Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Mazinga, Goldrake, Jeeg, And Other Japanese Super Robots From My (Italian) Youth

There was no Sesame Street for me growing up in Italy. I'm guessing this is because Big Bird translates literally into Uccello Grande, which is slang for "Big Dick", and who wants to learn anything from a walking, eight-foot-tall dick joke? Not me, that's for sure.

There were, however, a slew of Japanese cartoons that managed to keep my eyes on the television long enough for my mother to get stuff done around the house. Around the late 70s to early 80s especially, there was a huge influx of Japanese Super Robot anime to Italian television.

This genre is characterized by, as some nerd on Wikipedia puts it:
a giant robot, or mecha, with an arsenal of fantastic super-powered weapons... sometimes transformable or combined from two or more robots and/or vehicles usually piloted by young, daring heroes, and often shrouded by mystical or legendary origins... The Super Robot anime shows are usually named after the title robot, and tend to use a "monster of the week" format in that the villains introduce a single antagonist at the beginning of the episode that the heroes usually defeat by its end. Antagonists tended to come from either outer space or ancient civilizations... Many foes employed robot or cyborg henchmen, whom they often sent against the heroes in their robot. The goals of these antagonists varied, although many were megalomaniacal or outright genocidal in their ambitions.
The best-known example of this genre to American viewers is the 1981 cartoon, originally called Beast King GoLion in Japan, that was dubbed and edited in the mid-8os as Voltron to become a hit series and pop-culture icon in the States.

But before there was Voltron, there were oodles of other cool Super Robot series around—in fact, over 60 mecha shows were created in Japan between 1972 and 1988. These led the way for shows like Transformers, Mobile Suit Gundam, Neon Genesis Evangelion, and even live action Super Sentai shows like Mighty Morphin Power Rangers.

While most of the Super Robot shows were practically interchangeable, from their storylines down to their characters, each one managed to have at least a few memorable characteristics that have stuck with me throughout the years. I've listed some of my favorite Super Robot animes from the era, complete with their obligatory Italian-dubbed theme songs, below.


Mazinga (aka Mazinger Z; Tranzor Z)

Original Run: 1972-74 (92 Episodes)

Legacy: The O.G. of Super Robot shows, Mazinga was the mold around which the genre was shaped.

Tekkaman: Il Cavaliere Dello Spazio (aka Uchu No Kishi Tekkaman)

Original Run: 1975 (26 Episodes)

Legacy: Tekkaman was the first Super Robot that was a humanoid instead of just a big machine piloted by a human. However, this did not change the fact that, even at an early age, it was confounding to me that a civilization that possessed the technology to build giant space robots, would still choose to send them into battle wielding swords, instead of cannons, or lasers, or smart bombs, or anything remotely more sophisticated than a fucking sword.

Goldrake (aka UFO Robot Gredinzer)

Original Run: 1975-77 (74 Episodes)

Legacy: Probably the most iconic Super Robot show that was ever shown in Italy, Goldrake was wildly popular. In fact, I still have my diecast toy figure from the late 70s; it's perhaps the only toy I've hung on to after all these years. Goldrake was also the coolest looking Super Robot, there was something art deco about its lines that really appealed to me.

Jeeg: Robot D'Acciaio
(aka Kotetsu Jeeg)

Original Run: 1975-77 (46 Episodes)

Legacy: The opening theme song is by far my favorite from the period. Even though it's dubbed in Italian, the phrasing is totally Japanese and it's fun to hear the singer try to match all the wild inflections. As a child, I made up my own gibberish version of the lyrics which I would sing ad nauseam to amuse/annoy my sister.

*Starting at 0:31 in the video, sing along: "Yak bau! Niraianisu. Yak bau! Niraianisu..."

Daitarn 3 (aka Muteki Kujin Daitan 3)

Original Run: 1978-79 (40 Episodes)

Legacy: The 3 in Daitarn's name is derived from the three parts that make up the Super Robot. This tranforming and conjoining aspect was later borrowed by iconic shows like Voltron and Transformers.

Gordian (aka Toshi Gardian)

Original Run: 1979-81 (73 Episodes)

Legacy: Gordian took the matryoshka (or Russian nesting dolls) approach to how the Super Robot would transform. The pilot would get into three progressively larger robotic body suits that eventually made up the largest robot, Garbin. They could have probably done away with the smaller suits and saved some time.

Trider G7 (aka Muteki Robotoraida G7)

Original Run: 1980-81 (50 Episodes)

Legacy: I actually don't remember anything about this show except for the opening theme. Seriously, these shows were pretty much all the same.

Baldios: Il Guerriero Dello Spazio (aka Uchu Senshi Barudiosu)

Original Run: 1980-81 (32 Episodes)

Legacy: This show had the most depressing ending to it than any other Super Robot series. Spoiler alert: the bad guys destroy Earth by triggering a giant Tsunami that floods the planet, killing everyone. The heroes lose, the end. That's some heavy shit for a child to deal with, believe me.

Voltron (aka Beast King GoLion)

Original Run: 1981-82 (52 Episodes)

Legacy: Well, this one is easy. By far, the most popular Super Robot exported to America from Japan ever. They're even making a big budget live-action Hollywood movie about it, for chrissakes. Look for it in 2011 to possibly suck even more than Transformers and GI Joe.

Stay tuned for a second instalment featuring non-Super-Robot-related Japanese cartoons from my youth, such as Devilman, Kenshiro, Knights of the Zodiac, and Tigerman.


  1. Wow - what a great post. I shall dig in over the weekend!

  2. Oh my.... this is amazing! I almost forgot Yak bau! niraianisu... Great post, made me feel young again, thanks! Lara.

  3. Do you remember a show called Tanzer 5?

  4. Do you remember a show called Tanzer 5?

  5. Thanks, I have been searching the internet trying to find a show I loved as a young boy. I had no idea until now it is Goldrake! Now I can find episodes to watch that will bring back old memories. I had to actualy see it to recognize, glad I found this site and now the search is over. NICE!

  6. Hey Bud, I grew up in Italy too from 85-89. I remember all the anime robot shows.. especially Jeeg. 'sempre lottera!'
    I also dug all the chinese kung fu movies that they showed on Rai Uno. I live in Kansas now. haha.. and being here, it's like that part of my childhood never existed.



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