Buddha in the Robot
By St. Paco
Ever since that giant protector of mankind known as Ultraman first punched his way out of television screens in 1966, Japan’s live-action giant robot shows have been immensely popular with audiences in Japan and around the world. In addition to Ultraman, other youth-oriented programs that featured over-sized super-heroes would find equal favor with an expanding worldwide audience. These include shows like Johnny Sokko and His Flying Robot, the Space Giants, Super Robot Red Baron, Spectreman, and The Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers.
From the time of my early exposure to imaginative shows such as these I was a fan–a big one. But, like everyone else in the target demographic who tuned in daily to follow their enormous adventures, I never gave much thought to the origins of Japan’s biggie-sized protectors. All I knew back then was that they captured my imagination like nothing else on the television. But recently, while paging through an out of copyright e-book on Japanese tourism downloaded from the Internet, I came across an aged photograph of a now barely remembered Daibutsu (Giant Buddha) statue that once loomed over Tokyo's famed Ueno Park. And though I had never seen it before, something about the expressionless giant with a comparatively small man standing in his palms seemed oddly familiar.
As you may have guessed from the picture (or from the obvious trail of bread crumbs dropped in the previous paragraphs), a connection was quickly drawn to giant robot shows. Just as those other giants had done when I was young, the super-sized statue put a judo hold on my imagination. But, more than that, the photograph also provoked me to ponder if there could really be a connection between such statues and those larger-than-life TV guardians of humanity.
To be completely honest, I didn’t immediately begin contemplating the possible links that could exist between the giant Buddha statues of Japan and its giant robot TV shows. At first, my fertile mind was too preoccupied with untamed ideas about a computer generated movie, or a comic book, or even a limited-edition action figure modeled on the Ueno Park Buddha.
Oh, and yes, I do realize that such thinking is kinda' inappropriate, in that it's a representation of the Enlightened One and all. But if you have a good imagination, and you like giant robots, then you simply must admit that a massive mechanical man modeled after the statue would be pretty frickin’ awesome. I mean, look at him! He’s big, he’s bad, and even the curls popping out of his cranium look like they could kick some butt.
Within a few short minutes, I had roughed out a quick synopsis about a reclusive roboticist that I named Mori Masamune, who had built a giant robot cast in the image of the Ueno Park Buddha. This act was done as a gesture to honor the memory of his mother who used to visit the statue as a girl in the 1940s, before it was melted down for use in the Pacific war effort.
If that idea sounds good as a clever bit of fiction, it’s because it is rooted in historical fact.
During World War II, the bronze foundation, body and head of the Ueno Park statue were claimed under Japan’s Metal Acquisition Law, which mandated that various metals be turned over to the government for weapons production. Somehow the face of the Tokyo Daibutsu escaped destruction. Today, it sits enshrined in the park where the full statue once stood.
With my thinking cap still in place, several glorious titles for the CG movie/comic book/action figure project came to mind. But the list soon dwindled down to a ‘title bout’ between “Metal God One” and “Black Guardian Daibutsu.” As much as I liked the first one, though, the second really seemed to be the most fitting, since Tokyo’s long lost religious statue clearly depicted Buddha as a ‘brother.’
When the making of Tokyo’s Daibutsu was finished in 1660, it was just one of nine large bronze Buddha statues casting long shadows on the landscapes of Japan. The nation’s oldest dates to the 8th century, when a royal edict was issued that called for the building of Buddhist temples across Japan. The city of Nara was actually the nation’s capitol then, and the first and largest Daibutsu (52 feet) was completed there in 752.
Until about the 18th century, when an earthquake lessened their number, Japan’s other giant bronze Daibutsu statues could be found in temples located in the towns of Gifu, Echizen, Takaoka, Hyogo, Nikko and Kyoto. Japan’s second largest but most visited bronze Buddha was finished in 1252, and belongs to a temple in the tourist destination city of Kamakura.
Introduced by priests from China and Korea in the 6th century, India’s Buddhist religion quickly spread across Japan to become the second most practiced faith after Shinto, the native religion of the Japanese. Initially viewed as a dangerous rival to Shinto, the priests of Japan eventually authored a doctrine that would put the foreign faith on the path of harmonious co-existence with old gods of Japan.
It was in the 9th century that a philosophy called honji suijaku was developed in order to reconcile the ancient deities of Shinto with India’s more recently embraced buddhas and bodhisattvas (buddha-like saviors). According to this principle, the Shinto deities were considered the shadows or the “trace essence” of Buddhist deities, who were in turn viewed as the true forms or the “original essence” of all Shinto divinities.
It seemed that an understanding of the honji suijaku philosophy could be extremely useful in my attempt to discover possible links between ancient Buddhism and the giant robots of 20th century, an age when technology was like a new religion in Japan. What's more, the very existence of such a doctrine made it seem even more plausible that the super-sized saviors of modern television could also be reconciled somehow with the deities of Japan.
Or the ‘trace essence’ of their images at least.
