Johnny Sokko and his Flying Robot

Johnny Sokko and his Flying Robot is the name given in the U.S. to the 26-episode tokusatsu (live-action) series based on Giant Robo, produced by Toei Company Ltd. in 1967.

The later 7-episode OVA series was produced by Mu Films in an interval between 1992 and 1998, it is considered as one of the best of the "retro-anime" produced in the 1990s, and also one of the greatest anime series ever to be produced. It is available on six VHS tapes by Manga Video and three DVDs by Media Blasters.

The original tokusatsu TV series aired on NET (now TV Asahi) from October 11, 1967 to April 1, 1968, with a total of 26 episodes.

The Earth is under invasion by a terrorist group called Big Fire (Gargoyle in the US version), led by the alien Emperor Guillotine, who spends almost the entire series in a multicolored space ship hidden at the bottom of one of the Earth's oceans (presumably the Pacific) from where he issues his orders to the members of Gargoyle (frequently referred to in the series as "The Gargoyle Gang").

The members of Gargoyle, as it turns out, are an ambitious but somewhat incompetent bunch who appear to have a fairly high mortality rate due either to Unicorn actions or Guillotine's own fits of anger. Their wardrobe is an interesting collection of what appears to be an assortment of castoffs from Soviet officers, wartime Wehrmacht personnel, central American guerillas, and the designers of Italian sunglasses. In addition, at least one Gargoyle member is always seen with a beatnik beard. Most of Gargoyle's members wear berets adorned with a skull on the front. All members of Gargoyle have an explosive device implanted within their bodies that can be detonated in the event they're captured, though this seems to be used only rarely.

Guillotine himself has a large blue head with tentacles extending from the bottom of the head; not unlike Cthulhu. He wears a long robe, and carries a staff with a white orb at its furthest end. Like his head, the rest of his body is blue. He is capable of growing to an enormous height, though this is only seen once in the series.

Guillotine leaves day-to-day matters in the hands of various commanders; principally Spider (a human who is eventually killed by a spray of acid), Doctor Botanus (Doctor Over in the Japanese series; a silver-skinned alien capable of teleportation), Fangar (a bizarre alien with a pegleg and crutch, a greatly enlarged forehead, protruding upper teeth, and a costume that looks like a traditional striped prison outfit in front and a red velvet jumpsuit in back), and Harlequin (Black Dia in the Japanese version, who has a fascination with the suits of playing cards).

The group captures scientists to create an army of giant monsters to rampage the Earth. But fate stumbles on a little boy named Daisaku Kusama (Johnny Sokko in the US) and a young man named Jūrō Minami (Jerry Mano in the US), the latter is secretly Member U3 of the top-secret peacekeeping organization, Unicorn. Daisaku and Jūrō are shipwrecked on an island after the ocean liner they were on was attacked by a giant sea monster called Dracolon, and are captured by members of Big Fire. When trying to escape, they end up in an elevator that leads down to a huge construction complex where a giant robot is being built. Pharaoh-like in appearance, this indestructible humanoid robot is being built by captive scientist Dr. Lucius Guardian, who decides to give the two escapees its control device, a miniature transmitter built into a wristwatch. The robot can only be controlled by the first voice that is recorded in its electronic brain (but he first needs to be charged up by atomic energy). Dr. Guardian helps Daisaku and Jūrō escape, only to be shot to death, but not before he set an atomic bomb that destroyed the base, the resulting explosion activates the giant robot, which moves to Daisaku's every command. As the controller of the robot (heretofore known as "Giant Robo," or just "Giant Robot" in the US), Daisaku is invited by Jūrō and his chief Azuma to join Unicorn as its 7th member, U7! As U7, Daisaku fights the evil forces of Big Fire with the help of U3/Jūrō and Giant Robo.

In the final episode Giant Robot directly confronts Guillotine, who has grown to the same size as Giant Robot. Guillotine claims that his body at that size is capable of creating a nuclear explosion capable of wiping out the Earth, and demonstrates his power by ripping off one of his fingernails and producing a small nuclear explosion. As the Earth hovers on the brink of surrender to Guillotine, Giant Robot - despite Minami's commands to the contrary - attacks Guillotine, picks him up, and flies into outer space, at which point Guillotine detonates, destroying both himself and Giant Robot. The threat to Earth has been eliminated, but at the cost of Earth's greatest protector.

