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Monday, June 20, 2011

Giant Robot Johnny Sokko and his Flying Robot


Giant Robot (ジャイアントロボ, Jaianto Robo), is a manga and tokusatsu series created by Mitsuteru Yokoyama. It is similar to his famous Tetsujin 28-go (Gigantor in the US), though Giant Robo has more fantastic elements.
The original tokusatsu TV series, produced by Toei Company Ltd., aired on NET (later re-named TV Asahi) from October 11, 1967 to April 1, 1968, with a total of 26 episodes. The English-dubbed version of the series was produced by American International Television, with Reuben Guberman as line producer, under the title Johnny Sokko And His Flying Robot.

Plot

Situation

The Earth is under invasion by a terrorist group called "Big Fire," "Gargoyle" in the US version, an illuminati-style organization led by the alien Emperor Guillotine, who spends almost the entire series in a multicolored space ship hidden at the bottom of one of the Earth's oceans (presumably the Pacific) whence he issues his orders to the members of Gargoyle, frequently referred to in the series as "The Gargoyle Gang."

"The Gargoyle Gang"

The members of Gargoyle, as it turns out, are an ambitious but somewhat incompetent bunch who appear to have a fairly high mortality rate due either to Unicorn actions or Guillotine's own fits of anger. Their wardrobe is an interesting collection of what appears to be an assortment of castoffs from Soviet officers, wartime Wehrmacht personnel, Central American guerrillas, and the designers of Italian sunglasses. In addition, at least one Gargoyle member is always seen with a Castro-esque beatnik beard. Most of Gargoyle's members wear berets adorned with a skull on the front. All members of Gargoyle have an explosive device implanted within their bodies that can be detonated in the event they are captured, though this seems to be used only rarely.

Guillotine The Emperor

Guillotine is a blue-skinned alien who has tentacles extending from the bottom of his large head, not unlike Cthulhu. He wears a long robe, and carries a staff with a white orb at its furthest end. He is capable of growing to an enormous height, though this is only seen once in the series; specifically, it is only seen in the last installment, where he himself actually fights, and loses to, the Flying Robot.

His field subordinates

Guillotine leaves day-to-day matters in the hands of various commanders; principally Spider (a human who is eventually killed by a spray of acid), Doctor Botanus (Doctor Over in the Japanese series; a silver-skinned alien capable of teleportation), Fangar (Red Cobra in the Japanese series, and also alternatively referred to as Dangor the Executioner in the US series - a bizarre alien with a pegleg and crutch, a greatly enlarged forehead, protruding upper teeth, and a costume that looks like a traditional striped prison outfit in front and a red velvet jumpsuit in back), Harlequin (Black Dia in the Japanese version, who has a fascination with the suits of playing cards), and The Golden Knight (Mr. Gold in the Japanese series; a gold colored armored knight).

Johnny Sokko and Jerry Mano find the Flying Robot

The group captures scientists to create an army of giant monsters to rampage the Earth. But fate stumbles on a little boy named Daisaku Kusama, Johnny Sokko in the United States, and a young man named Jūrō Minami, Jerry Mano in the US; the latter is secretly Member U3 of the top-secret peacekeeping organization, Unicorn. Daisaku and Jūrō are shipwrecked on an island after the ocean liner they were on was attacked by a giant sea monster called Dracolon, and are captured by members of Big Fire. When trying to escape, they end up in an elevator that leads down to a huge construction complex where a giant robot is being built. Pharaoh-like in appearance in that the design of his head resembles the headdresses worn by the Pharaohs of ancient Egypt, this nearly indestructible humanoid robot is being built by captive scientist Dr. Lucius Guardian, who decides to give the two escapees its control device, a miniature transmitter built into a wristwatch. The robot can only be controlled by the first voice recorded in his electronic brain; however, he first needs to be charged up by atomic energy. Dr. Guardian helps Daisaku and Jūrō escape, only to be shot to death, but not before he set an atomic bomb that destroyed the base, the resulting explosion activates the giant robot, which moves to Daisaku's every command. As the controller of the robot (heretofore known as "Giant Robot," or just "Giant Robot" in the US), Daisaku is invited by Jūrō and his chief Azuma to join Unicorn as its 7th member, U7. As U7, Daisaku fights the evil forces of Big Fire with the help of U3/Jūrō and Giant Robo.

