Movie: Having seen plenty of retro titles in recent years, I have to admire how so many people like to revisit the past. Some would say this is an attempt to cash in on a title with a guaranteed audience while others would say that such attempts are homage's to storylines or set of characters that only a true fan could appreciate. A quick look at the mainstream movie releases of the last ten years shows us that revivals are common and while many truly stink, there are enough that work even better than the original material they are based on that I keep going to see them. Today's review is on a similar series, based on the early 1960's show Tetsujin 28 or as we in the West are more apt to know it, Gigantor, with Tetsujin 28: The Phantom Thief. Having watched the first two volumes in this updated series and noticed numerous similarities, I've also seen a lot of improvements though both Tetsujin 28: Volume 1 and Tetsujin 28: Volume 2 proved to be far more like the original than most updates I've seen. Here's what I said about the overall setting for the shows:
"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."
In previous episodes, the themes were more about Shotaro's denial of his mechanical albatross as he thought it were the source of evil but as the series progresses, he grows attached to it on a couple of levels; one in that it was the last legacy of his now deceased father and the second in that it is repeatedly pointed out to the headstrong boy detective that Tetsujin (the robot) is like any other device-only evil if wielded by evil hands. As a tool with no consciousness of its own, that forces him to take responsibility for his father's device and then use it for promoting good. This realization is almost always taken for granted in other series so it added something in terms of complexity to a show that seemed admittedly written for a youthful audience more than us old timers.
The episodes in volume three were, 11) The End of Super Human Kelly, 12) The Melancholy of Doctor Black, 13) The Glowing Entity, and 14) Black Mask: the Phantom Thief. Each episode this time was a stand alone adventure (with the slight exception of #11) where Shotaro and Tetsujin would fight a foe that was involved in the war (WWII), unable to get over some horrible secret, and in possession of some fantastic technological or other scientific advance that required special treatment as only Shotaro could provide by use of his robot. In that lies the series premise, Shotaro wins because he has moved on and accepted the past (as well as his family legacy that included building terrible weapons of war that were responsible for killing untold scores of people). His opponents are still stuck, years later, in their haunted pasts which are why most of them are evil (or at least considered as such).
I liked that the conclusion of the Super Human Kelly saga was deeper than his previous exploits just as the Black Mask story provided a fitting ending as the son failed to learn the lessons of the father. Doctor Black showed that the ends don't justify the means though unlike more traditional "bad guys", he cares for people only too much and refuses to accept his limitations. The same holds true of the Glowing Entity where the zoo keeper loathes his actions during the war but in an attempt to make amends, finds himself at odds with the present day. In that sense, even Shotaro is caught up in the past, though his attempts to move on prove more socially accepted thanks to his admittedly dangerous robot. For the continuation of the better aspects of the series, I kept the rating as although this is with the fact that the series is designed for a younger than average audience (younger than the "13 Up" Geneon rates it).
Picture: Tetsujin 28: The Phantom Thief 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: The only extras on this now-four episode offering, were some trailers and a paper insert. I had hoped for more but really didn't expect any.
Final Thoughts: Tetsujin 28: The Phantom Thief may have been lacking in terms of weak extras and even fewer episodes than Tetsujin 28: Volume 1 and Tetsujin 28: Volume 2 had offered but as a show designed to invoke memories of the past, I think it succeeded fairly well. The levels of development seemed more to do with the antagonists than Shotaro and his associates but I think that was largely the point, coming from a culture often at odds with a past that it alternately worships and loathes, depending on the collective mood of the country. There were the usual morality plays each episode but I think the bigger picture is now in view with the series half over (at least that's my interpretation) and whatever limitations the show may have, it was pretty interesting in many ways if not as splashy as some of the more cartoonish anime that is typically on the top selling lists so many people desperately cling to.
If you enjoy anime, take a look at some of the recommendations by DVD Talk'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.