I’ve been getting letters from readers for years now saying, “You love Giant Robo just like I do! Awesome! You know what else you’d like? A little something called GaoGaiGar. It is every bit as incredible as GR, motherfucker!” Well, only some ended their letters with that “motherfucker,” but that was the gist of the messages. There was even one guy back in 2005 who claimed it eclipsed Robo’s position as the greatest anime ever, and another reader in 2007 who after seeing what I wrote about Gainax’s newest series at the time, Gurren Lagann, claimed that GL was mainly just a subpar remake of GaoGaiGar, and that GGG was vastly superior in every way – including GL’s impossibly large finale (which I felt saved that series from being forgotten and thrown in the shit pile along with other recent Gainax titles like He Is My Master and Melody of Ofuckmyballs). I was told outright that GGG’s final episodes blew Gurren Lagann out of the proverbial water like a giant elephant turd with a cherry-bomb in it dropped into an overflowing toilet bowl.
The point I’m trying to make is that I was getting my hopes set incredibly high about this series and I was really beginning to wonder if the actual product could even come close to my inflated expectations of it; so I chose to not even look for it. I didn’t want to be disappointed by another “sure fire” show again. But a little while ago a hot little co-ed from Florida called Kalei decided to set me straight on the subject of GaoGaiGar once and for all, and she sent me the entire 49-episode television series – King of Braves – and the 8-episode follow-up OVA series – GaoGaiGar Final – so that I could sit down and judge for myself if it truly was animation from the gods, or, well, not.
GAOGAIGAR: KING OF BRAVES
The first episode opened with a school field trip for a bunch of 10 year-olds to a GARBAGE DUMP ISLAND. I began to worry.
Things moved along from there though and the basic plot of this thing surfaced soon enough. GGG goes a little something like this: The Earth is being attacked by a bunch of funky, mechanical invaders who, led by the Machine King (who reminded me of one of the faces of the Quintessons in the 80’s Transformers: The Movie), are trying to mechanize the world, one person at a time, once a week. This is the epitome of a “monster-of-the-week show,” and I LOATHE monster-of-the-week shows. The weekly “monster” in GGG is just a misunderstood human though, a wimpy human whose anger attracts one of the Machine King’s minions (aka Zonderians) who then turns him or her into a really lame and pretty pathetic mecha robeast that the Gutsy Geroid Guard (from hereon out referred to as the 3G) must then vanquish with the help of cyborg Guy and his GaoGaiGar Ultimate Earth Defense Robot with a lion motif… Whew…
So, some poor sap is turned into a monster by the bad guys and the heroes stop him after he trashes a bit of Tokyo, and then with the help of 10 year-old Mamoru (our main character from another planet who can turn into a glowing, floating fairy… Not making this up) the 3G saves the monsterized human’s life and turn him nice. Then they wait a week and the Zonderians strike again (in the EXACT SAME GODDAMN WAY).
Soon though Guy and Mamoru get some help; in episode 5 the Autobots start showing up. That’s when the fire-engine and the, uh, ice-engine Transformers first appear. And soon the ninja-warrior, police car Autobot makes his appearance, and then the two Chinese Constructibots. Oh, and soon enough the mentally challenged American Guitar-Hero robot stumbles into the group like a mongoloid trying to tie his own shoes while continuing to skip down the street in retard-bliss. Mic, the retarded guitar-robot in question, is the gayest thing ever. EVER.
And on top of all those (marketable, transforming and combining) robots there’s the Detective Conan-like gaggle of annoying as shit-cakes-on-your-shoe tykes who pollute pretty much every episode like Paris Hilton pollutes every toilet seat she sits on. These kids are simply there to connect with the targeted age group for this thing… That would be 6 year-olds. Holy fuck I wanted to strangle each and every one of those loud-mouthed and incredibly stupid kids, stick them all into the trunk of my car and then drive it down to the wrecking yard and pay the owner a Benjamin to look the other way as I compacted my ride into a one-foot-cubed block of satisfaction. But I digress.
Back to the show. GaoGaiGar is a typical (and below average) monster-of-the-week formula-fueled show for over 26 episodes. Yes, over HALF of its run is the same shit/different day over and over again. And it’s aimed at toddlers (meaning nobody ever dies or even gets hurt, there’s never any sense of urgency, the bad guys are simply goofy fuckers who can’t pick good disguises let alone good plans for dominating the planet, and the good guys are just as goofy – and just as dumb – as the bad guys themselves). And it’s simply embarrassing to watch. It’s basically Voltron, only with ten times more retarded kid characters. And if you ever decide to watch it (like if you are ever mildly mentally handicapped or you are 5 to 6 years-old) you better have your finger ready on the fast-forward button: The 3G robots' transforming sequences happen at least once per episode (at LEAST once), and they are long. The robot GaoGaiGar’s transformation/combination animation is close to a minute long, and although it’s fairly cool to see it the first time it happens, it gets really old really fast. Add to that all the other robots who transform and then combine into larger things, and all the ridiculously over-the-top, transformable weapons that the GaoGaiGar uses in most of its battles with stupid robeasts, and you have a good chunk of each episode using recycled hand-drawn and budget-saving frames of animation. I am not lying to you: One episode had over 4 minutes (that’s 1, 2, 3, FOUR minutes) of recycled animation in it. That was more than 1/5th of the entire length of the story that week. 4 goddamn minutes… Even if I was only watching one episode a month I’d still find that shit tedious.
