Moments of 2009: Without a Doubt, the Real Star of the Shin Mazinger Z is Revealed

There are two breakout characters in Shin Mazinger Z: Nishikori Tsubasa, and Baron Ashura. The former used to languish in obscurity in the manga Violence Jack, and the latter was the bad guy that Kabuto Koji used to beat up all the time from the original TV series. In Imagawa Yasuhiro’s interpretation, they became not only major characters — but the primary movers of the plot.

While Kabuto Koji remained the lead character, he was so more for being Mazinger Z’s pilot, than for actually influencing the plot. The conflict was really between Dr. Hell and Tsubasa Nishikiori, where the previous generation Kabutos (Koji’s father and grandfather), and Baron Ashura played lesser roles. Only that Ashura’s lesser role in the conflict is the greatest deception in this show layered with lies, lies, LIES!

I really want to talk about Nishikiori Tsubasa here, but let me get Ashura out of the way (never easy, and in fact nobody succeeded!): Ashura had the most interesting, and most game-changing technology applied to him/her/it in the whole show. No, not the Kedorah-fusion of Kabuto Kenzo. No, not the Kabuto Juzo powered operating system of Mazinger Z, Not Heinrich “Back-from-Beyond” Schtroheim, not Danube|Lorelei, not Mazinger Z itself and all its Z-Alloy¹/Photon-Powered/Big Bang Punch(ing) glory.

It was the combined work of the Mycenaeans, Dr. Hell, and Nishikiori on Ashura. First, the mummification that bound two into one — that somehow made their thoughts symmetrical if not of wholly one person. The amazing part of this mind is how it is able to navigate a complex web of directives and loyalties — that ultimately required it to “kill” itself in order to bring back the Mycenaeans en force. There are three levels of sacrifices here: the sacrifice of two selves to bond as one — their personalities as they know it cease to be; then the sacrifice of the will — to enter servitude under Dr. Hell, then the sacrifice of the self again and so as to return to fulfill the original loyalty.

There were two hacks on Ashura’s will by the humans: Nishikiori Tsubasa’s prevents Ashura from directly harming her, and Dr. Hell’s from directly harming the self. These are similar to Asimov’s 2nd and 3rd laws of robotics — only that the objects related are very particular individual people. Ashura could not inflict self-harm so as to protect the world against the Mycenaens.

Add the Super Ashura robot to the mix and you have the most complex and critical piece of technology in the narrative. The work of Dr. Hell is coursed through Ashura, (and the Mycenaeans too!), which makes Ashura the focal point of conflict that Kabuto Koji interacts with. Until the end (another deceit), the final showdown was to be a one on one fight between Super Ashura and Mazinger Z (only that the final showdown became the final alliance!).

The Baron Ashura is the shining star of Shin Mazinger Z.

Nishikiori Tsubasa… where do I begin? I don’t think I can write in-depth on her here, but at least I want to mention how remarkable the components of her character are:

  • Accomplished scientist
  • Master of the Z-Alloy tanto knife
  • Gang leader (Kurogane Five)
  • De facto leader of the Anti-Dr. Hell faction
  • Mother (LOL)²
  • Wife (LOL)²
  • Sister (LOL)³
  • Girlfriend (I must say Heinrich didn’t have much of a chance… but still!)

Now, what’s really remarkable here isn’t that she’s all of these things. It’s that these things became apparent very slowly and deliberately. We would find out only in a very dramatic and plot-serving fashion. The revelations became events unto themselves — such that Nishikiori Tsubasa was doing yeoman’s work in carrying the show.

She was on the side of the good guys, and showed some moral backbone… but is she a good person? I wouldn’t say that at all! She was ruthless and rarely hesitated to kill whoever got in her way. The way she resolved her dilemmas (they involved romantic partners and family members) is decisive and deadly. She was a badass. Furthermore, given Dr. Hell’s own ambiguous position in the moral compass of the show, it’s hard to contextualize who are the ‘good guys’ and Nishikori’s case doesn’t get easier.

She wasn’t much of a mother figure to Koji and Shiro, but she was an important and altogether valuably ally throughout the whole thing. All in all I enjoyed watching her and she would have been the breakout character in this show if not for the truly awesome and dramatic turn of Tristan + Iseult = Baron Ashura.

Further Reading

¹Yes! It, the world’s strongest alloy, is what makes the Mazinger Z an unsinkable castle of steel! Fearing none, thwarted by none; even if it is encircled by a thousand foes, its invincible castle of a body protects him from any number of attacks! Once more, let’s call it out! That alloy’s name is Super Alloy ZEEEEEEEEEEEEEETTOOOOOOOOOOOO!

The ULTIMATE NARRATOR OF (9,001 YEARS PROCESSED) PURIFIED AWESOME

²Well, to be fair, the Kabuto family is rather eccentric.

³She was busy being a good wife, OH SHI–

Why (I thought) Imagawa x Mazinger is an awesome thing (and boy, I was proven right as the series went on — though never in the ways I expected it to) [->]

My initial thoughts on Baron Ashura stealing the show (I had no idea as to the level of grand theft that would actually transpire, and my character profile ended up actually painfully inadequate) [->]

As a whole the series is perceived to have superlative levels of awesome, and I concur (crusader 2009/10/21)

The compilation of lies in this show, emphatically enumerated (animekritik 2009/10/05)

Further thoughts that support how I framed the central conflict to be between Nishikori vs. Dr. Hell (animekritik 2009/10/06)

About ghostlightning

I entered the anime blogging sphere as a lurker around Spring 2008. We Remember Love is my first anime blog. Click here if this is your first time to visit WRL.
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13 Responses to Moments of 2009: Without a Doubt, the Real Star of the Shin Mazinger Z is Revealed

  1. Baka-Raptor says:

    Agreed for the most part, but…

    Only that Ashura’s lesser role in the conflict is the greatest deception in this show layered with lies, lies, LIES!

