09 September 2017

Future War Stories From the East: FANG of the SUN DOUGRAM (1981-1983)

In the early days of anime being imported to the west from the Land of the Rising Sun, some titles made it to America in forms besides their primary work, like ROBOTECH. Such is true of the 1981-1983 military science fiction anime TV series Fang of the Sun Dougram (AKA Taiyou no Kiba Dagram). You may not know the name of this important mecha-centered anime, but you will recognize pieces of this anime. In this first installment of the new FWS serial on Military SF anime, we will be looking at Fang of the Sun Dougram and figure out some of the mysteries of this unknown title in America and why is one of the most vexing of the mecha-centered anime.

What is "Fang of the Sun Dougram"?
This was a "real robot" animated television series aired on Japanese airwaves from October 23, 1981 to March 25,1983 and was developed by Nippon Sunrise studio with the mecha designed by Kunio Okawara and the series created by Ryosuke Takahashi. This series following in the footsteps of Macross and Mobile Suit Gundam. The odd name in the original Japanese is: "Taiyō (Sun) no Kiba (Fang) Daguramu (I cannot find what this word means in Japanese)" and is referring to the guerrilla group and the experimental mecha that they use. Despite the odd name, the series at its heart is about the rebelling Earth colony of Deloyer and the factions involved in the struggle, both on the battlefield and in the backrooms of politics over 75 episodes. Some series based around mecha often make the mecha the center of the series, Fang of the Sun Dougram more considered with the story and the different sides to the event rather than just the mecha. There is just as much time devoted to tactics as to mecha combat scenes. Unlike many of the other mecha anime series from this time, Fang of the Sun Dougram was never exported to the Western TV markets nor has it appeared on home media in America.

The Plot and Setting of Fang of the Sun Dougram
150 years prior to the series, the Earth founded their first exosolar colony, called Deloyer, in a binary star system. It is now the year 152 Space Century (SC) and Deloyer has become the source of 40% of the Earth's food supply and minerals, but moreover, it was the crown jewel in the Earth Federation colonial efforts. Generations beyond the original Terran colonists, the native Deloyerans have been raised with their own planetary identity that is not dependent on the Earth or her federation. What set the wheels into motion was a coup by Deloyer separatists and a rebel army was raised to defend the capital city as the Earth Federation council was arrested.
However, the coup was a ploy to pull Deloyer closer to the Federation as the newly independent world of Deloyer fully joined the Earth Federation as a state of the Terran based government. The two main figures in the plot were Colonel Von Stein and Donnan Cashim, leader of the old Federation council. After Deloyer was in the arms of the Earth Federation, Colonel Von Stein was appointed the new planetary governor and Cashim maintains the true power beyond the new puppet state . It is after this that the hunting down of the rebels that supported true independence by the new state of Deloyer began with forces from Deloyer and the Federation working together.
Donnan Cashim’s own Earth-born son, Crinn, a trained mecha pilot sees the truth of the plot and instead joins the Deloyer guerrillas who are fighting against the Earth controlled state government at the helm of the experimental Dougram mecha. The conflict between the different factions on Deloyer leads to fellow countrymen being at each other throats. The Deloyerians in the Federation army either side with the new state government or join the “real” independence movement. For much of the show, the resistance devoted to the true independence of Deloyer from the Earth Federation struggles along with independent guerrilla groups like the Fangs of the Sun battling for a common goal.
Mixed into the mess is the central rebel group that has support of some rogue Deloyerian military units that were part of the Federation army based on Deloyer, but rebelled against the puppet state government as “the liberation army”. One year after the establishment of the new state of Deloyer, the true planetary independence movement called “the people’s liberation government” that seeks for true separation from Earth and the puppet state government. While units on both sides are bleeding, there are talks going to end the fighting. During the battle between state forces and liberation army (Deloyerians vs. Deloyerians), the new Federation commissioner that took over for a Cashim, Lecoque, is weakening both sides to allow the Federation the ability to sweep in and take the planet and its resources under its control.
When Colonel Von Stein attempts to undercut the Federation plan by opening talks between the state government and the liberation forces, he is assassinated by Lecoque. During this mess, the Earth Federation mobilizes a massive armed expedition to Deloyer to push the People Liberation Government out of power and end the insurrection. The only thing that prevents full scale war with the Earth is the assassination of Lecoque. It is there that the end comes for the war and Deloyer is now an independent world. The Deloyer 7 destroy their weapons and attempt to figure out their lives after the war. The Dougram mecha, a symbol of the war of independence is destroyed in the desert by Crinn rather than surrender it to the new government in a hope for peaceful days. Crinn himself leaves his girlfriend on Deloyer and travels back home to Earth to spend six months with his mother and process the events of the last two years. In the deep desert, the old Dougram DX-01 combat armor rusting as a silent monument to the days of armed struggle.

