In 1985, Takara decided to abort their mooted Diaclone vs. Microchange line, instead importing Transformers, the American version of the lines devised by Hasbro and Marvel. This included the Transformers animated series, and the revamped line was a smash in Japan. Bandai were slow to react in terms of promoting Machine Robo the same way. Their US licensees, Tonka, had commissioned a cartoon to promote the line, Hanna-Barbera's Challenge of the Gobots. An episode was dubbed and screened at a Japanese toy fair in late 1985, but the whole series was never imported - it's probably fair to say the animation just wasn't up to scratch. Instead Bandai engaged Ashi Productions to create a series from scratch for Machine Robo. The result was Revenge of Cronos, a 47-episode Anime series.

Now, first of all let's establish a few things about this article... Firstly, the whole thing refers to the fifteen episodes officially released in the West by Central Park Media across three DVDs. Secondly, I'm approaching the series unashamedly from the point of view of a fan of the Machine Robo/Gobots toyline. I like Anime, but I'm far from an expert, having only really seen 'the basics'. So expect this article to have a slightly skewed perspective on things =)

Before this series, Machine Robo had a relatively simple backstory. The Machine Robo were a race of sentient transforming robots whose home planet of Romulos was destroyed by the Devil Invaders, transforming monsters from the Casmozone. The surviving Machine Robo relocate to Earth to prevent it sharing this fate. And that's about it - the media for the line before 1986 was limited to a few manga strips, and the odd animated commercial. This was all junked by Ashi in favour of a new mythos. This had the Machine Robo as natives of the planet Cronos, and consisting of three tribes - the Cronos Tribe (robots who don't transform, and look exactly like humans), the Jet Tribe (robots who transform into airborne vehicles) and the Battle Tribe (robots who transform into ground-based vehicles). They all live in feudal-style settlements, all mixed up - it's more like nationalities than factions. The aggressors are the Gylandar, a bunch of monster types floating over the planet in a big spaceship, after the Hyribead, a powerful energy source located somewhere on the planet. They send down their Devil Commanders to get it each week, only to get foiled by the heroes.

My first thought on watching the Anime is that, as a toy commercial, it's pretty terrible. Oddly, like Challenge of the Gobots, it decides on a small handful of lead characters and sticks with them, with the rest of the cast limited to guest spots and cameos. The heroes consist of five regulars.

The Cronos Tribe provides series lead Rom Stol and his sister, Reina. Their dad, Kirai, is a guru-type bloke killed by the Gylandar, gives his Wolf Sword to Rom, and it leads them around to be in the right place to foil the Gylandar. With them are two of Kirai's students, Blue Jet (of the Jet Tribe) and Rod Drill (of the Battle Tribe), plus Triple Jim, a Jet Tribe member who acts as Reina's valet. 60% of these characters are deeply irritating.

Rom has shades of Heero Yuy (ph33r my Anime knowledge) - he's a pompous, pious, po-faced dickhead. Within a few episodes of his grandiose posturing and grinding catchphrase of "You don't deserve to know my name!", you're rooting for the Gylandar to kill the bastard. He can also use the Wolf Sword to adopt two bigger forms, Russian doll style - Blade Dragon and Vikung-Fu (or Kenryû and Baikufû - I'm sticking with the subs for the review, though). These involve the same sequence each episode, with long formation sequences and pretentious voice-overs abounding. Actually, the whole thing is the same each episode - Rom carves up the Devil Commander of the week's minions, the Devil Commander kicks his arse. Rom calls up Blade Dragon, and briefly beats on the Devil Commander. The Devil Commander then calls on some hitherto-unseen super-ability, and hands out a pounding to Blade Dragon. Blade Dragon then becomes Vikung-Fu and wipes the bastard out. After the 15-minute mark there's not much point watching most episodes, as you know what will happen...

