Today marks the 20th anniversary of Change!! Shin Getter Robo The Final Days of the World, also known as Getter Robo Armageddon in its localisation title, the 1998 OVA reboot turned spinoff of Ken Ishikawa's Getter Robo manga and anime series.
Cover of the first Getter Robo Armageddon Laser Disc volume
It was an exciting time for Japanese kids living in the early 70s. The original Getter Robo anime and its sequel, Getter Robo G from the following year were at the forefront of Toei's mecha animation lineup with Mazinger Z and Great Mazinger. Before the project was pitched to Toei, Ken Ishikawa worked on the Getter Robo manga with some guidance from Go Nagai, who was his manga teacher at the time. You may know Go Nagai from titles such as Devilman, Cutie Honey and Mazinger Z.
Getter Robo was a unique kind of giant robot, with the introduction of combiners where the three jets would combine to form 3 different forms of the Getter Robo depending on the order of combination. It was Getter-1 for air battles, Getter-2 for ground battles, and Getter-3 for underwater battles. These humongous robots dominated playgrounds during recess.
The story of Getter Robo follows three young men namely Ryoma Nagare, Hayato Jin and Musashi Tomoe who are recruited by Professor Saotome to pilot the Getter Robo, humanity's last hope against the encroaching Dinosaur Empire which seek to reclaim their past glory before they were driven underground by the earth's changing climate and the arrival of the early humans.
In the final heroic act of the series, Getter-3's pilot sacrifices himself to end the Dinosaur Empire resulting in the destruction of the Getter Robo. With no third pilot and Getter Robo, Professor Saotome and his team of scientists would then build Getter Robo G and recruit a new pilot, Benkei Kuruma to replace the fallen Musashi. The new earthly menace was no longer the Dinosaur Empire, but the Hyakki Empire, a race of demons who wanted to conquer the planet just as well.
Of course, the kids ate it all up, no matter how wacky and crazy the story was. However, by the end of the 1970s, they started getting bored of giant robots and moved on to toys of real military vehicles and weapons, like tanks, planes etc. To get their attention once again, companies decided to combine the aspects of military toys with giant robots, and produce a new kind of giant robot. One successful attempt at this was Gundam from 1979 which then dominated the 80s giant robot scene and overshadowed everything that came before it. Getter Robo also fell into obscurity and was never mentioned again for more than a decade.
Musashi's last stand from the original Getter Robo manga
Fast forward to 1990, Toei would collaborate with Ken Ishikawa and Go Nagai once again to create a new Getter Robo animation known as Getter Robo Go for the new generation of Japanese children. For the revival, Ken Ishikawa decided to take up the mantle once more and self produce the Getter Robo Go manga, which would act as a sequel to G, rather than a straight up continuity reboot like its anime counterpart.
While all Getter Robo TV anime series were child friendly, the corresponding manga versions that Ken Ishikawa produced were a lot more violent, and fit for an older audience. With Go, he pushed the envelope further, by introducing a more involved storyline with buddhist themes, and a major central plot point, evolution.
A page showcasing the return of the dreadful Dinosaur Empire from the Getter Robo Go manga
The manga's engaging story prompted his editor, Kazuki Nakashima who went on later to write Gurren Lagann and Kill La Kill to motivate him to write Shin Getter Robo, which explained some aspects of the Go manga, such as the large time gap between G and Go.
The birth of Getter Robo Armageddon
Just before the end of the millennium, another Getter Robo animation project was in production to celebrate Bandai Visual's Emotion's label as part of its 15th anniversary. For the first time, Ken Ishikawa's more mature and violent manga series was going to be the basis of this new anime OVA series.
Anime studio, Brain's Base was put in charge of the animation, and director Yasuhiro Imagawa of Giant Robo The Day the Earth Stood Still and G Gundam fame was assigned to the project. Instead of doing a straight forward adaptation of Ken Ishikawa's source material, he decided to turn it into an entirely new story as he did so with Giant Robo.
Yasuhiro Imagawa, who claims descent from the Imagawa clan of the Sengoku era, also known for his unconventional anime storytelling and directing techniques
What resulted from his 1st three wonderfully animated episodes was a tale of mystery, intrigue, and betrayal, with a constant sense of dread. No one knew what was going to happen yet as the viewers were still confused at the plot progression, and the complete 180 on the established characters, even for long time fans. Ryoma Nagare, pilot of Getter-1, was found and tried guilty for the assassination of Professor Saotome despite the protestation of his innocence.
