Disclaimer: Chances are good that by now, anybody who purchases Shin Getter Robo vs Neo Getter Robo or clicks on a link to an article that has a picture of a robot and the words “Getter Robo” will already be a hardcore mecha anime fan. If that describes you, then you probably don’t actually need this article. So if you’re going to read this with the intention of commenting on what I “forgot” or “got wrong” from this write-up, know that I did no such thing. I am intentionally leaving things out or simplifying matters.
I’m really glad Shin Getter Robo vs Neo Getter Robo is finally coming out in America. Anyone can watch it and “get it.” It’s just too bad it didn’t happen a decade ago, because the two far longer, FAR more confusing Getter Robo OVA series have already been released ahead of it… with predictably disappointing results. That’s unfortunate, because those OVAs are terrifically entertaining despite their general inscrutability.
Created by Ken Ishikawa and Go Nagai, Getter Robo was the first anime in which a series of smaller machines would combine together with one another to form a giant robot, physical practicalities be damned. Depending on which of the smaller robots formed the head, it could have one of three different forms. That’s important, because it means three times as many toys you can sell! There were multiple Getter Robo television shows, feature films, manga, audio dramas, and video games. Almost none of it came out in the US. What little of it that did get released here was renamed and altered quite a bit from the original in order to remove violence and other objectionable content (AKA: the stuff that made it so awesome in the first place).
Every version of Getter Robo is generally about the same thing: crazy scientist discovers a fictional super-duper-do-anything matter that is highly difficult to control, channels it into a giant robot, and entrusts it to teenagers even crazier than he is because malevolent invaders seek to conquer/destroy the planet for control of said energy. While he’s at it, said scientist also gives his daughter a robot, which along with the annoying elementary school kid brother character is of minimal assistance to anybody. (Incidentally, this is also the plot to every incarnation of Mazinger Z, also by Go Nagai.) Here, the fictional matter is “Getter Rays” that also affect how species evolve, the scientist is named “Dr. Saotome,” and there are THREE lunatic pilots instead of one: the hot(-blooded) Ryoma Nagare, the cool(-headed) Hayato Jin, and the vicious—er, the fat Musashi Tomoe. Or another fat guy, Benkei Kuruma, because fat guy robot pilots are all kind of interchangeable. The various Getter Robo incarnations do battle with a combination of massively oversized drills, blades, missiles, and energy beam attacks. Absolute MAYHEM ensues. There was a sequel in the early 1990s, Getter Robo Go, that featured a new cast of heroes and robots with “modernized” art designs, but it was pretty bad. (Those characters make up the Neo Getter Robo crew in Shin vs Neo.) That’s basically all you need to know to watch any Getter Robo anything. Ever.
Just like I said when I reviewed Casshan: Robot Hunter, and Mazinkaiser, by the late 1990s, the people who grew up with 1970s anime now had jobs and disposable income of their own, and most of the modernized revival attempts weren’t well-received. Thus, we got OVAs intended to be retro-themed throwbacks, only with more sexuality and graphic violence! Getter Robo received two such OVA revival efforts: the 13-episode OVA series Shin Getter Robo from 1998…and the 13-episode OVA series Shin Getter Robo from 2004.
Yep. Two different titles with the same name, that aren’t directly tied to one another! I’m told that the Japanese characters used to write “Shin” in each differs such that one means “True” and the other means “New” or something, but that matters little when the US DVD covers for one series read New Getter Robo and the other says… New Getter Robo. The only way to keep track is to know that there are two separate series in the first place, and that one series was released by ADV Films while the other was released by Geneon Entertainment. ADV added its own title, Getter Robo: Armageddon, but the boxes still also say “New Getter Robo” on the covers, and the next-episode previews call out the series title as Change! Getter Robo. Did you get all that? I don’t blame you if you didn’t. I’m just going to call the ADV-released OVA series Getter Robo: Armageddon and the Geneon-released one New Getter Robo from this point on.
It gets worse: neither ADV nor Geneon saw fit to intuitively number the individual volumes of their releases. Instead, they gave each one titles like “Resurrection” and “The Hell on Earth.” Which one is first? Which comes second? You’ve got to read the back of each New Getter Robo case to figure it out. But even with them physically in hand, you can’t easily tell with Getter Robo: Armageddon. Its DVD covers don’t even list what episode numbers are included! The only way to know is from reading the REALLY TINY catalog numbers printed on the spine and ordering them from 1 to 4:
It’s all rather exhausting, isn’t it? To think I haven’t even gotten to what these cartoons are ABOUT.
