Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Mazinger Z (マジンガー・ゼット), also known as Tranzor Z, is the name of a manga by artist Go Nagai, first published in Japan in 1972, and turned into a long-running anime television series later in the same year. The series lasted for 92 episodes, making it the longest running anime mecha series in the genre. It remains the stepping stone of the Super Robot anime and is influence is still felt today.
Mazinger Z is a gigantic mecha made of a fictitious metal called Chogokin (Super-Alloy Z in its American translation). Chogokin is mined from a reservoir of a new element that is found only in the sediment of Mt. Fuji in Japan. The mecha was built by Professor Kabuto as a secret weapon against the forces of evil, represented in the series by the Mechanical Beasts (mecha used for evil purposes) of Doctor Hell. The latter was originally a capable archaeologist who discovered ruins of a lost pre-Grecian civilization on a mysterious island. That civilization was loosely based on ancient Mycenae, called the Mikenese Empire in the series. One of his findings was that the Mikenese used an army of steel golems about 60 to 65 feet in height. Finding prototypes of those golems underground, which could be remote-controlled, and realizing their immense power on the battlefield, Doctor Hell goes mad. He has all the other scientists of his research team killed, except Kabuto, who escapes to his homeland Japan to warn the world of the imminent danger. Hell meanwhile sets up a mobile headquarter on an island that he can sail around on, and plans to make himself the new ruler of the world. Kabuto constructs Mazinger Z, and just before dying as the result of an assassination attempt by Hell’s henchmen, manages to inform his grandson Koji Kabuto about its use. Koji becomes the robot’s pilot, and from that point on battles new mechanical monsters sent by Doctor Hell in every episode.
Influence in the anime genre
The series is noteworthy for introducing many of the accepted stock features of giant robot anime: The mechanical marvel that is the world’s only hope, forgotten civilizations, power-hungry mad scientists, incompetent henchmen, lovable supporting characters (usually younger siblings, love interests or friends of the hero), the scientist father or grandfather who loses his life heroically, and strangely clothed, eccentric or physically deformed villains. Mazinger Z was also the first show to feature a female robot, Aphrodite A also piloted by a female, token girl Sayaka Yumi, and a comic-relief robot made of spare parts and garbage who gets destroyed in every episode, named Boss Borot, after his pilot, muscled but brainless gangleader Boss.
The peculiarity about the Super Robot, differing from the ones in earlier robot manga, is that Koji has to fly a small red hover-vehicle up to the head of the humanoid armor. The hover-vehicle, named Pilder (PAIRUDAA) lands in the head of the robot and switches it on. Go Nagai originally wanted this vehicle to be the hero’s motorcycle, but decided against it to avoid a similarity to another popular Japanese action hero at that time, Kamen Rider. Manga and anime historians see the Pilder-Robot combination as the origin of the “transforming robot” genre, because it marks one of the first published examples in a manga of two distinctive vehicles forming a specific entity. This is often interpreted as the root of later series like Go-Lion (Voltron – Defender of the Universe), the Transformers, and the Zords in the Power Rangers series. It should be noted though, that a similar concept was used earlier by Nagai in his own Getter Robo . Mazinger Z is not a vehicle that transforms into another shape, yet it requires the smaller, non-combative vehicle to get going.
Another characteristic is seen in the unusual use of Mazinger's formidable weaponry: Koji would always announced with a shout the name of the super-power or attack he was about to use, including laser-beams, melting rays, lightning bolts, and the famous “flying fist” (Rocket Punch!!!) attack. Most of this simple gimmicks were later incorporated in most of Nagai’s robot series and widely imitated in many other mecha shows.
Yet the most notable characteristic that the show brought to the Super Robot genre was the relationship between machines and humans: Go Nagai established form the start the premise that machines and humans could be as one and interact between each other. Since Koji piloted the robot from the head, he acted as the robot's "brain", and almost every time Koji would move, feel, laugh and suffer inside its cockpit, the robot would act the same, mimicking its pilot. Additionally, some minor characters included were cyborgs, that could act like humans, showing feelings and emotions (even cry). These ideas were used repeatedly in many similar shows and influenced others (Evangelion is one example).
