Science Fiction & Robots

Science Fiction & Robots is a anime/manga concept
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A popular genre of anime and manga featuring advanced science often in a futuristic setting. Giant fighting mechs are particularly popular.


Science Fiction is one of anime's youngest genres, commencing only with Astro Boy (1963), a future fable deliberately planned by Osamu Tezuka in opposition to the fantasies and fairy tales that otherwise dominated the medium. Tezuka's clean, spartan world also allowed for an extreme economy of animation, helping him to save money in the studio. Anime has favored science fiction ever since, not the least because more mundane genres can be less expensively reproduced with live-action, whereas the ability to integrate special effects so readily makes anime a better choice for greater, cheaper spectacle. The success of Astro Boy ushered in dozens of imitators, seemingly caught up in Japan's defeat "by aliens" and its subsequent reconstruction. Like Superman, the heroes of Prince Planet (1965) and Space Ace (1965) are new arrivals on Earth, with quasi-magical powers or devices that can help their newfound allies. Like Gigantor (1963) and Big X (1964), the Japanese emerge from World War II as the inheritors of a shameful history that may return to haunt them, but with great hope in industry and technology.

Whereas Astro Boy began as little more than a high-tech Pinocchio with superpowers, he was also the ultimate playmate for the average Japanese boy. Love of robots reflected a faith in the future that was not always justified, most famously in Doraemon (1970), in which a time-traveling rescue mission goes periodically awry, courtesy of inadequate materials. Go Nagai's Mazinger Z (1972) presented robots not as radio-controlled toys or android companions, but as pilotable machines. Nagai's Getter Robo also featured a regular transformation sequence, in which separate modules would combine to form a super-robot-not only permitting the recycling of footage of the transformation sequence, but also encouraging the sales of not one, but three tie-in toys. The show was soon followed by a number of sequels, as well as anime based on Go Nagai's other manga in the same vein.

Shogun Warriors (1977)

Shogun Warriors
Shogun Warriors

This is not an anime show, but it was the first major impact of anime robots on U.S. consciousness since Astro Boy. It's a brand name created by Mattel for a range of unrelated anime robot toys imported from Japan. Monogram also produced plastic kits of the toys, and in 1979 Marvel acquired permission to produce a comic book featuring the first three robots licensed, although the story lines and characters bear no relationship to the original Japanese series. The comic ran for 20 issues. By 1980, the line was at an end, but it was massively influential at the time; when Force Five was advertised in 1981, Jim Terry Productions' flier for the show labeled it "for the kids who have already bought $75 million worth of these Super Robot toys marketed by Mattel under the name of The Shogun Warriors." See also Godaikin. The names used in the U.S. included (in order of U.S. release) Raydeen (Brave Reideen, see Brave Raideen), Combatra (Combattler V), Dangard Ace (Dangard Ace), Mazinga and Great Mazinga (see Mazinger Z), Daimos (see Starbirds), Dragun, Raider, and Poseidon (see Getter Robo G), Grandizer, and Voltus V (Voltus).

The broadcast of Gerry Anderson's Thunderbirds and Captain Scarlet in Japan ensured that by the 1970s, team shows fighting alien menaces were commonplace in live-action TV, combining the ensemble cast with the talents of miniature- and model-makers. In anime such as Skyers 5 (1967), this led to color-coded teams of youths, often a cookie-cutter composition of leader, maverick, token girl, token child/comic relief, and "the other one." As with the live-action shows postdating Goranger (1975) such shows were also likely to be unified around an arbitrary theme-cards, dinosaurs, or, in the case of Battle of the Planets, birds who were also ninja. The underlying themes of disparate entities combining into a transcendent whole was seen not only as a wonderful metaphor for teamwork, but also as an excellent excuse to sell multipart vehicle sets requiring all other elements to create one super-toy.

