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  Starbirds
 
1982 | New Hope Entertainment
Star Birds Derann Video aka Daimos

From the team that brought you Tranzor Z and Shadow World comes Starbirds!
So what does that mean? Giant robots, bad dubbing, music from the Police Academy guy.

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The people of planet Baam are forced to desert their planet when it becomes clear that their unstable sun will soon explode and destroy them. Led by their honourable ruler Leon, the homeless race search the universe for a suitable planet to inhabit. Many of the Baams are put into suspended animation to preserve the food stocks for the long journey.

Eventually they choose our planet Earth as a possible home and a meeting between the Baam Seijin's Leon and Earth representative Dr Isamu Ryuzaki is arranged to negotiate the immigration of the alien populous. Leon is accompanied by his children Admiral Richter and Princess Erica. However, his historic meeting is secretly sabotaged - the second in command Olban has the leader's drink poisoned, framing the people of Earth for his death. In the confusion Dr Ryuzaki is killed and Leon's daughter Erica believes herself responsible.

This terrible event throws the two worlds into battle. Dr Ryuzaki's son, Kazuya is given the greatest responsibility of piloting Earth's only true line of defense - a giant robot built by his father named Daimos. Things become more complicated for Kazuya when he rescues a mysterious and beautiful girl, who he doesn't realise is Princess Erica. The two fall in love but the alien girl is caught between her feelings for Kazuya, her loyalty to the Baam people and her guilt for causing the death of her true love's father.

The final part of the 'Robot Romance Trilogy', three Giant Robot series designed to bring plot and characterisation back into a genre which was believed to be in danger of becoming twenty five minute toy commercials.

Tosho Daimos (literally Fighting King Daimos) followed on from Combattler V (1976) and Voltes V (1977), debuting on the TV Asahi channel in April 1978.

Each installment in the trilogy was created by a the same Toei staff under the collective pseudonym Saburo Yatsude. It was animated by the Sunrise studio for Toei and ran for 44 episodes. In 1979 episode 24 "Nana's Secret Battle" received a theatrical release in Japan under the title Tosho Daimos: The Movie.

While the series isn't as well known as many of the other Super Robot serials of the era the lead robot has been immortalised in Bandai's Soul of Chogokin series of detailed die-cast models, making his appearance in 2008.

Like many of the Super Robot series of the 1970's Tosho Daimos was exported around the globe. The series was shown in it's entirety in, amongst others, France, Italy, Poland, China and Philippines. It is the Filipino version that is the most well known since this was the first English language dub and the only one that covered all 44 episodes. Unfortunately the show was caught in the government ban which saw many Saturday morning cartoons removed from the airwaves for fear that the violent content was setting a bad example to the nation's children.

Daimos the robot, would reach some countries long before the series that spawned him did, thanks to toy company Mattel. In 1979 Daimos joined the ranks of Mazinger Z, Grendizer, Gaiking and fellow 'Romantic Trilogy' stable mate Voltes V in the Shogun Warrior range of large, plastic robot action figures. Daimos has the honour of being one of the last robots to enter the range and, as a result, is now one of the more sort after toys by collectors of the range.

In 1982 several of the episodes were edited together into a 70 minute movie for TV and video distribution by New Hope Entertainment. The production duties were handled by Bunker Jenkins, the man behind the Tranzor Z version of Mazinger Z, with the same cast and crew that worked on his other anime adaptation Shadow World.

Piecing together footage from episodes; 01 ("Victory will be Ours Forever), 02 ("The Mysterious Girl Erika") and 06 ("Wipe Away Your Tears and Rise") with parts of the later additions comprising the climax. As usual character names are changed, now we have Kelly Hunter fighting off the Volarian invasion, led by Roderick, using his mighty robot Dynamo.

This movie, entitled Starbirds, was first seen in the U.S. where it was aired on the SHOWTIME network throughout the early 1980's. It made it's home video debut in the UK in 1983 where it was released by Derann a company founded in 1964 by husband and wife team Derek and Anne Simmonds. Unfortunately the company left the home video market after the introduction of the 1984 video recordings act (see Frankenstein) and Starbirds was never to reappear on the shelves.

