Giant Robo was a kids' series that was ahead of its time when it first aired on NET on October 11, 1967, which is, of course, now TV Asahi in Japan. It was one of the brain children of Mitsuteru Yokoyama, who also gave us Gigantor.
Most of us, however, got to see this unique series only years later depending on the generation in which we were born. It was in the early 1970s that it caught on in the US. In India and other South Asian countries, it was not until the 1980s that kids would get to enjoy this fantasy tale about a boy and his robot. Not unlike many other shows of the time, Giant Robo was entirely in black and white with very limited special effects. The tokusatsu show was produced by Toei Company Limited and is one of Yokoyama's mangas.
There was something about the show that if you had the opportunity to see it when you were a kid, the elements from the show just stayed with you. Of course, English audiences probably knew it better as Johnny Sokko and his Flying Robot but the credits in the English version still ran as Giant Robo and that is how it is most popularly known.
The series, though conceptualized as kid-centric, and revolving around a boy named Johnny Sokko was probably a mature ancestor of today's power rangers. The larger plot was about an alien invasion of earth but it is a not a direct assault, rather a measured one using (like all great villains) minions in the form of a terrorist organization named Gargoyle or as people like to remember them 'the gargoyle gang'.
The story begins when a young boy named Johnny Sokko and a secret agent named Jerry Mano are kidnapped when a ship they are on is attacked by a monstrous sea creature. Actually, the monster story line is standard through the show with only the type varying from episode to episode. Gargoyle turns out to be the kidnappers and it is revealed they are also behind the monster attack. Mano is revealed to be working for a secret organization named Unicorn, which strangely seems to have very limited members. Sokko and Mano are held captive on an island and as they try to escape come across another one of Gargoyle's projects – a giant robot. This project is run by another captive, Dr Lucius Guardian, a scientist. The robot is almost ready but cannot be switched on without atomic energy. Guardian has its control device which actually looks like a wristwatch and is designed to be voice-activated by only one person. Once a voice is entered, no other voice will be able to control the giant machine. In the course of events that follow, the robot is activated and Sokko winds up as his controller. This sets up the basis for the rest of the series.
Unicorn is aware of threat from Gargoyle headed by its mysterious alien leader known as Guillotine and so asks young Sokko to join its ranks as a means to use the machine that will be referred to as 'Giant Robot' to combat them. For some reason, all Unicorn members are given a number along with the letter 'U'. Mano turns out to be U3 and is a friend, mentor-figure, partner and protector for Sokko throughout the show. Sokko's title is U7 and is the main protagonist of the series being the focus for all children watching the show. For the major part of the series, the episode bear a strong resemblance – a monster attack or a Guillotine plot put into motion by Gargoyle, which leads to Sokko calling on Giant Robot for assistance and he saves the day. He is aided by his arsenal of weapons, which are fun to discover as the show moves on.
However, what is not so much fun and perhaps not very suitable for kids are all the sequences involving deaths with most characters using guns, including Sokko himself. Obviously, the Giant Robot sequences have proven to be the true highlight. The robot has an Egyptian sarcophagus look to his face and is capable to flying to any destination to aid his controller, Sokko. He does this by means of a jet-pack like rocket thrusters. He would always also do the very same movement of his arms in a particular way to prepare for launch. The effects were mainly through models and were none too impressive but for its time it was pretty advanced, especially in relation to children's programming of the time.moreless