I grew up in the city of Abidjan in Côte D’Ivoire. For those that don’t know, that is in West Africa. People often think of the countries in Africa as not having much in the way of anything. That is a stereotype that does not reflect a much more complicated truth. This article isn’t about those depictions of the African continent. It’s about Go Nagai’s UFO Robot Grendizer, and how much he meant to people growing up in the Francophone Côte D’Ivoire.
Côte D’Ivoire in the 90s was a nation on the rise. Economically, the country was seen as a model for other African nations to follow. Generally speaking, for a lot of expatriate families like mine, it was seen as a beacon of stability and success.
I was four years old the first time I saw Grendizer. It was 1991, and I saw it on a video cassette from a Total gas station video rental shop in Deux Plateaux in Abidjan. Renting videos was something common for affluent families in that era. In the francophone world, Grendizer is known as Goldorak. The dub that was aired across the Francophone world was a French dub from the 1970s.
From the theme song intro, I recall first seeing this massive horned robot, utterly crushing very intimidating monstrous mechanical beasts. He was at once both frightening and awesome to behold. The theme music in this dub was instantly recognizable to kids in this part of the world, as we would sing along in anticipation of the next adventure. I would, years later, see the Japanese version of the song and notice that the French version was essentially the same music, but with French lyrics and different instrumentals.
The show was also broadcast in the evenings on a local television station. This was all before satellite tv became a service you could pay for. So whatever was on the few channels we had was what you got. Every kid that tuned in on a weeknight looked forward to Goldorak. We all looked forward to the French opening theme music, to get us jazzed up for the latest adventure of Arcturus (Duke Fleed in the original version) piloting Goldorak.
From my perspective, and that of many kids, we didn’t really know that Goldorak was actually Japanese. We never considered how these cartoons were made. All we knew was that they were just that, cartoons in French. Goldorak essentially was one of many French dubbed anime from the 70s and 80s that made it to Ivorian TV in the 80s and 90s for syndication. Others that were contemporaneous with its early 90s airings would include L’Ecole des Champions (a dub of Moero! Top Striker, where the Japanese characters were changed to be French) and Chevaliers du Zodiaque (Saint Saiya) among a few others. Even with these other very popular anime, Goldorak somehow captured children of my generation for a long time. Between its re-airings every few years on regular television, and the advent of satellite TV with a francophone channel called “Manga” that specialized in francophone anime, Goldorak had plenty of opportunities to stay within the zeitgeist of anime fans living in Côte D’Ivoire in the ’90s.
I don’t recall ever seeing merchandise for the anime showing up anywhere despite the character’s popularity. This in part may have had to do more with it being a property from the 1970s rather than the 1990s. However, there were plenty of knock-off goods I would see emblazoned with Goldorak. Backpacks, notebooks, lunchboxes, and occasionally handcrafted wooden toys. In the early ’90s, there wasn’t a huge market for imported toys outside of known western properties such as the Ninja Turtles, Action Man, ALIENS, ALIENS vs Predator and the such.
Where things really blew up and changed for a lot of us early ’90s kids was the internet. A lot of us never had opportunities to see the show in its entirety. You missed an episode? Too bad, that’s it. Your next opportunity to see an episode would have to be mapped out based on a TV guide. The dial-up internet in the mid-to-late ’90s gave us an opportunity to find summaries of anime we already loved. This era predated video streaming, so written summaries of shows were how a lot of fans got their information.
It was around this time many of us learned about the creator of Goldorak, Go Nagai, and that there were other robot shows he’d created like Mazinger Z and Great Mazinger. The earliest anime web sources I could find were mainly in English, from American sites, although to my best recollection, Francophone sites did exist, but none that I knew of were local to the region. From my perspective, this is where anime fandom began to explode and really become a thing in Côte D’Ivoire. Prior to the internet, prior to satellite TV channels, there was little in the way of communication and understanding of anime and manga. After that, the market opened up to imported French translations of popular manga, imported fan magazines such as Anime Land and more VHS videos. In a way, that makes Goldorak an early bastion of anime fandom in West Africa.
Support us on Patreon!
Contributor articles like this are supported in part by our readers. If you like this kind of content, please consider supporting Zimmerit on Patreon.