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6 Influential (and Awesome) Giant Japanese Robots

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Any kid that grew up in the 1980s is familiar with giant Japanese robots like Voltron and Transformers. But those are just a small taste of the dozens of mechanical men that make up the "Super Robot" genre that has been popular in Japanese manga (comic books) and anime (cartoons) for more than 50 years. Although a complete history would be a monumental undertaking, here are a few of the influential giant robots you should know.

1. Tetsujin 28-go

Tetsujin 28-go follows the adventures of a 10-year-old boy, Shotaro Kaneda, and his remote-controlled, rocket-powered giant robot, Tetsujin 28 (Iron Man #28). The robot was built by Shotaro's father as a secret weapon during World War II, but the war ended and Dr. Kaneda died before #28 ever saw action. Now, Shotaro uses #28 to solve crimes and defend the world from other giant robots, like his nemesis, Black Ox. That is unless someone else gets their hands on the remote control, for whoever has the remote can command Tetsujin 28 to do their bidding.

Not only did writer/illustrator Mitsuteru Yokoyama's Tetsujin 28-go create the concept of a Super Robot, but it helped establish many of the common tropes of the genre, like the "orphaned boy wonder" that controls the titular giant robot. It first debuted as a manga in 1956, before it was adapted for television in 1963 as an anime, which helped it find international acclaim. As is common with foreign translations, many of the Japanese names were changed for a regional audience. For example, in America, Shotaro Kaneda became Little Jimmy Sparks, and his giant robot became known as Gigantor, a name that still resonates with kids from the era.

The opening sequence of Gigantor

Tetsujin 28 remains an iconic character in Japanese popular culture. The long-running manga and anime are still best-sellers and have been followed by numerous sequels and remakes over the years. And in 2009, the big robot himself was immortalized as a life-sized, 60-foot-tall, 50-ton statue in Yokoyama's hometown of Kobe:

The official unveiling of the Tetsujin 28 statue in Kobe

If you'd like to check out the adventures of Gigantor, you can watch the whole series for free on Hulu.

2. Giant Robo

Thanks to 1954's Gojira (Godzilla), Japanese audiences became obsessed with tokusatsu, a style of film making in which special effects take center stage and that often incorporates actors who dress in rubber suits to portray monsters, aliens, and superheroes. The style has also been used for television shows, including the first live-action Super Robot on TV, Giant Robo.


Tetsujin 28-go creator Mitsuteru Yokoyama developed Giant Robo for TV and as a manga, both debuting in 1967. Robo's master, a 12-year-old boy named Daisaku Kusama, is part of a secret police force known as Unicorn. Unicorn, made up of both kids and adults, battles the giant robots and monsters of the evil alien Emperor Guillotine and his human henchmen, known collectively as "Big Fire." Like #28, Giant Robo can fly and possesses incredible strength, but he also has an arsenal of weapons at his command, including laser beam eyes, fingertip missiles, a super strong "Megaton Punch," and other surprises. To control Robo, Daisaku speaks into his wristwatch, announcing the name of the special attack he wants Robo to execute, a practice that has since become common in the Super Robot genre.


Giant Robo was adapted for American audiences under the name Johnny Sokko and His Flying Robot. Other than a few name changes, like Daisaku becoming Johnny Sokko and Big Fire becoming The Gargoyle Gang, the show was a pretty faithful translation. This is a bit surprising, because Giant Robo was pretty violent by American TV standards, with characters dying left and right, and even the child agents of Unicorn taking the occasional bullet. You can find out for yourself over at Hulu, where the show is streaming.

Giant Robo remains popular in Japan and has been featured in numerous manga and anime sequels, most notably the critically acclaimed anime, Giant Robo: The Day the Earth Stood Still.

3. Mazinger Z

When the evil Dr. Hell unleashes his robotic Mechanical Beasts on Japan, Professor Juzo Kabuto develops his own giant robot, Mazinger Z, made from a mysterious alloy called Chogokin, to take them on. However, the professor is killed by one of Hell's henchmen, so it's up to the professor's grandson, Kouji, to command the robot and save Tokyo.

