Written By: Ken Hulsey
Sources: TV Shows on DVD / Avery Guerra
MGM is about to release the long-awaited Japanese television series "Johnny Sokko and His Flying Robot" on DVD exclusively through Amazon.com
The seven DVD set will include the entire run of the series, which has been high on Japanese monster movie fans lists for over a decade.
The exact date of this release has not yet been disclosed, but fans will be able to preorder it very soon (see link above).
The series, called "Giant Robo" in Japan was produced by Toei Company Ltd., and aired on NET (now TV Asahi) from October 11, 1967 to April 1, 1968, with a total of 26 episodes. The English dubbed version of the series was produced by American International Television as "Johnny Sokko and his Flying Robot".
The entire series was first broadcast in the United States in 1969 by American International Television, and became quite popular in syndication over the next several years, particularly from 1971-74 when it reached its peak in distribution. The series was still in active syndication through the early 1980s. In 1970, several episodes were edited together to create the movie Voyage Into Space, which has now reached cult film status.
The series was astonishingly violent by American standards of children's programming in the 1960s (in its home country of Japan, though, it was no more violent than any other tokusatsu airing at the time). Gunplay are staples of every episode of the series, and the series' two child leads - Johnny Sokko and Mari Hanson (Mari Hanamura in the Japanese version; a 9-year-old girl introduced in the seventh episode who speaks 39 languages and is a crack shot with a firearm) were frequently seen shooting along with the rest of the Unicorn agents. In one episode, Johnny and Mari are captured and tied to trees by Gargoyle, and are within seconds of being executed by firing squad, when Unicorn agents rescue them. Oddly enough, though practically every Japanese anime exported to the United States during that period was edited due to violent content, Johnny Sokko and His Flying Robot seemed to have escaped close scrutiny in that regard, and what editing was done on the show seemed to have been more for the purposes of squeezing in another commercial or two rather than in the interest of curbing the show's violence.
The Earth is under invasion by a terrorist group called Big Fire (Gargoyle in the US version), an illuminati style organization led by the alien Emperor Guillotine, who spends almost the entire series in a multicolored space ship hidden at the bottom of one of the Earth's oceans (presumably the Pacific) whence he issues his orders to the members of Gargoyle (frequently referred to in the series as "The Gargoyle Gang").
The members of Gargoyle, as it turns out, are an ambitious but somewhat incompetent bunch who appear to have a fairly high mortality rate due either to Unicorn actions or Guillotine's own fits of anger. Their wardrobe is an interesting collection of what appears to be an assortment of castoffs from Soviet officers, wartime Wehrmacht personnel, Central American guerillas, and the designers of Italian sunglasses. In addition, at least one Gargoyle member is always seen with a beatnik beard. Most of Gargoyle's members wear berets adorned with a skull on the front. All members of Gargoyle have an explosive device implanted within their bodies that can be detonated in the event they are captured, though this seems to be used only rarely.
Guillotine himself has a large blue head with tentacles extending from the bottom of the head; not unlike Cthulhu. He wears a long robe, and carries a staff with a white orb at its furthest end. Like his head, the rest of his body is blue. He is capable of growing to an enormous height, though this is only seen once in the series; specifically, it is only seen in the last installment, where he himself actually fights, and loses to, the Flying Robot.
Guillotine leaves day-to-day matters in the hands of various commanders; principally Spider (a human who is eventually killed by a spray of acid), Doctor Botanus (Doctor Over in the Japanese series; a silver-skinned alien capable of teleportation), Fangar (Red Cobra in the Japanese series, and also alternatively referred to as Dangor the Executioner in the US series - a bizarre alien with a pegleg and crutch, a greatly enlarged forehead, protruding upper teeth, and a costume that looks like a traditional striped prison outfit in front and a red velvet jumpsuit in back), Harlequin (Black Dia in the Japanese version, who has a fascination with the suits of playing cards), and The Golden Knight (Mr Gold in the Japanese series; a gold colored armoured knight).
The group captures scientists to create an army of giant monsters to rampage the Earth. But fate stumbles on a little boy named Daisaku Kusama (Johnny Sokko in the US) and a young man named Jūrō Minami (Jerry Mano in the US), the latter is secretly Member U3 of the top-secret peacekeeping organization, Unicorn. Daisaku and Jūrō are shipwrecked on an island after the ocean liner they were on was attacked by a giant sea monster called Dracolon, and are captured by members of Big Fire. When trying to escape, they end up in an elevator that leads down to a huge construction complex where a giant robot is being built. Pharaoh-like in appearance in that the design of his head resembles the headdresses worn by the Pharaohs of ancient Egypt, this nearly indestructible humanoid robot is being built by captive scientist Dr. Lucius Guardian, who decides to give the two escapees its control device, a miniature transmitter built into a wristwatch. The robot can only be controlled by the first voice recorded in his electronic brain; however, he first needs to be charged up by atomic energy. Dr. Guardian helps Daisaku and Jūrō escape, only to be shot to death, but not before he set an atomic bomb that destroyed the base, the resulting explosion activates the giant robot, which moves to Daisaku's every command. As the controller of the robot (heretofore known as "Giant Robo," or just "Giant Robot" in the US), Daisaku is invited by Jūrō and his chief Azuma to join Unicorn as its 7th member, U7. As U7, Daisaku fights the evil forces of Big Fire with the help of U3/Jūrō and Giant Robo.
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