Daitetsujin 17 (大鉄人１７) is what you get when Shotaro Ishinomori decides to make his own version of Giant Robo and it is fantastic. The 1977 series ran for a total of 35 episodes and even made its way over to the US, albeit in a rather unique fashion. Several of its episodes were edited into a movie, which was then released under a number of different titles – including “Brain 17” and “The Defenders and the Giant Brain”. The titular robot has also had numerous toys over the years, many of which I’ve been heartbroken to discover are inordinately expensive now. If you haven’t already realised, I REALLY liked this show.
The show opens at the International Peace Corps Research facility, which houses Brain – a giant supercomputer designed to help protect the Earth from disaster. However all of a sudden Brain goes haywire and starts firing at its guards, causing mass destruction as it up and leaves the facility. Already the show feels like a massive flex when it comes to visual effects. Brain is this elaborate construction of gears and globes, lit up like a neon-coloured monstrosity. Its escape comes at the total destruction of the Research Facility, already setting a high bar for miniatures and pyrotechnics. And this is only the first three minutes.
Both Brain and the renowned scientist Professor Hastler have gone missing, and its up to the International Peace Corps (also known as the Red Scarves, because Ishinomori loves a red scarf) to find them. A year later and they still haven’t had any luck, but on a routine patrol they meet Saburo and his family. His sister is off to get married, but the family’s truck has gotten stuck. The Red Scarves help out and everything seems normal.
But on their journey of course leads to disaster, when a landslide throws their truck off a cliff – killing the family instantly. Saburo is left as the only survivor, noticing a robotic cylinder at the top of the cliff before passing out. When he wakes up at a Red Scarves camp Saburo immediately runs off, making his way back to the cliff. On the way he falls into a cave, where he finds both Brain and its Nazi-esque bodyguards.
While making his escape he inadvertently activates a giant robot also being stored into the cave, which comes to life and brings Saburo to the surface. Saburo thinks he’s about to die, but the robot just offers him a strange helmet. This is another instance of the show excelling at visual effects, not just from the robot itself (complete with transformation sequence and vibrant disco light eyes) but also the camera trickery used to illustrate the sheer size of the machine.
After leaving the robot he’s found by the Red Scarves, and the group begin to theorise that maybe Brain has chosen to turn evil of its own volition. They don’t have much time to think about it though as a giant steamroller robot begins destroying the city, in an EXTREMELY impressive display of miniature destruction.
The military’s efforts seem futile, but then the giant robot appears to save the day! As it celebrates victory and turns to our heroes, is the robot friend or foe? The episode ends on this fantastic cliffhanger, and immediately I wanted to click over to episode two rather than writing down my thoughts.
Daitetsujin 17 has it all. It has action, tragedy, strong protagonists and the kind of unbridled action we all love to see in tokusatsu. If you’ve ever watched a Super Sentai series and wanted a little more focus on the mecha action rather than the costumed heroes, this is the series for you. There may be a wealth of anime out there to get your mecha fix from, but it’s not quite the same as seeing the style and craftsmanship of it all in live-action. Usually I save the majority of my miniatures praise for Tsuburaya Productions, but Toei seriously brought their A game on this.
Daitetsujin 17 is the last series I’ll be writing a review of for this project, and rather unexpectedly it turned out to be far and away my favourite. I loved every second of this episode and definitely want to see more. If the Giant Robo tokusatsu can get a fully subbed DVD release, then I can’t see any reason why this can’t as well.
You can now find Daitetsujin 17 as well as many other tokusatsu shows, on the TOEI Tokusatsu World Official YouTube channel to watch for free with English subtitles.
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