The opening sequence of the Mazinger Z anime

Mazinger Z, created by Go Nagai, debuted in 1972 as both an anime and a manga. The series was influential on many levels, most notably because it introduced the concept of a human pilot inside the giant robot, unlike the external remote controls of Tetsujin 28-go and Giant Robo. Kouji used a small hover craft that locked into Mazinger Z's head, which not only controlled the robot's motions, but also his arsenal of special weapons, like laser beam eyes, heat rays from his chest plate, and the now genre staple, "Rocket Punch," which launched the robot's fist towards the enemy. The show also featured the first female Super Robot, Aphrodite A, a very un-P.C. heroine whose only special attack was to fire missiles from her breasts. In addition, toy company Popy borrowed the word Chogokin to name their line of die-cast metal Super Robot action figures that were incredibly popular in Japan through the 1970s and early '80s.


The anime made its way to syndication in America as 1985's Tranzor Z. However, it didn't get much traction, because network censors demanded the show be heavily edited for violent content, rendering some episodes virtually unwatchable. Overseas, Mazinger Z was followed closely by two sequels, Great Mazinger (1974) and UFO Robot Grendizer (1975), which starred different robots but tied the shows together with common characters to create the Mazinger Trilogy (the three robots are together in the image above left). It went on hiatus until the 1984 anime, God Mazinger, but has pretty much been in some type of manga or anime ever since.

The opening sequence of Tranzor Z for American audiences

4. Getter Robo

Although Professor Saotome initially created three specially designed jets for space exploration, those plans changed when the Dinosaur Empire, evolved from the few dinosaurs that survived extinction, attacked with robotic Mechasauruses. Now, the professor must convince three teenage pilots to combine forces and become the Getter Robo team to save mankind.

The opening sequence of the Getter Robo anime

The Getter Robo manga and anime series, created by Ken Ishikawa and Go Nagai in 1974, only ran for one year, but it introduced "combining robots" to the genre, without which we wouldn't have Voltron or the Constructicons from Transformers. The three jets joined together to form three different robots, each with its own special weapons, and each best suited for fighting in a particular environment — Getter-1 was good for aerial combat, Getter-2 was better on the ground, and Getter-3 was made for underwater melees.

The original show was never adapted for American audiences, but its immediate sequel, Getter Robo G (as well as the Mazinger Z sequel, UFO Robot Grendizer) was adapted as part of a series called Force Five, a syndicated collection of anime shows that was popular in the U.S. during the late '70s and early '80s. In Japan, the series has seen numerous sequels, most recently with 2004's New Getter Robo.

5. Brave Raideen

The opening sequence of Raideen the Brave, with English subtitles of the song lyrics

Released in 1975, the anime Raideen the Brave (commonly called Brave Raideen) told the story of Akira, a young boy who discovers he is a descendant of the lost continent of Mu. When the Demon Empire attacks Earth, Akira is the only one that can pilot the ancient Mu robot, Raideen, in order to defeat Barao, the leader of the Demons.

Akira "fading in," or entering, Raideen for the first time

After beating up his enemy with missiles, a shield and sword hidden in his forearm, a boomerang, a bow with giant arrows, and other awesome weapons, Raideen's special finishing move was to turn into the God Bird, a jet plane with even more special attacks. Not only was this transformation a new concept in anime and manga, but it also revolutionized robot toys. With just a few twists and turns, the Chogokin Raideen action figure could change into the God Bird just like on the show. Since then, many other Super Robots have had alternate forms, including everyone's favorite Robots in Disguise, the Transformers.

Brave Raideen was, and continues to be, a very popular anime in Japan, spawning two remakes — 1996's Raideen the Superior and Raideen in 2006. It's also credited with becoming the first anime to reach a mainstream audience in America, as it was broadcast in syndication across many markets, and even had merchandising tie-ins like T-shirts and toys.

