Friday, April 13, 2007

Force Five!!

Force Five! No, not a powerful hurricane, but five different Japanese cartoons that entertained us in the early 80's! Force Five was a package deal translated into English by a man named Jim Terry (and his production company) and released as a package to independent stations across the US and Canada.

The five shows were, in alphabetical order: Danguard Ace (original title Planetary Robo Danguard Ace), Gaiking (Space Dragon Gaiking), Grandizer (UFO Robo Grandizer), Spaceketeers (SF Saiyuki Starzinger), and Starvengers (Getta Robo G). How they were shown pretty much depended on the whims of the program director at the station in your home town - in Atlanta they would schedule an hour and run an episode of Grandizer followed by an episode of Starvengers (and then an episode of Star Blazers, so that was pretty much your Saturday morning right there).

Now, a lot of people label these shows 'Shogun Warriors." That is so, so wrong. Shogun Warriors is a Mattel toy line that repackaged Japanese toys for sale in the American market. This is how us lucky 70's kids got die-cast Mazinger, Getta Robo, Raideen, Danguard Ace, Gaiking, Daimos, etc., as well as cool vehicles from even stranger shows like Gorangers. There was also a licensed comic book from Marvel. But there is no cartoon titled "Shogun Warriors". And the real question is, why not? Why didn't some executive get the bright idea of linking the Mattel toys with the Jim Terry cartoons? This isn't rocket science here. Then again, this is the 70's we're talking about.

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Jim Terry had some kind of career retooling Japanese shows for the American market. He produced several Toei titles for ZIV (Captain Harlock, Candy Candy) and would handle shows from all over the map for a wide variety of home video outfits – Timefighters (Time Bokan) from Tatsunoko, Ninja The Wonder Boy (Manga Sarutobi Sasuke) from Knack Studio, and something called Scamper The Penguin. He also was behind the “Crushers” dub of the Nippon Sunrise film Crusher Joe. Most of the later works would feature musical accompaniment by the session band “Bullets”. (

The dubbing is typical goofy-voiced TV fare. There's nothing really terrible apart from a few bad celebrity impersonations, but nothing really outstanding either. The least satisfying thing about the Force Five package is that there were only 25 episodes of each series in syndication. This meant we never got to see the complete runs of these shows, all of which ran at least 50 episodes. Well, to be fair, there WERE edited-together-from-TV-footage "movie" versions of all five shows, too, and the Starvengers and Gaiking "movies" actually feature their respective climaxes.

I know everybody has their favorites, but I'm going to start this out in alphabetical order, so don't get all panicked. Danguard Ace, I didn't care much for when it aired, mainly because I had been used to Grandizer and Starvengers, and anything would have suffered by comparison. Danguard is a giant-robot show based on manga by Reiji Matsumoto, so it's not surprising that the robot isn't in it much. The show is about the race to colonize the new planet Promete. The Earth government battles the evil Krell Corps, a secret army with legions of mind-controlling-mask-wearing zombies and high-tech robot monsters. The Earth Govt. develops a super-weapon called Danguard Ace, the chief pilot of which is a young man named Windstar, who's father vanished mysteriously on the first mission to Promete ten years ago. Anyway, pop was zombified by Krell but managed to escape with his freedom, but without his memories. When Dad (or "Captain Mask" as he's now called) shows up at the Danguard base with in a stolen Krell fighter, he's immediately put in charge of training pilots for the Danguard program, one of which is his son. And he doesn't even know it! Oh, what pathos. Anyway, Windstar learns to pilot the Danguard, Mask grapples with his missing memories, Commissar Krell sends robot monster after robot monster to destroy the Danguard base, eventually they launch for Promete, etc. We don't get to see it in the American version, but they finally do reach Promete and destroy most of the Krelloids. And I mean, the show ends with them reaching the planet, and that's it! If I understood Japanese, I might know what was so great about this new planet, but I don't, so I don’t. What we also don't get to see is most episodes featuring the evil Krell commander Hakken (he's the good-looking villain) and the later-episode character designs by Shingo Araki, who would later go on to do chara designs for shows like Rose Of Versailles, the Harlock TV series SSX, and Saint Seiya.

Gaiking is yet another robot show, with the usual scientific center battling evil aliens hell-bent on conquering Earth. What makes Gaiking special is that instead of three or five robot pilots, there's an entire crew of robot heroes piloting the huge Space Dragon, out of which is launched the Gaiking robot. The Space Dragon is the coolest part of the show - it's a big Asian-style robot dragon that flies around and destroys things and stuff. There's the usual friendly feud between the Gaiking pilot and the Dragon pilot, and there are some cool ancillary dinosaur-shaped fighting vehicles, and the last little part has a huge pitched battle on the slopes of Mt. Fuji (instantly dated in the American version by referring to the volcano as "Mt. St. Helens" ) that's fun and well-animated. There's even a subplot about a robot boy the aliens create as a spy who turns against his programming and attacks his masters with his robot Pegasus, which is kinda neat. But all in all the show is pretty standard 70's robot fare.

