My previous blog post on Giant Robo emphasised how it insisted that the viewer remained resolute in their belief in a simple, good versus evil, conflict – this is a useful lie needed to keep anyone, particularly protagonist Daisaku, from thinking too much about Big Fire’s motivations. The series is set at a point in a longer, ongoing story where the mountain of these useful lies that was necessary to perpetuate a content, prosperous society is beginning to collapse, and the villains’ plan is to speed this along by force. Yet what makes it such a compelling animé – and what adds so much to the storytelling – is the use of the soundtrack to manipulate the audience’s responses, and then undermine them.
The early episodes of Giant Robo, even as the story begins to unfold and the safe heroic myth collapses, begin with this piece of music and a heroic procession of action-sequences. It has a newsreel-esque urgency and optimism – the viewer is reminded that the Shizuma Drive has solved the energy crisis, that great powers clash in the shadows and that one should not be afraid of Big Fire’s library of robots (all taken from other Mitsuteru Yokoyama works such as Babel 2, Shin Seiki Den Mars and Tetsujin 28 – with even the iconic Black Ox, the first ever rival super robot in animé and recognisable enemy Monster featuring) because the “International Police Organisation’s Mighty Experts of Justice”, led by Giant Robo, will fight back. This optimism only ends, quite notably, with Robo’s apparent destruction in episode 3; the Experts have failed completely by this point and there is, quite plainly, a stronger robot in the Vogler Sphere. Yet episode 4 begins, undaunted, with the same assertion – now quite pathetic. Episode 3 saw even Daisaku, the naïve child, lose faith in Robo as it was crippled by the sphere – yet episode 4 assumes the viewer needs reminding it is the world’s strongest robot, and that there is any hope of victory even as the electric net machines are destroyed and Big Fire run amok.
Obviously, a consistent opening credits theme is usual for a TV series – yet Giant Robo‘s opening is not, in effect, a simple credits sequence to remind viewers of what they are watching. That it contains a restating of the narrative premise that the viewer is supposed to believe in – and which is still within reach in episodes 1 and 2 – is an effective decision. It is like the opening sequence is for a completely different series, one of evil robots terrorising the civilised world, of fascistic masked goons theatrically throwing down their lives for the evil masterminds of Big Fire. This would be a story where Giant Robo would be the strongest – the enemy machines destroy tanks and buildings but could be easily imagined being broken like the pathetic recurring figure of Ivan and his machine Uranus in the series proper. The true plot of Giant Robo is about how eventually the safe world of heroes and beatable, unquestionably evil enemies collapses despite everyone’s best efforts to preserve it because it is easy.
Episode 1 ends in narrative terms with the Experts’ base under siege by Alberto, but hope remaining – Daisaku, Go and Ginrei have escaped, albeit with Ivan in hot pursuit and Giant Robo in turn rushing to save the day, Taizo has fought Alberto to a standstill and – as episode 2 begins – Issei and Yohshi are en route to help. As the scene fades into a Dezaki-esque dramatic still, and the narrator, in high pulp style, asks what next for our heroes, there is a stately and heroic march to the credits. There is not another ending theme like this, though, until episode 5, where this theme plays:
Yet this is not the music for Giant Robo flying to save the day, it is called the Theme of Big Fire; even if the opening sequences will not give up the lie that the situation is salvageable, the ending will. More interestingly, though, is how noble and imposing this sounds; it is not quite the heroic, overblown stuff of Episode 1’s ending yet it is still much more “good” sounding than one would expect from the music of the villains. Compare it with these two tracks from episode 1, both representing a point in the series where Big Fire is clearly painted as the enemy:
Neither of these even use really recognisable musical elements from the “Theme of Big Fire” featured in episode 5; by contrast, even at times when the going is bad for the heroes, the same melody of “It’s Name is Giant Robo” – which is the de facto theme for the Experts – is used as an underpinning for all scenes with the robot. There is no such link for the villains; they get very thematic music (the Dies Irae fitting the destruction of Paris and the beginning of the apocalypse to come) yet their “theme” is not made clear until after all the revelations – at a point where they are no longer quite so unequivocally the operatic, theatrical villains they have initially been painted as. Much as the repetition of the opening narration and themes thus supported the ideas raised by the series about deception and the need to blithely ignore the consequences of actions, the musical deceptions surrounding Big Fire mirror the gradual revelation of the truth about Emmanuel and Vogler.
The soundtrack is a key aspect of any film or TV series; without appropriate music, a scene’s power is frequently lost. Similarly, unexpected juxtapositions of music and action can alter the reading of a scene by the audience – musical motifs are key to soundtracks. As an example within a similar genre, consider the soundtrack to Pacific Rim; it has one motif used throughout almost all the songs within it, unifying all the heroes and providing – via this repetition – reinforcement of what is about to happen. Giant Robo does something similar in its use of one unified theme for the main robot itself, but at the same time its most interesting aspects of its soundtrack are when unified themes themselves become incongruous, or there is no such unity in the musical accompaniment to characters or scenes.