The Evolution of Mecha in Anime: From Gundam to the Present

by Matthew Russell - Posted 3 weeks ago

Welcome, my CryptoComics Compatriots. Are you a fan of Darling in the FranXX, or love to see a huge robot duke it out with a Kaiju? If the answer is yes, your in the right place. Here at CryptoComics, we love our Mecha. If you don’t believe me check out all the AMAZING MANGA right here!

We have been on a journey of Anime-Discovery lately and there is so much more to bring to light. Check out this absolutely amazing post on The Role of Strong Female Characters in Shoujo Manga or if you are new to the genre, I would recommend starting with Exploring the Diverse World of Manga.

Ok, enough self-serving promotion (winky face).Today I wanted to really dive into the history of Mecha in Anime. Yep, giant robots and fast-paced action. That's where it’s at today. To be honest, I just rewatched Pacific Rim (both the first and the second) yesterday so I am jazzed to talk about this topic.

As many of you know, Mecha anime has been a cornerstone of the anime industry for decades, captivating audiences with its epic battles and futuristic technology. From the iconic Gundam series to the latest innovations in the genre, mecha anime has come a long way, constantly evolving in both storytelling and animation techniques. In this blog post, we'll take an exhilarating journey through the history of mecha anime, exploring its origins and tracing its transformation up to the present day.

The Birth of Mecha: Tetsujin 28-Go (Gigantor)

Mecha anime as we know it today had its beginnings in the 1960s, with the groundbreaking series "Tetsujin 28-go" (released as "Gigantor" in the United States). Created by Mitsuteru Yokoyama, this classic series featured the adventures of a young boy and his remote-controlled giant robot, paving the way for future mecha stories.

This series was heavily influenced by the post-World War II atmosphere in Japan. The devastation caused by the war and the subsequent occupation by Allied forces left a profound impact on the nation's collective psyche. The concept of a powerful robot under the control of a young boy, Shotaro Kaneda, could be seen as a symbol of hope and resilience in the face of adversity, reflecting the desire for a brighter future. 

Additionally, "Tetsujin 28-go" was influenced by the emerging fascination with science and technology, as Japan rapidly modernized and embraced innovation. It tapped into the enthusiasm for scientific progress and the belief that technology could be a force for good, emphasizing the potential for machines to be used for noble purposes.

Yokoyama also drew inspiration from popular culture, particularly the American superhero comics and science fiction of the era. Yep, DC Comics had a hand in creating this genre. The imposing design of Tetsujin 28, with its powerful, hulking figure and imposing eyes (I need another word than imposing, but I just can’t think of any that would fit better), bore a resemblance to Western robots and superheroes, echoing the influence of characters like Superman and Iron Man. The blend of these Western inspirations with Japanese sensibilities and post-war aspirations created a unique and enduring icon in the world of mecha anime, making "Tetsujin 28-go" a beloved classic with a timeless appeal.

The Gundam Revolution

The 1970s witnessed the birth of one of the most iconic mecha series of all time: "Mobile Suit Gundam." Created by Yoshiyuki Tomino, this series introduced the concept of realistic, human-piloted war machines. Gundam's deep, political narratives and complex characters set a new standard for mecha anime, leading to an enduring franchise that still thrives today.

Honestly it was during the 80’s Saturday morning Cartoon rush that I found and fell in love with Mecha. Oftentimes, the political aspect went over my head, but I was just a little tike in the 80s so that can be forgiven.

With all the action that this provided and its emphasizing the grit, I also often overlooked the vulnerability, and psychological toll of warfare. This shift ushered in a new era where mecha were no longer invincible, but rather subject to the limitations of technology and human capability. 

The deep political narratives, complex character development, and moral ambiguity within "Mobile Suit Gundam" established a fresh benchmark for narrative quality within the genre, showcasing the potential of mecha anime to explore intricate themes beyond simple robot battles. 

The show's success influenced a generation of creators to craft more mature and thought-provoking narratives within the mecha genre, expanding its appeal to a broader audience.

The "Mobile Suit Gundam" franchise sparked a mecha revolution that continues to shape the industry today. It led to the establishment of a wide range of Gundam series, spin-offs, and merchandise, creating a dedicated fan base that has remained devoted for decades. 

The franchise's innovative approach to mobile suit designs, detailed world-building, and evolving technology helped inspire a multitude of other mecha series to explore similar facets of warfare, politics, and technology. The Gundam legacy demonstrates the enduring appeal of mecha anime and highlights how a single series can significantly impact and influence the trajectory of an entire genre, solidifying its place in the hearts of fans worldwide.

