December 22, 2009

Aborigines in Gigantor

If you're as old as I am, you remember this cartoon series fondly, even though it wasn't very good:

GigantorGigantor is an American adaptation of the anime version of Tetsujin 28-go, a manga by Mitsuteru Yokoyama released in 1956. It debuted on U.S. television in 1964. As with Speed Racer, the characters’ original names were altered and the original series’ violence was toned down for American viewers.


The series is set in the year 2000. The show follows the exploits of Little Jimmy Sparks, a 12-year-old boy who controls Gigantor, a huge flying robot, with a remote control. The robot is made of steel and has a rocket-powered backpack for flight, a pointy nose, eyes that never move, and incredible strength, but no intelligence (although he started to tap his head as if trying to think in one episode). Whoever has the remote control controls Gigantor.

Originally developed as a weapon by Jimmy’s father, Gigantor was later reprogrammed to act as a guardian of peace. Jimmy Sparks lives with his uncle Dr. Bob Brilliant on a remote island. Jimmy usually wears shorts and a jacket, carries a firearm and occasionally drives a car. Together, Jimmy and Gigantor battle crime around the world, and clash with the many villains who are always trying to steal or undermine the giant robot.
The sixth episode to appear in the US was titled The Secret Valley! (airdate: February 1964). In it, Jimmy Sparks and company are forced to crash-land in the Australian outback by a mad scientist.

The heroes meet up with Australian ranchers who are dressed like American cowboys. The mad scientist sends Aborigines to attack the white men. These "savages" are naked except for loincloths and a few ornaments. They wear warpaint and feathers in headbands. Incredibly, they ride horses, whoop, and attack exactly as stereotypical movie Indians would. Except for their short, kinky hair and big lips, they're indistinguishable from Indians.

Again, this was a Japanese cartoon produced in 1956. It portrayed an indigenous culture the Japanese should've known from their WW II invasion of Australia. Yet the cartoonists' idea of a "savage" attack came straight from Hollywood movies. To the entire world, apparently, savagery means deadly Plains Indians trying to kill innocent cowboys for no good reason.

Incidentally, in the seventh episode--titled The Diamond Smugglers!--Jimmy Sparks travels to India for a robotics conference. At the opening ceremony, amid the elephants and men in turbans, a little boy prances in a Plains chief headdress. Was this a visual pun: an American Indian in India? Or was it a stupid, stereotypical mistake?

For more on the subject, see Indians in Astro Boy and Native Videos and Cartoons.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

There are times when you have to say "Oh, Japan..." Ethnic sensitivity is not Japan's forte. I mean, their Finance Minister in the 80s once said Japan was soaring ahead due to "racial purity". More something you might be familiar with, the U.S. Super Mario Bros. 2 (released as Doki Doki Panic; the Japanese Super Mario Bros. 2 would be released on the SNES under Super Mario All-Stars) originally starred an Arab family, and instead of turtle shells, you got a black dude's head (straight out of a minstrel show) to roll over enemies.