It is one of the terrible facts of fandom that, by the time he died in 2004 following a fire at his home, Yokoyama Mitsuteru had rather dropped from the public consciousness even if his work had not. This was certainly the case when, in 2001, I began frequenting a little cafe in Toshima, Tokyo where I was doing research on my doctoral thesis at the time.
Each day I was there, one of the old regulars seemed to take a kindly interest in my obvious fascination with anime (I was in hardcore Robodaz mode then, wearing a coat painted by an old friend from Sheffield [a picture of Nadia] and covered in more badges than a thirty year combat veteran) and was always asking me what I thought of ‘Giant Robo‘ as I was always listening to the Amano Masamichi OST at the time, and buying anything Ginrei I could get my grubby little fingers on…
As I have said elsewhere, this was one of those serendipitous, surreal moments which have made up my life: as it transpired that this old lad was in fact the chain smoking Yokoyama Mitsuteru himself and seemed happy to hear me waxing geekical about the virtues of his own creations, and about the importance of the fighting robots genres in general.
Yeah… Dumb is not the word for it.
Surprisingly though, it was a good way to begin something of a friendship, the short course of which taught me a few important things about the way in which media often eclipses its creators if they are not careful.
This was especially, though not begrudgingly, true with Master Yokoyama, for his contributions to anime and manga history have never been overlooked by the industry. Those on the inside knew full well that the young boy who had created Sword without sound in 1955 and caught the attention of Tezuka Osamu was someone who was sure to both set and break the comic publishing standards of his age. However, as time wore on and a new wave of series swept in to take advantage of the ground he had broken, this unassuming man found himself in the position of being the forgotten master of series which no one could forget…
Strange, is it not? Look at some of his most iconic works…
* Tetsujin 28 & Giant Robo are credited with being the foundations of the modern mecha, with creators such as Kawamori Shoji citing these works as being essential to the development of Macross, Gundam and all we hold dear today.
* Kagemaru of Iga and Red Mask began not only the modern ninja boom, in general – perhaps even more so than the films of the period – but led directly to the creation of current fan favourite Naruto.
* On top of the that, he was also responsible for defining much of the ‘magical girl‘ genre, especially in the series Sally the Witch, which – by his own admission – lifted much of its foundation directly from the US TV sitcom, Bewitched.
* Finally, his work on series like the Three Kingdoms manga stirred up a real interest in historical works which continues to this day.
It is sad then that, when interviewing younger fans about their tastes in anime and manga, the vast majority knew at least one Yokoyama series, if only as it fell within the sort of material they liked to consume, but could tell me nothing – sometimes not even the name – of the man who had created these magnificent works.
He did not seem to mind this at all, however.
People were buying his work (which remains in print to this day), his peers recognized his contribution to the whole, and without much of an ego to inflate, he really did seem to be content to watch and see how far younger creators could take his own faltering thoughts as time went by.
I like to think that, if fate had not taken him from us in 2004, he would have had as much love for things like Macross Delta as he had for Mazinger Z, as he never seemed to lose the ability to look forward from one project to the next, and the ideas which drove his professional rationale.
This was especially true with his giant robots…
When he created Tetsujin 28, he was exploring the notion of technology as not an ‘evil’, partly as a way of demonstrating to a generation of children growing up in a post-war environment that they were not entirely powerless as their situation might imply (though all cultures develop such archetypes in media for children) but also, and more darkly, that such technology was essentially neutral. Indeed, during the run of the comic and the series, the antagonists gain control of Tetsujin 28 a number of times, wreaking terrible damage on society before control of the magic box is wrested from them.
Tetsujin 28 was just a radio controlled toy, with no more say in its own affairs than a toy car. This fact automatically suggested a sequel of sorts to Yokoyama, which would ultimately become Giant Robo.
This manga and live actions series (broadcast in the US as Johnny Sokko and his Flying Robot) added another level of complexity to the story, in that Giant Robo was, at least in part, sentient and that his controller was as much bound to the well being of the robot as vice-versa – almost like a father and son relationship…
However, then came the legal troubles…
When, in 1990, Yasuhito Yamaki contracted Imagawa Yasuhiro to create a new version of Giant Robo, the production was stalled from the very outset by the fact that a number of different, Japanese and US, agencies claimed ownership of the trademarks/copyrights on the Giant Robo series proper. The reasons are not important. What does matter is that, rather than let the matter rest, Imagawa, having established that he could use the actual robot itself (for reasons which pass my understanding), went directly to Yokoyama. He explained the situation and, as a fan to a master, pleaded the case for the creation of a ‘paean to Yokoyama’s work’. An amused Yokoyama thought the idea insane enough but freely gave his assent and handed over creative use of ALL the characters and series which remained in his hands for this portmanteau of an OAV.
As a result we have Giant Robots, Big Fire, the IPO, heroes from the Water Margins, Super Spies, ninja and all manner of things which, on the surface should not work at all.
When discussing with Master Yokoyama why I liked the show so much and why folks in Japan seemed so attached to it, his answer was linked to his laconic view of his own lack of place in his work. People knew the tropes and the characters and when they were blended together they still had that nostalgic resonance for which older fans seek and from which younger ones draw their own sense of understanding.
Its popularity in the West certainly touches on this.
It appealed to hardcore, old school mech fans because it breathed new life back into the shows they had loved as kids. For younger fans it was the beautiful, crazy apogee of what anime represented, and perhaps hit a niche that had not yet been filled with other titles (as, when it was optioned by US Renditions and then Manga Video, few other series existed to stand against it in the open market). This was especially so in the West, and master Yokoyama seemed to love it. Though not being an English speaker himself he did say that he rather liked the tone and the ‘sound’ of the original English dub, as it gave the series an over-the-top, Republic Pictures, B-movie feel. This is certainly true, with (possibly inexperienced) voice actors chewing every bit of furniture they could get their hands on. He especially seemed to like the way Prof. Von Folger, Ivan, and Lord Alberto were voiced… That should tell you all you need to know. 😉
Together! Allegiance or Death. BIG FIRE!
A small gripe here… It is obvious that, owing to the size of the toy (and possibly cost) not all the missile pods represented in the series could be represented in the toy. However, it is clear that, as with other examples in the series, compromise is the real key to Super Robot Damashii series.
It still amazes me what is possible within the restricted scope of these ‘mini chogokin’ and I cannot say that this gripe is a deal breaker.
If they miss these packs off any Soul of Chogokin version, however… Well.
Simple and straight forward. Colors are good, seams are tight, and on the toy I received there are very few mold/paint issues, and none of note.
Standard poly, interchangeable hands as one might expect, including one dedicated to bracing Robo’s massive cannon.
Speaking of which, here is how the engine/gun/missile pod breaks down.
The shoulder-mounted heavy missiles.
Out of the box and in the raw, and looking ready for action!
I’ll admit that I’m still hoping that Bandai will consider putting out a real Soul of Chogokin Giant Robo, but even so, this little chap makes a nice change, and I wonder about the possibility of this release being something of a testing of the market. After all, if this sells well enough, Bandai might be persuaded to consider a larger, ‘Soul of’ toy…
Let’s get into this!