GaoGaiGar: King of Braves
In 2005, the Earth is under siege by the mysterious Zonderians, malevolent robotic beings who have the ability to turn normal humans into dangerous and giant "ZonderRobos". Fortunately, for the Earth, the secret agency 3G (Gutsy Geoid Guard) has been prepared to deal with the Zonder threat. With the powerful GaoGaiGar mecha, sentient robots, and with the help of a young boy with special powers, they strive to fend off the attacks of the merciless and relentless Zonderians.
Let me share the first line of the theme song with you:
Ah, yes. A song that is burned into my very soul and has been since 1997 when this show first came out. It was shown at the anime club at the university I was attending at the time. Actually, I should be more specific. The president forced GaoGaiGar on the rest of us who didn't like it. I saw a few episodes then and just found it not all that good and rather juvenile.
Well, here we are seven years later. My esteemed editor listed this as part of his reviewer's challenge. Given my history with the show, I decided to watch it. To even be as fair as possible, I decided to watch as much of it as I could get my hands on. Every episode burning that song into my mind.
So, I've watched thirty-five episodes of the show. Did my opinion change? Yes. I must admit it did. Before, I commonly cited GaoGaiGar as one of the worst shows I had seen. I no longer believe that. I merely believe it isn't particularly good. Hey, it is a step up at least.
"Formulaic" pretty much captures the spirit of GaoGaiGar. With little variation, the first thirty episodes simply involve a new ZonderRobo being created and GaoGaiGar trashing them. Every once in a while they introduce some new "problem" that will be solved by the inclusion of a new robot, fancy tool, or something of that nature. While the introduction of new robots function effectively as new character introduction (almost every robot in this show is sentient) they don't really do all that much to truly break up the overall monotonous nature of the show. Whatever dramatic impact generated by the any sort of challenges that arise, is quickly diminished by the realization that 3G has apparently anticipated almost every major challenge that might arise and has been working on a device accordingly. There were actually a short series of episodes where the issue of battle fatigue in regards to a particular special attack was giving the show a bit more engaging edge but once they finished their solution, it fell back into its previous pattern.
When 3G hasn't apparently anticipated the challenge-of-the-day, the writers simply fall back on Mamoru. This little boy was mysteriously delivered to human parents eight years before and has various special powers that he doesn't fully understand. Though he plays a critical plot part in "purifying" ZonderRobos to rescue their human bases, he often seems to have another "hidden" power that becomes apparent in critical situation. I don't mind a little mystery here and there but it was obvious that he was just there to provide a semi-plausible excuse for certain problems. It struck me as lazy.
What should have been the final battle in episode 30, ends up instead being simply a cheap bait and switch. In a sense, it kind of makes a mockery of the efforts of 3G's to that point and somewhat annoyed me. It felt very forced, sudden, and unnatural. There are a few interesting transition episodes in regards to this change of direction but the show quickly falls back into the pattern of battle of the day.
The mecha designs are all over the place. It is obvious that the designers simply love mecha in all their shapes and possibilities whether or not they really make much sense or fit in with the rest of the show or not. Some of the robot and mecha designs are rather interesting and some caused me to scratch my head in confusion. For example, a key component of GaoGaiGar is a subway train that helps form its arms. It ends up just seeming a bit silly. I had no real issues with the ZonderRobos being weird since they were supposed to fuse with the local environment but just jarringly silly mecha designs by 3G were kind of hard not to laugh at even if the show was trying so hard to present them as cool. I will not spoil the secret of Mike Sounders the 13th, an "American" robot that gets introduced later in the series but his secret abilities/form is the very epitome of utterly ridiculous design trying to be passed off as cool and stylish.
Okay, okay, I'll admit it. I found Volfogg, the "ninja" intel robot cool. Of course, he was a lot less silly than several other of the robots in the show.
While the show can be fun at times and I'm even willing to simply sit back and enjoy giant robots trashing on each other, the repetition is rather underscored by the show's heavy use of recycled footage for special attacks, transformation, or for that matter even the seemingly simple act of giving an order from the 3G's "Big Order Room." Though some of these sequences are actually fairly well-done and even in some cases fairly well-scored, they quickly become uninteresting when you see them repeated over and over again. It honestly seemed like once I got past the initial eight episodes or so, about 25-35% (or even higher in some cases) of any given episode would be completely recycled footage.
