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Western Animation / Mighty Orbots

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"Orbots, UNITE!"
Rob Simmons

Mighty Orbots is an American/Japanese animated series co-produced by ABC, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and TMS Entertainment that aired in 1984 on Saturday mornings in the United States.

The 23rd Century is a time of robots and aliens. The people of Earth have banded together along with several other alien races to promote peace throughout the galaxy, forming the United Planets. As part of the United Planets, the Galactic Patrol - a body of law-enforcers - works to maintain order, under the leadership of Commander Rondu.

However, a powerful criminal organization called SHADOW is out to destroy both the Galactic Patrol and the U.P. Led by Umbra, a massive cyborg-computer, SHADOW employs sinister agents and incredible schemes to attack and someday rule over all corners of the known galaxy.

There is one thing that helps to fight against SHADOW; ingenious inventor Rob Simmons - secretly a member of the Galactic Patrol - creates six special robots (Boo, Bo, Bort, Crunch, Tor, and Ohno) who can use their unique powers to battle against the forces of Umbra. Together, these robots can unite to form a Humongous Mecha called Mighty Orbots, to fight for truth, justice and peace for all.

Despite being an 80s Super Robot anime, Mighty Orbots is notable for its lack of Mech vs. Beast-centric storytelling note . Not that such never happened—in fact the Orbots threw down with giant monsters and mecha with great regularity—but that those conflicts were always solved through methods besides obliterating the enemy with a barrage of Toyetic weaponry. Instead, Mighty Orbots played out more like a Superhero show in a Space Opera setting.

The series was notable for its anime stylings and high production values – both rare for Saturday morning television in the mid-1980s. However, Executive Meddling - that is, a lawsuit from Tonka over similarities to their Gobots toylinenote  - put this series on ice after one season.

In 2018, it finally saw a complete home video release.

This cartoon shows examples of the following:

