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  Mighty Orbots "Magnetic Menace"
 
1984 | TMS Entertainment Inc. MGM/UA Ent Co.
Mighty Orbots

After a flood of U.S. re-edits comes a genuine Japanese/American co-production. The brainchild of a U.S. TV producing genius and animated by one of Japan's top studios this series was set to take over the world... so why didn't it? Find out now!

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During the early 1980's the Japanese animation company Tokyo Movie Shinsha (TMS) was keen to break into the American TV market. They had numerous U.S. cartoons on their resume and were looking for a deal to help them secure a partnership with an overseas TV Station or producer. Former ABC and NBC president Fred Silverman, now head of his own production company, got together with the Japanese company to collaborate on an idea of his own which he believed would rival the popular kids robot cartoons of the time like Transformers, Gobots and Voltron (itself a show with Japanese origins).

The result of this partnership was the Mighty Orbots the first of it's kind- a TV cartoon series created by a true US/Japan partnership. Previous attempts had been re-edited versions of pre-existing anime shows, like the aforementioned Voltron, or the likes of The Mysterious Cities of Gold or Ulysses 31 which were conceived, written and animated in Japan and simply co-financed by overseas producers in exchange for TV rights in their native soil.

Due to this unique partnership the show had far better production values. Stories benefited from logic and made sense as they had been animated as written not twisted around pre-existing material. The English dialog fitted the characters lip movements perfectly and the dubbing was from a more carefully selected, professional, cast which could be afforded thanks to the higher budget of a major TV Station.

Unfortunately all this work didn't pay off. Mighty Orbots, directed by Osamu Dezaki, premiered on Saturday September 8th 1984 on ABC. Reportedly the ratings were favourable but nowhere near good enough to keep it going (apparently it was losing out to both Muppet Babies and Smurfs shown at the same time on rival stations). The series ended after only 13 episodes and planned toy tie-ins were scrapped. To make matters worse the show's creators were sued by Tonka, owners of the rival Gobots, over spurious claims of similarities between the two animated shows.

The only other result to come of the Silverman/TMS partnership was the 1986 U.S. kids cartoon series Galaxy High.

Even though it was animated in Japan Mighty Orbots never made it to air. It was released to video instead, in an identical form with the exception of a Japanese dub.

The American voice cast, while excellent, have mostly unremarkable credits to their names. The few exceptions are the narrator Gary Owen; a legendary radio host and announcer who also provided the voice for Roger Ramjet, Barry Gordon, voice of the Orbots creator Rob Simmons who will be better known to those of a certain age as Teenage Mutant Ninja/Hero Turtle Donatello. Joining them is the voice of Dia, Jennifer Darling, who is no stranger to anime having provided the voices for Hello Kitty's Momma and Princess Aeka on Pioneer's dub of Tenchi Muyo! Finally and possibly most tenuously, Orbots Tor, Barry Gordon, was one of the writers of the 1987 movie Harry and the Hendersons.

Due to it's failure in it's homeland Mighty Orbots was quietly released to video rental stores worldwide rather than TV screens, which has served it to gain a minor cult following.

 

 
ABC promo
 
US releaseof this video
 

Prologue
As luck would have it I bought the first volume of Mighty Orbots which means we have episodes 1, 2 and 3 to look at. As this is the first volume the characters are introduced at the start of the tape ahead of the usual opening sequence.

Our heroes are the Galactic Patrol who are the only thing that stands between the evil computer Umbra and the destruction of the Earth. Key to the Galactic Patrol's success is Rob Simmons a young genius and inventor/commander of six special robots who can combine to form the Mighty Orbots (Champion of the Universe™)- a powerful giant robot who is called into action to defeat the bad guys time after time.

The robotic stars of the show are: Tor (the brash one) who is super strong, the two female robots Bo (the feisty one) and Boo (the timid one) possessors of invisibility/teleportation and elemental power respectively and the comic relief; Bort, (the cowardly one) who can shape-shift and Crunch (the greedy one) who can eat, which I guess is a skill. Last and perhaps least is Ono who has the appearance of a six year old girl and who's purpose is to boss everyone around and to keep the secret base tidy as well as being the ignition key.

