Original 1976 promotional poster for SPACE DRAGON: GAIKING!
Before EVANGELION. Even longer before the announced Gale Anne Hurd production, which I reported on December 18th, there was SPACE DRAGON: GAIKING (Daimakuryu Gaikingu, 1976)! While not widely seen, some readers may remember GAIKING as one of the titles under the banner, FORCE FIVE, a package of five different Toei Animation series syndicated in North America during the '80s, later broadcast as feature film compilations on Showtime (followed by subsequent VHS releases via Family Home Entertainment).
GAIKING was part of an explosion of Super Robot animated series during the '70s (including live-action counterparts such as SUPER ROBOT: RED BARON), which rocket-punched their way into Japanese pop culture with Go Nagai's MAZINGER Z in 1972. While Nagai was the master of the genre, creating such memorable series as UFO ROBO: GRENDIZER (1975), GAIKING became a point of contention between Nagai and Toei Animation, in which Nagai walked. Toei brought in animator Akio Sugino (Cat's Eye) to complete the development of the series.
One of the early, and unique transforming robots — including Tohokushinsha's BRAVE RAIDEEN (1975) — GAIKING begat toys that were able to transform as well, leading to the later advent of THE TRANSFORMERS. The series was also notable for featuring a mobile transport for the robot (also housing three support mecha), its maintenance and relief crews, known as the titular "Space Dragon." This conceit allowed the main cast to travel to different countries across the globe to widen the scope of the action, as well as into interplanetary space.
Threatened with imminent destruction from a black hole, the ruler of the distant planet Zela, plots to invade our world. Emperor Darius assembles the "Black Horror Corps" to defeat any resistance and allow the people of Zela to immigrate to Earth. With his first-string "Combat Force" members assassinated, Professor Daimonji puts together a rag-tag team, led by former Red Suns baseball pitcher, Sanshiro Tsuwabuki to repel the invaders. Tsuwabuki's latent psychic abilities allows him to make a neural connection with the super robot, Gaiking, to protect mankind from the hordes of Black Horror Monsters!
On the eve of PACIFIC RIM, Shout! Factory has released GAIKING: THE MOVIE COLLECTION, a three-film compilation of the 44-episode series, with English Dubbing commissioned by Toei Animation, written and directed by William Winckler (Tekkaman, The Space Knight). Because of the failure of similar compilations of the past, Toei assembled a team of in-house writers, directors, and editors to tackle the problem by allowing all of the story's major story arcs and dilemmas to be spread over three films, instead of one — resulting in a more satisfying, coherent viewing experience.
Shout's DVD-only release contains all three compilation films on two discs, running for a total of 326 minutes (approximately 5½ hours) in 2.0 Stereo (with English Subtitles). MSRP: $19.93. Street Date: May 21, 2013. Order from Amazon.com or directly from Shout! Factory!