  • Action-Hogging Opening: It's not that the rest of the show doesn't have amazing animation for an early 80's cartoon too, because it most certainly does, but the opening sequence did obviously get a disproportionate amount of resources poured into it.
  • All Your Powers Combined: Mighty Orbots has all the robots' abilities. Tor supplies the form's main chassis and muscle, Bort's powers manifest in the ability to change the combination's hands into different weapons, Bo's elemental ability is the form's firepower, Boo's energy manipulation abilities are its defensive functions while Crunch acts as an emergency battery using his trademark ability to eat anything and convert it to energy. More peripherally, the combined form cannot function without Ohno providing the ignition with an interface extending from her chest, and it cannot work with maximum effectiveness without Rob co-piloting.
  • Animation Bump: Not a lot, but it did happen from time to time. One of the common manifestations is the shifting appearance of Umbra from ep to ep (sometimes his lips are friggin' huge).
  • Artistic License – Space: Lampshaded in Jewel of Targon where Bort asks how a winged monster can fly through the vacuum of space.
    Rob:When we catch it, you can ask it!
  • Bad Boss: When a Shadow agent finds himself stranded on an uninhabited planet after completing his mission, Umbra just leaves him there because he doesn't need the guy anymore and it's not worth the resources sending someone to rescue one guy. Luckily for him the Orbots are more willing to help.
  • Battle in the Center of the Mind: The last episode has the heroes physically entering the body of their archenemy, the titanic supercomputer Umbra. This results in them finding themselves in his mindscape and having to fight off manifestations of his evil thoughts.
  • Be Careful What You Wish For: Ohno in "Wish World", who wishes to be human so Rob will take her more seriously. Except as a human she doesn't have the mechanism to activate Mighty Orbots.
  • Big Bad: Umbra, the gigantic "cyborg computer" ruler of SHADOW.
  • Big Eater:
    • Crunch, naturally, whose whole power is eating anything, and who's been known to defeat Mecha-Mooks by just devouring them.
    • Rob as well, being shown eating a huge dagwood in the first episode.
  • The Big Guy: Tor, whose power is Super-Strength.
  • By the Power of Grayskull!: "Orbots, UNITE!"
  • Circus of Fear: The Cosmic Circus in the episode of the same name. Agents of Shadow assigned to make duplicates of top GP officers, including Dia, that are to shut down Earth's planetary shield. The scene where Dia meets her replica is kinda creepy.
  • Clark Kenting:The Orbots themselves, who had more rounded "civilian" modes and blockier, more angular "Orbots modes".
    • Rob Simmons, who wears glasses in his secret identity and an open-face helmet as the "Orbots' commander", and is never recognized even by the people he works with in his day job at the Galactic Patrol, like Dia.
  • Clear My Name: "Devil's Asteroid". The Monster of the Week, an Evil Knockoff of the combined Mighty Orbots, successfully causes enough chaos to force the Galactic Patrol to arrest the real Orbots. Fortunately, Dia and Rondu realize what's going on and engage in Loophole Abuse to allow Ohno and the Orbots Commander to go free, so they can find out what's happening. As for the other Orbots — time to visit The Alcatraz, to serve as unwitting Deep Cover Agents, since the warden's also the Shadow agent behind the Evil Knockoff.
  • Color-Coded for Your Convenience: No matter what he turns into, Bort is usually still blue. He can apparently change this too if it matters, like in one episode where he changes into an exact copy of Tor to play a prank on him.
  • Combining Mecha: Mighty Orbots, natch. Also stands out among similar shows for regularly showing that as powerful as it is, one really big robot can only be in one place at a time and in some situations a bunch of smaller units is more effective. As a result it wasn't unusual at all for the Orbots to combine and split apart several times in a single episode.
  • Dagwood Sandwich: Rob constructs one of these in the pilot episode, and muses that it's missing something. A moment later, he's pouring mustard down the side of the sandwich and ready to take a bite.
    Ohno: Oh no! You already had today's lunch!
    Rob: I know, this is tomorrow's lunch.
  • Dinner Order Flub: Rob makes one at the beginning of "Devil's Asteroid", trying to impress Dia by ordering their dinner in an alien language, only to get something unclassifiable from the waiter. From her reaction it's not the first time he's tried, either.
  • Easily Forgiven: "Devil's Asteroid" has Rob betray the Orbots at their trial when an evil lookalike's been running rampant across space, saying they're the actual guilty parties. When he and Ohno show up to break them out of jail later, none of them seems to even remember that.
  • Eldritch Abomination: Umbra's look is extremely alien, and is large as a planet's core. Doubles as Mechanical Abomination as it's a biomechanical computer.
  • Elemental Powers: Bo can manipulate the elements in various offensive and defensive ways.
  • Evil Sounds Deep: Umbra, who Frank Welker voiced similarly to Dr. Claw and Krulos.
  • Expy: The titular mecha to God Mars, to some extreme. However, outside of that, the two shows have virtually nothing in common, God Mars being considerably darker than Orbots was for starters.
  • Extreme Omnivore: Crunch, whose power is to eat anything.
  • Family-Friendly Firearms: Laser weapons were banned from the show by ABC censors. It ended up making the show look more futuristic as a result.
  • Fantastic Racism: Dr. Phoenix implies that being a cyborg, half machine, half humanoid, left him an outcast to both. Ohno points out that it's been 200 years since then, and such prejudices are a thing of the past.
  • The Fagin: Kleptos is a more benign version of this, as he treats his nephew The Kid more like family than a henchman and actively looks out for the boy, choosing to send him down the garbage chute rather than himself to avoid a slimey advancing wall of doom.
  • Flying Car: Rob's Beam Car, which also unfolds into the ops center inside Mighty Orbots.
  • Freeze-Frame Bonus: The shows that appear on Boo's computerized TV Guide in "Trapped on the Prehistoric Planet" have a number of references to real shows, like "Leave it to Beamer", "It's a Wonderful Planet", and "I Like Lazer".
  • Green-Eyed Monster: This is Drennan's motive for betraying the Galactic Patrol. Rondu always won every contest they had... Drennan wanted to win for once. Even if he had to betray his best friend and the United Planets to do it.
  • Heel–Face Door-Slam: Played with for Dr. Phoenix. In spite of helping the Orbots Commander, we learn he is still subsequently arrested and tried for aiding Umbra. The audience never learns the results of that trial, but it's said that Phoenix's aid to the Orbots would be considered during said trial.
  • Holographic Disguise: One of Boo's standard abilities. She often uses this as a form of invisibility.