After the genuinely funky intro it's into episode #1...

"Magnetic Menace"

The ever present announcer fills in the plot detail (it's the future, mankind has conquered space etc) and introduces us to the concealed HQ of the Galactic Patrol. Within the futuristic command centre Patrol Commander Rondu sees that out in space a shuttle is caught in a meteor 'swarm' and is in danger. Rob is given the signal, via his hi-tech wrist watch- a staple of the 1980's, to assemble Mighty Orbots and save the day. Rob relays the message and the five component robots spring into action, via the money saving, reusable 'uniting' sequence- an important part of any anime team show!

Orbots rushes into space and saves the stricken vessel with "the old Meteor Madness Play". With the danger averted the girls notice the insignia on the side of the shuttle. It's the private starship of Dragos & Drax the biggest rock group in the galaxy! As a sign of gratitude the superstar rockers give the team tickets to their concert but as the heroes leave they begin to laugh maniacally. Not a good sign.

Back on Earth Rob is preparing one of those fantastic looking Burgers that only exist in cartoons. You know the kind; four stories high and packed to overflowing with delicious yet unidentifiable ingredients. Elsewhere in the base the two 'girl' robots are dancing to a video of their rock idols while the 'male' robots question their interest in the music. Ono interrupts and they are all sent off to recharge.

Deep in space is the Shadowstar, the menacing home of main villain Umbra and his Shadow Organisation. He is meeting with Dragos and Drax and it seems they are evil after all (name a rock band that isn't!) and are part of his plan to destroy the Earth. The 'Dr Claw' voiced evil computer has them test their secret weapon- a terrifying beast made from Electro-magnetic energy and conjured up by the weird alien music they play on their instruments.

That night the moon's 'Lunar Hall' is packed with Dragos & Drax fans all completely unaware that their favourite band has sold out to an evil organisation, something they all do eventually. Bo & Boo are so excited to see their favourite band that they sneak back stage using Boo's invisibility powers. Rather than the typical 'action' you might expect them to receive from two edgy rock gods they are instead hypnotised by the strange sound of the duo's robo-guitar and sax combo, leaving the rest of the team unable to form Mighty Orbots in their absence. Let's hope nothing bad goes down tonight!

The gig begins and Dragos & Drax open with their trademark vocal-less sax and guitar medley. Wasting no time the trippy, alien riffs congeal into the fearsome Magnetic "Mon-stur", as the announcer puts it! The Magnetic Menace descends onto planet Earth and right into the path of Tor, Bort and Crunch. The robots are pulled along behind it by it's magnetic pull as the dangerous creature absorbs any metallic objects it passes growing stronger as it does.

Their mission complete the dastardly musical duo make their escape unaware that they have been followed by Dia, a human member of the Galactic Patrol and daughter of Rondu. She catches the fiendish pair by surprise as they interrogate the captive girl-bots. With the bad guys subdued Bo & Boo make their excuses and dash off to meet up with the rest of the Orbots gang.

Having difficulty defeating their magnetic foe Tor calls upon Rob who, accompanied by Ono races to the scene in his beam car. Not a moment too soon either as the girls cross paths with the monster and are attracted to it too (magnetically I mean). Assessing the situation Rob knows just what to do! The gang put their jets on full power and blast the monster off course and deep into space where they direct it into the rings of Saturn. Deep within the icy rings their adversary begins to freeze over, losing it's magnetic properties. Seeing their chance the team break free and unite to form Mighty Orbots. The creature defrosts and the two tussle to the strains of the pop music theme tune. No doubt empowered by this uplifting super ballad Orbots takes the lead in the battle, swings the powerful beast around by its tail and flings it straight into a smoldering crater on a nearby planet which then instantly explodes with one of those Giant Robot anime explosions that seems to go on and on forever, exploding and re-exploding. Finally the dust settles and the beast is no more- and neither is the planet, lets hope it wasn't populated. Realising his plan has been scuppered Umbra vows revenge.

