The animation may indeed be somewhat crude or simple by today's standards and expectations, but it is nevertheless handsome, lovingly hand created, bold and beautiful work to the discerning eye. Besides, I've seen some relatively poor digital animation sorely lacking in much needed detail too. These classics can hold their own.
The story: With his dreams of becoming a professional baseball player and pitcher dashed following a curve ball hit fracturing his wrist, the initially reluctant hero Sanshiro Tsuwabuki joins Dr. Daimonji and the special crew of the Daiku Maryu or Great Space Dragon agreeing to become the pilot of the great mecha giant Gaiking.
Sanshiro is whisked away to a top secret lighthouse base and introduced to Dr. Daimonji and his new team. The team consists of Dr. Daimonji, Fan Li, Science Officer Gen Sakon, Bunta Hayami, Peter Richardson, Midori Fujiyama, Yamagakake and young Hachiro.
After an initially emotional reaction to the dismay that his baseball career is over, Sanshiro is quickly overcome with excitement from the knowing he has psychic powers which will allow him to pilot Gaiking.
First, Sanshiro is introduced to the rest of the team and the ship they will all pilot as previously noted the Daiku Maryu (the Great Space Dragon). Sanshiro makes a quick leap away from his tearful baseball ending. The possibility of piloting a giant robot has that affect on people, in fact just about anyone, except for maybe Shinji Ikari (Neon Genesis Evangelion). Though, in truth, Shinji synchronized better with Unit-01 on his first outing than Sanshiro does here with Gaiking. Sanshiro's first outing is a general fail.
Gaiking, formed in three launching parts from the Great Space Dragon, including the head, and supported by three dinosaur-like support vehicles in the form of a Pterodactyl (Skylar), Triceratops (Bazolar) and Plesiosaur (Nesser) or thereabouts, strike out together as a team echoing the team dynamic of Science Ninja Team Gatchaman. Together they protect Earth to repel an invading alien scourge dubbed the Dark Horror Army led by the evil and ugly Prince Darius from the planet Zela. It's notable that Gaiking was not based on a previously published manga like many anime properties.
So after his first run Sanshiro is essentially saved from the bottom of the ocean by one of the Daikyu Maryu's secondary vehicles (Nesser, Skylar, Bazolar). You'll remember them all well if you watched the series as a kid. Overall, Gaiking takes the whole cerebonic implant idea from Gatchaman and gives these heroes psychic telekinesis. Gaiking is a fusion of superhero story meets robot mecha much like Gatchaman. And like the aforementioned Shinji of Evangelion who has his own crisis of conscience on a much more complex scale, Sanshiro too is faced with making a decision to leave the responsibility bestowed upon him with Gaiking or rejoin those who protect the Earth from within the Daiku Maryu.
Surprisingly too, there is a good deal of time granted the villains of Zela from Prince Darius to his four henchman. Darius is all fire and brimstone constantly threatening to kill all his henchman, but never following through on any of his threats. At least Zoltar took care of business week to week.
There is an affecting component of Gaiking featured in the first film that centers on a rebel Zelan. Some of the secondary cast are also given emotional back stories in the second Gaiking film including Midori Fujiyama, with whom Sanshiro shares a romantic bond which is surprisingly more pronounced than anything suggested between Mark and Princess on Battle Of The Planets.
While the Shout! Factory release of Gaiking is hardly overwhelming in the technical department and the new dub is serviceable (including voice contributions from producer William Winckler, as Sanshiro, and even David Gerrold) it's all that we have of those faint memories of the Gaiking segment from Force Five. Somehow they even pull off the inclusion of Godzilla's roar at the site of Daiku Maryu. One robot monster even sounds an awful lot like Toho's Rodan. Hmmm.
Screen jiggle and dust particles on the print aside, Gaiking is a nice piece of animation, if not as impressive as the work achieved on Science Ninja Team Gatchaman, and it's a pleasure to see someone care enough to make some effort to preserve it here in the United States. The original dubbing would be wonderful and even restored versions of Force Five would be a dream come true, but that would be nothing short of a miracle. Though the DVD release quality is essentially far superior to anything I watched on a basic tube television complete with snow and grain in the 1970s. This looks high definition by comparison.
As much as you want to celebrate declarations like Double Blazer Laser! Hydro Blazer! And other assorted weaponry, I have to confess I did yawn a bit and thus I would give Gaiking a cautious approval. Once I became accustomed to the new dub Gaking II lured me further into enjoying this rework. While some of the hand drawn images are truly special and should be appreciated by fans of anime with a taste for history, this is likely for old school anime fans of the Force Five era, Star Blazers and Gatchaman at best. I still prefer Battle Of The Planets and Star Blazers as Gaiking is just not challenging enough. Check your brain at the threshold of the Daiku Maryu, connect to Gaiking and prepare for some old-fashioned anime fun. And if the cartoon doesn't completely satisfy you must seek out one of the Daiku Maryu Chogokin GX-05 or GX-05R Japan import diecast toys or stand alone Gaiking Chogokin. They are mighty impressive. They are also out of print, a little pricey, but quite spectacular. It's like being a kid all over.
Gaiking was directed by Tomoharu Katsumata, a lead for Toei Animation. Katsumata worked on a number of kid classics including UFO Robo Grendizer (1975; also part of Jim Terry's Force Five which included Gaiking), Great Mazinger (1974), Mazinger Z (1972) even the original animated Cutey Honey (1973). Additionally, he initially worked on the original Cyborg 009 (1968).
Gaiking the mecha itself is gifted by its creators with a vast array of weaponry too. We'll take a closer look at that arsenal and the episodes that were selected for the DVD release in our third and final post spotlighting Gaiking.
This is an explosive string of shots highlighting the Daiku Maryu emerging from flames. Love it.