It wasn't until 1987 that the Bunker Jenkins version reached American stores from Hi-Tops Video the same distributor that had released Shadow World a year earlier. It has been long out of print although at some point it has been re-released on $1 DVD.

 

 
 
Promo for Tosho Daimos
 
Shogun Warrior Daimos (From Collection DX)
 
The US Hi-Tops tape
 

Before we begin, take another look at the video sleeve... notice that shot on the back? That's not Daimos, that's Voltus! To be honest, that robo-bat on the front is starting to look suspicious. It certainly isn't in this video. Yet another case of misplaced box-shots uncovered by the Bargain Bin. What's strange though, is that Derann never released Voltus. Maybe they had plans to but never made it due to the Video Recording Act. Anyway, on with the feature!

Like so many bargain bin tapes before it Star Birds opens with a hastily scraped together credit sequence of footage from the coming story. This video though has the bonus of a musical track that sounds incredibly similar to the one from Shadow World. Well, they are both from the same composer. You can't blame him, he probably knocked them both out in the same afternoon while also hurrying through the score for the incredible Swords of the Space Ark.

As the cartoon begins the narrator fills us in on everything we need to know to follow this intense Sci-fi epic. Some aliens lived on a planet called Volarian, it blew up, so now they want to live on Earth. Currently they reside on Volarian 2, a spaceship/Colony shaped like an paperweight - perhaps one you'd bring home after a vacation in Egypt. What Mr Narrator fails to tell us is whether they are good aliens or bad aliens. Their ruler's office building has a giant winged serpent statue attached to the roof so I'm gonna go with 'bad'.

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The editor wastes no time getting the story started - with less than 2 minutes on the counter and evil King Olban gives the order to invade our planet. The first part of their invasion strategy is to destroy all the famous landmarks of New York - twice! Even the 'Ranam' building isn't spared. The Invasion Commander, the unfortunately named Roderick, takes no pleasure in his work. For him the systematic extermination of an unwitting race is a necessary evil if they are to find a home for their billion displaced nationals. Wait a minute, if they can build a spaceship big enough for a billion people surely they can come up with a better invasion plan than 'Operation: Blow Up Tourist Attractions'.

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Next we meet the hero of the story; Kelly. That's right, a man named Kelly is gonna save the world from the attacking alien army. With assistance from his best pal Duncan - (here in a major role before he was reduced to a bit part in Dracula).

Starbirds Harold Ramis

This dynamically named pair are returning to Earth from a voyage to recover 'The Crystal Light' when their Ramjet is attacked by the Volarian fleet. Kelly bravely pilots his way through the onslaught and into the planet's atmosphere where the aggressors are seen off by Earth's Space force. Roderick takes a particular interest in this Earth Ship, taking note of it's destination - Dragon's Point on the Californian coast. The same 'California' as seen in Shadow World.

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A messenger bursts in to announce that Erica, Roderick's sister, has gone missing while tending to the wounded. Her maid Margaretta also hears the terrible news and bothers Roderick with it a second time, which really frustrates him. "I've already just learned!" comes his angry response.

Just landing in California, Kelly and Duncan are welcomed home by Kelly's hyperactive, helium voiced sister Nana, Professor Wells (a good friend of their dead scientist-father) and an unnamed robot, which pretty much disappears after this scene. The head of the U.N. demands that Wells puts 'Dynamo' into action before the bad guys reach Orange County - and they are already on their way!

Daimos

The professor quickly introduces Kelly to Tranzor - not a giant Robot Man but a super truck that can defend earth. He drops in the Crystal Energy and they're good to go - no wiring required! Just plug and play! And it's lucky it's so fast to install since the Volarians have nearly arrived. Not bad; 2000 odd miles in ten minutes - these guys really are advanced!

Wells hurriedly drags Kelly the length of his underground complex babbling on about Dynamo until they reach their destination and Kelly is shoved into the open mouth of a tube. This begins easily the most outlandish and elaborate launch sequence I have ever seen:

Kelly goes from zip line to motorised chair (for less than a metre) to auto pilot flying car which is then launched into the air from a huge steel pipe landing, seconds later, onto a ramp which, just moments earlier, had risen from beneath the soil. Making his automated road trip Kelly is visited by the voice of his dead father which has been conveniently 'programmed' into the car. He demands that his son activate the Dynamo robot by yelling "Dynamo Go!" Like a good son, Kelly obeys and the super truck, which he had been standing beside just a few minutes before this crazy journey began, springs to life and begins an insanely intricate journey of its own.

