Old school mecha fan Jean-Karlo introduces Steve to the world of Getter Robo Arc, subterrainian dinos, insect troops, and how it's all one big metaphor for nuclear power.
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Spoiler Warning for discussion of the series ahead.
Jean-Karlo, I may not know much about Getter Robo
, but I do know one thing: I'm happy to discuss any anime that features a protagonist who swears as much as I do in casual conversation.
I imagine the folks at home don't know much about Getter Robo
either, but they might like the show's attitudes toward insects!
I hope someone out there is keeping a tally of how many times giant insects have shown up in this column. It's not the majority of them, of course, but it seems like it has to be a disproportionately large number.
When you need an easy enemy, bugs are always there!
Bugs, aliens, dump dwellers: Getter Robo Arc
covers all the hits!
Anyway, this week we have Getter Robo Arc
. Longtime readers will know I'm a big fan of mecha
, and while I'm not as up on the classic Getter Robo
I love it enough to have picked up an imported volume of the Getter Robo Go
manga in Puerto Rico (shoutout
to the defunct Dave's Comic Clan where I found it!).
There's a long history to Getter Robo
. It's known for having been worked on by Go Nagai
, the guy that also made Mazinger Z
, but Getter Robo
is better known as Ken Ishikawa
's baby. The story of a war between humanity and the vile Mechasaurs of the Dinosaur Empire using a combining variable robot made of three jets capable of fighting on land, sea, and air is a cornerstone of Japanese giant robots (here's a hint: they point out dinosaurs were prototype kaiju in Pacific Rim
As for me, I don't know my Getter Robos from my Mazingers. This ended up being my very first exposure to the franchise, so I'll be here providing my noob perspective and probably getting a lot of stuff wrong. But hey, this is why I enjoy writing for this column! I always end up watching stuff I might never have checked out otherwise.
Like, I genuinely had no idea Getter Robo is the genesis of smaller parts combining into one bigger robot. That's a pretty big deal!
I'm not saying Getter Robo
is a literary classic, but I do appreciate how it cut off pedants several decades to the punch by leaning into the fact that, yeah, there is physically no logical way to make so many variable robots out of three jets. Which is why Getter Rays are a thing in Getter Robo
. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
Honestly, the premiere episode frequently feels like it's getting ahead of its own self—or at least it does if you have no familiarity with the prequel series. I could still more or less follow along with the gist of things, but it still drops a lot of literal bombshells with hilariously little context. Like, I guess the whole world blew up at one point?
Getter Robo Arc
takes place years after the war against the Dinosaur Empire ends, following the Getter Robo Go
manga. Humanity is nevertheless struggling with resources after so many wars and enemies assaulting Earth. It's kinda-sorta a Mad Max
This show presumes you know all this, because goodness knows I was expecting Mechasaurs and did not get Mechasaurs.
Yeah, it was fun piecing together enough context clues to realize that the original enemies were actual dinosaurs. And that in itself is pretty indicative of the show's penchant for awesome nonsense. Just a nonstop barrage of hot-blooded ridiculousness. It's endearing as hell.
For the uninitiated: dinosaurs were the dominant species on Earth until the planet was bombarded by cosmic radiation known as Getter Rays. Saurians were sentient but couldn't tolerate the energy and were forced underground, while Getter Rays caused primates to evolve into humans. Basically, Getter Rays are 1:1 Spiral Energy from Gurren Lagann
: their use lets giant robots do weird and awesome things.
Our boy Takuma up there is especially tolerant to Getter Rays, and for good reason: as we soon learn, his father was Ryoma—the former protagonist of Getter Robo. He's been irradiated with Getter Rays since before he was a zygote. This resulted in a mysterious team of scientists burning down his mother's dojo when he was a child, leading him to seek revenge.
Personally, if I saw these guys through my peephole, I would simply not let them into my home.
Now that's a legitimately creepy screenshot. The anime in general looks, to use its own words, "jank as hell." But it's jank with a lot of character, and that ends up going a long way.
has always been kinda ugly to look at, as a point. I do wish it had a bit more stylization, like what Kotetsushin Jeeg
did back in 2007, but this is true to the spirit of Getter Robo
I just appreciate that it does almost nothing to modernize these character designs. Takuma has these big bushy eyebrows, and you've got this little mad scientist gremlin constantly mugging for the camera. You so rarely see boys like these anymore.
In this day and age where many designs are focus tested into oblivion, I respect things that take the Klasky Csupo approach of intentionally making things as ugly as possible. Even the women in this show are more Amazonian than moé, which you learn to appreciate when you're watching these old super robot shows. (And yes, the person on the far right in this image is a woman.)
I also have nothing but respect for the design philosophy that believes all you need to do to make something look menacing is slap a pair of bat wings on that bad boy.
You see, Takuma and his monk-buddy Baku infiltrate the Saotome Institute to find answers, but find themselves in the middle of a fight between the Institute and the Andromeda Stellaration army. It seems the Institute has developed mass-produced Getter Robots, the G2s, to fight in the meantime. Takuma shows great ability with the G2, but it isn't until he cooperates with the Getter Ro
bo Arc that he really shows his true potential.
Also, full credit to the monster design in this show. Go Nagai
would be proud of these freakish enemy robots.
Yeah that first alien looks straight out of a 1960s creature feature. A nice balance of dumb and retro.
And hands down my favorite gag in the premiere is that Takuma puts on a regular old construction helmet before launching his Getter. He spends the entire episode up to that point fighting everyone who crosses his path, but damn it, he cares about proper robot safety.
If the Metools in Mega Man have taught me anything, those yellow construction helmets are indestructible. He could toss that helmet at the robot and leave a good dent in the thing.
Honestly, based on what everyone says about all the Getter Rays he absorbed, Takuma's head is probably harder than that plastic.
