The Mashin Hero Wataru Series (魔神英雄伝ワタル; Mashin Eiyūden Wataru) is a gag-filling, whimsical fantasy adventure super robot anime television series that stretched from the late 80's to the end of 90's, co-created by Sunrise under their House Pseudonym, "Hajime Yatate", and Sakura Wars creator Ouji Hiroi.
Athletically-gifted 9-year old Wataru Ikusabe brings his self-made clay robot sculpture from art class at school to life by unknowingly accessorizing the model with a couple of gemstones that he stumbles across, and finds himself transported to a magical kingdom called Soukaizan (創界山；”Creation Realm Mountain”).
The townsfolk residing at the foot of the mountain proclaim Wataru as the savior. To aid him in combating the evil that has taken over Soukaizan, a spirit of a dragon god resides within Wataru’s clay robot, bringing it to life as a Humongous Mecha called "Ryujinmaru".
Throughout his journey, Wataru is accompanied by two of the finest warriors Soukaizan has to offer: a Dual Wielding Samurai by the name of Shibaraku Tsurugibe, who trains Wataru in the way of the sword, and Himiko Shinobibe, a spirited young Kunoichi, through all forms of problem-solving, battles, drama, laughter, and a whole lot of fun.
The first two installments were immensely popular with the Japanese and East Asian demographics that it spawned lengthy Original Video Animation to serve as Prequels to their next respective installments note , as well as spinning out separate stories in the form of radio dramas that focused on the backgrounds of individual characters.
To celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Wataru series, Sunrise and BANDAI SPIRITS' Tamashii Nations toy brand kicked off a new Web Animation titled Mashin Hero Wataru: The Seven Spirits of Ryujinmaru starting its release on April 10, 2020.
The titles presented for this series are as follows:
- Mashin Hero Wataru (1988-1989)
- Shin Mashin Hero Wataru: Mashinzan-hen (1989; OVA spin-off)
- Mashin Hero Wataru 2 (1990-1991)
- Mashin Hero Wataru: Warinaki Toki no Monogatari (1993–1994; OVA spin-off)
- Super Mashin Hero Wataru (1997-1998; An Alternate Continuity reboot of the series)
- Mashin Hero Wataru: The Seven Spirits of Ryujinmaru (2020; 30th Anniversary multimedia project.)
- Mashin Hero Wataru 3 (1991-1992)
- Mashin Hero Wataru 3: The Story of Toraoh (1992-1993)
- Mashin Hero Wataru 4 (1993-1994)
- Mashin Hero Wataru: Pure Pure Himiko (1996-1997)
- Mashin Hero Wataru (1989, localized overseas as Keith Courage in Alpha Zones)
Common tropes that are seen throughout the franchise are the following:
- Adventure Towns: The first installment has Wataru venturing through each province of Soukaizan, which are designed like "floor levels" to take out the evil doers lurking in their kingdom. By Wataru 2, he is sent to "stellar provinces" in Seikaizan (星界山；”Stellar Realm Mountain”).
- Alternative Calendar: Soukaizan and Seikaizan is stated in the manual to have different terminologies for their calendars. The date and year counts are written universally in Chinese "upper case" numerical textnote , as for months, ancient Soukaizan goes by Eastern Zodiac for their months ("The Month of Rat" [鼠月] equals January, and so forth), however, contemporary Soukaizan advanced to Earthly Branches. Seikaizan on the other hand, goes by the the first kanji / Chinese character naming based on the first represented zodiac of the month from the Western Zodiac (January is “The Month of Ma” [魔月], standing for Capricorn [魔羯]).note
- Alternate Continuity: The third series Super is this as it's a reboot of the series rather than a sequel.
- Art Evolution: Toyoo Ashida's art style changed throughout the years so the character designs for each installment emphasized on bigger eyes, with overall physical features becoming rounder. Although Wataru 2 standardized the design, as the page image taken from a 2014 pachinko game showcases, it's Super Robot Wars X who takes the best traits of all three installments, blending them into a harmonious composite that can satisfy fans who root for a particular installment.
- Audience Surrogate: Before Super was released, the series was produced as a family-friendly show in mind. Therefore, the main cast has one character to represent a specific age demographic to give the audience someone to see themselves and learn An Aesop from.
- Himiko and Toraoh: Children ages 6 to 8.
- Wataru: Elementary kids to pre-teens.
- Kurama Wataribe: Late-teens to young adults.
- Shibaraku: Working adults and parental figures.
- Batman Can Breathe in Space: Justified; Soukaizan and Seikaizan share the same atmosphere, despite the latter being located at a higher altitude in the sky, akin to space. Of course, given the setting of the franchise is fantasy-based, "space" in Mashin Hero Wataru is relative.
