Where to start with Getter Robo

Start with 2004’s New Getter Robo animation. Continue to wherever from there, as it provides you with the basic gist of things. Now, for the rest of you who want to dive a bit deeper and see justifications for these recommendations, let’s move on.

With the adaptation of Getter Robo Arc now being broadcast over the Japanese airwaves, there has been quite a lot of people wondering what’s the buzz in this fandom. Some of them have decided to give the show a go without many preparations, and have noticed that watching the fifth entry in a series that makes tons of callbacks to the previous four entries isn’t the best idea in the world. They can’t really be blamed, as Getter Robo Āḥ, or Arc, if you prefer, is really the first direct adaptation of a Getter comic we’ve got to this date. All previous animation works have been more or less original, with the original comic and TV animation being developed at the same time. This was kinda Dynamic Pro’s schtick in the 1970s; develop a new show idea and have a comic to run beside it. In a funny way, this also means the Devilman TV series predates the comic just ever so slightly.

The Getter Robo animation really was doing its own thing while the comics were spearheaded by Dynamic Pro’s staff, in which Ken Ishikawa would end up being the person who would build the series’ most recognizable elements outside the combining robot element. What these elements are is something I’ll leave you to find out, but needless to say Ishikawa’s work has left a massive impact on the robot animation genre to the point of Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann is effectively a pastiche disguised as a love letter.

The problem in recommending where to start with Getter Robo isn’t really about the quality of the work or the like. It’s about you, really. I don’t know you or your tastes, so giving a recommendation on where to start will vary a little bit depending on the person. Some people would rather read a comic and don’t mind if something looks like it was made in the popular media stone age, while others simply can’t stand anything that’s older than their last Friday’s blowjob. As such, none of the following recommendations are in order per se, but I will start with a personal best recommendation… that I already opened this post with.

New Getter Robo (2004)

A 2004 standalone animation. The length is a manageable one cours, or thirteen episodes. What makes New Getter a best option for most people is that it still looks rather modern while retaining thick black outlines every retrolover will guzz over, but also because it lifts elements from every entry from the franchise up to that point. The series in fact mimics, and even straight-up adapts, specific scenes from the 1974 comics whilst giving them new context. The point of this show wasn’t to muddy itself with the franchise’s decades-long lore too much, but to showcase a cohesive and compact presentation of what Getter Robo is about. The show does it damn well, and it is much easier to enter than the other animations or comics in the franchise with some familiarity under your belt.

New Getter Robo is also the last animated piece Ken Ishikawa was directly involved prior to his death. You can pick it up with English language options on both DVD and BD. Dunno about streaming solutions, but you’re a smart boy and surely can figure that one out herself. There are numerous European releases as well, which most likely will be easier picks if you’re within the European Union region. You just have to know the language, most likely Italian or French.

Getter Robo Comics (1974 onwards)

Of course, if you’d like to have a pure start that won’t be dragged down by fans complaining about this or that, starting from the beginning with the original comic is a valid and sometimes even recommended action. Getter Robo may not be the most shining example of how good 1970s Japanese comics could’ve looked, but it isn’t bad in any way. While the writing is a bit wonky at times, with one of the main three characters effectively being just a jolly fat guy indistinguishable from later fat jolly guys, it’s an unapologetic comic with its own charm. Getter Robo and its sequel Getter Robo G are relatively short and can be breezed through fast, after which you can move into the main mean meat on the platter, Shin Getter Robo and Getter Robo Go.

Shin Getter Robo is canonically the third entry but was made after Go. The style and writing are a bit different, but it offers some necessary background information that opens some of the less developed backstory elements showcased in Getter Robo Go. The shift from Shin to Go is a bit jarring though, both visually and narratively, and thus some recommend reading Shin Getter Robo after Go despite their positions in the continuity.

Go itself is the longest entry in the comics, seven books in total, and as you can guess, is drastically different from its 1970s predecessors as it aims to retool and explore Getter Robo as a whole. While you could start with Getter Robo Go in principle, like many people did back in 1990 when it was the first proper Getter Robo comic in years, it would be recommended to read the prior entries.

Because pretty much every Getter Robo work after 1993 heavily refers to Getter Robo Go, including its sequel Getter Robo Āḥ, I’d drop reading the comics very early into your entry.  It makes appreciating everything else the franchise has to offer that much easier.

Naturally, there is no English release, but you can find European releases around, again either Italian or French. Otherwise, you’ll just have to do with Japanese original or with scanlations.

Getter Robo Animation (1974 onward)

Getter Robo the animation series has become somewhat a black sheep to modern fandom, especially in the west. This is because it lacks the same level of violence and insanity that the pilots have in the comics. It of course lacks the elements Ken Ishikawa would later introduce into the series, but we can hardly fault the series for that.

