What They Say:
THE ORIGINAL SUPER ROBOT CLASSIC ON DVD AT LAST!
Koji Kabuto’s grandfather has discovered two resources which can save humanity: Photon Light Energy and the ultra-impregnable Super Alloy Z. However, Dr. Kabuto’s research is abruptly cut off when the evil Dr. Hell sends his trusted lieutenant, the bisected Baron Ashura, to assassinate him! Koji, now orphaned along with younger brother Shiro, swear revenge using Dr. Kabuto’s last and greatest invention: the super robot Mazinger Z!
Joined by Dr. Kabuto’s successor, Dr. Yumi, his daughter Sayaka, and her research robot Aphrodite A, Koji sets out to protect Japan from Dr. Hell’s menacing mechanical beasts and ensure the peaceful work of the Photon Light Institute. Can Koji and Sayaka, along with local bully boy Boss, prevent the most dangerous villains from running amok and conquering the world?
For everybody who’s ever shouted attack names along with their favorite heroes or wished their toys came with a proper rocket punch, Mazinger-Z is the must see starting point in this beloved anime genre.
Created by legendary manga artist Go Nagai (Devilman, Getter Robo) , Mazinger Z first aired in 1972. This set contains episodes 1-46 uncut in the original Japanese with English subtitles, making it the first release of the original Mazinger Z in North America.
The only audio present here is Japanese Dolby stereo 2.0 and it sounds pretty good without any noticeable distortions.
This series was originally broadcast in 1972, and looks good here. The cel animation holds up fine and colors are vibrant and steady. The nuances of old-school sketch-line animation are still fun to watch. The subtitles are colored and detailed appropriately, which makes them easy to read as needed.
The front of the box has the villainous Baron Ashura looking ahead along with his many mechanical beasts. Mazinger Z itself stands in the foreground with the Masthead and volume denotation in the lower thirds. The back has the “what they said” text vertically on the right side of and screen shots shown vertically on the left. Disc credits and specifications are shown in the lower thirds. The box itself is meant to hold 5 DVDs, and a sixth one is inside in its own paper slip sleeve.
With many of the cast and mecha in the background, the episodes are listed vertically in yellow text on the left side of the screen. The right shows the series masthead and the playback options, including “play all” or “English subtitles on / off.” The show theme plays in the background.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
This is a review I’ve been looking forward to working on a while now. If you’ve read any of my previous work here, you might know I’m a huge fan of super robots and enjoy learning the history of this anime genre. Many of my contemporaries had a chance to view this show when it was on American TV as the heavily edited Tranzor-Z, or got to collect the obscenely large toys of this and other robots collectively renamed Shogun Warriors.
I didn’t get to experience that trend really until ’84-’85 when I got to watch shows like Voltron, Mighty Orbots, Saber Rider and the like. When I got to collect anime more seriously in later years, it was fun to learn about Dancougar, Dangaio and similar stories where heroes would have to team together in their stack-&-attack super robots to fight off a series of mechanical monsters unleashed by the main villain until the final showdown. It was during this period I learned the significance of names like Go Nagai, Ken Ishikawa, Toshiro Hirano, and such. Most of the super robot genre pretty much vanished by the early 90s though except for periodic revivals of Getter Robo and Mazinger (more on these shows below) and that was about 20 years ago. A lot of contemporary fans have come up in an era of martial arts, magical girls, fantasy and varying other genres that really don’t entirely relate to super robots.
So the challenge here: how to talk objectively about such a classic show in a genre that doesn’t seem to get much exposure nowadays?
Well, let’s start with what kids’ entertainment was like in the 70’s and move forward to now. Back then you had some super robots being heroic like Gigantor and Johnny Sokko with his Giant Robot. The difference was that the leading character would send instructions to the big guy by remote control. When Go Nagai and Toei developed Mazinger Z, this was the first show that had a hero pilot the mech into actual combat, giving the illusion that he was the robot in question instead of him sending off something else to do the fighting while watching passively. Becoming part of the machine lent to a newer dynamic in storytelling.
