Reviewby Carlo Santos, Jan 24th 2006
DVD 2: Tetsujin vs. the Mafia
International intrigue looms ahead for young Shotaro when American scientists take an interest in Tetsujin 28, the giant robot he inherited from his dead father after World War II. Meanwhile, the American mafia have their own plans for it, and Kenji Murasame, still holding a grudge against Shotaro, agrees to help the gangsters. However, a sudden betrayal forces him to team up with the boy and take on the Americans. The scientists, meanwhile, haven't been entirely honest either... Later, Shotaro meets one of his father's former colleagues, a physicist with aspirations of space travel. Unfortunately, the plan to launch Japan's first rocket goes awry when the physicist is murdered by a mysterious superhuman being. Has another old war experiment resurfaced?
Like so many boys' adventure series of its era, Tetsujin 28 is more about swashbuckling thrills than scientific and historical accuracy. The opening premise is already a stretch: apparently, there was enough technology in World War II to build a sentient giant robot, and not just one, but several. Even this 2004 remake resists any attempts at modernization: Tetsujin is controlled by a box with three knobs; a robot gone haywire is intelligent enough to breathe fire on Tokyo; an old WWII missile converts into a moon-rocket. Ah, if only we could catch up to mid-20th-century science!
But after your head's finished exploding (after all, anime fandom has more than its fair share of nitpicky technical types), this turns out to be one hell of an adventure. Even with Shotaro the guaranteed victor every time, it's fascinating to see how he extracts himself out of each situation. The mafia affair is more action-oriented, with our young hero performing feats of prepubescent athleticism as he stops trains and dodges bullets. Meanwhile, the space rocket murder-mystery turns Shotaro into a prototypical Conan Edogawa, somehow jumping to all the right conclusions. Although the storylines are loaded with plot, the pace is flexible enough to let things settle before moving on.
For all its swash and buckle, though, the series is also unapologetically campy; fans who would normally enjoy a solid action story might be turned off by Tetsujin's old-fashioned sensibilities. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the supporting cast, which relies on tired old stereotypes: the no-nonsense police officer, the benevolent scientist, the vengeful ex-convict, and most irritatingly, the ditzy office lady. Ms. Takamizawa may have been a good comic relief in her day, but now her portrayal seems painfully sexist. The themes and ideals of the show are also trapped in a nationalistic postwar time-warp; while it might resonate with the Japanese cultural consciousness, international fans probably won't get that same feeling.
This retro mind-set is also evident in the animation, which—despite advantages like a full-color palette and digital sharpness—sticks to the simple shapes and rounded designs of the original. Tetsujin and his robot brethren aren't going to win any mecha design contests, but their sheer bulk projects an aura of "technology barely constrained" that defines the classic super robot. Likewise, the character designs lack any modern polish, but it the personalities are clearly defined: good guy or bad guy, intellectual or goon, experienced or innocent. The animation technique, however, seems stuck in the 60's too: the fights never progress beyond basic slugfests, and the staff struggles with inconsistency (just look at Shotaro's amazing changing face around the middle of Episode 9).
A heroic music score completes the throwback approach, with Shotaro's exploits accompanied by suspenseful strings and a battle theme that recurs maybe a little too often. The marching songs in the opening and ending, meanwhile, manage to capture the spirit of the series in 90 seconds.
Staying true to the show's style, the English dub cast emphasizes the classic-adventure aspect of the dialogue. Adult characters like Professor Shikishima and Chief Otsuka match their voices neatly to their roles, and the faux-Brooklyn brogue of American gangster Thrill Suspense is more entertaining than the original. Shotaro, unfortunately, seems to be the one character that's trying too hard. The script, meanwhile, is an ideal compromise between accuracy and flow; sometimes they say what's in the subtitle because it sounds fine as it is, and sometimes they say something else because it sounds better.
It takes a bit of dorkiness to get into Tetsujin 28 and accept that it's a modern anime with a campy old-school style. Anyone who's down with the Cowboy Bebop / Samurai Champloo / FLCL crowd and looks to anime as the epitome of cool might have to pretend that this series doesn't exist. Sneering American gangsters, boy detectives in shorts, ditzy office ladies and fire-breathing robots may leave a lot of eyes rolling, but if a solid story and nonstop action mean more to you than slick modern aesthetics, then give this one a try.
Overall (dub) : C
Overall (sub) : B-
Story : B
Animation : C-
Art : B
Music : C
+ Old-school sci-fi thrills and a plot that's constantly in motion.
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