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| Gao! GIGANTOR is Back!
Author: Fred Patten
Source: Markalite #2 (abridged version)
GIGANTOR was one of a handful of Japanese TV cartoon series that were "Americanized" in the mid-1960s. It was produced by Fred Ladd, who also gave us ASTRO BOY and KIMBA THE WHITE LION. Most fans remember these two more fondly, but Ladd says that GIGANTOR was the most popular at the time, especially with the younger viewers.
"You're talking really more about an adult's appeal [with ASTRO BOY and KIMBA] than for kids," Ladd says today. "Some of these shows, especially KIMBA, would often be talk-heavy. There'd be so much plot exposition that [Osamu] Tezuka wanted to get across. So every time there'd be a lot of dialogue . . . talk, talk, talk, arguing back and forth -- you'd lose the kids! You and I were already adults, so we could understand what Tezuka was trying to get across. We liked the philosophical discussions about robots' rights in ASTRO BOY and the stronger characters in KIMBA. But the kids were action-oriented, so they were turned off by all the talk. They went more for GIGANTOR."
GIGANTOR also had a greater focus for juvenile appeal in 12-year-old Jimmy Sparks, Gigantor's master. It was harder to identify with a young invincible flying robot or a young talking lion cub, than with a normal boy who just happened to be entrusted with the controls of the world's most powerful robot -- at least for young American viewers. In Japan, ASTRO BOY came first and was more popular, but GIGANTOR was a close second.
MIGHTY ATOM (Tetsuwan Atomu aka "Astro Boy") began as a comic-book series by Tezuka in 1952. It was Japan's first major boys'-adventure comic to feature futuristic and superhero themes, inspiring many imitations throughout the 1950s. Then Tezuka opened his own animation studio Mushi Productions, which developed MIGHTY ATOM as a TV cartoon series that premiered on New Year's Day 1963. It was such an immediate hit that other television animation studios sprang up instantly, they scrambled to bring ATOM's most popular comic-book competitors to life. Japan's second TV-animation studio, TCJ (Television Corporation of Japan), put GIGANTOR on the air just ten months later, in October 1963, followed by EIGHT-MAN (aka "Eighth-Man") in November. An indicator of these programs' popularity in Japan is the number of episodes produced for each: 193 for MIGHTY ATOM, 96 for GIGANTOR, and 56 for EIGHT-MAN.
GIGANTOR (Tetsujin Ninjuhachi-go, or "Ironman No.28" in Japan) was the creation of comic-book artist Mitsuteru Yokoyama (born June 18, 1934). He wrote and drew IRONMAN NO. 28 for Shonen magazine from 1956 through 1965. The title refers to the fact that Gigantor was the final success of a secret WW2 military project, after 27 frustrating failures. Needless to say, the American translations never mentioned that Gigantor's original purpose had been to defeat the Allied armies! Fortunately for us, a U.S. bombing raid, near the end of the war, destroyed the secret laboratory before Gigantor was completed.
Yokoyama's original story begins ten years after the war. Tokyo is being terrorized by criminals using two powerful robots for their robberies. They also break into the home of a deceased scientist, Dr. Shikashima (in the U.S., Bob Brilliant), to look for hidden plans. Dr. Shikashima's young son, Tetsuo (Buttons Brilliant), is a pal of the boy dectective, Shotaro Kaneda (Jimmy Sparks), which brings him onto the case. Shotaro learns that Dr. Shikashima had been a key scientist in the military's top-secret robot project, and was presumed killed in the 1945 bombing that destroyed the laboratory. But the robots that the criminals are using are the project's defective but still mighty Nos. 26 and 27, which indicates that the laboratory was not as thoroughly destroyed as was believed. The criminals are now trying to track down the No. 28 model that the project had been on the verge of perfecting.