Anyway, things started to look up at around episode 27. That’s when the Machine King realized that he was a complete retard (for many reasons, least of all for trusting his four imbecilic lieutenants so much [especially Penchinon] and also focusing his entire battle plan on Japan – where his ONLY REAL ENEMY was headquartered – and not attacking anywhere else on the globe despite the fact that EVERYWHERE ELSE was utterly defenseless) and just said “Fuck it! We’re going balls-out and attacking Tokyo with everything we have!” I thought, “hey, this might finally get interesting now… At least there’s no monster-of-the-week stuff going on anymore.” And indeed things did get a little more interesting, but they also got a LOT more stupid.
The Machine King’s final battle went on for a while, but it still brought those dumb-ass kids into it, and then the 3G removed the power-seals to Guy's GaoGaiGar that they had on it (for some never explained reason) and thusly allowed the “ultimate weapon” to be brought into use. Apparently they were only allowed to release the seals when Guy was ABOUT TO FUCKING DIE. Bureaucracy at its finest… Or they’re all just sadists. Or stupid as a shit sandwich. Oh, and the way they remove the seals from the ultimate weapon is by removing packing tape from two monitors in their hi-tech HQ… I have a headache just thinking back on this god-fucking show. Oh, and that shitty theme song haunts my dreams even now. I swear to GOD that it’s sung by the same brain damaged voice actor who does the retarded American robot’s voice. Ga-ga-ga-ga-ga-ga-GAOGAIGAR! Ga-ga-ga-ga-ga-ga-ga-ga-ga-ga-ga-ga-ga-ga-ga-GAOGAIGAR! I will shoot anybody in the face if they ever try to sing this song to me in person. And if you try to do it over the phone I will hire somebody to do it for me, so that you never even get the satisfaction of being offed by me personally.
Where was I? Oh yeah, the Machine King and his minions all get GaoGaiGarred but good, but then we find out that – GASP!!!! – they weren’t the REAL bad guys, and then the REAL bad guys show up, and we find out that they’re really part of some cosmic circus who aren’t even half as scary as the fruity Machine King and his men were in the first half of this pile. Then the same shit starts happening again.
I have to stop again and explain something else about this show. Prior to episode 31, when the Cosmic Carnies come rolling around Earth’s orbit, the show looked like it was starting to take some chances with both its storytelling and its cast (meaning it looked like quite a few of the secondary characters were getting whacked and that some drama was finally being injected into this thing), but then episode 32 happened. All those people who we thought were no more were revealed to be safe and sound on the 3G’s orbiting satellite back-up base… Yeah, I was scratching my head at how they pulled THAT one out of their asses myself. There was NO WAY all those people survived their respective attacks. But no, 6 year-olds can’t handle death and destruction, so they were really all okee-doky.
Back to the Cosmic Carnies (who are called “Primevals,” but that sounds really made-up, so I’ll just keep calling them Cosmic Carnies because I really like alliteration). Because they showed up (and for all intents and purposes were considered something new, I suppose) the writers felt it was alright to fall back into a monster-of-the-week brand of storytelling again. I felt otherwise, but fuck me apparently. After a dozen or so episodes of that though, things turned into twenty minute-long battles between the 3G and the Cosmis Carnies (led by Cosmic Hulk Hogan and that dumb-ass clown girl who sucks at percentages [claiming that every battle against the 3G has a 99-100% rate of success… which usually turns out to be less than 0% every single time] and who looks like Kaleido Star’s Fool’s mental sister), where every Autobot ever made in this thing eventually shows up to get their 30-seconds of transformation in as things supposedly escalate towards the final, final battle.
Yes, at this point in the story (the last 5 episodes) things finally begin to get interesting, but I found it INCREDIBLY hard to give a shit even at this time when the good guys STILL kept using the same annoying and recycled attacks over and over again, despite the fact that their enemies were taking this battle to Jupiter and throwing planet-sized punches at the 3G. It TRIED to be big, but it felt way too forced. Honestly, Gurren Lagann did a MUCH better job of ending things BIG. This just felt… well, like it was written for 6 year-olds.
Then came the final two episodes which followed the wannabe-epic Jupiter Battle. These last two episodes actually almost made me love this show despite the 47 episodes of dislike and outright HATE that came before them. The final 40 minutes of storytelling (well, 30 minutes really, thanks to some unnecessary flashbacks, ugh…) turned this show on its head, and really made me wonder what could possibly happen, and if there could indeed be a happy ending for everybody (the previous episodes were so by-the-book that this question never came up before). And then, in the last possible minute, when a dramatic KICK ASS ending was about to make me forgive MOST of the dreck that had come before it, the writers copped out and saved Guy, his girlfriend Mikoto, and Mamoru. I was so absolutely pissed off. Tokyo (which was crapped out and then sledge-hammered like a bad Gallager finale in the last few eps) was fixed up within 5 seconds too thanks to some stupid plot contrivance robots because, once again, toddlers can’t handle drama, death, or destruction. Really? Was this necessary? They couldn’t even leave a city in ruins? GaoGaiGar is totally a show aimed at the Power Rangers demographic.
