Robot Anime Discourse: Wine, Injury, & Crucifixion

In my earliest conversations with people who saw Neon Genesis Evangelion, I remember hearing people talking about mindfucks, mind-rape, and what not. It was as if that Eva introduced a specific kind of weirdness to anime and that these viewers were totally unprepared for it. I think this has more to do with the relative innocence of these viewers when it comes to anime weirdness. I actually think Eva tried very hard to be shocking. It pushed hard and went far… precisely because the tradition of robot anime is actually quite weird by today’s sensibilities.

Here in this post I’ll look at three tropes that were commonly used in ’70s robot anime. They’re very tame by Eva standards, but I do think they’re notable anyway. By commonly used, I really mean that they got used a lot.

Villains Drink Wine

Alcohol isn’t for kids. Children are not encouraged to drink. Anime, and particularly robot anime is very suggestive in a mimetic way — in that called out attacks are there for kids to shout along with the heroes of the shows. And I imagine that when the toy robots are advertised, the actual attacks/weapons are featured — and the called out attacks are in big letters. Given this, the bad guys are billboards for undesirable behaviors. Kids, DON’T DRINK ALCOHOL!

I have no idea if these are effective deterrents, since 30 years after watching these shows I enjoy my alcohol (sipping on a beer as I’m writing this).

Every Injury is a Head Injury

From, (paraphrased from the Italian)

A rule in super robot anime is that the pilot, wounded in battle due to electrical shock, radiation, thermal shock, beatings and so on and so forth, is systematically bandaged on the head, even if the lesion is elsewhere on the body. Of course, then the hero will have to play the part of what tears the bandage against the advice of the girl and the professor to return heroically in battle and triumph over the enemy in turn.

This just cracks me up. I suppose nothing communicates injury than a bandage on the head. What happens after is equally hilarious.

In any case, injuries rarely mean anything then — which is why I believe Neon Genesis Evangelion pushed hard. No, I’m not talking about bandaged Rei, but even if it’s never really seen, the very idea that one of the kids lost his limbs was horrifying to me.

Crucifixion is Cool

A Roman terror device to deter slaves, enemies, and the population of occupied territories, robot anime adopted it for an apparent symbolic purpose. I find it hard to imagine how super robots are actually hurt when tied onto crosses, but it must have been cool in Japan, even if Jesus never was that big a deal.

I was too young to have made sense of this when I was watching some of these shows, which I think would’ve been interesting since I was brought up Catholic and was horrified by crucifixes. I had trouble sleeping as a young boy looking at that poor bloody man nailed onto a cross staring back at me as I lay on my bed. And after mass, my mother would have me kiss this gigantic bloody foot with a huge nail driven through it near the exit of the church *shudders*

Going back to Neon Genesis Evangelion, with its indulgent use of Judeo-Christian imagery; I think less of it as a pioneering work but rather something that pushed hard to create powerful images. Compared to those captured from the shows in the screen cap set, I think Eva did very, very well.

It won’t be until Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann I think when a similar playfulness with robot anime tropes was in full force. Also notable are Turn A Gundam, Martian Successor Nadesico, and Eureka SeveN. There may be others, but these are the ones I’m confident in making this claim. That said, I don’t think that playing with these tropes are representative of what makes these shows great, but they’re fun to take note of.

Further Reading

While I like what Neon Genesis Evangelion did with these tropes very much, I don’t think that these are the things that comprise the show’s core strength. It has more to do with feeling, and SDS explains it very well (SDShamshel 2009/12/09)
I discovered this cool Italian site that did most of the work that made this post possible. Here are the galleries:
The character names correspond to the shows adapted for Italy, so some names do change (e.g. Dr. Inferno for Dr. Hell from Mazinger Z)

About ghostlightning

I entered the anime blogging sphere as a lurker around Spring 2008. We Remember Love is my first anime blog. Click here if this is your first time to visit WRL.
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34 Responses to Robot Anime Discourse: Wine, Injury, & Crucifixion

  1. I never really noticed the head bandaging thing before, but now that you point it out it does seem awfully prevalent in anime in general. As well as being an obvious sign of injury (and disregarding it) since the visual focus is on the character’s face, I wonder too if it might come from theater traditions. That’s a realm with a lot of visual symbolism through costumes, a lot of it just meant to suggest rather than show with an effectively codified list of symbols, so maybe it could come from that tradition. Though I don’t know enough about Japanese traditional theater to really demonstrate that one way or the other. But from the bit of knowledge I have about Chinese theater techniques I wouldn’t be surprised since like pretty much everything else in the arts, the Japanese version originated from the Chinese tradition.

