Giant Robot Protagonists and the Fathers Who Left Them

When I wrote my overview of anime in 1977 for the Golden Ani-Versary project, one thing I did not mention was the fact that all three of the major robot anime of that year featured to some extent a the relationship between a boy and his father. In Zambot 3, Kappei’s father had been away for a long time before he first appears. In Voltes V, the father of three of the pilots is missing, and the story goes from defending the Earth with the robot and base he built to finding out that he had been working on a noble task that requires him to be away from his family. In Danguard A, the hero Takuma becomes a pilot in order to fight the legacy of his father as the greatest traitor to mankind. Now the reason I did not mention this tendency in the article was that, upon further thinking, I realized that the “shadow of the (missing) father,” whether to be supported by it or to overcome it, is so ubiquitous that examples of it are strewn throughout the history of giant robot anime.

Here are some additional examples.

  • Tetsujin 28: The Tetsujin 28, originally a weapon of war invented by Shoutarou’s father, becomes a tool for protecting peace.
  • Toushou Daimos: Kazuya’s father, after having designed and developed the titular robot, is killed during negotiations between humans and the alien Baams.
  • Mobile Suit Gundam: Amuro’s father Tem is a workaholic who barely sees his wife and child, and who has also developed the Gundam. When they meet again, Tem has gone insane due to oxygen deprivation. Char Aznable must also work through his legacy as the son of the great rebel leader Zeon Deikun.
  • Rokushin Gattai Godmars: Takeru’s father secretly built the other five robots in order to protect Takeru.
  • Mobile Suit Z Gundam: Camille, after informing both of his parents that they were cheating on each other the whole time, has to watch both of them get killed one after the other.
  • King of Braves Gaogaigar: Mamoru inherits not just the will of his father but also of his entire race to protect the universe.
  • Psalms of Planets Eureka Seven: Renton must continuously deal with the fact that his father is considered mankind’s greatest hero.

If you factor in the “shadow of the mother,” the list becomes larger as well, including titles such as Reideen the Brave, Panzer World Galient, Eureka Seven AO, Choujin Sentai Barattack, and even overlaps into some titles mentioned above such as Z Gundam and Voltes V. And I won’t even get into grandfathers at this point.

I intentionally excluded one title from the list above that I’m sure many people think of immediately when seeing the combination of giant robots and a strained relationship with a parent, because I wanted to set some perspective before talking about it in detail. Shinji in Neon Genesis Evangelion is sometimes spoken of as nothing more than a teenager with daddy issues. It’s not too far off, and of course the mother plays a role here too due to the fact that his long separation from his father Gendou is the result of his mother’s disappearance, but I think when this aspect of Evangelion is put into relief against the robot shows that have come both before and after it, you can say that it is the common thread which ties him with a lot of the hot-blooded heroes who are often considered his antithesis. The place where Evangelion differs, then, is more the degree to which the shadow of the father, and of the mother, are explored on the internal and psychological level Evangelion is famous for.

I do have some ideas about how this came about, though I also think the reasons may have changed along the way. With a title like Tetsujin 28, which began as a manga in 1954 and the anime in 1960, its back story contains the specter of World War II. The father becomes symbolic of that past, and so the shadow cast was about carrying their legacy or making up for their failure. The 70s marked the rise of the salaryman, and if you look at those 70s titles, they often feature missing fathers who are off either prioritizing their job above all else or working hard for the sake of their families. In this way, it’s not hard to see the relation to someone like the father Kentarou in Voltes V. My thought is that these series addressed a worry of children in this regard in order to assuage their fears about it, criticize the system, or to just point it out as something to relate to.

I haven’t thought through the transition into the 80s and then through the 90s, but Evangelion is often spoken of as the post-Bubble Economy anime, reflecting the reveal that the salaryman system of lifetime employment was not as guaranteed as people originally thought, which speaks to those reassuring images of the hardworking father from those 70s robot anime. It may also be, then, that a show like Eureka Seven reflects the current generation being told that the previous generations were so much better and greater that they wish to rid themselves of that legacy.

3 thoughts on “Giant Robot Protagonists and the Fathers Who Left Them

  1. Perhaps in the 80s the idea became that the current generation coming up had to save the previous one? I’m thinking of Galaxy Drifter Vifam in which the chief conceit is that a group of children must pilot robots and a space ship to rescue their parents who have been taken prisoner by aliens. However, I’m not sure something like, say, Gunbuster fits neatly into this idea.

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  2. I think the idea on the use of father figures is based on the nature of how parents are wholly perceived at the time. While mothers are shown to instill the values and moral integrity of the main character/s, the fathers, interestingly, are shown as powerful persons of influence that the protagonist/s give chase. This gives the protagonists a sense of direction, like an objective that they need to achieve or overcome, which spans over the course of the show as the baddies hop in and get in their way, only for the father figures to show up (positively or negatively) to give our blood-related heroes a renewed sense of whatever they fight for.

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  3. Pingback: The Transformation of Time from Manga to Anime | OGIUE MANIAX

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