An even more recent example is Gundam SEED which slides to the far end of the Cynical side of the scale. War becomes humanity's excuse to perpetrate human experimentation, nuclear holocaust, and mass betrayal. Given that the war was started in the first place to commit genocide against a subspecies of humanity, and it eventually evolves to the point where both sides refuse to accept each others existence and commit ruthless atrocities in an attempt to end all of mankind, yes, war is indeed HELL.
To quote Kamille Bidan (Z Gundam) in Dynasty Warriors Gundam 2: "Everyone's... dying. It wasn't supposed to be like this... Are you happy now? Are you satisfied? So. Who's gonna celebrate now, huh?" (He's actually talking to both Quattro, Scirocco and Haman at this point, as they're the respective leaders of each their factions. Yes, at this point he's willing to question his own commanding officer's motives.)
The One Year War. It's the most famous war in the Gundam franchise, with half a dozen or more side-stories elaborating on it. In fact, in the course of the war, the Zeons are willing to drop a giant space colony, housing 3 million civilians, down on earth, killing the civilians in the colony with gas beforehand, and destroying quite a big portion of Australia, create giant machines that can kill thousands of people in seconds, and blame it all on the Earth Federation. In fact, they start the war by dropping a colony on Sydney, leaving a crater that can be seen clearly when Kou comes to Sydney in 0083, four years after the war. It doesn't get much better that most main characters in 0079-series are mentally scarred, or break down.
Even Mobile Suit Gundam ZZ. one of the goofiest, most light-hearted shows in the Universal Century, chronicles the slow descent into hell of a group of happy-go-lucky kids caught on the periphery of the conflict. By the end of the show, the survivors do manage to go on with their lives, but they ain't so happy-go-lucky no more. A couple even head off to the Jupiter colonies, in an attempt to get as far away from Earth and its wars as humanly possible.
Mobile Suit Gundam F91 deserves a mention, as when the colony is attacked by the Crossbone Vanguard, more than hundreds of people are killed at the beginning of the invasion.
In the final arc of Mobile Suit Gundam Wing, Zechs and Trieze take command of the militaries of the colonies and the Earth respectively and launch a huge bloody war just to finally convince humanity that War Is Hell. Later works in the same setting show that the lesson didn't stick.
Also in Gundam Wing, an early episode has Wufei planting bombs in the trainee dormitories of a base. Said trainees were going to ship out tomorrow and had literally just graduated. We get to hear them all scream as the bombs explode, too.
While Turn A Gundam has its own share of this trope, this is also implied to the reason why the Black History was hidden by the Moonrace even from themselves, out of the belief that mankind's warrior potential must never resurface. It didn't work.
Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans seems to be attempting to eclipse Tomino's darker works, with such acts ranging from forcing child slaves to fight, to Gjallarhorn, set up circumstances that will allow them to justify having to massacre protesting colonists as the organization cuts deal with the supplier who intended the revolution to fail just to bolster sales using Kudelia as a martyr. In particular, the Brewers arc did not hesistate to show the brutality of what happens when two groups of child soldiers were forced to kill one another in battle and demonstrates just how broken some of them are from years of abuse.
Despite that however, it did not fully achieved the objective as it glamorized the actions of Tekkadan as their enemies were often portrayed as one dimensional villains who deserved to be brutally killed. This was taken notice of in Season 2 where Orga and Tekkadan embark in a conflict against the Arianhod fleet that cost them everything. Starting with the Earth Branch, then Mika's hopes of ever having a peaceful civilian life in his attempt to destroy the Hashmal. This climaxes with the deaths of Naze, Lafter and Amida during a power play by Jasley that ends with a Roaring Rampage of Revenge that achieves little and has Tekkadan cut off by the Teiwaz as they head in to an unplanned coup led McGillis that ends in their defeat and ultimately the death of Orga and many members of his organization, Shino, Mika, Hush and Akihiro included among the dead. McGillis himself when he makes a final charge at the Arianhod in a futile act of defiance. Tekkadan forever tainted as a villanous organization by the Big Bad Rustal who was unpunished for his crimes. The compromise they have to make would have a terrible effect on the more innocent members of the cast, Ride became a terrorist bent on continuing Orga's vision with the younger survivors and Almiria, perhaps the only innocent soul in the series is driven insane from the loss of her husband to be.
The brutally effective Dainsleifs demonstrated how worthless mobile suits were in the series. A simplistic mass driver able to be used by any mobile suit, it was able to destroy the Gundam Frames without a problem and every battle featuring them ended in a curbstomp battle.
The idea of a four year tournament in Mobile Fighter G Gundam would seem to imply that such tournaments are a preferred alternative to full scale warfare.
