The basic premise of Machine Robo is that there is the planet of Cronos where robots live (and that's all the setting information we're given about Cronos really). The evil Gyandlar Empire seeks the Hyribead, a mythical energy on Cronos that would allow them to rule the universe. In order to stop them, martial artist Rom Stol and his companions (his sister Leina, the swordsman Blue Jet, the happy-go-lucky Rod Drill, and the fussy Triple Jim) set out to find the Hyribead before Gyandlar and use it to bring peace to Cronos.
Machine Robo is, quite frankly, not really the most ambitious of anime. It aims for a simple "good vs. evil" plot with the general Monster of the Week format. Basically every episode can boil down to a strict formula:
1. Rom and his group walk around,
2. Bad guy threatens innocents,
3. Rom delivers speech and beats up bad guy,
4. Rom and his group continue walking around.
It's not the most exciting story, but the characters keep you at least invested (I'll cover this later) and the idea of a sort of Fist of the North Star-esque setting and plot for a mecha show is unique, at the very least. Still, Machine Robo isn't going to be winning any awards for the plot any time soon.
Premise: 0.5/2 (simple but not terrible I suppose)
Pacing: 0/2 (there are probably about a half dozen plot-important episodes)
Immersion: 1/2 (the characters keep you coming back, at least)
Setting: 1/2 (an interesting mix of martial arts with sci fi, but not much depth)
Theme: 0/1 (just a good vs. evil story)
Complexity: 0/1 (just a good vs. evil story)
The art in Machine Robo isn't really the best. In fact, it's pretty consistently awful. This show had virtually no animation budget. Continuity is all over the place, with basic proportions going out the window - and perspective messing up the main mecha Baikanfu's scale. Sometimes it's slightly larger than the vehicle-sized robots, sometimes it's bigger than skyscrapers. Stock footage is used shamelessly in every episode and the animation only gets worse as the show continues.
But the design of the machines isn't bad, per se. While most of the robots are blocky, Baikanfu has this glorious Obari feel to it. I actually had to go back and check to make sure it wasn't Obari. Yeah, the designs would be called simplistic even in the 1970s, but there's a certain charm to it. It doesn't let the terrible budget hold it back when it needs to, and one could easily mistake the poor animation as being "stylized" in many areas. Hey, at the very least the metal looks shiny and cool.
General Presence: 1.5/3 (Feels weird but doesn't distract too much)
Visual Design: 1/2 (Not bad but really simple)
Backgrounds: 1/2 (Okay for the most part I suppose)
Animation: 0.5/2 (God awful, but the stock footage actually looks rather nice)
Attention to Detail: 0/1 (None)
The sound is leaps and bounds better than the animation (though that certainly isn't saying much). While the voice acting is kind of cheesy for the most part, it has this certain charm to it that matches the tone perfectly. Rom Stol particularly is fully aware of how badass he is and the performance Inoue Kazuhiko gives knocks it right out of the park. In fact, in my eyes, Rom is his most iconic role (to the point where other characters, such as Namco X Capcom/Super Robot Wars: Endless Frontier/Project X Zone character Reiji, who is voiced by Inoue, references Rom all over the place). The side cast aren't as well voiced, but they still sound decent, and if you like oldschool (or mecha) anime you're sure to recognize some of them. For Gundam fans, you can spot the voice actors for people like Bright, Char, Kamille, Master Asia, and more in the cast (as well as a Zeta Gundam cameo in one episode).
The music is actually fairly good. While most of it is rather forgettable, luckily there are a handful of the more iconic songs that, quite frankly, are awesome. There's the two openings ("Machine Robo's Triumph" and "Machine Robo of Victory"), the insert song ("Fight, Baikanfu!!"), the ending (which I don't know the name of), and of course the iconic song "Emissary From the Sky" which punctuates all of Rom's awesome speeches. Those five tracks alone are enough to bump up the music score even when I can't remember any of the other songs.
The sound effects, I suppose it's a matter of personal preference. If you like old-fashioned sound effects, well, Machine Robo has them in full force. Explosions, laser blasts, thunder, and a wide variety of 80s action effects are present. They sound sort of stock, but there's nothing wrong with them. Luckily the sound effects are good enough to make the otherwise dull action scenes a little more interesting.
Voice Acting: 2/3 (cheesy but matching the tone perfectly)
Music: 2/4 (mostly forgettable but some absolutely incredible tracks)
Sound Effects: 2/3 (feels great for a retro anime fan)
Let me be honest here: there's one reason to watch this show. It's a great reason, though. Two words: Rom. Stol. Rom Stol is arguably the most badass character to ever grace the world of anime. He's like if Kenshiro could turn into a robot, got a Bachelor's Degree in poetry, and nobody deserved to know his name. Seriously, Rom Stol needs to be seen to be believed. His awesomeness is what kept me watching, at the very least. He alone makes up for all the series' flaws.
Aside from Rom being the epitome of awesome, the other characters don't have much, else, though. The main cast isn't split into an even Five Man Band mold, but they have enough personality to keep from being boring. Leina, Drill, and Jet are at the very least likeable enough to get you invested into their plights. The Gyandlar characters are also very basic but they've got a certain coolness to them that keeps them entertaining, and I'll admit that there were a few Monster of the Week characters who did spark my interest.
Not the best cast, but it easily is the best part of the series. And, you know, Rom Stol.
Presence: 2/2 (You don't deserve to know my name!)
Personality: 1/2 (simplistic but it's there)
Complexity: 0.5/2 (most characters are fairly two-dimensional, but some have at least a little depth)
Memorability: 1/2 (Rom Stol!)
Development: 0/1 (None)
Pathos: 1/1 (ROM STOL!)
FINAL JUDGMENT: 4/10 + BADASS SEAL OF APPROVAL
I'm not going to pretend like Machine Robo is better than it is. From a technical standpoint it's pretty bad. But despite these flaws, it is an absolute blast to watch. I'd call it a guilty pleasure for me. If you like oldschool mecha, or just Super Robots in general, I'd say give it a shot. Just don't expect anything great. Sit back and enjoy Rom. Oh, but a little disclaimer: since it's old and obscure, the only subs available for Machine Robo are some crappy HK subs. I can understand some basic Japanese and could manage to power through the subs, but if you have no knowledge of the language, you might find it a bit hard to follow at times.
Recommended Watch List:
- Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann
- Hokuto no Ken/Fist of the North Star
- Yuusha Oh GaoGaiGar