It’s Father’s Day and what better way to spend it than with anime? There are a lot of great dads in anime to celebrate with, if they are featured at all and are not absent. Fathers tend to usually be peripheral characters, and for those who are looking for something where they are featured in the spotlight, Crayon Shin-chan: Intense Battle! Robo Dad Strikes Back! (will shorten here to just Robo Dad) is the perfect film to watch.
For those who grew up with Crayon Shin-chan, the father, Nohara Hiroshi, will be one of your most beloved father figures. The series may not be familiar to a lot of people outside Japan, even more so the fact that it receives new film releases nearly every year since 1993. It is a gag manga adapted to TV anime about Shin-chan and his family/friends. The films however, are all varied adventures based on bizarre concepts, like a cross-country trek to search for the perfect yakiniku restaurant or fighting an evil society that reverts grownups into children. You don’t need to watch all the films to watch Robo Dad, which is the 22nd film in the series. The running gags and adult innuendos be picked up easily. In Robo Dad, the story is about how the dad Nohara Hiroshi turns into a robot. This may sound like a simple plot, but what is unexpected is how it hides an emotional gut punch.
In the Japan of Robo Dad, fathers lack appreciation and love from their families. They are all depicted as cigarette smelling, tired middle-aged men, and Hiroshi is no different. He is nagged to do house chores while nursing a bad back, and his kids aren’t any help as they’d rather watch TV (a painful reminder to me as I remember doing the same thing). The film playfully depicts the little injustices of fathers, and the main villain is a large intimidating man with a glorious moustache, who is hellbent in bringing Japan back to the days of domineering fathers who commanded respect through fear. Part of his scheme involves finding a weak, lazy example of a father and creating a better robot version of them. This victim is none other than Hiroshi, who was suckered into the operation by a sexy big breasted woman. A heads up now for those who are not fans of crude pervy humor and fart jokes.
Robot Hiroshi finds at first that there are a lot of benefits to being a robot, like reinvigorated stamina to play with his children, do house work, and cook for everybody. Initially his family fears him and sees him as dangerous, with only Shin-chan, a fan of robots, is excited at the change. What separates Robot Hiroshi from the other fathers is that while dejected and treated coldly, he accepts everything and makes his new reality work for the sake of his family. The biggest strength of the film comes when the real Hiroshi returns to the relief of the family, and Robot Hiroshi finds himself in a nightmare scenario.
It is a Black Mirror-esque tragedy Robot Hiroshi finds himself in, because he still retains the same memories and personality as the original, but he is technically an imposter, forced to watch his family continue on without him. Perhaps I’m giving this film excessive praise, but I found the stubbornness of Robot Hiroshi touching, and that he refuses to stop being a father. It displays the extent of a father’s love for family.
Robo Dad is still a farcical family film and very comedic, involving giant robot battles, laser beams coming out of nipples and bizarre references to enka singers. The villain himself, while imposing, is revealed to just be a mistreated father who gets scolded when he mixes his laundry in with others. The most evil act he commits is when he force feeds Shin-chan his detested green peppers, with Hiroshi yelling for him to stop, “If they don’t do it on their own, there’s no point!”
It is a film that I personally had a hard time recommending, as it is easy to overlook. Give it shot, and perhaps like me and many Japanese movie goers, it’ll make you cry. So make sure you call your Dad, grab your family, and celebrate today with Robo Dad.