The Ishval Massacre in Fullmetal Alchemist is wall to wall bodies; the Ishvalans are either being massacred or are killing the Amestrians in a last ditch effort to survive. By the end of the flashback everyone is left traumatized, and most of the rest are Ax-Crazy to begin with.
Mazinger Z: From the opening narration from New Mazinger (an one-volume-long alternate manga version published in 1988): "A. D. 220X... Hostilities between north and south grow in fury as savage combat with new and ever more destructive weapons lays waste the once pastoral Earth. The remnants of mankind burrow deep beneath the surface. Their citadels, screened against the deadly bath of radiation, poke through the polluted soil like foul, mutant flowers. Their warriors, encased in giant combat armor against the air that once gave man life, live only to fight, and with luck, to fight again. Today, as every day, the flames of war rage in every corner of the globe. War without quarter. War without end. War for a race that has forgotten all other ways of life."
This is, actually, one of core messages of UFO Robo Grendizer, and it is delivered in a pretty heavy-handed way. The Vegans tried to take over Fleed to settle on it but their own weapons turned the planet into an uninhabitable, radioactive chunk of rock (and the scenes of the Fleedian genocide were especially Nightmare Fuel). The only thing their expansionist war achieved was the destruction of several planets and their own annihilation. The war scenes were depicted in a very harsh fashion. And several characters argued nothing could be gained from that conflict:
Hikaru: “Why friends must fight each other? It’s all the same. It doesn’t matter who wins… There’s no way peace can result from this fight!”
Rubina: "If this war continues, not only all the Vegans but Earth itself will be destroyed."
Naruto. In fact, Tobi said "For a child, war is hell". War was responsible for making Itachi who he is and also very much had something to do with Pain's motives. When the three Sannin met Nagato (Pain), Yahiko and Konan, Orochimaru suggested killing them because only more pain and hell would await them and tragically that turns out to be the case.
The Fourth Shinobi World War defines this trope when you hear the death toll of the Alliance forces for the first day. 40,000 Ninja and samurai died in a single day of fighting.
Flashbacks show that the era constant warfare that Hashirama and Madara grew up in was even worse than anything in the present day. The average life expectancy for soldiers and civilians alike was 30 thanks to the deaths of so many child soldiers. Illustrated perfectly in one page depicting Hashirama's youngest brother Itama crying in fear while surrounded by a band of angry Uchiha, with the next panel showing his bloody corpse.
One of the main themes of Naruto is that war is part of an everlasting Cycle of Revenge that has plagued humanity since the beginning of time. Love breeds sacrifice, sacrifice breeds hatred, and hatred breeds war. War is regarded as the source of everything's gone wrong in the world, and the evidence provided does not suggest otherwise.
Zambot 3 explored this trope. Child Soldiers forced to handle weapons and fight a faceless enemy? Check. People dying suffering and dying the whole time? Check. People turned into human bombs? Check. Cities being destroyed? Check. Both sides battling among the ruins of cities already destroyed in previous battles? Check. Every side thinking the other side are the evil ones? Check. It is no wonder this anime was done by the creator of Gundam during one of his Kill 'em All phases.
And then Tomino took it up to eleven when he created Space Runaway Ideon. A war between two sides starts cause a misunderstanding. The result? Tons of deaths, destruction, suffering, mindscrew and the destruction of the solar system.
In Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, most if not all the war scenes are drawn in explicit and gritty detail, often squeezed into tiny panels making them look as claustrophobic and uncomfortable as possible. Well, this IS a Miyazaki work...
Vinland Saga delivers this message with surprising subtlety.
Now and Then, Here and There dumps an innocent young protagonist into a world made hell by war. In this world children are the targets of atrocities committed by other children. Neighbouring villages are raided for vital supplies and young boys to be conscripted into the insane king Hamdo's army. Women and young girls are captured to be passed around to and raped by Hellywood soldiers as a reward for good performance in the hope that they will become pregnant and provide future soldiers and breeders.
Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade paints a rather vivid image of a post World War Two Japan where the Nazis were victorious, with rioting in the streets, child terrorists and the realpolitica power plays with the CAPO and Public Security backstabbing each other. Bonus points for the main character shooting his girlfriend rebel before a sniper killed both of them.
