Courage and bravery are the pillars of being a hero. True heroes never die.
The King of Braves GaoGaiGar is what started it all for me. The gateway anime that I’m sure most people have and remember. Carrying the weight of shaping my current hobbies and a general interest in Eastern productions and culture the show is incredibly important to me. That being said I am obviously going to be biased in the show’s favour so I feel it is unfair to even try and review it.
Instead I will just give some background about the show, my experience with it and my thoughts on it. If this informs even just one person on my favourite series, or better yet convinces them to give it a shot then that would be amazing.
*** I will try to avoid spoiling the show as much as possible though just talking about my thoughts on it means some spoilers will be inherent. I will however keep such spoilers as vague as possible. If you are considering watching The King of Braves GaoGaiGar and prefer going into new shows not knowing anything about them, I certainly recommend giving it a go. If you like the first episode, you’ll most likely enjoy the whole series. ***
The King of Braves GaoGaiGar is an anime from 1997, the same year I was born so me discovering and loving the show may have been destiny. It was the eighth and final entry in the Brave series which started in 1990.
It is hardly surprising that I felt a connection to The King of Braves GaoGaiGar as soon as I saw the mecha designs. The Brave series was devised as a collaboration between Takara and Sunrise following the waning popularity of Transformers in Japan. Given that the original Transformers cartoon was responsible for sparking a renewed interest in robots and mecha that I previously had when I was younger and led to me starting a figure collection, the similarities in the design principles between Brave and Transformers made them an instant hit to me.
My discovery of GaoGaiGar, the titular mecha was seemingly through sheer luck. While browsing sites for figures to add to what was predominantly a Transformers collection, I came across the D-Style model kit (pictured above with more images here). Even with the design being super deformed, it immediately caught my eye and I had to research it further. Upon discovering the properly proportioned artwork and that it was from an animated TV show, it was a done deal.
Admittedly anime had been present in my childhood which I would imagine is true for a lot of kids growing up in the 2000s. With likes of Pokémon and Yu-Gi-Oh being massively popular and airing frequently it was hard to miss. Though it was never obvious (at least to me, perhaps younger me was just a bit slow) that these shows were any different to the many other cartoons shown on the same channels besides the art styles.
Over the years I came to realise these were specifically of Japanese origin and although I enjoyed what I had seen I never felt compelled to search out more. Even as school friends would talk about Naruto and such, I often just politely listened along but never felt a particular interest. To be honest I suppose I linked the idea of anime to being somewhat childish due to having grown up with such prolific examples which had close ties to both videogames and trading cards. The irony of an anime aimed at children now being my all time favourite is not lost on me, I am more than glad however that it is a stigma I got over.
Although had I know shows with such cool mecha and robot designs existed it may have been an entirely different story! Why the Brave saga shows and toylines were never licenced for Western distribution (to the best of my knowledge at least) is beyond me. Hasbro was far more concerned with keeping the Transformers brand alive which clearly paid off for them. Seems I should leave such business questions to the professionals.
Moving onto anime itself. I’ll split this into various sections to try and keep the relevant thoughts together, however I cannot make any promises.
The King of Braves GaoGaiGar centers around two protagonists: Mamoru Amami, an 8 year old boy with mysterious powers and Guy Shishioh, a former astronaut turned cyborg following an incident while test piloting an experimental space shuttle. Supporting them is a large cast consisting of a handful of Mamoru’s classmates and family, Guy’s fellow Gutsy Geoid Guard (GGG) members and the Brave Robot Corps who back GaoGaiGar up in combat.
Mamoru is clearly supposed to be the character the intended audience connect with, given that besides his mysterious abilities he is a normal schoolboy. He is even shown at points playing with what are effectively in-universe toys of GaoGaiGar. Something the companies linked to the show’s creation would want their audience to copy.
At the very start of the show, Mamoru is given to his adoptive parents by Galeon (a massive mechanical lion from outer space, perfectly reasonable). The importance of this is explained further into the series but to keep it brief, Mamoru, his powers and Galeon are intrinsically linked. With that being the case he is key part of the story and instrumental to GGG’s mission to defend the Earth.
While often child characters can come off as annoying or grating, the Brave series followed a fairly standard template so such characters are common across the franchise. Given that The King of Braves GaoGaiGar was the eighth entry, they had plenty of prior experience to get this right. I found Mamoru to be an enjoyable character adding some childish joy and silliness when the show needed it but also having a determined and serious side when the stakes were high so he never came off as bratty or insufferable.
The only questionable part would be how easily he seems to shoulder the fate of the world. Given that Mamoru is the only person with the abilities he has, if anything were to happen to him the very planet may be doomed. However that confidence probably comes from working with the second protagonist, Guy.
Guy is certainly the star of the show. While Mamoru gets more of the human moments of the show, Guy is the driving force behind the action. He is the pilot of both GaiGar and GaoGaiGar. GaiGar is the form taken when Guy performs fusion with Galeon. From there he can perform final fusion with the Gao machines to become GaoGaiGar.