Before trying to establish connections with Ultraman and the others, it seemed like a good idea to investigate yet another modern giant protector figure. One that might possibly have preceded the entry of the others into J-pop culture by way of the silver screen...
The YKFS management hopes that you have enjoyed this teaser excerpt of St. Paco's "Buddha in the Robot." The complete essay appears in the pulse-pounding pages of Kung Fu Grip! #5.
The year after Chi-town's Kanye West blind-sided pop music by freeing his inner torch singer on the critically acclaimed 808s & Heartbreaks, his West Side connection, Lupe Fiasco, let loose his inner punk rocker on the even more unpredictable In the Jaws of the Lords of Death. But, in contrast to Ye's clearly branded tunes, Lupe's guitar-grinding post-punk songs were clandestinely leaked to the web under the unknown band name of Japanese Cartoon. For weeks after the release of the first singles–which featured Lupe singing in a faux British brogue–the rapper even feigned as if he had nothing to do with the tracks. And though he wasn't exactly foolin' anybody, Lupe had managed to impress nearly everyone. In the Jaws of the Lords of Death gave new and old Lupe fans a splendid set of '80s flavored rock. It was cool music from a mysterious punk band with a famed front-man whose Grammy-grabbing forte is hip-hop. And yet, despite that successful genre-jumping accomplishment, Japanese Cartoon would ultimately turn out to be little more than a clever experiment by a brilliant artist who seems to bore quickly and threatens to retire from hip-hop often. Nonetheless, the project provided Lupe Fiasco (aka Lupin III) with a much-wanted opportunity to flex his creative muscles. It also gave listeners a chance to hear and see that when it comes to making music, Lupe is an Akira-like force to be reckoned with. – SP
[Press-N-Play®] Japanese Cartoon – Crowd Participation
[Press-N-Play®] Japanese Cartoon – Gasp
[:::Download:::] In the Jaws of the Lords of Death (2010)
"To make water flow, it is necessary to create a difference in height, for water will flow only from high places to low places. In human society, we can increase the flow of nature by maintaining a low posture.
When you go to a scholar or an expert and ask him to teach you, the best way to ensure a flow of information from him to you is for you to practice humility–put yourself on a lower level than your instructor, so that his knowledge can flow down more freely. If you attempt to be his equal–to stand on the same level–you are not likely to learn much. Still less will you learn from anyone whom you hold in contempt."
– Masahiro Mori
Source: The Buddha in the Robot: A Robot Engineer's Thoughts on Science and Religion
Super #1 Robot: Japanese Robot Toys, 1972-1982
The difference between men and boys is the age of their toys, and Tim Brisko's Super #1 Robot (Chronicle Books, 2005) showcases within its glossy pages a tantalizing taste of the candy-colored playthings that were once made for boys in Japan between 1972 and 1982. That ten year time frame marked something of a golden age in robot toys which were largely based on the towering titans of the animated TV shows of the day like Mazinger Z, Getter Robo, Brave Raydeen, Space Dragon Gaiking, Space Knight Tekkaman, Beast King GoLion (aka Voltron), Super Dimensional Fortress Macross, Mobile Suit Gundam, and others. Boasting more than 200 pages of gorgeous color plates by photographer Tim Brisko, a fascinating 24-page essay by toy historians Matt Alt and Robert Duban, and a touching afterward by Bullmark Toys founder, Saburo Ishiuziki, Super #1 Robot is the Christmas Wish Book you never had as a kid, and a compendium of classic robot toys that no full-grown otaku should be without. – SP
1973 - Miracle Fighting Red Baron [Super Robot Red Baron], page 38
1974 - Great Mazinger [Great Mazinger], page 49
1975 - Getter Dragun [Getter Robo G], page 75
1975 - Grandizer [UFO Robo Grandizer], page 85
1976 - Combattra [Super Electromagnetic Robo Combattra], page 111
1977 - Danguard Ace [Planetary Robo Danguard Ace], page 130
1979 - Gundam Combination Set [Mobile Suit Gundam], page 165
1981 - Future Beast GoLion [Master of a Hundred Beasts: GoLion], page 188
Today - Meka Godzilla [Toho Kaiju], page 245
On my final day at the Phoenix Comicon this past May, a minty fresh copy of Shogun Warriors #1 found its way into the pile of bronze age beauties for which I paid one buck per book. [Colgate™ smile]
Published by Marvel Comics between February of 1978 and September of 1980, Shogun Warriors boasted the enormous exploits of a triumvirate of giant robots whose names and likenesses were licensed from Mattel Toys for use in comics by Marvel. The series ran for 20 issues and featured stories by writer Doug Moench and illustrations by artist Herb Trimpe.
As this first issue opens, the giant robot Raydeen, a "servant of good," is locked in an epic tussle with the equally enormous and polar opposite servant of evil, Rok-Korr. After having been stored away for unknown eons under a secret base in a remote part of the far east, it is Raydeen's first time on the battlefield and it is showing. Fortunately, this clash of titans takes place on the outskirts of the been-there-done-that-wearing-the-I-survived-t-shirt side of Tokyo.