Starbirds Tosho Daimos starbirds daimos

Tranzor leaps from the mouth of the Dragon Cave and crosses the sea via a series of underwater bridges which raise up and break the surface for just a few seconds before sinking into the depths again as the truck passes over them. This companion vehicle crashes onto the road, cutting off it's smaller automated partner. To allow the small car to enter the big truck, via the back door no less, it is necessary for our hero to yell out "Light Speed!" The car launches into the air, much like KITT used to - usually through the open side of a freight train or over an unsuspecting reversing lorry in a narrow alley. It travels inside Tranzor and continues racing at full speed before slamming into a buffer, hurling Kelly through the open cockpit and, by the pure power of momentum, into the final stage of this delirious sequence. His drivers seat connects with a track and skids through and open door where it stops dead and a pole lifts it from beneath into the control room and over the finish line.

Starbirds Tosho Daimos starbirds daimos

Surely there's an easier way...

Imagine how much time and effort that whole procedure takes to reset. You thought your Hot Wheels stunt track took a long time to set up and put away!

Now, finally in the control seat, suction cups descend from the ceiling and stick the Kelly. It may look as though he's getting the chair but in fact these sinister looking devices allow Tranzor to read his movements. The barrelling juggernaut is propelled of a cliff leaving Kelly to yell one last incoherent slogan to save him from yet another unnecessary peril "Dynamo Battle Turn! Now!" Tranzor converts into the Vehicle Team Voltron-esque Dynamo robot and turns to face the advancing enemy who haven't yet reached the shoreline despite having had the length of this unnecessary sequence.

Professor Wells encourages Kelly to rely on his karate. "You're good at it" he coaches. Stirring words. Kelly makes light work of the Volarian Robots, punching holes in them and kicking their heads off with ease until he spots a young woman approaching the cliff. She collapses dangerously close to the edge and this distraction gives the enemy a chance for victory. But with the help of Dynamo's hidden attack, The Double Blizzard, the last of the robots are turned into mere polluting smoke clouds.

Starbirds Tosho Daimos starbirds daimos

"The beautiful young lady has captivated Kelly Hunter's heart. But, who is she?" questions the narrator. The picture fades to black and stays black for a full seven seconds before the story is allowed to continue. The mysterious girl is taken to hospital where she quickly recovers from her unknown symptoms. She reveals her name is Erica and she is from Volarian 2. While walking the grounds with Kelly she explains the truth behind her people's journey to our planet.

The Volarian people were put into suspended animation for the long journey. The treacherous King Olban removed some from there hyper sleep and recruited them against the rightful ruler, Erica's father King Leon, and had him killed. Other members of their space race rebelled against Olban and headed to Earth to set up a resistance force leaving him free to brain wash the remainder while they slept. Smart move!

Starbirds Tosho Daimos starbirds daimos

Later that day, after Kelly has left, the hospital comes under attack. The patients quickly begin to evacuate. A nurse bursts in to assist Erica but she insists on staying put. Surprisingly the nurse agrees, with very little argument and leaves her behind to burn. The screen goes black for another seven seconds. When we awake, we find Kelly in what appears to be a cell. The head of the U.N. steps in to tactfully break the news of Erica's disappearance. Our hero is so horrified that he symbolically turns to stone and crumbles. If that's how he reacts to the disappearance of a girl he's known for less than a day I wonder what happened when he found out his dad was dead. Not taking this as a warning the official continues...

Starbirds Tosho Daimos starbirds daimos

"It seems she went to the cliff were you first met. The rock gave way and she fell, Duncan saw it all! She fell into the sea."

It all seems very suspicious to me. What was she doing at the cliff, why wasn't she in the hospital? What was she doing there with Duncan? The two of them had never met before. My guess is he was fed up with the little screen time he was receiving and pushed her off to free up some space in the cast.

The flash back shows more than the U.N. Chief knows. Before hitting the water Erica used her secret wings (I should have pointed out earlier that the Volarians are a race of Birdmen) and fluttered to safety in a cave beneath the cliff.

