Mecha That Changed Anime: Some Firsts

I ended my previous post with Mazinger Z, but that series was far more the beginning of an era than the end of one.

Traffic jams are apparently good for Go Nagai’s creativity; he had the idea for Mazinger Z wishing his car could just step over the other cars, and the one for Getter Robo started with imagining all the cars merging together.  Nagai and Ken Ishikawa worked on the concept of Getter Robo together, but the manga was drawn and written by Ishikawa. The anime adaptation started three days before the first chapter of the manga was published.

Getter Robo was the first combining super robot, and combining would become a very common thing in the genre. But it didn’t stop there; it also further had multiple combined forms, each with their own abilities and uses. Other super robot standards established here include glowing green energy sources and the use of drills as weapons. (Though technically Mazinger Z had drill missiles first, Getter-2 used its drill arm as its main weapon.)

And Musashi’s heroic sacrifice started the trend of the most likable characters in an anime series often dying.

A lot of the series from here on are going to be ones that were the first to do a particular thing. Also, some of the series that I know I have to mention for completeness are ones I’m not at all familiar with.

BraveReideen

Brave Raideen, the first mecha series directed by Yoshiyuki Tomino (a name that’s going to come up a lot here), featured the first sentient (but still piloted) mecha. It was also, while not the first, an early popular example of anime’s fascination with legendary ancient civilizations; in this case, Mu.

Chodenji Robo Combattler V was the series that really established the five-member pattern of Gatchaman (the two guys with contrasting personalities, the big guy, the kid, and the only girl) as something that would be recurring in unrelated series, and as the first part of the Robot Romance Trilogy (along with Voltes V and Daimos), became another of those most likely to be specifically imitated.

Kotetsu Jeeg, another Go Nagai creation,  is notable for putting a twist on both combining and piloting; the cyborg protagonist becomes the head of the super robot. While Mazinger Z had already placed the cockpit in the head so that the pilot is the “brain” of the machine, Jeeg began a trend of increased integration to prevent mecha fights from being too impersonal; aside from the other literal examples, symbolic visuals such as the image of the pilot over the machine, or split-screens with the pilot’s and the machine’s heads are also examples of this.

Now, don’t get the idea that all 70s mecha series were either good, influential, or both; the ones that were neither are just largely forgotten about. A few examples of the forgotten: Blocker Gundan 4 Machine Buster, Gowappa 5 Godam (which, as the first mecha series with a female main protagonist, probably ought to be a little more remembered), and Chojin Sentai Barattack (the only one of these three I’d heard of before today…and that’s only because of Robot Girls Z).

Then Yoshiyuki Tomino started to write and direct on the same series, and what he really wanted in a mecha series turned out to be very different from what they’d been up until then. He decided that he wanted more realism, and that realistic meant dark, which does make a certain amount of sense when one of the things that needs explaining is why kids are doing the fighting; though it was likely Tomino himself who decided to make the pilots of  Zambot 3 even younger than typical for the genre in the first place. This was the series earned him his nickname “Kill ‘Em All Tomino”, and considering how certain manga had been having their endings softened up for anime, was likely the bleakest anime of its time.

Then Tomino decided to make the robots themselves more realistic. Mobile Suit Gundam started what is known as the real robot genre, along with starting or popularizing a lot of aspects of how Japanese fiction portrays war, and of course kicking off one of the longest-running and largest anime franchises.

While the names “super” and “real” generally refer to how “soft” or “hard” the science is, the larger differences between the two are how unique the robot is within the setting and the types of characters involved. (None of them are entirely absolute, though; after the two subgenres got established as separate, other series started to blend them back together.)

Gundam was the first anime where mecha were used as military weapons (which is usually the case in real robot anime, though Patlabor has them used by police, and there are plenty of series, including many incarnations of Gundam, where the protagonists aren’t exactly in a military) and the first mecha series to really have the kind of angst that would arguably become too common later on. It also had some of the most complex characterization of any anime up to that point, with the rival Char (who is the reason the color red is so closely associated with aces) being one of the most iconic characters in anime.

Gundam was also the first anime to have compilation movies.

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Oh, and there’s that life-size statue of the original Gundam in Japan.

And still not done yet, Tomino also made Space Runaway Ideon; with a terrifyingly powerful robot that the protagonists don’t understand or fully control, and the highest body count of any anime ever, the concept of a super robot was deconstructed well before a certain more famous series did so. Ideon was also the first anime to have its ending in the form of a movie.

Next up: subgenres diverge and reunite

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