Reviewby Carlo Santos,
GaoGaiGar: King of Braves
Third-grader Mamoru Amami's life is changed forever on a class field trip when he and his friends are attacked by a sinister giant robot. A young-man-turned-cyborg named Gai arrives on the scene, accompanied by the mechanical lion Galeon, which fuses with Gai to form the battle robot GaiGar. If that's not enough, then a trio of super-advanced vehicles combines with GaiGar to form the "Final Fusion," GaoGaiGar! As the battle rages, Mamoru discovers that he has a special power of his own, and so he teams up with Gai and the GGG (Gutsy Geoid Guard) defense force to stop further attacks from the evil Zonder forces. Taking the form of mechanical objects like trains, trucks and even space shuttles, the Zonders will stop at nothing to destroy Earth—so it's up to Mamoru, Gai, and GaoGaiGar to protect all of humankind.
Never underestimate the power of green hair. That's one thing you'll learn from GaoGaiGar, where Mamoru's shifting hair color (and supernatural transformation) contains power far beyond any machine or robot. If any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic, then this goes one step further and uses actual magic to override the limits of technology. The end result? An outrageous, futuristic-fantasy show that truly puts the "super" into the Super Robot genre. Although these first five episodes quickly descend into traditional monster-of-the-week format, they provide a retro flavor that nostalgists of the 70's and 80's will crave. A little mid-90's polish doesn't hurt, either—bright colors, slick transformations and heavyweight fights make this a decent action-adventure offering.
If you were looking for a revolutionary robot series, think again. This one is all about throwback, being the last of the "Brave" franchise and entrenched firmly in classic Super Robot ideals. Just to make sure that the message gets through, the head of the GGG emphasizes it in every episode: Guts! Bravery! Courage! Anything else you can look up in a thesaurus! In the world of GaoGaiGar, sheer willpower and heroism make up for all technical and physical shortcomings. (Oh, and Mamoru's mysterious special power helps too.) Such themes may seem like creative suicide for a series in the post-Evangelion era, but that's where it gets its appeal—providing an alternative to the dark, overly serious moods of modern mecha anime.
Naturally, that old-school mindset makes for simple plotting and characterization. Anyone familiar with robot series at all, even through foreign dubs and remakes, will find these adventures all too familiar. The evil Zonder forces cook up an evil plan, unleash a robot on the city, and Gai uses his fancy robot moves to defeat the menace. Episodes 3 and 4 apply a variation by extending the story over two episodes; Episode 5 introduces a couple of rescue robots that offer new
The spirit of classic mecha shines through most vividly in the visuals, from the imposing robot designs to the hard-hitting action scenes. Even the transformations, which of course are recycled each episode, are an old-school fan's dream with all the interlocking parts and moving mechanisms. Although this series was still a few years too early for the slick digital-animation look, some signs of skillful animation do emerge: convincing smoke and explosion effects, dynamic battle moves for GaoGaiGar, and even some fancy character poses (the GGG chief especially). Unfortunately, the throwback designs don't work so well for the human characters, who end up looking decidedly silly: Mamoru's tuft of hair is inexplicably huge, and Gai would be a more convincing cyborg if his locks weren't so ... red and flowing. Also, beware the prolonged flashing sequence in Episode 2 where the Zonders make their battle plan—more than just questionable animation, it's a potential health hazard on the eyes.
Now where would a retro giant robot series be without retro music? Martial fanfares and melodramatic orchestration is the order of the day, and the mid-90's recording quality just adds to the dated effect. Even the opening song is as traditional as they come: an impassioned male vocalist singing about how great GaoGaiGar is and explaining in 90 seconds what the robot does. The ending ballad is a more general-purpose, but still has the feel of a schmaltzy, decade-old pop tune.
With all the burning courage and action in this series, selecting an audio track depends entirely on which language is best suited to ridiculous overacting. Watch the DVD in Japanese and you can enjoy hearing foreign words being mangled (Mamoru's incantation especially); watch it in English and see the challenge of trying to sync the voice actors' yelling with the actual animation (like Gai screaming "Equip," which is about four syllables long in Japanese). To be fair, the English dub actors have basically done what they could to sound like a kids' robot show, given a so-so script that consists mainly of battle cries and plot exposition. In fact, the dub script follows the subtitled translation almost word-for-word at times, so don't worry about this one being a "rewrite."
Extras on this disc are slim pickings: just a gallery of sketches, cleaning opening and ending sequences, and liner notes in the casing.
If these five opening episodes are anything to go by, GaoGaiGar is hardly a work of high art. Its main creative goal is to evoke the spirit of Super Robot anime from decades gone by, which it does splendidly. The designs are there, the plot elements are there, even the marketing potential is there. Viewed in the right frame of mind, it's just a wild, lightweight adventure where technology and courage can bend the very laws of physics. But come to it with any higher expectations and it'll only bring disappointment and eye-rolling. All those silly battle cries, overly elaborate transformations, and plot contrivances should be buried by now—but if you truly want a taste of the mecha classics as seen from 1997, this is it.
Overall (dub) : C
Overall (sub) : C+
Story : C-
Animation : B
Art : C
Music : C
+ A high-spirited adventure that will have fans of classic giant robot series cheering along.
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