The Flying Robot's arsenal

The Giant Robot has numerous weapons systems which Johnny can command the robot to use. They are these:
  • Finger missiles he fires from his fingers, with an undetermined number of rounds.
  • A back missile, which is fired from the back of the robot as the robot is lying on his chest facing toward his enemy. The back missile is considerably larger and more destructive than the finger missiles.
  • The bazooka cannon is a weapon which fires out of the top of the robot's head—it is not so much a true bazooka as a shower of sparks capable of blinding and disorienting an enemy.
  • Eye beams consisting of a twinned energy blast from the eyes.
  • The center V on the chest can launch and ram against the enemy to force it back. In addition, the robot's "belt buckle" contains a long pole which he can use to hook onto an enemy.
  • A flame-thrower. The mouth of the robot can open up to reveal a small tube which acts as a flame thrower with which he is capable of melting through large metal walls with ease.
  • The "Burning Cross" Technique. The robot can mysteriously produce a flaming cross resembling a plus that is burning and cast it upon the enemy.
  • Electrocution wires. The robot can launch wires capable of projecting high-voltage electricity that can annihilate a monster without much trouble.
In addition, the Flying Robot has the capability of "power punches," also later called "megaton punches" or "mega-punches" by Johnny Sokko himself; these consist of the Flying Robot throwing nearly all his mega-strength into a punch to whatever enemy he is facing off against in an episode.

Precaution if Johnny is taken captive

As a security precaution in case Johnny is forced to give unwanted orders, the boy can give a seeming line of gibberish into the communicator before doing so, "Od ton yebo redro," claiming it is a communication test. However, the Flying Robot is programmed to play the message backwards and interpret it as, "Do not obey order!" With that message, the Flying Robot is programmed to take it as a signal that his controller is captured and regardless of any subsequent order, the Flying Robot will launch and trace the signal to rescue his controller.

The US Version

The entire series was first broadcast in the United States in 1969 by American International Television, and became popular in syndication over the next several decades, particularly from 1971-74 when it reached its peak in distribution. The series was still in active syndication through the early 1980s. It was telecast in India in the late 1980s. In 1970, several episodes were edited together to create the movie Voyage Into Space, which has now reached cult film status.

DVD status

While recently released on DVD by Toei Video in Japan (the entire series was previously issued on laserdisc in the 1990s), the complete series has yet to be released on Region 1 DVD; only ten episodes (some out of broadcast order) had been released on videocassette by Orion Home Video in the United States, which have long since gone out of print. The movie has also yet to be released on DVD.

Copyright status

Following Orion's bankruptcy, MGM acquired a majority of their holdings of the American International Pictures library (which had previously been owned by Filmways), and the MGM Television Studios controls the television distribution rights only. However, bootleg copies of the entire US version of the series have long been available on both VHS and DVD. Episodes are also available as legal downloads from such sources as the iTunes Music Store and Amazon.com's Unbox (and more recently, the Hulu online video service).

Violence concerns

The series was astonishingly violent by American standards of children's programming in the 1960s; in its home country of Japan, though, it was no more violent than any other tokusatsu airing at the time. Gunfights are staples of every episode of the series, and the series' two child leads—Johnny Sokko and Mari Hanson; the latter, called Mari Hanamura in the Japanese version, is a 9-year-old girl, introduced in the seventh episode, who speaks 39 languages and is a crack shot with a firearm—were frequently seen shooting along with the rest of the Unicorn agents. In one episode, Johnny and Mari are captured and tied to trees by Gargoyle, and are within seconds of being executed by firing squad, when Unicorn agents rescue them. Oddly enough, though practically every Japanese anime exported to the United States during that period was edited due to violent content, Johnny Sokko And His Flying Robot seemed to have escaped close scrutiny in that regard, and what editing was done on the show seemed to have been more for the purposes of squeezing in another commercial or two rather than in the interest of curbing the show's violence. (At least one US TV station, WXON in Detroit, ran disclaimers before each show saying, "Remember, kids, Johnny Sokko is make-believe and the actors are just pretending.")
It should be noted that in addition to dubbing American voice actors for the US release, many of the show's sound effects were also remixed or re-recorded entirely. And though the show's jazz-influenced score by the prolific Takeo Yamashita was used, it was frequently tracked in different places from the Japanese version of the series. Interestingly, the credits for production and direction in the U.S. version seem to be randomly chosen American names of several ethnicities.

