In the primeval year 1984, I ran across a keen animated show called Mighty Orbots on ABC. It only ran for a single season before disappearing without a trace. Years later when describing it to others, skepticism arose. No one else acknowledged its existence. At times I wondered whether or not I had hallucinated the entire series.
Then came the wonder of the internet and–voila!–it turns out to have existed after all. Although I didn’t know why it disappeared. It was vastly superior to the other animated shows at the time, especially the shows it derived from–namely Voltron and Transformers. With superior animation, better characters and decent writing, the show should have been renewed for several seasons.
Unfortunately not. My suspicions leaned towards poor marketing, but a lawsuit by Tonka was the real culprit. Tonka accused the show owners of ripping off their GoBots franchise. For those of you unfamiliar with GoBots, those were a toy line that basically ripped off Transformers and had its own animated series Challenge of the Gobots (the animation was weak, however the writing wasn’t terrible.) GoBots has since faded into obscurity and I wouldn’t expect to see a big screen adaptation anytime soon. Anyway, Tonka torpedoes Mighty Orbots and we only get a single season. Pity.
The basis for the show is familiar. Six robots with individual powers merge to form a more powerful robot. Nothing new there. However, the robots all have unique powers. Tor is a super-strong brute. Bort is a skinny ‘geek’ that can shape shift. Bo is a ‘female’ Orbot with the ability to control the four elements (earth, air, fire and water.) Boo is another ‘female’ Orbot with light and illusion powers. Crunch is a ‘fat’ robot that can eat anything and transform it into energy for the rest. Ohno is the last Orbot, and she’s a tiny ‘child’ robot who is necessary for the other Orbots to merge into “Mighty Orbot”.
The leader and leader of the Orbots is Rob Simmons, who is your standard Nerdy Scientist Hero archetype. He actually has a secret identity when he isn’t working with the Galactic Patrol (which is exactly what they sound like.) They fight the obligatory evil organization SHADOW in the far future.
The tone of the series was light-hearted and much closer to an American superhero team than either Voltron or Transformers. The Orbots have ‘superpowers’ instead of a bunch of guns and unlike Voltron, are actually pretty competent and interesting individually. Also unlike Voltron, this wasn’t a simple Japanese import. They produced this show specifically for American audiences and it feels like it. The animation is first rate, especially for a television series.
I watched a couple of episodes recently and, yes, it’s a kid’s show and a bit dated, but still not bad. Despite having only a single 13-episode season, it also does what few other franchised animated shows do: has an ending. At the end of the only season, Mighty Orbots fight and defeat the ‘big bad’ leader of SHADOW, a supercomputer critter called Umbra. So you can watch the only season and still get a satisfying conclusion.
Go check it out.