What the Hell is "DOUGRAM" Anyways?
The title of the show, as we learned, is telling us the name of the Deloyer independence armed guerrilla group that we follow around is the "Fangs of the Sun" and the name of their own experimental advanced combat suit: the "Dougram DX-01 Strategic Combat Armor". Even after hours of searching, I cannot locate what the hell the name means in either English or Japanese. There is one single site that has stated that the "names" associated with the mecha is not the actually name of the combat armor, but rather the name of the company that manufactured the mecha. If this is correct, than Dougram DX-01 Strategic Combat Armor is made by some company named Dougram that is likely based on Deloyer. Anyways, this advanced combat mecha was deployed by the independence movement in the year of 152 SC and its designer, Professor David Samalin was later arrested by the Federation and the state government, but the Dougram combat armor was stolen back by Crinn Cashim and used by the "Deloyer 7" or the Fangs of the Sun during the War of Independence from the Earth Federation and the puppet government. While there are many Combat Armor Mecha in service to the Earth Federation and even the Independent Deloyer Public Defense Force, but there is nothing as advanced as the Dougram DX-01. Standing at 9.63 meter and weighing in at 20.12 tons with an operational field time of just 225 minutes with an number of weaponry being available, but Crinn mainly uses the linear arm cannon.
It was hoped by the independence movement that the Dougram combat armor could be mass produced as the frontline combat mecha of the War of Independence from the Earth Federation and the puppet government. All of the mecha in the series was designed by the one of the greats of Mecha design Kunio Okawara and the Dougram mecha was renamed the "Shadowhawk" by FASA's Battletech, but stopped being used after 1994 due to legal issues. In the Robotech Defenders model line, the Dougram DX-01 was renamed "Zoltek" and in the DC Comics, it was the leader of the sentient alien mecha team.

The Historical Context of Fang of the Sun Dougram
In the world of Japanese mecha-centered anime, there is a work as powerful and transformative as Star Wars was to the genre of sci-fi as a whole: Mobile Suit Gundam. This military SF anime legend would emerge at the right time and the right place as Japan was in the grip of a "Giant Robot Craze". Gundam's success would cause many other similar mecha-centered anime projects to move forward, like the entire Super Dimension series and the subject of this blogpost. It was much more than anime or even manga works that had human piloted combat mecha, it was the model/toy market. The Japanese love model kits and there was entire industry devoted to pumping out plastic representations of your favorite mecha...and Mobile Suit Gundam was great for the industry. Good show combined with good mecha designs allowed strong tie-in model kits products that could be a success in their own right with enduring popularity. Indeed, some of the classic mecha-centered anime shows, like Macross, would enjoyed decades of reissued model kits well beyond the run of the original show. This means that the early 1980's were a nexus of military science fiction anime and model kits.
This Giant Robot Craze was not just limited to Japan. America was in the grip of the Second Wave of Anime/Manga being imported to the west. Shows like Starblazers, Battle of the Planets, Gundam, and ROBOTECH were being broadcast on local independent television stations across the US. In addition to this, hobby and comic book stores were popular with the rise of RPG games and exciting comics. This was a natural feeding ground for the types of people that watched the imported cartoons that had cool robots. Hobby stores and comic book shops began to be dealers of imported Japanese model kits. This golden era of the mecha anime is the time period when Fang of the Sun Dougram was produced and aired on Japanese airwaves.

