The 1970s is the period when anime really exploded, mecha included. At this point it's time to briefly mention an elephant in the room. Throughout the 1970s Korean animation started becoming prevalent. The problem is for a long time Korean animation mostly consisted of knockoffs of Japanese anime titles. This happened because Japanese animation was banned in Korea, and Korea also didn't acknowledge Japanese copyright. In light of this environment, Korean animators produced these knockoffs to meet their country's demand. Korean animation would not start producing original content for well over 20 years, (towards the end of the 1990s.) This thread will not be covering any of these knockoff titles.
In the early days of the 1960s, anime on television was in black and white, but in 1972 the first mecha series produced in colour hit the Japanese airwaves: Astroganger.
Astroganger still didn't have the pilot in the robot, in fact this robot was sentient. Unfortunately this series still remains largely untranslated and unlicensed in the west to this day.
Also in 1972, legendary mecha artist Go Nagai debuted his first mecha anime: Mazinger Z. Go Nagai would make many contributions to the mecha genre, starting with Mazinger Z, which debuted the concept of the pilot controlling the robot from within. This was accomplished by the protagonist piloting an aircraft that could dock on top of Mazinger's head, resulting in the pilot being in the head. Mazinger Z was first released in the west english dubbed as Tranzor Z. Since then it has been fully licensed and released in the west under its original title in subtitled form as well. Mazinger Z was also the first real mecha franchise spawning many sequel series, remakes, and ovas over the years.
In 1973, iconic mecha animation studio Sunrise would release its very first mecha series: Zero Tester Behind the scenes Zero Tester featured many crew members that would go on to produce Gundam, but we'll talk more about that later. Unfortunately, Zero Tester remains untranslated and unlicensed in the west. Also in 1973, another big franchise debuted, from the creator of Tetsujin 28: Babel II Like Tetsujin, Babel II kept the hero outside of the robot. Unfortunately, the original 1973 Babel II series remains largely untranslated and unlicensed in the west. However, of the subsequent titles in the Babel II franchise have been licensed and released in the west.
In 1974, Go Nagai debuted another iconic franchise: Getter Robo. While we can trace the concept of combining robots back to the Astro Boy story the Snow Leopard, it was Getter Robo that truly brought the concept into the main stream. This was the first time a series centred on this concept, with three transforming robots that could combine to form one larger one. Although subsequent titles in the Getter Robo franchise have been licensed in the west, the original series has not. Fortunately, it has been fully english fansubbed.
In 1975, the mecha genre was brought a little more realism in design with the debut of future Gundam creator Yoshiyuki Tomino's very first mecha series Brave Raideen, (still unlicensed in the west; fansubbing is now in progress), though the genre still hadn't fully shed it's 1960s scifi asthetic. Raideen has never been licensed for a western release. It is currently in the process of being fansubbed. Also in 1975, legendary anime studio Tatsunoku debuted on of their earliest mecha franchises in Time Bokan. Time Bokan was primarily a comedy series. A handful of episodes were english dubbed for the west long ago, but the bulk of the series remains unlicensed and untranslated.
In 1976, Daikuu Maryuu Gaiking debuted, introducing the concepts of having a mobile carrier for the piloted robots, as well as featuring real world locations outside Japan. The same year Gowapper 5 Godam, the first mecha series with a female lead character was released, (unlicensed and untranslated), and another key mecha franchise, known as the Super Robot Romance Trilogy began with the first entry: Super Electromagnetic Robo Combattler V. (The other two that would also air by the end of the 1970s were Super Electromagnetic Machine Voltes V and Fighting King Daimos. ) It was this trilogy that brought a significant paradigm shift to the mecha genre, bringing it from formulaic monster of the week/toy advertising shows to more genuine fleshed out narratives with much more realistic mecha designs. This trilogy has been fully fansubbed, and very recently it has finally been licensed to be released in the west in the near future.
In 1977, Yoshiyuki Tomino impacted the mecha genre once again with Invincible Super Man Zanbot 3. This series sought to cover very heavy topics from within the mecha genre that few truly explored at this point such as the reason for child pilots, and the real effects of collateral damage from giant robot fights. Tomino pulled no punches with Zambot 3. Its protagonists were not admired, but hated from the very beginning of the series by those they would be sworn to protect. This was the darkest mecha title up to this point, with no happy fairy tale ending. It was Zambot 3 that earned Tomino the nickname, "Kill 'Em All Tomino", which would be carried on and affirmed in his work with Gundam. Zambot 3 has never been licensed for the west, but is fully fansubbed.
That same year, an oddity in the mecha genre, Kyouryuu Daisensou Aizenborg, was released. This series had the distinction of combining live action tokusatsu footage with anime. Tokusatsu is a live action genre of Japanese TV aimed at children featuring giant robots and monsters very similar to Godzilla. Aizenborg has never been licensed for release in the west, but is fully fansubbed.
At this point, we need to briefly cover an odd occurrence in the world of Tokusatsu that, (believe it or not), sent ripples throughout the entire mecha genre--both anime and live action. Super Sentai, known by its western adaptation Power Rangers began its life in 1975. Unlike its more modern entries that became Power Rangers, there were no robots, (Zords), in the early seasons. In 1978 Japan premiered their very own Spider-Man tokusatsu series--yes, that Spider-Man. In this Japanese series, they decided to have Spider-Man pilot a giant robot--for the entire series. This strange marriage of Marvel comics and mecha actually became a hit, and from that point forward piloting giant robots would become a staple of tokusatsu and super sentai. Over the years properties would frequently cross over between these worlds, with tokusatsu shows being adapted into anime, and anime being adapted into tokusatsu,. This phenomenon is almost exclusive to the mecha genre.
In 1978, Uchuu Majin Daikengou introduced the mechanic of a (retractable) face plate on the giant robot. Daikengou could open it to reveal fangs and spit fire. Future Gundam creator Yoshiyuki Tomino released his next project: Muteki Koujin Daitarn 3, although it was not the success that Zanbot 3 was. Daikengou and Daitarn 3 have never been licensed for release in the west, but are both fully fansubbed.
In 1979, Yoshiyuki Tomino released the first series in the long franchise he is best known for: the original Mobile Suit Gundam. There are already plenty of resources on this site to learn more about Gundam, so we won't go into a lot of detail here. However, there is one important thing to note about its beginnings: the original series was not a success. It was actually cancelled, and its producers were forced to conclude the series early. It wasn't until a culmination of Bandai's Gundam model kits, reruns, and the 1980s movie trilogy adaptation of Mobile Suit Gundam that the franchise gained it's popularity and embarked on becoming the juggernaut it is today.
By the end of the 1970s production of anime was in full force and the ground work for the mecha genre was complete. As we approached the 1980s, mecha was about to enter a golden age with new technologies leading to an explosion of content....
The other Mecha titles of the 1970s:
Blocker Gundan IV Machine Blaster
Magne Robo Ga-Keen
UFO Warrior Dai Apolon
Gasshin Sentai Mechander Robo
Planetary Robo Danguard Ace
Superhuman Combat Team Baratack
Ultra-Transforming Magic Robot Ginguiser
Future Robo Daltanias
1970s Resource Material: