
DVD 1: Monster Resurrected
At the end of World War II, Professor Kaneda had finished the ultimate weapon: the giant robot, Tetsujin 28. Considering it his life's work, he named it Shotaro, after his son whom he thought had died in a firebombing. When the time came to use Tetsujin in battle, however, Kaneda defied the military and took the secrets of the robot to his grave. Meanwhile, the real Shotaro actually survived, and now lives under the care of his father's former student, Professor Shikishima. Among Shikishima's projects is the development of a new robot—but when he accidentally awakens Tetsujin 28, Shikishima and Shotaro find the ghosts of wartime past coming back to haunt them. A second giant robot, a secret Tetsujin side-project, and Kaneda's old rival are among the perils that await them.
At first glance, Tetsujin 28's simple art style suggests that this is a rehash of 50's and 60's entertainment values, where the hero always comes out on top and nobody ever questions the definitions of morality. Even the old-fashioned martial theme songs point to a mindset where the good guys are You and the bad guys are Everyone Else. It's easy to look at a modern remake of a 60's anime that way, because that's what they were all like back then, right?
Think again. Heroes like Shotaro and Shikishima go through several crises of faith before the first few episodes are over, while enemies like ex-solider Kenji and scientist Furanken often have noble motives behind their destructive ways. Understanding these characters demands a lot of back-story, and it isn't even until Episode 2 that Tetsujin and Shotaro's origins are fully fleshed out. This is a series with a lot to say, and it doesn't dally about, waiting to play the "it gets good later on" card. It gets good now, with twists and revelations at every corner as the characters dig up more remnants of the war. The tragedies of the postwar generation also become apparent in the dramatic relationships between characters: everyone's got a history, everyone wants answers, and plenty of people are going to die along the way. Things can only get darker and more dangerous as the secrets of the Tetsujin project unfold.
But is it too dramatic? To modern eyes, most classic anime is high in cheese and low in irony, and Tetsujin 28—capturing the spirit of the source material—is no different. The storytelling is refreshingly honest, but when a man dies in another's arms while making an anguished monologue and stretching his hand towards the sky, well ... that's a bit of a reach. Such raw emotion can be hard to believe in this era, not to mention the speculative physics that comes out of the mid-20th century as well. (A bipedal robot that achieves near-human motion with just two knobs on a remote? If we'd been capable of that back then...) Less implausible but still problematic is the pacing from scene to scene; with so much story to tell, there are occasional gaps in logic. Sometimes they're explained later, but other times you just have to accept that a character or an item somehow got from point A to point B.
A classic art style rendered with modern techniques is both a blessing and curse for Tetsujin 28. Some fans will look at the simple character designs and rounded robots and see only "boring old stuff" that isn't worth checking out. Others might be interested in seeing how today's animators are able to update that classic look, using a richer palette of colors and more frames per second than artists of the 60's could ever have hoped for. The resulting animation, although not spectacular, is smooth enough and sharp enough that viewers can concentrate fully on the story instead of worrying about the art. With so much plot and emotion, that's the only way it could work: make the visuals simple enough and transparent enough that the story becomes the focus. However, there are still times when the artwork calls attention to itself—carefully framed scenes and theatrical lighting bring out the melodrama in those wrenching moments of pain, destruction and death.
The music score is one that can be rightfully called a score, with the Warsaw Philharmonic playing Akira Senju's stirring arrangements. The show's most dark and dramatic moments become even more powerful with rich passages straight out of the symphonic tradition. Like most epic story-based music, strings and brass are the dominant sounds, and they're loaded with enough emotion to push certain scenes into tearjerker territory. The jaunty marching songs that bookend each episode aren't quite so moving, but they have their own charm as relics of a time when anime theme songs were allowed to sound like that.
Although the English dub matches the series' emotional range, it also makes the same mistake of lapsing into melodrama. Shotaro is the biggest offender at first, sounding like a prepubescent Jonny Quest as he rounds up criminals in Episode 1, but he establishes a more stable voice later on. Professor Shikishima delivers his lines without mishap, but is stuck in that vocal limbo of being just some ordinary guy; the most solid performance is that of Don Brown as Police Chief Otsuka, thoroughly relishing the role of a grizzled law officer. Meanwhile, the script is a solid adaptation of the subtitle translation, with only minor changes between what's written and spoken.
They say that history is written by the winners. However, a quickly recovering Japan was also able to reflect on the aftermath of World War II, and Tetsujin 28 is one of those reflections. Although the storyline and the science behind it make some wild leaps of fantasy, the emotion is real. Decades after the original series, Shotaro's experiences still reveal the true spoils of war: broken families, broken hearts, and maybe—just maybe—the hope that a courageous human spirit can overcome all this. It won't be easy, though. Even with a giant robot, the hero doesn't always come out on top.
Overall (dub) : B-
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : B+
Animation : B
Art : B
Music : A
+ A dark, dramatic story that moves relentlessly from plot twist to plot twist.
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