It turns out that Dr. Shikashima is still alive and has been working secretly ever since the war to single-handedly complete Iron Man No. 28, to be used for peaceful criminal gangs and the police, represented by Shotaro-kun and Police Chief Otsuka (Inspector Ignatz Blooper), for control of the three robots. Two mysterious men appear, who seem to be working against both the police and the criminals. They turn out to be goverment secret agents, the Murasame Brothers. The elder is the leader of the pair, but when he is killed in action, his kid brother Kenji (Dick Strong) fulfills their mission for both of them. The comic-book serial ends with Iron Men Nos. 26 and 27 destroyed and the criminals dead or captured. Dr. Shikashima gives Iron Man No. 28's control box to the heroic Shotaro so he can use the robot for his police work, and the scientist returns to his family and pure research.
This story was so popular that Yokoyama wrote IRON MAN NO. 28 adventures for the next ten years. Most of them were variants on the themes of criminal gangs trying to gain control of No. 28, or trying to build other robots stronger than him. Young Shotaro and Police Chief Otsuka were the only regular characters, although Dr. Shikashima made frequent guest appearances. In 1960 there was a short-lived (14 episodes) live-action TV program. Its special effects were very crude, and most fans of IRON MAN NO. 28 would rather forget that it ever existed. Yokoyama also produced a wide variety of other comic-book series at this time. Some that made the transition to TV cartoon series were BABEL II, SALLY THE WITCH, and GODMARS. However, around the late 1960s, Yokoyama began to concentrate upon serious stories for Japan's adult comic-book readers. His most recent works are almost exclusively historical melodramas set in feudal Japan.
IRON MAN NO. 28, both in production sequence and in popularity, was Japan's second boys'-adventure TV cartoon series. The TCJ black-&-white cartoons ran for almost four years in prime time on Japan's Fuji TV network, from October 20, 1963 through May 25, 1967, although there were only 96 different episodes. Ironically, the TV series began just as Yokoyama himself was tiring of the comic book, and he produced its final story halfway through the TV run. Most of the TV episodes used original stories, and featured a greater variety of story ideas. There were some changes made during the translation from comic book to TV. The military project to develop a super-robot became a two-man project of Dr. Shikashima and Dr. Kaneda, Shotaro's father. This narrowed any gaps between the two, and provided a stronger reason for Dr. Shikashima's gift of Iron Man No. 28 to Shotaro.
A larger regular cast was needed for the TV adventures, so Dr. Shikashima (Bob Brilliant) and Kenji Murasame (Dick Strong) became permanent characters, and Dr. Shikashima's wife and son became fairly regular supporting characters. TCJ developed the series with an eye towards international TV sales, so more adventures were set in exotic parts of the world, and Police Chief Otsuka's affiliation with the Japanese police was made more vague so that he would look more like an inspector in any country's police force, or in an international organization like Interpol.
Ladd remembers that GIGANTOR was brought to his attention in late 1963 or early 1964. He produced it during 1964 and 1965, distribution deals were worked out during 1965, and it began syndicated broadcasting in January 1966. "ASTRO BOY was first," he says. "I didn't begin any production on GIGANTOR until well after ASTRO BOY finished production and it was already a big success."
ASTRO BOY had started on Japanese TV in January 1963, and Japanese salesmen immediately tried to sell it to U.S. television. NBC was interested, calling in Ladd, an independent producer who specialized in dubbing foreign movies into English. In fact, Ladd was busy at the time with an original U.S./Belgian co-production theatrical cartoon feature, PINOCCHIO IN OUTER SPACE, and NBC felt that this made him some sort of expert in cartoons about young robots. Ladd agreed that ASTRO BOY should be very popular with American children, so NBC bought the program from the Japanese and hired Ladd to dub the half-hour episodes into English. ASTRO BOY went on the air in America in September 1963, and by the end of the year it was an obvious hit.
Ladd recalls that "the same agent, the same rep who had represented Tezuka and Mushi Productions, came to NBC and tried to sell ASTRO BOY. They liked it and offered him a price, but he thought it was too low. He turned down NBC's deal -- he thought it was not a very good deal for the Japanese studio! Well, the Japanese really wanted to do business with NBC! So they fired that agent, hired a new agent whose name coincidentally was also K. Fujita -- but it was for Kiyoshi; they weren't related -- and he brought it back to NBC and made the deal.
