Gundam’s Grandfather: Tetsujin 28

Tetsujin 28

Giant robots and giant mecha have been major parts of anime and manga for a long time. And the history of giant robots and giant mecha in anime would not be complete without Tetsujin 28.

Tetsujin 28 is the story of a boy and his giant mecha.  It’s an action-adventure anime TV series.  The boy fights crime, and the big mecha provides the muscle — or rather, metal parts — to back him up.

What’s His Name?

Tetsujin 28-go has been known by several names over the years. There are variant spellings, such as Tetsujin 28go or Tetsujin 28-go.  But Americans probably know him best as Gigantor

The character first appeared in a 1956 manga by Mitsuteru Yokoyama, who also created Giant Robo.  In the original version, the giant mecha is known as Tetsujin 28.  The manga is called Tetsujin Nijuhachi-go, or Iron Man No. 28no relation to the Marvel Comics character.

Mecha, Not A Robot

Tetsujin 28 Cover

The first thing to know about Tetsujin 28, or Gigantor or whatever you want to call him, is that he is not a giant robot. 

He’s a mecha. Mecha require a human pilot or somebody at the controls. In real life, robots also often need human help, but in works of fiction, they typically do not.

Tetsujin 28 is controlled by Shotaro Kaneda, a young boy. Shotaro does this using a remote control box.

Unlike some giant mecha, Tetsujin 28 is not controlled by a pilot sitting in his chest or in his head. The mecha controller is on the outside. 

This seems potentially dangerous if the person controlling the mecha is underfoot, but nevermind. Shotaro can also stand on Tetsujin’s shoulder or in the palm of his hand. 

It’s worth noting that some manga covers show Shotaro in the foreground and Tetsujin 28 in the background. Or some don’t show the giant mecha at all.  There are a few covers without Shotaro. But most have him — often swinging or running into action, or standing with his controller box.

The message here is clear — the giant mecha may have his name in the title, but it’s the humans who are in charge. Human beings are literally in control of the action.

Origin Story and Plot

The original Tetsujin 28 story takes place right after World War II. According to Tetsujin’s origin story, Japan was planning to build a giant robot during the war.  

When the war ended, the robot was no longer needed. Shotaro inherited the mecha that his father, Dr. Kaneda, designed.

Shotaro fights crime with Tetsujin 28.  There are evil men who want to take over the world, and various other villains for the boy and his mecha to fight.

Some bad guys try to fight Tetsujin 28 with their own giant monster machines. A few realize that anybody with the remote can control Tetsujin 28, and they try to steal it. 

The moral of the story seems to be that technology can be used for either good or evil. It all depends upon the person holding the controls. Even a heroic mecha can turn bad if it falls into the wrong hands.

Gigantor and live-action

The manga ran from 1956 to 1966.  In 1960, a black-and-white, live-action television drama version of the manga was made. Shotaro and Tetsujin 28 have to stop a terror group.

The first Tetsujin 28 anime came out in October of 1963. Between 1963 and 1966, there were 97 episodes. 

In 1964, Fred Ladd brought the anime to the United States as Gigantor.  Fifty-two black-and-white episodes were dubbed into English.

The dubbed version of the show changed people’s names and the setting. Shotaro became Jimmy Sparks. The action takes place in the year 2000.

The names are great.  Jimmy Sparks’ scientist uncle is Dr. Bob Brilliant. The friendly policeman with the pointy mustache is Inspector Blooper.  A secret agent is named Dick Strong.

Gigantor villains include Dr. Katzmeow, Captain Spider, General Von Q Ball (“cue ball”), Dr. Diamond, Nefarious, and Oogleblabb. 

There are also some unfortunate names which probably wouldn’t be allowed today — for example, the South African Bongo Bongoans and Ping Pangians; and Prince Abdul Von Hothead of the oil-rich nation of Morabia.

Episodes take place around the world, from the South Pole to Africa to India.

Beyond Gigantor

Tetsujin 28 would return in Shin Tetsujin 28-go, otherwise known as the New Adventures of Gigantor.  This 1980-1981 anime is a remake of the original manga.  It had 51 episodes.  

It was brought to the United States in 1993.

In 1992, Tetsujin 28-go FX came out. This sequel series had 47 new episodes. It takes place after Shotaro has grown up. Instead, it features Masato, Shotaro’s son. Masato controls a new mecha — the Tetsujin FX.

Tetsujin 28-go takes the story back to Japan’s postwar era. This 2004 anime is set ten years after World War II.  In this version, Shotaro is still learning to control Tetsujin.

A new manga debuted shortly after the 2004 version of Tetsujin 28-go.

A live-action film was released in 2005.  Tetsujin 28: The Movie takes place in modern-day Tokyo.  Shotaro lives with his widowed mother after the death of his father.

The giant robot Black Ox threatens Tokyo. Shotaro learns about Tetsujin from his father’s assistant.  It seems that Shotaro’s father had hidden the giant mecha.

Shotaro finds Tetsujin and learns to control him. Tetsujin battles Black Ox.

Tetsujin 28 go gaoAnother anime series started in April of 2013.  Tetsujin 28-go Gao! lasted 139 episodes from 2013 to 2016.

The style of the newest anime is very cartoonish, with bright colors and a pop-art look. The series shifts the focus away from giant robot battles, and more toward slice-of-life stuff.

A new manga series started in June of 2013.

In 2011, it was reported that U.S. director Bryan Barber wanted to make a live-action version of Gigantor.  He bought the rights, but nothing has emerged.

In 2009, a full-size Tetsujin statue was built in Wakamatsu Park in Kobe.  The statue is 18 meters high. The statue was restored with a fresh coat of blue paint in 2016. 

The statue cost $1.4 million dollars.  Some of the money was raised from the sale of Tetsujin Curry.

Kobe is the birthplace of Mitsuteru Yokoyama, who created the Tetsujin 28 manga.

Finding Tetsujin

As we have seen, a lot of different versions of Tetsujin 28 have been made over the years.  There are also many different DVD and Blu-ray options, so be careful when shopping for Tetsujin.  Here are just a few of the many different options:

The Fred Ladd version of Gigantor (the black-and-white version from 1964) is on Amazon Prime.  There are also a couple of Gigantor DVDs, and even some VHS tapes.  These are only in English, unless otherwise stated. There isn’t a Blu-ray version of this one.

The 1980 Shin Tetsujin 28 anime series is available on Blu-ray at Amazon.  Tetsujin 28: The Complete 2004 TV Series is also available on Blu-ray.  Tetsujin 28: Morning Moon of Midday, a 2007 film based on the 2004 series is also on Blu-ray.

If you prefer DVD format, Tetsujin 28: Monster Resurrected, Tetsujin vs. the Mafia, The Phantom Thief, Kyoto Burns, Conspiracy, and Advance! Tetsujin,  feature different episodes of the 2004 series.  Phantom Thief, the third volume in the series, is “currently unavailable” at Amazon, but check back later.

The live-action Tetsujin 28: The Movie from 2005 is available on DVD at Amazon.

Mitsuteru Yokoyama / Kobunsha
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