Starbirds Tosho Daimos starbirds daimos

Roderick knows more than the Earth men. He knows that Erica is alive and her position. She is at Dragon Head Rock on the West Coast. He dispatches one of his generals immediately to retrieve her. When they reach the cliff they find a human search party already on the scene. They are left with no option but to annihilate them using one of their stock of giant robots. This emergency personnel massacre prompts the launch of Dynamo although it's difficult to see the need since all the rescuers are already dead.

Little does Kelly realise that Erica is watching his epic robo rumble from the shore. It starts out like a typical battle where our hero fights well at first before quickly becoming overwhelmed then finally getting the upper hand and reducing his opponent to a smog cloud. Despite the fact that throughout the fight both robots were the same size, Dynamo deals the finishing blow by.

Dynamo burst through his opponent's eye and tunnels deep inside ignoring the fact that moments ago his adversary was exactly the same height as him. The Volarian menace detonates leaving behind only a pair of metal legs. But there is a twist to this battle and logic disappears even further towards into the distance. Out of the remaining legs bursts a second robot - the same height as the first! The explosion of the first robot has left Kelly incapacitated and his imminent peril draws Erica into the open to protect him. She is quickly swiped by the Volarian fleet and, with their objective secured, they leave Kelly to be destroyed by their drill-headed mecha. With the hope of seeing Erica again Dynamo easily finishes the Russian-Doll-Robot.

Starbirds Tosho Daimos starbirds daimos

After the longest blackout so far the action switches to a conquered rebel base where Erica is given an ultimatum - marry King Olban or Roderick is executed. But help is close. Somehow Kelly and his part-time partner Duncan know where the bad guys are keeping his would-be girlfriend and are quickly mounting a rescue. They manage to rescue Margaretta but when they find Erica she refuses to join them. She has decided to marry Olban and leaves with the enemy for Volarian 2. Surrounded by enemy troops what can Kelly and Duncan do to survive? Duncan comes up with an unusual plan - he pretends to have a stomach ache and when the concerned soldiers come over to check their mortal enemy is OK, Kelly kicks them in the face. That's what compassion gets you.

The nasty aliens retreat to Volarian 2 with the soon-to-be Mrs Olban. Dynamo gives chase but is held back by a bizarre looking robot monster that resembles a metal man-lizard fused with a speed boat. Boatzilla is quickly dispatched but he has served his purpose. In the light of yet another striking sunset Kelly vows to take the fight to Volarian 2.

Starbirds Tosho Daimos starbirds daimos

It's wedding day aboard the alien space colony. Margaretta begs Erica not to go through with the ceremony somehow still not getting that she's not doing it for love. It is revealed that the bride-to-be is carrying a dagger concealed within her dress, something which I doubt is alien superstition. A guard calls Erica away leaving Margaretta to ponder; "What is she up to?". She really isn't the smartest is she?

Kelly speeds to the space-chapel in Dynamo hoping to get there in time for the "... forever hold your peace" bit. Prof Wells warns that this could be there last. "If this manoeuvre fails both you and Dynamo could be wiped out!" Can a single person be 'wiped out'? Surely he would have to qualify as an entire race?

Isn't it odd how, despite living light-years apart, and having had no contact at all until days ago, the Volarian wedding ceremony is so much like our own? Wearing a white dress Erica is escorted down the space-aisle to the snake-alter where she is joined by her soon-to-be-husband Evil King Olban. The oddly ominous music which has been playing through out the wedding fades down as three priests approach from out of another giant stone snake. For bird people they have an odd obsession with the serpents.

Erica waits at the alter a whole ten seconds before whipping out the dagger and charging Olban. The distance between them was much greater than it looks, and this traveling time gives the evil dad-killer more than enough time to react. Erica is disarmed with ease. Next, it is Margaretta's turn. She runs up from way off in the crowd, announcing her intentions from the moment she started running so her assassination attempt is practically over before it began. The guards simply wait for her to reach them so they can take her knife away and lead her off.

Starbirds Tosho Daimos starbirds daimos

While no one was actually hurt, a double public assassination plot, failed or not, does tend to kill the mood, so the wedding is called off at this point. Then suddenly it becomes a day-time-soap! Olban orders Erica incarcerated and Margaretta killed but is interrupted when his High Priest begins giving him abuse.

