Seismic activity on the Pacific island of Austral unearths advanced alien technology drawing the attention of the Gail Corporation, a powerful conglomerate manipulating the Cold War for their own evil ends. Thirteen year old Yu Tagami (voiced by Mayumi Tanaka) discovers Gail also killed his father, a research scientist. Flying from Tokyo to crime-ridden New York at the behest of his father’s colleague, Dr. Wave (Keaton Yamada), Yu agrees to help the good doctor retrieve the secrets of Austral travelling alongside his dishy sister Doris (Kazumi Amemiya), with whom he sparks a romance, and their intimidating Great Dane dog Argo.
The gang are soon targeted by Gail’s legion of assassins as well as the malevolent Lady Lynx (Gara Takashima), Queen of the Las Vegas underworld who is equally intent on seizing the alien technology. But they are repeatedly rescued by the Captain (Masao Imanishi), a burly, beer-guzzling mercenary whose loyalty remains an open question for young Yu. Upon reaching Austral, Yu discovers the fabled monster rumoured to stalk the isle is actually a benevolent giant robot known as Giant Gorg. He comes to form an almost mystical bond with his enormous ally, whose incredible strength proves handy when Rod Balboa (Shuichi Ikeda), Gail’s ruthless and resourceful young CEO, arrives on the island with a vast army.
More potent than the usual power fantasies aimed at mayhem-loving adolescents, this giant robot anime hails from one of the genre’s great auteurs: Yoshikazu Yasuhiko, the multitalented manga artist, chara designer and director known simply as “Yas” to his fans. He earned his place in the hall of fame on the strength of chara designs for the seminal Mobile Suit Gundam (1979). But it was his output as writer-director that truly marked him among the foremost innovative anime artists, notably ambitious mythological epic Arion (1986), slam-bang space opera actioner Crusher Joe (1983) and the shonen ai romance Song of Wind and Trees (1987) made in collaboration with celebrated shojo auteur Keiko Takemiya.
Although aimed at children, Giant Gorg shoehorns some subversive sociopolitical satire into its all-action narrative. Yas mounts a stinging indictment of self-serving industrialists and pulls no punches in showing young viewers how boardroom politics were fast affecting global politics throughout the go-go Eighties. The plot strikes a familiar note in the personality clash between fiery young Yu and the seemingly mercenary and cynical Captain, who hides a heart of gold beneath his gruff exterior, as almost every kid in a giant robot anime seems to have severe father issues. However, part of the appeal lies in its presentation of Yu and Doris as unfailingly brave, resourceful and idealistic whilst the grown-ups are either shifty or klutzy. Incidentally, Dr. Wave was supposedly styled after that most iconic of neurotic New Yorkers: Woody Allen. There is a faintly xenophobic tone to the depiction of New York as a crime-infested, graffiti-ridden hell-hole but counterbalanced by the more positive depiction of Pacific Islanders Alois (Asami Mukaidono) and Sara (Naomi Jinbo), feisty native kids that prove invaluable allies.
It takes a while before the titular machine marvel arrives on the scene but the Hitchcockian chase narrative is so compelling it does not matter. Yasuhiko brings an experimental edge to the animation. Opening arrestingly with a live action hand pointing to a globe, the serial invests the same care and attention to detail to symbolic dream sequences and cinematic action including such terrifically taut set-pieces as a breakneck truck chase and a fight atop a cable car. Despite the occasional lull (as when the gang raid the casinos in Vegas or go sight-seeing in Samoa), once the plot reaches Austral action, Yas breaks out the hi-octane mecha action as Gorg faces off against a giant robot crustacean with steel tentacles, hordes of bad guys on jet-cycles and an onslaught of tanks, helicopters, warships and even cruise missiles.
Yu’s relationship with Gorg marks a throwback to vintage boy-and-his-robot tales like Gigantor (1963) a.k.a. Tetsujin-28, rather than follow the more contemporary robot pilot concept pioneered by Go Nagai. Midway however, a twist reveals Gorg did have a human pilot who crumbles before Yu’s horrified eyes. Thereafter he proves understandably reluctant to take his place in the cockpit. While the anime does put a weapon in the hands of a child, it is far from cavalier in its depiction of violence. Yasuhiko delves into the psychological ramifications of Yu being exposed to such horror, although the tone is generally light-hearted. His bright-eyed chara designs pack a lot of charm, as indeed does the J-pop theme song.