Star Trek (broadcast in Japan as Great Battle in Space: Star Trek) helped encourage a similar galactic quest in Japan, in the form of Leiji Matsumoto's (or, depending on which judge you obey, "Yoshinobu Nishizaki's") Space Cruiser Yamato (1974), which made it to America as Star Blazers. However, it would not do so until much later, in 1979, after the worldwide success of Star Wars (1977). Science fiction was the new fad, resulting in adaptations of classic American SF such as Lensman (1984) and Captain Future (1978). Local competition came in the form of Captain Harlock (1984), but also most notably in Gundam (1979), a franchise still running to this day. Featuring angst-ridden combatants in giant robots, Gundam codified the concept of the "newtype." The baby boom generation, known as the "new breed" in Japan, was thus allegorized as a literal evolutionary leap, humans with psychic powers, radically different in abilities and expectations from the generation that preceded them. "Newtype" achieved a currency equivalent to that of slan in early American SF fandom, or otaku in modern anime-it remains the name of the world's best-selling anime magazine. Gundam's only real rival was Macross (1982), which kept with the pilotable robots (although these could transform into space fighter-planes), and introduced the concept of defeating an enemy by singing at them. The concept offered considerable potential for new merchandise formats-spin-off albums. Votoms (1983) also offered an angle on "real robots," introducing the notion of a robot as merely a tool in a military arsenal, alongside more traditional technology. Hereafter, the "real robots" largely replaced the "super robots" of earlier genre shows like Mazinger.

Although Gundam and Macross presented some fresh angles on perennial themes, and Nausicaä of the Valley of Wind (1984) was a landmark in cinemas, anime SF only truly came into its own through video. It was the arrival of the video recorder that brought the potential for true science fiction, as opposed to the limited "sci-fi" of television. After the early experiment of Dallos (1983), science fiction was established as a strong part of the anime world, with works including Megazone 23 (1985), Bubblegum Crisis (1987), and the first Appleseed (1988). Video SF came into its own with Gunbuster (1988), conceived in loving homage to the sci-fi of the 1960s, and Patlabor (1989), produced in an indignant reaction to the brutal apocalyptic world envisioned by Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (1981) and Fist of the North Star (1984). SF also flourished in cinemas, in the form of two productions for which critical success came far in advance of actual profits-Wings of Honneamise (1987) and Akira (1988). Notably, this period also saw the beginning of the long-running Legend of Galactic Heroes (1988), a video series that survived primarily through subscriber orders, largely bypassing even video stores.

In the 1980s, Japan (and particularly Tokyo) became a motif in SF all its own, the future metropolis of William Gibson's novel Neuromancer (1984) and the Asian influences on the Los Angeles of Ridley Scott's Blade Runner (1982) helping to create further interest abroad in science fiction from Japan. In seeming inverse correlation to Japan's rising power on the world stage, the robots got smaller. The hulking, city-stomping behemoths of old reduced in size, evolving into the smaller personal vehicles of Mospeada, and the feminized "hard-suit" armor of Bubblegum Crisis (1987)-perhaps creators had less to prove, or, in the age of the Sony Walkman, saw that miniaturization was the new cool. Realizing that a primarily male audience would rather watch scantily clad girls, science fiction gained increasing numbers of female characters, until, after a decade of the likes of Dirty Pair (1985) and Sol Bianca (1990), it was male characters that became the token cast members. Blade Runner motifs returned in the android women of AD Police (1990), Armitage III (1994), and Ghost in the Shell (1995). Hideaki Anno's watershed Neon Genesis Evangelion (1995) was intended as the final word on the tropes and clichés of the giant robot genre, but instead ushered in another cycle of imitators such as Brain Powered (1998) and RahXephon (2002). As the millennium approached, Japanese SF also began to look backward, both to the retro camp of shows like Giant Robo (1993) and Super Atragon (1995) and the martial fervor of Kishin Corps (1993) and Sakura Wars (1997). Cowboy Bebop (1998) stood out in the crowd simply for its sense of style-it began life as a Sunrise show deliberately written without giant robots, a refreshing change in a medium that seemsedto be overrun with them. Modern science fiction anime occupy a gloriously wide selection of niches, from the intimate sensuality of Chobits (2002) to the dingy, dirty low-orbit world of Planetes (2003) and the existential rebellion of Blame (2003). The Wachowski brothers' The Matrix (1999) may have set many of the standards of modern-day media SF, but it did so in a manner that built on anime-its inspirations and homages can be clearly seen, both in the continuing hard-SF explorations of the Ghost in the Shell franchise, and in the large number of Japanese contributors to The Animatrix (2002). Some other recent sci-fi shows with robots and machines includes Gurren Lagann (2007) and Code Geass (2006).

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Concept Name Science Fiction & Robots
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Aliases Sci-fi
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