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Even these tapes cost something

  The Protectors
 
1988 | Krypton Force
We're taking another dip into the weird and unsettling world of Krypton Force for this feature. Who are The Protectors? What is The Vital Element? What's the significance of "Enter The Dragon"? What made 'Marc' choose a career in illustration? Not all of these questions will be answered.
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A further entry to the 70's Super Robot craze. Daiku Maryu Gaiking (Great Sky Dragon Gaiking) aired on Fuji TV April 1977. Created by Go Nagai, who was left intentionally uncredited, it was the first of the craze to be made directly for TV and not based off an existing manga.

The Dark Horror Army lose their home planet Zela to a black hole and choose to make Earth their new settlement. Led by the apparently mutated Prince Darius, the invading aliens attempt to remove any humans who possess the potential to defeat them.

One such target is young Baseball hopeful Sanshiro Tsuwabuki who's big league debut is shattered by the evil aliens. With his dreams ruined Sanshiro agrees to join Dr Daimonji's Great Sky Magic Dragon team, a nationally diverse group who pilot dinosaur inspired mecha housed in a vast carrier ship known as Daiku Maryu. The job of piloting their flagship Super Robot Gaiking against the Dark Horror Army is given to Sanshiro creating a rivalry with fellow team mate Peter Richardson who resents the job being given to someone so inexperienced.

The series lasted for 44 half hour episodes and was followed with the usual mountain of tie-in merchandise. A sequel series called Gaiking Legend of Daiku Maryu aired on TV Asahi in 2005.

Gaiking first appeared in the West as part of Mattel's Shogun Warriors. Released in the late 70's, the Shogun Warriors were a range of Robot toys that came in a variety of sizes, licensed from Japanese manufacturer Popy. They had previously been released in Japan as tie-in merchandise for their respective series, titles including Mazinger Z, Baldios, Daimos, Voltus V and even Rodan. The Shogun Warriors, with their spring loaded projectiles and rudimentary transformability, were fairly expensive at the larger end of the range and due to this never got beyond a cult following. The series also saw a fairly limited distribution in europe.

A few years later, in the early 80's, the Gaiking TV show was picked up for transmission in the USA as part of the Force Five series. Designed for kids, Force Five took five previously unrelated Toei shows and broadcast them week day mornings with each title being assigned a specific day. Dangard Ace took the Monday slot and was followed by The Starvengers (Getter Robo G), The Spaceketeers (SF Saiyuki Starzinger), Grandizer (UFO Robo Grendizer) and finally Gaiking on the Friday. Only 26 episodes of each series were used, making a combined total of 130 half hour shows. The on going plots in each were reworked so most episodes could be shown in any order.

The Force Five series was conceived and produced by Jim Terry and his company American Way. This seems to be his first dabble with anime yet Terry would go on to found the company Kid Pix as a distributor for re-edited Japanese animated shows for the English speaking audience, quite often including a new score from the musical outfit Bullets. Other examples of Eastern output that got the Terry treatment include Ninja the Wonder Boy (Manga Sarutobi Sasuke), Time Fighters (Time Bokan), Crushers (Crusher Joe) and Scamper the Penguin.

While not as big a success as more widely syndicated shows such as Robotech, Battle of the Planets and Voltron, Force Five is still fondly remembered by many as their first experience of anime. Compilation movies of several episodes from the five shows were later released on VHS by Family Home Entertainment.

While The Force Five shows never made it to any UK TV stations they did make several appearances on video. The first releases came in the early 80's from the label Video Brokers who distributed every episode and compilation movie of the Force Five series as they had been shown in America.

After the laws governing video releases in the UK were tightened in 1984 Video Brokers, like many small labels of the era, ceased trading. Several year later, in 1987 the Force Five shows made a re-appearance in a more widely remembered form from a company calling themselves Krypton Force.

Rumoured to be re-recorded from the retail cassettes put out by Video Broker, Krypton Force implemented their own unique style of branding in order to get their cartoons seen by the kids market. All references to Force Five were hastily, and not to mention shoddily removed, and the series' themselves were given all new names:

Gaiking - The Protectors, Grandizer - Orion Quest
Spaceketeers - Sci-Bots, Starvengers - Formators

A trailer seen on several tapes mentions a fifth series named The Mask - Mission Promete which, it is quiet likely, would have been Danguard Ace.

Each video was comprised of two episodes of the given show crammed together into one 42 min feature with little regard for quality. The tapes were then numbered into volumes (often numbered out of sequence with the episodes on the tape) and packaged in large rental cases with re-drawn covers signed by an artist going under the name Marc. These covers regularly used images taken from completely unrelated related sources such as Marvel Comics and, most frequently, Transformers hardback books published by Ladybird. The plagiarism was so extensive that many Krypton Force volumes featured screenshots entirely made up of these stolen Transformers clippings with not one of the actual contents at all.

While Krypton Force managed to flood the shelves with quite a few re-presented Force Five cassettes only six were from Gaiking including one movie edit mistakenly released under the Formators title.

Elsewhere in the world Gaiking found his way into another anthology show, Festival of the Robots. Similar in concept to Force Five, this series was shown in Spanish speaking territories with a slightly different line up to Terry's choices - showing all the episodes in their entirety, unaltered.

