Tetsujin 28-go is the foundation upon which other mechs are built. Mitsuteru Yokoyama’s 1956 manga and the subsequent 1963 anime adaptation is widely credited for launching the mecha phenomenon, standing as one of the first (if not the first) mecha franchise to gain mass appeal in Japan and around the world. The title refers to a giant robot in the possession of Shotaro Kaneda, the ten-year old son of Tetsujin’s inventor, who uses the robot to assist in his endeavors as a famous child detective.
Better known as Gigantor in the United States (with most of the character names rather comically westernized), Tetsujin 28-go is an early touchstone for anime writ large – the 1988 classic Akira borrows several character names from the series – that casts an even larger shadow over other mecha. Virtually every modern franchise was influenced by Tetsujin 28-go in some capacity, though there are several key differences between the progenitor and the films and series that would follow, most notably the fact that Kaneda does not sit inside the robot. He uses a remote control to pilot Tetsujin like a drone, and it would be years before another series would finally collapse the distance between the man and the machine.
Go Nagai’s 1972 manga Mazinger Z (and the 1972 anime of the same name) represents an important evolution for the mecha subgenre. That’s when the human characters started piloting the mechs from a cockpit inside the body of the robot (usually in the head), a technological innovation that has been mimicked in seemingly every mecha series in the decades since.
The premise is otherwise a fairly straightforward action setup. Mazinger Z is the name of a giant mech forged from a new element that can only be mined at Mt. Fuji. The robot’s inventor – Professor Juzo Kabuto – is murdered shortly after its completion, but he manages to pass the Mazinger Z on to his grandson Kouji, who takes over as the mech’s primary pilot. Kouji then uses the Mazinger Z to battle against the evil forces of Doctor Hell, a mad scientist who has discovered (and reanimated) the lost technology of an ancient civilization that utilized giant mechanical monsters as machines of war.
The title was changed to Tranzor Z when the anime came to the US in 1985, and while American networks only broadcast around two-thirds of the episodes, the series was aired in its entirety south of the border. That makes Mazinger Z particularly noteworthy in the present context. The anime adaptation was popular in del Toro’s native Mexico in the 1980s, and would likely have been a zeitgeist influence on Pacific Rim.
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