The Front Mission expanded media, such as the Dog Life & Dog Style manga, are very much in the War Is Hell territory. In Dog Life & Dog Style, the brutality of war in general is shown through as Kenichi Inuzuka, a Japanese journalist who winds up in the wrong place and wrong time to witness some of the worst atrocities in the midst of the 2nd Huffman Conflict and those who are affected by it. He brings out the truth of war to the world amidst censorship and to some of the people whom he interviews. Throughout the series subjects like war profiteering, the price some pay for humanitarian convoys and the refugee left behind are explored. In the first volume alone, Inuzuka casually takes pictures of about every single atrocity of war, from open battlefield rape of some random girl to the amount of skulls hauled by a wanzer pilot to mark his kills. In the second volume, a particularly tragic story shows the exploits of O.C.U. Captain Ren Akagi who supposedly saves a young woman, Kino Margo Seletskaya, from rape and performs a Heroic Sacrifice to get her out of the warzone. It is then revealed that Kino was a prostitute who wasn't so much as raped as performing her trade on the field and that it wasn't the first time that happened. Thankfully, Ren survives but he does not walk out unscathed, losing an arm and two eyes as well as learning the unpleasant truth about her trade. Though he does get over it by finding Kino in another brothel and telling her to wait until the war is over.
Hero's Cross focuses on the war profiteering part on widows When Johnny goes missing, presumed dead, Alex gets his wish of becoming a hero. However it takes a terrible toll on everyone close to him. Emma watches as her husband's death is used to get people to by war bonds supposedly for the veterans when it was just used to fill the OCU elites' coffers, Johnny is found in an UCN infirmary hanging on to life support doomed to be one of Nirvana institute's test subjects and Alex is forever haunted by Emma's suicide
Unlucky Days focuses on the refugees of the conflict as Inuzuka without money or food is forced to stay in a refugee camp. There he is moved by the kindness of Tsuruta Miyuki, an OCU woman who came to Huffman to help refugees in the area. Asking Inuzuka to make a video to help refugee, he creates an inspiring video that moves the hearts of an international film festival that he was nominated. however such joy was brutally cut short when the UCN bombs the place and leaves no traces at all of their destruction save a couple of crater. Not even a single corpse is seen which adds to the poignancy as Miyuki was unable to fully tell her story to her boyfriend overseas
Barefoot Gen, anyone? This one portrays the bombing of Hiroshima and its aftermath, as experienced by a six-year-old boy and his family.
The core tenet of the Third Squad of Shinigami in Bleach is that battles are something to be dreaded. They are a horrible, terrifying experience that should not be glorified. This is key to ensure that those who participate become so fearful of battle that they would rather find peace than seek war.
While the Monster Rancher anime is a childrens' series, lots of monsters, good and bad, die in it, and the characters are shown that a past war nearly wiped out civilization as they knew it. When friendly characters die, it's often very upsetting, even traumatizing Genki on some occasions.
The backstory has humans who grew proud and destructive, creating Monsters for anything that would suit their wants. Eventually they created Moo in an attempt to end the last war, which ended up nearly destroying the entire planet until they created the Phoenix to stop him—and what it took to defeat Moo involved destroying virtually everything. When Moo returns to finish what he started, great sacrifice is required yet again—this time on a personal level, with the Searchers fusing together to become the Phoenix, and their consciousnesses ceasing to exist.
Legend of Galactic Heroes emphasised this trope in various ways, from the protagonist's anguishing over the deaths of countless soldiers under his command right down to particularly graphic scenes of destruction that both warring factions experience.
This is the chief theme of the Area 88 manga and OVA. More generally, the series is about protagonist Shin Kazama's journey through hell after his best friend tricks him into joining a mercenary air force.
Shin tells the base's resident Arms Dealer, McCoy, that he'll go to hell for selling weapons. McCoy replies that he's already there.
The War Of The Best arc in One Piece, which dealt with The Marines fighting Whitebeard, plays this trope straight. Both sides start off fresh and eager for battle. Near the end, almost everyone is splattered with blood, marines and pirates alike lay dead, or injured on the ground, trampled by allies and enemies alike who don't care. Soldiers who try to desert get killed mid-battle by Akainu, and the people who decide to help their fallen comrades? Get shot as well, with a massive body count for both sides in the end. Two major characters end up dying, including the protagonist's brother. Not to mention that the end result made everything -even worse- in the long run.
Persistently present in Attack on Titan, especially in scenes before and after various battles where soldiers are seen to break down in terror or struggle to not flee. A somewhat unusual example, as the conflict in the series isnt a war in the usual sense, but more a fight for survival against a mindless predator. Most Titans arent sentient, and it's been revealed that they're actually transformed humans, created by an unidentified Big Bad. What makes it even worse is that fighting a Titan is not like fighting a superior human force, Titan's are incredibly difficult to kill, and can only be killed by severing their neck.
Made even worse when we learn the truth [[spoiler: Titans are people forcibly transformed as punishment. The people doing so regularly use child soldiers on the battlefield. We see numerous shots of Soldiers coming home from the frontlines with their minds shattered and suffering PTSD. Even worse is being on the receiving end of a Titan airdrop. Having to watch your comrades be devoured by Titans.))
