Mamerto Adan is a feature writer back in college for a school paper. Science is one of his many interests, and his favorite topic.
Japanese anime robots have a certain mystique to them. They are rarely portrayed as autonomous, and most are machines controlled by human pilots. Nevertheless, they feel very much alive, as if they're an extension of the pilot’s psyche or even a separate entity. In some cases, their inanimate metal faces can show a small hint of emotion, like in the cases of the Gundams or Evangelions.
I grew up watching these giant robots tear each other apart. Super robots, like Mazinger Z, became a part of my happy childhood, while real robots hooked me during college. My childhood dream of piloting a mecha resulted in a small model kit collection in my drawer. But as it turns out, Japanese robots are more than a mechanical monstrosity. There are stories behind our well-loved mecha. You might wonder why a Gundam is coloured white and blue. Why did the EVA units look that way? And do you know that a popular mecha inspired several car designs? Now that I got your interest, read on for more.
1. The EVA Units Are Inspired by Japanese Demons
What sets the Evangelion series apart from most mecha anime are the themes. For the first time, we saw pseudo-religious imagery in an animated series. The pilots themselves are the antithesis of the heroic and noble knights of traditional anime. They are disturbed and emotional wrecks, almost sick in fact! The giant robots themselves are more than meets the eye. Nope, they won’t transform. Underneath their armor is the flesh and blood of a biomechanical giant. Their designs were also different from most mechas. The sleek and slender build of the EVA units distinguished them from the bulky giant robots we commonly saw. You might be wondering how they came up with such a unique (and bizarre) design. Well, that’s because EVA units are based on creatures known as Oni.
For those that don't know, the Oni is a Japanese folk creature. They are typically translated as demons, ogres, devils, or trolls. They are basically monsters with grotesque features, wild hair, horns, extra eyes, and odd numbers of fingers. During the conception of the EVAs, the image of a giant Oni that was barely under the control of mankind is what director Hideaki Anno wanted to make.
The first images Anno created for the EVA design looked hellish. They had to be cleaned up so they would look less disturbing. Eventually, they arrived at the familiar EVA iconography we know today. Anno also gave the EVAs a sleeker look to make them appear more human.
2. Voltron Lion and Vehicle Team Are Not Related
This is possibly the most well-known super robot series in the West. I know a lot of my folks grew up watching five mechanical lions combine to form a bigger mecha. The popularity of the well-loved machine is so big that the Voltron Vehicle Team was eventually succeeded by the Voltron Lion Force. Now, the Vehicle Team was referred to in the toyline as Voltron I, as it was set closer to Earth. But the timeline of the two Voltrons is faulty though.
The two Voltrons are not actually related. They come from two different anime series that were combined into a single series. This was a common practice when adapting foreign animations in the West.
The first series is an edited Beast King GoLion. Scenes of death, torture, and gore were removed to make it more viewer-friendly in the West. Names were also changed, though the basic plot remained the same.
The second series came from a different anime called Armored Fleet Dairugger XV. Since it was not a part of the GoLion series, it came under heavy editing with footage being inserted from the GoLion episodes. And yes, less blood, gore, and death here as well.
3. The Macross Variable Fighters Came From Real Life Fighter Jets
This should be a no-brainer. Everyone who is familiar with modern warplanes will readily guess where the Variable Fighter’s design came from. You can tell at first glance that the VF-1S Valkyrie is a composite of the McDonnell Douglas F-15 Eagle and the Grumman F-14 Tomcat.
The name Valkyrie is a tribute to the experimental bomber XB-70 Valkyrie. And where did it get its famous skull and bones insignia? It came from a real aviation unit of the US Navy, the Strike Fighter Squadron 103 (VFA-103).
4. The Giant Robots of 'Macross' Influenced Other Popular Transforming Robots
Being a popular and iconic super robot anime, the Macross series rivals the Gundam series in many ways. It even left a mark in popular culture like its competitor. Transformers has a lot to thank Macross for. Without the Variable Fighters, two of its most well-known characters woudln't exist.
I always notice that the megalomaniac Starscream has a lot of similarities with the Variable Fighter. He won’t turn into a Gerwalk but, structurally, they are the same. They even transform into similar fighter jets. Even more similar is the Autobot Jetfire. From the head sculpt down to the markings, the original Jetfire is basically the VF-1S Valkyrie with red stripes. This makes sense as the first Jetfire toyline was a reused VF-1S Valkyrie mold.
5. Why the Gundam Is Blue and White
Being the pioneer of the real robot genre, the creators of the Gundam series wanted the series to be as real as possible. That's why Yoshiyuki Tomino, the creator of the Gundam, wanted the machine to be in grayscale.
However, the studio Sunrise disagreed with the realistic color scheme. It’s all about aesthetics, and a plain shade of light gray and white wouldn't look so great. They adopted the more traditional bright colors of the super robot genre and we ended up with the recognizable color scheme of blue, red, yellow, and white for the Gundam. The Gundam world would be so different if Sunrise decided to keep the grayscale. Imagine the Wing Gundam without its loud coloration.
6. Heavy Traffic Gave Birth to Mazinger Z
I know that no one likes to get stuck in traffic. Sometimes I wonder if I could sprout wings and fly instead. Even better, what if my vehicle had jet engines, much like a hover plane? Well, Go Nagai once thought of cars with legs when he watched frustrated drivers in a traffic jam. And guess what it led to.
He never invented walking cars, but the concept gave birth to a piloted robot. Mazinger Z was born! Now before this machine, the giant robots of manga were remotely operated. It all changed when Mazinger Z came out. Go Nagai chose the concept of machine and man joining together into a single entity. Everything from Voltron, Gundam, and Evangelion owe their existence to an idea born out of a traffic jam.
7. There Is a Real Char Aznable in History
You heard that right. An actual person serves as an inspiration to our favourite masked antihero. Meet the Red Baron, Manfred von Richthofen. He was a fighter pilot serving with the German Air Force in World War I. With an official 80 combat victories, he was a notable ace of his time. His preferred machine was a Fokker DR.I, a type of WWI fighter with three wings. And of course, it sports a fierce, striking red colour scheme.
A talented pilot riding a red combat vehicle. Sounds familiar?
However, Manfred von Richthofen never wore a mask. Aside from that, the two icons share many similarities from their nicknames to their choice of colors.
8. Several Car Companies Are Turning to 'Gundam' for Designs
The Gundam series became such a pop icon that it left its mark in many places, even cars. The RX-178 Gundam MK-II inspired a concept vehicle, the Isuzu VX-2. The samurai-like appearance of the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution came from the RX-78-2 Gundam. Nissan also has its own Gundam vehicle. The angular lines and vents of GT-R (R35) is Gundam inspired.
Now, if they could only make a real Gundam.
9. 'Gurren Lagann' Influenced a New Proposed Union Jack Flag
This might sound strange, but this started during a political debate over whether the Union Jack flag should be updated. They proposed putting a Welsh Dragon on it, and The Daily Telegraph held a contest to submit the best design.
The winner was a draft from Norway, a flag based on the Gurren Lagann. Now, The Daily Telegraph design contest was just for fun. Sadly, we won’t see the design on the new Union Jack flag anytime soon.