Driving home one snowy winter’s night, Mr. and Mrs. Amami glimpse a falling star and seize the opportunity to make a wish for their heart’s greatest desire: a child. Whereupon Galeon, an enormous robot lion, leaps down from outer space and opens its huge titanium jaws to reveal a smiling baby boy! Not ones to look a gift horse, er, robot lion in the mouth, the Amamis embrace their newfound alien child. Years later, Mamoru Amami (voiced by Maiko Ito) and his school friends unearth a giant robot dragon that goes on a destructive rampage across downtown Tokyo, prompting the brave men and women of the top secret Gutsy Geoid Guard to leap into action. Aboard the awesome super-robot Gaogaigar, mighty-maned golden cyborg superhero Guy Shishio (Nobuyuki Hiyama) wields an incredible arsenal of hi-tech weaponry. He makes short work of the marauding monster. But then to everyone’s surprise, young Mamoru sprouts glowing green hair and fairy wings and magically transforms the monster’s robot heart back into a shuddering homeless man. When over-zealous 3G stormtroopers grab Mamoru off the streets, Galeon leaps back on the scene, roaring at his side.
So begins Mamoru’s incredible adventure alongside Guy and fellow super-agents, flamboyant 3G chief Kotaro Taiga (Koji Ishi), babelicious blonde American operative Swan White (Miki Narahashi), punk rock ninja Genki Hyuma (Hisao Ogawa), jet-booted Professor Leo Shishio (Kenichi Ogata), Guy’s miniskirted would-be girlfriend Mikoto Utsugi (Tomoe Hanba) and dandruff-ridden computer expert Kosuke Entoji (Tsutomo Kashiwakura). Together they battle to save the world from the Zondarians, a surrealistic Salvador Dali styled collection of alien invaders intent on transforming ordinary Japanese citizens into malevolent bio-mechanoid monsters.
Gaogaigar was a throwback to good old-fashioned, unpretentious fun for giant robot anime after the angst-ridden, existentialist antics of Neon Genesis Evangelion (1995). Whereas that epochal serial probed the psychological problems plaguing Japan at the time by exposing the hypocrisy of social mores and traditional values, this gleefully hyperactive riposte ran with the self-decreed motto: “a courageous heart can make anything possible.” In another era such gung-ho superheroics might have seemed insufferable, but in the aftermath of numerous gloomy Evangelion imitators its relentlessly upbeat tone proved something of a tonic. Gaogaigar was the last instalment in the so-called “Brave Saga” of giant robot anime developed by Sunrise animation studio. Not strictly a series as such, more a concept unifying a decades worth of disparate giant robot shows, including Heroic Exkaiser (1990), Legendary Hero Da Garn (1992) and several others.
As implied by the original Japanese title (King of Braves: Gaogaigar), Gaogaigar marked the apotheosis of this sub-genre. Driven by a ridiculous, though undeniably catchy theme song (“Ga-ga-ga-gaga-ga-Gaogaigar!”), the insanely action-packed plot exists in a constant state of flux, throwing everything and the kitchen sink into a frenetically edited, candy-coloured apocalypse seemingly with the intent of inducing paroxysms of pleasure in its target audience of robot-loving little kids. There are vague subtextual allusions commenting on how technology elevates some sections of society while alienating others, as the Zondarians set about converting disgruntled citizens including an impoverished construction worker, a vengeful pro-wrestler, a nerdy trainspotter, an enraged motorist and a depressed schoolteacher into kamikaze combat robots. However, the plot is foremost a boy’s own wish-fulfilment fantasy celebrating marshal values without a trace of irony while encouraging kids to shout along when Guy calls out his cool combat moves (“Project Shade!” “Broken Magnum!” “Final Fusion!”). In fact heroism is the subject of the theme song, plot and almost every line of dialogue. And what child wouldn’t envy young Mamoru? He gets to play a vital role in fighting alien invaders, hang out with cool hi-tech heroes and sexy female agents every day and eventually command an entire army of super-robots beyond just Galeon and Gaogaigar.
Yoshitomo Yometani deftly interweaves three separate narrative strands, seguing from Mamoru’s elementary school hijinks with pink-haired girlfriend Hana (Konami Yoshida), the gradual development of the 3G organization and the overarching alien conspiracy. The Zondarians themselves are an agreeably unsettling array of surrealistic villains, including a creepy clown and a mad ballerina, but the monster-of-the-week antics do grow rather repetitive. While Gaogaigar proved more capable at combating Zondarians than its ratings rival Pokemon, the anime proved enduringly popular and was followed by the sequel Gaogaigar Final (2000).