Nostalgia

Back in January, when I wrote about Cowboy Bebop, I mentioned that I’ve been a fan of anime since watching Gigantor in the early 1970s. Johnny Sokko Out of curiosity, I looked up some information about the series and its creator Mitsuteru Yokoyama. It turns out that Yokoyama basically invented stories about giant mecha, which have practically become their own genre within anime. Yokoyama also created another series which I remember fondly from my childhood, which was known in the United States as Johnny Sokko and his Flying Robot.

This latter series was actually live action and told the story of a boy named Johnny Sokko who commanded a nine-story tall robot, decked out like an Egyptian Pharaoh, but commanding an arsenal of amazing weapons. Johnny’s remote control was a special wrist watch, tailor-made for playground imitation, and he helped secret agents battle an evil organization known as the Gargoyle Gang. I remember this series as one of the coolest things I ever saw as a kid. I always felt a little sorry for Johnny Sokko because he had to wear a tie, but I’d wear a tie, too, if I had a giant robot to command. In my research, I discovered that episodes of Johnny Sokko are available through some streaming services and I downloaded one. I expected it to be cheezy fun and I wasn’t disappointed, but I had to work to see the cool I did as a kid.

In the 1990s, Japan’s anime creators went through a phase of remaking the classic series that inspired them. Yasuhiro Imagawa planned to remake Johnny Sokko and his Flying Robot as an anime, but only got the rights to use the giant robot and Daisaku Kusama—the kid known to us in the United States as Johnny Sokko. That’s a little like getting the rights to remake Star Trek but only getting to use the Starship Enterprise and Captain Kirk. There’s no Spock, no Uhura, no Klingons, no Federation. Yeah, you could make something that looked like Star Trek, but it wouldn’t have all the magic fans remember. Imagawa, though, had a flash of inspiration. He found he could get the rights to use characters from all of Mitsuteru Yokoyama’s other manga series.

The upshot was Giant Robo: The Day the Earth Stood Still. Giant_Robo_-_The_Animation Set in a post-apocalyptic steampunk-inspired world, it tells how the evil organization called Big Fire tries to gain control of the world’s energy resources. Standing in their way are the Experts of Justice, a group of superheroes from Yokoyama’s manga teamed up with Daisaku Kusama and Giant Robo. It features amazing music performed by the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra and choir and it took six years to produce the seven episodes of the series. I hunted down a copy both to see what the result was like and I was also intrigued by the fact that the director shared a surname with the antagonist of my novel The Brazen Shark. As it turns out, my almost 50-year-old self sees it as being almost as cool and my 8-year-old self found the original. This is a remake done right!

In this age of easy self-publishing, it’s actually fairly easy for an author to revise and release new editions of their work if they hold all the publishing rights. Given how well Johnny Sokko and his Flying Robot was re-imagined into Giant Robo: The Day the Earth Stood Still, I completely understand how an author can look back at their work, see improvements, make them and release new editions. However, I do advise some caution in this. For a great example of why, look no further than George Lucas and his re-issues of Star Wars. Although Lucas has made his special effects look nicer than he could in the 1970s, he’s also angered a lot of fans by tinkering with a movie they loved and adding elements they didn’t find necessary. Over twenty years passed before a remake of Johnny Sokko and his Flying Robot was attempted and even then, it was under the helm of a new, albeit reverent, creator.

I look back at my earliest novels such as The Pirates of Sufiro and Children of the Old Stars and see plenty of things I’d change if I wrote those novels today. Despite that, I know there are readers who find plenty to love in those novels and I’d want to be careful to enhance and make better, while not taking away those elements readers find charming.

So, are there any examples of remakes or re-imagined movies, television series, or books that you thought were especially well done? What made the remake work for you?

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4 comments on “Nostalgia

  1. abdaley says:

    talk of remakes always stirs up thoughts of the bad ones first. The new Star Trek movies, or Alice in Wonderland, for example. I think a few ’80s cartoons have been remade well, though. The new Thunder Cats was really good, and I’m not sure why it got cancelled. They fixed all the things that didn’t make sense in the first iteration. My Little Pony has EXPLODED in popularity. Even if it isn’t exactly like the original, I think it’s a very good thing for this generation. What I would really like is for some of my other favorites, like Wildfire or Jewel Riders, to get remade in the same way.
    An interesting comparison is Once upon a Time v. Maleficent. When my husband and I saw the movie ‘Maleficent’ re-imagine the villain of Sleeping Beauty, I think we were both confused at first. We didn’t like it, and I couldn’t put my finger on why. Maleficent’s portrayal in Disney’s Sleeping Beauty made her seem like the epitome of evil, and the new movie took that away, making her somewhat less. In Once, they didn’t change her past, she was still evil dragon witch casting curses, but they put something in her present/future that softened the character a bit, made the audience feel for her. I think that’s one of the keys to having a remake work, don’t change too much.

    • You make a lot of great points. Another good example of a remake that worked in my opinion was Scooby Doo: Zombie Island — which came along after I feared there would never be a good Scooby Doo cartoon ever again. It succeeded by going back to all the things that made the first two seasons pretty cool and dumping all the dumb baggage that was added on after that. The Star Trek movies are an interesting case because I think they had a lot of good ingredients, but suffered from dumb scripting. In the case of Giant Robo, they threw out a lot of the source material, but remained true to the characters, which maybe the key. Stay true to your characters (as in your example with Maleficent), if you change something, give the audience a good reason, and write a decent story for those characters. Even though Giant Robo makes a lot of changes to the world of the original series, they stayed absolutely true to Daisaku and Robo and allowed them to grow naturally in the story told.

  2. G. B. Marian says:

    I know some people didn’t like it, but I really enjoyed Gareth Edwards’ take on Godzilla (2014). I thought it did a great job of combining the moral darkness of the 1954 original with the more hopeful monster-on-monster action from such follow-ups as 1964’s Ghidorah: The Three-Headed Monster. Most importantly, it made me teary-eyed, which only the original Godzilla and Godzilla 1985 could pull off previously. Any Godzilla movie that has the power to turn my face into Niagara Falls is a keeper, as far as I’m concerned!

    • The 2014 Godzilla looked interesting, but I haven’t seen it. I loved both the original and Godzilla 1985. I’ll be sure to add the newer version to my Netflix queue and check it out. Thanks for the recommendation.

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