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When the Robotech/Voltron crossover comic was announced a few months ago, my immediate response was, “Why?” Of course the answer is “nostalgia grab,” but there’s something strange about both of these works and their continued presence in the geek public eye (and perhaps even beyond that). Unlike Transformers which not only has a huge variety of toys both old and new, as well as a long history of cartoons both from America and Japan (not to mention the live action films), both Robotech and Voltron do not really renew themselves, aside from the occasional thing like the The Shadow Chronicles or The Third Dimension.

Though this speaks more about the people I associate with, I can’t say I’ve ever talked to anyone, online or offline, who is hardcore into either Robotech or Voltron. I know that there’s a Robotech community of course (they even have an official site for it), though I have little interest in it. With Voltron, I know people who have fond memories of it, myself included, but the foundation that Voltron has in geek culture seems not only deeper than Robotech‘s but to the extent that, when you say cool giant robot with a signature finisher, Lion Voltron is just the default, or it shares that spot with the Megazord from Power Rangers. It’s like Voltron as a source of nostalgia goes so far beyond itself that the vague perception of it exceeds the influence of the actual anime. 

What’s funny about a show like Voltron and its emblematic presence in US geek culture as de facto super robot is that the process of dubbing and adaptation that turned the anime King of Beasts Golion and Armored Fleet Dairugger into Voltron: Defender of the Universe happened with different anime in different countries to similar effect. In the Philippines, Voltes V exploded with popularity. In France and Italy, UFO Robo Grendizer captured attention as Goldorak and Goldrake respectively (with success in the Middle East to boot). In Brazil, Gloizer X became O Pirata do Espaço, the country’s first real exposure to giant robots. While it’s possible say that this was all a matter of timing and that they’re all interchangeable in that respect, I do think that the specific properties of each show had a major impact on how each country perceived giant robots from that point forward (I’m less sure about Gloizer X so if any Brazilians want to help, feel free to leave a comment).

One thing that I do believe plays a role in how these series become more specific in their nostalgic output is the level of support the original works have in Japan. I visited France recently, and when I went into the comic stores I would regularly see displays of Grendizer merchandise. Whether it was the Super Robot Chogokin or the Soul of Chogokin or a chibi version, it was all straight from Japan, sitting prominently in the store. Grendizer has enough cultural presence in Japan that it can continue to get these toys and even a fairly stable presence in Super Robot Wars, whereas Golion has had to content itself with just one Nintendo DS appearance. In lieu of support from Japan, Voltron‘s had to carve its own place, and often times it’s not even from the company World Events which holds the Voltron license but from fans conjuring it up in their own minds. And while Robotech is an utter legal mess due to the way it stifles the presence of Macross in the US, if you put that aside part of Robotech‘s prolonged presence comes from the fact that its fans want new Robotech to constantly feel like old Robotech, whereas Macross changes according to the whims of its dark lord Kawamori Shouji.

Actually I wouldn’t mind at all if Voltron got a revival with a solid piece of fiction to support it which doesn’t rely too much on nostalgia. I know we got Voltron Force, but the less said about that the better.

The “Golden Ani-Versary of Anime” is a collaborative effort among bloggers, fans, and experts of anime to celebrate the 30th anniversary of anime on television. Coordinated by one Geoff Tebbetts, the plan is to have one article per year from 1963 and the debut of Tetsuwan Atom all the way up to 2012. I’ve included below an excerpt from my entry on the year 1977.

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The year 1977 is something of a contradictory time in anime. Although the industry at this point was at the beginning of an animation boom and had been firmly established for over a decade, it can be difficult to pinpoint the exact level of experimentation vs. continuation of formulaic trends, simply because in many cases the individual works of 1977 featured both.

The ’70s were the golden age of giant robot anime, and with six super robot-themed anime debuting (as well as five holdovers from the previous year) 1977 was no exception to that trend. Somewhat unfortunately for the robot anime of that year, the legendary arrival of Mobile Suit Gundam in 1979 tends to overshadow them as a whole, but while nothing in 1977 broke the mold as Gundam would, there were a few series which pushed that mold to its very limits. These shows managed to convey new and interesting ideas while working well within established convention, an impressive feat in its own right.

Continue reading “1977: Conventions and Innovations”

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Whenever I listen to the full version of the opening to Brave of the Sun Fighbird, a particular lyric gets my attention. Not present in the TV version, the line says, “Kanashimi o kudake, taiyou no tsubasa,” or “Crush sadness, oh wings of the sun.” The way the singer Yasuko Kamoshita emphasizes each syllable of “kanashimi o kudake” sends a jolt of excitement through me.

I think the reason why I notice it so much is because it’s a super robot theme sung by a woman. However, it’s not just because it’s a female vocalist, but because I feel like given the exact same song with the exact same fiery lyrics, male singers and female singers for super robot anime produce different results. Music’s not my strong suit, but if I had to describe the difference, it’s that the male singers tend to sound more passionate while the female singers tend to sound more heartfelt. When Kamoshita tells Fighbird to “crush sadness,” you can hear a twinge of sadness in her voice too.

You might be thinking, “But wait a second, it might just be because this is a 90s anime and at that point anime songs were changing!” And you’d be right on both points, but I think that this feeling extends back towards previous decades as well. Let’s not forget that female singers for super robot anime have been around for quite a while. I get the same impression from Horie Mitsuko’s work on Super Electromagnetic Machine Voltes V and Space Demon Daikengo, as well as MIO/MIQ’s Aura Battler Dunbine and Heavy Metal L-Gaim openings, though those two  are real robot shows so that genre shift factors in as well.

“Men and women sound different!” seems like such an obvious thing, but it really makes me aware of how the same song or piece of art can take on varying emotions once you change certain pieces.

For a fun comparison, let’s look at various openings throughout the decades featuring duets between Horie Mitsuko and anime song legend Mizuki Ichirou.

Official sources for Genshiken Second Season

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