“Mamoru was an ordinary grade school student until the day his class trip is caught up in a ferocious attack by the mechanoid alien Zonders. The young cyborg hero, Gai Shishio, is sent by the UN alien defence force “GGG.” He risks his own life without question to protect Mamoru’s class and all of Earth. Drawn by a mysterious power, Mamoru becomes a member of GGG, joining the ranks of humanity’s bravest defenders. They wage all-out war against the Zonders with their advanced vehicles, weapons, and AI robots. When their backs are up against the wall, Gai fuses with Galeon and GGG’s Gao Machines to form the indomitable King of all robots; GaoGaiGar! In the face of these awe-inspiring machines, the bravery of mankind in its darkest hour is the true key to victory.”
GaoGaiGar is pretty clearly a kid’s show, with its grade-school main character and focus on giant robots punching each other in the face, and this carries with it a few pros and cons. The biggest problem is it relies pretty heavily on a monster-of-the-week set up, with every single episode featuring some person getting turned into a Zonder and terrorizing the city. Every Zonder is motivated to carry out their rampage based on something they were angry about when they were humans. The best one of these is easily the Zonder in episode five, whose sole motivation for destruction is his hatred of traffic jams. Most of the Zonders are like that; a weather lady who was angry her forecasts were always wrong, or a fat guy who was angry ‘cause he’s so fat, and so on.
On the bright side though, since it’s a children’s show, it doesn’t have to stop to ponder the morality of killing shit with a giant robot. Kids don’t have time for boring junk like that; they just want to see the robot punch things. Though really, the show doesn’t have much of a chance to ponder anything like that because all of the enemies GaoGaiGar faces are robots anyway. The Zonders may be humans turned into robots, but once the core that contains the human is pulled out, it’s just a robot. And there’s no point pondering whether or not it’s morally okay to kill robots, because it unquestionably is. Robots aren’t people, so kill away.
Something that’s to be expected in a show that involves transforming and combining mecha is recycled animation, and boy is there a lot of it here. In every episode you’re guaranteed to at least see the fusion process for GaoGaiGar, which includes a bit at the GGG headquarters where a girl named Mikoto has to hit the button to activate the fusion. The button is protected by a piece of glass that she has to slam her hand through, and she has to slam through that glass every single time. This happens every friggin’ episode. You’d think eventually they’d just stop replacing the glass, ‘cause really, they’re going to be hitting the button all the god damn time anyway. Or put a hinge on it or something so she can just lift the glass and then hit the button. The poor girl probably has to go get shards of glass removed from her hand every day after work.
Uh, anyway. Alongside GaoGaiGar’s repeated fusion scenes are a few of his robot allies, who also transform and combine and stuff. The first allies to appear are HyoRyu and EnRyu, a pair of AI controlled robots built to assist GaoGaiGar in combat. They get a transformation scene to switch from their vehicle mode to their robot mode, though luckily it happens as a split-screen so that saves some time. The pair can also combine through symmetrical docking. I was totally prepared to make a joke about symmetrical docking when it was first mentioned, but I decided to look it up and this is actually where the term comes from. So I learned something new while watching GaoGaiGar. Once this pair shows up, their transforming and combing scenes are used in nearly every episode.
Eventually a fourth robot is introduced, Volfogg. He also transforms between a vehicle and a robot, but the switch only takes a few seconds so it hardly counts as a transformation scene. Volfogg has two other robots who serve as his back up, and he can combine with them. This also starts happening frequently when he shows up, so there can easily be three separate transforming and combing sequences in any episode. Once you toss in all the smaller robots who basically serve as tools for GaoGaiGar it starts to get a little ridiculous. If you like watching robots clunk together to form bigger robots, this is a pretty great show. I can only imagine that later in the series there will be so many robots that it will take an entire episode for all of them to transform and combine.
One minor gripe I have with the show is that I’m now halfway through it, and not much of an overarching plot has appeared. Most of the episodes are pretty self-contained, with there being maybe two instances of one episode’s story carrying directly into the next. The monster-of-the-week setup it relies on can get really repetitive and tiring, and you can honestly only pay attention half the time and still perfectly follow what’s going on. I expect things to be a bit formulaic in a show like this at first, but by the halfway point it would be nice if there was more of a plot than, “bad dudes are being bad, let’s stop them.”
Even with the repetitive structure of the series, it’s still stupidly entertaining. It’s always fun to watch GaoGaiGar change to his final form and trash some robots. Michael Sinterniklaas gives a great performance as Gai, and has a real talent for shouting loud and often. Unfortunately, the series didn’t sell so well when Media Blasters was releasing it, so only the first half got dubbed. It’s a really great series so far, and one I highly recommend checking out if you haven’t, so it’s a shame it was plagued by low sales, and the dub was pretty great too.
Purchase GaoGaiGar Collection 1 at RightStuf