When you consume copious amounts of a certain medium, you gain the opportunity to have much insight on the inner workings of said medium, and you also notice how various factors within that medium change as time goes by. To simplify; if you watch tons of anime, you end up, by the strong powers of coincidence or simply because you like anime with the same themes, seeing obvious similarities. But where did these start out? What was the pioneer title that ushered in a new trend in anime as a whole? We at Honey’s Anime have splashed into the immense ocean that is anime and come up with shows that we’re pretty certain changed the tides of the anime-ocean and in many cases, opened the floodgates bringing a torrent of new shows that have honed and even developed entire genres! So, who did it first?
I’m Ice Cold
In 1995, a certain title was released which followed the life of Ikari Shinji in Neo Tokyo in the year 2015, in a world brought to its knees by the emergence of alien assailants known as Angels. As the world’s only real form of resistance against these creatures, an organisation known as NERV used advanced technologies to give birth to the EVA – giant robots which can only be piloted by children that boast enough power to be able to cope with the ever-looming threat of the Angels. This title was of course, Neon Genesis Evangelion, and with it came the emergence of quite a few of the major character archetypes we know and love today. However, out of all the inspiration the rest of the anime industry managed to take from Neon Genesis Evangelion, none is as prolific as that of the Ayanami Rei Expy.
Plainly said, the Ayanami Rei Expy is a famous and popular character archetype often characterised by dark pasts, cold and unnatural palettes for hair and eyes, short bobbed hair, a strange but powerful attachment to a certain character or object and most importantly, a stoic personality and monotonous way of speaking. The character archetype is so named due to it seemingly being started by Ayanami Rei of Neon Genesis Evangelion, an emotionless 14-year-old girl who has pale skin, blue hair and red eyes and turns out to be one of multiple clones and was partially made from the DNA of protagonist Ikari Shinji’s dead mother and bore an unnatural attachment to Shinji’s father, Ikari Gendou. As the trope namer and maker, Ayanami Rei bears every characteristic of the archetype, with characters from a plethora of other shows being based off her, which includes shows like The Melancholy of Suzumiya Haruhi, Angel Beats and even Darker than Black.
Neon Genesis Evangelion’s legacy cannot be understated; the title has spawned several new character and plot tropes and inspired countless works throughout the various realms of visual popular culture which continue to pay homage to the series to this very day.
Mahou Shoujo Eve
One of the longest-running anime tropes is one that has also evolved quite a lot since it was first introduced in 1960s with a title called Sally the Witch, an anime featuring a young girl who would use a wand in order to change into another costume. However, be that as it may, the magical girl genre, although being known well for the presence of transformation in pretty much every magical girl title, is better known for what they do with the transformations – the very impact of such an event is almost synonymous with the magical girl genre after the advent of the iconic 1990s anime Bishoujo Senshi Sailor Moon, and of course the Super Saiyan transformation of the Dragon Ball franchise. “Which title was Mahou Shoujo Eve?” is a question with multiple answers.
If we go back in time to a time before magical girls in anime, to what is regarded the first mahou shoujo anime title, we are brought to Sally the Witch in 1966. However, the magical girl genre as we know it now has evolved so much from the humble beginning that is Sally the Witch. With exciting transformation sequences becoming a staple of the genre, it certainly would be interesting to see just where that trend began. Let’s move on from ’66 and head over to 1973: Cutey Honey – the title credited with the format of the magical girl transformation scene, complete with jewellery, activation phrases, and awesome cuts showing the transformation from several angles. Despite this, Cutey Honey was never a shoujo title. It was in fact a male-targeted show and the characters within this show were never actually thought to be magical girls – but the influence still stands today in a multitude of titles, from the famous Bishoujo Senshi Sailor Moon to the deconstruction of this very genre, Puella Magi Madoka Magica.
I’m late, I’m late, I’m late!!
