If you’re a fan of classic postwar anime, the TV anime series Giant Gorg may seem very familiar at first glance.
And indeed, some descriptions of the show might leave you thinking, “stop me if you’ve heard this one before …” Once you start watching the series, even the opening credits leave you with that impression.
Giant Robot Tropes
The opening credits put you in mind to expect a typical giant robot anime series, such as the famous Showa-era giant robot stories Gigantor (Tetsujin No. 28) and Giant Robo. Much later, a similar story is told in the American animated film, the Iron Giant.
We get our first look at the giant robot in the opening of Giant Gorg, with heroic ‘80s rock ballad theme music playing. There is a kid who is clearly wearing a controller headset of some sort. It looks like the boy can control the giant robot, and the robot can obviously fight. So far, so good.
But wait, once the actual episode starts, the giant robot doesn’t show up in the first episode. Or in the second. Or even the third. It takes several episodes before Giant Gorg makes an appearance in his own anime (other than the opening or closing themes).
In the Beginning
The first episode is pretty good, even without a giant robot. It starts with some people on a boat out at sea. Suddenly, something huge rises up from the ocean. It’s not a robot or a monster, but an island.
For some reason, we then see a live-action human hand, which points to different places on a real globe while a narrator explains stuff.
It seems that New Austral Island appeared out of nowhere in the South Pacific several years ago. The world was led to believe that the island soon sank, but that was just a cover-up.
There’s a big secret on that island, and a sinister corporation called GAIL wants it to remain secret. Dr. Tagami (the narrator) tried to do some research on the island, but he was killed — presumably by GAIL. It’s now up to Dr. Tagami’s son, Yuu, to uncover the truth.
Following the instructions in his father’s will, Yuu flies to New York City. There is a hilarious scene where several New York stereotypes are highlighted — Yuu’s subway train is covered in graffiti; a street urchin steals Yuu’s bag; and Yuu gets lost in the mean streets of New York.
(The naive fool even adds to the subway graffiti by spraying kanji on the wall.)
Finally, Yuu finds Dr. Tom Wave, who looks sort of like New Yorker Woody Allen. Dr. Wave was a friend of Dr. Tagami. He lives in a run-down building with his feisty sister Doris and their giant dog, Argos. There’s a bit of symbolism here, as Argos is the name of Odysseus’ dog in the Odyssey.
The group gets attacked by GAIL thugs (who use a wrecking ball, no less), and so they head off on their own odyssey across the United States and eventually to Polynesia.
Incidentally, GAIL has a giant building in New York with a huge noticeable GAIL logo on top. GAIL’s Mafia-esque corporate leader wants his grandson, Rod Balboa, to “take care” of things on New Austral Island. GAIL also wants to get rid of those meddling people and their dog.
The second episode has our heroes (plus a guide, Skipper) travel across America by train and bus. They arrive in fabulous Las Vegas, where they meet another threat, Lady Lynx, leader of the Cougar Connection.
In the third episode, they finally make it to the mysterious island. And in the fourth episode, we finally meet the giant robot Gorg.
Once we finally get to the mysterious Polynesian island, most of the rest of the action takes place there. The boy does indeed become friends with Gorg, the giant robot.
The story is a giant robot story, but it has elements of King Kong — the story begins in New York and the giant is found on a distant, dangerous island. There are perhaps even faint echoes of Treasure Island and other island adventure tales, as Skipper seems a bit like a modern-day John Silver.
The group gets separated when they arrive on the island, so there are several different plotlines to follow. GAIL has a huge base on the island, and they seem to be interested in the future of mankind — presumably a GAIL-led future. Both the good guys and the bad guys agree that the island is something special and important.
Gorg seems to have a mind of his own, and his plans apparently include walking straight to the island’s volcano. This means confronting the GAIL base and all of its superweapons.
There’s a huge secret behind Gorg’s apparent ability to think for himself.
The local islanders consider Gorg to be a god, protecting them.
Compared to some giant robots, Gorg doesn’t really have that many weapons of his own. If his gun runs out of ammo, he can swing it around like a club. And he doesn’t really need a weapon if he can just shove stuff out of the way.
Skipper turns out to be much more dangerous than he initially seems. And Lady Lynx seems to know both Skipper and GAIL as adversaries.
And then, there is also the alien Manon. Manon has been around since ancient times, and as it turns out, so has Gorg. Manon has his own giant robot on the island, which looks a lot like a purple version of Gorg. Naturally, the two robots will fight.
Manon doesn’t trust the human invaders, so he tries to kill them. So a story that began with two clearly defined sides ends up with multiple opposing sides, and characters switch alliances as their goals don’t always align with standard notions of “good” or “evil.”
Incidentally, each episode ends with an odd little tagline which is probably a reference to the old Batman TV show, as they remind us to tune in to the next episode, “the same Gorg time, the same Gorg channel.”
History of the Series
Giant Gorg started out as an anime series by Nippon Sunrise. It had 26 episodes in 1984.
The series was directed by Yoshikazu Yasuhiko. Yasuhiko had done storyboards for Space Battleship Yamato (1974) and character designs for Mobile Suit Gundam (1979), among other things, prior to Giant Gorg.
In the anime, Yuu Tagami is played by Mayumi Tanaka. Tanaka has been Krillin from Dragon Ball, Chibita from Osomatsu-Kun, Monkey D. Luffy in One Piece, and the Sand Witch from Gegege no Kitaro (2018). The voice that she uses here is close to Luffy.
Giant Gorg is available on Crunchyroll. In 2015, the American entertainment company Discotek Media licensed Giant Gorg for a North American DVD release. The Giant Gorg Complete TV Series Collection, a four-disc box set, is available at Amazon. There is no Blu-ray edition.
There’s a lot going on in Giant Gorg, with a lot of twists and turns. There’s also a lot of mysterious stuff hidden beneath the surface. So it’s surprising that it’s not better-known or more fondly remembered.
And it’s much more complex than “giant robot saves the day from an evil organization.” It’s an action-adventure science-fiction mystery story that happens to have a giant robot in it, rather than a giant robot story.
It can be funny, but it can get surprisingly dark at times. Some of the action is a bit hammy, but it’s all in good fun.