While the giant robot genre had recovered reasonably well in Japan, the most successful series had been aimed squarely at younger kids during the early 1990s. The "Brave" anime series and the ongoing Sentai Ranger series, while popular, didn't have much to offer the older fans of the dramatic "real robot" anime franchises from the 1980s. There was an ongoing continuation of the Gundam series, as seen in Mobile Fighter G Gundam
(1994), but this contained more kid-friendly elements than previous entries in the Gundam franchise. There was also another attempt to relaunch the Macross
franchise with the Macross Plus
OVA movie and the Macross 7
TV series, both starting in 1994.
VF-19 Fire Valkyrie toy from Macross 7
, made by Bandai in 1995.
During the mid-1990s, many Japanese toy companies began to manufacture their products in China. Thus, "made in Japan" became a more rare thing to see stamped on toys from 1995 onward.
The giant robot genre was suddenly shaken up again with the 1995 premiere of Neon Genesis Evangelion
introduced a radical new design for giant Japanese robots thanks to its creator, artist Yoshiyuki Sadamoto, a founder of Gainax studio and artist on the Gunbuster
series. The giant mecha in Evangelion
have a sleek, almost skeletal body shape instead of the blocky profile and Popeye-type forearms of previous robot designs. The "Evas" are actually cyborg mecha that have organic body parts. The mystical and religious overtones of the storyline were novel, and the 1995-96 manga and anime were an immediate success. Soon there were many similarly-themed anime, including Neo Ranga
Neon Genesis Evangelion
anime and toys.
As home video game systems offered graphics that were more advanced during this time, there were several giant-robot themed video games that featured original robot designs that were more detailed than any seen before. An example is the Front Mission
series, which premiered in Japan in 1995 for the Super Nintendo, and came to the US in 1999 in the form of Front Mission 3
for the Sony Playstation.
Giant robot "Zenislev" model from the Front Mission
video game series
In the US in 1996, Hasbro relaunched the Transformers line again, but this time with a larger change than had ever been seen in the franchise before. Transformers: Beast Wars
built on the popularity of the "animal robot" Transformers like the G1 Dinobots and Predicons, but introduced the concept of the robots transforming into organic-looking creatures instead of robotic ones. The Beast Wars
animated tv series was completely computer generated, which added to the popularity of the toy line, and it worked to incorporate itself into the existing Transformers timeline from the Generation 1 toys, cartoons and comic books. The Beast Wars toys had a range of articulation not seen in previous Transformers toys thanks to the use of ball-and-socket joints, and they set a new standard for increased poseability in the Transformers robot modes.
1996 Transformers: Beast Wars catalog
^ Beast Wars
toy commercial featuring Optimus Primal and Megatron in their most memorable alt modes
The Beast Wars
toy line and CGI cartoon would continue on through the end of the 1990s, eventually including the more robotic Transmetals
toy series. It should be noted here that although female Transformers had appeared in previous cartoons and comic adaptations, the Beast Wars toy line was the first to introduce toys of female Transformers in the form of "Blackarachnia" and "Air Razor". The animated series would spawn two brief Japanese anime spinoffs Beast Wars II
(1998) and Beast Wars Neo
(1999), as well as the Beast Machines
CGI series in the US in 2000
Beast Wars Transmetals Megatron, 1998
As more of the classic Japanese anime and toy series of the 1970s celebrated 20th anniversaries during the late 1990s, there was a resurgence in nostalgic toy re-releases, as well as "upgraded" versions of classic super-robots made strictly for the adult collector market. In 1997 Bandai brought back the diecast metal robot "chogokin" toy series, now labeled "Soul of Chokogin", and featuring highly detailed and articulated versions of the older diecast super-robots. This was just the beginning of a large marketing push for revamped versions of classic robots of the '70s and '80s that would truly take off and spread to the US in the following decade.
Nostalgia launches a powerful offensive in the form of the deluxe "Soul of Chogokin" series of the late 1990s
Next: Everything old is new again!