The Aincrad Arc of Sword Art Online. It all started the day the game launched, when the players were stunned to find themselves trapped in the game, and dying in the game means dying for real. In the ensuing arc, most episodes have characters die in the episode, and most of the ones that don't involve murder investigations. Some of the players snapped and committed suicide; others grew so nihilistic that they committed murder for sport. Back home, nobody other than the veterans wants to remember that the war even happened.
The trainee pilots in Toaru Hikuushi e no Koiuta are at first eager to engage in the Sky Clan, even if it's only doing recon. However, Reality Ensues very quickly for them, and a few of them are killed off, and others injured after their first skirmish with their battle-hardened enemy. By the time they're ordered to go into battle again, none of the ones that go do so willingly, and are only going to prevent their loved ones from having to.
Black Lagoon tackles this subject in the "Roberta's Blood Trail" OVA (the motif was much less prevalent in the manga arc it was based on). Roberta, Caxton and Balalaika are all war veterans marked by their respective wars and the treatment they received for trying to be decent human beings in the middle of it all: Roberta deserted from FARC and found redemption only to have her Morality Chain killed, Caxton got cited with dishonourable conduct in The Vietnam War after shooting Americans to prevent the rape of a girl and got stuck doing wetwork in the War on Drugs, and Balalaika and her unit were discharged and Un Personed after being caught on film doing black ops in the Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan, because she rescued a local boy from a collapsed building. Roberta's war of vengeance for her Morality Chain turns out to be a hollow thing without meaning that nearly kills her spiritually, not to mention literally as well in her final battle with Caxton's unit. To drive the motif home the OVA uses the tune to "When Johnny Comes Marching Home"/"Johnny We Hardly Knew Ye" as an ending melody, both songs about veterans come home from their war. Roberta suffers the latter Johnny's fate.
Yu-Gi-Oh! ARC-V of all things has this with the inter dimensional war. The series does not pull its punches when showing the realities of war. With the Akaba's using realistic propaganda to draft soldiers, child soldiers being sociopaths because they were mislead by adults and realistically showing that anyone can die in a war, even the civilians. And this is before the story actually enters the battlefield- thus far the protagonists are just preparing for an invasion, except for Kurosaki and Yuto, and what we've seen of their homeland through flashbacks only enforces this trope.
The second season includes a short Civil War in the City that, while less violent then the other wars portrayed, still amounts to a violent mob attacking anyone who gets in their way. Also, Reira is revealed to have been orphaned in a realistic war with guns and bombs, causing trauma that has shaped his entire personality.
The third season actually goes to the battlefield mentioned in the first season, and it features Infant Immortality being averted, an XYZ character even more violent and hateful than Kurosaki, and showing that the army responsible for this war is willing to card their own Child Soldiers as punishment for trying to escape.
Shoukoku No Altair is all about an entire continent being engulfed by war thanks to the aggressions of The Empire, resulting in increasingly bloody battles, war crimes abound, and character deaths in all their meaningless tragedy. The fact that the protagonist is a pacifist and still can't help but get involved and kill his fair share just goes to show how hellish the situation is.
In Tokyo Ghoul, the large-scale combat operations carried out by the CCG are portrayed as horrifying affairs. Bodies torn to pieces, people weeping or voiding their bladders in terror, Mook Horror Show, and even major characters being maimed makes it clear there's nothing glorious about their business. The sequel is Bloodier and Gorier, serving up graphic scenes of violence and portraying the trauma of combat. Beloved characters die in heartbreaking fashion, and the audience is left watching characters they care about fighting each other to the death. Everyone has reasons for fighting, and there's no clear "Good vs Evil" going on.
A central theme of Macross is just how destructive war can be:
As said above, the Zentraedi know nothing but war and can't even imagine peace. In Macross: Do You Remember Love?, where the war of the Zentraedi isn't against the remnants of the Inspection Army but between male (Zentran) and female (Meltran) Zentraedi, the Zentran want Minmay's songs to try and end the war peacefully... And when we see two of their Main Fleets (one male, the other female) fighting each other it's made very clear why.
Macross 7 retroactively makes the devastation of Earth and the extermination of Protoculture more horrifying by showing the Protodeviln, the ancient masters of the Inspection Army, and showing that the Zentraedi bombardment of Earth when it appeared one had gotten loose and the Protoculture removing the restraints that kept the Zentraedi loyal were perfectly justified.
The prequel Macross Zero has a small and horrifying glimpse of the war fought on Earth before the Zentraedi arrived.
Macross Delta has mass mind-control being used as a weapon of war, and their opponents replying with weapons that essentially cause black holes. That is all.
While Dragon Ball focused mostly on superpowered combat, it didn't shy away from this trope either, most notably with the Red Ribbon Army and the Planet Trade Organization.
In City Hunter Ryo knows it, and even delivered a "The Reason You Suck" Speech to an arms trafficker asking him if he had any idea of what a battlefield is.