As many of you know, I’m a person who dabbles in a number of hobbies outside of anime, from video games, to literature, to comic books. While they tend to be mutually exclusive hobbies, they tend to find points of overlap in the most unusual ways.
Over the weekend, I picked up the first issue of Shogun Warriors, a 1979 serial from Marvel Comics that spanned 20 installments. For the uninitiated, Shogun Warriors was toy line released by Mattel in the 1970s. Much like Hasbro with Transformers, the Shogun Warriors toys consisted of little more than imported Super Robot toys that were renamed and repackaged for the American market. The line included toys from over a dozen popular Super Robot and tokusatsu shows, including:
- Spider-Man Tokusatsu (Leopardon)
- Daitetsujin 17
- Danguard Ace
- Great Mazinger
The Marvel Comic series sought to give the robots a back story, and a place in American culture. The series revolved around the pilots of three of the robots: Raydeen (Brave Raideen), Combattra (Combattler V), and Dangard Ace (Danguard Ace), as they battled the forces of the malevolent Primal One. The series was deeply rooted in the Marvel Universe as characters from titles like Iron Man and The Fantastic Four made appearances through the title, and characters like Red Ronin were used in other Marvel titles.
Some may argue that Shogun Warriors was a bastardization of a dozen classic Japanese properties. Others may argue that the series is a “white-washing” of Japanese culture, a la Robotech or other Harmony Gold titles. And, in some ways, it kind of was. After all, plots by Leiji Matsumoto, Go Nagai, and Shotaro Ishinomori were discarded to fit into a patently American storyline. However, one could also see the series as a sign of something greater, an indicator of an acceptance of anime that hasn’t been seen since.
When Shogun Warriors hit newsstands in 1979, American cartoons were entering a truly fascinating territory. Saturday mornings were being packed with strange cartoons from Japan, with stories that hadn’t been seen in mainstream cartoons previously. Titles like Battle of the Planets, Space Pirate Captan Harlock, and Star Blazers dazzled viewers with tales that would dazzle the eye and ignite the imaginations of millions. The Super Robot wasn’t total strangers to many, as shows like Gigantor and robotic heroes like Tobor the 8th Man would entertain viewers through the 1960s. These were all but mere adaptations, though.
Shogun Warriors was a rarity in this sense. While the series embraced the styles and basic premise of the super robot genre, much of the “Japanese-ness” that would turn potential viewers from such a property was stripped away. It was, instead, another Marvel Comic on the level of Moon Knight or Ghost Rider… only with bad-ass giant robots.
While Marvel would lose the license after twenty issues, it was enough to hook a number of future anime fans. The title gave viewers a taste of a world that could exist outside of spandex and capes, away from the likes of X-Men, Batman, and Green Lantern. And, for several, it would plant the seeds of fandom, as they drew parallels between the Shogun Warriors and shows like Robotech and Voltron that would hit the air just years later.
In today’s world, though, another Shogun Warriors is all but impossible. The licensing structures that allowed Mattel to acquire the initial crazy batch of properties doesn’t exist, and several titles are now in the hands of American licensors. To do so would require an investment in capital and effort to sort out ownership that would outweigh any benefits from pursuing the license. Because of this, many of us will only be able to look back on the release as a reminder of a different time and a changing anime market landscape.