The lineup for Festival de los Robots comprised of Gaiking (El Gladiador), Kotetsu Zeig (El Vengador), Supermagnetron (Magne Robo Gakeen - seen on budget DVD around the globe as Magnos the Robot) and Starzinger (El Galactico).

Gaiking was finally allowed to go it alone in Italy, where the series was shown unaltered.

 
 
 

In the furthest depths of space a blackhole is dragging planet Zala to its destruction. The bizarre leader of the inhabitants, Lord Darius (who speaks through a mouth in his forehead), calls a meeting of his Death Quartet to decide the next course of action. Can you guess what it is? Yes, invade the Earth.

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On route to our planet the aliens use an Earth satellite for target practice, needlessly warning our inhabitants of the coming danger. The coast guard send their armed response team to investigate the incident, which took place above the Bermuda Triangle of all places. Their fighter jets and aircraft carriers are met by the invader's fish-shaped craft and are all annihilated. The crew set the precedent for under whelmed death cries, emitting a faintly concerned "Uh, ohhhh oh!" as if surprised at tripping on a rake in the garden - not being killed by robo-space-fish.

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From inside the Tokyo Tower, (we must be in California again) a newscaster relays the dire tragedy to the watching populace...

"The aircraft carrier Charleston has been reported missing in extremely rough seas in the infamous Bermuda Triangle area. If the ship, with over 2500 men on board has gone down it will become the greatest peace time sea disaster in history! In sports, Aries Astonopolis, a rookie left hander, will make is major league debut today against the White Sox."

Forget the possible unprecedented sea disaster, what's happening in local Baseball?

It's lucky that he mentioned this, actually, since it turns out that Aries is the star of the show plus, at this game, he's about to suffer a major setback to his career. At the stadium, the crowd are animated. Well, actually they're not - they're just a still that the camera pans over but, noise-wise, they're going wild. Before he steps out onto the field, Aries receives a phone call. The mysterious voice advises him to leave immediately to visit an old, abandoned, lighthouse instead of making his debut pitch. It probably won't surprise you that Aries ignores the caller and hangs up. "That'll be the day!" he remarks.

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At the other end of the phone, in an abandoned lighthouse, a broad, bearded man sits disappointed. "He didn't give me a chance to explain fully. Ermph". Is he really that shocked? Perhaps he should have got off his butt and gone down to the stadium himself.

Speaking of which, Aries, who could quiet easily be Koji Kabuto's twin brother, is stepping up to the mound, expectation is high. He makes his first major league pitch only for the ball to miraculously vanish just as the batter takes his swing. Three people in the crowd are audibly disappointed. Aries tries again. Then again. After six attempts the batter gets fed up and storms. Everyone involved, from the umpire to the press, have become annoyed rather than, say, shocked or amazed. No one seems concerned that seven balls have vanished in front of them. They don't seem to realise they have all witnessed some kind of incredible mysterious event. They're all just pissed that the game got screwed up. The captain gives the order to take Aries off just as an unseen assailant begins pelting the diamond with a baseball cannon! Rather than duck or even run, Aries attempts to catch them all, and is hit in the wrist.

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At the hospital he is given the news that he will never play again. An unknown Scotsman rubs it in by telling him he should have done what he was told on the phone. The day goes from bad to worse when, in the hospital grounds, he is attacked by a gang of weirdoes dressed as hawkmen. Next thing we know, Aries is on a train with four strangers and he's had the time to change into a suit. The hawkmen attack the train so, at the advice of the strangers, Aries throws himself out at the nearest bridge.

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Finally the group reach the lighthouse where Aries is introduced to the softly spoken bearded man he hung up on - Professor Hightech, safe bet that's not his real name. The prof warns him of The Dark Horror Corps, no one knows what they are for sure but his guess is they are "an alien race led by a mad space scientist who began an invasion of Earth through the Bermuda Triangle". That's some guess. But what have they got to do with Aries? It was The Dark Horror Corps that shattered his wrist. It seems they have been inflicting all of Earth's most promising individuals with apt yet spiteful attacks. Why not simply kill them? And why the obsession with sports? Is a baseball pitcher that big a threat to a mad space scientist? Well, he will be soon!

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Hightech introduces him to the team (don't bother memorising their names, you'll not see them again) and their giant attack ship Great Dragon. Inside he reveals that it will aries' job to pilot Gaiking something which the ex-pitcher is certain he'll need no practice with. Team mate Peter Richardson is keen for an untrained former baseball player to be given the keys to a 220 ton robot but only to see him crash and burn spectacularly. In the face of such overwhelming support the Professor agrees.

The lengthy transformation sequence gets its first airing. While it's nowhere near the ludicrous highs of Starbirds indoor spinning hovercrafts do look pretty dumb. What's wrong with walking places? Aries stops to briefly reminisce about being hit repeatedly in the face with a baseball and then it's on with the training. He screws up his part of the docking sequence four times in a row yet everyone is awed when he finally manages it. And not a moment too soon as a giant robot of the Dark Horror Corps appears without warning.

