When I began watching this anime I was not aware that it was co-created and directed by Yoshiyuki Tomino who is well known for his Gundam fame. However, eventually it became clear to me that this was a Tomino show... but not just a Tomino show, a pre-Gundam Tomino show. Zambot 3 is where Tomino began building his particular storytelling reputation. It is apparent that many elements in Zambot 3 are later then seen in Gundam series.
Zambot 3 in action.
Invincible Super Man Zambot 3 was a super robot show that aired in Japan in 1977. The age of the series was very obvious to me as I began watching. The dated visuals and sound was at first, quite repulsive. In addition to that, the story started out somewhat childish as the show was aimed at a teenaged boy audience. Fortunately I endured the beginning of the series and was treated to a much darker, much more complicated story.
The heroes of the show.
It begins with Kappei Jin who is having a quarrel with a gang leader, Shingo Kouzuki. In a middle of a friendly little fight, a giant robot called a Mecha-Boost attacks the harbor which is where they live. At the same time, Kappei's grandfather is finishing excavating a large spaceship, and within, a human controlled transforming mecha called Zambot-Ace. While running away, Kappei ends up on top of this spaceship. His grandfather then instructs him to "shoot in" into the Zambot. Somehow he already knows how to pilot the robot. His grandfather explains to him that he has been teaching him how to pilot through sleep-learning. Unsurprisingly, Kappei manages to defeat the mecha-boost after finding its weak-point.
The first episode was very simple and quite frankly, somewhat boring. The following episodes introduce Uchuta Kamie and Keiko Kamikita who are also Zambot pilots and Kappei's cousins. To battle the mecha-boosts the three Zambots combine to form the Zambot 3. Eventually, we learn that the mecha-boosts come from an alien entity called the Gaizok who wants to destroy humanity and that the Jin family are actually descendants of aliens from planet Bael who settled on earth after their planet was destroyed by the Gaizok. Now that the characters and settings has been established, Tomino tells a story of fighting for acceptance. A colorful kids story turns into a dark story of death and constant struggle for war-zone survival. Without spoiling anything, the series beholds drastic events and an epic ending. The ending also throws in some philosophical consideration and emphasizes an overall moral of the series. What I really liked was that every relatively major character in the series underwent significant change. Kappei didn't just stay as a snotty rowdy kid, he turned into something a lot more grander. The story of this series is definitely its strongest asset and makes this old series worth watching even today.
I can sing praises about the story all day long, but now comes the more negative side of the series: The visuals. Unfortunately, this show was animated on a very low budget in 1977. The colors are muted. The whole presentation is grainy. There are lot of reused stock footage to cut costs and animation is somewhat sluggish.
Obviously, just like the visuals, the sound is just as dated. The soundtrack is of a cheesy 70s variety. The recording of voices is low fidelity in a single channel. The Japanese dub could use a bit more work as some of the minor characters were poorly casted. Despite all this, the ending theme is very powerful, especially near the end of the series.
If you can get through the dated visuals and cheesy late 70s sound, the series is worth watching. Unfortunately this series has never been licensed for an English release so picking up a physical copy is nearly impossible since the series is so old, and is more than likely, out of print. Fortunately, there is a readily available fan-sub of this series. I give this anime an 80/100