Gaiking LODM is a curious show, it is listed on the Japanese Sakuga Wiki as an anime worth checking out for it’s animation, a ‘sakuga anime’ if you will. Yet as I watched the show I kept on thinking why it was considered as such. Much of the show is animated in a very simple and cheap manner, with constant use of corner cutting techniques you often find in low budget anime. That said there are certain moments and certain episodes in the show where the animation shines quite well and so I’d like to spend this post talking about some of them.
Gaiking Legend of Daiku Maryu is a show that aired from November 2005 to September 2006. It was animated by studio Toei and ran for 39 episodes. It’s a pseudo-remake of one of Toei’s 70s robot anime titled Daiku Maryu Gaiking. LODM was directed by Masahiro Hosada who has been an episode director for Toei anime works for much of his career. I can’t say he’s done anything outstanding but he seemed to have done a competent job with Gaiking LODM. The show’s lead mecha were designed for animation by Ken Otsuka, while the characters were handled by Kenji Yamazaki and Noriyoshi Yamazaki. (Are they related perhaps?)
The only similarity LODM shares with the original are the designs for the lead mecha, the base ship and some of the character’s names. Much of the rest of the show is all original and a departure from the 70′s Gaiking. Although LODM did feature a catchy intro and an ending sung by a chorus of children, very much in the spirit of 70s mecha anime. The story in LODM follows a rag-tag group of heroes as they journey to defeat the Darius Army, an empire hell-bent on taking over the subterranean world and eventually plans on invading the surface. The hero Daiya pilots Gaiking in order to defend the world from monsters and stop the ambition of the Darius Army.
I think for me the best way to describe this show would be to say it was an enjoyable kids cartoon. It’s got an assortment of characters that come in different shapes and sizes as well as the robot having various combination parts that give it a toyetic nature. The pacing of the first half of the show follows a monster of the week format, with the odd story-advancing episode thrown in to keep the flow going. The 2nd half of the show shifts gears a little and more episodes are devoted to giving character development and advancing the main storyline. I think in hindsight the show could have been snipped to 26 episodes with some nice editing and have been made into a much sharper show that gets to the point much quicker.
One thing I did notice is how there several elements from Gaiking LODM that are mirrored in Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann, a robot show in a similar vein created by the minds at Gainax. Now robot shows featuring evil emperors and having generals that lead his armies is nothing quite new, after all it’s something Mazinger Z itself began with. However it’s curious how Gaiking LODM’s particular take is replicated one for one in Gurren Lagann. Both feature 4 generals, one is a stubborn old man archetype, the next is very arrogant type with a penchant of dressing quite flamboyantly, the 3rd is a woman with strong fighting values. The 4th is killed of quite early and is replaced by one of his underlings. This underling who turns out to be a special being created for purposes which the viewers are later told about, much to the character’s own surprise as well. There are a few other elements scattered about which caused me to think “Oh hey Gurren Lagann also did this”. I don’t know if this was done by the Gurren Lagann team intentionally or if there is something both shows draw on and that cause them to execute certain aspects in a similar manner. Whatever that thing is, I’m not aware of it at least.
The show aired with a total of 39 episodes which is a bit of an odd number for an anime show. A reason for this I’m lead to believe is that might have been because the show that was airing in the time slot before LODM, Bobobo-bo Bo-bobo, was cancelled and so LODM was rushed into production. Ken Otsuka notes on the show’s blog that they only had 3 months of pre-production before the show went on air. This might explain why the production for Gaiking LODM felt rushed, resulting in several episodes having a lot of really bad animation.
Most of my views on the visual aspect of this show are based on the DVD/stream (Crunchyroll or Hulu) version of the show. I say this because many episodes in the TV broadcast version ended up being horrendously drawn & off-model and so the DVD/streamed episodes have had a lot of the art and animation reworked and redrawn.
The King – Episode 13
If there is one single episode this show is known for then that probably is episode 13. As Anipages pointed out, episode 13 was the debut of Tatsuzou Nishida as an animation director and as a result many talented animators across the industry came along to help out. Some of the best from Bones, Gainax assisted along with some of Toei’s own best. Both the character and mecha animation excelled in this episode, and since it was also the climax of an arc within the show it was also very enjoyable to watch on an entertainment level.
