Otaku Obsession: Matchless Raijin-Oh DVD vols 1-2 review


Introduction
In many ways, Sunrise’s Eldoran/Eldran series is the spiritual brother of its Brave series. The Brave series were a partnership between the animation studio and toymaker Takara, while Eldran saw the studio partnering with Tomy (before it merged with Takara in 2006). Both franchises had multiple entries over consecutive years, although Brave saga ran for eight series, while Eldran ran for three (a proposed fourth series was later re-purposed as a one-shot OVA). With this background context in mind, let’s jump into the robot smashing action in Anime Midstream’s release of Matchless Raijin-Oh.

Story
Premiering in 1991, Raijin-Oh was directed by Toshifumi Kawase (Vifam 13) and tells the story of the Fifth Dimension’s evil Jaku Empire and its attempts to conquer Earth and the Third Dimension. The guardian Eldran attempts to fight off the invasion with the super robot Raijin-Oh, but he’s injured and crashes into the elementary school of the Japanese town of Hinobori. With no other options at hand, Eldran enlists an entire fifth-grade class to take up the fight and defend Earth. A trio of pilots named Jin, Asuka and Kouji pilot the three machines that form Raijin-Oh, while the rest of their classmates provide support as the “Earth Defense Class.”

If you’ve seen some Brave shows or Sunrise’s later series Gear Fighter Dendoh, then you’re familiar with Raijin-Oh and its premise of elementary school kids interacting with super robots. Like Dendoh, Raijin-Oh has these kids directly piloting the robots, as opposed to Brave’s sentient robots. Interestingly though, Kawase did work on Brave Command Dagwon, which featured high school kids fighting an alien invasion. Raijin-Oh’s cast is made up of caricatures and its plot is formulaic. Star Jin is a hot-blooded rascal, Asuka is the elite kid and Kouji is the gentle one of the group. Each episode features a new Jaku monster appearing and getting its ass kicked after the three robots combine into Raijin-Oh.

That being said, there’s nothing wrong with following a formula, and Raijin-Oh does offer a few twists. First, in these series you typically have the pilots trying to keep it a secret from everyone that they’re super robot pilots, and lots of complications arise from this. Here, the entire class is in on the operation, and the entire world knows about it (at one point the military tries unsuccessfully to take over). Also, the gimmick here is that evil balls of energy called Akudama have scattered across the town and take the form of things humans dislike. This leads to some really ridiculous monsters, including a test monster with pencil arms (seriously), a yakuza monster and a sake monster. A mid-level villain named Belzeb then powers them up to larger forms, necessitating the combination into Raijin-Oh. Characters sometimes find themselves in strange situations, such as Asuka becoming an accidental playboy when he’s forced to take five girls on a date at once. Across the 10 episodes featured in the first two volumes, we see Jaku’s repeated failures, as well as how the Earth Defense Class begins to develop teamwork and rapport.

Video
Although this is a new release for America, Raijin-Oh is 20 years old and it shows. But the video quality is good for something this old. If you’re ok with the quality of animation from similar early 90s Sunrise shows like GPX Cyber Formula, the Brave series or G Gundam, then you shouldn’t have any problem with Raijin-Oh.

However, there is a video issue with volume two that deserves mention. Raijin-Oh was animated with a 4:3 aspect ratio, which was the standard practice at the time. But volume two by default plays in 16:9 widescreen. At first I thought my TV was being screwy, but I confirmed on the packaging that the aspect ratio is 16:9. Thankfully, the 16:9 effect isn’t created by cropping the top and bottom of the picture, but the picture is stretched. It just doesn’t look right, so I had to manually set my TV’s aspect ratio to 4:3 to watch it the right way. Hopefully future volumes will output in the correct 4:3 ratio.

Audio
You have the choice of English or Japanese audio, both in stereo. As for the dub, it can be hit-or-miss at times. Anime Midstream is based out of St. Louis, and from the looks of the cast list, most of the actors are presumably local talent (in fact, some of the production staff do double duty as voice actors). One exception to this is an appearance by Michael Reynolds, a voice actor of many aliases who has played probably every cranky old government/military official you’ve heard in English dubs from the 90s and on. Overall, it’s a solid effort in light of being the first dub from a smaller company.

Extras
Across the two discs you get standard extras like clean OP/ED sequences. Both discs also feature a collection of dub bloopers, along with music videos of the opening song “Dream Shift” by Kinuko Oomori and SILK. You don’t see something like this very often on such an old release, so I’m surprised Anime Midstream was able to include these old videos in pretty good quality. They’re worth a watch if you want to hear the full version of the song, or to get a laugh from horrible early 90s Japanese fashion. The video on volume 1 mixes live action footage with scenes from the show, while the video on volume 2 is set exclusively to anime scenes.

Conclusion
Raijin-Oh is definitely a product of its time, and it was never going to win any awards for originality. But it’s a fun series that revels in its ridiculousness and isn’t afraid to get weirder and weirder. How can you not give credit to a series that features a sake bottle-shaped monster that sucks down all alcohol in sight, or a giant noise monster with microphone arms? Even putting aside the show’s other qualities, you can’t help but feel drawn in to watch more, if only to see what bizarre Jaku monster will show up in the next episode. If you enjoy vintage super robot series from the 1990s, then Raijin-Oh is right up your alley.

Overall Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars.