After twelve millennia the Great Demon Empire return to seize control of planet Earth. From their secret volcano base King Barao and his minions attack humanity with squid-shaped UFOs, sentient death machines and rampaging giant monsters. Teenager Akira Hibiki (voiced by Akira Kamiya) is playing with his friends in the high school soccer team when a mysterious voice invades his head saying: "Awaken hero, your destiny awaits!" A sudden alien onslaught prompts pretty love interest Mari (Makoto Kosaka) to lead other kids in an escape attempt while Akira is drawn to the ocean. Risen from the depths an ancient pyramid bursts forth Raideen, a giant flying super-robot with an awesome arsenal of weapons plus the ability to morph into a robot eagle. With Akira at the controls, Raideen takes the fight to the Great Demon Empire, sparking an instantly rivalry with their bravest warrior, Prince Sharkin (Osamu Ichikawa).
Yuusha Raideen (Brave Raideen) is an historically significant anime serial for a number of reasons. For one thing the titular titan was one of the very first transforming robots featured in anime with the show itself among the first to reach an American audience, albeit in a poorly subtitled version aired in Hawaii and a Japanese community channel in New York. Nevertheless the show imprinted on a generation of anime fans. Raideen's other claim to fame is that, along with giant robots from the otherwise unrelated anime Combattler V (1976) and Dangard Ace (1977), it formed part of the Shogun Warriors line robot toys. Devised by American toy manufacturers Mattel, with a brand name cashing in on the then-hugely popular television mini-series Shogun starring Richard Chamberlain and Tôshiro Mifune, the line was launched alongside an equally popular Marvel Comics series that had the now-Americanized heroes interact with actual Marvel superheroes like Iron Man and the Fantastic Four. The toys, which included robots not featured in the comic from other unrelated anime shows along with Leopardon the very first transformer robot from Japanese Spider-Man (1978), sold like gangbusters in the USA. Thus paving the way for Transformers, that lousy cartoon and yes, those Michael Bay movies.
But what of the show itself? Even viewed today Raideen exudes tremendous energy and charm. It is a prototypical Seventies super-robot anime albeit heavily indebted to the pioneering work of true innovators like Go Nagai (Mazinger Z (1972), Grandizer (1975)), Ken Ishikawa (Getter Robo (1974) co-created with Nagai) and Mitsuteru Yokoyama (Tetsujin-28 (1963) a.k.a. Gigantor, Babel II (1973)). A hint of the Nagai influence liesin the abundance of off-colour (by western children's television standards) sex gags with accidental nudity and chunky comedy relief Dan Araiso's (Keisuke Yamashita) ongoing lust for the mini-skirted Mari. Yoshikazu Yasuhiko's cute chara designs merge with a weirdly apocalyptic tone typical of the later, more serious giant robot sagas of genre auteur Yoshiyuki Tomino. In terms of both plot and imagery the show harks back to Japanese mythology (Raideen was created by the lost kingdom of Mu, Japan's equivalent of Atlantis – see also Toho's live action science fiction classic Atragon (1963)) but also Pacific War propaganda pitting angst-ridden teen heroes (poor Akira sees his dad turned to stone in the first episode!) in super-sized samurai armour against seismic disasters and implacable 'foreign' invaders in a conflict they barely understand. It took Mobile Suit Gundam (1979), made by the same team of Tomino and Yasuhiko, to explore and subvert ideas Raideen takes at face value but the raw elements lie here.
Instead of the usual alien menace the plot opts for a cool occult angle. Great Demon King Barao is a towering Lovecraftian entity assaulting the Earth with Cthulhoid terrors. Tomino and Yasuhiko juxtapose nightmarish surreal monster designs and set-pieces of pure horror with lovably cheesy comic moments (including sing-along rock ballads!) and, of course, gleaming sci-fi hardware. Aside from the robot lucky Akira rides a freakin' rad hi-tech bike called Sparker. Raideen itself has a disconcerting habit of screaming its name at the top of its, er, robot lungs. Yes, for some reason, it can talk. He or it also shouts out cool combat moves ("God block! Spin!") mimicked by countless kids in school playgrounds across the country while striking stoic poses. Lord knows, I did.