II. Japanese pop culture origins
We now return to Japan. The year 1934 saw the very first Japanese comic strip "robot" that could change shape -- sort of. The simply-drawn, humorous comic strip was called Tanku Tankuro
, the name of the main character. Tanku was a funny little robot samurai with a round metal body. From several large holes in his body, Tanku was able to pull various weapons and extend wings and propellers so he could fly. Regardless of whatever tools Tanku might extend from his spherical body, his smiling human head always remained on top.
Tanku Tankuro manga comics
The first appearance of what would evolve into the traditional giant Japanese robot was seen in a wartime political magazine cartoon from 1943 entitled "The Science Warrior Appears in New York". World War II was not going well for the Japanese at that point, and the idea of a giant robot warrior that could stomp New York City must have seemed like a wonderful dream.
"The Science Warrior Appears in New York" from a 1943 issue of Manga
monthly comic magazine
Post-war Japan saw a boom in tin toy manufacturing, and of course robots became a popular theme. By the late 1940s and early 1950s, wind-up tin robot toys were commonplace in Japan.
The famous Japanese comic character Mighty Atom
(better known as Astro Boy
outside of Japan) made his first appearance in 1952, as drawn by the "god of manga", Osamu Tezuka. Astro Boy
went on to become a popular cartoon in 1963, and it set the stage for the particular form of Japanese cartoon animation style known as anime
. Although Astro Boy himself wasn't a giant robot or a transformer, a couple of the robot monsters he fought featured powers very much like those of the later "combiner" robots, such as a robot centipede that could separate into smaller robot parts and then recombine.
However, the first giant Japanese robot character was soon to appear...