This left an embittered first agent. So he got ahold of IRON MAN NO.28 which was by TCJ, Mushi's rival studio at the time, and he came back to NBC and said, 'Look, you're doing very well with ASTRO BOY; it's really taken off. So of course you'll want another great robot show! Now that we know it's a success, I've got another great robot show. We intend to make 52 ASTRO BOYs and then stop.' As it turned out, ASTRO BOY was so popular that we made another 52 episodes later, but they weren't figuring on that at the time. 'We wouln't want another one; it would just compete with ASTRO BOY. So thanks very much, but we don't want it.' So Fujita came directly to me and said, 'Here's IRON MAN NO. 28, What do you think of it, Mr. Ladd?' [After watching it] I called NBC and told them, 'This really does have potential. What do you want to do about it?' They still weren't interested. So I said, 'How would you feel if I took the show?' And they said, what do we care? Go ahead! If you don't, somebody else might -- probably will! Better you than somebody else! So buy it! So that was it. NBC did not want it, under any circumstances, but they wouldn't hold it against me if I bought it myself and went into competition with them!
"So I signed the deal with K. Fujita and I got IRON MAN NO. 28, or IRON ROBOT 28, depending on who translates it for you. As it turned out, this make Fujita think that there was a lot of money in animation for him, so he started his own company in Japan to produce cartoons and he made MARINE BOY, and it ended up losing him all the money that he'd made on GIGANTOR and it drove him into bankruptcy! But I wasn't involved with MARINE BOY."
As it turned out, it was lucky for posterity that Ladd did produce GIGANTOR as his own program. NBC hired Ladd to produce ASTRO BOY and KIMBA, THE WHITE LION as an NBC subcontractor. This meant that Ladd turned all of the film negatives and soundtrack recordings over to NBC when he was finished. And when NBC closed it films division in the late 1970's, everything, was thrown out! This is why the current attempts to restore ASTRO BOY must rely upon finding film collectors who have a few of the 16mm episodes in their collections. But Ladd owned GIGANTOR, and he kept all of the negatives and sound tracks. They have been gathering dust in storage, but they have been kept available. GIGANTOR was not Ladd's alone at the beginning. He and a friend, Al Singer, created Delphi Productions to produce and market the show. They expected to create other programs, but Singer died unexpectedly of coronary arrest at the age of 46, just as GIGANTOR was being completed. The name Delphi Productions was never used again.
Ladd produced GIGANTOR in the same way that he produced ASTRO BOY and KIMBA THE WHITE LION, and most of his other film dubbings. He had a scripting and voice team in New York, personal friends to whom he gave most of his work: Cliff Owens, Billie Lou Watt, and Gil Mack. "And Peter Fernandez," Ladd adds. "Mack, Owens, and Watt were the main three -- the same little repertory company. They had developed into a smooth team with ASTRO BOY, and it was easy for them to swing over to GIGANTOR.
Billie Lou was Jimmy Sparks, of course, and Gil Mack was Bob Brilliant and many others. But the GIGANTOR characters were more human, more realistic and less cartoony. So we couldn't use all the gimmicky voices. Dick Strong had to have a young, believable voice. That was the reason for bringing in Peter. And also to help with the writing. I'd already begun working with Peter on ASTRO BOY scripts. He had a feel for it, so I gave him a chance to work on the GIGANTOR scripts, too. We were in simultaneous production for quite a long period, on the second 52 ASTRO BOYS and on GIGANTOR. During a five-day work week we'd do maybe three ASTRO BOYs and two GIGANTORs, or the other way around. I had to do the ASTRO BOYs for NBC at the same time I was doing GIGANTOR for myself."
GIGANTOR was much harder to produce than were ASTRO BOY or KIMBA. There were no serious changes required to turn MIGHTY ATOM into ASTRO BOY, or JUNGLE EMPEROR into KIMBA. Both Astro Boy and Kimba were reformers who advocated peace and tried to avoid fights, so there was little visual briefing, which could be removed by a deletion of a few seconds' footage here and there.
