Mecha That Changed Anime: Beginnings

Last April, I mentioned that I had “mecha that changed anime” as one of my search terms, and said that might be a good idea for its own post. Well, better late than never, and it’s going to be a series of posts rather than just one.

Note that it’s “mecha that changed anime”, not “landmarks of mecha anime”; the categories obviously have overlap, but anything that had impact outside its own genre is of particular significance, and non-anime mecha that had influence on anime are also eligible.

The definition of “mecha” and other terms it can be contrasted with can get blurry, especially since in Japanese “mecha” can also mean any machine, while the genre of anime is more likely to be called “giant robot anime”…however, more specific definitions of “mecha” sometimes do include things that aren’t necessarily giant.

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But the first thing that comes to mind when someone says “mecha” is a robot-like machine that is piloted from inside, and by that definition, the first mecha anime was undoubtedly Mazinger Z. But there are a few older works that are worthy of mention.

The oldest anime that anyone besides historians knows about, and (I think) the first anime to be adapted from a manga, was about a boy robot. Of course I mean Osamu Tezuka’s Tetsuwan Atom, better known outside Japan as Astro Boy. Surprisingly, the first ever combining robot was also from this series.

The powered-armor using Mobile Infantry from the American novel Starship Troopers by Robert A. Heinlein are the reason that Mobile Suit Gundam (which we’ll be getting to later) has “Mobile” in the title. Much later there would be an anime much more strongly influenced by this book; Blue Gender. (A case could definitely be made for saying it influenced many others, ranging from Tekkaman Blade to Muv-Luv.)

And the first two Japanese giant robots were both created by the same mangaka; Mitsuteru Yokoyama.

The first was Tetsujin 28-go, which was adapted into an anime which was dubbed under the name Gigantor.  Aside from being the first giant robot anime, and having a few other firsts as expected from anything important so early in the history of anime, this anime also had one kind of influence that was unintentional and presumably unwanted; the kid with the remote control, Shotaro, received so much of a certain kind of interest that he is the origin of the word “shotacon”.

Giant Robo, on the other hand, was not adapted into an anime in the 1960’s. Instead, it became a tokusatsu series, which aired outside Japan under the title Johnny Sokko and His Flying Robot. While it was arguably just as popular as Tetsujin 28-go, the influence of Giant Robo on works that aren’t its own adaptations is mostly limited to the occasional direct homage, but Heroman is a recent example of a non-piloted super robot.

But it’s unlikely there would be such a thing as a mecha genre without Go Nagai’s most famous manga and its anime adaptation: Mazinger Z. (Keeping the pattern, this was dubbed and aired in America as Tranzor Z, but unlike the previous examples, the number of English-speakers more familiar with the changed title than the original is very low.)

In fact, anime as a whole would be very different without Mazinger Z, and here’s an incomplete list of the reasons why.

  • Mazinger Z is the first piloted giant humanoid mecha, and the first piloted mecha in anime
  • Mazinger Z of course had the first Rocket Punch
  • And the first chest blaster
  • (which is also the first awkwardly named anime concept; “Breast Fire”)
  • Because (along with Devilman and the cast of Gatchaman) Kouji was one of the first anime heroes to call his attacks
  • And nearly everything else you’d associate with the super robot genre started right here all in the same series; super alloys, super power sources, outlandish villains, etc.
  • Kouji Kabuto was an early example of an anime hero being hot-blooded
  • Sayaka Yumi was the first tsundere in anime
  • And Mazinger Z vs. Devilman was (I think) the first anime crossover
  • Mazinger Z’s importance to the history of toys shouldn’t be overlooked, either; Jumbo Machinders are iconic for a reason (and the Jumbo Machinder Garada K7 is one of the rarest and most valuable toys in the world; only three are known to exist, not counting the one that was literally blown up in a commercial)
  • But more influential in the long run was the Chogokin line; named after Chogokin Z (Super Alloy Z), the alloy that Mazinger Z is made of, pretty much all diecast robots can trace their existence to this
  • Great Mazinger was the first anime series to be the sequel/continuation of another series, and Mazinger Z the first to set up its continuation in its ending
  • Tetsuya Tsurugi is the first “broken ace” anime hero.

Here is the commercial I mentioned; it’s hard to appreciate just how big Jumbo Machinders were without seeing one next to a kid. Warning; this video contains images which may be disturbing to toy collectors.

Next up: the golden age of super robots and the rise of real robots

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7 thoughts on “Mecha That Changed Anime: Beginnings”

  1. Excellent write up! It’s always awesome to see someone so passionate and knowledgeable about a specific topic/period in history.

    Do you have an early super robot or mecha anime from this time period that’s a favorite of yours? Or is it more of a “respect” sort of thing for the heritage of one of your favorite genres?

    Like

    1. It’s a combination of both; I honestly don’t think Tetsujin 28 has aged well, but I am a fan of Mazinger. UFO Robot Grendizer (which is the third series of the original Mazinger trilogy) is my favorite pre-1980 anime.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Oh wow. This is great. It’s only very recently that I got into mecha. I’ve been watching some mecha when I was a kid, of course, but it’s only at the beginning of this year when I watched Gundam 00 that I really appreciate the genre as a whole. Right now, I don’t shy away from mecha anymore and I’m enjoying it. These old series, they’re so fascinating to know. Thanks for sharing them. I have no idea about them, of course, but it’s always good to know the history of the genre in anime.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Mazinger is a classic. Makes me go back and watch all mecha Anime again. ANd also loved the tekkaman you mentioned. And there is so much more.

    Even Western Cartoons got infected with Mecha’s.

    I never let an Anime slip by when it is Mecha. that said some do get dropped easily.

    Fantastic read thank you

    Liked by 1 person

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