Sunday, June 2, 2013

Protectors of Universe (Snark)

Unlike any of the other crappy Korean mecha cartoons I've seen, this one actually has a theatrical trailer! Did this thing actually play on the big screen somewhere? Scary thing is I have little doubt it did.

This particular cheap mecha cartoon begins with an assault of pretentious narration. At least it’s vocalized and not in a Star Wars-esque text crawl. Then again, they probably couldn’t afford anything like that.

“In the far reaches of space, many millions of miles out into the galaxy, a new star is forged. As it is compressed and seared into existence, it creates an incredible, roaring shockwave which sweeps across the universe like a hurricane. Leaving in its wake an instant of complete, dead silence. The roaring sounds like a distant howling of helpless millions, on the faraway planet Orion.”

Everybody got that? Good. Because (evidently), the armies of that new star (the armies of the star…? Huh??) are evil and intent on invading the planet Orion (yes, the planet Orion. I guess it's not as bad as that one cartoon that said Orion's an entire universe).

Maybe Orion was colonized by people from Earth, but one, the movie never says that and those of you who’ve read through my Loonatics Unleashed recaps know I consider something fairly basic I’m forced to figure out on my own to be a shortcoming of the work. Two, here on Earth we already have something space-y we call Orion. Three, it’s from a myth invented on this planet. I mean, the writers came up with a name for the bad guys’ planet, were they worried about confusing people if they did the same thing to the made-up good guy planet?

Space fighters that sound like bottle rockets fly through space and the opening credits. Then we see some kids on Orion running around playing to let us see just how you know, bucolic or something it is there before the armies of the Bad Guy Planet come to destroy it. The movie doesn’t actually call it Bad Guy Planet, but it doesn’t give it a name until way later, and Bad Guy Planet fits fine with the rest of the cheesy junk in here.

Except we already know they’re coming. And so do the people of Orion because the king I (guess) was warned about the attack before this scene. Even though the king seems surprised when Lieutenant Duncan runs in to warn him the Bad Guy Planet’s armies are on their way, and the king puts the lieutenant in charge of planetary defense. And that's even though one of the movie’s major characters is a general from the same military body.

Orion fights back with their own fleet of bottle rocket-sounding ships against the army of Bad Guy Planet, but it wouldn’t be a very long movie if they won, and they don’t. They don’t win pretty hard. The bad guys don’t even have to fire their guns; they use their “anti-navigation system” and Orion’s ships just start crashing into each other.

On top of that, the animators can’t decide if the ships or in space or in Orion’s atmosphere already. It’s the concentration camp from Solar Adventure all over again.

Seeing the battle lost already the king sends his kids Siprian and Susan along with the rest of Orion’s children (all of them? On the whole planet? Orion sounds even smaller than Acmetropolis) to Earth for help. They leave aboard a spaceship-train called Super Express.

Bad guys follow but Earth command sends our heroic mech for the movie out to save Super Express. This is Super Mazinga 7, and yeah it looks like they took Mazinger Z’s head and stuck it on the RX-78 Gundam (or if you want to get snippy and point out the horns curve out at the ends, Great Mazinger’s head). And again, cute variation of the original mech’s name, since ya know if you take one line off a Z it turns into a 7. Also, the fact that it’s the 7th model means it’s hopefully less lame than Mazinga 3 from Raiders of Galaxy.

In any event, the squadron commander flies away claiming they haven’t seen the last of him and Super Express thus lands safely at the base of some "real" giant robot team I don't recognize. Siprian and Susan are greeted by your generic super robot commander/scientist Dr. Howard. Sadly Dr. Fine and Dr. Howard are nowhere to be seen. He calls this the reunion of Mazinga 7 and Super Express. Were they part of a set at some point? Where did they come from? When and why were they split up? And why’s guy in the upper right there thirty feet tall?

Seriously, what show is this from?

Dr. Howard introduces the royal kids to Kent and Mary, Mazinga 7’s pilots. Kent proves to the son of, I swear I’m not making this up, General Larry, the general I mentioned before. Kent asks how he is, and Siprian sneeringly explains General Larry apparently surrendered as Super Express left. I didn’t skip that, so you know. This is the first we’re hearing about the character or his surrender. This sets up a nice little enmity between straight-laced Kent and revenge-obsessed Siprian.

Some guys modify Mazinga 7 to combine with Super Express, and I’m not saying anything about what this looks like. This doesn’t seem to create a more powerful fighting machine, it’s just to keep one from losing the other. And all the Orion kids are still on board as they blast off to retake the planet, meaning the Mazinga crew are taking the kids back with them to the very same conquered planet the kids were sent away from for safety’s sake. I’m starting to wonder if these people are what we generally refer to as “smart.”

