Chōdenji Robo Combattler V (超電磁ロボ コン·バトラーＶ) is the first instalment in Toei’s Robot Romance Trilogy, first airing all the way back in 1976. The series also made a name for itself in America, where the robot was a big part of Mattel’s Shogun Warriors toy line and released under the name “Combattra”. Shogun Warriors even had its own comic book mini-series, with the Combattler issues featuring a guest appearance from the Fantastic Four. That’s right, Combattler V has crossed over with Marvel’s first family. That’s pretty damn impressive even before you get into the first episode.
Millions of years ago, aliens arrived on Earth long before the evolution of humans and buried themselves deep underground – waiting for the opportunity to take the planet for themselves once more. Now these ancient aliens, led by the ruthless Garuda, are ready to attack with their army of giant Slavebeasts. Thankfully, the genius Doctor Nanbara anticipated this attack, building the giant super robot Combattler V and bringing together five candidates to pilot its various components. Though they don’t all get along just yet, Combattler V is able to save the day and show Garuda that the Earth is defended.
Though the specifics might be a little different, this is pretty much the same basic plot line you’ll find across all the super robot shows from the 70s and 80s. But if it ain’t broke don’t fix it, and it’s those specifics that make Combattler V stand out from the crowd. The introduction to our motley crew of heroes is insanely fun. The situation is so desperate that each of them have been given a special pass that not only means every government department has to follow their orders, but they’re allowed to break any laws if it means getting to Nanbara’s lab.
So what do they do? We see hot-headed Hyouma trash some police cars in a dramatic motorcycle chase, sharp-shooter Juuzou take a loaded gun on a bullet train, wannabe artist Daisaku demand a lift to the lab in a fire engine and child genius Kosuke ignore all airport luggage laws. These guys may all be heroes deep down, but I respect the way they’re being complete asses about it. Rounding off the team is the doctor’s granddaughter Chizuru, who the whole team immediately seem to fall in love with because of course they do.
The sequence in which the pilots take to their vehicles was ripped straight out of Thunderbirds, and as a huge fan of Gerry Anderson’s works I’m always pleased to see just how his work influenced the worlds of anime and tokusatsu. The Combattler V components have all been carefully designed to match their pilots, with each of them getting to show off in the fight before coming together for the big combination. Another fun element of all these super robot shows is seeing how they explain away the pilots all being near-perfect at controlling it – this time their helmets download the controls into their brains. Simple, but certainly effective.
Finally we have the Campbellians – our rather strange bunch of alien villains. Garuda’s motivation to conquer Earth is so that he can finally address his mother as “mother” – and said mother also happens to be a giant statue. He starts out as a beautiful green skinned man, but quickly turns into a fierce bird man for no real reason. Also it looks like none of his subordinates have any legs. The deep underground is clearly a strange, strange place.
If you’re a fan of classic super robot shows, then Combattler V is a must-watch. While it doesn’t exactly break the mould, it gets all of those popular tropes right to create the perfect package.
You can now find Combattler V as well as many other anime shows, on the TOEI Tokusatsu World Official YouTube channel to watch for free with English subtitles.