This particular scene featuring the work of Soichiro Matsuda, Yutaka Nakamura and Takashi Hashimoto.
From the start of the episode you can tell something is a little off since the characters look slightly different from normal, gone away are the thick edges and defined faces with large eyes. Instead the character art is replaced with thinner lines and slightly smaller eyes, this change is most likely down to Takaaki Yamashita who worked as the Animation Director. Clearly the staff wanted to give this episode their personal touch and they did so fantastically. Characters also express much better, one particular moment I liked is actually in the video above. It’s when Puriya, the blonde haired female pilot, shows concern for Daiya at around 1:35. Puriya is a bit of a tomboy and doesn’t get along well with Daiya in the early parts of the show. However in this episode her face gives away her true concern and the voice actress aptly expresses that concern by having her voice break a little as well. Had this scene been handled a bit more cheaply with just some static shots and mouth flaps, I don’t think it would have had the same impact. That said I think the mecha action is probably the main draw of this episode and it’s all handled really well.
A good chunk of the mecha battle is handled by Yutaka Nakamura, who very rarely works on a show outside of Studio Bones. His talent and ability to portray fast paced action was put to very good use in this episode, especially when it shows giant lumbering mecha duking it out. The finishing blow with the nice looking effect animation was handled by Takashi Hashimoto.
The Herculean Effort – Episode 28
If there’s another episode that is worth mentioning then that is episode 28. Here the various members of Studio Hercules, of which Ken Otsuka is a part of, come together and deliver a very well animated episode. Ken Otsuka drew the storyboards and directed the mecha animation while Keisuke Watabe oversaw the characters.
The Neo Experience – Episode 25
Now episode 25 is not as outlandish as the above mentioned, however the episode features some nice and detailed character art and animation. What’s also interesting is that the episode features a mix of the animators from Studio G1 Neo. G1 Neo members Masami Obari and Yukihito Ogomori sat in the mecha and character Animation Director’s seat. This episode doesn’t feature much mecha action, it’s more of a comedy based character episode, however what mecha action there is right at the end featuring mostly reused animation (as is on par for the show) save a few interesting cuts here and there. But like I said, this episode is worth watching for the character art rather than the robots. As a means of contrast check out screencaps from episode 24 (below left) which features more regular Gaiking character art so you can compare and contrast the changes in 25 (below right).
This is likely the work of Yukihito Ogomori who was the character animation director for this episode. Although some of the shots look like they could have been the work of Risa Ebata.
The Unexpected – Episode 29
While watching the show I noticed there would be certain episodes, while not featuring animation anything like the above, that had some good layout and directing even if the animation was not really up to par. After a bit of investigation I realised they were the episodes worked on by a small team of individuals from “Studio Dub.” They work on quite a number of episodes however their work on episode 29 is probably one to look out for.
Shida Fever – Episodes 27, 32 & 35
Most of these episodes don’t feature much good animation, however each features a scene or two with a sudden increase in animation quality and this is all down to Naotoshi Shida.
Naotoshi Shida is one of Toei’s best animators, and often contributes to many of their franchise shows such as One Piece, PreCure and Toriko.
Other Notables – Episodes 1, 4, 21 & 31
The first episode of the show features fairly decent animation quality backed by a good staff however since the show was rushed into production I don’t think they aimed particularly high in terms of quality so overall it just ends up mostly on model with an odd nice cut here and there. It probably wasn’t until episode 13 that inspired some of the other staff members to work their best on later episodes. Episode 21 in particular brings around some of the nuanced character animation from episode 13. While episode 31 does feature an interesting animator line up, I get the feeling the episode was hastened or didn’t have much of a budget allocation so much of the episode ends up with nice art but not a lot of great animation outside of a few cuts here and there.
The Finale – Episode 38
Not quite, episode 39 is technically the last episode, however episode 38 serves as the conclusion of the main storyline. As such the animation team bring about several key players to bring the show to a great climax. As I’ve said before, it’s not quite as good as episode 13, but it’s still one of the best looking episodes in the show.