Guy is a far more classical take on the super robot pilot, being hot-blooded and extremely courageous. Both of these are traits taken to the extreme with him being willing to push himself beyond his limits in the face of peril. Often disregarding his own safety and well-being to get the job done and save the day.
With being such a heroic character and also being a cyborg, Guy is perhaps not someone any audience could connect with but in much the same way as superheroes it is easy to see how children could look up to and perhaps idolise the character.
Guy is easily my favourite of the human cast, not simply due to being in control of the main mecha but being such an easy character to cheer on and generally having a great presence when on screen. It is quite common to see more angsty main characters in mecha shows, especially after Evangelion hit the scene so having the main pilot be completely at home in the role and show no reservations in giving their all to save the world is just really fun.
The Rest of the Cast
For the remainder of the human cast, they hold far less importance ranging from completely one-note characters to characters that have some potential but are not particularly fleshed out.
The vast majority of said cast falls into two categories as mentioned above, Mamoru’s friends / family and the GGG members. The first group are all just normal civilians to give a better look at how Mamoru’s usual life goes. His classmates are often endangered by the monster of the week to add some stakes to the ongoing events, but besides this they have no real bearing on the events of the show.
The GGG team is made up of adults of varying ages. Their role in the show is to provide Guy / GaoGaiGar support from their headquarters to ensure the safety of the planet. They are all somewhat eccentric in their own ways so even with the potential that is left unused, they are still more than good enough.
I imagine for a lot of viewers, having a fairly flat cast around the main duo will definitely be a negative which I can completely understand. To me they all fill the roles required of them but the story never really gives any room to go beyond that. I see no point in going into these characters in any detail here as you would know the majority of what there is to know by the end of the first few episodes.
While I am certainly not a good story writer, I imagine if the cast had been cut down in size a bit the writers would have had more time to build on the character traits that are present in the finished product. I personally do not think that is necessary though. Had there been side stories developing these other characters rather than focusing on the main duo and plot I have a feeling such episodes would have just felt like filler and would have dampened the experience overall.
MECHA & ROBOTS
Obviously for someone watching the show because of the mecha designs like myself, it is hardly surprising that these are the most memorable characters of the show to me. Though I would argue that this is entirely intentional.
As I’ve mentioned here and there, The King of Braves GaoGaiGar is firmly in the camp of being a kid’s anime. This is because the show had a supporting toyline which was a running theme in the Brave series. Hardly surprising when one of the two companies responsible for it was Takara who were coming off the back of the hugely successful Transformers franchise.
It is clear the show puts a precedent on showing off GaiGar, GaoGaiGar and the Brave Robot Corps. Without going into detail on each of them individually (perhaps a post for another time), they all look fairly toylike. As far as I know, this is because the toys were designed at the same time as the show which allowed for a high level of accuracy for easy recognition by their target audience. Even things such as GaoGaiGar’s combination sequence is more or less entirely recreated in the toy which is rather impressive for the 90s. The designs are mostly made up of bright primary / secondary colours and fairly simple, boxy bodies much like the Transformers that preceeded them. Such qualities do not detract from the designs however, each of them possessing extremely heroic proportions (with one rather humourous exception) and any one of them could have easily been a main character design should they have appeared in another show.
GaoGaiGar is actually the only mecha used by GGG. The remainder of their combat force is made up of AI controlled robots. Said robots however are still characters in their own right with clearly defined personalities which are all pretty classic stereotypes. Examples include the calm and collected one, the hotheaded one, the strong and stubborn one, the smart and tactical one etc. While they are fairly basic, they certainly pull each of them off well and they all end up as memoral parts of the cast.
They all fall into the super robot category with each robot and GaoGaiGar having special abilities which would clearly not be achievable even by today’s technology. Of course with such special abilities also comes lots of name shouting which may be grating to some but for me this just adds to the atmosphere the show builds.
One thing I will mention is that the robot cast are introduced slowly throughout the show whereas pretty much the entire human cast is already present from the first episode. I certainly feel the first approach works much better due to giving each of the characters a time to shine and have a bit of character growth before adding the next cast member who gets a similar focus for a short while. This gives the audience a chance to get to know each of their personalities and abilities before throwing in more robots to keep track of.
PLOT & THEMES
While I won’t go into spoiler territory there are still a few things to discuss in regards to the plot and themes of the show.
The story consists of two arcs, roughly around a 30/20 split in terms of episode count. The first arc mostly consists of monster of the week style episodes with bits and pieces advancing the overall plotline interspersed into these episodes.
The second arc follows a more story driven structure, though still includes plenty of excuses to have action scenes to show off GaoGaiGar and his team.
Honestly the plot is nothing groundbreaking which shouldn’t be a surprise. If you are looking for some genre bending masterpiece then you are going to have to look elsewhere. Instead The King of Braves GaoGaiGar is to me the pinnacle of what classic super robot shows can be. It does everything right in that respect and is a joy to watch from start to finish. The plot is predictable should you have seen other shows like it but even bearing that in mind it is certainly still enjoyable.
