I’m not even sure there’s much left to say after that.
Well, okay. I’ll try.
Unbeknownst to me at the time, sometime in, I think, October of last year one of our local secondary cable channels started running the Comet TV programming block. I only noticed it after what appeared to be some kind of cheesy 80s science fiction and horror movie marathon entered its third consecutive day. Finally I had to tune in and see what the hell was up with this. Sure enough, Comet TV strings together SF, fantasy, and horror movies and TV shows, creating a second-tier Syfy punctuated by commercials for pharmaceutical class action lawsuits and “not available in stores” inventions of questionable durability.
No way am I not going to start flipping through the menu to, as Joliet Jake Blues once said, “overlook this establishment’s board of fare.”
They show reruns of Stargate SG-1 and the newer reboot of The Outer Limits, but mostly B-movies from the 70s and 80s.
And then there it was, tucked into the early morning slots on Saturday and Sunday:
Oh, and if you don’t get Comet TV, I guess it’s also on Hulu. If you do get Comet TV, also set your DVR for Men Into Space. That one I’ll leave for another post.
You’re probably not already familiar with Johnny Sokko and His Flying Robot, and how could you be if you aren’t more or less my age and a huge nerd who happened to live in a city that had a channel that showed it? Even then it was probably aired at five am on Sunday mornings—and that in the pre-DVR 70s—but you saw at least a few of the episodes. Then you grew up with some vague whisper of a memory of a show about a kid (Johnny Sokko) who inexplicably works as some kind of international cop and controls a giant robot that looks like King Tut’s country cousin. The giant robot has a variety of weapons and, of course, fights evil giant monsters in defense of the Earth.
Y’know. Like they do.
Then you set your DVR and are showered with the greatest wave of pure, unadulterated joy you’ve ever experienced in your entire life. And that’s it. You fill your DVR with it, and dole it out an episode at a time. You use it like an antidepressant. You laugh with, not at it. You gush—I mean gush—over the makeup and monsters. The villains make you want to rocket to your feet, give the distinctive Unicorn salute, and do the robot’s weird kinda karate thing like a dance.
I walk around the house whistling the theme song.
I am in love.
I’ll go back a little.
The show was produced in Japan as Giant Robo, and ran one season in 1967-1968. It was brought to the United States in 1969, dubiously dubbed, and aired sporadically.
Here’s the gist of it:
The evil Emperor Guillotine of the planet Gargoyle sets out to invade the Earth with the help of his evil minions, the Gargoyle Gang. Thankfully, we Earthlings have somehow or another set up an international police organization called Unicorn, which apparently freely recruits children.
You can tell the bad guys because some of them are straight-out monsters with names like Fangar and Space Vampire. Their thugs wear black outfits with black berets with a skull emblem and when responding to a superior throw out a full-on Nazi salute.
Unicorn agents, on the other hand, are clearly identified by their dull orange motorcycle helmets and brighter colored uniforms bearing a sunburst badge and their distinctive numbers. Maybe inspired by James Bond, each Unicorn agent is identified by the letter U followed by a number. Johnny Sokko is Agent U7.
More or less by mistake, young Johnny Sokko bonds with a giant robot when the robot’s inventor seeks Unicorn’s help to keep the robot out of the clutches of the evil Emperor Guillotine.
The robot flies, of course, and so does Johnny, via jetpack. He’s a kid with a gun and a giant robot friend and he fights evil giant alien monsters—where could that possibly go wrong? With Johnny’s coaching, Giant Robot (the robot has no name other than that) fights off giant monsters like Opticorn, Cleopat, and Draculon—which is a giant vampire. You’re welcome.
I don’t know if I even want to tell you any more. You need to experience the pure joy of watching a little kid casually shooting at adults, the robot’s launching ritual (the same footage reused in every episode) that must have been the prototype for that most Japanese of anime tropes, the giant robot launch ritual. If you watch any anime at all, you know what I mean.
You need to hear the voice acting for yourself, which at times is so wildly comedic it couldn’t possibly have been unintentional, while at the same time there’s a reverence for every minute detail. I estimate their budget for special effects at, corrected for inflation, somewhere in the range of $1.35 per episode, but goddammit they got every slim penny out of it.
Johnny Sokko and His Flying Robot is a masterpiece of pure innocence and action and fun and joy that makes me a big geeky fan of everything science fiction, fantasy, horror, and funny and cool… all over again.