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TezukaSensei

A Brief History Of Mecha

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  Mecha is a genre of anime that is as old as the art form itself. As Mechabay moves onward and outward beyond Gundam, it is important to have a clear picture of the history of the genre itself.  This can be difficult because so much of the library of mecha anime remains unlicensed in the western world.  Thanks to the diligent work of fansub groups and, much more recently,  western anime distributors digging deep into the genre's backlog, we are finally getting to enjoy the titles we have missed out on for so long. We've come a long way, but there is still a lot of work left to do.

  In an effort to help guide Mechabay towards adding more titles to its databases, as well as giving the mechabay community a guidline to work from, this thread will be a series of posts from myself chronicling the long history of mecha.  Because there is so much to cover, I will not be able to spend a lot of time on any specific title or cover each and every title in existence.  For reference, I already have a complete chronological list of every mecha anime title ever made, organized by year of release, which you can find here: https://mechaanime.fandom.com/wiki/The_Megalist  

Lastly, I can't promise how often I will be able to add posts to this thread, but hopefully I will get it finished sooner rather than later.

 

The 1960s_________________________________

  To discuss the origins of mecha, we first must discuss the origins of anime. All of this goes back to one artist: Osamu Tezuka.  Tezuka was known as "the god of manga", one of the most prolific manga artists of his time.  In the early days of Japanese animation, Japan primarily distributed existing animation from other countries.  This lead Tezuka to become a big fan of another legendary artist, this time from the west: Walt Disney.  When the powers that be in Japanese entertainment decided they wanted to start producing their own animation, it was Osamu Tezuka they turned to.  Even before he started working on anime, his influences were made clear in a manga he wrote in the 1940s called Metropolis.  The manga features a species of giant rats that Tezuka calls, "Mikimaus waltdisneus" which bear a striking resemblance to a certain famous cartoon mouse.

DPMetropolis91a.jpg.dd8badfe47b4466813ae7696fe96de29.jpg

  Tezuka's love of Disney's work inspired him to start the common trait of large eyes associated with anime.  In 1963, Tezuka's first anime series,THE first anime series, Tetsuwan Atom, (known as Astro Boy in the west), begain airing on Japanese television.  This would also be the very first anime series to be brought to the west. In terms of mecha, that began with Astro Boy as well.  While Astro Boy was primarily about sentient robots and not so much the big piloted kind, there was one particular story of significance:  The Snow Leopard.  In this story Astro combines with a large group of other robots to form a giant robot to battle the story's antagonist.  Tezuka created this story in the original manga, and adapted it into the anime series in the 1960s.

giantastrobot.jpg.42828aadc0c8f0b0c2e25dff8c5cee88.jpg      The giant robot in the 1980s Astro Boy anime

  The one other noteworthy anime from the 1960s was Mitsuteru Yokoyama's Tetsujin #28, known in the west as Gigantor.  This series also made its way to the west.  While Tezuka first pioneered these basic concepts, Tetsujin #28 would mark the first full fledged giant robot mecha series.  However, the title robot Tetsujin was not piloted from within like most of the mecha that would come after it.  Instead, the hero operated Tetsujin via remote control. 

There's not many titles to talk about since mecha, and the anime art form were in their infancy.  However, things would start to pickup in the 1970s....

 

1960s Reference Material:

(Note: official youtube channel of the American distributor for 1960s Astro Boy)

Mitsuteru-Yokoyama.jpg.e73c86b10c07fdb9892d36ac071552ec.jpg

Mitsuteru Yokoyama

1934 - 2004

Osamutezuka.jpg.f0ccfa5357b0f66533deea59d841f937.jpg

Osamu Tezuka

1928 - 1981

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The 1970s                                                 

  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 

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.

Mazinger Z

  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.

Zero Tester  Babel II

  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.

Getter Robo

  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.

Brave RaideenTime Bokan

  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.

GaikingGodamRobot Romance Trilogy

  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.

Zambot 3

  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.

Aizenborg

  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.

Spider-Man's LeopardonDaikengouDaitarn 3

  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.

gundam0079.jpg.189017c26c5d39abfac470e97d9be0e6.jpg

  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:

Gundan IV

Blocker Gundan IV Machine Blaster

Groizer X

Groizer X

Ga-Keen

Magne Robo Ga-Keen

Dai Apolon

UFO Warrior Dai Apolon

Mechander Robo

Gasshin Sentai Mechander Robo

Danguard Ace

Planetary Robo Danguard Ace

baratack.jpg.348ab4e8b8c1f6d2f4bbc4d9c4548ce5.jpg

Superhuman Combat Team Baratack

Ginguiser

Ultra-Transforming Magic Robot Ginguiser

Daltanias

Future Robo Daltanias

Gordian

Toushi Gordian

 

1970s Resource Material:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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