When it comes to Sentai music, there’s one kind of song I always keep a look out for. The robot song. They’re rarely played during the show, and when they are, the time frame for them is limited, and towards the end of any given episode at that. But Sentai’s robot songs are an important part of their legacy, and of Japan’s pop culture legacy. They’re the last remaining songs of their kind, that get any sort of regular release. It all goes back to the very first song like them, Mazinger Z’s theme.
There were robot anime before Mazinger (such as Iron Man 28), but Mazinger, sung by Ichiro Mizuki, set a standard that would define anime for decades. The nature of the song was simple. Describe the robot in question as a knight of justice, that would slay all in its path, and talk about how awesome it was. It got people hyped up for the show, and it helped the merchandise sales. Naturally, when Sentai debuted, songs about its super machines weren’t far behind.
Sentai wouldn’t get robots until later, but it’s always had songs about its machines. One of the very first was “Varidreen’s Song”, by Sasaki Isao. The nature of a super robot song is a simple one, even by Sentai standards. The lyrics and melody aren’t complex, and the song usually opts for a quick, dynamic tune to convey the image of the power that the robot contains.
Varidreen is a little slower paced than what we think of a super robot song, and includes the kind of flowery language that Japan uses quite well. The mecha is described as “spreading its wings like a peacock”, with their five colors. A peacock that can also fire missiles, but a peacock rarely inspires fear into one’s enemies.
The evolution of Sentai’s robot songs can be traced to the evolution of Sentai itself, and while Varidreen may have sounded sort of like what a super robot song would eventually become, the first real Sentai robot, Battle Fever Robo, had one of the slowest, most relaxed songs in Sentai history that is also about a 50-foot robot. “Battle Fever Great Attack” starts out slow, with only snapping and vocals playing. Some more instrumentation is gained after the first verse, but the song continues having an underlying melody that makes it sound like a tropical vacation advertisement.
Denjiman barely had a song for its robot, only for the robot’s carrier craft, though it was a bit more high energy than Battle Fever’s. What we truly know as a Sentai robot song begins with Sun Vulcan. Sung by Akira Kushida, this is the first to maintain a high energy throughout, starting with the trumpet fanfare that signals for the robot (and then gives way to disco-esque tunes… it was the late 70s/early 80s) to mention the individual components (mostly because it had them) and give lip service to the robot’s finishing attack. The music styles would continue to change as Sentai moved into the 80s, but the number of robot songs per year remained firmly at one, even as helper robots became more and more common.
The first time that Sentai had more than one robot song was Liveman, with both Live Robo and Live Boxer getting their own tunes. Live Boxer’s theme, in particular, is a fine example of what makes a super robot song. The music is sweeping and heavy on the brass, with the same attention given to the robot’s special attacks and combination. The key lines of “Let’s Go! Combine! Boxer Dimension!” don’t have much meaning, but for a robot song to work, they need to be shouted, and filled with energy.
As the 90s went on, the amount of super robot shows in production began to decrease. Real robots were becoming the in thing, and unlike their superheroic counterparts, their opening themes were more along the lines of the kind of music anime normally uses for its theme songs today. Nonspecific, by a popular artist/band, and often tied to a record company. After Might Gaine showed that these kinds of shows are a toy commercial and bluntly called them out on it, the number of super robot shows produced per year began to drop drastically.
There are some songs during the 90s that stand out even by the way of Sentai music. DaiZyuJin’s Song, for example, is done by a chorus akin to Iron Man 28′s, sounding more like a triumphant hymn than a robot fighting song. By the same token, Muteki Shogun’s theme from Kakuranger relies more on chanting and traditional instruments, sounding like the heralding of a warlord. Sentai was getting more heavily focused on its themes at this point, and what a super robot song could be became more diverse.
Of course, the number of actual robots increased too. A series that may have only had two songs would now have three or four, and super formations started getting mentioned in songs, or even getting their own. Megaranger’s Super Galaxy Mega song mentions the Delta Mega at the start, but the song is all about the combination of space and firepower that Super Galaxy brings to the table. Yukio Yamagata, whose voice is suited for this kind of thing, would provide the vocals for many Sentai robot songs in the years to come.
In the 2000s, the amount of super robot shows dwindled, with the songs about them being reduced only to parodies, but Sentai continued producing them at a regular rate that continues to this day. Three or four a year, with the main mecha, possibly a secondary mecha, the extra Ranger’s, and the powerhouse. They’re usually one of the last songs released, exclusively on the Complete Song Collection at the end of the year. It’s been this way since at least Abaranger, but there is one anomaly in all of this. Sentai’s had songs about machines almost since its inception. Datas’ song was even a throwback to old style super robot songs. So what year stands out?
Gekiranger. Why the song writers decided to forgo a robot song for this year remains a mystery. Was it because it would’ve been drowned out by Bae’s commentary? Because the ground fighting was more important than the robot fighting because of the theme? It’s a question that I’ve been wondering about for some time. The closest Gekiranger had to anything resembling a robot song was a 30-second jingle for the GekiTouja toy that only played during commercials. It has the makings of a nice, full song, but it never got beyond those 30 seconds.
As in most Sentai music, robot songs are the domain of male singers, but there’s one song out there that has a female presence, and it’s in a show that just finished up. “Machine Itasshar!” Like the rest of Akibaranger, it doesn’t fit the standard Sentai patterns. The song’s much more pop than rock, and the lyrics are more about the robot wondering why it fights at all, rather than the reason it fights. The <Battle-Mix> on the Akibaranger ending album is closer in tone to a traditional robot song, by replacing Halko Momoi with Yukio Yamagata as the main vocal, but the lyrics remain the same.
Sentai robot songs, despite their small role, are important. They’re one of the last places where songs about giant robots fighting the good fight can be produced with regularity, for as long as Sentai continues running. Robots themselves are ubiquitous, with Gundam and Eva still being mainstays of Japan, but the toyetic super robots that Mazinger Z created still have a place in Sentai’s music to this day. These heroic anthems are one of the simplest expressions of power in the entire Super Sentai franchise, a distillation of justice breaking through evil through morals and sheer willpower. Character songs are common and fight songs are a given, but robot songs are a rarity.