Tastes in anime, as in all things, can vary widely from person to person. It is with this universal truth in mind, that I try not to judge others over what shows they like or dislike.
Admittedly, I call people who like moe shows pedophiles, and I think that people who like comedic anime have a shitty sense of humour, and people who like romance are pussies, and people who like philisophical anime are pretentious bastards, and people who like horror need to find something better to do with their lives, and people who like samurai or ninja shows are weaboos, and people who like anything I don't like are idiots, but overall, I try not to judge.
There is however, one exception that I must take offense to. And that is how few people have even seen last season's Shin Mazinger Z. As far as I'm concerned, not watching Shin Mazinger should be a capital offense.
Anyone familiar with 1970's Mazinger Z will have...absolutely no idea what the hell the story is. Shin Mazinger Z is not a remake, but a complete reimagining of the Mazinger saga, under the helm of Yasuhiro Imagawa, director of G Gundam, Giant Robo and Tetsujin 28-go. He also goes by the names of Yahweh, Allah and Jehovah.
On a very, very superficial level, Shin Mazinger Z is the story of Kabuto Kouji, who pilots Mazinger Z to defend the world against the evil Dr. Hell, who wants to take over the world for cliched bad guy reasons.
The true story of Mazigner however, plays out in its extensive mythos; the blood stained history of the Kabuto family, the mysterious Mycenaens, the God Zeus, Dr. Hell's true plan and Nishikiori Tsubasa's connection to all of them, all form an intricate and complex backstory that gradually unfolds until its ultimate reveal in the final episode.
Perhaps rather unexpectedly, if I were to compare Shin Mazinger's story with any other recent anime, it would be Death Note. The entire battle between Kouji and Dr. Hell is little more then a grand game of chess between Tsubasa, Dr. Hell and several other characters (who can't be named for spoiler reasons), all of whom are masterminds of the highest order.
The eldest grandson of the great, if moderately insane scientist, Kabuto Juuzo. The achetype upon which all hot blooded mecha pilots are based. Cool and likable though he may be, he's not so much the main character, as he is the guy who pilots Mazinger Z, and is thus only important by association.
In my opinion, the true main character of the series. Tsubasa is the mysterious owner of a bath house staffed by a group of insane badasses, who has a long history with the Kabuto family, Dr. Hell and the Mycenaens. A shrewd tactician, master manipulator, brilliant biologist and an unstoppable badass with both the knife and the machine gun, Tsubasa is easily the greatest female character anime has ever produced. Hides a mysterious secret, like almost every other character in this show.
Kouji's younger brother. A little bitch.
Kouji and Shiro's grandfather, and the creator of Mazinger Z. A prior associate of Dr. Hell, he was instrumental in finding the mechanical beasts that Dr. Hell would later use to form his army. Hides a mysterious secret, like almost every other character in this show.
Kouji's love interest and pilot of the perpetually useless Aphrodite A. Later upgrades to Venus A, which is just as useless (though it does get a cowboy hat, which is pretty cool).
Inexplicably famous and respected robot scientist, and Sayaka's father. Despite his fame, he is obviously irrecoverably incompetent, as he is the creator of the ludicrously useless Aphrodite A. Hides a mysterious secret, like almost every other character in this show.
Apparently, he is reknown as the leader of all the high school delinquents in Japan. Is Kouji's somewhat rival. Pilots the Boss Borot, which is positively badass when compared to Aphrodite A.
Nuke & Mucha
Boss' most trusted bitches. May or may not have a mancrush on Boss.
The Three Professors
A trio of perverted and sometimes pedophilic professors. They build a few upgrades for Mazinger as well as the robots Million α, Baion β and Daion γ, a bunch of borderline useless robots which are still awesome when compared to Aphrodite A.
The Kurogane Five
Tsubasa's loyal entourage. They are all former gang members whom Tsubasa saved from the brink of death. The five of them comprise some of the most unbelievably badass characters in the series. Yes, even the old woman. Especially the old woman.