    I never considered Baron Ashura to have a “lesser role.” From what I remember, Baron Ashura got more screen time than pretty much everyone except Koji and perhaps Tsubasa. I kept thinking to myself as I watched the series, “man, the director must’ve had a huge crush on Baron Ashura from the original series because he’s using every excuse he can get to throw Baron Ashura in our faces.”

    • Then you haven’t been hoodwinked by the notion that the Baron Ashura is a pawn, and a whipping dog (from both factions). The surprise here is that Ashura is the tragic lead of the show, wherein the titular mecha is really more of a backdrop wherein Ashura’s story unfolds.

      That’s probably a stretch, but it’s an inviting one.

  2. animekritik says:

    Awesome…Now, if I remember correctly, Ashura is the main enemy back in the original series. I mean, s/he isn’t, s/he’s a pawn sure, but Ashura is the one that actually shows up the most…I can tell simply by the fact that it’s the only villain of the show that I remember 28 odd years after watching the show. So the innovation is not letting Ashura take more of the attention so much as making it all come together (or apart!) for them in the final episode.

    Ghost, this whole post should have spoiler warnings for others!!

    • I dunno about the main enemy, as it was Dr. Hell — wherein Ashura is the pawn. In succeeding super robot shows, Ashura has become somewhat of a trope — lieutenants of the main enemy that the titular robot (and the team behind it) defeat every week. In Choudenji Voltes V, Zhoul would be a close approximation — and there would be equivalents to the Count Brockens and Viscount Pygmans as well.

      Yes re the innovation. Ashura’s influence on the whole thing is ridiculously awesome.

      As for spoiler warnings, ‘moments’ should be spoiler warning enough. If someone hasn’t seen the show, they shouldn’t be reading about a specific moment in it I think. But I suppose I shouldn’t take people for granted.

  3. Ryan A says:

    Spot on! Sure I liked Kouji, but I couldn’t help but feel attracted to these two characters and their development throughout. Tsubasa was just gold on multiple occasions evoking a, “Fukken Awesome!” throughout the show, that and her entire “strong girl” essence is hawt; VA work also bumped that prowess nicely.

    Ashura’s character was huge, often sympathetic, but never could be trusted, and the final episode had me mesmerized by it’s play.

    Grand turnout on account of these two indeed.

    • Yeah I am very glad you appreciate these two! I’m glad you took note of the acting work on Tsubasa. It’s rather excellent and the voice sounds super badass. I wonder if she could ever do ‘soft’ but then Tsubasa may never really be required to go that way.

      In any case, I want more of this.

  4. Ningyo says:

    Yeah, Koji never much contributed to the plot. The way Ashura was fleshed out in Z-hen was really the work of genius – unknowingly to the audience he/she played such a big part in the narrative. But not just that; it was how Ashura was a villain, yet so pitiable. Many times I found myself genuinely feeling sorry for the dude. Dudette. A lot of dramatic irony surrounds the character; irony and depth you don’t expect a super robot series to have. The plans were twenty layered, with all the “ohoh, that’s not really our plan, the truth is-”

    Still, I feel that Z-hen unraveled rather slowly, with the plot really only being presented in the latter half, or whenever it was after Lorelei got her face punched in. The first two episodes were to net in the old fanbase, and everything after before the Lorelei arc I don’t remember at all. If it had more time with working with its plot /and therefore had more time for extra gar last-few-episode fights I think it would be more comparable to Gurren Lagann. But then that’s an all new argument on its own.

    Imo the big bang punch came pretty darn close though.

    • I don’t think it’s a fruitful exercise to compare it to TTGL. I’m nuts about both shows for different reasons. A more useful comparison would be with Giant Robo: The Day the Earth Stood Still OVA. That was a shorter story, also a pastiche of various material from the a single creator; also ended at some kind of cliffhanger moment; but wasn’t as deftly plotted. It did however, have amazing production values (and yes, also directed by Imagawa Yasuhiro).

      If there was anything to change, it has to be in the budget to improve production values.

      • Ningyo says:

        Mmm, I think so too. Comparing it to Gurren Lagann wasn’t my idea; I read others that were doing so back when Z-hen was airing, so now I unconsciously draw parallels.

        And it would be less of a cliffhanger if they would just tell us they’ve a Great-hen or something in the making already…

        • Great-Hen has got to happen. But alas, it’s been over a decade and still no follow-up to Giant Robo. I had this theory that Imagawa knew GR wasn’t going to be green lit anymore, so he used his material for the final battle there for SMZSHonTV. That theory dosn’t make too much sense now, after watching the finale, but it could still hold true for Great-Hen, unless it takes the Duke Nukem Forever route…

  5. Have to agree that these two were the standout characters for the show. Nishikiori Tsubasa in particular I like if for nothing else being the first female character in a long time to exude screen presence with something other than sex/moe appeal, but she has something to do with every facet of the Dr. Hell part of the tale from start to finish. She’s so ingrained in everything that at one point I honestly expected her to be revealed to have existed during the time of Zeus and to have had some role there too. Indeed to think she comes from an entirely different Go Nagai work and Imagawa managed to fit her into this story without a hitch….it’s surely a testemant to his story crafting technique.

    • Great observation re screen presence with something other than sex appeal. Yeah she’s from Violence Jack manga, or maybe even something else — I can’t be sure. Now I want to think of similar characters: not sexy in an obvious way, but have dominant screen presence. Hmmmm…

  6. Pingback: God, the Devil, and Imagawa Yasuhiro | We Remember Love

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