October 19, 2011

In spending time thinking about the theme of my theme sketchbook, “evil giant robots,” I’ve wanted to seek out some highly regarded examples. Evil Giant Robots are not something that people often think about as a category but, arguably, the master of making malevolent, gigantic bots would be the late manga artist, KEN ISHIKAWA. Ishikawa was part of Dynamic Productions, a giant company which saw great success in the 1970s. The figurehead of the company is the legendary GO NAGAI, known the world over as the creator of MAZINGER Z, DEVILMAN and GRANDIZER. In discussing the creation of Mazinger Z, Go Nagai mentions that he gave Ishikawa the chore of designing the enemy “kikaiju” that Mazinger would fight. These robot beasts were indeed very memorable and Ishikawa’s contribution to Mazinger Z is significant. However, Ishikawa really took center stage with the manga of GETTER ROBO, an idea he came up with with Go Nagai, but one he wrote and drew himself. The manga of Getter Robo really gave Ishikawa a chance to shine, especially in the field of enemy robots.


Getter Robo led directly into a sequel, GETTER ROBO G. The enemy of Getter Robo was the DINOSAUR EMPIRE, led by EMPEROR GORE. Emperor Gore would send “Mechasauruses” against the Getter team – distinctly reptilian mechanical beasts that sometimes appeared to be biomechanical cyborgs. The threat in Getter Robo G was the HYAKKI EMPIRE, aka the “Hundred Demon Empire.” The robots that they would send out against Getter Robo G were called “Mecha Oni,” wonderfully designed demon-robots, which were always horned.

Devil King
The Getter Robo G TV show was translated into English and shown as STARVENGERS in the United States. I saw these episodes as a kid and felt that the Mecha Oni were some of the best-looking evil robots I’d ever seen. The designs were relentlessly innovative, beautiful and scary. The impact they had on me made me recently want to track down some Manga of Getter Robo G. Anime based on manga is often not a direct translation and can feature vastly different storylines, character backgrounds and, yes, enemy robots.

I found a set of three Getter G manga on Yahoo, Japan and won the auction at a reasonable price – which became less reasonable due to a sucky exchange rate and overseas shipping costs.

When they arrived, I was really blown away. I couldn’t read them, but the page layouts truly put the “dynamic” in Dynamic Productions. And there were, of course, tons of beautiful enemy robots. Swarms of Mechasauruses and Mecha Oni appeared with great regularity and it was clear that Ishikawa simply loved drawing this stuff.

For a short while, I felt very wise that I had made this purchase. Then I found out that the entire Getter manga series had already been scanslated (scanned in and then translated from Japanese to English) and was available online for free. This gave me a chance to appreciate the Getter saga on a whole new level – I could actually follow the story. Reading these manga scanslations was a very eye-opening experience for me. The process led me to some interesting conclusions, not just about Getter Robo, but about the internet and media consumption in general.

The pacing of the storytelling in the Getter manga is very different than that of the TV series. Super Robot TV shows of the 70s were very formulaic. A hero robot would defeat an enemy robot at the end of each and every episode, usually after losing to him earlier. This simplistic formula was something that production companies could not only get away with, but was essentially demanded by the viewership. Unlike an age where one can blast through an entire season on a DVD boxed set, older TV shows were viewed one week apart. Even if an episode was a carbon copy of the one that preceded it as well as the one that followed it, this wasn’t a liability because of the full week of life that viewers had between viewings. In fact, if this formula is not followed, viewers would be outraged. An episode spent solely on character development which would make the action to come in subsequent episodes more meaningful is something that was not acceptable due to the specific nature in which TV was consumed when these shows were being made.

Manga is an art which is consumed in an entirely different manner. Many, many pages are read at once and the direction the story goes throughout the course of hundreds of pages is often filled with detours. Numerous pages are spent without a whole lot happening.

