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 enricorobot.com, (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.