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.
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.