Movie: Geneon has long been one of my favorite anime providers, be it as Pioneer or their newer name. They have often shown the insight needed to obtain the American distribution rights for some classic, if lesser known in the West, titles of great merit. Sometimes they pick up titles of particular interest to fans of retro-titles like the remake of what became the Gigantor series brought over so many years ago. The title in question? Well, that'd be Tetsujin 28: Volume 1. The latest in the series is the second set of five episodes in the series, Tetsujin 28: Tetsujin Vs. The Mafia. for those needing a bit of a recap on what took place in the first volume (it was a while ago after all), here's what I said to establish the series:
"The story is set in the mid 1950's. Japan is being rebuilt by the American forces that occupy the country after defeating it in WWII. In flashback form, the brief history of a military program (near the end of the war) to defend the country by means of large robots is unveiled, led by the genius of Professor Kaneda. After 27 failed attempts, the final robot, Tetsujin 28, is a success but the professor, an adamant pacifist, decides his creation is simply too powerful to unleash on the world. Knowing that such a weapon would assist the world in continuing the spiral of destruction that has killed his wife and son, he hides his robot on his workshop island, never learning his son, Shotaro Kaneda, is still alive (a happy baby boy). In the ensuing ten years that follow, Shotaro grows up with a similar genius as his father but puts it to use to catch criminals as a young boy detective."
The second volume spent the first three episodes dealing with the inevitable loss of the remote control box to criminal elements. By expanding beyond the 25 minute limitation of the format it was shot for, the series not only set itself up for a series of movies later but also freed itself of the confining limitations of story telling that such a proposal would allow for. Here's what the back of the DVD case said about the show: "The American mafia arrives in Japan with the intention of stealing Tetsujin No. 28. But thanks to Shotaro's quick thinking they are put in their place. Kenji Murasame is willing to help them in their quest but soon discovers that the mafia has it's own agenda. Irritated by all this, Murasame aids Shotaro, but are his intentions entirely pure?"
The episodes here were, 6) Hunt For The Remote Control Box, 7) Tetsujin Goes on a Crime Spree, 8) The Plan To Recapture Tetsujin No. 28, 9) The Space Rocket Murders, and 10) The Super Human Kelly. As stated, the initial arc dealt with the ramifications of the loss of the control box to criminals. They use Tetsujin 28 for evil and the end result helps solidify Shotaro's resolve that perhaps destroying the robot makes less sense than using him for good. This is a fundamental change from the first volume where the child detective would've pulled the plug with little thought had he been given the chance. In a sense, this soap opera styled method of telling the story rather than rely on all the episodes being generic to the point where they can be told in any order allows for the series to become something far more interesting. The last two episodes on the disc though were less appealing to me as they involved more of Shotaro than his relationship with Tetsujin. If you're looking for the same artwork that has graced anime and manga for generations, you'll find it in ample supply but keep in mind that even though I think this should be rated as Recommended, it was far from perfect in terms of the story writing method employed (and some of the characters were in great need of making more realistic in their reactions rather than dumbing it down for the children in the audience).
Picture: Tetsujin 28: Tetsujin Vs. The Mafia was presented in the original 1.78:1 ratio anamorphic widescreen it was made in for Japanese television. The cover doesn't do this one justice as the shadowing, combination of traditional anime styles and CGI, and other visual effects were tweaked as if to take an older show and modernize it without losing the "look" of the original. In some ways, it was more like a movie in terms of how good it looked, although the cartoonish aspects were retained too. Give it a look and you'll immediately see what I mean. There were no compression artifacts though so even the DVD mastering seems to have been handled well.
Sound: The audio was presented with the usual choices of the original Japanese or a newly made English dub, each in Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo with optional English subtitles. The special effects and music sounded similar in each version although I believe the dub had some volume that added to the presence of that track. The choice between the original language track and the dub will depend on your personal preference but I liked both with a slight leaning toward the dub this time. The subtitles didn't exactly match the English language track but they were very close. Lastly, there were two subtitle streams, one for signs only and one for the vocals too.
Extras: With five full episodes, I didn't mind not getting a lot of extras and I was okay with the tradeoff considering how some of the best known companies in anime routinely provide very few extras on regular releases. There were some trailers and a clean closing but that was it on the DVD itself. Inside the case was a paper insert that mimicked the covers and listed the episodes yet provided little by way of value for me.
Final Thoughts: Tetsujin 28: Tetsujin Vs. The Mafia provided some needed character growth and another five episodes in a series that reminded me so much of the older series it was based on that I borrowed a friend's disc of Gigantor to compare the two against one another. The similarities were striking although I admit that the updated colors, the use of depth and more advanced camera tricks, and even the better story telling devices now common in anime all added up to making it a better ride down memory lane than the original! That's no small feat for a guy into retro shows from his childhood but if the series continues as it has been, I'll be happy as can be to check out the rest of the series with the hopes that it maintains the high level of quality it has established so far.
If you enjoy anime, take a look at some of the recommendations by DVDTalk's twisted cast of reviewers in their Best Of Anime 2003, Best Of Anime 2004, and Best of Anime 2005 articles or their regular column Anime Talk.