Monday 23 January 2012

Anime REVIEW: Invincible Superman Zambot 3

As the creator of the Mobile Suit Gundam franchise, Yoshiyuki Tomino is a name that is synonymous with both the mecha genre and anime as a whole. But before Tomino created Gundam, in 1977 he created a 23 episode series named 'Invincible Superman Zambot 3'. While this show may not be anywhere near as famous as his other works, it undeniably had an influence on them and also other shows of the genre that followed.

On the face of things the plot seems fairly generic for a 70s super robot show - the space aliens Gaizok are invading the Earth, their leader (the awesomely) named Killer the Butcher. In the past the Gaizok destroyed the planet Beal, with the survivors fleeing to Earth. In the present day, there are three related families that are descendants of the Beals, who defend the Earth using technology passed onto them by their ancestors. In order to battle the Gaizok Mecha Boosts, 12 year old Kappei Jin and his 2 cousins pilot three weapons that can combine into the titular mecha Zambot 3.

The twist in the story is that instead of being hailed as heroes, the Jin family are condemned by the people of Earth, who blame them for the Gaizok's arrival and the death and destruction that followed. Anyone expecting Zambot 3 to be a light hearted Super Robot show with few real consequences will be in for a surprise - the world is left in ruins, people die left right and centre and climactic final battle is particularly brutal.

The Zambot 3 mecha is made up of three components - Kappei's Zambird (which can transform into its own robot mode, the Zambo Ace), male cousin Uchūta Kamie's Zambull and female cousin Keiko Kamikita's Zambase. The combined form is not an awful design by any stretch of the imagination, but its not a particularly memorable one, and could easily get lost among the many other red, blue and white mecha that had their own series at the time. Piloting-wise I was disappointed to find that control of the mecha pretty much always solely relied on Kappei, with the two cousins doing very little from what I could tell (Keiko's cockpit was in the robot's crotch).

While having young pilots certainly adds more gravity to the "WAR IS BAD" tone of the series, it makes the protagonists rather unlikeable. Kappei spends most of the show as an annoying brat, and the same goes for his rival, local gang leader Shingo Kōzuki. Kōzuki is the character that in some ways spearheads the animosity toward the Jin family, but when watching I found it hard to accept his point of view when he was just as stubborn about issues as Kappei. It is only after the two come to blows on several occasions that they begin to see each other's way of thinking and thus become more bearable as characters. But as far as the plot is concerned, the show never lets you forget that these are children who have been thrust into a war zone.

But Zambot 3's biggest weakness is without a doubt its villains. Other than managing to churn out a new monster every episode, the Gaizok never come across as a particularly huge threat. Killer the Butcher in no way lives up to his name, and spends 99.9% of his scenes as nothing more than one big joke. From singing in the bath and holding his own personal rock concert to trying on jewellery and perfume, NOTHING about this character screams 'threatening'. Even when the Gaizok move away from their tactic of throwing out a different monster every week to something far more deadly, Butcher and his lackies remain a comedy joke that feel completely out of place in the show.

Another smaller complaint is that, the fact it's obviously dated aside, the animation is particularly inconsistent. It's the usual fare of changing backdrops/colours and badly animated mouths, but that doesn't make it more easy on the eyes to watch, especially when there were shows around this time that were better animated.

Zambot 3 isn't a brilliant show, the combination of a brutal, gritty plot and a monster of the week format don't gel together well and the result is something that doesn't live up to the full potential of either style. It is however a very interesting watch, its themes certainly original at the time and still holding up particularly well today. If you're a fan of the mecha/super robot genre and don't mind a bit of dated animation, it may be in your best interests to check this show out.

1 comment:

zambot 3 said...

Thanks for sharing your opinion. I am yet to find anything as enlightening as this on the web. I am extremely happy to seen it. Although I have some toys that I collected from PIJ I’m excited!Its really cool.