- Brainwashed and Crazy: Almost all floor bosses and their subordinates are normal residents of Soukaizan and Seikaizan whom the Big Bad turned into their minions. Upon clearing a floor level, those affect are turned back to normal.
- Calling Your Attacks: Wataru routinely calls out Ryujinmaru's special attacks, while Shibaraku will state the names of his sword techniques occasionally. The villain-of-the-week in their respective Mashin will also pull this off.
- Children Are Innocent: The series places heavy emphasis in "children do not inherit evil"; it's by environmental influences that shape who they will become. Therefore, no matter how incompetent one may be, adults are to take responsibility in setting positive examples for children, especially those who look up to them.
- Dragons Are Divine: All dragons depicted in this franchise, be they are good or evil, are forms of high-level deities.
- Everything's Better with Rainbows:
- Soukaizan and its trademark rainbow halo serves as the kingdom's health status, with each color spectrum representing a floor. In the first series, once Wataru liberates a floor, a color of the rainbow is restored.
- In accordance to Empress Seiryuhi of Soukaizan in Wataru 2, Seikaizan provides the energy source fueling the their kingdom’s rainbow halo. Therefore, just like the first series, when each stellar province of Seikaizan is freed from the floor boss, one color of the halo returns to normal.
- Transportation from one floor to another, aka. from province-to-province, is done by a rainbow bridge. However, these bridges rarely give Wataru and his companions a safe landing upon arriving to the next level.
- Finishing Move: Done to absolute formula - Ryujinmaru will destroy the villain-of-the-week and their Mashin via BFS.
- A Mech by Any Other Name: Mecha of all types in the franchise are classified as "Mashin" (see World of Pun for further descriptions).
- Medium Awareness: The exposition teams in each installment are not completely invisible to the characters on set. Sometimes, those being exposed sense an unsettling presence, and give the teams Aside Glances.
- Next Tier Power-Up: All allied Mashins will go through a variety of this, ranging from Mid Season Upgrades, post-season upgrades, and temporary Super Modes to enhance their abilities. By just counting the initial canon trilogy (W, W2, & Super,) Ryujinmaru alone has a total of sixteen different forms.
- Numerological Motif: Seven.
- Planetville: Seikaizan in Wataru 2, a neighboring planet reminiscent of the Big Dipper constellation high in the sky.
- The Power of Love and Friendship: Compared to shows who emphasizes in mecha battles, the Wataru series focuses on the interactions between characters and how they overcome their differences to become friends with each other; their love and friendship with each other will bring miracles, and become the key elements to defeat evil.
- Strictly Formula: The format of most episodes are as follows - The Heroes arrive at their next destination, saving a One-Shot Character from the villain-of-the-week's Mooks. Said character tells the party of the villain and his/her motives, which leads to the party confronting the former. Hilarity ensues via hijinx and Running Gags on the protagonists and the villains as their attempt to defeat/outsmart the other. Inevitably, the villain summons their respective Mashin to do battle, as does the party, ending with Ryujinmaru performing its Finishing Move a la BFS, cleaving the villain's Mashin in two and blasting him/her away into the sky. As the party prepares to leave, the One-Shot Character provides some exposition on where The Heroes need to go and do to liberate the floor/province from the floor boss.
- Super-Deformed: The entire franchise and world setting plays on this—all Mashins, good or bad, are rendered as such; Soukaizan and Seikaizan also have human races that showcase various levels of deformation. Justified when the shows were also meant to be Merchandise-Driven, with model kits of various Mashins being built to replicate this visual style compared to the majority of other shows in the Mecha genre.
- Technology Marches On: Shibaraku and Senjinmaru’s usage of phone went from phone booths in the first two installments, to mobile phones in Super, then to current smartphones in Seven Spirits all waved out thanks to them living in a fantasy world. Wataru gets the experience of using a smartwatch in Seven Spirits as part of his savior gear.
- Theme Naming: Allied characters have surnames that end with "be" (部)", while juxtaposed with a word that characterizes themnote ; meanwhile, allied Mashin names end with the word "maru".
- A Twinkle in the Sky: Most villains-of-the-week will be sent flying when defeated by Ryujinmaru's Finishing Move. As this is a Gag Series, The Heroes are not exempt from this, either.
- Year Inside, Hour Outside: The time difference between Wataru's world and Soukaizan is this for the first two series. But Super seems to avert this mechanism, as Wataru's world in Japan takes place one year after Wataru 2, but everyone from Soukaizan appear looking just about the same as they did previously; to be more precise, Soukaizan was moving a lot slower than before.
- World of Pun: The series runs this off the charts. The use of Punny Names in particular are there to help children learn Japanese phrases, historical figures, celebrities, and important cultural references. Commonly used examples are listed below.