Let’s play with a fairly well-known anime situation. It is a beautiful weekday morning and the town has emerged from its slumber for yet another productive day, with adults going to work and young students going to school; however, someone is still in the warm embrace of slumber because they overslept. Their mother’s voice bellows from below – “It’s time for school!” Frantic, this person races out of bed, tripping over a pile of clothing while hopping out of their pyjamas and into their school uniform. Clearly in a hurry, they can’t have much of the bountiful breakfast prepared for them, so they grab a slice of toast and hobble out of the house with their shoes barely tied, breaking out into full sprint with the toast in their mouth.
Sound familiar? The evergreen late-for-school anime trope is a comedic device showcasing the mundanity of the life of the protagonist, usually in situations where the protagonist’s life is set to become anything but mundane. Several titles have used this trope since its introduction to the anime universe, including the iconic Neon Genesis Evangelion, Bishoujo Senshi Sailor Moon, Azumanga Daioh and countless others. Where did it come from? Who was the pioneer who grabbed that first slice of toast that inspired all the other slices of toast eaten as a result of this trend?
Due to the fact that sometimes things are lost in the currents of history, we can never be completely sure. There is evidence of the trope being established by the 1975 manga Tsuraize! Boku-chan by Takahashi Ryouko. The manga follows the life of second year high schooler Tajima Nozomi, a girl who dreams of becoming an actress. Two pages feature the protagonist running to school; however, she doesn’t have toast in her mouth. In tracing down this manga, some curious individuals have uncovered an older manga which brings us closer to solving the mystery – Patty’s First Love.
The chapter of Patty’s First Love which is seen as the source of the slice-of-toast, late-for-school trope featured in a 1968 compilation volume titled Taiyou no Catherine. It ran for about 10 chapters from 1967 to 1968. The pages featuring the protagonist leaving her classroom with what isn’t actually a slice of toast, but is in fact a bread roll. Despite the obvious differences, this example of the source of the trope seems to be much closer to the definite answer, but for now, we can credit both Patty’s First Love and Tsuraize! Boku-chan with laying down the groundwork for what eventually became a well-used anime trope.
We Dig Giant Robots
Colossal humanoid machines built with bleeding-edge technology and bear enough firepower to level small countries. Such is the general thought given to the baseline concept of the mecha genre; an extensive and forever expanding list of incredible universes where giant machines are used as tools of war. The most notable title of the mecha genre is of course the iconic Mobile Suit Gundam of 1979, a title which grew into one of the biggest franchises in anime, spawning series upon series to present day and even having a life-sized statue of the franchise’s signature robot built (although being recently taken down) in Odaiba, in Tokyo, Japan. With such an amazing legacy and reputation, it almost makes complete sense to see Mobile Suit Gundam as the progenitor of the mecha genre… but it isn’t. The mecha genre stretches back to a time before the Gundam franchise – the question is, how far back and what will we find at the beginning of the mecha line?
1956. Yokoyama Mitsuteru’s manga, Tetsujin 28-go (Iron Man #28) is released, ushering in the mecha genre in Japanese media. At this point in time, giant robots were simply giant androids with no pilots to control their movements. It was only when the anime Mazinger Z was released that we got a taste of the mecha genre as it is now – featuring human beings in the cockpits of these giant machines for the first time, a factor well-used in the famous Gundam franchise. The genre has, much like any other, undergone much evolution in the decades since its inception, with pivotal titles like Mazinger and Neon Genesis Evangelion, the latter being credited with ushering in an age of sleeker, faster mecha designs as opposed to the traditional clunky designs of old.
Tropes and clichés exist in almost every form of art, from visual art, to film, anime, gaming and even music, there are often times when several creators or several works all have the same inspiration, or inspire each other, making homages to each other’s works. This sets a trend and some die out early, while others become famous, iconic representations of an art form’s journey and evolution throughout the ages.
Curiosity is a beautiful human trait. It is this trait which has us questioning everything and wanting to know more about everything. Delving deep into the ever-expanding universe that is anime and finding out why things are as they currently are is both satisfying and empowering as a fan of the medium – you gain the ability to relate to the shows you enjoy with greater understanding and in many cases, that enhances each individual experience. Are there some tropes you’d like to know more about or even share your knowledge on? Don’t be shy, drop a comment below and let us know all about it!