Retro - relating to, reviving, or being the styles and especially the fashions of the past: fashionably nostalgic or old-fashioned. (Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary)
Don’t you hate things that start with the definition of a word? I hope you won’t chalk this up to pretentiousness when I say I realized while watching Gigantor that I didn’t really know exactly what “retro” meant. What is this obsession a lot of us have with old things? Is it some semblance of nostalgia passed down from our parents? A willingness to make a connection to a different time period, if only momentarily? Or maybe you think vinyl will always sound better than an MP3 (which it does, most of the time.)
I didn’t grow up with Gigantor but my own oft-retro sensibilities drew me to it, expecting a defining series for American anime. Adapted from the influential Mitsuteru Yokoyama manga and anime series Tetsujin 28-go, Gigantor is similar in its execution to the fabled Speed Racer (itself an Americanized import of Mach Go Go Go). Gigantor however, suffers from either a serious lack of budget or an avante-garde appeal of some sort, because the animation is severely lacking. Mouths convulse oddly and single motions are repeated in order to generate movement. As a result, the show is slowed down as you watch it, even as the plot rushes forward at a break-neck pace.
The plot of Gigantor is simple enough to get into: it's the distant future (the year 2000, according to the show) and boy genius Jimmy Sparks has the power to control a giant robot (via remote control, joystick included). Jimmy and Gigantor fight super-villainy, terrorism and crime around the world accompanied by a team of poorly named adults (the skittish Inspector Blooper, the heroic Dick Strong and the…brilliant Dr. Bob Brilliant). Their approach to doing so involves letting Gigantor massacre untold millions of dollars of equipment and minion personnel. Even though this is a kid’s show, these parts are fairly disturbing as they are done without any notion of tongue-in-cheek. The kind of “we’re good, they’re evil” jingoistic mentality of Jimmy and his cohorts is a real turn-off. But perhaps I’m analyzing the show too much.
The truth is Gigantor: The Collection: Volume 1, featuring the first 26 episodes of the series, hasn’t aged well at all. The series is stagnant and often nonsensical, with dialogue and emotional reactions that often border on moronic. The animation is dated but the lack of a proper budget to make it look something like Speed Racer left me completely cold to it. The plots are derivative and the appeal of watching giant robots fight is hurt by the poor animation. For someone who grew up watching X-Men: The Animated Series or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (or Digimon and Pokemon, if you prefer), Gigantor has little to offer and this set wisely banks off of nostalgia in selling the product.
The episodes are grainy but clean enough to be viewed without a second thought to quality. On the menu front, an odd glitch that I found when I tried to choose an episode from the Episode Select menu is that you can’t pause or fast-forward if you choose an episode but if you select Play All Episodes, you can. This is counter-intuitive and downright odd, forcing the viewer to skip through episodes instead of choosing one from the get-go. This is however localized only to Disk 1.
Overall, I couldn’t recommend Gigantor unless you’ve caught yourself humming the nauseating theme song in the last couple of years. If this is a staple of your youth, think again before watching, as you may be disappointed. Certain things just don’t age as well as others and this one has all the retro appeal of a broken record.
DVD Bonus Features
The 4-disc set comes packaged as a part of a collection, featuring a 16-page booklet that advertises Gigantor and drops a few clues about its origin and production. After leafing through it, you are welcome to take a look at the first six issues of the Gigantor comic book series, located on the first disc (in DVD-ROM fashion), which are about what you’d expect. You’ll need Adobe Reader to view them though. Also included are a number of audio commentaries with Fred Ladd, who directed, wrote, and produced the Americanized series. They are few and far between but are informative and a good listen. Two video interviews round out the extra features, one with Fred Ladd (34 minutes) and another with anime historian Fred Patten (28 minutes). Both offer the customary talk about the creation and influence of Gigantor, as well as a brief history of anime and its effect on American culture.
"Gigantor: The Collection, Vol. 1" is on sale May 5, 2009 and is rated NR. Action, Adventure, Children & Family, Comedy, Sci-Fi. Directed by Fred Ladd . Written by Created by Mitsuteru Yokoya, Dialogue by Peter Fernandez, Fred Ladd, Ray Owens, Sonia Owens, Billie Lou Watt. Starring Billie Lou Watt, Gilbert Mack, Peter Fernandez, Ray Owens, Sonia Owens.