6. Shogun Warriors

Thanks to the stateside popularity of Brave Raideen, Marvel Comics and the Toei Company, the producer of many Super Robot anime, entered into a deal that enabled both companies to develop the other's creative properties into new shows and comic books. Toei used this opportunity to bring a few Marvel-inspired TV shows to Japan, including Spider-Man. Marvel created the Shogun Warriors, a comic book series that starred a handful of Toei's Super Robots. Released in 1979 and only running for 20 issues (the cover of the first issue is at left), the comic is mostly forgotten today. However, the same can't be said for the tie-in toys from Mattel.


The Shogun Warriors toyline featured 13 Super Robot action figures like Brave Raideen (the name was Americanized as "Raydeen"), Great Mazinger, Grandizer, the three robots from Getter Robo G, and others that were popular in Japan, including the giant robot, Leopardon, used by the Japanese version of Spider-Man. (The Japanese Spider-Man show was obviously quite a bit different than the American comic, but that's another mental_floss story for another day.) Kids loved all the accessories, the ability to transform some of the robots into other configurations, and the spring-loaded Rocket Punch action, which became a signature of the line.

A commercial for Shogun Warriors toys

But the toys didn't last long after parents reported that kids were swallowing tiny missiles or getting hit in the eye with those spring-loaded fists. These injuries contributed to stronger regulations in the toy industry and, as a result, sales quickly declined. The Shogun Warriors toys were gone by 1980, but their awesomeness paved the way for Transformers, Voltron, and, arguably, the entire Japanese toy, anime, and manga craze that has since become a national phenomenon in the United States.





Since their peak in the 1970s, Super Robots have been on the decline. Oddly enough, this is often attributed to the creators of Brave Raideen, Yoshiyuki Tomino and Yoshikazu Yasuhiko, with their anime Mobile Suit Gundam released in 1979. Gundam created a new genre called "Real Robots" that has since spawned popular titles like Patlabor, Macross, and Robotech. As opposed to Super Robots, which are essentially indestructible metal superheroes, Real Robot stories take into account things like fuel consumption, limited ammunition, and machine maintenance; perhaps more importantly, the good guys don't always win. While both robot genres have their place in modern pop culture, the uncontested reign of the Super Robot is, sadly, a thing of the past.
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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Library of Congress
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10 Facts About the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
May 29, 2017
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Library of Congress

On Veterans Day, 1921, President Warren G. Harding presided over an interment ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery for an unknown soldier who died during World War I. Since then, three more soldiers have been added to the Tomb of the Unknowns (also known as the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier) memorial—and one has been disinterred. Below, a few things you might not know about the historic site and the rituals that surround it.

1. THERE WERE FOUR UNKNOWN SOLDIER CANDIDATES FOR THE WWI CRYPT. 

Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

To ensure a truly random selection, four unknown soldiers were exhumed from four different WWI American cemeteries in France. U.S. Army Sgt. Edward F. Younger, who was wounded in combat and received the Distinguished Service Medal, was chosen to select a soldier for burial at the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington. After the four identical caskets were lined up for his inspection, Younger chose the third casket from the left by placing a spray of white roses on it. The chosen soldier was transported to the U.S. on the USS Olympia, while the other three were reburied at Meuse Argonne American Cemetery in France.

2. SIMILARLY, TWO UNKNOWN SOLDIERS WERE SELECTED AS POTENTIAL REPRESENTATIVES OF WWII.

One had served in the European Theater and the other served in the Pacific Theater. The Navy’s only active-duty Medal of Honor recipient, Hospitalman 1st Class William R. Charette, chose one of the identical caskets to go on to Arlington. The other was given a burial at sea.

