Ganbare!! Robocon (がんばれ!!ロボコン) is a 1974 comedy series by Shotaro Ishinomori and by all accounts must have been pretty popular, given that it ran for a whopping 118 episodes and was rebooted in 1999 as Moero!! Robocon. Both of these series have been released on the Toei Tokusatsu World channel, but just to make things extra confusing neither shows use those titles on there. Instead the 1974 version goes by the name Dear Robottie! (Robocon), which appears to be an old title Toei used for international marketing.
Meet Robocon, a hapless robot who was built by the robot teacher Professor Gantz with the sole purpose of becoming an A grade robot. To do so he needs to earn heart marks by doing what any good robot should be doing – serving humans. Only problem is that Robocon is pretty dreadful at it, not only scaring the very people he’s supposed to be helping but also ripping the doors off their houses when they refuse him. He’s a wonderful disaster akin to British treasure Mr Blobby and I love him all the more for it. Better still is that deep down he knows that as a robot he’s better than humans and if anything they should be serving him, but he goes along with it anyway.
Eventually Robocon finds a family prepared to take him in and naturally hi-jinx ensue. After smashing all the dishes because he saw a cockroach (which he’s deathly afraid of) the Oyama family try to kick him out, but their kids are able to turn their parents around when they point out that he can be used as free electricity. Such subjugation makes Robocon hungry, so young Makoto Oyama helps him guzzle down on father’s gasoline before the pair fall asleep outside.
The next day Makoto falls ill and Robocon runs away believing it to all be his fault. He gets a dressing down from his creator, who not only tells him that Makato has run away trying to find him but also that the robot with a hammer for a face fits into society better than he does. The world is not kind to poor old Robocon.
Robocon goes off to find Makoto and hi-jinx ensue once again, with the robot eventually saving Makoto from being stranded in a river despite not being able to swim. The Oyama family welcome Robocon back with open arms, and everything seems like it’s going to be okay.
Except it really isn’t, because Professor Gantz doesn’t even give Robocon any points or heart marks for his efforts! Apparently all the business with ripping doors off brought down the whole rescue thing. Despite a little tantrum, Gantz assures Robocon that he has the qualities to become a great A grade robot one day.
I’m not sure if Robocon was one of the first “mascot robot lives among human” shows that seem to be a dime a dozen on the Toei channel but it certainly feels like future ones took inspiration from it. Robocon himself is an extremely simple design but it’s very recognisable and kid-friendly, which are the two thresholds you should be hitting for a successful family show like this. All the detailing inside his car bonnet-like chest is really cool as well. His colourful robot compatriots only appear briefly but appear to be a mix of trippy to downright horrific – as well as the aforementioned hammer face there’s also some sort of purse monster and a creepy octopus clown. And a girl robot who just appears to be a normal Japanese girl, because of course there is.
Ganbare!! Robocon (Dear Robottie! is a stupid name) is somewhere between a heartwarming comedy of errors and a supervillain origin story in the making. Well maybe not quite the latter, but the fact that Robocon is a bit of a dick (not to mention people being a dick to him as well) and completely inept at his purpose made the episode a whole lot of fun. I don’t know if it would hold my attention for a whole 118 episodes, but I’d certainly like to check out more and see how the 90s reboot compares.
You can now find Dear Robottie! (aka Ganbare!! Robocon) as well as many other tokusatsu shows, on the TOEI Tokusatsu World Official YouTube channel to watch for free with English subtitles.