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'Gigantor' not your usual japanimation fare

Date: 5/4/2009

By G. Michael Dobbs

Managing Editor

Two very interesting but admittedly esoteric television series are featured in this week's DVD review column.

Gigantor: The Collection, Volume One

When I was a kid and lived on Okinawa -- my dad was stationed there -- I regularly watched Japanese cartoons and other programs on the local station. Of course I didn't understand the dialogue as it was in Japanese, but like any TV-addicted child I was willing to watch whatever was one the tube.

So my brother and I watched Japan be defended every week from monsters by Ultraman and the cartoons "Big X" and "8 Man" regardless of our inability to follow dialogue.

Somehow, in all of this sampling of another country's pop culture for kids, we missed "Gigantor," a popular animated adaptation of "Tetsujin-28" manga -- a Japanese comic book -- about a 12-year-old boy who controls a huge robot.

Fred Ladd, the producer who had successfully brought over to this country "Astroboy," perhaps the best known and most highly influential Japanese animated series, bought the rights to "Gigantor" for American distribution in the mid-1960s. The show was a big hit in syndication.

Because of my own interest in animation -- as well as my time in Japan as a child -- I was more than interested in seeing these "Gigantor" cartoons; the first 26 episodes have been collected for this four-disc edition.

They might be a shock to today's anime fans used to accomplished animation and sophisticated storylines. "Gigantor" is a loud, boisterous, crude affair with simplistic plots and a hero who can make his robot do just about anything with his control box. It's interesting that the star of the show, the robot itself, has no personality. It is just a machine controlled by a young boy.

Entertaining in a cheesy way, I liked "Gigantor," but I have to admit that many animation fans might easily be put off by its inadequacies. Hardcore anime fans may be the most receptive audience.

The set included commentary from producer Fred Ladd as well as an interview with him and anime historian Fred Patten.

The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin

Do you work for idiots? Are your colleagues morons? Does your company produce a useless product? Are you in the midst of middle age and wondering just what the hell you're doing with your life? Your world might be coinciding with that of the fictional Reginald Perrin.

Adapted from a series of popular novels, this three-season British series chronicled the life of one Reginald Perrin, a middle-level executive for Sunshine Desserts. Perrin is having some trouble these days caring whether or not consumers are going to enjoy the company's new line of gourmet ice creams. He loves his wife, but has fantasies about his secretary. He loathes his self-important boss and the two yes-men who constantly affirm everything with "super" and "great."

Perrin, at age 46, has had it. Ultimately, he leaves his clothes on a beach, fakes a suicide and disappears into a new life.

Don't worry; there are no real spoilers here.

This darkly funny show starred the late Leonard Rossiter, a versatile actor who perfectly captures a middle-aged man who is bored with the details of corporate life and yearns for something more meaningful.

The series had a run in public television stations in this country years ago and while some Brit sitcoms, such as "Keeping Up Appearances," are run seemingly endlessly, this one wasn't. That's a shame as it is a great show.

Rossiter strikes the perfect note between despair in the present and hope for the future. The writing is crisp and the supporting performances are solid.

In the light of the popularity of both the British and American version of "The Office," "The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin" should find a new and appreciative audience through this DVD release.