The early half being so episodic makes it a prime candidate to be watched piecemeal between other, perhaps more taxing, anime.
Admittedly there is only really one continuous theme present that I picked up on which is unwaivering courage and bravery in the face of adversity will always win the day.
At points there seems to be an effort to tackle other themes, for example the first episode makes references to the problems with consumerism and throwing out perfectly fine goods. But this is quickly dropped and never brought up again so it is clear that trying to cover such themes was decided against and instead they would focus on the action to get those toy sales. It rings a bit hollow for a kid’s show made to sell toys to try and tackle the issue of consumerism so probably for the best such a theme was dropped so quickly.
I will be the first person to admit that I am not particularly good at catching onto themes and analogies a show is trying to get across without them being pointed out to me so perhaps there is some deeper meaning to it all that I have yet to work out. Certainly something for me to think about having just finished a rewatch of the show.
Visually I would say the show still holds up today. Given that there was a 1080p Blu-Ray rerelease of the series, this certainly helps add some shine to such an old show. Of course there are things to bear in mind when watching something older given that the techniques used to produce anime these days have come a long way even from the 2000s & 2010s let alone the 1990s.
While quirks of older shows never bother me, no matter what I am watching, there are a few key ones here I feel need to be pointed out:
- The most important one is there is a fair amount of flashing animation used, at least in the first half of the show. While I am not someone that suffers from any side effects from viewing this, it did cause some discomfort at points due to some scenes that make use of these effects do so for a prolonged amount of time.
- There is use, albeit rather limited use, of CG for certain elements of the anime. Given that this is from 1997, said elements have not exactly aged well. It is only used to represent a mirror-like coating however so while the effect perhaps looks dated now I can see what they were going for. It can be a bit jarring at points but is a minor issue.
- While the flashing images is certainly the most important thing to point out due to possible safety concerns, the use of stock footage is by far the biggest thing I need to point out. Surprising no one, this element did not bother me but had I not been enjoying myself so much with the show I could easily see this becoming annoying and resorting to skipping past the use of such footage. Any time any of the robots change form or Guy combines with Galeon or the Gao machines they pretty much always use the same stock footage (there are a couple of situations where they had to animate something new but these are rare). The same is also true for GaoGaiGar’s finishing moves. A small consolation to make up for this though is that these are all animated amazingly, especially GaoGaiGar’s Final Fusion and the robots’ various mode changes. The reason for this is pretty clear to me, given that they were trying to sell plastic representations of these designs, having really well animated clips that showcased them changing form or combining is effectively free advertising. Especially when these sequences are really accurate to what the related toys can do. The money saved in reusing these clips over and over can’t have hurt the decision either. Once the full robot cast has been introduced, parts of episodes may feel like you are just watching an advert when they decide to play multiple bits of stock footage in a row but I was massively invested by that point so I hardly noticed.
The last thing to touch on is the sound in general. I am not great with specifics on sound quality and such but given that anime is an audiovisual experience it is an important part of the production.
- The voice acting is excellent all round. There were hardly any moments I felt a voice was out of place or someone was phoning in their performance. The only times it felt off were a very small set of scenes in America where some rather dodgy English was used but if anything this is just plain funny rather than a detractor. I would say that Guy once again steals the show here, with his voice actor (Nobuyuki Hiyama) really going for it at points. Nothing quite beats the protagonist bellowing the name of their final attack.
- The general sound effects used all fit well. They never really stood out as exceptional or anything to me but never detract from the piece either. They do their job and do it well, it is just there is not really any mindblowing decisions taken in relation to this.
- On the other hand, the music is just superb. The range of genres used is not really something I have come across since, from calm orchestral music, to some rock tracks and a later character even having an operatic theme (for no reason other than it being badass). Some of the songs also capture the more cheesy elements of older super robot music such as the opening theme, and my personal favourite track Saikyou Yuusha Robo Gundan. I am somewhat glad I do not understand Japanese as I think I would be singing this for the rest of my days if I did.
Honestly I cannot really do the presentation justice in words so if you want an idea of the overall aesthetic I would suggest watching the below video. This is a clip of the first Final Fusion performed in the show and happens in the first episode so hardly spoils anything really. Especially given that I couldn’t find a version with subtitles.
In closing, while there is an element of nostalgia at play, rewatching the show last month has confirmed once again that The King of Braves GaoGaiGar is easily my favourite anime. I have seen a numerous shows since first discovering it and I am sure some of those deserve that top spot just as much, if not moreso on a technical and / or story based standing but there is just something about them that just falls short. For me The King of Braves GaoGaiGar captures my inner child’s imagination and does so with an air of ease and confidence.
Some may say The King of Braves GaoGaiGar is a relic of the past but to me it will always be a timeless treasure.