But from what I gather, you need a hard head in more ways than one if you want to be a Getter Robo main character.
The Saotome Institute doesn't have many leads on Takuma's targets, but they need him and his buddy Baku to pilot the Getter R
obo Arc so they get conscripted. First problem: the guy they're working with, Kamui, is a Saurian/human hybrid...
I was gobsmacked at this turn of events. Again: Saurians can't handle Getter Rays (a later episode even points out that a certain plan would put Kamui at risk given that he isn't quite as resistant towards them as Takuma or Baku). So going back to Gurren Lagann
, this is like when Viral gained the ability to use Spiral Energy. This is big in the context of Getter Robo
Meanwhile, for me, any hint of significance flew over my head due to the show's nonchalant way of presenting even its wildest components. Although it is made pretty clear that half-human half-Saurians aren't exactly walking around everywhere.
Takuma, as always, has such a way with words.
But I think this is also the beauty of the combination-robot conceit: by its very nature, it forces a group of pilots to work together. All you need to do is add some deep-seated interpersonal conflict, and boom, you've got like 50% of your story right there.
Boys will be boys, though, and Takuma, Baku and Kamui end up bonding over dunking on the G2 pilots.
I imagine it's easier to put aside your differences when there are enemy aliens trying to cleanse the whole planet. And also some of those aliens ride giant flying pigs.
Would love to know if there's a lore explanation for that.
These were the aforementioned Andromeda Stellaration folks, and these guys are exciting as enemies! We don't learn terribly much about them, other than that they like using bugs as their shock troopers, but it seems their main reason for attacking humanity is because of the latter's reliance on Getter Rays! Apparently, this threatens the peace in the galaxy, but with Getter Rays being what the Saotome Institute considers hope for humanity, they're not willing to give it up.
They also have super far-out alien names! Like, uh,
Yeeeeaaaah... I hope viewers have a sense of humor, because it sure is hard to maintain dramatic tension when your bad guy is named... McDonald.
Jokes aside, though, it's not like I can fault their reasoning here.
Yep, that's us.
I don't know a lot about Getter Robo
, but I do know why Andromeda Stelleration is so keen on preventing humanity from going too far into utilizing Getter Rays—and for the sake of not spoiling things, the reasoning can only be described as "Ideon
meets cosmic horror." It's amazing and fascinating stuff, and the show is already building up towards it. Later in the series, we learn that the Saotome Institute has buried the Getter Dragon, which isn't only still functional—because of its continued exposure to Getter Rays—it's evolving
Yeah this is where Getter Robo Arc
started genuinely piquing my interest. Like, as the show waxes on, it's made more and more obvious that Getter Rays are a blatant metaphor for radiation—and specifically, humans harnessing radiation for energy and power. So now you've got this lab built over what's essentially a nuclear sarcophagus containing a self-sustaining reaction that's mutating a giant hunk of metal into an immortal eldritch monstrosity. That's kinda cool!
And thematically, the show so far seems to be toeing the line between acknowledging both the danger of Getter Rays and their indispensability as a resource. Nuclear power is still a hot topic, so this is all definitely still a relevant conversation to have, and much chewier material than I would have expected this series to broach.
To see Getter Robo Arc
possibly cover the absolute coolest part of the Getter Robo
franchise for me is very exciting. Seeing this series plant those seeds hooked me in more than seeing a half-Saurian pilot.
Oh, and Arc also handles boilerplate horror really well. The final two episodes we covered featured an invasion of parasitic insects taking over the Saotome Institute. It was delightfully gruesome!
Look, I'm not gonna complain when a show shoehorns in a zombie episode, no matter how random and implausible it might be. And I'm definitely not gonna complain when it proposes that a single .44 Magnum can do this to a giant bug.
And for all you monster fuckers out there: this episode has your number.
I mean it is
discordant that amongst all these gnarly bug monster designs there's this plain-faced monster girl, but of course I also understand why this is.
Also, dude, what kind of ant queens have you been looking at recently??
There are plenty of other bits of fanservice
I could point out in Getter Robo Arc
, like how former Get
ter Robo pilot Hayato Jin is now the scientist in charge of the Saotome Institute following Ryoma and Benkei no longer being around, or how Baku is the younger sibling of Tahir, a character established in the Getter Robo Go
manga. But that ultimately leads me to why I'm a little conflicted in recommending Getter Robo Arc
. Its a lot of good super robot fun, but it's also very old fashioned in its art style and so much of it hinges on knowledge that you'll only really pick up on if you're a diehard mecha
fan. And that's a shame because I think Getter Robo Arc
is a lot of fun. It's painfully workmanlike, but I really am excited to see them drop the shoe I'm hoping they drop. But I can only wonder how much appeal this'll have to folks who don't believe in the Getter Rays...
Oh, and to quickly add to that workmanlike comment: although the show's aesthetic presentation may be jank, the VA cast is anything but. There's a full smattering of big names here, and they're all giving 110%. Just to name an example, the aforementioned McDonald is voiced by Fumihiko Tachiki
(a.k.a. Gendo), and he makes up for any menace his nomenclature lacks.
In general, though, I have to agree that this is a tough sell for anyone who isn't already deep into the Getter Robo-verse (or who doesn't frequently watch weird stuff like this for fodder in a weekly column about streaming anime). However, I also can't deny I had a surprisingly good time with Arc! Compared against the current summer season, it certainly has a lot of brash and bodacious novelty going for it, if nothing else.
It's a shame that Getter Robo's
legacy isn't better recognized among modern anime fandom, considering how much of its DNA is in modern beloved works like the aforementioned Gurren Lagann
or Pacific Rim
. But I do hope I've managed to pique the interest of some folks out there...
At least I can assure you I've learned my lesson!