The hero in question of Mazinger Z is Koji Kabuto. He’s a young guy just been given a giant robot to pilot from his grandfather. In terms of personality…. Well…. He’s…. ok he’s a bit of a d**k. I can’t even lie about this. He’s hot-headed and very sexist toward the female lead Sayaka. Also, he tends to rush headlong into situations, causing Mazinger itself to be in danger. For all the weaponry the great robot has such as photon beams and detachable rocket punch, the mecha beasts Doctor Hell and Baron Ashura throw at him do exploit some weaknesses Mazinger Z possesses. Koji does get better over time as the pilot, sometimes with the scientist team helping to devise new strategies for the episode. Koji’s relationship with Sayaka stabilizes as well, given the fact she pilots the Aphrodite A with its infamous boob missiles in order to help Koji fight off the bad guys. There’s also a cast of bumbling bullies led by the boisterous Boss who come to be somewhat friends to Koji and much more important (and entertaining) later on in the series.
Meanwhile, the villainous scientist Doctor Hell works to conquer the world in new ways each week (probably just to show everyone how cool his name is.) He often assisted by his lead henchman… or henchwoman depending how you look at this character at the time. Literally half the face is that of a woman speaking a female voice, while the other side of his profile is that of authoritative man. Sometime the perspective will focus face front and you hear both voices speaking at the same time. (I’ve often wondered how Ashura would fare on a date with the androgynous Berg Katse from Gatchaman, but I digress…) This remains one of the more interesting dynamics of the series, as Ashura spends half the time making new monsters, and the other half begging Doctor Hell for forgiveness after Mazinger defeats his bad ‘bot of the week. At around the 40th episode or so, we get introduced to Doctor Hell’s newest henchman Col. Brocken, a monocle-wearing commander who uses his military-dressed body to carry around his head (!) and commands an army of WW2-styled soldiers. Col. Brocken is fiercely determined to take out Mazinger Z and replace Baron Ashura at any cost, which changes the game a bit (especially since Doctor Hell enjoys a bit of competition).
The plots do get a bit ridiculous at times, but what do you expect from a 70s kids show? At one point for example, the bad guys discover Grandpa Kabuto built a female Mazinger robot that was supposed to be self directed to help the main mecha because she was in love. Naturally, Sayaka is jealous and suspicious when she appears but saddened like everyone else by the episode’s ending. The rest of the show has the mecha bests focusing on the fact that Mazinger Z can’t fly, until eventually the Photon Light team build a set of flying wings called the Jet Scrander, a mechanism that gets its own theme song when it bursts from the mountains and attaches to Mazinger Z in times of need.
Go Nagai is credited with Mazinger Z being the first of the super robot genre. However, series director Tomoharu Katsumata should definitely get some of the credit for helping to make this archetype so popular. He did such a good job that he was retained to do many of the iconic super robot shows that made Nagai (and co-creator Ken Ishiikawa) household names for these shows. Katsumata eventually directed Getter Robo, UFO Robo Grendizer, Gaiking, and Leiji Matsumoto’s Dangard Ace. Come to think of it, Katsumata also directed Matsumoto’s legendary character Captain Harlock in the feature film Arcadia of My Youth, so if you look at these and other titles in his resume, Katsumata’s got a heck of a track record. The action gets goofy at times but the show itself is often entertaining.
Mazinger Z is a lot of fun from an historical perspective in knowing what entertained Japanese children and influenced them (and eventually us) to enjoy the prospect of huge hunks of humanoid metal beating the hell out of each other. The heroic super-robot genre has largely died off now in more recent years outside of revivals such as some Getter Robo shows, Gaogaigar, Gurren Lagann and Go Nagai’s Koji Kabuto coming back for Mazinkaiser and Shin Mazinger Z-Hen. It wasn’t meant for deep philosophical discussion like Evangelion or to inspire political debates the way much of Mobile Suit Gundam has over the years. Mazinger Z has a recyclable plot with many variations that lasted for close to two years broadcast time, and influenced anime companies to create even more works around this theme for many years. If you go in looking for this and nothing really deeper the way filmgoers went to enjoy Guardians of the Galaxy’s retro-styled sci-fi, you should be all right when viewing this series. Perhaps it’ll inspire you to tell your own stories the way Guilermo Del Toro was in producing Pacific Rim. Discotek Media has done a good job putting out this first set so far and I’m looking forward to the conclusion in the show’s second set.
Content Grade: B+
Audio Grade: A+
Video Grade: A+
Packaging Grade: A
Menu Grade: A-
Extras Grade: N/A
Released By: Discotek Media
Release Date: April 29th, 2014
Running Time: 1150 Minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Panasonic 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation 3