Way back in the day there was a show on TV called Wee Willy Webber’s colorful Cartoon show. If you weren’t around the Philadelphia Tri-State area back in the 70’s you have probably never seen it. But I was alive then and I used to tune in after school to see Willy Webber introduce shows like Speed Racer, Ultra man, Marine Boy and Johnny Sokko and His Flying Robot.
One of these days I’m going to find out what causes the Japanese obsession with giant robots and monsters, it made up so much of my childhood entertainment. Aired in 1969 (in Japan) the show was about a young boy (about 12 it looks like) that comes to control a giant flying robot. You see, the evil Space emperor Guillotine has come to take over the Earth. I don’t know what he’s an Emperor of, since he doesn’t really come with any troops. Instead he employs some thugs of Earth into his Gargoyle Gang. The Secret Organization called UNICORN is tasked to protect the Earth.
UNICORN agent Jerry Mano is on an ocean liner when he meets the aforementioned Johnny Sokko. Why Johnny is on a cruise by himself (being only about 12 years old and all) is never explained. But just then Guillotine’s monster Dracolon attacks the ship! Jerry and Johnny escape the ships destruction but end up on an island that is occupied by GARGOYLE. There they find Dr. Lucius Guardian being held prisoner by the evil GARGOYLE GANG. They’ve forced him to create a giant Robot to assist them in their takeover of the planet. Guardian explains that the robot will obey the first voice it hears in a control transmitter disguised as a wristwatch. Johnny absentmindedly talks into the watch. The scientist then helps Johnny and Jerry escape since he’s decided to thwart Guillotine by blowing up the base with a nuclear bomb that he’s planted. Oh, and incidentally, , the Robot needs an infusion of nuclear energy before it can be activated. See where this is going? Well, I’ll draw a map for ya if you don’t.
Jerry and Johnny escape the GARGOYLE base and the nuclear explosion activates the robot. Since Johnny was the first person to speak into the watch he can control the Robot. In the finest fashion of Japanese monster shows, Guillotine sends Dracolon to decimate Tokyo. But Johnny and Jerry arrive there via the robot and for the first time the Robot sees action. Using its power, Johnny destroys the monster and saves Japan (and by default the world).
But for the series as a whole…well, it’s a kid’s show, really. Every episode pitted the Giant robot and Johnny (who is now a UNICORN agent) against a new threat sent by Guillotine. Even though the show was obviously meant for a younger crowd though, it did have a few things in it that made it a teeny bit violent to the adult measure. There ain’t no ray guns used like in Ultra man. UNICORN and GARGOYLE have many gun battles. Johnny himself carries a pistol and blows away bad guys at a frequent pace. It’s not a very bloody thing, but people do die. Amazingly, not one of the good guys. To me that’s a more dangerous message than just wanton violence on TV. Still it’s no wonder why this series was a big hit for US kids back in the day…..what kid around Johnny’s age wouldn’t want to be a gun totin’ secret agent that controlled a giant robot in a fight to save the Earth? I damn sure did and I tuned in every day. Of course the series never answered the question about Johnny’s parents and their conspicuous absence. (They kind of did in the episode “Dr. Engali, Master of Evil” by mentioning that Johnny’s father was a traveling businessman of some sort….still, it was only a plot device in that episode).
Throughout the series the Robot faced a lot of monsters and defeated them all. But he also faced all kinds of weird alien spymasters that Guillotine sent to Earth. Dr. Botanus, Fangar, Harlequin, the Golden knight, etc. Despite the threats though, the series had a Status Quo effect. No matter what happened everything would be back to normal the next episode. I guess this is why the episodes can be shown in almost any order. I say almost because eventually near the end of the series some of the recurring villains start getting killed off. The final episode pits the Giant Robot against Guillotine himself and the Robot scores a pyrrhic victory…to defeat Guillotine it sacrifices itself.
The series never really had a sequel, even though an anime version was made in the 90’s and to be honest, it’s superior in story to the original. If you can get Giant Robo, The Day the Earth Stood Still on DVD you need to tell me, because I have it on VHS and it’s an excellent series. The robot is more defined in it and definitely more aggressive. In the Anime series the robot seems to act on its own when needed, not just at Johnny’s command. (In the anime series Johnny is named Diasaku, which I’m told is his name in the Japanese live action series)
But as for the original TV series….heck, it’s a great bit of nostalgia for us older folks and its entertaining enough for kids. The version I have on DVD isn’t a great transfer though. If you get a hold of it you might want to consider watching it on your DVD drive for your computer. The picture is a bit grainy on a large TV but on a smaller screen it’s decent. There are 26 original episodes of the show and while a few scenes might scare younger children, they are pretty much kid friendly. The good guys always win and no one really gets hurt. Plus the theme music is pretty cool.
SPECIAL FEATURES: Absolutely none
WHO’S GONNA WANT IT: Giant Robot fans will want this, but its touch and go for anyone else. If you don’t like giant monster stuff stay away.
CAN I BUY IT: If you do an internet search for the complete series you’ll end up with several sites. Remember, some of these are hi-speed dupes so the picture isn’t as clear as you might like. My advice is to look into the Ultra Man Webring and see the sites there selling the collection. The Three disk set will probably be the best one you can find to date.