When you name your series "Giant Robo" you create some preconceptions in your audience. For example, the audience will assume there is going to be a giant robot and that it will, in all liklihood, battle one or more other giant robots. Giant Robo lives up to these preconceptions ... sort of. There is a giant robot and it does have five rather lame battles with other robots. Mostly, though, Giant Robo - The Animation, is about people having very art-directed flashbacks to a past tragedy that drives the main action.
Said tragedy would be the Tragedy of Bashtarle. One Franken von Vogler and some other scientists, working from the country of Bashtarle, were testing a new energy source but ended up neautralizing all currently existing forms of energy (fossil fuels, nuclear, etc.). The resultant blackout, which seems to have lasted about a year, came pretty damn close to wiping out mankind, who had forgotten how to live without artificial light, heat, running water, etc.
Dr. Shizuma, one of the scientists who caused the blackout, redeemed himself by inventing the Shizuma drive, a renewable, non-polluting energy source. Before long, everything -- and I mean everything -- used Shizuma drives for power. Even items like cigarette lighters used Shizuma drives.
Ten years after that, von Vogler's son, Genya, working with the Big Fire terrorist organization, uses his father's Anti-Shizuma drive to cause another world-wide blackout. He also destroys a few cities while he's at it.
The only force capable of defeating Genya and his Anti-Shizuma sphere is Giant Robo, the world's most powerful robot. He is one of the few devices left on Earth that doesn't use a Shizuma drive for power; he's nuclear. Giant Robo can only be called into battle by Daisaku Kusama, a twelve-year old boy whose father created Robo. He and Robo fight alongside the Experts of Justice, the only ones who can stand against Big Fire.
Giant Robo. He's treated not as a mere weapon, as in shows like Gundam, but as a character in his own right. He is devoted to Daisaku and capable of acting autonomously in defense of him. He is angry when he is unable to penetrate a force field, and in obvious pain when he is severely damaged. He can even make judgement calls. At one point, after Robo has captured Genya, Daisaku is in danger and circumstances prevent Robo from saving him. So Robo releases Genya because he knows that Genya will save Daisaku. I was really floored by that.
The Magnificent Ten. They are the Big Fire Group's elite. And they ROCK. They are all extremely powerful, competent, and unusually morally complex villains. The one featured the most is Alberto the Impact, who can cause lots and LOTS of damage by waving his arms around. Yet, he eventually rebels against Genya because he lived through the blackout ten years ago and doesn't want it to happen again, especially since he has a young daughter. The other nine of the Ten only have cameos, with only The Fabulous Fitzgerald doing much to display his power. He snaps his fingers, and anything in the general direction he was snapping is cut in half. He does a rather amazing amount of damage and kills an equally amazing number of men in the brief amount of time we get to see him in action. Also of note is Ko Enshaku, who is apparently an animate, indestructible suit of samurai armor. Though not one of the Ten, he's a force to be reckoned with.
Daisaku Kusama. He works because he's not a "Shinji". That is, he doesn't constantly angst and whine about everything. Anytime he begins to, somebody will tell him to shut the hell up and deal with it. (Or someone punches him really hard and threatens to kill him if he doesn't shut the hell up and deal with it.) He's actually a pretty well-adjusted, well-meaning kid who rises to the occasion when he has to. He knows it isn't fair that he, at only twelve years old, had the responsibility of mastering Giant Robo thrust upon him but he accepts it and does the best he can.
Kenji Murasame the Immortal. This guy may be my favorite character in an anime, ever. I don't even know if I can tell you how much I love this guy. First of all, he isn't called "the immortal" for nothing. He's so manly he can pull off wearing a pink trenchoat. He gets the girl (or at least it's implied). And, most of all, he gives Daisaku a great lesson in reality during one of his few "Shinji" moments.
The parallel between Genya and Daisaku. Both of them were left horrible legacies by their fathers. Both of them have had their lives shaped not by their own choices, but by those legacies. The parallel ends when Daisaku finally makes his own choice, while Genya is eventually consumed and destroyed by his father's legacy.
The twist ending. It is one HELL of a twist and it's pulled off almost perfectly. You can see the affected character's mind breaking.
What Doesn't Work?
The robot battles. Robo fights a train robot which he defeats effortlessly. Ok, that's fine, it establishes his awesome power. But the only battles he has after that are with a robot that doesn't even have arms and legs, the disembodied (and almost completely helpless) head of another robot, and a battle with a stone giant that might have been good if only we'd SEEN any of it. The only bright spot is a flashback to Robo's first battle. It lasts a decent amount of time and the opposing robot puts up a bit of a fight. This wouldn't really be so bad if the opening sequence didn't keep teasing us with vignettes of awesome robots that Robo theoretically will fight. It began to seem like they were saying, "Keep watching and Robo will fight some of these guys". He didn't, so it felt like they were lying to me to get me to keep watching.
The Tragedy of Bashtarle. There are too many flashbacks to it. With each successive flashback, it begins to feel more like simple filler than vital background information. It got to where I wanted to reach into the screen and strangle anyone who started to talk about Bashtarle.
The Experts of Justice. They're just not as good as characters as the Magnificent Ten. Kenji Murasame is the exception. I grew to wish the OVA was about the Ten instead of the Experts.
The villains are TOO powerful and competent. Alberto and Ko Enshaku alone buzzsaw through the heroes so effortlessly, you have to wonder how the Experts of Justice ever managed to fight them at all!
Too many superpowers. It isn't just the Magnificent Ten and the Experts of Justice who have powers, it begins to seem like the only person on Earth who doesn't have some kind of amazing power is Daisaku.
There's really only about two hours of plot in the entire six episodes. A lot of time is taken up with character development and flashbacks to Bashtarle. Character development is all right, and I wasn't expecting a breakneck pace in a six-episode OVA. However, for all the time spent on character development, most of the characters remain almost completely unexplained. For example, we never find out much about Yousei or Issei, two of the Experts. We never find out what Ko Enshaku's deal is. We don't know how or why Taiso got a "generator" installed in his body. We don't even really find out who Big Fire is! But, oh boy, we know everything about Bashtarle.
The climax of the last episode was drawn out almost intolerably. Daisaku sends Robo against the anti-Shizuma sphere, and Robo gets knocked out. So Daisaku hops in a little car and tries to drive to Robo but there are these ninjas in the way so this one guy has to run alongside the car and fire about ten million arrows into the ground to block the ninjas and this other guy is running alongside the car with a sword yelling about how he's going to kick everyone's ass and I wonder why nobody uses a gun and the car breaks down and Daisaku has to run and everybody is doing that Dragonball Z thing where they keep shouting about kicking ass but never actually kick any ass and ARRRRRRRRRRRRRRGH.
There's a serious case of what I call Robert Rodriguez syndrome. In Desperado, cool characters got introduced just to be killed. Cristos, the knife-throwing guy, Campo and Keena, they were all really cool but they were introduced just to be killed. Giant Robo is the same way. Almost all of the coolest characters end up dead. Boo!
In the end, I really just wanted Giant Robo to be over. I liked it a lot at first, which made the later episodes all the more disappointing. If you want to watch Giant Robo, go into it knowing that it isn't a "robot" show. I would also recommend not watching it all at once. Watching only one episode per day would help it go down easier.