So I had just finished 49 episodes of disappointment, and I really didn’t want to watch anymore… But Kalei was so kind to send me the DVDs, and there was still the 8 episode OVA series GaoGaiGar FINAL to watch. I sighed deeply, got some massive amounts of alcohol into my system, and put the last disc in my DVD player. And I was actually kind of glad that I did.
GGG FINAL fixes a helluva lot that was wrong with the King of Braves TV series: It’s got a bit of an edge to it; it’s got an enormous animation budget (95% of the TV series looked like it was shat out by an off-brand Korean animation studio); and the TONE of the OVA series made me realize that this was aimed at adults (and it felt like what I thought/hoped the original TV show would be like). True, it still used that most annoying (and SHOUTED) opening theme song that the TV series did, but I was actually excited about where things would go from here.
GGG FINAL is a love letter to all those who suffered through the 49 episodes of the TV series before it. It’s not perfect, but it’s a vast improvement over what came before. FINAL is all about Mamoru going back to the galaxy far, far away, where everything originated from (all the bad guys, some of the good guys, and all of the technology that was used in King of Braves), and coming into contact with the 11 Soul Masters who were apparently left behind to recreate that far end of the universe after the villains from King of Braves were ultimately destroyed… Only these Soul Masters are just as assholic as the bad guys who caused all the destruction in the first place.
The 3G left on Earth figure out that something’s wrong (when a doppelganger of Mamoru shows up to steal some strange artifacts that the scientists of the world are studying, and promptly starts blowing shit up and killing people), and they eventually set off to find their friend (the real Mamoru) and find out just what the hell is going on.
Lots of shit happens, lots of annoying as hell douchy aliens are met and battled, and lots of revelations are made about Mamoru, the GaoGaiGar robot and its power source, and then we finally make it to the last 3 episodes, which are really just ONE GIGANTIC BATTLE… that just kept dragging on and on. Yes, epic battles are cool, but no, battles in which the same crap keeps happening over and over again just suck ass. The last three episodes of GGG FINAL play out like a Dragon Ball Z fight: Good guy fights bad guy, gets kicked around; good guy powers up, smacks bad guy around; bad guy powers up, bitch-slaps good guy around; lather, rinse, reapeat. And it also falls into the trap of each of the good guy robots having an equivalent villain to fight (a la any Ranma, One Piece, YuYu Hakushou, or fuck, any other fighting anime movie ever made). I was just shaking my head in slight despair at this point. Such potential…
Anyway, the end finally comes and then pretty much all of the nitpicking I had was made up for with the conclusion of all things GaoGaiGar. They FINALLY grew some rhino-sized balls and made an ending that wasn’t all puppies and sunshine, but WAS good. But honestly, it just wasn’t good enough.
Atomizing Hammers, Space-Bending Chisels and a pair of Pliers that can rip you a new dimension are just a few of the tools that make Gaogaigar one of my favorite shows. Sure the first half of the series follows the ol’ Monster of the Week setup but with new characters, robots and villains being introduced and characterized with each episode I couldn’t care less about the predictability of the battle’s outcome. For once we get an amazing action packed series where the main protagonist acts more like the Eagle Scout of the year rather than some rebel-without-a-cause bad ass or stoic, too-cool-for-you jerk. If his personality isn’t enough to make you smile the kids in this series are teeth-rottingly adorable, especially Mamoru and his loving parents.
Cute kids and nice guys aside, it’s the robots of this series that steal the show and keep right on astonishing until the last few action packed episodes. Sure I could go into detail about all the pseudo science that really caught my attention, but between the dimension-hopping shark-jet, Michelin Man from hell and magician turned Hiroshima there’s not much time to admire the little nuggets of actual physics theories stuck in the mechanics of each episode.
Watching the end of Gaogaigar with a bunch of buds was probably the most fun I’ve had in months. I didn’t realize how into the series I’d gotten until seeing some covert pictures my roommate took of our hooting and hollering at the screen with every plot twist and fight scene. The term “Gaijin 4 Koma” comes to mind here. The closest similar experience I can think of was watching the new Rambo with two dozen friends taking up a whole movie row on opening night.
FINAL is a whole other can of worms to get into, and by worms I mean devastatingly awesome if not slightly fan service-oriented worms, so I’ll leave that to the Rossman.
(Note from the Rossman: Kuni fell asleep in the middle of the third episode of the GGG TV series, and I didn’t want to wake him up from his precious dreams just to get him to write his review… Thinking about it now though, that was about 10 days ago and he’s still out. That doesn’t sound too good, does it? Well, if he doesn’t wake up by Saturday I’ll call a doctor.)