Series Recommendation: Muteki Choujin Zambot 3

Even when no-one appreciate you and scorn you,
would you keep fighting for humanity?

During the 70s-80s, giant robots were staples of Japanese’ television. They are what kids watch after school, on weekends, what adults watch after work and late at night. Most mechas back then are Super Robots aimed at selling toys with a high episode count and a monster-of-the-week format. But occasionally there are format breakers – and who best to make one than one of the most eccentric Director of all time – Tomino Toshiyuki. Incidentally, this series also earned him his infamous nickname “Kill ‘Em All” Tomino.

Invincible Superman Zambot 3 was made in 1977 with only 23-episode. It is also the first of the Muteki trilogy consisting of Zambot 3, Daitarn 3 and Tryder G7. The series started off with the usual “alien invasion” and a unique Super Robot that can stand against them while the rest of the world remains helpless. But to human’s favor, the alien only send one evil robot at a time. However, the fight isn’t just simply “evil robot appears, Zambot 3 arrive and fight it, won and everyone head home” kinda thing. There’s a lot of things that Director Tomino included in this “toys advertisement” that might shock even the most veteran fans.

+ Plot: In the series, Zambot 3 is owned and controlled by the Jin family – with Kappei Jin being the main pilot of the Zambo Ace and Zambot 3. Their enemy is the despicable Gaizok that seek to destroy the Earth and annihilate all humans. So as the only people who can, the Jin family take up the responsibility to fight. However, the citizens aren’t pleased with the fighting and attribute Gaizok’s aggressive to be Kappei and his relatives’ faults. They think the Jin family, and by extension their robots, are the causes of the Gaizok invasion that caused a great many lives to be lost. This type of settings isn’t very common in a children-centric Super Robot show, so Director Tomino pulling this type of story is both bold and surprising.

Zambot 3 isn’t just about protecting the weak and repel the bad guys, but it’s also endurance, empathy and perseverance. The development of the cast – most particularly Kappei and his “rival” Kouzuki – is some of the most hard-hitting and emotional out there. Everyone in Zambot 3 feel like they are truly fighting and living in a war, unlike other series where most remain oblivious after the weekly attacks. Zambot managed to use the monster-of-the-week format to advance the plot linearly at a fast pace, instead of doing the usual episodic format. To its advantage, Zambot 3’s fast pace manage to deliver the emotional impact way faster and harder than most mecha series out there, and since the series doesn’t differentiate between “soldiers” and “normal people”, it hits hard.

+ Animation: Zambot 3 is a 70s show, so the quality is pretty much what you’d expect. There are a lot of reused animation, mostly the combination scenes and weapon equipping parts. The combat is actually decently paced and well-choreographed. There are a lot of off-model frames, but it is quite the norm for old hand-drawn series. The most notable parts are the explosion effect and facial expressions, and Zambot 3 did a very good job of depicting it.

+ Mecha Design: Designer Hirayama Rioji undertook the task of creating the titular robot Zambot 3 and its components. It was actually his first design job at Sunrise when he joined the company. The three components include a jet that can transform into a smaller robot, a tank-like vehicle that can fly freely (because reasons), and a frigate ship. The combination sequence is well-thought out considering it has to also be feasible to be made into a toy. The crescent moon addition on the head was a toy-conscious decision since everything back then was preferred to be symmetrical, and I think this add a lot of personality to the robot itself.

+ Music: The opening is very standard 70s Super Robot shows which is very energetic, and has the robot name in the lyrics, praising it to be the awesome warrior that it is. Zambot’s soundtrack highlight is actually the ending, with a somber tone with the lyrics that depict all the emotional turmoil that went on in the series. It gets even more impactful in the latter part of the series.

+ Conclusion: Zambot 3 is not just a typical Super Robot series, Tomino weaved a lot of social impact of war – which was felt by war victims all over the world. Aside from the good vs bad aspect of the series, Zambot is also about the unyielding will to persevere against the current, about self-sacrifice and the courage to pursue justice. The battles of Kappei and his family isn’t just material, but also physiological and mentally. Zambot 3 is one of those series that made you feel more than just some mecha battles to save the day, but also about the dark and noble side of the human heart.

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