Arrivederci, Robo! Hunting for Anime on an Italian Holiday

As a child growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area during the late ’70s and early ’80s, I was presented with many options for watching Japanese animated and live-action programming. Kids on the playground in elementary school would invariably cross their arms to imitate Ultraman’s specium ray or cross a wristwatch over their chest and yell “transmute!” to become one of the bird-themed heroes from Battle of the Planets. Local kids were also lucky enough to live in a place where Pacific Rim-based commerce brought imported Japanese vinyl dolls and die-cast metal robots to specialty stores. Kids of my generation are likely to reminisce as fondly about Captain Harlock or Derek Wildstar as they would about Batman, G.I. Joe, Spider-Man—or any other American heroes.

This early love of what I would learn to properly regard as Anime (animation) and Tokusatsu (live-action) Japanese entertainment has always fueled my tv/vhs/laserdisc/dvd/blu-ray watching habits. I have amassed a decent collection of home videos, CDs and LPs from my favorite series over the years. What’s more, as a man of the ripe old age of 40, I have a glass display case in my living room that is chock full of Orguss (never came out in the States), Space Battleship Yamato (Star Blazers), Science Ninja Team Gatchman (Battle of the Planets) and Mach GoGoGo (Speed Racer) memorabilia.

When my wife and I took one of our presciently planned pre-baby trips to Europe (you should really travel before you have a crumbgrinder to chase around, if you can), I made the most interesting Anime finds over in Italy. Some European countries tend to have their own favorite Japanese-imported programming that we never ended up getting in the United States (I’m not counting Hawaii, as they got a LOT of programming that never made it onto the mainland). For instance, in France, contemporaries of my age have a fondness for a Japanese series called UFO Robot Grendizer—which they call Goldorak.

While scouring the once-weekly (Sundays) Porta Portese flea market in Rome, I came across a DVD that I thought would really be wonderful. Helmeted, big-eyed team of space explorers? Check! Big-old mecha I had never seen before? Check! (cover image here: The video was titled “Gli Avventurieri Della Galassia” (The Adventurers of the Galaxy). I couldn’t wait to rip of the cellophane and plunk this find into my laptop after my wife fell asleep from our long day’s wandering. Oh heck, it wasn’t even worth switching over the region code on my MacBook. So bad. Not even Japanese, I later learned. South Korean amalgamation/blatant rip-off of many giant robot animation series of the era. It’s in the public domain here in the States, and it is (unfortunately) hosted on as the English-dubbed “Raiders of Galaxy”. Watch at your own peril.

A few days later, after a lovely train and bus trip through picturesque Tuscany, we ended up at the magical medieval walled city of Siena. A stroll along the cobblestone streets one afternoon led me to a round-shaped newsvendor’s kiosk, well-stocked with newspapers, magazines and DVDs hanging in shrinkwrapped packages on color backing boards stating the titles. I passed over music video titles, movies dubbed in Italian from all over the globe, and….anime! I bought a DVD called “L’Imbattibile Daitarn 3,” (the original Japanese version is called Invincible Steel Man Daitarn 3) which turned out to be awesome! It features a central character who’s a bit like a ’70s super spy/cop called Haran Banjo. He’s got two gorgeous sidekicks-in-arms, an Alfred-like butleresque tactician and a goofy kid (who for all intents and purposes is comic relief). The giant robot, Daitarn 3, is a multi-vehicle combiner who fights with chain-connected fans and a solar blast from a circle on his forehead. The baddies are very reminiscent of the armies and Ro-Beasts from Voltron. Campy, but really fun to watch. There was a die-cast Daitarn 3 toy released recently, too rich for my blood, but lovely. Perhaps when I win the Lotto.

Perhaps, in a handful of years, I’ll be able to have my baby girl help me some new European anime hunting. A dad can dream…

Uncle Maffy

I work in branding...but I live in nostalgia. Lover of old video game systems, comic books and my lovely wife and two daughters. Not in that order, of course.

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