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Grandizer, on the other hand, is a little older and a little more kick-ass than the rest of the shows. It's about a guy named Duke Freed (in America, "Orion Quest"), whose home planet was attacked by the evil Vegans (they come from the star Vega, not Las Vegas, tough guy). His planet was destroyed, but he managed to steal the Vegan's top secret weapon, the giant saucer-robot Grandizer, and escape to Earth, where he was promptly adopted by the local scientific research institute. Anyway, right around the same time the Vegans show up to get their robot back, the scientific research institute gets a visit from a guy named Koji Kabuto ("Lance"). Koji used to pilot Mazinger Z in the show of the same name, and in Grandizer he's a supporting character, flying his homemade UFO against the Vegans. The Vegans are a fun bunch of aliens - most of them are weird blue guys with big ears, and there's one guy who, every once in awhile, his face will split open and his WIFE, who is about five inches tall, comes out and starts bitching at everybody. You can definitely tell this is a Go Nagai show. Anyway, we get to see 'Orion Quest' do his thing every episode, which means leaping into the air while transforming into his flying outfit, launching his saucer from the secret base, and shouting "Grandizer GO!" a lot. Grandizer is not one of those wussy, effeminate transforming robots - the Grandizer robot rides inside the Grandizer saucer, and when Duke Freed feels the situation calls for hand-to-hand action, Grandizer just leaps right out of that saucer and starts kicking butt with any number of really impressive weapons, including the screw-crusher punch (sort of like a rocket punch, only with sharp spinning blades), the rainbow beam, the hydro-phasers, the double sickle, the hurricane wind thing, and the Space Thunder. Since Grandizer is an alien weapon, we don't have to have a lot of time-wasting scientist-types building and testing weapons - Grandizer just leaps right into action. Duke naturally falls in love with the local rancher's daughter (the local rancher is a potato-head UFO nut who thinks the Vegans are his space brothers) and Koji has a thing for Duke Freed's sister, who arrives from outer space right around the time Jim Terry quit dubbing episodes for us. So we never get to see the awesome combination robot vehicles featured in the second half of the series, and we never get to see Emperor Vega sliced in two with Grandizer's double sickle. Ooh, what a giveaway.

Spaceketeers is the one Force Five show that doesn't involve giant robots. It’s a science fiction version of the Monkey King legend “Journey To The West”, in which the Monkey King and his two wacky companions accompany Buddha on a journey, um, to the west, I suppose. Anyway, American audiences won’t get the reference, so this show is called Spaceketeers, after the Three Musketeers, which also sort of fits in a half-assed sort of way. Anyway. Mysterious radiation from the center of the galaxy is turning all animal and plant life into weird monsters who are forming military units and conquering the galaxy. Princess Aurora is sent in the spaceship Cosmos Queen to travel to the center of the galaxy and deal with whatever's going on. Assigned as her bodyguards are three space warriors - Aramos, prince of a water planet, Porkos, the fat, comedy relief prince of a mud planet, and Jesse Dart, the invincible cyborg bad boy. He's the Monkey King character who must learn patience and courage and honesty when he'd rather be destroying things. This is the sort of show where everybody zips around space in little scooters, and characters grow to giant size just for the heck of it, and nobody bothers much with space suits. It's a myth, it's a fable, it's what I guess you call Space Fantasy. Anyway, I enjoy the Matsumoto character designs, and Princess Aurora looks cute in her outer-space togs, but all in all the show really doesn't do much for me these days. I sure liked it when I was 12, though.

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Starvengers is an American version of Getta Robo G, which is a sequel to Getta Robo. Jim Terry didn’t bother with the first series, which might have been kind of confusing for new viewers. Anyway, um, Starvengers starts right off with the evil plot of the Pandemonium Empire and their plan to sally forth from their underground caverns and conquer the surface world with an army of giant robots and secret agents who communicate via mechanical horns (all the Pandemonium people have horns, because in Japan, they're known as the Hundred-Demon Empire, and demons have horns, man). So naturally the Starvengers, in their new Star Dragon, Star Arrow and Star Poseidon machines, do battle for the fate of the entire world. Our heroes Hummer (the name's nothing special in the 80's, but now sure to elicit giggles) and Paladin are joined by Foul Tip, a large comedy relief guy, and the three of them spend the rest of the series piloting their respective combining machines and destroying Pandemonium robots. This is another Go Nagai show, and it shows -the robot violence is intense and never-ending, the characters are all either driven by revenge or.. well, revenge, mostly, and the villains are bizarre and cruel. There's even a Pandemonium baddie named Captain Fuhrer. Considering the guy resembles a skinny, horned Hitler, and his name was "Captain Hitler" in Japan, it's not tough to guess this character's inspiration. The robot designs for the various Starvenger mecha are, I think, the best of the '70s robots - sleek, powerful, and bold, these things resemble nothing so much as American muscle cars. This is also a show where the hero doesn't get the girl - the scientist's daughter Ceres ("Michiru" in Japan) falls for Paladin, the mean guy. Go fig. This of course is after the flying fortress of the Pandemonium Empire is destroyed in apocalyptic fire.