Back on Earth the Orbots gang are relaxing after their difficult victory. Bo & Boo are off to see 'Disaster Area' play a gig on Mars and choose to take Bort and Crunch, clearly out of sympathy, over the arrogant Tor. But, what do ya know, it was just a joke to humble him and the gang all leave together.

Ahh the comic ending, how we never tire of you!

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"The Wish World"

Deep in space Mighty Orbots is in the final stages of a battle with the evil Cadron, a Shogun-esque minion of Shadow. His defeat doesn't please Umbra but a mysterious guest claims that he can solve the evil computer's Orbots problem. Recognising him Umbra gives this classic order: "Plasmas, solidify before me!" Solidify he does and pledges to assist in the Shadow leaders plan to use a 'hyper warp' to remove Doranis, a moon of high strategic importance to the galactic patrol, from existence.

Meanwhile on earth our heroes are once again relaxing. Rob is playing a video game called 'Star Raiders' and from it's very basic appearance it seems video games have regressed pretty far by the 23rd century or maybe he's just playing an emulator. Ono is dismayed when he dismisses her orders because she's "just a robot". But everyone's fun is interrupted when Rondu has the Orbots investigate some strange goings on space, suspecting that Shadow is behind them.

The stock footage of the robots flying from their individual world locations is rolled out again which makes me wonder- just how come each robot is hiding in a vastly different place to the next? They are all supposed to be recharging in Rob's base yet they appear from the desert, an ancient temple, a frozen lake and so on. How big is this underground base anyway?

The orbots investigate, Rob further undermines Ono and Dia leaves for the Doranis. On her way there she is pulled into the Hyper Warp and is forced to make an emergency landing on the endangered moon. Trapped she sends out a distress signal to the Orbots. Meanwhile Plasmas arrives on Earth and spots Ono out shopping for her human master. He overhears her wish to become human and hatches a plan. Approaching her, in disguise, in an underground car park he invites her to visit the Wish World a planet where your wishes are granted, risk free! Ono is uncertain at first but ultimately accepts.

Rob sees the trouble Umbra is causing and heads to the trouble spot in his beam car. Ono arrives on the Wish World and is met by Plasmas again but in a different form. She asks him to turn her into a human and he agrees. With the transformation a success the helpful stranger hands the newly humanised robot a medallion which he tells her she can use to turn back. But in reality it will actually send out a tracing signal exposing the location of the Orbots' secret base! She leaves for home not knowing the danger she's putting herself and her friends in.

Rob summons the Orbots team to meet at Asteroid Alpha one of their secret outposts in space. The team are surprised by Ono's new style and Rob orders her to change back immediately- they need her in robot form to launch Mighty Orbots. Innocently using the medallion Ono unwittingly invites Plasmas to their secret meeting place. Rob formulates a long-winded plan to harness the power of the Emerald Nebula and distill it through Bort into Ono in order to return her to her cold, metallic self.

Plasmas, having over heard this scheme, meets them there and subverts their plan to increase his own strength and size! The Orbots counter-attack with "the old shell gag" and momentarily subdue their enemy and encase him in a hollowed out meteor spouting corny puns at every stage. With a brief moments calm in the fight Rob rescues the fully restored Ono and together the team combine to form Mighty Orbots.

Doranis and Dia are just moments away from disappearing into the Hyper Warp and to make matters worse the giant Plasmas has escaped from this temporary prison. It all turns out for the best though as Rob realises they can use the mass of their foe to satisfy the Warp's hunger. Plasmas, and his impressive gas butt, are blasted into the heart of the vortex and it is sealed shut permanently saving Doranis, Dia and the day!

The story ends with the obligatory final joke. Ono, back to normal, bosses all the other robots about. Rob quips "It sure is good now everything's back to normal!"

 

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"Trapped on the Prehistoric Planet"

With no current Umbra related disturbances the Orbots gang are taking it easy at home. Bort puts his womanising on hold for a moment to switch on the TV which is showing a special report on Mighty Orbots battle with Nordak. But they are not the only ones watching the report. On Shadowstar Umbra and his guest Mentalis (who seems to have come dressed as Magneto) have their TV on the same channel. The report leaves them understandably annoyed so they plot to defeat Mighty Orbots once and for all! Again. They plan to lure the Heroic Warrior robot to the suitably named planet Evilon "The vilest and most dangerous world in the galaxy!" With a reputation like that their tourism must be negligible.

