« News 2014.03.14
Star Fleet / X-Bomber by Shane Perry
The Year is 2999
Star Fleet centres around the crew of the X-Bomber who must defend the galaxy from the evil Imperial Alliance. The Imperial Master is anxious because the dawn of the new millennium is nearly at hand and the only being in the universe who can stand against him (the F01) has still not been found. If the F01 lives into the 31 century then his plans to dominate the entire universe will be crushed. He entrusts the capture of the F01 to his emissary: the maniacal Commander Makara, who with her loyal aid: Captain Orion travels across the galaxy to our solar system, where she believes the F01 is in hiding.
Pluto alpha base is the first to fall under Imperial attack, and is completely destroyed. With Pluto Base gone the only thing in between Earth and Commander Makara is Moon Base and the crew of X-Bomber (A prototype vessel armed to the teeth and carrier of the devastating Dai-X). Will Dr Ben and a brave trio of earth cadets; Shiro Hagen, John Lee and Barry Hercules, along with Princess Lamia, her bodyguard Kirara and a perfectly programed android named: P.P.A. be able to save the earth from the evil Thalian invaders? And just who or what is the mysterious F01?...
Star Fleet is the English language version of the Japanese show; X Bomber. X Bomber was first shown in Japan in 1980 and was their answer to the Gerry Anderson shows that had been so popular. Unfortunately it never really took off in Japan, Luckily it was sold to the western market and was redubed as Star Fleet.
Star Fleet was first shown in the UK on Saturday the 30th October 1982 at 10am, just before Big Daddy's Saturday Show (EASY! EASY!) It was a big hit with British children right from the Start, and was featured on the cover of Look In magazine on the week of it's first transmission.
The show was unusual in the way that it had a continuing story arc rather than just stand alone episodes. The Japanese design was incredibly fresh and new to a British audience, and some of the alliance characters, in particular the Imperial Master were genuinely frightening to a young audience.
There were depictions of brainwashing, torture and death during the course of the series, and by the end of episode 24 there was a definite resolution to the story. This was still very much a kids show, but it did have dark themes running through it, which were often offset by Lamia's warm character and some comic banter between Hercules and P.P.A. This was a fairy tale with space ships and robots, it borrowed heavily from Star Wars but brought plenty of new ideas to the party.
The Star of the Show
Ask people about Star Fleet, and you can bet they will mention "the big red robot". The Dai X was one of the most memorable aspects of the show, and was arguably one of the first transforming style robots to be seen on British television as It predates Bandai's 1983 U.K. release of the Robomachine range by a year. Of course Giant Robots were nothing new to the Japanese audience. By the time Dai X first appeared on Star Fleet in 1982, the Japanese had already enjoyed well over a decade of this sort of giant robot action. Mazinger Z was one of the most popular of these giant robo's Go Nagi was the creator of Mazinger Z and many other classic robots including the Dai X.
Dai X made it's debut in Japan in 1980 in X Bomber. He also appeared in toy form in this year, with most of the X Bomber toy range dedicated to the Dai X. The Dai X toys were known by many other variant names like: Dekander Robo. This particular incarnation was in the same style as the other giant robo: "Jumbo" toys of the time, such as the Super Machinder line. Another version of the Dai X was: Dengeki Gashin, which was an incredibly detailed diecast version of the big guy. Unfortunately X Bomber was canceled after just 12 episodes, so he never really had the same chance to gather a big following in the same way as other Go Nagi creations. It would be another 2 years before the Dai X would return, this time to the U.K. in our version of X Bomber: Star Fleet.
The Dai X was a huge hit with children in the U.K. Look In magazine even ran an offer for a Big Dai X t-shirt because of his popularity. As mentioned above this was the U.K.'s first high profile transformer style robot to feature prominantley in a television show. And was also a sneak peak at the "guy in a robot suit" sort of action that was to be even more successful in the 1990's with the Mighty Morphing Power Rangers. Work got a little tight for Dai X after Star Fleet finished it's run in 1983. He made an appearance on the cover of Brian May's Star Fleet Project mini album in 1984 but felt quite embarased about it afterwards. Since 1984 the Dai X has had a very low profile compared to other classic robot's such as Gundam which are still going strong today. He did appear as part of a set of Go Nagi character figures, but that was about it. Fear not though, we may not have seen the last of Big Dai X.
X Bomber was first transmitted in Japan on the 11th of October 1980. The show was due to run for 25 episodes but was canceled after only 12 due to poor viewing figures. While the repackaged and redubbed UK incarnation of this show was fresh and new to British viewers in the early Eighties, to a Japanese audience, X Bomber's story and style was old hat. Even Big Dai X was dismissed as a fairly bland looking piece of mecha compared to Go Nagi's past creations.
X Bomber was designed to be Japan's answer to Thunderbirds. The Space ships built for the show were incredible pieces of work and in the case of the X Bomber and Imperial Alliance Battle Cruiser absolutely massive in scale. These Impressive props were involved in some of the best model shot action sequences of any show of this type. The battle sequence between Makara's Cruiser and a fleet of EDF astro fighters in episode 1 is quite a spectacle. Thunderbirds had never pulled off anything that complex.
Add to this the fact that the show had it's very own transforming super robot: The Dai X which could fly around interacting in these battles, and you should have had a recipe for success. X Bomber again scored highly with the crafting and design of the puppets. Each puppet was around two and a half feet tall with beautifully sculptured anime style heads which had the usual remote control mechanisms for lip and eyelid movement that had been pioneered by the likes of Gerry Anderson.
The Imperial Alliance puppets were among the best designed for the show, with lots of intricate detail and lovingly made costumes. Bloody Mary (Makara) of course is a firm favorite with fans, but the other Imperial characters such as Lt. Kozlo (Orion), Professor Gedora (Caliban) and the Termoid soldiers all looked fantastic. The workshop crew even made a few puppets that were to only feature in an individual episode, or in the case of the two Imperial council members only in a few very short scenes. This attention to detail and the wonderful workmanship that went into these puppets goes to show that this project was a definite labor of love for the makers.
The only trouble with a puppet based show is the restrictions of the puppets themselves. These puppets were all rod based so any walking actions had to be acheived behind objects such as rocks etc to avoid the rod being seen. This must have caused a lot of headaches when tying to film them. The Imperial characters in particular seemed to be stationery for much of the series although the termoids did feature in a few action sequences. Because of the puppets lack of mobility most of the series action scenes had to be model ship based, or in the case of the Dai X a combination of models and a specially designed suit so Dai X could do some ground based stomping. This is one of the major factors of X Bomber's failure to win over a Japanese audience. From their point of view this type of story had been told many times before, the imagery was not immensely original, and the stationary nature of the puppets made the show, in one critics eyes almost unwatchable. The show's saving grace was it's space battles although even the Japanese audience grew tired of their repetitive nature. X Bomber failed because it told a generic story in an incredibly difficult and expensive medium. The puppet nature of the show was to be it's main selling point, but eventually led to it's cancellation. I personally don't know what my reaction to X Bomber/Star Fleet would have been If I hadn't watched it with fresh childlike eyes in 1982. Maybe if the British public had, had the same programing as the Japanese, Star Fleet might have been perceived as just another show, but I doubt it. There is something special about the show and the weirdness of it all definitely fitted in with the new romantic early Eighties British culture. At the end of the day Japan's loss was our gain.
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