John K’s “Stuff” blog raised an interesting question about robots in anime the other day:
I wonder how many we need? What makes one any better than another?
To answer the first question, we need as many as possible. Why? Short answer, because God loves us and wants us to be happy, that’s why! Long answer has something to do with toy companies, business models and other stuff I really don’t care about right now. Robots!
To answer the second question, I believe that each era of anime robot design has its unique advantages and disadvantages:
60’s and 70’s: This represents the hey-day of “Super Robots”, machines that were usually one of a kind that derived their weapons from within their own bodies. The thick lines and clear silhouettes of these guys really look spectacular when they start to go to town the monsters they fight.
80’s: This was a period when cold war military spending was at its height. Many designs from this period borrowed heavily from vehicles like the M1 Abrams tank or the F-14 Tomcat. There are a lot more straight lines and more details put in to give the robots a increased sense of realism. This was also a period for a lot of classic “Real Robot” series, where characters took on a more central role, and the robots were mass produced machines and treated more like set pieces. Purists might criticize these designs for having too many unnecessary details, and that reducing the robots to set pieces just makes these shows into toy commercials. To this I say that details, when used properly, can make a robot look like it could come stomping through your town at any moment. Sacrificing a little bit of design for realism is not a bad thing. As for the point on mass production, I think armies of robots fighting each other is way cooler than just one or two duking it out, don’t you agree?
90’s-present: This is a period of a lot of branching out and introspection. Designs become more organic, reflecting storyline choices by series like Evangelion. A lot of remakes start happening here two. Mars Successor Nadesico is influenced by both the Super Robot and Real Robot sub-genres. There is a danger of robot designs plateauing in quality, either through repeated remakes, or because the CGI tools used to animate them allow designers to add details with reckless abandon, so as to render the mechanical designs unreadable. Fortunately, science is now catching up to science fiction. Now humanoid shaped robots are appearing in real life, perhaps mechanical designers can use them for inspiration for future designs.