I like taking the perspective that Giant Robo is how we’d like to remember giant robot anime as being like, or perhaps what we wish they were all along. This is very different from making a making a work that meticulously tries to reproduce the way things were done back in the day, like say Gekiganger 3 or in a non-anime example, Black Dynamite. What makes Giant Robo different from those types of reproductions is that Giant Robo tries to improve upon the original, both in terms of overall quality and in terms of signifiers of quality.
Here’s how the two are different. The former refers heavily to things like production values. Giant Robo has exquisite animation and a fully orchestral score, for example. That’s a far cry from ye olde tyme anime and how shows like Speed Racer are not exactly fondly remembered for things like their almost non-existent animation than anything else. You can’t get any further than that with Giant Robo’s sakuga anime-level art. The latter can also be seen in the aforementioned score, but is probably better represented through the show’s plot. Characters develop over story arcs, they don’t constantly cheat death, and often have complicated motivations. That’s a far cry from cardboard cutouts that exist to yell out attacks before getting “knocked out”. I should also note that this is a bit different from the common impulse to “improve” genres (especially retro ones) by making them grimdark or “realistic”.
From that perspective, Giant Robo is pretty amazing. Up through the fifth episode, I was guessing that I would probably rank it as an 8 or 9. Unfortunately, the last two episodes were the straw that breaks the camel’s back. Yep, I have to admit that I simply do not like Imagawa’s kitchen sink style at all and I think that it’s frequently detrimental to his works.
I think it’s a question of opportunity costs. What is the “batshit insane cool stuff” replacing? What kind of messages could the work be communicating to the viewer in the absence of said batshit insane cool stuff? What other batshit insane cool stuff could have been there instead? It’s kind of similar to my complaints about the chalkboards in SHAFT shows, where if I’m reading a blackboard I’m not reading a text crawl, or not paying particular attention to dialogue, nor am I necessarily even getting anything out of the show by reading it. So, when all of a sudden there is all this Romance of the Three Kingdoms stuff going on out of nowhere, I 1) start focusing on that rather than on say, Daisaku’s emotional turmoil or whether or not I think that Big Fire will TAKE OVER THE WORLD, 2) lose attachment to what’s going on since any sort of completely arbitrary events could start happening and 3) care a lot less the next time a batshit insane cool thing randomly shows up.
I’d contrast this disconnect to something like the opening scene in Inglourious Basterds. At one level, this whole scene is Tarantino indulging himself with the kind of stylized dialogue that he is famous for. But at the same time, the scene creates a palpable dread, introduces one of the primary storylines in the movie, and establishes Christoph Walz’s and Melanie Laurent’s characters, making it far more than just a stylized indulgence. It felt like Giant Robo managed to do this fairly well during the beginning, sort of like a Crisis on Infinite Earths-esque way of integrating a lot of different characters from many different works into some kind of unified narrative, but towards the end, the series (and honestly, Imagawa in general from what I’ve seen of him) failed to create that kind of synthesis when a little too much was piled on. That ultimately dropped the anime down more towards a charitable 7 rather than the charitable 9 that I was hoping/assuming it would end as.
Also, just as a sidenote, I eyerolled at Daisaku’s overarching philosophical question “Is it possible to have happiness without sacrifice?” because I instantly thought “Uh, duh. Of course it is. Especially if you have privilege and/or luck.”