    Crucifixion definitely has historical roots though. Even after the Christian missionaries were kicked out and the converted hunted down when Japan closed itself off, the authorities did take one thing from it: they really loved the idea of painful, visible execution through crucifixion, even if they didn’t care for the religion that took it as a symbol. Which I kind of find hilarious. Why it’s so prevalent in super robot shows (and games, Xenogears had a mecha crucifixion scene) I’m not sure, other than it’s both a way to show cruelty on the part of the villains and also presents the opportunity of rescue or escape since it takes a long time to kill. Though for the Xenogears example (and Evangelion) there is very explicit Christian mythology, terminology and visuals used in constructing much of the world and how it works.

    • Yes it’s prevalent but I think precisely due to robot anime. If for no other reason that the first action shows mass produced were the super robot shows, and injuries are a direct result of combat.

      Your theory about the theater tradition makes perfect sense. The head/face is the most expressive part of the anatomy therefore the perfect board by which to signal the injury. If the character is lying down, bandages to the abdomen would be covered by sheets, ditto for the legs. Arm injuries are also common, but they don’t communicate the same level of gravity or urgency. Arms on the side may also be obscured by other characters.

      Bandaging the head ensures that the viewers get that the character is injured even during close-ups.

      Yeah I find the crucifixion symbolism outside the Christian context rather hilarious too. Even Ranka was crucified by Grace. More exotically, Myung was crucified by tentacles c/o Sharon (various cords and connectors).

  2. 2DT says:

    Like ExecutiveOtaku said, crucifixion was pretty big with the Tokugawa regime. Even just a few years before the Meiji Restoration, murderers in Edo were commonly executed this way. (As an aside, I went to a cathedral in Tokyo recently. The Jesus I saw there was quite a bit cleaner, a very first-world sort of savior. :))

    That wine one, though. It almost makes me feel like a tool, seeing it all bunched up together like that.

    • LOL

      Ironically, the Filipino saint Lorenzo Ruiz wasn’t martyred this way. I do think the tsurushi is awful, but doesn’t look as dramatic as hanging on a cross.

      Furthermore, and I think this is an important factor, hanging from a cross allows for dialogue and conversation between torturer and tortured as well as among the crucified, that’s easy enough to animate.

  3. Chan says:

    The villain holding or drinking the glass of wine to show the character’s villainy is actually a fairly common trope in both western and eastern media otherwise known as – A Glass of Chianti.

    The second one I never really noticed until you pointed it out. I guess that head injuries are usually very serious and so maybe they try to show that said character is lucky to be alive I guess.

    • Thanks for the trope link.

      As I mentioned to Executive Otaku, bandaging the head makes it easier for the show to communicate that the character is injured even during close-up shots. Funny how things work out this way.

  4. drmchsr0 says:

    Well, considering how the earlier super robot shows WERE for selling toys, it’s rather unsurprising that the villains would drink wine. I mean, you need something to distinguish the bad guys from the good…

    But if you ask me, it actually makes them classier.

    *reads on the trope

    As for crucifixition, well, it WAS a symbol of brutality. It’s meant to invoke terror.

    • Wine is always red, because it’s code for blood… and no matter how refined, boss bads are bloodthirsty evil.

      Crosses invoke terror, and they also allow the crucified to deliver dialogue continuously.

      • drmchsr0 says:

        There’s a strange thing I just noticed.

        Whenever there’s a crucifixion, the crucified isn’t nailed to the cross, as per the norm in the ancient Roman days. They’re tied, rather. Perhaps this is due to the Japanese aversion to violence post WW2?

        • The cross must be easy enough to break free from and give no lasting injuries (only ones that can be cared for by head bandages), so the characters/robots can crush the enemies later in the same episode. That’s what I think anyway.

  5. schneider says:

    Great finds! I find the wine pic montage funny, when Char is the odd one out. So many Boazanians!

    I guess head injuries are preferable to the super robot writer than, say, limb injuries. Since you can’t pilot if you can’t move your hand, amirite?

    Upside-down Sayaka cracks me up, lols

    • Not only do Boazanians drink blood red chianti, they also have HORNS. The good Boazanians DON’T have horns, and of course they’re persecuted by the horny ones.

      Yeah, limb injuries are a no-no. Basically limb injuries get the Sanada Yukimura treatment (Sengoku Basara S2 ep 01), the heal by hot blood alone.

