Postmodernism has become very popular in the entertainment industry over the last decade or so. The anime series Daiguard successfully brought this approach to the giant robot genre, re-imagining the pilots as ordinary corporate drones and increasing realism. Godannar does the exact opposite, unapologetically embracing old school giant robot action in all its cheesy glory. “Mission 1: Engage and Destroy” includes the first five episodes.
If you’ve been waiting for the second coming of Go Nagai’s Mazinger Z, wait no longer. From director Yasuchika Nagaoka of Crest of the Stars fame, Godannar was made in 2003, but could easily have come from 1983 if not for the flashy modern animation. The story, by Nagaoka and Hiroyuki Kawasaki (Sakura Wars), follows ace pilot Goh Saruwatari and high school student Anna Aoi, whose love life affects the safety of Japan, in as much as the mighty robot Godannar cannot achieve full power without their teamwork. Each episode divides its time between the evolution of this relationship and dazzling robot battles. Not that there aren’t plenty of supporting characters, but thus far the show likes to keep things fairly simple.
Godannar has something else in common with Nagai, and Beavis and Butthead could probably review it in one word: “Boing!” The female characters’ enormous bosoms and curvaceous derrieres get almost as much screen time as their faces. Even one of the robots has massive mammaries, bringing to mind the good ol’ Aphrodite. There’s no real nudity, but tons of jiggling. That suits me fine, but it’s so over the top that it comes off as more amusing than alluring.
Our story begins with a massive Mimetic Beast on a downtown rampage. Goh’s heavily damaged Godannar springs to life just in time to save evacuee Anna, but not his beloved co-pilot Mira Ackerman. Five years later the war with the beasts has been won, but pockets of them remain across the Earth, opposed by the mighty Dannar robots. Goh has withdrawn from combat ever since Mira’s loss, blaming himself for failing her. His wedding to boss Kiriko’s daughter Anna represents a fresh start for both of them. However, the ceremony is interrupted by an urgent distress call from fellow Dannar pilot Shizuru, and Goh finds himself and Anna dragged back into the conflict. In her desire to fight alongside Goh, Anna throws herself into a rigorous pilot training program, but when it interferes with her home life he insists she quit. Meanwhile Kiriko muses what to do with the miraculously still-living Mira, whom she secretly keeps in stasis. Goh takes Anna to watch other Dannars locked in desperate combat with a beast to show her just how dangerous the life she seeks is.
The war between the sexes takes center stage in Godannar as Goh and Anna awkwardly make their way along love’s bumpy road. When Goh demands that Anna abandon her training because she’s neglecting the housework it sounds like a blast of old-fashioned Japanese chauvinism, but his primary motivation is to protect her. For her part Anna desires no protection, she’s every bit the modern woman who insists on being treated as an equal. That’s not to suggest she’s completely shed her traditional gender role. While Goh idly reads the newspaper she apologizes about failing to do the dishes as she races off to school. Which brings up another issue: Anna is 17 and Goh is 29. I’m not one to judge, and there’s no intimate activity on display, but as one of the characters points out the relationship stretches the letter of the law a little thin.
As is frustratingly common in anime, several episodes into this series half the cast has yet to be identified. Can we require nametags or something? Of the names I do know, Goh is your basic nice guy, easygoing except at the very height of battle, and easily embarrassed despite his formidable size. Little Anna is a real go-getter that likes to play rough, but she’s still very sweet and worried about girly things like why she made Goh keep their relationship secret from her friends. I’m guessing it’s because he would have been arrested. Goh’s teenage brother Shinobu lives with the couple, and is the sort of meek, unassuming shmuck that girls fawn over in harem anime. He has a major crush on Anna, so this show could really be headed for Jerry Springer territory. Kiriko acts and looks like a more responsible version of Lupin the Third‘s Fujiko, and finds Goh easy on the eyes. There are a number of colorful Dannar pilots from various countries, and hopefully we’ll get to know them better as the series goes along.
Godannar has one of the best dubs I’ve ever heard. Anime heroines are almost always dubbed with voices too shrill or too flat, but Anna is portrayed with just the right mix of spunk and cuteness. Goh’s fellow pilot Kouji gives a riotously over-the-top performance in a pitched battle with a beast, screaming out attack modes in the time honored tradition. Giant robot junkies will be hard pressed not to shout along. “Gatling arm!”
Speaking of which, there’s tons of sweet, sweet robot combat. Transformations, power-ups, skintight uniforms, guns, missiles, laser whips, arrows, torpedoes – it’s all here. The huge melee in the third episode featuring five Dannars simultaneously engaging a gigantic beast is an incredible sight. The show strives to keep things from getting too heavy with a healthy dose of humor, but I’m afraid most of it may be lost in translation. We do get the following classic dialogue between flirtatious Dannar pilots Knight and Ekaterina:
Knight: “When I die let it be on top of you.”
Ekaterina: “You do spread your seed.”
Knight: “And I’m manlier than a dandelion.”
Godannar is the best-animated TV series I’ve seen this year. CGI is used for occasional close-ups of machinery and computer displays; otherwise it’s all spectacular cel animation. It’s vibrant, smooth, and highly detailed. Each Dannar is unique from top to bottom, and all are breathtaking designs from Masahiro Yamane (Giant Robo). The beasts are, on the other hand, painfully simplistic. It’s a little like watching Mr. Incredible fight Cartman. I suppose the animation staff was too busy simulating the bouncing and swaying of large breasts. I wonder how much hands-on research was involved?
Special features on “Mission 1” include interviews with the Japanese staff, character profiles, mechanical profiles, “Top Secret Case Files,” and “Godannar Key Words,” which surprisingly omits “silicone.”
Godannar is among the best giant robot series ever, and genre fans will find it irresistible. It’s great fun and little more, so the Evangelion crowd may want to look for deep meaning elsewhere. As for deep necklines, it’s all-you-can-ogle.
Godannar Vol. 1 will be in stores next Tuesday, Oct. 4.The thread view count is