Fang of the Sun Dougram in the West (AKA: Why do these Mechs Look So Familiar?!)
When Fang of the Sun Dougram was airing in Japan, it was the apex of the Giant Robot/Mecha craze..however, this early 1980's anime was more unknown itself in the western market that its fellow mecha anime brethren due to it not being imported to the Western market. That does not apply to the mecha of Fang of the Sun Dougram itself. If you were wargaming in the 1980's or building models, than you were oddly aware of Fang of the Sung Dougram. Unknown to many of us at the time, the iconic mecha featured in FASA's Battletech/Mechawarrior, the Revell model kit ROBOTECH Defenders line all pulled from the vast amount of excellent mecha designs featured in Fang of the Sun Dougram. Little did I know when I was playing CityTech, that the Dougram DX-01 combat armor mecha was on the gaming manual cover that I knew as the "Shadowhawk". This is very much akin to a donor organ patient whose vital organs are harvested and placed into other patients. One of the most vital pieces of any mecha anime is the mecha designs themselves, and that was taken by other companies to serve their own products, causing the original source to be lost in translation.
And it was just wasn't contain to Fang of the Sun Dougram. FASA would deliberately harvested from Macross as well without permission. Revell would license other Japanese model kits from Crusher Joe, Macross, and the also relatively unknown Orguss as well. On top of this, DC Comics and Revell would partner, for some strangle reason, on an limited series ROBOTECH Defender comic series explaining the backstory of the model line. This added to the confusion among kids like me at the time, especially when the Harmony Gold TV series came onto American airwaves. I originally thought that the ROBOTECH TV show was connected to the models...sad, I know. This only muddied the waters when it came to the original sources of the mecha models...there was no mention of Fang of the Sun Dougram and it would remain that way for years to the general public. . Few hobby and comic stores carried the original Takara company models due to the Japanese print and the confusing slogans from the TV show. It was not really until the age of the internet that people like me understood where those very cool mecha models came from that we saw in hoddy and comic stores or how the DC Comic was related to this unholy mess or why these mecha crossed over into the battlefield of Battletech and MechWarrior. It was not until to around the time I founded FWS that I learned that Fang of the Sun Dougram even existed embarrassingly.
The only fully licensed and official Fang of the Sun Dougram product outside of a few random model kits to be released in the United States that was actually under its own original title was the 1984 hex-based tabletop war simulation games with mecha miniatures and plastic trees that was similar to the original Battletech. These are made by the model/toy company Takara and called an "3D Simulation Game Dougram" and two game boxes were released in the States: "Battle of Stanrey" and "Battle of Kalnock" and these are based on actual battles seen in the series. There are some that believe, based on comparison between the original boxed Battletech game and the The Battle of Stanrey/The Battle of Kalnock, that FASA ripped off some of the hex map and the gameplay mechanics as well. These box wargames are rare in the United States and their gaming manuals were rushed in translation making for an uneven reading experience, but most current reviews speak to the solid gameplay that works along the same lines as classic Battletech. Would love to have these for the FWS archives.

Why Wasn't Fang of the Sun Dougram Imported to the West?
At the time that Fang of the Sun Dougram was airing in Japan, American companies were importing anime series for translation, including one called Harmony Gold. Three separate anime series unified by artistic similarities and production staff that had their original Japanese dialog thrown out to unite all three series under a common storyline. ROBOTECH was wildly successful and forged new fans for both anime and military science fiction (like me). So, what the hell happened to Fang of the Sun Dougram? Why wasn't it the next ROBOTECH or Mobile Suit Gundam? Why wasn't it exported to the States? After all, the mecha was imported to the US via model kits by Revell and the designs were lifted for Battletech. While a number of anime series and movies were released in the USA that were nowhere near the caliber of Fang of the Sun Dougram, but even to this day, it has never been released. Why? The story is told over 75 long episodes and it is a slow boil with lumbering pacing with as much screen-time devoted to tactics, interplanetary politics, and colonial racism as to mech-on-mech battles. It does not have a happy ending, nor is the war of colonial liberation presented as glorious or glamorous. War is hell in Dougram.
Not helping is the lackluster character design which is lacking despite the strong writing...and then there is animation quality. Simply put, Fang of the Sun Dougram has not aged well compared to other anime series of the same time and the silly parts are out-of-place along with oddball names and title. These would have been issues that any importing American studio would have to overcome in order to sell to networks or video stores. It was has been due before, but there is lower hanging fruit for American studios to import and turn a quicker profit. Despite this, Fang of the Sun Dougram is pretty impressive and it would have been nice to see this presented in a quality American dub and rework.

Why is Fang of the Sun Dougram Considered Military Sci-Fi?
There are levels and degrees of the "Military Science Fiction-ness" of any work that bears the title. This begs the question: where does this anime series rank? Much like Mobile Suit Gundam, Space Cruiser Yamato, ROBOTECH, and Legends of Galactic Heroes; Fang of the Sun Dougram is solid 100% Military SF anime. The title extends beyond just the war setting, fancy future military technology, and battles of most tradition MSF anime. Fang of the Sun Dougram dives in deep into the situation on this troubled colonial world of the Earth Federation, exploring the motivations of the various sides and factions. While the mecha is well designed and there is a combined arms approach to warfare that is refreshing, it is details concerning the nature of an insurrection, the logistics of war, and the politics associated with war. Needless to say, I was impressed by the scope of Fang of the Sun Dougram and if the translation and dialog had been sharper this would have been a contender for being awarded the best military science fiction anime...the jury is still out on that one.
Fang of the Sun Dougram Impact and Legacy
It would be easy to write off Fang of the Sun Dougram has having no impact or legacy due to it being a vexing mecha Military SF anime series from the apex of the trend in Japan that was never exported to America. Even today, you cannot just buy the DVDs of the series on Amazon or Crunchy Roll; you have to scour YouTube for the translated Japanese media. Compounding this vexing legacy of Fang of the Sun Dougram is that it is rarely discussed or referenced by Western fans of the genre. However, these mecha series did make an impact and it does indeed have a legacy that nearly has rich as ROBOTECH or Gundam. Using the example from above again, Fang of the Sun Dougram is very much like an organ donor patient that is harvested and these vital components are placed inside another. Within the new host, these transplanted elements live on and alter into some new from the fusion. Fang of the Sun Dougram has had its masterful mecha/vehicle designs lifted from the original source material and placed into several iconic western Military SF works, like Battletech.  Due to the popularity of the works that featured borrowed Fang of the Sun Dougram mecha and vehicles, some of the original work survived despite never being brought overseas.
These mecha designs were so good that their impact on western fans of big robot cartoons and toys was enduing onward to this very day. It is through these mecha designs and the plastic representations that Fang of the Sun Dougram has achieved a legacy on the surface. When you dig into these series and look beyond the stellar mecha designs that you see why Fang of the Sun Dougram deserves its place in military science fiction anime: the setting/plot. There are few military sci-fi animes that invest the time and energy to really explore warfare, its impacts, and events beyond the “glory” of the battlefield. What is holding Fang of the Sun Dougram from achieving Gundam or Macross level legacy status is that it was never exported, the animation is rough, and the dubs are uneven.

