Where strange fact and stranger fiction collide
Back in 1973, I had kind of a strained relationship with the kids on my block. I was six and they averaged a wizened eight. They didn’t like playing with the ‘kid” but on the other hand my mom was the one who made Kool-aide for all the neighborhood kids, so they really didn’t have much choice. They had to play with me if they wanted any sweet sticky noncarbonated drinks.
So they, the older boys would break into two teams, one of good guys and one of bad guys and tell me that I could be Giant Robo. Now to my way of thinking this was a great honor, with hind sight this was a way for them to get rid of the runt. They would play for about five to ten minutes and then when the baddies almost win, one of the good guys would yell into his imaginary watch “Come save us Giant Robo!”
I would blast off from my secret volcano lair pretend to buzz the bad guys shooting missiles out my fingertips. Once the nefarious bad guys were eliminated I would return to my island abode and wait till the new bad guys would almost get the upper hand on our intrepid heroes and I would be franticly summoned to defeat the respawned forces of evil. But until then the older boys would play without me for a little longer.
Eventually I got suspicious, wondering why I would have to stand in the corner of our lawn for long periods of time watching the others act out the conflict of good and evil, and I challenged one of the older boys to what exactly I was supposed to do while they were out playing, just stand around alone?
With adult hindsight his response was brilliant. Giant Robo, he explained, dose stretching exercises, while he waits for a chance to save the day. Now even at six I was enough of a geek to get that stretching exorcises only effects organic material and would have no effect on a robot’s metal body. But then again I didn’t want one of the ‘cool kids” reject me so I let him teach me “the mega-cool, giant Robo stretching exercises.” And I did calisthenics waiting for the distress call.
I was so proud of my new found position as Giant Robo, and having something to do until the battle’s climax, that I told my dad all about it that night. His response was ”I was wondering why you were dancing in the corner when all the other kids were playing.”
In the third grade all the cool kids on the bus would discuss how sad the ending of the Giant Robo movie was. It was like this pre-pubescent mixture of the yin and yang, of tough guy action and sweet emotional release. As high schoolers we would giggle about how Emperor Guillotine would rip off his fingernail and make an atomic bomb out of it. We would say the show was amazing camp.
Johnny Sokko and his Flying Robotwas a Japanese TV show in 1967, where the boy hero, JS inadvertently becomes the controller of a…of a…of a…Well a giant kick butt robot. He and a team of spies called Unicorn fight against aliens. It was kind of a prototype Power Rangers. It ran 26 episodes, and became an independent station filler darling much like its sister Japanese export Ultraman.
Before we had 300 channels, big markets (like the grater LA one where I grew up) could support a couple independent stations besides the big three and PBS (Thanks for the line Hank McCoy) But the stations often run on a shoe string budget had to get whatever shoes they could so, they ran and re-ran shoes like Johnny Sokko and his Flying Robot, often two days out five with the other days plugged by shows like Ultraman. Also for this market episodes where spliced together and made into movies, this was done with JSahFR in a movie called Journey into Space. It was the movie that I saw the most and remembered most fondly.
The show really is a forerunner of the Power ranger craze. It was filled with aliens and their super large monsters and colorful baddies like Dr. Botanus, (Dr. Over in the Japanese version) who was as silver skulled alien, and possible inspiration for Destro, who hung out in a villain team called The Gargoyle Gang.
Three years ago a group of people who remember my childhood much more fondly than I do, got together to make Jonny Sokko Day. October 11th is the 48th anniversary of the first Johnny Sokko episode. This is predominately and internet holiday with people celebrating it as individuals or in small cliques. But in ways it is more than just in rebranded of one TV show, it is about when we were going and TV from Japan seemed exotic and exciting. A time when we good guys where good and bad guys were bad. Where we could still believed a young boy and his super robot could save the world.
The creators of Johnny Sokko Day have invited us to some up with our own way to celebrate the auspicious day. For me I think I am going to go out in to the goat pasture with the Oregon rain falling and do my mega-cool, giant Robo stretching exercises.