['Roboto-chan!' is a fortnightly column by Ollie Barder which covers videogames that feature robots and the pop-cultural folklore surrounding them. The first column discusses how Japanese video game series Super Robot Wars actually has palpable continuity effects on the classic Japanese robots it features within it.]
We haven’t long to wait until this majestic piece of poseable plastic makes its way into retailers (in Japan). The thing is, the history behind Final Dancouga is a bit complex. Roll back to 1985 and a new super robot anime TV series is in its heyday, by the name of Choujuu Kishin Dancouga it features four mechanical animals that combine to form the eponymous Dancouga itself.
The show was different than most super robot fare, namely it being released in 1985 and not 1975 and the fact that the Dancouga didn’t appear until half way through the series (not to mention that the initial combination was a total disaster and almost resulted in the mecha’s total destruction).
Oh No, Black Wing!
The second and more controversial aspect of Dancouga was its uber upgrade. This was the Black Wing, a large and transformable plane, that ultimately was to hitch up with Dancouga and form the somewhat kickass Final Dancouga. Unfortunately towards the end of the series Alan Igor sacrificed himself and the Black Wing, leaving millions of Japanese children sitting silently aghast in front of their televisions.
As they got older, some of these children eventually went to work for a company called Banpresto and decided that it was their remit to write anime history as it bloody well should have been. Almost every instance that Dancouga has appeared in a Super Robot Wars game has resulted in the upgrade to Final Dancouga along with a menu of uniquely potent attacks, even as recently as Alpha 3 and J. To the point now that a demand for this game only version of an anime heirloom be given toy form.
Licensing is a funny beast in Japan (or in this case five transforming mechanical beasts). Super Robot Wars is a series of games that started in 1991 and was basic anime otaku wish fulfilment; place mecha from disparate series in one turn based strategy game and let them high five their way to victory. Super Robot Wars has since grown and endured off this premise and has matured into a varied and vibrant series of games.
Super Robot Geeks
The secret with this license is that each of the mecha are unique and consequently have specific attributes that can be given gameplay form. Having all the different anime series produces often hundreds of units each with vibrantly diverse attributes. In addition, knowing the anime they come from often adds to strategic planning, for instance the Ideon feeds off the destruction of its compatriots and subsequently unleashes the full horrific wrath of the Ide.
Do you knowingly sacrifice your units to awaken this horrific power or use other means to vanquish the forces of evil (consequently the Dancouga feeds of the destruction of enemy units, which is from the anime as the pilots get angrier so the Dancouga becomes more powerful, so there’s balance at work here).
Super Robot Wars also has fed itself back into the anime fold; both Mazinkaiser and Shin Getter Robo originally appeared in Super Robot Wars games before being graced with their own anime series.
Comebacks Through Robot Wars
Super Robot Wars has also acted as a catalyst for the revival of certain shows. Take Dancouga for example: you play through a game such as Alpha 3 and have the story from that series laid bare in concise chunks over the course of several stages. Follow that on with using the Cougar and laying majestic waste to a veritable robotic army and you crystallise the interest in the host work.
This then has the affect of said players going out and buying (or trying to buy, some aren't readily available these days) the series. They then go back and play the next game and understand more of the narrative references, as well as the now nuanced capabilities of that unit. Alternatively, if you're me, you buy the series and then the Soul of Chogokin toy (obviously for real world re-enactment purposes).
This wouldn't work obviously if there wasn't a palpable passion to re-create something like the Cougar in such a gameplaying context. I mean some of the 2D animation in these games is absolutely astounding and painstakingly accurate in almost all instances (it's one of the main reasons 3D Super Robot Wars games don't work that well, due to the lack of visual accuracy and finesse).
The point I suppose I have is that licensing isn’t all bad, so long as you have insightfully geeky and anime folklore obsessed enthusiasts at the helm (preferably clenched fisted cosplaying enthusiasts with a penchant for striking poses).
To finish up, it's worth pointing out that a new Dancouga series is on the way in 2007; entitled Dancouga Nova. I'm sure it won't be long until the original Cougar and the newer iteration team up in a Super Robot Wars game.
[Ollie Barder is a freelance journalist who's written for The Guardian, appeared on BBC Radio 4 and contributed to Japanese mecha artbooks. He lives at home with an ever growing collection of Japanese die-cast robot toys and a very understanding wife.]