As a project that was running alongside the comic, the premise stays the same but with a more toyetic appearance and aiming to sell the Getter Robo toys to kids. Nevertheless, this is as valid starting point as any, as the series ran from 1974 to 1975, only to be replaced by its sequel series, Getter Robo G. The sequel series got few movies as well, crossing over with other Dynamic Pro shows running around the same time.

You could make an argument that the original animation is the most used entry in Super Robot Wars, despite being mixed with lore and elements from elsewhere in the franchise. It would finally be supplanted in SRW Z2, where Getter Rob Armageddon took its place as the mainstay entry from the franchise.

The one thing that makes using the animation as an entry point a challenge is that the only release with English subtitles is a Hong Kong DVD box. If you know Italian, I’d recommend grabbing their DVD box. You can choose with both Getter Robo and Getter Robo G as separate DVD boxes, or buy a combo. You can find fansubs too, which I believe is how most of the Western world has watched the show.

Getter Robo Devolution (2015)

This comic gets on the list for one reason only; it’s the only comic with an official English release by Seven Seas. It’s somewhat on the long side, but the artwork is beautiful. Perhaps not the best starting point overall, but the sheer fact that it is a modern take on the subject matter and does try to introduce everything it can in a way that anyone can understand the basic gist of things does make it a worthwhile point of entry. This can be considered a standalone entry that explores Getter Robo in its own way, something the franchise has mostly done after Ken Ishikawa’s death.

However, much like with the popular Getter Robo Armageddon, knowing beforehand some of the lore and concepts will make you appreciate it a helluva lot more. I’m personally a fan of Eiichi Shimuzu and Tomohiro Shimoguchi’s works, and it slightly pains me that I can only give this a lukewarm recommendation.

Getter Robo Armageddon (1998)

Alternatively, Change! Shin Getter Robo: The Last Day of Earth. One of the more popular entries on this list, and the one I recommend the least. It gets here on the list only because of peer pressure and its recognizable name. To many modern Western fans, this OVA was their first entry to Getter Robo and it was a rough start. Many of its callbacks went missing, and most people thought this was a sequel to the 1974 animation or there was an obscure radio drama from the late 1970s. It does have an audio drama prequel, which was produced after the OVA itself was finished.

There are a few reasons why this could be a starting point. The entry is mostly standalone, but many of its elements will go straight over your head without prior knowledge. As one of the first Retro OVAs of the late 1990s and early millennium, it strikes a certain nostalgic core that doesn’t exist among the Western audience (unless you grew up with whole tons of old Dynamic Pro related animation). It doesn’t go much through introducing its characters, or its world, but that’s less about Getter itself rather than a stylistic choice. At least for the first four episodes, which are the OVA’s best by far.

After that, the director got changed, the budget really took a hit and about half the show is slow and full of hot, empty air until the few last episodes kick in. We’ll never know what Yasuhiro Imagawa, the original director, had in mind for the OVA, but for better or worse, Getter Robo Armageddon has made the franchise more popular than most other entries. It’s just a bit convoluted and heavily relies on Ishikawa’s comics overall, not just Getter Robo, so as a clean entry point it is not exactly the best one.

These are just recommendations. Whatever seems the most fitting point of entry for you personally, go for it. Just don’t be a chump thinking jumping a later entry in a series will give you an easy time. Like any other long-running series, it’s good to look a little bit further back rather than jump into whatever the current hotness is.

Mecha design; Combiner Core

Combining and transforming has been with the mecha genre at least since Kouji Kabuto’s Hover Pilder turned its hover wings up and docked unto the head of Mazinger Z. This is the first major example in the mainline media that shows two separate individual mechanical objects combining and forming one cohesive being, as small act as it is. Nevertheless, a Pilder is an inseparable element of a Mazinger in a form of another. However, Mazinger Z is not the first combining mecha, unless you belong to the school of thought that mecha is an umbrella term for all mechanical like it’s original intended use is.

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Kouji Kabuto becomes the brain within the helmet of Mazinger Z

Many would coin Getter Robo as the first combining mecha, but that’s not exactly correct either. It certainly can be said to be the first mecha that is formed by using three individual components that share equal amount if importance and space in the formation. Getter’s selling point was that all three fighters used to form a Getter had their own form in the lead. One Getter Robo thus has four configurations; three separate fighters, one for airborne fighting, one for land based and one to fight in water. This essentially translates into balanced, fast and strong forms. However, this power balance is not emphasized, as the balanced form gets the best attacks and most face time. The third form is most often wasted and almost practically useless.

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I love using this .gif, so sue me

Often a forgotten, and probably the first example of combining robots in how most think it as, is Gadem from Tetsuwan Atom. Gadem was a giant mechanical centipede formed from 47 individual androids. The reason Gadem doesn’t trump Mazinger Z is that Gadem’s a Monster of the Week, something that’s interesting for that one episode and then passed on. You don’t seem Gadem combining in the opening every single time.

