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.
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)