Getter Robo: Armageddon isn’t exactly easy to get into in the first place, because it’s made to be a sequel… to an alternate universe story… that never came out in America in the first place because it was a Japanese language audio drama. To this day, I have never heard this audio drama, but the anime opens with a very quick recap that assumes you, the viewer, are fully aware of what the series is about (which if you’ve read this far, you are!) such that you need only know that this re-imagined Getter Team has spent a decade fighting alien invaders on the moon before thrusting you into the gritty, grimdark 90s-tastic “present day.” Dr. Saotome and his daughter are now DEAD… at the hands of our former hero, the now-incarcerated Ryoma! Hayato wants to kill him and Ryoma wants to return the favor. The annoying kid sidekick is a traumatized near-vegetable. Why? What happened? Before we can fully get a handle on things, the Earth is threatened anew… by an army of robots (from the Getter Robo sequels) led by the reanimated Dr. Saotome! What’s more, the Getter Rays are being used for evil instead of slightly-twisted goodness, and now there are dinosaurs to contend with along with the robots! Plus space aliens and partially devolved-to-ape scientists! Earth’s best hope… is the guy who killed the doctor once before! Oh, and a brand-new mean as Hell, and straight from the Super Robot Wars video games robot: the Shin Getter Robo. Here’s Shin Getter holding its “tomahawk.”
Yeah, that’s one of its BASIC weapons. Later on, you see the BIG stuff!
The action is furious, the animation spectacular, the bloody violence ultra. Between the [voice-activated!] robot attacks and being royally peeved at one another, characters in Getter Robo: Armageddon scream so much that voice actor Hideo Ishikawa noted in an interview that his throat started to BLEED as a result. (This was before Excel Saga made it unfashionable!) But wait…what in the HELL is going on in this cartoon?! What caused ANY of this to come to pass? WE WILL NEVER KNOW, because the original director—the great Yasuhiro Imagawa, director of the greatest anime OVA of all time, Giant Robo: The Day the Earth Stood Still—left/was fired after the third episode! And the cliffhanger for that episode was “the weapon that if detonated will eradicate mankind…seems to have just detonated!”
But the show had to go on, and the remaining staff had no idea where to go from that. Were the characters that seemed to be villains truly acting with evil intent? Or would later revelations have highlighted their deeds in a brand-new context to show that they were acting more nobly than we expected? Imagawa loves to do that, but from episode 4 on the remaining staff just decided “pretty much everybody on Earth died! So er, uh… 13 years AFTER all of that…” and started over with a mostly different cast. Ryoma and Musashi have been blasted to smithereens, Hayato is covered in scars, and Benkei’s… still the fat guy! The focus now is on Kei, a pretty young lady (who gets naked pretty fast, as per the rules of these OVAs). As if the now mostly-eradicated planet which the world’s remaining survivors blame on Japan wasn’t bad enough, the shape-shifting alien Invaders are back once more. Killing these guys once just isn’t enough! It takes some serious dismemberment and mutilation to drop one of these monsters, but that’s what giant robots are for. Honestly, the middle five episodes meander and lack the energy of the initial three. The animation remains decent, but isn’t anywhere near the quality of the initial episodes. The cast isn’t nearly as wonderfully deranged as the originals, either. Guess they let the end of the world get them down. But things get back on track eventually with the appearance of this guy: Black Getter!
Getter Robo: Armageddon was already pretty violent, but Black Getter (and its not-much-of-a-mystery pilot) takes the brutality to the next level because Black Getter doesn’t give a CRAP. I’d buy its action figure were it not marked up literally 1000% because it’s a “rare, out of print collector’s item.” One thing leads to another and then next thing you know everybody’s flying out in space, moons start getting chopped in half, enemies explode into a shower of blood and eyeballs, and special Hadoken-like attacks known as the “Stoner Sunshine” are deployed such that when they say “so much for the laws of physics!” you can only nod your head… and cheer. You can still get all of Getter Robo: Armageddon on DVD in a brick set that was released as the “Power Pack,” and though it’s annoying that the subtitles have misspellings like calling Getter Liger “Getter Rygar,” the dub is about what you’d expect from ADV, and the video quality isn’t quite as spiffy as the recent Region 2 remastered editions, it won’t cost you much. You might even be able to find all of the original discs still. That’s how I own it, though it’s not like I can exactly sell mine off:
As the autograph from Episodes 1-3 director Yasuhiro Imagawa suggests, I do have a soft spot for Getter Robo: Armageddon, flawed and uneven though it may be. Without Imagawa’s guidance, the series takes a much different turn but it still ends really strongly. That is, if you can actually make it that far. Few in America would watch such an anime as this in the first place, and many who did gave up at that middle portion. My beloved Black Getter and all the carnage that follows suit doesn’t appear until the end of episode 8! Still, enough fans in Japan loved this enough to pave the way for a steady stream of old-school giant robot anime revivals from Go Nagai’s Dynamic Productions. Like the aforementioned Mazinkaiser, and New Getter Robo… which might just be even crazier than this!
I’ll be back soon to talk about that one.