The Giant Robot has numerous weapons systems which Johnny can command the robot use:

* Finger missiles: Fired from the fingers with an undetermined number of rounds.

* Back missile: Fired from the back of the robot as the robot is lying on its chest facing toward its enemy. The back missile is considerably larger and more destructive than the finger missiles.

* Bazooka cannon: A weapon which fires out of the top of the robot's head - not so much a bazooka as a shower of sparks capable of blinding and disorienting an enemy.

* Eye beams: A twinned energy blast from the eyes.

* The center V on the chest can launch and ram against the enemy to force it back. In addition, the robot's "belt buckle" contains a long pole which can be used to hook onto an enemy.

As a security precaution in case Johnny is forced to give unwanted orders, the boy can give a seeming line of gibberish into the communicator before doing so "Od ton yebo redro!", claiming it is a communication test. However, the Robot is programmed to play the message backwards as "Do not obey order!" With that message, the robot is programmed to take it as a signal that his controller is captured and regardless of any subsequent order, the Robot will launch and trace the signal to rescue his controller.

It's generally known that Giant Robo doesn't speak, but every time Daisaku gives him a command, he responds with an echoing, roaring "MASSHHHH!!!" (In the OVA , it lets out an echoing "AOOOOOOHHHHHHHMMMM!")

The entire series was first broadcast in the United States in 1969 and became quite popular in the next few years, particularly during the 1971 to 1973 period when it reached its peak in distribution and popularity. In 1970, several episodes were edited together to create the movie Voyage Into Space which has now reached cult film status.

While recently released on DVD by Toei Video in Japan, the 26 episode series and the movie have never been officially released in the United States, with the exception of the first eight episodes, which were released on videocassette by Orion Home Video.

Following Orion's folding into MGM, and MGM's purchase by Sony of America, the American rights to the series are now in the hands of Sony. However, bootleg copies of the entire U.S. version of the series have long been available on both VHS and DVD.

The American version of the series was astonishingly violent by the standards of childrens' programming in the 1960s, and would certainly never pass muster today. Guns and shooting are staples of every episode of the series, and the series' two child leads - Johnny Sokko and Mari Hanson (Mari Hanamura in the Japanese version; a 9-year-old girl introduced in the seventh episode who speaks 39 languages and is a crack shot with a firearm) - were frequently seen shooting along with the rest of the Unicorn agents. In one episode Johnny and Mari are captured by Gargoyle, tied to two trees, and are within seconds of being executed by firing squad when Unicorn agents rescue them. Oddly enough, though practically every Japanese anime exported to the United States during that period was edited due to violent content, Johnny Sokko and His Flying Robot seems to have escaped close scrutiny in that regard.

Catherine Byers (aka Bobbie Byers), who provided Johnny Sokko's English language voice, has had a lengthy career since the 1960s. She is also known for having voiced Captain Bonnie (Bokko) on the English language version of The Amazing 3, as well as Prince Planet on the series of the same name. She appeared on-camera in two 1960s biker films; 1967's Wild Rebels and 1968's Savages from Hell. Since then she has focused on voice acting (primarily talking books) and stage work. Her Amazing 3 coworkers Neil Patrick, Paul Brown, Kurt Nagel, and Jerry Burke also provided various voices on Johnny Sokko and His Flying Robot.

Mitsunobu Kaneko (who had played Daisaku Kusama/Johnny Sokko in the original series) died in 1997. His acting career appears to have completely ended after Giant Robo.

Mitsuo Ando (Doctor Over/Doctor Botanus) also died in 1997, having spent his acting career playing various characters in children's shows.

Japanese narrator Koichi Chiba died in 2001, having played a number of roles until the year before his death. Interestingly, he was the only person associated with the 1966 series who was also involved with the OVA, voicing Dr. Franken Von Forglor.