3. THERE WERE FOUR POTENTIAL KOREAN WAR REPRESENTATIVES.

WikimediaCommons // Public Domain

The soldiers were disinterred from the National Cemetery of the Pacific in Hawaii. This time, Army Master Sgt. Ned Lyle was the one to choose the casket. Along with the unknown soldier from WWII, the unknown Korean War soldier lay in the Capitol Rotunda from May 28 to May 30, 1958.

4. THE VIETNAM WAR UNKNOWN WAS SELECTED ON MAY 17, 1984.

Medal of Honor recipient U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Maj. Allan Jay Kellogg, Jr., selected the Vietnam War representative during a ceremony at Pearl Harbor.

5. BUT THE VIETNAM VETERAN WASN'T UNKNOWN FOR LONG.

Wikipedia // Public Domain

Thanks to advances in mitochondrial DNA testing, scientists were eventually able to identify the remains of the Vietnam War soldier. On May 14, 1998, the remains were exhumed and tested, revealing the “unknown” soldier to be Air Force 1st Lt. Michael Joseph Blassie (pictured). Blassie was shot down near An Loc, Vietnam, in 1972. After his identification, Blassie’s family had him moved to Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery in St. Louis. Instead of adding another unknown soldier to the Vietnam War crypt, the crypt cover has been replaced with one bearing the inscription, “Honoring and Keeping Faith with America’s Missing Servicemen, 1958-1975.”

6. THE MARBLE SCULPTORS ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR MANY OTHER U.S. MONUMENTS. 

The Tomb was designed by architect Lorimer Rich and sculptor Thomas Hudson Jones, but the actual carving was done by the Piccirilli Brothers. Even if you don’t know them, you know their work: The brothers carved the 19-foot statue of Abraham Lincoln for the Lincoln Memorial, the lions outside of the New York Public Library, the Maine Monument in Central Park, the DuPont Circle Fountain in D.C., and much more.

7. THE TOMB HAS BEEN GUARDED 24/7 SINCE 1937. 

Tomb Guards come from the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment "The Old Guard". Serving the U.S. since 1784, the Old Guard is the oldest active infantry unit in the military. They keep watch over the memorial every minute of every day, including when the cemetery is closed and in inclement weather.

8. BECOMING A TOMB GUARD IS INCREDIBLY DIFFICULT.

Members of the Old Guard must apply for the position. If chosen, the applicant goes through an intense training period, in which they must pass tests on weapons, ceremonial steps, cadence, military bearing, uniform preparation, and orders. Although military members are known for their neat uniforms, it’s said that the Tomb Guards have the highest standards of them all. A knowledge test quizzes applicants on their memorization—including punctuation—of 35 pages on the history of the Tomb. Once they’re selected, Guards “walk the mat” in front of the Tomb for anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours, depending on the time of year and time of day. They work in 24-hour shifts, however, and when they aren’t walking the mat, they’re in the living quarters beneath it. This gives the sentinels time to complete training and prepare their uniforms, which can take up to eight hours.

9. THE HONOR IS ALSO INCREDIBLY RARE.

The Tomb Guard badge is the least awarded badge in the Army, and the second least awarded badge in the overall military. (The first is the astronaut badge.) Tomb Guards are held to the highest standards of behavior, and can have their badge taken away for any action on or off duty that could bring disrespect to the Tomb. And that’s for the entire lifetime of the Tomb Guard, even well after his or her guarding duty is over. For the record, it seems that Tomb Guards are rarely female—only three women have held the post.

10. THE STEPS THE GUARDS PERFORM HAVE SPECIFIC MEANING.

Everything the guards do is a series of 21, which alludes to the 21-gun salute. According to TombGuard.org:

The Sentinel does not execute an about face, rather they stop on the 21st step, then turn and face the Tomb for 21 seconds. They then turn to face back down the mat, change the weapon to the outside shoulder, mentally count off 21 seconds, then step off for another 21 step walk down the mat. They face the Tomb at each end of the 21 step walk for 21 seconds. The Sentinel then repeats this over and over until the Guard Change ceremony begins.

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