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6 Influential (and Awesome) Giant Japanese Robots

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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The 10 Best Sci-Fi Movies on Netflix Right Now
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Disney/Marvel

If you’re in the mood for some speculative fiction and your pile of Arthur C. Clarke books has been exhausted, you could do worse than to tune in to Netflix. The streaming service is constantly acquiring new films in the sci-fi and fantasy genres that should satisfy most fans of alternative futures. Here are five of the best sci-fi movies on Netflix right now.

1. CUBE (1997)

This low-budget independent film may have helped inspire the current "escape room" attraction fad. Six strangers wake up in a strange room that leads only to other rooms—all of them equipped with increasingly sadistic ways of murdering occupants.

2. METROPOLIS (1927)

Inspiring everything from Star Wars to Lady Gaga, Fritz Lang’s silent epic about a revolt among the oppressed people who help power an upper-class city remains just as visually impressive today as it did nearly 100 years ago.

3. TROLL HUNTER (2010)

A Norwegian fairy tale with bite, Troll Hunter follows college-aged filmmakers who convince a bear trapper to take them along on his exploits. But the trapper fails to disclose one crucial detail: He hunts towering, aggressive trolls.

4. NEXT (2007)

Nic Cage stars a a magician who can see a few minutes into the future. He's looking to profit with the skill: the FBI and others are looking to exploit it.

5. THE HOST (2006)

A slow-burn monster movie from South Korea, The Host has plenty of tense scenes coupled with a message about environmental action: The river-dwelling beast who stalks a waterfront town is the product of chemical dumping.  

6. GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOLUME 2 (2017)

Marvel's tale of a misfit band of space jockeys was a surprise hit in 2014. The sequel offers more Groot, more Rocket Raccoon, and the addition of Kurt Russell as a human manifestation of an entire sentient planet.

7. STARDUST (2007)

Director Matthew Vaughn's adaptation of the Neil Gaiman novel features Michelle Pfeiffer and Robert De Niro as supporting players in the tale of a man (a pre-Daredevil Charlie Cox) in search of a fallen star to gift to his love.

8. KING KONG (2005)

Director Peter Jackson (The Lord of the Rings) set his considerable sights on a remake of the 1933 classic, with the title gorilla pestered and exploited by opportunistic humans.

9. DONNIE DARKO (2001)

What will a teenage mope do when a giant rabbit tells him the world is about to end? The answer comes in this critical and cult hit, which drew attention for its moody cinematography and an arresting performance by a then-unknown Jake Gyllenhaal.  

10. ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY (2016)

Soon we'll have a movie for every single major or minor incident ever depicted in the Star Wars universe. For now, we'll have to settle for this one-off that explains how the Rebel Alliance got their hands on the plans for the Death Star.

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15 Surprising Facts About Hill Street Blues
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NBC

Until the impressive record was surpassed by The West Wing in 2000, Hill Street Blues held the title of most Emmy-awarded freshman series, with eight trophies for its debut season alone (despite its basement-level ratings). The drama that chronicled the lives of the men and women working the Hill Street police station beat has been credited with changing television ever since its debut in 1981.

Among Hill Street Blues's innovations are the use of handheld cameras, a large ensemble cast, multi-episode story arcs, and a mix of high drama and comedy—elements which still permeate the small screen today. Here are 15 facts about the groundbreaking series.

1. STEVEN BOCHCO AND MICHAEL KOZOLL CREATED IT, DESPITE NOT WANTING TO DO ANOTHER COP SHOW.

MTM Enterprises was specifically hired by NBC to create a cop show, so Steven Bochco (who later co-created L.A. Law and NYPD Blue) and Michael Kozoll (co-writer of First Blood) agreed to do it—as long as the network left them “completely alone to do whatever we want,” according to Bochco. NBC agreed, and the two wrote the pilot script in 10 days.

2. IT WAS INFLUENCED BY A 1977 DOCUMENTARY.

The show's creators looked to The Police Tapes, a 1977 documentary that chronicled a South Bronx police precinct during a particularly hostile time in New York City's history, for inspiration. NBC's then-president Fred Silverman was inspired to create a cop show in the first place after seeing Fort Apache, the Bronx (1981), which stars Paul Newman as a veteran cop in a South Bronx police district.

3. BRUCE WEITZ HAD AN AGGRESSIVE AUDITION.

Bruce Weitz landed the role of undercover officer Mick Belker by playing the part. "I went to the audition dressed as how I thought the character should dress—and loud and pushy," Weitz recalled. "When I got into the room, I jumped up on [MTM co-founder] Grant Tinker's desk and went after his nose. I heard he said afterwards, 'There's no way I can't offer him the job.'"

4. JOE SPANO THOUGHT HE WAS MISCAST.

Joe Spano in 'Hill Street Blues'
NBC

Joe Spano auditioned for the role of Officer Andrew Renko, but ended up playing Lieutenant Henry Goldblume. “I was always disappointed that I didn’t end up playing Renko,” Spano told Playboy in 1983. Spano also wasn't a fan of his character's penchant for bow ties, which he claimed was Michael Kozoll's idea. "I fought it all the way," he said. "I thought it was a stereotypical thing to do. But it actually turned out to be right. You don’t play into the bow tie—you fight against it."

