Giant Robots, Giant Gains?

© Hikari Pro/Kobe Tetsujin Project 2007

© Hikari Pro/Kobe Tetsujin Project 2007

The closure of Odaiba’s life-size, light-up Gundam statue last month left a 59-foot- tall gap on Japan’s skyline. Luckily, it’s been filled with an older, but no less iconic, figure. Sunday (4 October) sees the official opening of Kobe’s new Tetsujin 28 monument. The robot is the centrepiece of an urban revival plan.

The Kobe Tetsujin Project was conceived to help the local economy revive after the 1995 Hanshin earthquake. The quake killed over six thousand people and caused over $100 billion of damage – the Guinness Book of Records declared it the costliest natural disaster to befall any one country. Kobe, formerly one of the world’s major ports, has not yet fully recovered.

In 2007, businessmen and residents put together a plan to regenerate Nagata Ward, one of Kobe’s worst affected areas, using the works of local boy Mitsuteru Yokoyama, Tetsujin’s creator. Their Japanese website showcases projects including a permanent exhibition devoted to Yokoyama’s works, a festival and the proposed creation of an anime and manga quarter where artists and businesses can help to bring new jobs and income to one of Kobe’s most depressed areas. There’s some nifty Yokoyama art there, too.

Tetsujin 28 made his first manga appearance in 1956. The 22-year-old Yokoyama had decided on his career in high school when he read Osamu Tezuka’s Metropolis, despite a brief stint in banking. He published works for both girls and boys before making his major breakthrough with Tetsujin 28. When Tezuka’s Tetsuwan Atom appeared on Japan’s TV screens in 1963, creating a demand for TV science fiction animation, Yokoyama’s robot followed, making his TV debut in the same year. Atom, renamed Astro Boy, crossed the ocean to become a success on American TV in June 1963. Tetsujin 28 followed in 1966, and was renamed Gigantor.  The original black and white series, heavily revised for US consumption, was a major hit, and though its 1980 colour remake took 13 years to make the journey to the States, it was popular all over the globe, including the Arab world where the huge iron man was known as Giant Thunder.

Now a reborn Tetsujin 28 is standing tall over his home city. Unlike the Odaiba Gundam, created purely for the series’ 30th anniversary celebrations, this life-size replica is intended as a permanent installation. His creators hope he’ll bring prosperity and security back to Kobe.

Meanwhile, South Korea is plotting an even bigger giant robot as the showpiece of a whole amusement park full of them. Incheon Robot Land will feature a 364 foot tall statue of Robot Taekwon V, a 1976 Korean animated mech known to Americans as Voltar the Invincible.

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