Also love how this one kid’s reflection is of a different kid.

Once they’re underway Siprian suggests changing course to turn the tables on the invaders and attack the Bad Guy Planet itself, then go and mop up what’s left of their forces on Orion itself. Kent objects because that’s not the plan. Siprian accuses Kent of being a wuss like his dad but they’re interrupted when Dr. Howard’s son walks into the cockpit. I don’t remember if he doesn’t get a name so I’ll just call him HJ. He tries to look all cool with this wide-brimmed hat as he makes his entrance, but then it turns out he's just this kid with glasses, a big bald head and buck teeth. The others tell him he’s too young to come on this mission, even though they’re taking all the refugee children with them.

Our heroes run into a squadron of Bad Guy Planet ships that look totally from the ones we saw before even though the same bad guy’s in command as the last attack. After Mazinga 7 flies into enough ships with its fist the squadron commander again flies away vowing revenge.

Siprian demands they appoint a leader on this mission, and if this is an official mission you’d think they would’ve established some kind of chain of command. HJ nominates Kent and suggests they draw straws to decide leader. Siprian loses but HJ explains to Kent both of them were short straws so Kent would win, because cheating and deciding your judgement’s better than everyone else’s are good things to teach kids to do.

At Incredibly Implausible But Kinda Cool-Looking Bad Guy Headquarters, Disgraced Squandron Commander reports to his boss that the Earthlings have sent Mazinga 7 to battle them.

We now meet the Supreme Bad Guy, whose name, I’m not kidding, is Alfred (although the same character’s called Albert and Edward in a few places, too). And who has this annoyingly muffled voice that makes it a pain to understand anything he says. Alfred orders his minions to take his disgraced officer to Detroit. I mean, the Waste Disposal Plant (of the whole planet), where they’ll throw him into the water and all the “engines in his body” will rust up in five minutes. That was presumably to establish that the bad guys are androids or cyborgs or something, since it seems far more likely the giant dinosaur monster lurking at the bottom of the plant (what the hell is that there for??) would get him first.

Alfred even calls his minion a “lizard,”as in Disgraced Squadron Leader and not the dinosaur monster, even though he doesn’t look reptilian and we just heard they’re androids or something. Alfred decides to give the sniveling little puke another chance, putting him in control of a giant battle robot of their own. It has a name, but it’s hard to pick out and this thing’s just a recolored Raideen anyway.

Armed with this mighty engine of war Disgraced Squadron Leader flies up to Mazinga 7 and demands another fight. After what actually is kind of a cool battle for a super robot anime, Mazinga 7 destroys Knockoff Raideen by impaling it with a trident, while Disgraced Squadron Commander once again survives, once again swearing revenge.

Even though the axe is tied up by a chain, they can still spin it...

We return again to Bad Guy Planet, and who should be starring in this scene but Kent’s dad, General Larry! He didn’t just surrender to the bad guys, he’s a complete turncoat who’s now a low-ranking officer in the bad guy hierarchy! But wait! He tries to butter up Alfred’s masked femme fatale officer, Helen, by praising her beauty and trying to get her drunk. Keep it in your pants, boys. He’s actually trying to pump her for military secrets, but she doesn’t fall for it. Rather than exposing him to Alfred (as a traitor, pervs!), she instead steers him back toward telling her how beautiful she is. Boy these bad guys seem all, what’s the word, dangerous, don’t they?

Gotta love how even in the movie they say that's wine, but it looks like it was censored into water...
General Larry tries this trick again with some random guard with more success. Minus the telling him he’s beautiful in exchange for telling the guard he’s next in line for a command position. Of course.

The drunk guard explains Bad Guy Planet and its Evil Inhabitants didn’t just appear out of thin air as the opening narration implied, but were created by some generic Highly Advanced Alien Race (from Cassiopeia, again after an Earth legend). They created a “central motivation system” for some reason and the Bad Guy Planet people to peacefully unify the galaxy. But Alfred rebelled, and well, you know the rest. General Larry tries to find out where the motivation system is, but only the top brass knows.

Alfred and Helen find out Knockoff Raideen was destroyed, and Helen proposes a plan to shoot toxic waste missiles at Earth. It’ll turn into poisonous rain and wipe out the human race. Oh look, an ecological Aesop. Sort of.

Mazinga 7 runs into another squadron of Bad Guy Planet ships, which surprises them, but Siprian changed their course to Bad Guy Planet when nobody was looking. Which evidently is something they’d only notice if they were specifically checking for that. The bad guy ships tie Mazinga 7 up with cables but HJ pushes a convenient button that electrifies the robot and makes the bad guy ships explode.

