Movie: As retro-anime shows seem to gain in popularity, many of us who enjoyed the hits from yesteryear, even Americanized versions of the Japanese originals, have had much cause to celebrate. While many of the shows really don't live up to our rose colored memories, there is still a place in our hearts for those shows we so enjoyed, and led us into our lifetime passion for the animated show. Today's review is of a series based on the early 1960's show Tetsujin 28 or as we in the West are more apt to know it, Gigantor, with the latest volume being Tetsujin 28: Kyoto Burns. Having watched the first three volumes in this updated series and noticed numerous similarities, I've also seen a lot of improvements with Tetsujin 28: Volume 1, Tetsujin 28: Volume 2, and Tetsujin 28: Volume 3; showing me that even a good blast form the past can be improved on. Here's what I said about the overall setting for the shows in order to bring new readers up to speed:
"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.
Initially, I thought this was a four volume series and that would've meant it would conclude here but I soon found out that this was not the case, giving me pause for relief as there were still a great many plot threads left to be tied up. The episodes this time were 15) Furanken's Assistant's, 16) Kyoto Burns, 17) The Kokuryumaru Incident, and 18) Shotaro Alone. The first two episodes detailed a special project back during the war when the professor, Dr. Furanken, and a host of others were working on an artificial intelligence project. There has been a recent series of murders and all fingers point to the professor, of whom we get to learn a great deal about between the two shows. Shotaro and the Chief become wrapped up in the matter but even when the killer is discovered, a series of misunderstandings hamper the peaceful resolution of the situation. The following two episodes then contain the initial arc where the cast is dispersed in relation to another project, somewhat related, to Shotaro's long dead father. Tetsujin 28 comes in handy time after time until the forces supportive of Shotaro are systematically taken out of the picture for the time being. Without revealing too much information, the volume ends on a cliffhanger of sorts with Shotaro torn between his loyalty to his country and his loyalty to his father, neither quite jibing with the facts as presented by an old enemy who turns up like bad penny over and over again. The next volume in the series looks to go even deeper into the mystery surrounding the disappearance of a major character and it will fall on Shotaro to solve this one on his own.
Thematically, the show has made it a point to tie the present day of the show (which is set ten years after the end of WWII) to the events of the war. The anti-war sentiment is very strong throughout the show and we continue to find stragglers who can't seem to let go and become part of a better tomorrow thanks in large part to holding onto the comforts of hate, greed, or other human failings. Shotaro, as the child genius born out of the war to a father neck deep in the building of advanced weapons, represents a changing of the guard who always tries to do the right thing, no matter how painful it may be for him and those around him. Of all the characters, he should be the most easily swayed by the illusory benefits of returning to a path of war yet he holds strong in his convictions with a relatively clean slate (with the exception of his father's works that led to the building of Tetsujin 28). This is why he comes around to figuring out the tools aren't responsible for the destruction they cause so much as the ones who control the tools, leading him on his crusade to use what would've been a hugely devastating weapon (Tetsujin 28) for good as he protects those around him. How the series plays out with the recent revelations will be of interest and I thought the show was worth a rating of Recommended as a result.
Picture: Tetsujin 28: Kyoto Burns 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 (except for the addition of color of course). 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 the DVD were some trailers and a paper insert.
Final Thoughts: Tetsujin 28: Kyoto Burns asks the questions many of us are most uncomfortable with in regards to how we view our past mistakes and what to do about them when they come back to haunt us. While the action theme of the Tetsujin 28 robot smashing various enemies apart is central to the show, it is only a small part of the real issues being put on the table as the effects of the warlike culture that brought him into existence are brought back repeatedly under varying circumstances. While you can enjoy the show as a mindless beat 'em up kid show, there were multiple layers going on at the same time that would allow several generations to appreciate some of the themes the show looks at. Give it a shot and I think you'll understand where I'm coming from, but keep in mind that show doesn't always offer the easy way out or simplistic moral at the end of each episode like many other anime series do. That lets you figure things out for yourself and gives the show greater depth for solid replay value.
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.