  • Informed Attribute: The Derelict Graveyard in "Raid on the Stellar Queen" has supposedly inescapable gravity force. In spite of this, the pirates who are the episode's villains have no problem coming and going as they please, and Mighty Orbots has no trouble escaping it before the cataclysmic explosion at the end (while pushing a cruise ship at the same time, no less).
  • Lemony Narrator: Gary Owens, in fine, hammy form, especially while explaining key plot points to the kids at home.
  • Loves My Alter Ego: Rob and his mostly hopeless attempts to attract Dia into a relationship, versus her crush on him in his secret identity as leader of the Orbots.
  • Merchandise-Driven: Averted; while Mighty Orbots could have been produced as a toy (it would have been a recolored/retooled version of the robot from God Mars), a lawsuit prevented it from reaching store shelves.
  • Moral Myopia: Umbra infects Dr. Phoenix with the Mechanogen for not behaving as a good little minion, but then calls Dr. Phoenix a traitor for helping develop a cure.
  • Never Trust a Trailer: The teaser for "Raid on the Stellar Queen" has Rob talking about battling "the evil computer Umbra," even though that's the one episode out of the series where the villain isn't a member of SHADOW. (Only having audio for two generic teasers can lead to this kind of thing.)
  • New Powers as the Plot Demands: Bort most obviously, since he can turn himself into whatever gadget the team needs, but Bo and Boo's powers especially tended to include whatever thing the script writer thought was cool at the moment.
  • Odd Name Out: Crunch is the only Orbot whose name isn't an anagram of letters from Orbot/Robot.
  • Our Graphics Will Suck in the Future: In "The Wish World" Rob's playing a video game that fills up the whole room with its display but still looks like a bog-standard mid-80's spaceship shooting game.
  • Police Are Useless: Again and again it seems like the Orbots are the only members of the Galactic Patrol capable of actually getting anything done, with gangs of faceless officers constantly looking on helplessly as the current threat gets worse and worse until Rob and his buddies manage to stop it. "The Cosmic Circus" shows a subversion where they have a superweapon independent of Mighty Orbots that can fend off invasions until it turns out SHADOW's whole plan for that episode was to capture the officers who control the weapon and take it over.
  • Powered by a Forsaken Child: Ohno serves as the ignition key for the Combining Mecha to function, allowing Rob to pilot it with Ohno assisting. Of course when she is turned into a human girl (in episode 2), the others can't combine.
  • Product-Promotion Parade: Simultaneously played straight and averted. Played straight in that the premiere episode has a scene where each Orbot is introduced, with the narrator describing their personalities and powers. Averted in that Mighty Orbots toys were never actually produced, even if there were plans for them.
  • Robot Names: Most of the individual Orbots' names use letters from the word "robot" - Tor, Bort, Bo, and Boo. "Orbots" itself is an anagram of "robots" (as was the original pre-production title, "Broots")
  • Rule of Cool: Pretty much the only explanation for what the show gets away with, such as Rob's Clark Kenting disguise or wanton disregard for the rules of physics.
  • Shapeshifter Baggage:
    • Bort violates this with impunity.
    • Mighty Orbots does this as well, growing to nearly ten times in size when the team combines. Most obvious with Tor, who forms the torso: see that foot-wide gap in his big red chest in the top image? During the combining sequence, Rob drives his Flying Car through that.
  • Shapeshifter Identity Crisis: Bort goes through this every so often. As Tor puts it in one episode, "You've got a built-in identity crisis."
  • The Smart Guy: Rob Simmons, the inventor who came up with a team of superhero robots that combine into one giant superhero robot.
  • Space Pirates: Captain Shrike and his crew are of the Recycled In SPACE variety of these. Arrrr. They were the only non-SHADOW villains in the entire show. Strangely, that episode had a teaser with narration from Rob mentioning an upcoming battle with "the evil computer Umbra."
  • Stock Footage:
    • Used in the Orbots' Transformation Sequence. Although in a subversion there was more than one rendering of their combination sequence.
    • They also use the footage from the show's first episode whenever Rob does his own Transformation Sequence into the Orbots Commander.
    • And though they did resort to this like most robot anime, they did put in the effort to vary it to the circumstances sometimes, such as in "The Cosmic Circus" where the launch/combination sequence is actually shown in front of night backgrounds since that's when it takes place.
  • Swiss-Army Weapon: This is Bort's contribution to Orbots, turning himself into whatever tool they need for any given job.
  • Swiss-Cheese Security: Devil's Asteroid, an inescapable penal colony in space. Supposedly. Near the end of the episode Rob and Ohno easily navigate the minefield surrounding it, slip inside, and within minutes have rescued their entire team.
  • Team Mom: Ohno may be small, but she's quite bossy.
  • Teleporters and Transporters: One of Boo's powers. Of course, Mighty Orbots gets this ability when the team combines.
  • Through a Face Full of Fur: In "Devil's Asteroid", Tor turns red with rage briefly after Bort dumps water all over him, due to Bo putting Bort up to it as a prank against Tor.
  • Tomboy and Girly Girl: The brash, pranksterish Bo, and the quiet, somewhat more traditionally feminine Boo.
  • Trailers Always Spoil: It was probably meant to be a surprise in "Operation Eclipse" that Drennan was really a bad guy. Showing him having a psychic duel with Rondu before the theme song probably wasn't the wisest decision then.
  • Two-Person Love Triangle: Rob manages to get into this with Dia, who views him as a Nice Guy and reliable co-worker, but is smitten with the "Orbots Commander".
  • Verbal Tic: "Oh, no!" for Ohno — it's actually where the name comes from. Rob complains about it in the first episode. She points out he's the one who programmed her, so it's his own fault.
  • Voluntary Shapeshifting: Bort, as well as the villain Plasmus, who both have the power to shapeshift into whatever's handy at the time.
  • We Will Meet Again: Umbra vows to return as he disintegrates with the destruction of his planetary fortress in the last episode.
  • You Have Outlived Your Usefulness
    • Umbra does this but for surprisingly pragmatic reasons. Dr. Phoenix immediately chafes under Umbra and makes clear he is no one's lapdog, and Umbra infects him with his own virus as he shows one too many moments of wanting to be a treated as an equal rather than a lackey.
    • Darra may or may not have been set up for this, but Umbra decides he isn't worth rescuing once he's stranded on Targon (this naturally comes to bite Umbra in the rear once he bargains for his rescue with Mighty Robots for vital information on how to defeat the Monster of the Week.)
  • Younger Than They Look: Despite all of them (except Ohno) being the size of adults, the Orbots were built less than a year ago, and consequently have the innocence and naïveté of children. The series ends on their first birthday.