In 2017, the mecha anime fandom is fairly familiar with The King of Braves GaoGaiGar. The Sunrise series with a heroic theme by Masaaki Endoh, a shouty hero voiced by Nobuyuki Hiyama, and a cavalcade of transforming and combining robots is a favorite of fans of series like Gurren Lagann.
But GaoGaiGar isn't the king of braves for nothing.
Back in the 1990s, Takara was trying to recover from the eventual end of its Transformers line, enlisting the help of Sunrise designer Kunio Okawara to create designs for a new Transformers-ish franchise. The result was Sunrise's yuusha series, an annual offering of heroic kids, epic robots, and lots and lots of merchandise.
While the primary units tended to be new, some support or enemy robots were recognizably Transformers repaints. But as time went on, the franchise got popular enough that it became entirely its own creature -- until the late 90s, when one final series sent it out with a bang.
Are you ready to meet GaoGaiGar's fellow braves?
Brave Exkaiser - 1990
Schoolboy Kouta gets a nasty shock when he discovers that his family car can talk! Not only that, but it's apparently named Exkaiser, of the Space Police Kaisers. His team is hunting down the Geisters, a band of robot space pirates trying to plunder Earth. Brave Exkaiser ran 48 episodes.
Brave of the Sun Fighbird - 1991
Fighbird is, like Exkaiser before him, a space cop. But rather than hiding in a car, he possesses a transforming android built by Professor Amano. The professor's two grandchildren, Kenta and Haruka, become privy to Fighbird's secrets and help him pass for human under the name Yutaro Katori. While Fighbird is adept at fighting the evil Draias and his mad scientist lackey, he doesn't know much about Earth -- you may have seen his human form in an Internet meme asking if a butterfly is a pigeon.
The Brave Fighter of Legend Da-Garn - 1992
Seiji (voice by Pokémon star Rica Matsumoto) is entrusted with awakening the eight protectors of Earth, the leader of whom is a robot named Da-Garn. With him as their leader, the team protects Earth against the evil OhBoss. The only problem is, Seiji's dad is a high-ranking military official and his mom is a famous news reporter, so he has to operate undercover -- which he does by wearing a superhero costume and adopting the pseudonym Luke Skywalker. Yes, really.
The Brave Express Might Gaine - 1993
Nobuyuki Hiyama's first foray into the brave series saw him as Might Senpuuji, a 15-year-old billionaire and railroad magnate. While on the surface he's just a bright young businessman running a railway, it turns out the trains his father left him are sentient robots. Together with his team, Might fights to keep the city free of crime.
Brave Police J-Decker - 1994
The Japanese government has built a squad of transforming robots to handle the toughest crimes. (As you do.) But when their leader, Deckerd, comes in contact with fourth grader Yuuta Tomonaga, Deckerd gains a level of empathy the police force were previously unable to replicate. Yuuta is made "chief" of the Brave Police, and together, they fight crime. Some of the robots seem to get crushes on local women, too -- we're not entirely sure what that's about. But there's a soccer robot, so hey!
The Brave of Gold Goldran - 1995
One of the more lighthearted entries in the brave series, Goldran features three school friends -- Takuya, Kazuki, and Dai -- who stumble upon a slumbering robot named Goldran inside a Power Stone. Together, they attempt to awaken his other sleeping friends and find the robots' lost world of Legendra. Meanwhile, the villainous Walter Walzac alternates between hunting the other Power Stones for himself and avoiding his stalker fiancee Sharanla.
Brave Command Dagwon - 1996
Dagwon is an odd one out in the series for two reasons. For one, there's not a child protagonist: the heroes are all teenagers. For another, it's one of only two series in the franchise where the title robot is not a separate AI, but rather controlled by a human. The sentai-inspired series, about a group of aliens granting some teens with attitude (or rather, the only teens handy at the time) super powers, was popular enough with fans of bishonen that it got a two-episode OVA.
The King of Braves GaoGaiGar - 1997
And that brings us back to the King. Like Dagwon, the central robot was not an AI, but had a human core. But like the shows before it, children were integral to the story. GaoGaiGar pulled out all the stops, including CG animation, multiple storylines that explored the human element of the series, and clear references to all its inspirations. This last brave series was so popular it spawned the OVA GaoGaiGar FINAL, the shared-universe anime Betterman (and arguably Brigadoon), and a second take on the OVA, Grand Glorious Gathering.
Sadly, only GaoGaiGar is available legally in the US. But hopefully someday we'll have a chance to see all the heroes of Sunrise's yuusha franchise here across the ocean!
Kara Dennison is responsible for multiple webcomics, blogs and runs interviews for (Re)Generation Who and PotterVerse, and is half the creative team behind the OEL light novel series Owl's Flower. She blogs at karadennison.com and tweets @RubyCosmos.