In his groundbreaking book “Understanding Comics,” Scott McCloud discusses how manga have far more “aspect to aspect” panel transitions than American comic books. “Most often used to establish a mood or a sense of place, time seems to stand still in these quiet, contemplative combinations.” He explains one reason why: “Japanese comics first appear in enormous anthology titles where the pressure isn’t as great on any one installment to show a lot ‘happening.’”

This is true with the Getter manga, and the pacing is completely different from the TV show. Unlike the anime, there is a strong overlap between Getter Robo and Getter Robo G, with the Hyakki Empire showing up long before the Dinosaur Empire is defeated. Characters go off and do things for many pages that have little to do with the main plot.

The unforeseen result of this pacing is that manga is incredibly, unexpectedly internet-friendly. It was surprisingly easy for me to blast through Getter Robo scanslations, stopping and starting again whenever I felt like it. Because the story wasn’t dense with plot, I never felt confused when I’d pick up where I left off.

This in not unlike podcasts. Prior to the podcast explosion, it was not at all clear that the length of podcast episodes was not a factor. People listen to podcasts whenever they have the time: in the car, at the gym, at work when the boss isn’t looking… Even with DV-Rs today, TV demands that you sit in front of your (probably high-def and very big) TV while you consume programs. Being a captive in that space in order to watch means that people will sit there for only so long.

Reading online manga feels completely unrestricted. The long, but not complex story arcs dovetail in very well with the busy lives people lead today.

When I look at the world of hard-copy picture books, I see an escalation of pictures. Things like THE INVENTION OF HUGO CABRET by BRIAN SELZNICK or THE ARRIVAL by SHAUN TAN, I can’t help but wonder if there will be an explosion of the number of pictures in stories that are told with pictures.

One of the biggest discoveries of my reading the manga of the Getter Saga is that the story did not end with Getter Robo G. In 1990, Ken Ishikawa, wrote and illustrated GETTER ROBO GO which was also turned into a TV series. The TV series has no connection to the Getter Robo and Getter Robo G TV shows, but the manga is a direct continuation of the Manga that Ishikawa had worked on 16 years earlier!

Moreover, while not much is thought of the “Getter Robo Go” TV show, the manga is considered Ishikawa’s masterpiece, spanning seven volumes and featuring over 1400 pages of art. Completed in 1997. It was simply a joy to go through it all.

The art definitely feels different than the earlier Getter work. I think that may partly be due to Dynamic Productions no longer needing a “house style” and that Ishikawa’s art simply evolved. There is more detail in many panels, but some lines also seem more loose and free. Again, the format of consumption feels fitting in that a single story is being told. I’m not sure what the business model will be for online scanslated manga or even faux manga, but that seems to be up in the air for many types of media these days.

I’m looking forward to reading more Getter manga after Getter Go. Ishikawa followed the saga up with two volumes of SHIN GETTER ROBO but then he unexpectedly died in 2006. We are fortunate that he was so prolific.

It was recently ANNOUNCED that a new getter Manga, GETTER ROBO G VS. SATAN DANTE (another vintage Go Nagai creation) will be released this year. Interestingly, the manga will be drawn by Go Nagai himself. This may be the first Getter manga by him and should certainly be a great tribute to his late friend.

Getter Robo is something that Go Nagai has had a lot of interest in developing further. Perhaps this was influenced by the death of Ishikawa or perhaps he simply has great faith in the brand even though it is not Dynamic Productions most well-known property. Here is a snippet from an email I was CC’d on in 2009:

“Actually, Go Nagai’s production really would like to make a feature based on Getter Robo, I would say, their priority is Getter Robo, rather than Mazinger Z and Getter Rpbo’s story itself is much more interesting than Mazinger Z story, however, we can also get the rights to Mazinger Z, as well. For now, GO Nagai’s priority is Getter Robo.”

It is difficult to know what the future will be for the Getter Saga property, but the scanslations should certainly attract new viewership. They can be viewed at DYNAMIC PRO SCANSLATIONS

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: