Daitarn 3 is great

Daitarn 3 is great. I’m not sure whether it’s good, but it’s definitely great.

It seems worth stating the case as baldly as that to begin with, as among English-speakers the show gets few notices. Thus my attempt to give it some words here.

Daitarn 3 has a premise, though as I describe it readers should bear in mind that it doesn’t so much spark off the story as excuse it. A machine race, the Meganoids, menace humanity, and Banjou Haran struggles against them. Banjou escaped from the first flourishing of the Meganoids, on Mars, and commands the transforming robot Daitarn 3. Two friends and his nattily-dressed butler assist him.

Really, though, the premise lets the show do anything it wants. And it wants to spring upon us a whole series of one-off plots channelling the obsessions and social currents of the seventies.

Banjou’s friends and the Meganoids race to retrieve treasure from an ancient ruin. A psychologist—called ‘Preud’—attempts to destroy Banjou’s mind. An enemy commander keeps hijacking vehicles so he can shrink them down and turn them into the world’s only perfectly accurate model collection. Parties must be infiltrated, plots foiled, villains tragic and grotesque defeated, mysterious superweapons exploded. The characters get caught up in, and then fight through, the production of a martial arts film. The butler pilots  Daitarn 3 for one episode, highly effectively, but he infuses all of Banjou’s combination and final attack catchphrases with archaisms.

In keeping with—no, contributing to and extending—these freewheeling plots, Daitarn 3 frequently looks just as inventive. A dead, plucked and prepared chicken returns to life when it comes under fire. Banjou has to wander a glacier in his underpants, rather undercutting his superspy air. His companion Beauty fishes up an octopus which doffs its hat to her. Importantly, Daitarn 3 itself is allowed to have expressions.

The Meganoid soldiers themselves often delight, gurning with joy as they man weaponry, dancing on ice, taunting Banjou, reenacting emotional death scenes from war films. Daitarn 3 would have a more coherent setup if becoming a Meganoid suppressed all this emotion. Daitarn 3 understands that that would be boring.

Oh, and Episode 22 maintains for some minutes the densest concentration of parodic images and celebrity caricatures I’ve ever met in an anime.

While generally funny, the show can marry moments of bewildering interior shock presaging Ideon—and therefore Evangelion—with moments of high visual comedy. Thus these two snippets winding up right next to each other when I first watched the show:

At the very end the overarching plot treats the rest of the show with the flippancy that the rest of the show aimed at the plot. You never know what an episode of Daitarn 3 will give you.

Naturally Italy remembers it well. Does it have an Italian dub? It has two Italian dubs. We English-speakers trail far behind, making do with valuable but limited fansubs.

None of this necessarily means that you should watch Daitarn 3. (Like many things I respect, I have reasons not to put it on that list of worthwhile anime.) But baggy, unpredictable, outward-looking beasts of this sort deserve remembrance.

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