Giant Robo: The Day the Earth Stood Still
The Shizuma Drive is the perfect energy source. It leaves no mark on the atmosphere, it's in vast supply, and runs with little maintenance. In the ten years since it was invented it has become the most popular source of energy, replacing petroleum, coal, and nuclear alternatives, and has even created an era of worldwide peace. But its creation nearly destroyed the world in an event known as "The Tragedy of Bashtarle," which killed millions of people, including one of the scientists working on the Shizuma Drive, Dr. Franken Von Vogel.
Unknown to most of the world, there is a covert war being waged between the evil terrorist organization Big Fire Group and the Experts of Justice, a great legion of heroes from all over the world under the command of the International Police Organization. That war is now coming to a head, as the BF Group tries to recreate "The Tragedy of Bashtarle" for their own, mysterious reasons, under the command of a resurrected Dr. Von Vogel.
Calling something the "greatest" has more to do with marketing than any judgment of quality. The Rolling Stones are great band, and their records are some of the pillars the mighty juggernaut of rock and roll is built on, but there are too many other quality bands and records for that nickname to have any value. Citizen Kane's placement on top of so many "best ever" lists probably has more to do with traditional than being strictly better than Casablanca. Muhammad Ali understood this: "I figured that if I said it enough, I would convince the world that I really was the greatest," he once said, though his civil rights activism and skills at boxing certainly helped. And since anime reviewers are essentially unpaid, renegade marketers, the same applies to us. When any reviewer worth his salt says something is the "greatest X," they're simply pulling out their trump card in hopes it will convince someone to finally put their time and money into something they loved. But when enough respectable anime pundits play their trump card for one cartoon, you have to take notice. I had heard a lot of high praise before I watched Giant Robo, with one of them saying outright that this was the Greatest OVA Ever Made. Praise that high makes me nervous when I finally get around to watching its source, but this time, it might be true. I have seen enough OVA's and enough anime to know that Giant Robo: The Day the Earth Stood Still is special. It's one of those rare pieces of entertainment that hits every note it wants with ease and grace, and then somehow breaks out of its shell and becomes something deeper and better than anyone would should expect. Besides, for such a comparatively small market as Japanese anime original videos, it's not much of a stretch to say that. It's certainly hard for me to think of anything its class.
Every hero in every story struggles against impossible odds, but to say the heroes of Giant Robo are simply "struggling" against "impossible odds" is too cliche and too small to capture the scope of what they fight against. They don't even merely "fight"- they rage in desperation against evil personified, evils personal, and a dominant Evil thirsty for their lives. They battle more than just wicked agents, but a malevolent destiny that has been in the works for over a decade. It's a story that's simultaneously sweepingly epic and deeply person- a Greek tragedy played out with giant robots and super powers. Giant robots are most exciting to watch when they fight an enemy that outclasses them on every level, and even though I've seen Eva units battle a god, it doesn't have the same impact that the Experts of Justice's struggle for survival does.
Underscoring this is an amazing soundtrack that amplifies the drama with opera and stirring classical scores, and it's just one part of an amazing production. The animation is top quality, even among other OVAs, where fluid and colorful animation was a given. Director, creator and screenwriter Yasuhiro Imagawa guides the whole production with such a sure hand; it's hard to believe that this series struggled from episode one to survive because of lackluster sales, and took nearly a decade to finish. The steadiness in the series' slow build to its climax and character growth makes it feel more like a seven hour movie than a serial OVA. Imagawa is widely revered among giant robot fans for many other works, including G-Gundam, Tetsujn 28th and Z-Hen, neither of which I've seen, but because of the talent on display here I'm looking forward to seeing more of his work.
Giant robots have been a blind spot for THEM recently, since our smaller staff doesn't have the interest in it our predecessors did. And while that's a grievous error, it's an understandable one. Since children no longer buy giant robot toys, the market for this kind of anime has vanished, making it a thing of the past; the sole province of older man-children, who talk wistfully of the day when television schedules were crowded end to end with robot cartoons like it was Magical Chocolate Happy Time. Today's seasons are crowded with cartoons for a different kind of man-children, so their frustration is understandable. But so is any leeriness at watching a dated style of anime that relied so heavily on tropes and crass marketing techniques. That goes doubly so for Giant Robo, since its style was already a relic when it was released in the Nineties, albeit a proud one. But if the appeal of robots is puzzling to you, don't let that hold you back. The elements that make Giant Robo great is what can make anime such a rewarding hobby: a grand storyline that steadily builds suspense and pathos with each episode until its devastating conclusion; strong, memorable characters; and adrenaline-pumping fights all tied together with superb production and surefire direction. If there was a canon for what anime everyone should be required to watch, this would easily make the list, because it is the embodiment of the durable, vigorous and mighty Spirit of Anime.
Quite possibly the best OVA I've ever seen. — Bradley Meek
Recommended Audience: Difficult to peg, since the OVAs deal with fairly mature themes younger audiences will miss and the overall tone of the series is largely grim. But in terms of things like nudity, violence and whatever else people object to, it's fairly tame. The violence is entirely fantastical, and the Gin Rei fanservice is limited to her tight white dress.
Version(s) Viewed: Region 1 release by Media Blasters
Review Status: Full (7/7)
Giant Robo: The Day the Earth Stood Still © 1992 Amuse / Bandai Visual / Phoenix Entertainment
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