Riding in the catbird seats of Raydeen's on-board control center are his three newly recruited handlers: Japanese aircraft pilot, Genji Odasu, African marine biologist, Ilongo Savage, and American stunt car test driver, Richard Carson. Before being abducted by aliens and tossed into the fray with Rok-Korr, the three were given a roughly 20-minute crash course on the art of robot rope-a-dope.
Despite landing a few well-placed blows and nearly putting the big bad guy down, team Raydeen is in over their heads. They have managed to lead the destructive Rok-Korr away from the city, though, and choose to try loosing him in the nearby mountains. After doing so, and seeing this as small triumph in an overall failure, Savage suggests a tactical retreat: He who fights and runs away lives long enough to sign up self-defense classes.
How and why were Genji Odasu, Ilongo Savage, and Richard Carson chosen for team Raydeen? Who are the Followers of Light and from what strange world do they originate? Whose big orange silhouettes are those flanking Raydeen on the cover? Who is Lord Maur-Kon and why does he wanna wreak havoc on our peaceful planet Earth? The answers to those questions and many more are to be found inside the pages of the first exciting issue of Shogun Warriors !
Click to enlarge
Shogun Warriors #2: "Warriors Three"
On the final page of issue #1 of Shogun Warriors, readers are introduced to two more ginormous pilot-driven robots. Like Raydeen, they too were created by the Followers of Light to assist in the never-ending struggle against the forces of evil, and child boredom. These robots are Combatra and Danguard Ace.
When the Shogun Warriors comic book was originally released, it was almost universally assumed that these additional bots were created by Marvel Comics. Why? Because in comparison to Raydeen and others from Mattel's Shogun Warriors toy line, like Mazinger, Dragun and Gaiking, Danguard Ace and Combatra seemed, boxy, clunky and not as super fly looking.
Nonetheless, Raydeen's Marvel Comics compadres were indeed genuine (pronounced "gin-you-wine") imports from Japan's giant robot genre. In fact, during the 1970s, Chōdenji Robo Combattler V and Planet Robo Danguard Ace even had animated TV shows of their own, as well as complementary die-cast metal toys...which seemed boxy, clunky and not as super fly looking.
And so, in this, the second issue of Shogun Warriors, readers are officially introduced to these two additional robots. We also get a look at their special powers in a training exercize–like the flying rocket fist of Danguard Ace. But readers also get to learn which of the giant robots will be piloted by which of the three new recruits!
In spite of the overall tempo of issue #1 and also a pulse-pounding page which really made it look as if Ilongo Savage was going to lead the team and pilot Raydeen (see above), the powers-that-be must've sensed a serious disturbance in the force. So an "editorial decision" was made to put the dark side back in check. The way that this plays out in the story is lame, even for a comic book.
Back at Shogun Sanctuary, psychological profiles are conducted by computer in order to determine which "individual human temperament" is best suited to link with which each specific robot. Stunt driver Richard Carson (big #%&* surprise there, right?) assumes the pilot seat of Raydeen, Genji Odasu links with Combatra, and Ilongo Savage links with Danguard Ace.
With that predictable bit of typecasting out of the way, the team, after somehow also having time to get more training under their belts, heads out for a rematch with Rok-Korr. The mammoth menace has found his way back to town and has his empty head set on knocking down more bridges and buildings.
How does the team fare in their next baptism of fire? What evil simmers beneath a volcanic island in the Pacific Ocean? Who are the eternal foes of the Followers of Light? In addition to Odasu, why is there only one other woman at Shogun Sanctuary? The answers to those questions and many more are to be found within the pages of the second exciting issue of Shogun Warriors!
Click to enlarge
In late March of 1973, the Jackson 5 kicked off their first major world tour with a concert in Japan. That same year, Finger 5 (Japan's answer to the Jackson 5), released their First Album (1973, Philips FX-8083), which included a faithful cover of the J5 hit, "I Want You Back." Since, in one way or another, many of the upcoming postings will have a connection to the land with the greatest number of giant monster footprints, it seemed appropriate to start the party with some Finger 5 flavor.
[Press-N-Play®] Finger 5 – I Want You Back (1973)
It's Saturday, boys and girls, and you know what that means? You betcha! It's time for Your Kung Fu Sucks! Grindhouse Cinemas™ to bring another senses-shattering installment of the Monsta Mashin' Matinee to your desktops! This month's creature feature will be a showing of the first appearance of that towerin' terrapin we all know and love in the 1965 classic, Gamera the Invincible (Daikaiju Gamera). As always, kids, this Vintage Video™ is available as a free mp4 download courtesy of the fine folks over at Archive.org. But you're also more than welcome to watch it front-row-and-center at the YKFS blog. But do bring your own popcorn, Sno-Caps and Jujubees, please.