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Faced with this terrifying towering menace and with the lives of the other pilots under his control Aries makes his first tactical decision, he turns and runs back to the ship. But the Professor isn't gonna risk his own life to protect an untrained pilot in way over his head and puts the Great Dragon into defense mode effectively trapping the rookie.

Richardson talks Aries through the controls and with his help they launch all of Gaiking's special attacks at least once but none of the have any effect. Realising how pointless this short battle has been the Prof relents and allows Aries to retreat. The Dark Horror Corps generals arrive on the scene and things turn even worse for mankind. The three enemy ships combine there offensive power and trap the Great Dragon in a vortex of their creation, dragging it into a manufactured blackhole.

This really wouldn't be a good time for a civilian passenger jet to pass by. And, wouldn't you know it, one appears on a direct path for the vortex. Were the pilots so coked up that they couldn't spot this colossal battle from several miles away? Token female Nebula attempts to warn the airliner by radio but they're too partied out to hear it and the 747 blunders straight into the deadly wind and is vaporised. Once more the victims sound only slightly confused at being killed without warning, barely registering and audible "What? Ohh?" before distorting into oblivion.

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Fortunately for mankind the aliens get bored of crushing the Earth ship. It seems it is taking longer to destroy it than that allowed for and its all growing far too tiresome so they simply switch off the vortex and go home. So, that makes the score after the first battle a tiresome and needless draw. Great Dragon sinks below the waves to rescue Astonopolis while the Death Quartet head into space to rethink their strategy.

In the sick bay Aries recovers from his minor scuffle. Despite well meaning yet false praise and encouragement Astonopolis decides being the only line of defense between the aliens and the entire planet's enslavement is not for him and quits the Super Friends. His main gripe is its not that fun. So, forgetting the small matter of never being able to play again, he returns to the Majors.

Walking home he passes a group of kids playing baseball in a vacant lot and the ball rolls his way. Aries looks a total wimp when he fails to throw it back to them, and the kids laugh him out the area. The humiliation reminds him of the reason he left baseball in the first place, it also prompts a flashback to that fateful game of twenty minutes ago. While he is lost in recent memory an alien agent sneaks up and nearly takes Astonopolis out. The two tussle briefly but when reinforcements arrive Aries makes a dash for a nearby construction site. Stuck between a wall and an accelerating truck he freaks out and unwittingly launches a mysterious base ball from his hand sending the truck spinning through the air.

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These events, which were observed by the Horror Corps, makes them nervous so they retaliate by sending their giant fog monster to smash up the city. The Great Dragon game respond by sending their weak jet Skylar against the mechanical creature. Surprisingly Skylar manages more than Gaiking did and reveals the true form of the Horror Corps robot, yet the team are still uncertain of their success without Aries (y'know the rookie who failed to pilot Gaiking unaided and ended up being dropped into the sea by aliens too bored by the lack of a challenge to finish killing him).

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Wandering through the war zone Aries spies Fan Lee flying Skylar in the skies above. "Go Fan Lee, baby!" he calls in support. Fan Lee responds by rescuing him from certain death moments later and returns him to the Lighthouse. Aries begs for his old job back even though he was the one who quit. Shortly he is once more behind the controls of Gaiking and battling the Horror Probe and once more getting his ass kicked. Possibly suffering a hallucination he sees the Horror Probe as a Baseball which sparks the idea that wins the battle (something so do with a spinning fireball - didn't seem that far off what he had already tried).

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"The war has finally started. For survival.", notes one of Aries' team mates. But how will it turn out? Well, we'll have to see the next video in the series to find out. And, considering how badly Krypton Force numbered their tapes, that could take some time!

 
Missing videos Missing videos

"It can't be..." Bad Dubbing
Suspect accents, dubious lines and some of the worst crowd sounds and death cries ever recorded!

"It can't be..." Bad Dubbing
Suspect accents, dubious lines and some of the worst crowd sounds and death cries ever recorded!

  Combining robots
  Funky 70's designs
  Marc's naff illustrations
  Bad dubbing
  Bad editing
  Butchered storyline
  No secret Krypton Force bonus!

Of the two Krypton Force hackjobs I've managed to sit through the entirety of I enjoyed this one the least. Sci Bots worked better because what we got was two episodes presented as one story. They both made sense in within their separate time frames and it didn't really matter that there were clearly two plots and neither were related.

With The Protectors it's different. Here they are presenting a 48 minute cartoon as volume one of an ongoing plot so the integrity of the storyline is far more important. So, when whole chunks go missing to fit the run time the events stop making sense and the whole tale seems pointless and characterisation goes out the window.

But I'm guessing that my real problem with The Vital Element is that, on my copy at least, there was no surprise footage at the end of the show! No Channel 4 news! Dammit, that's what kept me fixed to the screen, not the shoddy cartoon, the expectation of what this video cassette had been used for previously.

I feel I just can't convey to you how poor the Krypton Force series' were. From the stolen Transformers clippings to the fudged edits that barely cover the advert bumpers, it is really hard for me to believe that, somehow, these tapes made it into video rental stores the length of the land. It's truly amazing!

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