Background: The perils of warfare are a common theme in anime these days. The reasoning is as likely the tremendous suffering the Japanese people suffered during WWII thanks to their pursuit of militaristic goals as directed by their leaders as anything else but if shaping the minds of the younger anime viewing audience can convey such a message too, it's just one more benefit of the genre as far as I'm concerned. At any given time, there is some form of war going on and this has been the case as far back as recorded history goes and the rightness or wrongness of any particular war aside, it's always good to recognize the pitfalls of the subject since the cheerleaders in favor of them tend to use propaganda too much to convey a balanced picture. That said, today's review of Tetsujin 28: Conspiracy, the fifth volume in the Tetsujin 28 series, is finished at long last, bringing the elements of the story to a head for the volume six; the conclusion of the series.
Series: Tetsujin 28: Conspiracy revisited the past in a different manner, casting doubts on the purity of the Tetsujin project and it's founder, Professor Kaneda, but in order to more fully understand this volume, I quickly take a look back at the previous history of the Tetsujin 28 series in order to bring new readers up to speed. Here's what I originally said about it:
"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. While that theme was central to the series, it came back in full force as Shotaro started the volume without the assistance of Tetsujin, as the robot was taken away from him by the end of the last chapter in the fourth volume.
Tetsujin 28: Conspiracy was comprised of four episodes, 19) Confrontation with Nikoponski, 20) The Phantom of Madara Rocks, 21) The PX Syndicate Conspiracy, and 22) The End of the Rampage. As stated previously, this volume began with Shotaro falling out of favor with the authorities and Tetsujin taken away from him. Still, he seeks the solace of his detective skills to figure out the truth of the random pack of hateful comments about his father given the wire recording he attributes to the man. The majority of bigger themes involve getting Tetsujin back and fighting the criminal organization known as the PX Syndicate, as well as some twisted short term alliances with those he had fought before in the quest for a powerful energy source known as bagume that was mentioned in earlier episodes. The bad guys want, and when it becomes apparent that Tetsujin was designed to harness the substance as part of an incredibly dangerous bomb, even Shotaro's faith is shaken, leading to the climatic finale of the next volume (I saw them all at once).
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. Tetsujin 28: Conspiracy was a pretty good set of episodes but with no extras worth mentioning, only four episodes, and a rushed feel that seemed primarily to set up the final volume, I could only rate it as a Rent It.
Picture: Tetsujin 28: Conspiracy 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: Conspiracy helped to refocus Shotaro (and by default, the viewer) in his uneasy feeling that Tetsujin may indeed have been planned as a weapon of mass destruction by a crazy father bent on evil doing while collaborating with the enemy. All the people still around that had some connection with the man seemed to push the belief that it could have happened and the recording was quite clear in establishing his culpability as a collaborator. Everyone was still trying to obtain Tetsujin for their own plans, and Shotaro is left speechless when a small amount of bagume is used to assist in defeating a gigantic robot that even Tetsujin can't win against (with the help of Black Ox); proving just how dangerous the substance is to the survival of mankind (an allegory to plutonium from what I could tell). With one more volume to go, Tetsujin 28: Conspiracy set the stage with a lot of unanswered questions as well as an army of robots made for a large construction project being seen as a potential threat too.
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.