Isn’t toku supposed to be live action? Can an animated series actually be considered tokusatsu? These are the questions that adorn the lips of many people within our community, including my wife, but I’m here to tell you that yes, yes it can.
Taken at surface level, tokusatsu directly translates as special filming and, yes, mostly does involve spandex or armour-clad men play fighting with rubber or armour-clad monstrosities but as the genre developed and evolved over time, these features began to be defined by the genre rather than be the definition of it. Instead of the narrow characterisation that “tokusatsu is this” that was borne from the genre’s inception instead came to mean that “these things are tokusatsu.” In any medium where you might find such features as costumed heroes, monstrous kaiju, alien invaders, giant robots, you will find tokusatsu. Daltanious, as well as the similarly adorned mecha anime of the time, littered with many of the aforementioned features – the alien invasion force, the fighting machines that coalesce into one giant mecha – is as pure a toku as you can get. The show’s medium, in this case animation, is frankly irrelevant.
Thank you for coming to my TED Talk.
Daltanious, or Mirai Robo Daltanious (未来ロボ ダルタニアス), was produced by Toei Animation and Nippon Sunrise in 1979. It ran for 47 episodes on the inspiringly named Tokyo Channel 12. The romanisation, Daltanious, hides the fact that the robot, and by extension the series, was named after d’Artagnan: the hero of the Three Musketeers. The phonetic Japanese, Darutaniasu resembles a lot more closely the pronunciation of its influencer, Dar-tan-yan. Now you know.
Our story begins in 1995 – a distant future when this show was produced – with a decimated urban landscape. At a market, we see the population being exploited for the dire situation they find themselves in with one seller charging 7000 yen (which even with the exchange rate of the late seventies was a lot of money) for a single potato. On the radio, we hear the circumstances: Japan is under attack by invaders with a giant robot squadron, known as the Zarl. The sombre mood is broken by calls of thievery by four street boys, and a pig. The street merchants give chase to the thieves and they run right into the laser trajectory of a giant spy tower with a single eyeball like spotlight/laser cannon atop it. They are able to use this diversion to escape their wouldbe captors and gain safety.
The next morning, the boys reach their shanty town and present their haul to the village matriarch. She is aghast and insists they return the stolen goods. The thief group’s apparent ringleader, Kento, refuses and heads into another room where he clashes with another character, around the same age and height, whom apparently he found in a gutter one night.
Via flashback, we see the first day the attack began. Giant aircraft fired lasers upon the city before combining into a giant bipedal death mecha and finishing the job. Kento’s mother was killed. Back at camp, a mob have arrived, seemingly in retaliation to the thievery. The entire settlement flea until two of them fall down a hole. Down the hole there is a cave which leads to a room filled with technology – not human made, the group surmise.
Scared by a cockroach, one of the boys knock a panel of buttons and inadvertently bring forth a massive spaceship. This eruption is noticed by the spy tower which transforms into the giant mecha we saw in the flashback. The enemy mecha begins to walk towards them as an old man with a beard and staff, named Earl, presents himself to the group before whisking Kento and “gutter boy” Danji to their own personal vehicles Aircraft Fighter Robot Atlaus and Fighter Ship Gunper, respectively.
The Zarl generals, dumbfounded by the resistance the humans are presenting, command all of their forces, spread across Japan, to converge on the humans new robots. Meanwhile Kento and Danji get the hang of their machines and, guided by Earl, are able to destroy the sentry robot. The duo stand ready for the combined might of the Zarl forces as the episode closes.
The interesting thing about this first episode is that we don’t actually get to see the eponymous robot. The preview for episode two teases a third robot, the intelligent lion robot, Beralios, which allows for coalescense of the three mecha into the title Daltanious. The origin story that we get in its place begins halfway into the story, in some ways; Earth has already been mostly conquered by the Zarl and the answer to the invasion has apparently been under their noses the whole time. At what point was ol’ Earl going to pop his head out and say, “Hey guys, alien settler here… could you possibly spare a few able bodied guys to pilot the stuff I’ve got tucked away on my spaceship? I reckon you could kick some Zarl ass with it!”
Assuming Daltanious is formed within the next episode or two (and the chances are high… it’s the name of the programme…), where does the plot go from here? Will it become a formulaic Zarl “how are we going to try and destroy Daltanious this week?” or will some kind of overarching sub-plot take over? These are questions I’m looking forward to answering as I delve deeper into this series, going forward. In general, this foray is everything I was expecting from an animated toku show, and more. The Transformers-esque look of the animation (granted, that influence is more likely the other way around given the timescales) combined with the Studio Ghibli-like comedy characters immediately engaged me and I expect will you, too.
Daltanious, as well as a good number of other animated tokusatsu series, is available with English subtitles from the official Toei Tokusatsu World YouTube channel.