By Jerry Chandler
“From the far reaches of outer space comes a threat to planet Earth. Mankind faces its most powerful enemy, the mastermind Rodak.”
It was the 1970s, and for a while a staple of the Superstation WTBS after school television block was a Japanese import from the 1960s. It was 52 episodes of men in rubber suits playing the roles of robots and monsters beating the snot out of each other every Monday through Friday afternoon to the delight of many a young child. The series was based on a manga called Ambassador Magma, which was also the TV show’s name in Japan. Beating Ultraman to TV screens in Japan by a handful of days, it was the first show of its kind broadcast in full color on their TV stations. The Ambassador Magma TV show also featured one of the earliest examples of the Japanese transforming robot. In America, it was known as The Space Giants.
The Space Giants had a rather basic, easy to follow storyline. The evil mastermind Rodak has come to earth to destroy and conquer. To achieve these goals, he sought to find and unleash giant monster after giant monster to wreak havoc on the world. Well, actually it was mostly just parts of Japan, but I’m sure he would have broadened his horizons had he ever been able to get past Japan.
In the classic and familiar to many tradition of Godzilla and Ultraman, men in big rubber monster suits went to town on scale model cities and military units. Likewise, another man in a big rubber suit would emerge as the hero of the piece and put a stop to this rampage. For The Space Giants, this was Goldar.
Goldar was a giant, gold robot who served an ancient, wise alien who went through a few name changes for reasons that were never explained. He was referred to during the series as Methusan, but he was sometimes also called Methuselah or Mathusem. Goldar was portrayed in The Space Giants simply as a giant robot with advanced AI. However, in the Ambassador Magma TV show and the comic that spawned it he was a living being forged out of gold. Being a living being, he did the things that living beings did- like start a family. His wife, much smaller than him and far more human looking, was a silver robot known as Silvar in the American series. It’s hinted at that Methusan created Goldar and Silvar, and he indeed adds to their family once they’re on Earth. He creates a robot boy named Gam designed to bond with a human child who was part of the Earth family central to the story. Gam has what looks like a red and white sweater vest and blue shorts. All three robots could transform into rocket ships. Goldar was gold, Silvar was silver, and Gam was white and red with blue trim.
Goldar is really the only one who fights the monsters. Being the size of an average human, Silvar and Gam do occasionally enter into the giant monster fighting fray, but it’s far more rare in the series to see them doing so. Not that they’re really ever needed when it comes time to kick giant monster butt. Goldar could handle that quite easily on his own.
As I just briefly mentioned, there was also a human family at the center of the story. The family was the Mura Family, and they’re brought into things because the father, Ito "Tom" Mura, is a reporter. Rodak seeks him out to cover the news of his arrival and his actions. You might be wondering why an alien who is about to unleash giant monsters on the world felt the need to make sure that the world would actually notice it by picking one specific reporter to cover it rather than simply accepting the fact that every major media organization would freak out six ways from Sunday at the chance to cover giant monsters showing up and trashing large sections of the average Japanese towns. There was a very good reason for it, and that reason was bad plot device.
Ito has a wife, Tomoko, who we don’t often see a lot of, and a son named Mikko. Mikko plays a vital role in the series. It is to this young child that Methusan entrusts the fate of the world (well, again, mostly just Japan) by giving him a special whistle. When monsters or the other bad guys under Rodak’s command (more on them in a bit) reared their ugly heads, Mikko would pull the whistle out of his pocket and blow on it. One blow of the whistle summoned Gam, two summoned Silvar, and three summoned Goldar.
This wasn’t always useful. Occasionally Mikko would drop or be separated from the whistle; occasionally when with Gam. You’d think that having Gam with him would solve this issue. You know, just have Gam radio Goldar and/or Silvar and problem solved. The problem with that was the advanced robots from outer space strangely didn’t seem to have that ability during most episodes.
The Mura family became targets for Rodak’s minions on more than one occasion, just not always the giant monster ones. Rodak also used human sized… things… called Lugo men.
The Lugo men were a disposable army of fake humanoids who dressed in skintight black fabric and did really bad karate moves. They also died rather easily, and when they died they melted into oozing, gelatinous goo. They come across now as almost a forerunner of the generic henchman that would later harass the Power Rangers every weekday afternoon, but these things made the ones in Mighty Morphing Power Rangers seem like unstoppable world beaters.
Not that in all reality either they or the Mura family (or Silvar and Gam) were of particular importance. It was Rodak, the giant monsters, and Goldar that mattered most with the fledgling kaiju kids like me.
The Space Giants certainly delivered on the monster bashing and thrashing throughout most of its 52 episodes. Rodak’s monster army started out looking mostly like giant dinosaurs, but eventually the variety improved a bit and the show started featuring more creative kaiju. Goldar was for the right generation of kids the perfect blending of Ultraman (a show that had already been on the air in many television markets around the US) and Shogun Warriors (a fantastic toyline and short lived Marvel comic book). Having recently found a number of episodes online, the English dub was also filled with more than a little green messaging in lines delivered by Methusan and (very weirdly) Goldar and Methusan both talking about not using violence or killing- often right after beating the snot out of a monster and/or killing it. I didn’t remember any of that until seeing a few episodes again just recently, and I don’t remember ever focusing on that when playing with friends. The only thing we ever noticed was the proper technique for karate chopping evil monsters right between the eyes.
The Space Giants never seemed to have the kind of acclaim or widespread fame among American kaiju fans that shows like Ultraman have received over the years. That may be in part because the show- at least with regards to the American dub version -feels like it’s aimed at a much younger audience than almost any version of Ultraman or most other similar shows were. It may also be in part because the show feels like a lower budget affair even when only compared to the other Japanese imports of that era. But The Space Giants was probably one of the vital building blocks in growing a generation of kaiju fans. Being aired on WTBS meant that it was carried from coast to coast in every cable market that carried WTBS- which was pretty much all of them. Odds are good that outside of the weekend cable TV block of Godzilla films, the placement of The Space Giants on the afternoon block right as kids were getting home from school made it the first real introduction to this kind of entertainment for a lot of younger kids in that era.
It will never be held up as one of the top five shows of its genre, but it was an amazing show to have on during a time when such shows weren’t readily available on a hundred different home entertainment streaming platforms, a dozen or so cable channels, or on affordable DVD and Blu-Ray sets. For me, and probably for more than just a few others out there, it was a key factor in helping to become both a raving kaiju fan, a fan of transforming robots, and a lifelong fan of cheesy, low budget Japanese monster fighter shows.
Jerry Chandler follows geek stuff. When not found writing here he can be found writing for Gruesome Magazine and his own blog. He has a Twitter. He can also occasionally be heard talking pro wrestling with the amazingly talented crew at of the Earth Station One Network’s The Pro-Wrestling Roundtable podcast.