Mazinger Z and Grendizer Break Jordan’s Airspace
By Mike V. Derderian
U Men Magazine (November 2009)
The children, who were once amazed by their onscreen presence and super robotic powers, are now the very same grown men, who wish they kept their Jumbo Machinders in mint condition.
My UFO Grendizer plastic mini figure was confiscated by a teacher and I lost Grendizer’s Spazer. “You will have it again by the end of the year,” the 6th grade teacher, who took it, told me. I never saw my Grendizer and never again trusted a teacher for that matter.
A different type of teacher, more of a master, visited Jordan a few weeks ago. Japanese Manga and Anime Master Go Nagai honored us with a three day visit, during which he held two lectures, one at Princess Sumaya University for Technology, and another at the Royal Film Commission, where he talked about his greatest creations, Mazinger Z and UFO Grendizer.
The visit was arranged by the Japanese Embassy and Aranim Media Factory, which is owned by Sulieman Al Bahkeet, who told me that he has been working on arranging Go Nagai’s visit to Jordan for over two years.
Ask anyone in the street who is Grendizer, Daisuke, Dr. Umon, King Vega Baron Ashura, Kouji Kabuto, and he or she will tell you in detail who they are; some would even go as far as quoting memorable lines from the series.
Upon receiving news about his arrival I realized that I had to meet the man who created Grendizer, my first robotic crush, no matter what.
I immediately got on the phone and contacted the Japanese Embassy after getting the number from a friend. I ended up contacting Miss Dima Goussous, the Senior Information and Cultural Officer at Embassy of Japan in Jordan, who kindly helped me meet Go Nagai in person and a day ahead from the RFC lecture.
Even though I missed the Princess Sumaya University for Technology lecture after a date mix-up I didn’t break into tears, as I knew that I was going to have the chance to meet this visionary artist at a reception held at theJapanese ambassador’s residence. If I didn’t you would have most definitely found me sobbing on the floor like a kid whose toy was taken from him—actually my wife would have.
I was there at the Ambassador’s residence watching from a distance how Levon Peltekian, UMEN’s photographer, was setting up the lighting.
“It gives me a great pleasure to welcome you all here this evening to this special occasion in welcoming our guest and one of the most famous names in the world of animation, Mr. Go Nagai,” His Excellency Tetsuo Shioguchi, Ambassador of Japan, announced upon Master Go Nagai’s entrance.
Before the end of the speech Mr. Shioguchi said, “Remember tonight you are all special guests but not as special as Master Go Nagai. Speak to him and ask him about his work for tonight is your chance.”
No sooner the speech was over Master Go Nagai, whose career spans 40 years, was surrounded by a curious crowd of Japanese and Jordanians. My much awaited interview with one of Japans most prolific Manga and Anime masters was moments away.
It was truly a night to remember, well at least for this Grendizer fanatic.
I remember watching the dubbed version of the double scythe yielding horned Grendizer on Syria’s television channel and VHS.
Who wouldn’t recognize the energetic opening intro that was sung by Lebanese singing legend Sammy Clark? Grendizer, like many famous Japanese animes that we all watched growing up in the Middle East, was dubbed by a Lebanese production company with the voice talents of renowned Lebanese actors.
Mazinger Z (1972) unlike popular belief was created before UFO Gerendizer (1975). It ran a total of 92 television episodes, whereas, Grendizer ran at total of 74 episodes.
Other Go Nagai titles, and that are less familiar in the Middle East, include: Shameless School (1968), Devilman (1972), Cutie Honey (1973) and Great Mazinger (1974) in addition to many more amazing Mangas and Animes.
Those who attended the RFC’s lecture were surprised to meet Go Nagai’s more famous creation Mazinger Z, which according to Go Nagai was more popular than Grendizer especially in Japan.
Mazinger Z never reached Jordan, whether through television or VHS. It was more popular in Egypt, Kuwait and the Arabian Gulf Countries.
As customary when visiting a Japanese home I presented Master Go Nagai with an old Arabic issue of a paperback Grendizer magazine that I had since childhood. The gray haired and diminutive man was astonished to find his creation in Arabic; of course his astonishment doubled the next day when he realized how much his works were popular in the Middle East, especially after seeing the number of Jordanians attending his two lectures.
Take a look at UMEN’s Q & A with Master Go Nagai. Talking directly to a person is not like talking to him through a translator. If I knew I was going to meet the creator of Grendizer one day I would have taken Japanese as a minor instead of Spanish.
(Thanks to Ahmad Abu Odeh, a Jordanian university student, and a fluent speaker of Japanese, I found myself talking to the 75-year old artist.)
Q: How does it feel to be in Jordan surrounded by your Arab fans?
G: To be honest I am very happy that my works have reached this far in the Middle East.
Q: How did the concept of Mazinger Z and Grendizer come to be?
G: I was influenced by the Manga and Anime works of artists like Osamu
Tezuka, a robot innovator, who created Astro Boy.
Q: Who is do you favor more: Mazinger Z or Grendizer?
G: It is hard to answer such a question. When I am working on Mazinger Z he is the one I favor most and when I am working on Grendizer Z I do the same.
Q: In order for one to reach your level one must work hard. How many hours do you spend drawing?
G: The Manga and Anime market in Japan is quite competitive. It is a fast and growing market. It is a tough environment and one has to be very skilled, fast and very productive in order to be noticed and be ahead
of everyone else.
Q: Everyone knows who Grendizer is. Are you up to date to what is happening to your creations around the world?
G: I am very happy because of their success and the way they captured the hearts of people around the world. Of course some people over the years have objected the violent nature of some of my works.
Q: How do you feel when you are holding an Arabic magazine issue of Grendizer and were you aware that such publications existed?
G: I never knew! I am very humbled. As an artist I feel proud. However, I have to keep in mind if my rights as an artist were respected for what is an artist if his copyrights are violated. This has to be achieved in order for Manga and Anime to grow and become worldwide. If an artist’s work and achievement is respected and not violated the funds he gets from selling his work will ensure that he stays productive and creative.
Q: Having created a new robot genre and influenced so many Manga and Anime artists around the world how do you feel to be the Father of Modern Mecha Robots?
G: I am very proud for bearing such a title and for having created a genre that introduced human manned robots. The concept of a pilot sitting in cockpit inside a robot was and still is an achievement that I am most proud of—it is one of my best inventive accomplishments up till now.
Q: What do you think of the new generation of Japanese Manga and Anime artists?
G: Many writers and artists are able, thanks to their creativity and imagination, to breathe part of their own spirit in their works. I respect and enjoy reading their Mangas and watching their Animes. For example Akira is one of the works that I enjoy seeing.
Q: Are you with censorship and how do you feel knowing that American television stations edited many of your works on the grounds that they contained violent and material unsuitable for children?
G: I am against censorship. An artist’s output should never be censored. When I am writing and drawing violent scenes I am doing it for a purpose. The world is not a nice and easy going place. A child must know from an early age what he or she is up against. My cartoons help teach children about courage, values, patriotism and self-sacrifice for the good of humanity.
Here is the video interview on Ikbis’ Eye Channel: