Four psychic teenagers - space-bikini babes Mia Alice (voiced by Mayumi Shou), Pai Thunder (Naoko Matsui) and Lamba (Maya Okamoto) along with token big-haired anime guy Roll Kran (Akira Kamiya) - are abducted and brainwashed by benevolent (really?!) alien scientist Doctor Tarsan (Takashi Aono). Under his tutelage the kids learn how to fuse their powers and combine their space fighters to form the enormous super-robot, Dangaioh. As their memories slowly resurface, our young heroes use their amazing abilities and Dangaioh to battle the tyranny of the evil Bunker Space Pirates whilst eluding their emissary, the fanatical Captain Galimos (Kenichi Ogata) armed with an indestructible cyborg body and wacky flock-of-seagulls haircut.
Bonkers, baffling but sporadically entertaining, Dangaioh marked a rare misstep for Toshihiro Hirano, among the most consistently intriguing anime auteurs whose artfully idiosyncratic fusion of epic space opera, Lovecraftian horror and quasi-lesbian eroticism made Fight! Iczer-One (1985) a genuine classic while his low-key, character-driven vampire serial Vampire Princess Miyu (1988) remains a minor gem. The giant robot anime is also notable for the presence of an array of future big name directors among its staff: the great Shoji Kawamori handled the mecha designs alongside fellow genre staples Masami Ohara and Koichi Ohata while none other than Hideaki Anno is credited as chief animator. On a production level it is a class act but the plot is Saturday morning cartoon fluff dressed up with flamboyant set-pieces, an unnecessarily complex set-up and, on the region two DVD release, oodles of childish profanity courtesy of an infamous Manga Entertainment dub. Listen out for Robert Glenister, future star of conmen comedy-drama Hustle, as the voice of Captain Galimos!
The English dub makes a right hash of an already barely coherent re-edit. Its first ten minutes are a potted summary of the inexplicably excised first chapter of this three part serial. Such patchwork bogus feature films had been been a staple of the anime scene since the days of U.F.O Robot Grandizer (1975) and Starbirds (1978), but somehow always seemed a lot more easier to follow back then. Dangaioh’s breathless opening act is choc full of revelations about a host of characters we barely know. Once that is out of the way, what follows is fairly lively, sexy and cool for die-hard anime fans, though likely alienating for everyone else and somewhat derivative. It lifts its vast space armada and crustacean alien villains from the landmark Superdimensional Fortress Macross (1982) - on which Kawamori was the central creative influence - along with core concepts from the entire oeuvre of giant robot supremo Go Nagai, while its cast of angst-ridden teenage superheroes are indebted to the Tatsunoko stable of Ippei Kuri, the Stan Lee of anime.
Aspects of Hirano’s distinctive imagination and skill with psychological complexity seep through, the giant robot battles and space dogfights are at least visually engaging and liable to leave some seasoned anime fans nostalgic for the days when swimsuits were standard attire for nubile robot pilots. Producer Toru Miura was among the first to realise otaku would rather watch a lone guy amidst a group of sexy superheroines than a largely male cast, a formula he honed to later blockbuster success with the Tenchi Muyo (1992) saga. While the flustered storytelling scarcely allows viewers to become emotionally involved with the characters it is worth noting that the finale is deeply unsatisfying, letting the villains off the hook and leaving the heroes free-floating in search of a resolution that never arrived. A belated sequel: G-Dangaioh (2001) featured an all-new cast of troubled teens intercepting a space message from Mia Alice but otherwise did not bother to continue the original story.