The team bring along specific animators to deliver certain key scenes. For example Tatsuzo Nishida and Takaaki Yamashita deliver some nuanced character animation again, while Takashi Hashimoto contributes towards the effect & mecha animation. Keisuke Watabe animates some scenes of Proist freaking out, like he did so in episode 28. I also believe Soichiro Matsuda animates some of the hand to hand fight between Proist and Nouza. We also see Naotoshi Shida and Hideki Hamasu among several others join the team. While Masami Obari delivers the final blow as the show reaches the final peak. All in all the episode is very enjoyable and delivers some great scenes to an episode that’s also great to watch in terms of the show’s story as well.
Skip to 1:50 for some of the action.
Docking into Action
Gaiking LODM featured a specific credit labelled ‘Docking Animation’ – it refers to all the stock footage showcasing the robots combining and some of the attack footage. Stock footage in these kinds of robot shows tend to be a highlight since they have a lot of work put into them to make them look exciting and flashy, since they often appear at peak moments in episodes. For Gaikin LODM, Toei hired Masami Obari to handle the Docking Animation for the majority of this show. Obari is known for animating exciting stock footage for the Yuusha robot shows back in the 90s for Studio Sunrise. Here he, along with members of Studio G1 Neo, animate some exciting sequences for Gaiking LODM as well. Take the sequence below for the show mid-late season upgrade.
From 1:34 to 2:54
The 2nd Opening
Much of the first intro for this show is more or less a clip show of scenes from the episodes themselves along with some footage from the pilot spliced in. For the second intro however the production team decided they would have ‘opening craftsman’ Masami Obari handle the intro. Obari brings a team of individuals together that craft together a very exciting intro. From people who work on the show, to people from Obari’s studio to the legend Yoshinori Kanada himself; in what became the final piece of animation he drew for TV anime. It seems the producers at Toei reached out to Kanada but weren’t sure if he would be willing to do some animation for them, after all Kanada had done some animation work on the original Gaiking from the 1970s. He agreed and Obari handed over the cuts he was planning to draw over to Kanada. From tweets made by Kanada’s wife a few years after his death, it seems he really enjoyed working on these Gaiking cuts. He had stood down from the animation industry and his final years were spent working in the video games industry, notably at Square Enix on the various games in the Final Fantasy series.
The members of staff who worked on the intro are listed below:
Director/Storyboard/Mecha Animation Director: Masami Obari
Character Animation Director: Mikan Ehime
Key Animation: Akira Amemiya, Yukihito Ogomori, Katsuyuki Tamura, Yousuke Kabashima, Risa Ebata (as Mikan Ehime)
Ken Ootsuka, Takeshi Morita, Takaaki Yamashita, Tatsuzou Nishida
Yoshinori Kanada (as Saburou Togakushi), Masami Obari, Masahiro Yamane
As for the breakdown of the animation, since it’s only 1:30 long it’s simple enough to pin point who did what for the most part. I haven’t been able to cover every single cut, but some of them are as follows:
Akira Amemiya – Gaiking’s launch and combination – 0:13 – 0:26
Yousuke Kabashima – Deke’s introduction – 0:43 – 0:46
Risa Ebata – Lulu standing on the cliff – 0:48 – 0:53
Tatsuzou Nishida – Lee’s introduction – 0:53 – 0:56
Yousuke Kabashima – Puriya’s introduction – 0:56 – 0:59
Hiroki Mutaguchi – Vulking fires its canons – 1:02 – 1:06
Masahiro Yamane – Darius Emperor attacks and Gaiking jumps away – 1:12 – 1:15
Masami Obari – Gaiking being blown away – 1:15 – 1:17
Takaaki Yamashita – Daiya shouting and leaning forward – 1:17 – 1:19
Yoshinori Kanada – The final jump towards the Emperor – 1:19 – 1:23
Ken Otsuka – Various shots of the mecha
In the end despite having a troubled production run, I enjoyed Gaiking LODM and it turned out to have some interesting visuals every so often; so when it shined, it shined amazingly.