I’ve recently started watching Tetsujin 28 Go (2004), an incredible TV anime done with the same spirit and gravitas as was the OVA Giant Robo: The Day The Earth Stood Still (1991), both by Yasuhiro Imagawa based on Yokohama Mitsuteru’s works. Based on the intro, and the first five episodes I’ve seen which featured its showdowns with the rival robot Black Ox, I find it fascinating how Tetsujin 28 fights.
It is simplistic to the extreme. It almost feels like a saloon brawl in some John Wayne western. Big punches that knock opponents down, stomping on the ground, and the occasional palm-t0-palm grappling. I’m fascinated by it, despite my deep love for advanced martial arts performed by giant robots, because how it really fits. Shotaro is a 10-year old. He controls Tetsujin with this big electronic box, and frankly, he doesn’t strike me as an advanced martial artist.
Punching, kicking, and stomping seems just about right for Tetsujin 28, and he looks damn good fighting that way.
What I’m trying to say is, there’s a way to make fights good without being complex, and Tetsujin 28 Go so far has a good grasp of this. I’d rank this stuff higher than say, Mobile Suit Gundam AGE with its set pieces, firefights, and duels.
You won’t see a whole lot in the clip, but the elements are there. Tetsujin blasts into the field with his jetpack, punches the crap out of the enemy robot. BOOM. The drama isn’t focused on the fight itself, though you may be pleased to find out that Tetsujin himself takes a pretty good beating in the first 5 episodes. Good stuff.
Then robots start focusing on weapons and special attacks. Each special attack then was decisive. Take Mazinger Z:
Wow. That was awesome. The special attacks sure showed those mechanical beasts! This was how this show escalated the excitement, as the highlight of each episode became the fight.
As super robot shows progressed, the fights became more like “pro wrestling” matches wherein the fights were prolonged. This meant that many special attacks were no longer decisive, but instead were used to soften up the opponent.
Well, that showed way too much but I’m too lazy to make my own videos. The pro-wrestling aesthetic was refined when Tossho Daimos brought in my favorite kind of robot fighting: motherfuckin’ karate!
Goddamnit, that was just breathtaking. The badass levels just doesn’t show up in modern robot anime in the same heavy-handedly dramatic, and yet incredibly fulfilling action-packed way. However, by 1978, it had become increasingly harder to deliver the same quality of fights while remaining fresh.
This was the kind of environment that led to the innovation of militarized giant robot fighting: Mobile Suit Gundam. However, Gundam never really left its roots as a duelist kind of robot, taking the light saber battles from Star Wars and making it a standard weapon for many mobile suits in the shows to come.
Bet you didn’t expect me to use the fucking Gyan and M’Quve as an example! But since we’re now in the militarized mecha sphere, the fights now involve 1 vs. many scenarios using standard robot units. The best example of this is the super-soldier piloted Scopedogs from Armored Trooper VOTOMS:
Unfortunately, you get fights like this (albeit in different environments) ad nauseam. Chirico just picking off enemy ATs all day every day. It would take Macross’ approach – which is to involve a large number of combatants and create massive chaos in the battlefield to keep the action exciting and dynamic.
But it isn’t only in 1 vs. many scenarios that Macross excelled at. It took the dogfight style duel and turned into a grand animated spectacle:
I picked this example precisely because it wasn’t a pure plane vs. plane battle. The Qaedluun-rau is not a transforming robot, and yet Macross was able to give the duel a very dogfight feel, but of course taking it into insane levels of close quarters battle, without resorting to Gundam-style melee engagement.
Interestingly, it would be Gundam who would make the next “innovation” when it comes to 1 vs. many battles. It would take giant beam weapons mounted on Gundams and just hose the battlefield and take out multiple enemies. This came to a head when Mobile Suit Gundam Wing’s Wing Zero Custom did this:
Well, the 90s weren’t entirely made of fail when it comes to robot battle innovation. If Gundam Wing really started doing cheap shit like this, Neon Genesis Evangelion brought things back to basics, in ways never really seen before in robot anime.
This pretty much owns, and shows how Evangelion brought something awesome as a contribution to the tradition of robot anime. The bones of it is still very Tetsujin 28 Go, but the lengths it reaches was far beyond anyone’s imagination.
This pretty much presents the general fighting traditions in robot anime. Different shows will give us variations of these methods: Gundam gives us funnels, Eureka SeveN gives us air jousting by virtue of the vehicular nature of ref flight. The King of Braves Gao Gai Gar gives us HUGE WEAPONS… But all these are in the context of duels, 1 vs. many, or many vs. many kinds of battles.
What I showed here are, more or less, my favorite examples (controlling for age of the shows) for these categories or traditions. How differently would you set up the taxonomy? If the structure is works for you, what examples would be your favorites then? Feel free to post videos!