His sister's even worse - the most stereotypical girl imaginable, all tears, worrying about her brother and generally being wetter than a November weekend in the Brecon Beacons. Again, you keep watching in the hope some vile monster eviscerates her. Triple Jim is possibly more annoying for being the biggest damn coward I can think of offhand. His role generally consists of yelling "Miss Reina! No!" whenever the stupid girl runs off through an uncharted jungle after a pretty flower, but doing very little physically to stop her doing stupid stuff or protecting her. Reina's always getting kidnapped and captured, while none of the aggressors think Jim's worth taking with them, or even killing. That he apparently survives the series is a serious argument against Darwin. Blue Jet and Rod Drill are better, and I'm not just saying that because they're modelled on the same figures as Fitor and Screw Head. Jet's the serious one, though he's a breath of fresh air compared to Rom, as he can actually open his mouth without portentous twaddle coming out. Drill is basically genius, a clumsy, hungry, slightly dim lunatic. Imagine Homer Simpson as a big transforming robot swordsman, and you've got Rod Drill.

The baddies are pretty bad, too. Mostly they're freaky, non-toy designs... I guess this is a result of villainous toys not being big sellers, but then at the same time the Devil Invader figures were reissued, and (judging by the appearance of Casmodon in one episode) are relegated to villains of the week, under the non-transforming demon-type new characters. Despite looking very strange, this lot are uninteresting. Big cheese Gadess does practically nothing (though in fairness, his own attempts at calling out attacks and giving Rom plenty of space and time to pontificate and call on his larger forms could be being saved for later episodes), and delegates stuff to his incompetent deputies - water-quaffing armoured slug Gruijos and the female Diondra, who's probably meant to be quite good-looking to weird Anime freaks. They stuff up every week, get a telling off from Gadess, and come up with another stupid plan that involves pitting one Devil Commander and a few troopers against Rom's merry band when the obvious thing to do is take the lot down and wipe the floor with the snotty punk.

Format is the operative word. Pretty much every episode involves the wandering band arriving in a settlement with is experiencing some sort of disruption involving the Gylandar somewhere along the line. They sort it out, and move on. Sure, the Wolf Sword is a device allowing this format, but it doesn't make it very interesting. Little about most of the episodes stand out, and across fifteen episodes there's little development for the characters (though I'll grudgingly admit that Rom is very slowly developing something approaching a sense of humour by the last couple).

The oddest thing, though, is the lack of Machine Robo modelled on the toys. Most settlements are overwhelmingly populated by the Cronos Tribe, which means they are, to all intents and purposes, human (the only difference is whether some guards get wiped out by Gylandar attackers, they explode rather than bleed - if you watch a few episodes on the trot, this will actually surprise you - "Wait, those guys are robots?"). The overall impression is that Ashi weren't really that interested in Machine Robo, and decided to tell their own story. Every now and then they'll use a toy-based character - though, excluding the regulars, I think the count's about four of these getting worthwhile screentime across 15 episodes (Trim Sponsor, a Tank Transer; Vilion, a Drill Heli; Casmodon as one of the Devil Commanders; and Combat Buggy). Aside from this it's the odd cameo.

And sometimes 'odd' is the word - it's almost as if Bandai set some sort of quota, as on occasion toy-based MR will just turn up for no reason. In one episode, Falcon Robo turns up near the start, lands, transforms and isn't seen again; after the commercial break Offroad Robo does the same thing. In another, in a city scene, Police Robo pulls over Scooter Robo and Bike Robo and tells them off for speeding. This has absolutely no bearing on the plot whatsoever... One of the "Next Episode" blurbs mentions that we'll be getting our first look at the new Train Robo next week. The following episode, New Shinkansen Robo makes a blink-and-you'll-miss-it cameo.

If Challenge of the Gobots contains all the hallmark clichés of being a cheap, nasty, American toy cash-in cartoon, Revenge of Cronos contains all the hallmark clichés of Anime. Characters call out attacks, robots fall in love, Rom's 'transformations' are long enough you can leave the room and make a cup of tea without missing anything, everyone stands off each other and watches protagonists slowly take turns at attacking each other, the characters are off-the-shelf clichés, the whole thing's breathtakingly pretentious considering its' meagre plotlines and every now and then things just stop making sense. In its' own way, it's every bit as bad as Challenge, with a similarly myopic use of the materials available. The best Gobot/MR related media is still the (tragically incomplete) Robo Machines comic, and this one is best avoided by all - MR/Gobot fans will no doubt be frustrated by the skewed focus, while Anime fans will no doubt find similar material executed in a much better fashion elsewhere.

Screencaps, with an unashamed bias towards the transforming, toy-based characters