After the show

These are the known updates of cast members:
  • Mitsunobu Kaneko (who had played Daisaku Kusama/Johnny Sokko in the original series) retired from acting in 1969. He died in 1997, according to series producer Tohru Hirayama.
  • Mitsuo Ando (Doktor Over/Doctor Botanus) also died in 1997, according to one unverified source, after a long acting career playing villainous characters in yakuza movies and tokusatsu programs, most notably as Professor Gill in Android Kikaider.
  • Japanese narrator Koichi Chiba died in 2001, having played a number of roles until the year before his death. Interestingly, he was the only person associated with the 1966 series who was also involved with the OVA, voicing Dr. Franken Von Vogler.
  • Hideo Murota, who played the villain known as Black Dia/Harlequin, died of lung cancer in 2002, having spent his entire life following Giant Robo in a variety of film and TV roles.
  • Akio Ito (Juro Minami/Jerry Mano) reportedly subsequently became a production designer.
  • Yumiko Katayama (Mitsuko Nishino/Mitsuko Hino) also appeared in the 1969 Japanese TV series Playgirls. Other than Giant Robo she has appeared in several of Toei's "Pinky Violence" films in the early 1970s; 1971's Zubeko bancho: zange no neuchi mo nai (Delinquent Girl Boss: Worthless to Confess) and 1973's Zenka onna: koroshi-bushi (Criminal Woman: Killing Melody). Her acting career appears to have ended after 1973.
  • Matasaburo Niwa (Spider) was a Toei character actor prior to Giant Robo. His only notable tokusatsu role following Giant Robo was as the villainous Black Shogun in the 1971 TV series Kamen Rider.
  • Catherine Byers (aka Bobbie Byers), who provided Johnny Sokko's English language voice, has had a lengthy career since the 1960s. She is also known for having voiced Captain Bonnie (Bokko) on the English language version of The Amazing 3, as well as Prince Planet on the series of the same name. She appeared on-camera in two 1960s biker films; 1967's Wild Rebels and 1968's Savages from Hell. Since then she has focused on voice acting (primarily talking books) and stage work. Her Amazing 3 coworkers—Neil Patrick, Paul Brown, Kurt Nagel, and Jerry Burke—also provided various voices on Johnny Sokko And His Flying Robot.

Episode titles

The following episode titles have been transcribed directly from the on-screen title cards of the US version (which were rendered in capitals), including punctuation. These are presented in their original US and Japanese broadcast order (verified by the previews for next episode at the end of each show).
01. Dracolon, The Great Sea Monster
02. Nucleon, The Magic Globe
03. The Gargoyle Vine - A Space Plant
04. Monster Ligon-Tyrox, A Strange Monster
05. The Gigantic Claw
06. Dragon, The Ninja Monster
07. Our Enemy - Scalion
08. The Challenge of the Two-Headed Monster
09. Tentaclon - An Electric Monster
10. The Transformed Humans
11. The Terrifying Sand Creature
12. Amberon The Synthetic Monster
13. Opticon Must Be Destroyed
14. The Monstrous Flying Jawbone
15. Igganog - The Ice-Berg Monster
16. Torozon - An Enemy Robot
17. Destroy the Dam
18. X-7, A Mysterious Enemy Agent
19. "Metron" - The Mysterious Space-Man
20. Beware - The Radion Globe
21. The Terrifying Space Mummy
22. Clash of the Giant Robots
23. "Dr, Eingali - Master of Evil"
24. "Hydrazona" - A Terrifying Bacteria
25. "Drakulon" - Creature of Doom
26. The Last of Emperor Guillotine

2 comments:

  1. See my blog, where I covered a filming location on Giant Robot Episode 12 : Amberon The Synthetic Monster at the Kyu Furukawa Gardens in Tokyo
    http://experiencetokyo.net/giant-robot-and-kyu-furukawa-rose-garden/

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