The original Tetsuwan Atom is so much fun

The reason I wanted to go through this very short history of combining mecha first is to portray that much like with other things when it comes to designing mecha, there is no set rule as such. There are trends and styles that one prefers over another, and if you were to design your own combiner, the best way is to look what has been done, and then research real world mechanics how things are fit together. However, the real world doesn’t exactly have the highest amounts of combining war machines, e.g. there are no tanks that can form a big supertank, and thus we’re “limited” to our imagination and what we know of real world mechanics.

As with transforming mechas overall (most often a mecha needs to transform in order to accept other components of the combination), the design can be done so that it looks somewhat realistic in the sense that it could be realized e.g. in toys. The above example of Mazinger Z and Pilder combining is incidentally relatively realistic, despite being coined as the first Super Robot. There is no warping or the like. It’s a craft docking, landing, combining, whatever word you want to use, with a surface designed to hold the Pilder in place. We can question the design and all that, but it might as well be a spacecraft docking with a station or helicopter landing and locking itself down unto a carrier.

Getter Robo’s combination and subsequent transformation (the fighter are required to transform in order to take the shape of the robot) are no-sense kind. There are some indications what part ultimately becomes what, and we’ve gone this over before.

From here we can roughly split combining mecha into three styles. First would be vehicle combiners, where a giant robot is formed through combination of vehicles (or animals). Super Sentai tends to favour this the most above all. Second would be humanoid combiners, where humanoid shapes are first transformed into appendices or similar in order to complete their gestalt form. Despite Transformers having two forms most of the time, I would drop them into this category due to the fact that their main form, in the end, is their humanoid one. Their Alternative mode is the one they disguise themselves into, after all. Lastly, there is non-humanoid gestalt, where either vehicles or humanoids form up a combination result that isn’t a giant robot but something else.

Of course, there is also equip-combination, which is more or less one whole mecha gaining an extra pound of equipment of on top of itself. This is separated from the the aforementioned because it doesn’t create a new whole in itself; it’s just a mecha putting a jacket on, if you will. An example of this would be Sonic Convoy from Transformer: Galaxy Force.

Is this some new level of geekiness from this blog now that I’m referencing Japanese original version of Transformers Cybetron?

Each of these approach really would garner its own post with examples, as one combination style has quote a lot of stuff to go into. As such, maybe this post is best to take as a prepper for possible future expansions.

One thing that the designer of combining robot has to keep in mind is that it needs to be cool, no matter the approach.

A combination that has no tension behind it, no emphasize or meaning, lacks impact. Within fiction combination shouldn’t be treated as something trivial. Even in Getter Robo the combination plays important role with switching between forms and dramatic evasion manoeuvre. Even when combination becomes a common occurrence within fiction it has to leave some impact. Transformers has made offence of this few times over, but as long as the gimmick of combination is treated with respect, it works well as a dramatic device.

To use an example from the aforementioned Transformers, Combiners are almost always stronger than any other single character within fiction. A Combiner is the sum of its parts in pretty much every regard, and thus can change the tide of a battle on its own. To see a Combiner parts on the field should fill a soldier with fear or anticipation. Perhaps the most proverbial Combiner (not to mention a sort of classic example of modern humanoid mecha combiners overall) Devastator is the poster child for what it is to be a Combiner in Transformers fiction. You let Devastator loose on a field and follow it from afar how things just get devastated. Afterwards Megatron can always command its components, the Constructicons, to build something new. Treating Devastator otherwise would cheapen the fiction, character and the concept. Incidentally, Devastator’s intelligence is not the sum of his components, but who needs smarts when you have strength?

Three approaches to transforming mecha designs

Unfolding, folding, opening, twisting, turning, exposing areas and revealing hidden parts is basically what mecha transformation is all about. There is no one way to do it, and the sheer amount of examples there exists eclipses the scope I’m willing to work for free. To tackle transformation schemes in general requires part problem solving and part puzzle making in a nice balance, where a irregular shapes can be turned into e.g. a humanoid and vice versa. By first introducing this sort of base idea of categorizing transforming mechas into will give some foresight how I’ll tackle the subject down the line.

Much like Three approaches in mecha design (which will be rewritten at some point this year,) I tend to employ a similar template for transforming mechas specifically. These three are not necessarily connected to the three initial approaches as some sort of rule, but they do work under them if you’d wish to make a transforming mecha. These might help you to lock down your approach better. This post can barely scratch the surface of it all with the given limit I’ve set to myself.

The three approaches in transforming mecha design are Fantastic, Toyetic and Realistic. As with previous, there are overlapping elements with each of the three and can be even split into sub-categories if necessary. Examples of Fantastic transforming robots are all the outright impossible ones in any form outside animation and movies. Getter Robo and Gurren Lagann are probably the best examples, where thing just fall into their place and morph into new shapes. Mass shifting is nothing short of expected and even mandatory.

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