5. BARBARA BOSSON WAS BOCHCO’S WIFE, BUT WASN’T PLANNING ON BEING A SERIES REGULAR.

Barbara Bosson played Fay, Captain Frank Furillo’s ex-wife, who was only supposed to appear in the first episode in order to “contextualize” the captain, according to Bochco. But when Silverman watched the episode, he asked, “She’s going to be a regular, right?”

6. IT TOOK MIKE POST TWO HOURS TO WRITE THE ICONIC THEME SONG.

The composer—who also wrote the themes for The Greatest American Hero, Magnum, P.I., The A-Team, NYPD Blue, and Law & Order—was instructed by Bochco to write something “antithetical” to the visuals. Post wanted to add more orchestration to the piano piece; Bochco disagreed.

Post also spent four to five hours writing five minutes of new music for each episode of Hill Street Blues.

7. THE PILOT TESTED POORLY.

According to a network memo, among the many problems test audiences noted were that "the main characters were perceived as being not capable and having flawed personalities ... Audiences found the ending unsatisfying. There are too many loose ends ... 'Hill Street' did not come off as a real police station ... There was too much chaos in the station house, again reflecting that the police were incapable of maintaining control even on their home ground." NBC picked it up anyway.

8. RENKO WAS SUPPOSED TO DIE IN THE FIRST EPISODE, AND COFFEY WAS SUPPOSED TO DIE AT THE END OF THE FIRST SEASON.

Charles Haid had other projects lined up, so he agreed to take the part of Renko, a man destined to die almost immediately. But another series Haid was relying on didn’t get picked up, and NBC claimed Renko tested too well for him to meet an early end. Ed Marinaro's Coffey was meant to be shot and killed in “Jungle Madness,” the final episode of the first season. The ending was changed to make it a cliffhanger, and Marinaro’s character survived.

9. THEY HAD HISTORICALLY BAD SEASON ONE RATINGS.

A 'Hill Street Blues' cast photo
NBC Television/Getty Images

In its first season, Hill Street Blues show finished 87th out of 96 shows, making it the lowest-rated drama in television history to get a second season. Bochco credited the show’s renewal to two things: NBC being a last place network at the time, and the NBC sales department noticing that high-end advertisers were buying commercial time during the show.

10. THEY NEVER SPECIFIED WHERE THE SHOW WAS LOCATED, BUT IT’S PROBABLY CHICAGO.

The exterior of the Maxwell Street police station in Chicago filled in for the fictitious Hill Street precinct for the opening credits and background footage. It was added to the National Register of Historical Places in 1996 and is currently the University of Illinois at Chicago police department headquarters.

11. PLENTY OF FUTURE STARS MADE EARLY APPEARANCES.

Don Cheadle, James Cromwell, Laurence Fishburne, Tim Robbins, Andy Garcia, Cuba Gooding Jr., Danny Glover, Frances McDormand, and Michael Richards all found early work on the series.

12. SAMMY DAVIS JR. WANTED ON THE SHOW.

Sammy Davis Jr.
Michael Fresco, Evening Standard, Getty Images

Unfortunately, it never happened. Sometime after Bochco wrote in a reference to the singer, Davis and Bochco ran into each other. Davis said he loved it and started jumping up and down.

13. BOCHCO HAD A WAR WITH THE CENSORS.

Loving to use puns for titles, Bochco wanted to title an episode “Moon Over Uranus,” after Cape Canaveral was just in the news. Standards and Practices said no. Bochco eventually got his way, and proceeded to name the next two season three episodes “Moon Over Uranus: The Sequel” and “Moon Over Uranus: The Final Legacy.”

14. DAVID MILCH AND DICK WOLF’S CAREERS WERE LAUNCHED FROM IT.

David Milch (co-creator of NYPD Blue and creator of Deadwood) went from Yale writing teacher to a TV script writer through his former Yale roommate, Jeff Lewis. His first script for the show was season three's “Trial by Fury” episode, which won an Emmy, a WGA Award, and a Humanitas Prize. He later became an executive producer on the show. The first TV script credited to Dick Wolf (creator of the Law & Order franchise) was the season six episode, "Somewhere Over the Rambow." His first sole credit, for “What Are Friends For?,” earned Wolf an Emmy nomination in 1986.

It’s also worth noting that journalist and author Bob Woodward received a writing credit for season seven's “Der Roachenkavalier” and David Mamet penned the same season's “A Wasted Weekend” for his first television credit.

15. DENNIS FRANZ’S CHARACTER HAD A BRIEF, COMEDIC SPIN-OFF.

Dennis Franz (later Andy Sipowicz on NYPD Blue) first played corrupt cop Sal Benedetto in five episodes, before reappearing for the final two seasons as Lt. Norman Buntz. After Hill Street Blues ended its seven-season run, Franz reprised the latter character in Beverly Hills Buntz, which ran for one season beginning in 1987. In the 30-minute dramedy, Buntz was a private investigator after quitting the police force. Only nine episodes were broadcast by NBC.

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