Hideo Murota, who played the villain known as Black Dia/Harlequin, died of lung cancer in 2002, having spent his entire life following Giant Robo in a variety of film and TV roles. It's fair to say that of all the series' regular actors, his career was the most successful.

Akio Ito (Juro Minami/Jerry Mano) is reportedly now a production designer.

Yumiko Katayama (Mitsuko Nishino/Mitsuko Hino) also appeared in the 1969 Japanese TV series Playgirl. Other than Giant Robo she is probably best remembered for having appeared in two of the early '70s "Pinky Violence" films; 1971's Zubeko bancho: zange no neuchi mo nai (Delinquent Girl Boss: Worthless to Confess) and 1973's Zenka onna: koroshi-bushi (Criminal Woman: Killing Melody). Her acting career appears to have ended after 1973.

The careers of the series' other actors appear to have ended entirely after the early '70s, if not before.

Giant Robo takes place in 2049. It is a retro-esque future where the invention of the Shizuma Drive has brought about the third energy revolution, ascending mankind into an age of prosperity that began ten years ago. At that time, Dr. Shizuma and his four colleagues began to develop the drives. They were to be the perfect energy source; non-polluting and recyclable.

With this new revolution there came a heavy price...

Dr. Franken Von Forglor (transliterated as "Vogler" in the US ) , one of the five men who created the drives, went insane and activated an experimental reactor core that was being developed by the five scientists in their laboratory in Bashitarlle. A core meltdown ensued, causing a world-wide energy neutralization field and an explosion that resulted in the destruction of the entire city, and the loss of one third of the Earth's population. The event was entitled The Tragedy of Bashitarlle and became the greatest tragedy in the history of mankind.

Now Dr. Von Forglor, along with his associates, the would-be dictators called Big Fire, dispatch a giant orb to float across the world, draining the energy from all major cities and causing global chaos. The orb is powered by a new kind of Shizuma drive, of which only three examples exist. Big Fire have two (both of which power the orb), and the Experts of Justice possess the third. Big Fire would prefer to possess all three, but can operate the orb with only two. The super-powered team which opposes the Experts of Justice are called "The Magnificent Ten".

Against them are "The Experts of Justice," nine in number, a group of martial artists, scientific geniuses, and secret agents. Many of them have origins in Chinese folk hero tales, such as Tetsugyu, nicknamed "The Iron Ox". The One of them is youngster Daisaku Kusama (same name as in the live-action series above). Only the voice of Daisaku, the son of a scientist murdered by Big Fire, can control Giant Robo, a 90-foot tall war machine originally designed by Daisaku's father for Big Fire but now devoted to fight crime.

Giant Robo is not presented as a machine to command in an aloof manner but as a team member to be included in the team spirit. It cries when it can't smash through a force field; Daisaku then abandons it for a time but returns to ask its help in the fight again.

The only females in the story are GinRei ("Silver Bell"), an expert agent who wears a white Chinese dress; Yoshi Blue Face, an expert agent from Chinese mythology; and Sunny, the young daughter of the Magnificent Ten's Lord Alberto.
Spoilers end here.

The title of the OVA series is Giant Robo: The Animation, with the added subtitle GR: the Day the Earth Stood Still. Begun in 1992, the episodes of this OVA were produced intermittently due to the involvement of its director, Yasuhiro Imagawa, in other projects. Composer Masamichi Amano scored the grandiose musical themes for the project with the Warsaw Orchestra in Poland, considered by fans as some of his best work and a highlight of the series by itself.

Besides Tetsujin 28, Imagawa pastiched other characters from Mitsuteru Yokoyama series, including characters from Godmars, Babel II, Sally, the Witch, Romance of the Three Kingdoms and Tales of the Water Margin/Suikoden (the last two retold the stories in two of the Four Classics of Chinese literature).Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation; with no Invariant Sections, with no Front-Cover Texts, and with no Back-Cover Texts.
Virtual Magic is a human knowledge database blog. Text Based On Information From Wikipedia, Under The GNU Free Documentation License. Copyright (c) 2007 Virtual Magic. Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.1 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation; with no Invariant Sections, no Front-Cover Texts and no Back-Cover Texts. A copy of the license is included in the section entitled "GNU Free Documentation License".

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