The 80s were big on science fiction.
The world was a changing place. From the first iconic Sony Walkman that was sold for $150 on 1 July 1979 to the revolutionary Nintendo GameBoy on April 21, 1989, the decade was a rampage of new technological gadgets and toys.
Japan was leading the tech parade into this brave new world, and the country’s entertainment industry – through videogames, tokusatsu series, and anime – was full of stories about giant robots.
A few of us here in MANGA.TOKYO grew up in the 80s. We had a small meeting to discuss our favorite mecha anime from our childhood. Voices and opinions were loud and fierce, but we managed to agree on this list. The titles were placed in no particular order to avoid further arguments. You don’t want to be part of a MANGA.TOKYO argument. We are pretty passionate about what we love.
Here are our top five favorite giant (or not so giant) robots from Japanese (or almost Japanese) anime culture!
Voltron: Defender of the Universe
- Date: 1981 -1982
- Director: Katsuhiko Taguchi
- Music: Asei Kobayashi (Japan), Dale Schacker (U.S.)
What is known as ‘Voltron’ in the rest of the world, in Japan is Beast King GoLion (百獣王ゴライオン)
‘Hyakujū Ō Golion’ ran in Japan for 52 episodes.
During the 80s, anime were not imported into the US in their original form – music, names, and even the story were changed to what was supposed to be a more Western taste. When it was released in the U.S. as ‘Voltron’, the show’s popularity was so immense that World Events Productions commissioned Toei Animation to produce 20 more episodes exclusively for their version.
- Date: 1983-1984
- Director: Kunihiko Yuyama
- Music: Yanusori Tsuchuchida, Yasushi Tsuchida
‘Plawres Sanshiro’ (プラレス３四郎) is not about a giant robot. But, if you’ve seen the recent American movie about robot boxing ‘Real Steel’, then you need to know where their inspiration came from.
Plawres is a wrestling game – complete with ring, wrestling moves, and fanatic audience – where the contestants are human-controlled robots about 30 cm tall. The main robot-protagonist, Juohmaru, was a boxing legend in my mind before I even knew who Mohammed Ali was.
Saber Rider and the Star Sheriffs
- Date: 1984 – 1985 (Japan), 1987 – 1988 (US)
- Director: Akira Shigino (Series), Masami Anno (Director)
- Music: Starchild Records (Japan), Dale Schacker (US)
When anime started hitting the US in the 80s, Dale Schacker was behind all the most awesome tunes ever composed for these western anime adaptations. The Saber Rider theme is no exception. If you are an 80s child, chances are you already know the tunes. If you’re not, do yourself a favor and listen to Schacker’s work.
Known as ‘Bismark’ (星銃士ビスマルク・ぴえろ) in Japan, the western version kept the minimum before going into a complete revamping: they changed the names, the music, the setting, the plot, and added extra scenes to cover the plot holes they created themselves.
Super Dimensional Fortress Macross
- Date: 1982 -1983
- Director: Noboru Ishiguro
- Music: Kentaroh Haneda
You are probably more familiar with the Americanized version, ROBOTECH, which was the mid-1980s frankenanime of three unrelated titles: ‘The Super Dimensional Fortress Macross’, ‘Super Dimension Cavalry Southern Cross’, and ‘Genesis Climber MOSPEADA’. If you want to know more about the differences between the two, check out this detailed post.
You may remember the robots in Macross: they were fighter jets that could transform in two additional battle modes, the GERWALK mode, and the Battroid mode. A few of us fell in love with modern-day jets and other awesome anime like Area 88 (エリア８８) because of Macross.
Aoki Ryūsei SPT Layzner
- Date: 1985 – 1986
- Director: Ryousuke Takahashi
- Music: Hiroki Inui
‘SPT Layzner’ is not well known outside Japan. It was created in 1985 by Sunrise Productions.
It focused more on the story than the battles, and its titular robot was praised for its original appearance: a unique blue robot with a head piece that looks like a dome. It had that realistic feel that you see in games like MechWarrior, but retained that futuristic cool look you were used to in the more mainstream mecha series.
Nostalgia. It can make an otaku shed a tear or two. It’s difficult to shake off all the incredible stuff that made you awe when you were but a small child, ready to be amazed by anything. Especially big bad-ass robots.
You now have to excuse us. We have a ‘recreate your favorite mecha battle’ afternoon at the office.
Let us know of your favorite mecha anime from when you were a child. Which was your favorite robot? Why?