Okay, a little background information. When the original Transformers cartoon ended in the west, several more Transformers series were made in Japan. The first one, Headmasters, was still mostly similar to the third US season (and the three-episode fourth season, which Japan didn’t get). So it was the next, Chojin Masterforce (Super God Masterforce), that was the first time Transformers was ever re-invented in Japan, and, while still in the same continuity, the first time it ever really “started over”, since Masterforce had no returning characters (except one villain who comes in fairly late).
At first the show focuses on the Pretenders, Transformers that can disguise themselves as humans (in the case of the Autobots/Cybertrons) or monsters (the Decepticons/Destrons), but before long the Headmaster Juniors and Godmasters are introduced; both groups consist of humans who use special bracelets to combine with special but non-sentient “Transtectors” to become Transformers. Since that’s sort of like piloting a mecha, it’s often said that Masterforce’s way of distinguishing itself from other Transformers series was to be more like every other super robot anime. That’s true to an extent but it gets more complicated, particularly toward the end of the series.
But what I’ve noticed, and not seen mentioned before, is that Masterforce didn’t simply move closer to typical of a genre; it has a strong influence from one particular set of super robot anime; the original mecha series, Mazinger Z, and it’s sequels, Great Mazinger and Grendizer.
Let’s start with this. One of the most famous quotes in manga and anime is the one about how Mazinger Z has the power to make its pilot a god or a devil. And of course in Masterforce, the villain is named Devil Z, and the main hero’s final super mode is named God Ginrai. (Technically the normal romanization would be “Jinrai”, not “Ginrai”, but it’s been officially written as “Ginrai” multiple times. But no way am I calling the girl “Minelba”.)
Yeah, okay, so you think the Z is a coincidence and that naming a villain “Devil” something doesn’t mean much at all, and by itself, that would be true. So lets look at some character similarities. Many of the interrelationships don’t match up due to them being based on characters from all three series, but consider.
Metalhawk – Duke Fleed: an alien who’s been living on Earth in secret, and at first the one human who knows his true identity is a scientist who’s been helping him out. Probably the second-most similar, after Overlord.
Shuta/Go Shooter – Kouji Kabuto; more like his portrayal as the sidekick in Grendizer than as the main character in Mazinger Z. He even looks similar.
Minerva – Sayaka Yumi: maybe not that similar, but if she’s based on anyone it would be her. (Also, the Mazinger Z anime had a robot named Minerva X, which she doesn’t resemble at all but might theoretically be named after.)
(I can’t see a similarity between Cab and Boss, though, aside from the fact that Shuta and Cab both like Minerva.)
Ginrai – Tetsuya Tsurugi: Tetsuya is the main hero of Great Mazinger, the second series, and despite being the main hero of Masterforce, Ginrai doesn’t appear until after the Pretenders and Headmaster Juniors have had time to get established.
Godbomber – Jet Scrander: not a character, but the midseason mecha expansion pack; both upgrades add wings, though Godbomber adds considerably more.
Giga and Mega/Overlord – Baron Ashura: okay, this one shouldn’t need any explanation to anyone who already knows who both characters are, and this is the one that got me thinking about this. Giga and Mega are a husband and wife who have a leadership role in the Decepticons, and don’t get their transtector for a while; when they do, their two vehicles combine into one giant robot, meaning that Overlord is both “male” and “female”, and has two visually distinct halves.
Baron Ashura is Dr. Hell’s right-hand man/woman; he/she is literally two people stitched together, right down the middle. They were originally two lovers who died in ancient times, but Dr. Hell found them and resurrected them as one person.
But wait, according to their backstory that got left out of the anime itself, Giga and Mega are a couple that drowned at sea but were resurrected by Devil Z. That one just can’t be a coincidence.
Devil Z – Emperor of Darkness: He’s only the equivalent of Dr. Hell in relation to Giga and Mega; otherwise he’s much more like the mysterious bigger bad of Great Mazinger, thought unlike the Emperor of Darkness, he doesn’t remain unfought to the very end.
Black Zarak – Great Marshall of Hell: the villain of the previous series, now back and ultimately under the new villain, though not in the same way at all.