"Olban, you are not the real king!" he exclaims. "You are in front of God now, what do you have to say?!" (Aliens have god too? Superbook really did travel far!) Then he reveals that he is not the High Priest at all but, in actual fact, Roderick! And he knows everything!! Olban suffers his third assassination attempt in ten minutes. Maybe if someone had brought a gun they would have been more successful.

Next, a glowing outside the Chapel's stained-glass dome catches the tyrant's eye. Dynamo is crashing the Wedding! In the confusion this causes, Olban manages to slip out, only pausing on the way to stab Margaretta in the spine. A stray sword in the scenery causes the whole temple to explode. Once again, yet another example of poor alien wiring. They can make spaceships that can travel the galaxy - they just don't want to spend the money.

Yet another uninvited guest arrives. Duncan bursts in with a whole army giving them some stirring encouragement before the onslaught:

"Listen, do your best. We have to get to the centre where they make cyborgs out of their people."

Roderick engages Olban in a running battle but it isn't going to be a fair fight. The recently deposed Evil King threatens to throw the switch on the billion people still in suspended animation. Roderick backs off long enough to be mortally wounded by two bodyguards and then regains his willingness to endanger innocent lives and attacks once more. In the scuffle Olban is finally dealt the fatal blow however it seems he will still have the last laugh.

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In the final ludicrous and over-the-top twist, Olban's heart beat (they have God, Western style weddings and beating hearts - our races were separated at birth!) is linked to the master computer of Volarian 2. If his heart stops it'll blow, right? Nearly. It will, in fact, fly the colony into the atmosphere of Jupiter. There are far quicker and less elaborate ways to cause mass death. Surely, a simple old fashioned self destruct button is far more fail safe. It's all well and good if Olban is assassinated, then he'd want the colony destroyed, but what if he was just hit by a bus while out for a walk one day. Or suffered a heart attack at a intergalactic service station diner. In that case there would be no need for a billion people to follow him into the light.

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Still, Olban dies, for some reason a dome seals around him in the very spot he fell and causes him to be painfully vaporised. The master computer (which loosely resembles one of those Simon light-up games from the 80's) goes crazy, tilts Volarian 2 on its side and then blasts off on a course for extravagant doom. Duncan, heads for the control room only to be shot to bits by hidden laser guns that line the route. Kelly has a go next, attempting to run through the auto-gun-onslaught in the Tranzor super truck. He just about makes it to the door before the engine blows. He stumbles out but is too wounded to walk and collapses. Roderick, filled with compassion by the Earthman's selflessness, overcomes his mortal wounds to fly down and complete the final part of this suicide mission himself. He is lasered to bits as he enters the control room. Fortunately he manages to put the space station into reverse before having the dignity to die off screen.

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In the closing scene Kelly is carried to safety where he is finally reunited (albeit horizontally) with Erica. "Oh Kelly, I love you!" thinks Erica with tears in her eyes as Kelly closes his (he's probably just very tired). And so the cartoon excitement comes to a somewhat abrupt and inconclusive end.

 
Missing videos

The Never ending Launch
He's never gonna make it to his first fight at this rate!

Weird Robo Showdown
The animators were really running low on fresh ideas for at the end of the 70's...

 
Giant robots
 
Fairly coherent
  The guy's name is KELLY
 
Poor dubbing
 
Unoriginal
  Weak ending

I think it is fair to say that the production quality on Starbirds are low at best. Huge black gaps of silence, ropy script little attention to coherance, all point to a movie cobbled together on the quick. But cramming multiple strands woven through 44 half hour episodes into one stand alone 70 minutes isn't ever likely to produce a solid story.

And I was surprised (and maybe a little relived) at the barely 70 minute running time, surely, with a starting point like Daimos, they could have bulked it out with a few more robot fights. If, like a father having to choose between his two least favourite sons, I had to choose a favourite between Shadow World and Starbirds it would be the Robo-NFL-Orphans every time. They had Phil Collins, Quarterback Robots and funny dialog. Aside from a hero called Kelly, this one lacked anything to make it stand out from any other Sci-fi VHS fodder.

I guess that maybe the real problem with Starbirds is that Tosho Daimos was just an unremarkable series to start with.

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