The character designs and art work are fairly good and a lot of the mecha designs do demonstrate interesting attention to detail. The animation is generally fairly good overall, but as I noted above, most of the actual sequences rely so heavily on stock footage, you could probably simply watch the first half of an episode and then pretty much know the exact sequence of scenes and musical themes that are going to come for the next ten minutes once "Final Fusion" is approved.
Characters in GaoGaiGar don't have much depth. I will note that each of the individual characters is fairly likable and the main antagonists somewhat interesting but, overall, no one really gets much development or even grows at all. Mamoru actually grapples with some of the issues of realizing he is different than his friends and may not even be human. Only one of the major antagonists actually gets any character development at all. They hint at some potentially interesting backgrounds for some of the "Machine Kings" Zonderians but otherwise seem content to have them as one-dimensional villains.
Now, at this point, I suppose it should be fair to note that GaoGaiGar is obviously aimed at a younger audience. Though I feel that there are plenty of younger demographic shows that still feature quality plotting, characterization, and the like, I do acknowledge that my review of GaoGaiGar might still seem a bit unfair in a certain sense. You could argue, for instance, that younger kids perhaps wouldn't care as much about character depth or wouldn't mind constantly recycled animation. Perhaps that is true.
However, it is this very targeting of a younger audience that makes me question the inclusion of several other elements that just don't seem appropriate for such an audience. The show relies rather heavily, at times, on only quasi-plausible technical and scientific babble to provide "scientific" explanations for various elements in the show. Many of the words and explanations seem like they would be quite well over a child's head. Heavy nuclei? Proton/Anti-Proton collisions? There was an entire episode focusing around a Zonderian plot to eliminate the Van Allen Belt. I guess you could say it could be educational (though a lot of the science terms are used almost nonsensically) but I think it might just prove frustratingly confusing for a young child.
The designers of the show fashioned exact statistics for pretty much EVERY single mecha, robot, or vehicle that appears in the show. Mecha fetishists might really enjoy knowing Mike Sounders the 13th's exact specification and power output but I doubt the average young viewer really is dying to know that information.
There was also a particularly odd attention to detail in regards to language. They had several scenes in America where everyone was speaking English. Granted was Japanese seiyuu speaking rather poor English, but it was English none-the-less and not only that most of them weren't even subtitled in Japanese. They have of American characters voiced by Japanese seiyuu who, when speaking Japanese in the show, speak in a purposefully louder and slightly phonetically incorrect manner to help them seem more naturally American. They also pepper their speech with a lot of American words. Incidentally, as the show progresses the American characters seem to curse, in English, on a more than a few occasions. On one hand, I applaud the makers of the show for trying to go out of their way to make their treatment of language a bit more realistic but at the same time I'm kind of puzzled why they bothered in regards this particular show.
It is hard to say. There are times I could get into GaoGaiGar and I did, I suppose, like a lot of the characters despite their depth, but its extremely repetitious nature quickly made the show grow stale.
It has some interesting mecha scenes and a likable cast, but a lack of character depth combined with highly repetitious plotting rapidly begins to cut into the show's entertainment value. If you are particularly fond of mecha, you'll definitely want to add a star or two and check this out. There are few titles that I've seen that cater to mecha fans as much as this one. If you do not like mecha, you should stay far far away from this show.
Younger kids would care less, I suspect, about some of the repetition and lack of character depth, so would probably enjoy more. Though I would still argue that there are better shows for younger viewers.
Let me share with you the final line of the opening song:
GaGaGaoGaGaGaoGAOGAIGAR — Jeremy A Beard
Recommended Audience: There is a huge amount of mecha violence but little personal violence. Almost no fan service (though there are a few borderline scenes with the American character "Swan White"). Some of the mecha encounters get a bit intense at times and the ripping out of the Zonder "core" seems to produce a fluid that looks a lot like blood to me. Overall, probably best for older children.
Version(s) Viewed: Prerelease fansub
Review Status: Partial (35/49)
GaoGaiGar: King of Braves © 1997 Sunrise
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