Mazinger Z is a foundational series for the mecha genre, however, it’s an older show so a lot of younger mecha fans may not be acquainted with it. In this post we’ll cover some entry points to the Mazinger Z franchise. If you are here looking for recommendations on where to start go ahead and scroll down to the end of this post.
Mazinger’s first entry began in 1972 both with a manga and an anime by Toei. Let’s start with the manga. The manga is created by Go Nagai a famous mangaka who went on to produce several iconic mecha series including Mazinger Z, Grendizer (Goldorak or Goldrake in Europe), Steel Jeeg, and helping to launch Getter Robo (1974) with his best friend Ken Ishikawa. He’s also known for several other iconic series including Devilman, Violence Jack and Cutie Honey.
Mazinger Z was the first piloted super robot, prior to this was Tetsujin 28, a super robot that was controlled remotely. The mecha anime genre began to take off thanks to Mazinger Z and the related productions that came after it. The manga done by Go Nagai is very graphic, both in extreme violence and occasional nudity, Nagai is known for breaking taboos and putting out controversial manga works so viewer discretion is advised. The story follows Kouji Kabuto who is given the robot Mazinger Z by his grandfather Juzou Kabuto and told that Mazinger can become either a Devil or a God and Kouji must decide. This is an iconic line that gets repeated in several series including Mazinkaiser and Mazinger Infinity as the stakes get raised.
Juzou Kabuto always intended for Kouji to pilot Mazinger Z and thus always had him use more and more difficult to master motorcycles in preparation for piloting it. In the original concept for Mazinger Z, Energer Z in order to pilot the super robot the pilot had to take its motorcycle up a ramp to dock in the head of the super robot Energer Z, this would later get an animated appearance in Shin Mazinger Edition Z: The Impact (真マジンガー 衝撃! Z編, Shin Majingā Shōgeki! Zetto Hen). Instead to avoid being too similar to the very popular Kamen Rider that idea was changed and instead a Hover Pilder (a VTOL like craft) was used to dock with Mazinger.
The Mazinger manga concludes with the defeat of his arch enemy, Dr. Hell and his island fortress turned into a giant mechanical beast (kikaiju) then begins to transition to Great Mazinger. The Great General of Darkness (暗黒大将軍 Ankoku Daishōgun) is unleashed upon the world and it must be stopped, a new hero emerges, the Great Mazinger built by Kenzo Kabuto, Kouji’s father who previously dead was revived as a cyborg and built the Great Mazinger and Science Fortress Laboratory in preparation for this day. Our heroes from Mazinger Z, Kouji and Sayaka, go off to study and become scientists like their parents while our new heroes step in to fight off the Great General of Darkness including Tetsuya Tsurugi and Jun Hono. Great Mazinger concludes with Great Mazinger and Mazinger Z teaming up to fight off the Great General of Darkness right before the Science Fortress Laboratory self-destructs. Both mangas tend to move very quickly and end very suddenly.
The third manga entry (and anime) is Grendizer but we’ll cover that in another post. There are also many, many Mazinger mangas that retell the story but with a different twist, we’ll touch on those briefly. Now onto the anime.
The Mazinger anime by Toei (sometimes called Toeizinger) takes the same general concepts of Mazinger Z and makes it a lot more viewer friendly. The series runs for 92 episodes and was extremely successful spawning several follow-on mecha shows by Toei and later mecha shows by other companies. Toeizinger was your typical monster of the week show taking the notable enemies and reusing them as well as adding in new and some remarkably hilarious designs. Mazinger Z (1972) was a huge hit and was succeeded by the Great Mazinger (1974) anime running for 56 episodes and later by Grendizer (1975) which ran for 74 episodes.
There were also several Versus movies, big budget summer blockbusters put together by Toei which were often crossovers between titles such as Great Mazinger vs Getter Robo (1975), Great Mazinger vs Getter Robo G (1975), or Grendizer, Getter Robo G, Great Mazinger: Kessen! Daikaijuu (1976), and also one of the most famous ones being Mazinger vs the Great General of Darkness (1974) which saw our heroic Mazinger Z thoroughly torn to pieces on the big screen only to be saved by Great Mazinger at the last minute.