Is This Series Worth Tracking Down and Watching?
While there is no official release to the West, it is possible to watch the entire series and the standalone films all on YouTube via several channels…but, it is worth it? I simply did not have the time to watch the entire series, but I wanted the OVA and the key episodes and after this viewing I can say that it does live up to the positive reviews. I’ve never seen an anime devoted has much time to dissect the realities of the political, military, and social situation during wartime. While rough, too Japanese in some parts for an American audience, uneven characters, uneven battles; it is bold with deep storytelling. I would watch the OVA film first, then see if it peaks your interest enough to invest the many hours to watch the complete series. To watch the OVA click here and to watch the series, click here and finally, to watch the deformed oddball race short film , click here.

Next Time on FWS...
We will *finally* be getting back to the Ships of the Line series with the next blogpost and this time FWS will be exploring and explaining several smaller classes of warships: Cutters, Escorts, Scouts, Corvettes, and patrol boats! We are getting closer and closer to the end of this serial...sadly.









8 comments:

  1. Great article! A fellow Battletech fan has told me to check out Dougram, just to see one of the more obvious inspirations for the MechWarrior franchise if anything else.

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  2. Some believe that the mecha combat game was also an inspiration

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  3. One of my favourite anime series of the period. Big influence on BattleTech, who used the Dougram/Shadow Hawk mech for the original ride of Natasha Kerensky's of Wolfs Dragoons.

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  4. I just discovered your blog doing a search for military hardware for a military scifi series I'm currently writing. Read the article about power armor--which my story includes--and really enjoyed the hell out of it. You've done some serious research on the subject which I really appreciated as it duplicates my own work on the subject.

    My grandfather was a huge fan of E.E 'Doc' Smith and because of him I read those early uses of powered armor.

    Anyway, you've done some seriously amazing work here and as a scifi author myself I really appreciate seeing someone so devoted to the genre of military scifi that they've done such a huge and comprehensive volume of work.

    Congratulations on a job well done, and my heartfelt thanks.

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    1. Thanks so much! I very much attempt for FWS to be THE resource for MSF writers and I glad that we are living up to our mission statement.

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  5. Toys R Us stores on the west coast had a glut of the Takara Dougram toys in the clearance aisles in the mid/early eighties alongside cheap little orguss and dorvack toys repackaged as "converters". The Takara toys in question were amazing, depicting either a "Soltic" mech or the titular Dougram. They were, I think" 1/72 scale, consisting of a diecast metal endoskelton replete with working pistons and mechanical details, onto which plastic armor could be layered to complete the mech. These were packaged more like fine cigars than toy robots; the entire box was sold inside a navy blue leatherette slipcover without any images on it save either the deloyer or government insignia and some elegant text in silver ink. As a kid, I found it very strange that the revel models cost twice as much as the deluxe Takara toys (although it was the models that I wanted... I built the recovery truck from the "robotech" model line and I still have it in storage today).

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    1. What an amazing model kit! So wished I could back in time and buy the hell out of these models. I will be buying the "GARTAN" model at some point for the FWS offices.

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    2. I remember having an Orguss toy back in the early '80s. Didnt even know what it was but it 'transformed' into 3 things and the plastic was quality and the engineering was tight. The decals were lackluster but i didnt care. Wasnt until the late 90's via the interwebs that i found out about the toy's origin.

      Its really funny how this stuff works out. As a kid i confused Battletech for Robotech and was confused why they were so different until the local Comic Store Guy(yeah, like the Simpsons) explained it to me and my brother.

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