This man will beat the shit out of you.
You wish your girlfriend was as hot as this.
Boys fight tigers. Men fight other men on tigers.
Sadly, even the Kurogane Five weren't free of the dreaded pedophile virus.
Words simply cannot express how awesome Django is.
The hilariously named main antagonist of the series. Like Tsubasa, is a cunning mastermind who is engaged in a battle of wits against her and her forces of the vaguely good. He commands the mechanical beasts, relics of the now evanescent Mycenaens. Hides a mysterious secret, like almost every other character in this show.
Dr. Hell's most loyal servant, Ashura is a bizarre half man, half woman hybrid thing. Simultaneously powerful and pathetic, Ashura is easily one of the most engaging and even relatable villains in recent anime. Hides a mysterious secret, like almost every other character in this show.
Another loyal servant of Dr. Hell and a rival to Ashura for Dr. Hell's affections. Neither as important or as interesting as Ashura, but gets brownie points for basically being a headless, Nazi zombie.
Dr. Hell's hilariously politically incorrect African servant. Unlike Ashura and Brocken, Pygman fights through the use of African cliches such as voodoo magic and wild animals. Is the closest thing to an honorable person in Dr. Hell's army.
A detective investigating the Kabuto family, he eventually gets caught up in the battle between Tsubasa and Dr. Hell. Has a really creepy doll fetish. Hides a mysterious secret, like almost every other character in this show.
A group of nudist, assassin robots used by Dr. Hell. One of them becomes important later. The rest...not so much.
The only aspect of Shin Mazinger which isn't excellent. Whilst never bad, the animation is never spectacular. From what I've heard, Shin Mazinger was basically animated on a shoestring budget, and Imagawa has actually done fantastically well given how little money the project was given.
Animation aside however, the visuals are still fantastic. The thick lines and strong colours are strongly reminiscent of 1970's anime, which pays a fitting homage to the original Mazinger.
Also, I shouldn't have to speak the obvious, but Imagawa is a creative god, and Shin Mazinger bears many of the hallmarks of that. Unique mech designs, creative visuals and attacks that are simply beyond the impossible are all present.
Shin Mazinger is one of those rare breeds; a show that combines over the top action, intricate story telling and deep, poignant characters. It is a testament to all the great things we have come to love about anime.
Ironically, despite being a retelling of the grand daddy of all super robots, Shin Mazinger Z eschews many of the most established super robot tropes. Gone are the monsters of the week and the simplistic good vs evil storylines. In their places are a complex, multi layered story with characters who often straddle the fine line between good and evil.
This I believe, is Shin Mazinger Z's greatest strength; it's ability to appeal to far more then just super robot fans. For fans of the genre, they will find everything they love about super robots, in a form of such concentration not seen since GaoGaiGar. For viewers who don't necessarily like super robots (i.e communists), they will find a poignant, intricate narrative, free of many of the super robot tropes that non-fans often find unpalatable.
And in regards to characters, special mention must be given to both Nishikiori Tsubasa and Baron Ashura. Like a shining beacon amongst the useless moe filth that pervades anime, Tsubasa shows us what its like to be a real woman; ruthlessly intelligent and unapologetically badass. But the real spotlight must go to Baron Ashura, whose tragic circumstance of having his loyalty torn between Dr. Hell and the Mycenaens is one of the most masterfully penned storylines I've yet seen in anime. Both these characters are some of the most memorable in all of anime, and deserve a place in its annals of history.
Despite its surprisingly deep storyline and characters, Shin Mazinger is, at its core, a super robot show; its action is unashamedly insane and over the top. Nearly every character is a super human badass. And Mazinger itself, has one of the coolest and craziest attacks in super robot anime; the incomparable Big Bang Punch.
This is, in my opinion, the best anime of this year. In style, concept and execution, it is nothing short of a masterpiece. The great tragedy is of course in how few people have seen, or even heard of it. Shin Mazinger Z is 2009's answer to Gurren Lagann, and it deserves just as large an audience.