  6. Crusader says:

    Indeed Mazinger Z was willing to die for all of Man’s sins… Praise be to the son of Zeus who came forth to try and redeem men and women everywhere even as there are heretics who deny the existence of SHINING ZEUS and his BIG BANG PUNCH.

    I don’t think EVA injected weirdness so much as the mindfuck that was pronounced as profound by a generation of “artist” posers who were later outed when it was confessed that the Judeo-Christian symbolism was just simply shallow and cool with no meaning… like many Super Robot shows. Still it did bring in the wide acceptance of lose, fail, and cowardice to mecha pilots since then. Still I guess at the time it was refreshing to have a coward be the pilot, but these days it seems hot-blooded bravery is what is shamefully lacking.

    The only instance of loss of limb I can recall was in 8th MS team with Shiro and 0083 with that Zeke in the mobile armor. There is also Darth Louise but that handicap was overcome, and a new one imposed…

    • Silly Eva fans are silly. Well, silly fans are silly.

      The interesting thing is how a reluctant pilot would really play out. The emo teen pilot has been around since at least Amuro, who did not merely run away but also stole the Gundam and buried it in dirt in the middle of the desert.

      The difference between Shinji and others is that the others have a craving for power that the robots enable, despite all the pacifist and/or anti-adult rhetoric. Do note that very few people are actually fans of Shinji!

      The horrible extremes of Eva’s influence on the lead pilot template is when the emo is combined with an attempt to appeal to those sexually attracted to such displays: the emo bishonen. While Shinji’s panic attacks and breakdowns are disgusting to look at, the shows thereafter used pilots emoting in very contrived poses. My favorite set of examples:

  7. I am obsessed with crucifixions. Something like 90% of what I draw ends up involving a crucifixion even if I didn’t intend it to (helps that they’re easy as hell to draw.) This rubbed off on my brother, too, who likes to draw big gothy mindfuck pictures with some of those in them. The obsession came from equal parts Eva and The Soultaker, which features them even more frequently and allegorically. My brother loves those series as well. Both of us also love to plant eva-style lance of longinuses into our images, be they through the crucified person, or just there. Mine also tend to involve a lot of blood, his less so, but probably because I’m a lot more obsessed with making cool-looking blood splatters.

  8. sadakups says:

    Holy shit. I seriously did not notice these tropes back when I was watching old robot anime.

  9. pp says:

    LOL the video is well played! the way is animated makes it into a super robot maths!

    but anyway personally i think using red wine is pretty much easy to identify the bad guy as mentioned earlier due to their “blood thirsty” nature and also because good guys have a better variety of drinks which includes beer, coffee, tea, soda and water. if that make any sense at all , bad guys also likes to wear tons of clothes, crown, cape, armor, gloves, boots, big belts , you name it they have it.

    • Yeah, the tons of clothes thing is something I should’ve thought of. The good guys seem to wear minimal apparel, in contrast with CAPES and BILLOWING ROBES, and JEWELS.

  10. I’ll never understand the Japanese fascination with Christian imagery. And don’t worry, I completely understand how Catholicism’s love of bloody Jesus can be a bit disturbing. They asked us to drink blood, eat a man’s body (compressed into wafer form) and kiss a sad dead man’s foot. And we’re kids!

    I’m sure I’m going to feel guilty about that later. If I still had my rosary I’d be doing quite a bit of repentance. >.<

    • Well, we’re fascinated with the trappings of other cultures yes? For them it’s just another set of symbols, as much as for some people kanji, yin and yang, dragons, are just cool stuff to ink on their bodies.

      Go seek confession my child and find the love of Christ through the holy sacraments :p

  11. SengokuRakuen says:

    I’ve never really paid attention with the head bandage until I’ve rewatched Voltes V a few months back, and I swear I laughed my ass off (of course my father and brother not knowing why the hell I’m laughing at bandages).

    One thing I’ve noticed too besides the wine and the high-pitch laughs of villains is that most male villains have pointy-edged eyes (same too with female villains—> who wear too much make up, especially with eye liners and what not to make their eyelashes pointy). I’m always one to point “Oh that’s an enemy.” whenever we watch these shows.

    I never looked at Eva as “weird” and “distorted”, in fact it was an innovative motion to present a new stream with story-telling. Indeed Eva changed my viewing standards— Forever. I’ve never noticed Culture, Lifestyle, Sexuality, Religion, and everything else until after watching Eva back in 2004. It was like a “Coming-of-age phase” kind of a show. It truly was.

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  13. Weird laughter implies perversion — that is taking pleasure in causing harm unto others.


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