The Eldran super-robot series is arguably less well-known than the Yuusha series, in part owing to a lack of translation available before the licensing of Absolutely Invincible Raijin-Oh. Before I watched any of the shows, I was aware of them only as younger-skewing adventure series which had largely interchangeable designs and often large casts of principal characters. However, after seeing that Nekketsu Saikyou Gosaurer (1993-4) (according to ANN translated as Matchless Passion Gosaurer) was receiving ongoing subtitles – and having seen a few episodes of the fully translated Ganbaruger – I decided to try it. The series proved highly enjoyable, standing out within a crowded and largely interchangeable genre as being among the better examples.
The Eldran series are loosely continuity-driven; it was clear from watching the 1992 predecessor to Gosaurer, Ganbaruger, that certain characters would recur (an almost-identical military commander appears in the later show and it makes a joke about how once again, the army are not allowed to pilot the super-robot) and the space god figure Eldran recurs throughout. However, while these elements appear throughout there is not a fixed timeline that anything is particularly made of, or a strong ongoing story, merely cute callbacks.
Gosaurer‘s story is, by the standards of what it is, not so much ambitious as chaotic and that is very much to its credit; something that I keep considering as I write various things and give various talks at conventions about the mecha genre is how effectively various shows find a compromise between being story-driven and episodic. The earlier Yuusha series, especially Exkaiser, are after a point tediously episodic; notable for the strange stories that feature but reliant on nowhere near enough jokes to carry it (here Goldran is a pleasant exception – it is a series of nonsensical and often very stupid individual episodes that have a linking theme but really are an excuse to build up to a daft punchline or visual gag each time). Little happens in Exkaiser, the same one-note jokes are deployed in the same way be it episode 3 or 30.
By contrast, Gosaurer has a plot that serves mostly as a justification for gradually more impressive fights and by the final arc a whole lot of over-the-top ideas run together. The main villain sends variously competent minions to menace earth, they gradually get more personality as the series goes on until Engine King actually has a storyline to his arc, and then the final episodes decided that this is not interesting enough and over the course of 10 episodes the heroes travel through time, meet an evil doppelganger robot, witness the extinction of the dinosaurs, see the main pilot turned into a cyborg and then turned back, and finally fight the final boss. It is a clear excuse for ever more action-packed setpieces but there is nevertheless enough drama to be compelling. Something I find important to keep in mind when writing about much anime is not necessarily what I get from it beyond basic enjoyment but whether it is interesting in comparison to media for its intended audience – and the non-stop chaos of Gosaurer‘s finale is a fitting payoff for the episodes before. It would be greatly overreaching to say it is much more than fun action with a mildly positive message, but it nevertheless does what it sets out to do better than many other shows from the same time.
Before watching, all I knew about the series was that it was the super-robot show from the 1990s where the whole school turned into the robot and the whole class piloted it, and that was absolutely true. Indeed, that aspect of the series was what made it significantly more enjoyable than other similar series; ordinarily there is a small main cast who do all the action, a secondary cast who are the victims of the villain’s plot of the week and then the adults existing to do various officious things and offer positive messages about family. Gosaurer the robot has a ridiculous number of pilots and crew and much of the series sees the various teachers and the long-suffering military commander dragged along on the episode’s plot. As a result when there is an incidental character drama episode, it can still be focused on a character who will be present for the whole series – the background characters may still be mostly background figures, but they generally do things beyond get tied up, put in peril or have moments of emotional drama. It has far less “here is a new character who will clearly become important because they stick around” – the whole cast is introduced very quickly and the robot upgrades mostly involve members of the crew changing role, and that I found meant those incidental episodes were much more interesting.
As I was watching, I intermittently helped with a fan translation project for the 1970s robot series Raideen, and that put what made Gosaurer interesting into context; Gosaurer does not really have a dedicated damsel in distress or completely useless sidekick figure and passes its moments of plot-fuelled ineptitude around the whole crew. The crew do not like each other at times, they argue and can’t co-ordinate, and that is what causes the episode dramas. It is a simple touch but it really makes a difference in how the series feels to watch. Indeed, if this is considered in the context of most children’s hero series the subtly different focus becomes an interestingly positive one; rather than being a series about a few specially-gifted children saving everyone else, it is a series where everyone, even the usually comically useless archetypes like the class fat kid, the shy girl and so on are part of the team and get their chance to shine not just through doing something zany to allow the heroes to win with their robot, but by making the robot not fall apart or explode.
That said the series is not without faults; it has some truly awful recap episodes, some of the characters’ arcs are stretched out a little too long and there are a couple of episodes where the hero’s zany roguishness just feels mean-spirited and a little dated in attitude (the hot spring episode is not anywhere near as funny as it is played as). But despite this, what it does right – a large team of main characters who all get some focus and a larger than average role in the action, a well-paced progression of villains that change up how the fights take place, a sense of threat that is not always apocalyptic but is nevertheless enough to make the villains feel dangerous (and has room for progression as the villains become more powerful) and a finale that does not let up with ever-more extreme villain plans (but comes when this actually feels impactful) mean compared to a lot of similar series it is a lot more enjoyable. I think, realistically, the most useful barometer of quality when discussing much anime (especially mecha anime, something I am particularly interested in the progression of) is not necessarily was it good by my critical standards but would I recommend it to someone in the target audience (or indeed by extension would I let children watch it) – and with a few caveats I would absolutely say Gosaurer is a series worth recommending.