The 80s Mecha Boom

The 80s was a time of iconic music, with the rise of pop legends like Michael Jackson and Madonna, and the birth of hip-hop. The '80s brought about a digital revolution with the widespread use of personal computers, marking a major leap in technology that paved the way for the future. Furthermore, this era was a golden age of cinema, producing timeless classics like "E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial", "Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back," and "The Breakfast Club." The '80s exuded a spirit of innovation, creative freedom, and a sense of boundless possibility, making it an enduring source of nostalgia and inspiration for generations to come. 

It also marked a golden era for mecha anime, with a surge in popularity and a wealth of iconic series that left a profound and lasting impact on the genre. Can I just say how much I love the 80s. We had all the best stuff. 

 "Macross," also known as "Robotech" in the United States, was a pioneer in the mecha genre during this decade. It blended the drama of a transforming mecha with a sweeping space opera narrative, appealing to a wide audience. 

The series showcased a diverse range of characters and introduced the concept of an idol singer uniting humanity in times of conflict, a theme that would continue to resonate in mecha anime for years to come.

"Mobile Police Patlabor" was another standout from this period. Directed by Mamoru Oshii, it merged mecha with a workplace comedy, presenting a refreshing take on the genre. The show featured a group of police officers using mecha to maintain order, infusing humor and relatable situations into the mecha narrative. 

This shift towards a more lighthearted and relatable approach opened the door to diverse storytelling within the mecha genre and demonstrated its adaptability.

The "Transformers" franchise, with its iconic transforming robots, became a global sensation in the 1980s, captivating audiences of all ages. While primarily known for its toy line and animated series, "Transformers" significantly influenced the mecha genre and toy industry as a whole. 

The concept of robots that could transform into various modes added a new layer of fascination to mecha, and it continues to inspire creators and collectors to this day. The 1980s mecha boom was a pivotal moment in the genre's history, introducing a variety of storytelling approaches and cementing the enduring popularity of mecha in the world of anime. These series set the stage for the genre's continued growth and diversity in the following decades.

Neon Genesis Evangelion: A Paradigm Shift

In the 1990s, Hideaki Anno's "Neon Genesis Evangelion" shook up the mecha genre. This series explored deeply psychological themes and deconstructed the traditional mecha tropes. Its complex narrative and unforgettable characters made it a transformative work, influencing a new generation of mecha creators.

The 21st Century: Innovation and Diversity

The 21st century brought a resurgence of interest in mecha anime, with an array of diverse and innovative series. One standout is "Code Geass," a complex political thriller that blended mecha combat with intricate strategy. "Eureka Seven" offered a unique take on mecha with its surfing-inspired robots, and "Gurren Lagann" brought a bold and over-the-top approach to the genre.

Modern Mecha Marvels

In recent years, mecha anime continues to evolve with a combination of technological advancements and creative storytelling. "Aldnoah.Zero" delves into the tensions between Earth and Mars, while "Knights of Sidonia" explores life in space against an alien threat. "Darling in the Franxx" fuses mecha with romance and identity exploration, demonstrating the genre's adaptability.

The Future of Mecha Anime

The mecha genre shows no signs of slowing down. With advances in animation technology, we can expect even more stunning, immersive mecha battles in the years to come. Additionally, series like "86" continue to push the boundaries of storytelling within the mecha framework, proving that the genre is still ripe for innovation.

Now, To Wrap This Up with a Nice Metal Bow

Mecha anime has come a long way since its inception, from the classic "Tetsujin 28-go" to the revolutionary "Neon Genesis Evangelion" and beyond. It has evolved in terms of storytelling, character development, and animation quality, all while maintaining its core theme of epic battles involving giant robots. 

As we look ahead to the future, the mecha genre promises to keep thrilling audiences with new and exciting innovations, cementing its place as a timeless genre in the world of anime. Whether you're a long-time mecha fan or just dipping your toes into this exciting genre, there's always something fresh and captivating to discover in the world of mecha anime.

To Be Continued…

There is always more to come on the Manga front, but next week we are going to be jumping into another “How To” where I talk Lettering a Comic for all of you creators out there. I hope to see your stuff in the Marketplace.

After that, we will be back to our regularly scheduled Manga topic. Be back for both and there may be a surprise in it for you. Until then, try to redeem the badge code “Mecha”.