Having bathed in their own brilliance for long enough the robots go to their battery chambers to recharge. Bo has a sudden idea for a great prank and removes Crunch's Appetite Chip while he sleeps. I can guarantee that this will be a hilarious joke and that it will have no negative repercussions!

Rob receives a report from Dia that an asteroid is on a collision course with Earth but it turns out to be nothing that Mighty Orbots need be troubled with as the Galactic Patrol has built a deflector shield (imaginatively titled "Deflectron") for just such an occasion. Is the G.P. trying to minimise it's dependency on Mighty Orbots? Are there gonna be some shock redundancies made? Who's lives will be put in danger by the Asteroid once Earth has deflected it? None of these questions will be answered as this is a kids cartoon and I'm taking it far too seriously.

The Deflectron would make a perfect lure for Mighty Orbots, especially if the planet was in imminent danger. This doesn't escape Mentalis' notice and he puts just such a plan into motion. Rob receives word that someone has snatched the new defence system and he wastes no time in assembling the team and uniting to form Mighty Orbots (in the full length stock animation from episode one).

Deflectron's signal is coming from planet Evilon so Mighty Orbots ventures into this dangerous world not realising that they are being set up! Sure enough they find the Earth saving device but also Mentalis. The diminutive bad guy launches a force field around Evilon so that Mighty Orbots have no means of escape and to make matters worse the field absorbs their power! Events grow increasingly bleak as Rondu receives reports of a meteor fast approaching the Earth!

The drastically weakened Orbots separate and come under attack from a flying dinosaur. The gang defeat the prehistoric monster but Ono's repair kit is destroyed in the scuffle. Bort may have found a solution to their predicament when he discovers special rocks that contain enough power to have them back in fighting shape. But Crunch is unable to convert the rocks into the much needed energy as his Appetite Chip is missing. There's little time to blame Bo as Mentalis sends another jurassic monster to attack our heroes. They once again avoid disaster while Mentalis removes the force field so he can escape. He doesn't get too far before Dia boards his ship and has him in Galactic Police custody.

The Deflectron may have been destroyed but Ono salvages a chip from it which can be used to replace Crunch's missing appetite. With time against them the hungry machine devours the 'Neo Proton' core of the broken device giving the Orbots a much needed energy boost! Mighty Orbots blasts off for Earth and gets there just in time to blast the asteroid into pieces.

Back home Bo makes Crunch a large, metal cake to apologise for the prank. "Good thing he didn't have room or he'd probably've eaten the whole lab!" remarks Rob. Everyone laughs.

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Mighty Orbots Unite!
The full length, money saving, stock transformation sequence from episode 3.

Mighty Orbots Vs The Magnetic Menace!
Rob and the gang come on like "Gang Busters" and show the Magnetic Monster who's boss!

 
Great dubbing
 
Excellent animation
  Great theme tune
  Likeable characters
  Fun giant robot action
  Nostalgia!
 
Slightly formulaic storylines

Mighty Orbots is classic anime robot action adhering to all the tropes of the genre's template. Reusable uniting stock animation, separate robots combining to form one giant warrior, weekly monster confrontations... etc etc. The animation is detailed with great depth of shadow and moves with impressive fluidity far removed from the cheapness of most American Saturday morning cartoons of the time and really shows what Japanese TV animation is capable of with a large enough budget. The direction is exciting full of twirling battles and break-neck zooms and the dubbing is virtually flawless. My only gripe is that the formulaic pattern that each episode follows gets a little tiresome.

It's a real shame that Mighty Orbots didn't get the audience it deserved. While I very much doubt it would have rivaled the Transformers I'm sure it would have gained a solid fan base had a further series been produced.
If you're looking for even more on the Mighty Orbots check out Arioch's Mighty Orbots Page!

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