Robots in Japan Have Roots in Its Robot Anime


Japanese Animation Guide: The History of Robot Anime is a 90-page inquiry commissioned by the Agency for Cultural Affairs and its Manga, Animation, Games, and Media Art Information Bureau in Japan. This study was published in Japanese last year and the English translation of a shortened version just became available. First of its kind in the world, this study provides a window to understand the famed robot anime in Japan and its world-class robotics industry, which have roots in the anime.

The first internationally famous Japanese anime debut was Osamu Tezuka’s Astro Boy in 1963. In 1979, Mobile Suit Gundam debuted and the franchise amassed an enormous national following over the past 35 years. It is so popular that a close to 60-feet-tall status is displayed in Tokyo’s Odaiba recreation district (as the top picture shown). The original animation success led to the creation of huge anime films. American movies such as Transformers and Pacific Rim were greatly influenced by Japanese robot-anime culture.

Cool Japan was first coined in 2002, defined as a form of soft power to indirectly influence behavior or interests through cultural or ideological means. Japanese cultural exports include J-pop, manga, anime, fashion, film, consumer electronics, architecture, cuisine, etc. and won Japan international fame. Massachusetts Institute of Technology has a “Cool Japan” research project and Japanese Studies courses have gained popularity since the promotion of this concept.

As one of the key elements for Cool Japan, anime was of such importance that Japan started to have a cartoon culture ambassador in March 2008, when the Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced Doraemon, a robotic cat character with special powers, to this position.

The authors of this animation guide study said robot anime represents a unique form of popular culture developed in Japan. More studies may follow to examine different anime genres. The study also said real robots such as Honda’s ASIMO humanoid was created by Japanese robot scientists based on the robot anime they grew up with. The robotics industry in Japan no doubt has the most sophisticated technologies in the world. And because it robotics industry has roots in its anime culture, Japan tends to favor robots of cute appearance with human-like characteristics, sometimes drawing criticism for not being productive.

The robotics industry is more important in Japan than any other countries. The robots work in Japan for a wide range of positions. Humanoid robots are among the most famous. In March 2009, HRP-4 met the press, which is an average Japanese women created by Japan’s National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology. This girl-robot made its catwalk debut at a Tokyo fashion show. In August last year, Japan sent the first ever talking humanoid “astronaut” to the International Space Station. This childlike robot functions as a companion.

Honda’s Advanced Step in Innovative MObility (ASIMO) is claimed to be the world’s most advanced humanoid Robot. The mobility technology from two decades’ work enabled all kinds of movements: running, walking on uneven slopes and surfaces, turning smoothly, climbing stairs, and reaching for and grasping objects. On intelligence, it can comprehend and respond to simple voice commands, as well as recognize faces. Currently Honda demonstrates ASIMO around the world to encourage and inspire young students to study sciences. In the future, its uses are limitless.

The publication of this Japanese Animation Guide: The History of Robot Anime for the first time formalized the giant-robot culture as being uniquely Japanese. The agency commissioned the report as an initial framework for discussing the key pillar of anime with people overseas. Its robotics industry, with roots in robot anime, is the best presentation of the value of Japanese anime.

By Tina Zhang


The Japan Times
Yahoo News
The Journal of Asian Studies
UC Berkeley Publication (PDF)
MIT Cool Japan Research Project

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