Yet, in the same 1st episode, Saotome also comes back from the dead as a vengeful old man now seeking revenge against those who wronged him especially his fellow scientists who worked with him in the past on the Getter Rays and Ryoma who he thinks is responsible for the death of his daughter, Michiru Saotome. Every character speaks in riddles, never fully revealing their intent, and motivations.
That's right, he's talking to you, the viewer!
This confusing yet intriguing plotline is hallmark of the director Imagawa, who's used to telling his stories in arcs, not in individual episodes. At the end of episode 2, Professor Saotome unveals the final Getter Robo, Shin Getter Robo and Ryoma exclaims, "What the hell is going on? It doesn't make sense at all!", as he oversees the devolution of planet Earth back to its prehistoric origins. For context, the energy that runs the Getter Robo is also the same energy that drives evolution forward. Except this time, the energy dispensed by this new Getter Robo was devolving the environment, not evolving. Something was not quite right.
This is me when I'm confronted with a new cryptoproject beyond my comprehension
I will not expound on the story any further, because it involves characters not being their usual self, the arrival of the invaders and their infection of two former Getter Rays Researchers, the introduction of Go, who was cloned from Saotome himself just to pilot this new Getter Robo, the activation of a nuke that destroys the whole world; It is a lot, and I don't think I can do the plot any justice here. Therefore, I highly suggest that you check out these episodes for yourself.
To make matters even more confusing, Imagawa decided to interject monsters, characters, designs from other Ken Ishikawa manga such as Majuu Sensen and Kyomu Senki directly into the story, just as he did with Giant Robo. This is great for fans, but if you're only familiar with Getter Robo, you may not recognise some of them. The most obvious example of that is Ryoma Nagare's clothing design, which is clearly based on Shinichi Kuruma's from Majuu Sensen.
Perhaps, Imagawa was too ambitious for the rest of the staff because from episode 4 and onwards, he was replaced by director Jun Kawagoe. In an interview from Gunota, it was clear that he was bitter about the project and took all the story notes with him to the dismay of Jun Kawagoe and the writers who had to reconcile the 1st 3 episodes with their own style of directing and writing.
With no story notes to go on, he had to connect the dots and the resulting difference for the remaining 10 was large enough that it could have been another show altogether, featuring high octane giant robot action and a plot that grew increasingly confusing by the episode, as opposed to Imagawa's brooding and obfuscated mystery.
The second part of the series also gave us Black Getter which is essentially "What if Batman had a giant METAL robot?"
The biggest tragedy of this switch is that we will never know what Imagawa had in store for us, especially after he completed the tragic epic, Giant Robo. However, the action style of the new director was nothing to scoff at either. At this point, all logic was thrown out of the window for the amazing adrenaline fueled giant robot action that had me fist bumping and grinning like a mad man all through out.
Kei Kimura, the new female tomboy pilot introduced in the second part of the OVA is a combination of 2 manga characters, and is also piloting naked, don't ask why
The fantastic soundtrack also played a big part in setting the mood for both parts of the OVA. The first part (Episode 1 to 3) featured moody dramatic music, while the second part (Episode 4 to 13) featured a more upbeat rock music to suit the change in tone.
The 2nd one is by Hironobu Kageyama, who's equally famous for his many renditions of classic openings such as Pegasus Fantasy and Cha-La Head Cha-La
After a troubled production and 13 episodes of sheer folly, one would think that this animation project sank as hard as it could, but no! It became a best seller, and introduced a whole new generation of people to Getter Robo. The director, Jun Kawagoe went on to direct two other Getter Robo animation OVAs, and while I thought they were good, they never reached Getter Robo Armageddon's level of success. To this day, this OVA series still makes regular appearances in the Super Robot Wars series as a testament to its ongoing success and popularity.
So, do I recommend it? Hell yes. Getter Robo Armageddon truly stood the test of time as one of the classics of the mecha genre. While it didn't live up to its fullest potential with the leaving of director Imagawa, what we got was still worth every minute of your time. And who knows? They may announce a new Getter Robo OVA some time in the future.
Unfortunately, they will have to do it without Ken Ishikawa's involvement as he sadly passed away in 2006, but other people have already continued his legacy through manga like Getter Robo Devolution by the Kurogane no Linebarrels duo, Getter Robo High by a hentai artist which mixes Getter Robo and mahjong together, and even Devilman vs Getter Robo, a crossover by his own teacher, Go Nagai, and many more. One can only dream of the endless possibilities that this new animation could offer.