Super Robot Anime that Filipinos Watched When There Were Only Five TV Channels
Ask any Gen Xer what shows they remember watching as kids and they’ll probably answer the name of a cartoon show with giant robots. Starting from the late ‘70s, local TV networks aired Japanese cartoons that were usually dubbed in English. Super robot anime, as it is currently known, is a popular subgenre of robot or mecha anime which goes as far back as 1963 when Tetsujin 28-go, or Gigantor to English-speaking audiences, first went on air.
Super robot anime shows follow a certain template and similar story elements: a gigantic humanoid robot, access to advanced technology and weaponry, a human operator or pilot, and enemies that are almost equal in power and size to the hero mecha. As newer super robot shows were introduced, the elements became more complex. The pilot became a team and the super robot gained more abilities such as being able to split into several vehicles (and recombine again to form one giant robot), each with its own unique weapons and signature destructive flourish.
The storylines also grew in complexity. With the added team dynamic, characters became more developed and nuanced beyond their roles as robot jockeys. The villains were given deeper motivations and objectives instead of simple world domination and mass destruction.
For the local airing, the main audience were still school-aged children. Philippine TV networks took the time and effort to re-dub the original Japanese language shows into English using seasoned voice talents. Unlike North American dubs of space opera anime like Star Blazers (Space Battleship Yamato) or Robotech (Super Dimension Space Fortress Macross) which re-edited and heavily altered the storylines of the original Japanese shows, most Philippine English dubs of the imported anime shows kept the original storylines intact and only minor alterations were made such as English names for the characters.
As the sci-fi battles raged between the near-invincible super robot and the enemy monster of the week, older viewers noticed something beyond the frenzied mech and vehicle combat. Hardcoded in these so-called cartoons were deep socio-political allegories and commentaries on the effects of technology on the environment and civilization.
And as expected from Japanese mecha shows, the toys were slick as heck. During weekends and late afternoons after class, kids rushed home to tune in GMA 7, RPN 9, and IBC 13 to watch their favorite weekly super robot episode.
1| MAZINGER Z
Original airing: 1972-1974
One of the most recognizable super robots, Mazinger Z’s creator was inspired by the robot boy manga Mighty Atom aka Astro Boy. Mazinger Z is the first super robot to be piloted internally after Gigantor, which was remotely-controlled. Key to the creation of the super robot was the development of the Super Alloy Z metal, which was derived from the element Japanium.
The backstory of Mazinger Z is inspired by Greek mythology. Dr. Hell discovers the existence of giant automatons on the island of Bardos. The doctor goes insane and uses his discovery to create Mechanical Beasts to conquer the earth. One of Dr. Hell’s co-workers, Professor Kabuto escapes the island to build Mazinger Z to counter the threat. The professor’s grandson, Koji Kabuto ends up piloting Mazinger Z to fight the forces of Dr. Hell. Among Mazinger Z's signature moves is the rocket punch, which turns his fists into deadly projectiles.
2| GETTER ROBOT
Original airing: 1974-1975
Perhaps one of the more obscure super robots, Getter Robo was made during the mid ‘70s and based on a manga by Ken Ishikawa. The show was the first to introduce the concept of the gestalt robot form, which generally meant a super robot that is made from the combination of separate units.
In Getter Robo, three spaceships combine to form the Getter Robo. In robot form, Getter Robo can further transform into a specialized mecha for air, ground, and land combat. Getter Robo is piloted by three teenagers who were recruited by Prof. Saotome, who is also the inventor of the Getter Robo vehicles. Originally designed for space exploration, the Getter Robo vehicles are powered by Getter Rays, a type of fictional radiation.
The main enemy of the Getter Robo team is the Dinosaur Empire whose species evolved from dinosaurs. When earth was bombarded by Getter Rays early on, the previously dormant Dinosaur Empire was forced underground while early primates evolved into humans, unharmed by the rays. Getter Robo is tasked with defending earth from belligerent Dinosaur Empire.
Original airing: 1974-1977
Grendizer is a super weapon created by the scientists of the Planet Fleed who are constantly threatened by the forces from Planet Vega, which eventually destroy the planet. The Vegan Empire tries to seize the super robot but Duke Fleed escapes to earth with Grendizer. Duke Fleed manages to hide Grendizer on earth where he assumes the identity of Daisuke until he meets Mazinger Z pilot Koji Kabuto.
The Vegans set up a base on the moon where they launch their attacks on earth. Daisuke is left with no choice but to use Grendizer to defend earth with his new allies. Grendizer can integrate with various saucer-shaped craft known as Spazers which enhance the robot’s ability.
4| MEKANDA ROBO
Original airing: 1977
In terms of name recall, Mekanda Robo is probably the most memorable thanks to the show’s earworm-inducing theme song. Also known as Mechander Robo, Mekanda’s transformation is reminiscent of Getter Robo: three spaceships known as Mekanda-1, Mekanda-2, and Mekanda-3 combine into one spaceship, the Mekanda Max, which then combines with the Mekanda Robot.
Mekanda’s signature weapon includes a pair of spiked shields that are prominently attached to his forearms. Mekanda’s main enemy are the invading forces of the Doron Empire from the Ganymede system.
5| VOLTES V
Original Airing: 1977-1978
A show that almost needs no introduction, especially in the Philippines, Voltes V is the most popular and enduring super robot anime in the country. Beloved by fans across several generations, Voltes V became the defining show of its genre. Fans have memorized the show’s rousing opening theme by heart. The Philippine English dub helped introduce the epic saga of members of the Armstrong family (Go in the original Japanese version) as they defended the earth against the invading Boazanians.
The three Armstrong children along with two other pilots Jamie and Mark, operated five Volt machines that combine into the super robot Voltes V who has an arsenal of signature moves and weaponry. Part super robot show, part space opera, Voltes V’s gut-punching twist is something one does not easily forget.
Original airing: 1978-1979
Coming in second in terms of popularity compared to Voltes V, Daimos has similar themes to its predecessor. It is the third part of the Robot Romance Trilogy with Voltes V being the second part, and another super robot show, Combattler V as the first part.
In the show, aliens known as Brahmins in the Philippine English dub seek refuge on Earth. But negotiations break down when their leader King Leon is assassinated. The Brahmins become hostile and turn against Earth. The super robot Daimos is called into action and is piloted by Richard Hartford.
Notable among super robots, Daimos converts from a futuristic truck into a robot. As one of the first super robots to use a direct control scheme, Richard’s karate moves are linked to the movements of Daimos. He also feels pain whenever Daimos suffers damage. Daimos is a show full of drama and political intrigue and is well known for the tragic love story between Richard and Erika, a Brahmin princess and daughter of King Leon.