For its time, GIGANTOR was comparatively violent -- there were more episodes which involved military dictators and wars, or criminals shooting at people. And the typical story resolution was for GIGANTOR to fly in at the last moment and smash something up. Also, virtually all ASTRO BOY and KIMBA episodes were complete stories which could be shown in any order, which was what American TV wanted, while GIGANTOR regularly ran to short serials. The same villain usually appeared in two or three consecutive episodes. The formula was that the villain would escape at the end of the first episode, so the heroes knew they would have to fight him again. Then there would be a stronger fight in the second episode, and they would think that he was killed at the end of that episode. But he would make a surprise return in the third episode with his greatest threat yet. This was unacceptable to TV stations that wanted a program with episodes that could be shown in any random order.
As a result, GIGANTOR was changed to such an extent that Ladd feels that it cannot accurately be called a translation of the Japanese episodes. Ladd worked closely with TCJ, indicating scenes that had to be changed so they would not look like cliffhangers. TCJ essentially made new episodes for the American market. They contained more stock footage of GIGANTOR taking off, flying, and landing. Original footage was filmed for many endings, reusing existing animation from other episodes showing the characters relaxed and happy at the end of an adventure, over the background of the episodes needing new conclusions. New dialogue was written to leave open the possibility that, even though the villain might return someday, this particular episode was definitely and satisfactorily over.
GIGANTOR was distributed by Trans-Lux Productions. The distribution was excellent during the 1960s. It was routine for GIGANTOR, on one independent station, to outdraw Walter Cronkite on CBS's 6 P.M. News. But that was because 6 P.M. was still part of the children's TV period in the 1960's. Parents knew that they could see the news later, after the kids were in bed. Still, this enabled Trans-Lux to advertise that GIGANTOR was Number One for its time period, in whatever market the advertisement was tailored for. And Trans-Lux advertised GIGANTOR heavily.
Despite this, there was never any GIGANTOR merchandising. The reason was the program's syndicated nature. Children's merchandising requires strong character popularity to be successful. A Bugs Bunny toy will sell much better than a toy of an anonymous bunny that's just cute. Cartoon characters shown on network channels have national exposure, so their merchandise will sell everywhere. But syndicated programs are sold on a station-by-station basis. A cartoon program that is very popular in one geographic area might be totally unknown in another. Merchandising licensees are reluctant to take chances on characters who do not have guaranteed continent-wide exposure. NBC tried to merchandise ASTTRO BOY after his program's initial popularity in 1963, but had very little success because of its on-here, off-there nature. Ladd figured that if NBC with all its resources couldn't sell ASTRO BOY to the merchandisers, he would be wasting his time to try to sell them GIGANTOR.
ASTRO BOY, GIGANTOR, and KIMBA were all popular during the 1960s and the early 1970s, but by the end of that decade, they had practically disappeared from television. There were three reasons, at least two of which applied to each program. First, the taboos against violence in childrens' TV programming had grown much more strict by the end of the 1970's. Second, there were enough color cartoons on the TV market that most stations were no longer willing to buy black-&-white cartoons. Third, the distributors of the programs disappeared.
ASTRO BOY and KIMBA were technically owned not by NBC but by NBC Films, a subsidiary that sold programming which NBC did not show on its own network, to the syndicated market. In the 1970s the U.S. government ruled that this violated national anti-trust laws. A company could produce and broadcast programs, or it could sell programs to other companies, but it could not do both. NBC was forced to close NBC Films.
In GIGANTOR's case, Trans-Lux phased out its TV distribution activities to concentrate on manufacturing video monitors. Its biggest success was in the financial community, where the famous Wall Street ticker-tape machines were replaced by Trans-Lux's "Jet" monitor which showed stock market changes much more rapidly. Trans-Lux's video library, which included both GIGANTOR and SPEED RACER, was transferred to Alan Enterprises. Ladd describes Alan as a personal friend, but Trans-Lux was a big company and Alan was "just one guy and a phone in a little office." Still, Alan was still making some sales for GIGANTOR into the early 1980s, several years after ASTRO BOY had disappeared.
IRONMAN NO. 28 (aka GIGANTOR or "Tetsujin Ninjuhach-go") A Fuji TV Presentation of a TCJ Production 83 + 13 half-hour b&w episodes Broadcast from October 20, 1963 to May 25, 1967 Timeslot: Sundays 8pm-8:30pm (episodes 1-25), Thursdays 7pm-7:30pm Created by Mitsuteru Yokoyama.
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