A movie directed by Franklin Cofod< read all 2 reviews
Like so many other kids of the early 1980s, my very introduction to anime took place (without me even realizing it) thanks to the nation’s obsession with robots. You may remember that period in time when Transformers (the first time), GoBots, and Turbo Teen but it turns out many of the “other” robot shows of the era were actually Japanese anime series that were spliced up, dubbed into English and packaged under a whole new name. Among these: Robotech, the Voltrons, Macron One and Saber Rider and the Star Sheriffs.
I remember noting even at the time that there was something very different about the Japanese originated shows though it would be years before I would learn the true stories behind the shows and for that matter, come to appreciate these so much over the American trite I cherished at the time.
Anyway, these shows were actually hybrids, not simply anime dubbed into English as changes were made to the characters and material to “Americanize”/ remove all of the more adult-friendly aspects of the source material. To purests, these hybrids are worthless- calling them American productions isn’t accurate but at the same time nor do they do the Japanese source material credit either.
Of course being a kid at the time, I was astonished at the increased character depth, the ongoing story thread idea, and the realism these shows contained when compared to our American Transformers & GoBots cartoons. By the time Saber Rider and the Star Sheriffs came on the scene in 1987 (based on Japan’s 1984 series Star Musketeer Bismarck) by World Event Productions (same guys who brought us the two Voltron shows a few years earlier), I had bailed out on robots altogether. In fact I only learned of this show much later when it was released to DVD and decided to give it a go based on how much I enjoyed some of the other hybrids.
The story goes something like this: In the distant future, we lowly humans have finally colonized planets across the galaxy, in essence recreating the American pilgrimage westward on a much grander scale; a New Frontier of mankind.
In order to protect these intergalactic settlers and maintain law and order in this New Frontier, Earth's Cavalry Command was created; a police force bordering on a military operation with one very large jurisdiction!
With both an army and fleet of ships to protect the New Frontier at their disposal, the show follows a unit of special operatives known as the Star Sheriffs- enforcers/ field agents who get called in when traditional methods of upholding the peace fail.
The main obstruction to said peace happens to come in the form of a race of non-human creatures known as Vapor Beings (or Outriders) that jumped into our dimension with plans of conquest. As such they frequently attack the settlers, destroy settlements and kidnap hapless humans with a legion of gigantic robots called Renegade Units.
To attempt to level the playing field, Cavalry Command develops a prototype weapon known as the "Ramrod Equalizer Unit" (or simply Ramrod) that has the ability to transform from a massive spacecraft into a bipedal, heavily armed (and armored) robot.
Piloting Ramrod is a quartet of interesting specimens including dignified English/ Scottish title character Saber Rider, Japanese racecar driver Fireball, American cowboy Colt, and Ramrod’s designer, former pro tennis player April Eagle.
By the time Saber Rider and the Star Sheriffs came on the scene in 87, World Event Productions (WEP) had the formula of editing/ splicing and dubbing down to a well-oiled machine and were actually able to develop entire episodes of Saber Rider that didn’t even exist in the original Japanese source material (6 of them to be exact).
Marc Handler, who had worked on the Voltrons for WEP, brings his unique ADR/ writing style to Saber Rider and considering the fact that many of the same vocal cast returned (including Peter “Optimus Prime” Cullen), one really does get the feeling Saber Rider is merely a continuation of the Voltron legacy.
Since the western idea was all the rage in the States at the time (think BraveStarr and Galaxy Rangers), the slight western angle present in the original material was pushed into the forefront. Characters like the American Colt are given full western accent/ slang and even Ramrod itself says things like “Head em up, move em out” during transformation sequences.
Of course present here is the typical “Americanization” process of muting the material down for the sake of conservative network standards and practices. Here we are explained to and continually enforced that when shot, Vapor Beings are simply sent back to their own dimension to fight another day. Massive spacecraft are brought down in an inferno/ explosion/ fireball of doom then one of the characters will be sure to add something to the effect of, “It’s a good thing all on board escaped to the Vapor Zone before the ship was destroyed.” Oy.
Also it’s quite clear there was a lot more going in the original concerning the Outriders and their creepy leader Nemesis. The visuals, tones and themes seem to mimic what we’ve witnessed before with the Zentraedi in Macross and Hazaar and the Drule Empire of Vehicle Voltron. However we get some dubs to explain that the reason for the Outrider invasions is that nobody knows how to have fun in the Vapor Dimension and that Nemesis’ officers are “boring”. Why is it I suspect these threads have been dumbed down in transition?
It’s also interesting to note that in the translation, the title character (Saber Rider) was not the lead. In fact his name is Richard Lancelot in the original show and he simply represents England as one of the massive robot’s pilots. Colt, the wily American, is called Bill Wilcox in the original show and April (who is really never given national heritage in the American show) is French tennis star Marian Louvre. Appropriately (for a show in Japan), Japanese representative Fireball (or Shinji Hikari) is the leader of the crew.
So who the heck is Bismarck you wonder? Ah that would be Ramrod believe it or not. And in case you’re wondering, a ramrod is the device used with firearms of the era to push the projectile up against the gunpowder.
In all if you are a fan of the hybrid style of anime popular in the early 1980s, Saber Rider and the Star Sheriffs is a perfect fit. Anime purists will rightfully scoff at the changes made to the material. However, fans of domestic 1980s animation, as campy as was, will surely attest that even with its toned down treatment, those few shows that we got from Japan were light years beyond what American studios were churning out at the time. This DVD set is worth the price of admission for that fact alone!
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