The bad guys prepare to fire their toxic waste barrage from a big cheesy cannon that looks like a cheesy robot skull from behind. General Larry bursts in and stops the bombardment, but is captured when reinforcements show up. Helen shows her kinky side.

Disgraced Squadron Leader sneaks into Mazinga 7’s bridge but is easily defeated and completely forgotten for the rest of the movie.

Mazinga 7 reaches the Bad Guy Planet and Siprian reveals his duplicity, but Alfred’s waiting for them. Though the mighty robot lays waste one lone pilot eventually shoots it down with a KBJ (?) missile.

Still our heroes fight on, revealing Mazinga 7’s ability to transform into a giant tank that squishes and blows up Alfred’s tanks with impunity. But that's okay because the bad guys are mechanoids. Mechanoids with enough free will to be ambitious, enjoy sporting events and classical music, and who can get drunk and sexually aroused.

They’re fooled into following Alfred up a mountain where he starts an avalanche. With the tank upended our heroes are easily captured. Along with the surviving kids on Super Express. Good job, idiots.

Who should turn out to be their new cellmate but General Larry himself. He tearfully explains to the kids that Alfred’s forces were so strong he thought if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em, then beat ‘em, so that he could learn Bad Guy Planet’s weaknesses. General Larry tells the kids destroying the Central Motivation System will destroy Bad Guy Planet (how does he know it works like that?), but then his BDSM session proves to be too much for him and he expires. Everyone’s appropriately tearful, especially Siprian.

 With Mazinga 7 defeated Alfred throws a premature victory celebration, announcing that with Mazinga 7 conquering Earth and Orion will be easy. Um, didn’t he already conquer Orion? In any case there’s fireworks, dancers, and a boxing match. And aliens not only name their planets after our legends, they know who Muhammad Ali is.

Don't ask.
But after everyone’s gone back to the barracks to sleep it off, Helen pulls a gun on Alfred and tells him she’s taking over. He gets away, but not before being shot several times.

You've got to be kidding me! They didn't even change the colors!

Which all would be pretty surprising but for how the trailer showed that part.

Our heroes escape their cell, of course, by suckering a guard. They split up, with Kent and Mary distracting the bad guys guarding Mazinga 7 while the others board the robot and set out to destroy another bad guy robot they somehow know about. Once they’ve smashed their way out of the base, though, what do you know but they are attacked by another big robot with a big sickle for a hand. After fighting it for hours if the sunset’s any indication, they finally finish it off.

Meanwhile the others find Alfred who repents his evil ways as he dies in Mary’s arms, and tells them the Central Motivation System’s under the Waste Disposal Plant. Somehow they find it, only to be attacked by the giant dinosaur thing living there. Their dinky little laser guns prove useless, but Mary (somehow) gets a message through to Mazinga 7 and it shows up in the nick of time to fight the dinosaur thing. Kent tells Siprian to use its bladed backpack weapon, then somehow he’s in the cockpit launching the weapon himself. This decapitates the dinosaur, and I’d say I’m surprised, but then again the first Joseph Lai movie I ever saw was the one with that “capitalist bastards” thing.

The rest of the movie’s just wrapping loose threads. Kent swims down to the control center and bombs it. The whole base floods and drowns the remaining bad guys and Helen with them. All the refugee kids are conveniently still in Super Express which is conveniently on a launch platform just as our heroes find it. They fly to safety as Bad Guy Planet blows up and…that’s that.

Like the other Joseph Lai movies I’ve recapped, Protectors of Universe is cheaply animated, poorly acted and most of the mecha designs are stolen.

And honestly? It’s pretty good considering whose name’s on it. Certainly I’m not saying Protectors of Universe is high quality cinema, but it’s about what you’d get if you were to watch one of those old “movies” they made by editing a bunch of episodes of a giant robot anime together. Or hell, one of those new movies they make by editing a bunch of episodes of a giant robot anime together.
The plot’s nothing great but at least it’s not too hard to make out in this one, and there’s no preachy political agenda. The robot gets to kick butt in this one, and there are just enough fights with monsters and other robots to keep things cool for people who are fans of that kind of thing.

In the end, I think the best way I can describe Protectors of Universe is it’s like watching a kid play with robot toys from a bunch of different lines, rather than a bunch of lazy filmmakers stealing other people’s work to cash in on something popular. It’s a cute, endearing kind of cheese rather than the boring, head-scratching kind of cheese so prevalent in other Lai cartoons. And honestly, how can any movie expect to be taken seriously when it has a villain named Alfred and a major character named General Larry?

Besides, this movie’s the source of Spoony’s favorite scene from Space Thunder Kids.

A Joseph Lai movie can’t hope for a bigger recommendation than that.

Next time, season two of Loonatics Unleashed.

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