The best thing these days about Force Five is that it's been released on video in various forms at least four times. In the late '80s FHE released the 'movie' versions of all five shows, and at least one volume of TV episodes from each show (some got two). These are still kicking around in the kiddie sections of video stores across the country. Later on , two different extremely cheap outfits released old Force Five episodes under the title 'Roboformers" or "Z-Force”. Avoid these tapes -they're really bad, have chopped title sequences, and are recorded at SLP speed. Another company, Best Film & Video (I believe) also released Force Five episodes under their real names (Danguard Ace, Gaiking, etc) and these tapes are superior in every way to our bootleg friends. Wanna relive your youthful weekday or weekend TV viewing? Go check 'em out!


Chris Sobieniak said...

Thanks Dave for that report!

There's a few things I do have to say for it (and I've never been raised on watching these at all sadly, shame my mom passed these by at the video stores).'

Love how you'll always call Grendizer, Grandizer even in it's Japanese title. I would've had the same impression as well since I hardly think of there being an "e" in there but often felt I have to stick that in (of course we can get into a similar argument over Getta/Getter Robo as well (it's been done before to death).

One thing about the Force Five shows (aside from the 25 episode count each show had to have), is that I kinda wish the theme songs had English lyrics to them! Often I want to go and create my own version otherwise just to see how it might sound like if it was like that (I know I wouldn't be the best like Isao Sasaki, but it would just be a fun little thing to sing off to Getta Robo, Gaiking and Starzinger).

In the case of the VHS releases (the Robo Formers and Z Force are all you said they are), the FHE tapes came out around '82 or '83 I believe. The artwork on the covers reflected this old logo they had before they replaced it with the "kiddie scroll" they had in '84 onward...

In around 1993 or so, the Force Five episodes popped up on a series of five videos for each series, but were only two episodes each and recorded in EP. These tapes were released by Parade Video, not Best Film & Video as you thought. Parade Video was a subsidiary of PPI Entertainment Group. PPI is the abbreviation of "Peter Pan Industries", otherwise well known for their "Peter Pan Records" label, my mom bought those albums constantly for me, yet I ruined most of 'em. :-) The company still exists today, but has changed it's name a tad and mostly sells crap in my opinion!

It's still rather sad thinking of how hard it was to get any of this stuff back in those days (especially in my town). We just didn't pan out as well as some European countries did (namely France and Italy, those guys were lucky bastards in my book), I wish I had grown up there, let alone perhaps in larger Asian community like LA or Hawaii, where I could've had the chance to see that stuff subbed or unsubbed when stations like KWHY-TV was showing it (remembering the Getta Robo tape you sent me Dave). Really, I could've knew something about Japanese animation a LOT earlier if I had more to watch than just Voltron or some literary-based item on cable.

This weekend I'll have some shit to put up with in the case of having to change routers so my mom can get faster access form her PC via wireless, since we're too CHEAP to ask for an additional cabled outlet from our cable company and have to resort to the WiFi route (nothing like the days when my mom used to use amplifiers to get a cable signal all throughout the house back in the 80's, of course nowadays they'll look to that as 'piracy').

d.merrill said...

The name of the show is "Grandizer" in America, it says so right in the opening credits and everything. If I was overly concerned with getting the Japanese titles right, I'd call the shows things like Wakusei Robo Dangara-do Aasu. But that's too much like work.

Hey, aren't you supposed to write some articles for this blog? Get crackin'!

Chris Sobieniak said...

davehellmerrill said...
The name of the show is "Grandizer" in America, it says so right in the opening credits and everything. If I was overly concerned with getting the Japanese titles right, I'd call the shows things like Wakusei Robo Dangara-do Aasu. But that's too much like work.

That's true. Of course I would've called it "Dangard Ace" as well since that sounds more preferable than to worry about the romaji pronunciations.

There was something else I had in mind to bring up, though I forgot about it now. Probably for the best as I tend to ramble about it.

Hey, aren't you supposed to write some articles for this blog? Get crackin'!

Yes, I have that Unico thing I've been slumping on. I don't really know why I do except that I haven't found a time to watch the film closely to get a good analysis over it, but I don't have much to do for the next couple days (besides getting paid tomorrow and I might go see that new Disney flick as it'll be presented in that 3-D crap at my local cinema), but yeah, I'll get to that asap.

Anonymous said...

The show was originally advertised as Shogun Warriors on channel 25 in Boston. When it's premiere date came that September it did not appear, rather channel 25 played back to back Star Blazers episodes. about a month/ six weeks later the show premiered as Force Five. I always assumed the time was used to strip the Shogun Warriors title overlay and replace it with Force Five. I am surprised that this appear nowhere online. Someone should ask Jim Terry.