Thursday, September 26, 2013

Mazinger Z vs. The Great General of Darkness (1974)

"Deep beneath the earth, seven robots lay dormant: a human, a mammal, a bird, a fish, an insect, a reptile, a ghost... and the Great General of Darkness."

After having watched Pacific Rim in the theater three times and with the home video release coming up, I'm definitely in the mood for some old-school giant robots. Let me tell you, it doesn't get much more old-school than the very first piloted robot, Mazinger Z! Although Great General of Darkness was the titular robot's second theatrical feature (the first being Mazinger Z vs. Devilman), it is unquestionably the most influential.

Like every theatrical film based on a Toei Animation TV show, it expects that the audience is already familiar with the characters and setting. Just in case you're going into this one blind, I'll give you a brief synopsis: Koji Kabuto is a teenager who lives with his little brother, Shiro, and his grandpa, Dr. Juzo Kabuto, a brilliant inventor.

One day, Koji discovers a secret laboratory underneath his house, where he finds a massive robot and his grandpa, crushed under some rubble. Juzo explains that he's been spending years down in this lab building this robot, "Mazinger Z", constructed out of the most indestructible metal known to man: Super Alloy Z! With his last dying breath, Juzo tells Koji that Mazinger Z is his to do whatever he wants with, and that with such power, he could become either a god or a devil. Koji and Shiro, now orphaned, live with Professor Yumi, a colleague of Juzo's, and his daughter and Koji's girlfriend, Sayaka, at the Photon Research Institute. Japan soon finds itself under constant attack by Mechanical Beasts, which were unearthed from ancient Mycenae ruins in Greece by the evil Dr. Hell, and only Koji and his friends can put a stop to this threat with the power of Mazinger Z!

As Koji and Sayaka's friend, Boss, is taking cover from a vicious storm with his two lackeys, he sees a shaman who tells him that a powerful evil, The Great General of Darkness, is coming to take over the world and that the only thing that can stand in his way is Mazinger Z. When all the major cities in the world come under attack by an army of giant robot monsters, Koji, Sayaka, and Boss all once again sally forth inside their mighty robots to save the world once again! However, this time, Koji learns very quickly that this is a fight he may not win...

To keep from disappointing anyone, I'm just gonna come right out and say that not only do we not see Mazinger Z actually fight the Great General, we never even see them occupying the same space together. It became something of a tradition during the '70s when Toei was making crossover movies based on Go Nagai's work that we (almost) never see the titular fights commence.

You may have noticed that I haven't actually discussed the overall quality of the movie, itself. When you consider that it's just an extended episode of the TV series, there's really no need. Stock footage, static animation, new weapons out of nowhere, and Ichiro Mizuki music are the order of the day, and your tolerance/appreciation of all that will determine whether or not this one's for you.

If you want to take a look back at a really important milestone in giant robot history, then watch Mazinger Z vs. The Great General of Darkness. Without our mighty Castle of Iron there would be no Voltron, Gundam, Evangelion, or Pacific Rim, and I can guarantee that you'll find elements of each one of these famous mecha stories right here, where they made their grand, Rocket Punching debut!

Mazinger Z vs. The Great General of Darkness is based on the comic book series, Mazinger Z, written and illustrated by Go Nagai.