In terms of plot, despite being all too simplistic in its portrait of good and evil characters, the show was able to stay fresh with young audiences with an irresistible mix of action, horror, comedy, and drama, sometimes all in one single episode. Some of them (specially after the introduction of the Boss Borot), were heavy on slapstick and jokes, even to the point of making fun on the hero and the villians; others carried strong melodramatic touches (this characteristics of heavy satire humor and melodrama were in fact staples of almost all of Go Nagai's creations in manga, even before their adaptations to the small screen).
Later sequels of the franchise share many characteristics of the Japanese tokusatsu heroes as well as 1970s kaiju films. The team-up anime Grendizer & Getter Robo G & Great Mazinger vs. The Giant Sea Monster is very similar to live-action films like Godzilla vs. Ebirah.
The Mazinger Z cartoon programme ran to a total of 92 TV episodes from 1972 to 1974, and culminated in the destruction of the original robot and the immediate introduction of its successor, Great Mazinger, which was basically the same design with additional red wings and a big V-shaped emblem on its chest. The idea of replacing the first robot with Great Mazinger (sometimes called New Mazinger Z) is a variation of a death-rebirth myth found in most Japanese action series: The title character, even if it is a robot frame, is never truly defeated or destroyed, only improved upon, and replaced by the next version.
Another sequel, albeit in a different line, was introduced in 1975, with the appearance of Grendizer, set in the Mazinger and Great Mazinger story continuity that included Koji Kabuto as a supporting character.
The shows spawned so-called “team-up movies” early on, which were like longer episodes that teamed up Mazinger Z with one of Go Nagai’s other creations, as in Mazinger Z vs. Devilman (MAJINGAA Z TAI DEBIRUMAN) in 1973, Mazinger Z vs. The General of Darkness (MAJINGAA Z TAI ANKOKU DAISHOGUN) in 1974. Thirty years after the start of the original programme, Nagai’s company Dynamic Planning released a remake as an OVA, named Mazinkaiser (MAJINKAIZAA) in 2002.
Mazinger Z around the world
Aside from Japan and most countries in the Far East, Mazinger found an audience in many parts of the world, as it was translated to many languages. In Europe, Mazinger was televised in France, Spain and Italy, with good success. The show was also shown in a lot of countries in Central and South America. In most of these countries, the show was aired in its entirety and without editing, and the series has kept a large cult following.
Then, in 1984, the show was brought to the United States and renamed Tranzor Z. However, unlike other country that brought on the show, Tranzor Z's was heavily edited and shortened to 65 episodes, with the storyline changed along with most of the characters names. And in the US, the credits went to producer and owner, Bunker Jenkins (although credit was given to the Toei company). The rescripting and re-editing of the show for the United States audiences was done because the content of the show was deemed too violent, and was not permitted (and still isn't) in a show that was aimed mostly at little kids and teenagers. The content in the original Mazinger series was, in fact, highly explicit and graphical in terms of violence, sometimes showing (along with the obvious giant robot battles) violent deaths of background characters, people running and screaming while cities are destroyed by beast machines and gruesome accident scenes (one scene showed an commercial aircraft full of people flying through a cloud, to later crash against a giant air fortress built by the "bad guys", killing all passengers). This and other content was considered too violent for a show that was considered a "kids' cartoon". However, many anime fans argue that the editing of the series caused the show's poor rating during its stint in the States.
Mazinger remains one of Go Nagai’s most enduring success stories, spawning many products in the realm of merchandising, model kits , plastic and die-cast metal toys, action figures and other collectibles. Mazinger has also been successful in the video game area (at least in Japan), as one of the main stars in the acclaimed battle simulation game series Super Robot Wars, released by Banpresto, featuring characters and units from almost all Mazinger-related shows, alongside other anime franchises such as Gundam, et. al.
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