Mar 4 2009 10:16am

Giant Robot! Megaton Punch!

 Last night while browsing Youtube I came across a video called “The Saddest Day in Nostalgic History.” It was well named; the video showcases one of the most tragic moments of my youth. I’m speaking, of course, of the death of Johnny Sokko’s Flying Robot. 

Every spring, Christians reflect on the sacrifice of Jesus. But who mourns for Giant Robot? Who salutes the skies and thinks, thank you for protecting the Earth from the great rubbery space menace? I ask you, could your Jesus shoot rockets from his fingers? Well, could he? No. Not even in the Nag Hammadi

For those of you who are more familiar with Christianity than with Toei Productions, Johnny Sokko and His Flying Robot was one of many Japanese shows about gigantic monster-fighting machines (along with Gigantor, Daitetsujin 17 and a whole bunch of others, both animated and live-action).

In the American version, the poorly transliterated Johnny Sokko is a young boy whose voice gets accidentally imprinted on a watch-like device that controls a massive, vaguely Egyptian-looking robot designed to destroy the world. Johnny joins the ultra-secret good-guy organization UNICORN, under the tutelage of the charming Agent U3 (AKA Jerry) in the fight against creepy interstellar Nazi beatnik terrorists, the Gargoyle Gang, led by Emperor Guillotine (a sort of nuclear Cthulhu in drag). 

I loved every minute of the show, which I watched in my pajamas while eating cereal (the best way to watch television, obviously). What little boy would not want an enormous robot of his very own? A flying, 500-ton karate-action laser-eyed fire-breathing mechanized monster-beater-upper with rocket fingers! Man, I wished I could be Johnny Sokko. Not only did he have his own robot,but UNICORN agents also carried guns and had this cool salute when they rubbed their gloved thumb and forefinger together, like a sharp corduroy cricket. Vvshzt! And they had jetpacks! And really, there isn’t much in life that out-cools a jetpack.

Giant Robot fought two-headed monsters, eyeball beasts, electric thingies, flying jawbones—you name it. Anything big, evil and ugly had met its match in Johnny Sokko and his flying robot. 

The robot himself had a quiet nobility to him, as befits a stoic planetary defender. After watching him kick amazing ass, I always wanted to give him a hug. I loved him as much, or more, than Johnny loved him.

The series ended when Emperor Guillotine demonstrated to the agents of UNICORN that he himself was a massive atomic bomb. “Surrender Earth or get blowded up bigtime,” I remember him muhuwahahahaha-ing. But the stalwart, brave and true Giant Robot saved the day by scooping up the evil emperor in a flying megaton bear hug, on a collision course with a meteor.

I remember the explosion. The tears of shock. My spoon drooped and I spilled milky Rice Crispies down my thigh. Giant Robot! No! Come back! Don’t sacrifice yourself just to kill some galactic drama queen! Nooooo!

The robot originally meant to destroy the world, in the end, saved it.

“And so, the saga comes to an end,” the narrator then says. “Giant Robot sacrificed himself to save the Earth from the terrible Guillotine. But who knows? When Johnny desperately needs him again, perhaps, like a miracle, he will come back, out of the skies.”

Lacking in faith, I never believed the narrator. But now, thanks to the power of Youtube, I can once again strap an imaginary jetpack to my pajamas and say, “Giant Robot! Up and away!”

Pablo Defendini
1. pablodefendini
Wow. Deep in the recesses of my mind, in the parts reserved for those hazy, nigh-subliminal memories form childhood, were stored the name "Johnny Sokko" and the image of this robot, separately and unassociated. Thanks for helping me make the connection.
Jon Rosebaugh
2. inklesspen
The anime was better. To quote Wikipedia:

Giant Robo is an homage to Yokoyama's career. The series features characters and plotlines from the manga artist's entire canon of work, effectively creating an all-new story. The events take place in the near future, ten years after the advent of the Shizuma Drive triggers the third energy revolution. The series follows the master of the titular Robo, Daisaku Kusama, and the Experts of Justice, an international police organization locked in battle with the BF Group, a secret society hell-bent on world domination.

The OVA is recognized for its "retro" style and operatic score. The character designs emulate Yokoyama's drawing style and the mechanics are inspired by steampunk literature. The action setpieces are influenced by Hong Kong action cinema, specifically the new school of wuxia and the 1970s kung fu wave.

Let's compare:

Jason Henninger
3. jasonhenninger

I have yet to see the anime, though I've always wanted to. I'm sure it's great.

But better or these terms even apply when nostalgia is involved? Even if Giant Robo turned out to be the greatest anime ever, it would, for me, occupy a radically different space than the one I watched as a child.
4. JrS
I haven't thought about that show in a LONG time. You reminded me about another show that was also on at about the same time, Ultra Man. Also very cool. My Saturday mornings were spent watching the Monkees, Lost in Space, Jonny Quest, Johnny Sokko, Scooby Doo, and Ultra Man. Sigh.
Bridget McGovern
5. BMcGovern
I've never seen or heard of this show until now, and not only do I feel robbed, but I am also oddly touched by your story of childhood tragedy. Is there anything sadder than tears mingled with Rice Crispies?

I think not. Now I know what to get you for the traditional Fibonacci Carnival Robot Exchange that I just made up :)
6. Nick Dragon
I knew I wasn't the only one who cried. Giant Robot was a surrogate/symbolic daddy for me and I suspect for many other pajama clad tots whose real fathers were elsewhere. And what real father could shoot finger rockets?

I'm actually glad that there never was a Return of Giant Robot (that I know of). Leave that phoney baloney resurrection crap to the Jesus fans.

And by the way, you can find full episodes on
Chris Meadows
7. Robotech_Master
Please note, only the first animé was great. One of the last major productions to be done in entirely cel animation, before the advent of CGI and the onset of lazyanimatoritis. Was done as a labor of love by the studio between higher-paying projects, which is why new episodes sometimes took years to come out. Features a stirring symphonic score recorded by the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra with echoes of Holst's "The Planets".

Epic, tragic story drawing together retro-pulp, giant robots, Exalted-style wuxia kick-buttness, and truly likable characters. (Even the villains are villains you love to hate.) That it did not receive a sequel was a tragedy.

And the recent Giant Robo reboot anime TV series was a travesty. I didn't watch past the first couple of episodes. 90% CGI crap by weight, even when it didn't have to be. (Why the HELL, apart from sheer laziness, do you make a pickup truck CGI?) Boring, slow to start storyline involving alien robots inexplicably buried in pyramids. Daisaku is suddenly a sullen teenager rather than a cheerful pre-teen. Change for the sake of change. Bleah, bleah, and double-bleah.

As regards Johnny Sokko, surely I can't be alone in wishing that the original Japanese TV series would get a subtitle treatment. Even a digital fansub treatment would be something.
Jason Henninger
8. jasonhenninger
@8 Subtitles would be great. A whole new translation would help, really.

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