All in all quite a bit of content by Toei if you enjoy Mazinger.
Go Nagai had a falling out with Toei that eventually ended with him sueing Toei during the run of Gaiking (1976). After that Go Nagai and his company Dynamic Productions did not work with Toei for a very long time. If you’d like to know more about that relationship take a look at this video.
However, they would make amends later and release the Mazinger Infinity movie in 2017. This movie takes place after Great Mazinger and keeps the cast of both series and shows a prosperious and technologically advanced world after they saved the Earth only to be cast into peril once more as Dr. Hell and his minions return from the dead and capture Infinity Mazinger.
In-between 1972 and 2017 several different Mazinger Z anime were released via different animation studios. The first was Mazinkaiser in 2001, which featured the Mazinkaiser design that first appeared in Super Robot Wars (Super Robot Taisen) in order to give Mazinger an upgraded form on par with Shin Getter Robo. The series itself is self contained but it does benefit greatly from prior knowledge of Mazinger. Mazinkaiser is also relatively short with only 7 episodes and features some great Mecha action in the first and final episodes, experienced mecha viewers will enjoy the Obari touches in EP7.
If you’re a fan of Great Mazinger you will enjoy the opening and ending of the series, although Tetsuya Jun are missing for the middle section.
The success of Mazinkaiser spawned a sequel, Mazinkaiser vs the Great General of Darkness (2004), a remake set in the same universe as Mazinkaiser. The movie is well done and maintains a consistent tone through, something that Mazinkaiser eschewed. That said if you’re unfamiliar with the Great General of Darkness storyline it will feel rushed.
2009 launched Shin Mazinger Edition Z: The Impact (真マジンガー 衝撃! Z編, Shin Majingā Shōgeki! Zetto Hen) a remake of Mazinger Z with digital animation and a full length series at 26 episodes. It takes viewers with zero experience and explains the Mazinger mythos to them, albeit with some major alterations. First off the series largely incorporates two Mazinger mangas, one by Ken Ishikawa that introduces the “Kedora” an alien creature that controls Kikaiju from the inside and the other being Z Mazinger (1998) which retells the Mazinger mythos including Greek mythology where the greek gods and monsters were mechanical gods and monsters which became later became the Kikaiju we see in Mazinger.
It also incorporates iconic characters from other Go Nagai works including Pygman, Tsubasa Nishikiori and the Kurogane 5. It also spends a good deal of time providing a lot of character developent to long time series villain Baron Ashura.
The first episode is quite confusing to new and old fans alike, since it takes many moments from the end of the season and shows them in the beginning, it made for a good hook when it first aired. However, if you’re starting the series now there’s nothing stopping you from starting with Episode 2 instead. For manga fans there are several scenes in the anime that are pulled directly from the manga.
The series moves at a good pace and features some beautiful mecha designs, this version of Shin Mazinger eschews some of the more unusual attacks of the original and instead focuses on some key powers with Rocket Punch and Photon Power Beam (Koushiryoku Beam (光子力ビーム) being used the most.
The Shin Mazinger series is masterfully directed by Yasuhiro Imagawa who is famed for his work on the Giant Robo OVA (1992), the Tetsujin-28 (Gigantor) OVA (2004) and the much beloved G Gundam (2002). At 26 episodes it covers a lot of ground in making you familiar with the Mazinger universe and its an enjoyable ride from start to finish. The only downside is it will leave you wishing for a Shin Great Mazinger sequel.
To summarize. If you are looking to get into the Mazinger universe you have four primary options. The Mazinger manga, the Mazinger anime produced by Toei (92 episodes), the Mazinkaiser OVA (7 episodes) or the Shin Mazinger anime (26 episodes). Of these, you would be best off starting with either the original Toei anime or with the more modern Shin Mazinger anime. Both will give you a comprehensive view of the Mazinger universe, which is always changing or reinventing itself. If you have time you should definitely check out both so you can enjoy the differences between the two.