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Anime / Zambot 3

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Destructive Saviors, child abuse, oh my!

Zambot 3, or more fully, Invincible Super Man Zambot 3, is a 1977-1978 anime series by long-standing mecha anime studio Sunrise and Yoshiyuki Tomino. It was Sunrise's first completely in-house production. Despite consisting of pretty standard Super Robot fare, Zambot 3 stands out for three things, with the first two coming out of the third. Firstly, it had somewhat of a Downer Ending. Secondly, it featured child abuse on an unprecedented level for a children's show. And thirdly, it was one of the earliest (if not the earliest,) attempts at a Deconstruction of the Super Robot genre. The general story is that Earth is being invaded by aliens known as the Gaizok, which are chasing after the survivors of another planet they ruined, who came to live and hide on earth. However, these refugees left behind two weapons - King Beal and Zambot 3, for their descendants to use. Cue Monster of the Week format.

Still, the show stands out because it isn't just 'Monster of the Week.' As our lead hero Kappei Jin and his allies fight the Gaizok, countless homes and towns are demolished in the process, and whereas some later series such as, say, Megas XLR would just play it all for laughs, Zambot plays it all completely straight, in which the people they're trying to protect see them as just as much as a threat to them as the Gaizok and despise them.note . The results would have been a turning point for the Humongous Mecha Genre had it caught on, with greater maturity and sophistication in the storytelling and a much darker atmosphere. But alas, this wasn't to be, and it wouldn't be until a couple of years later when Mobile Suit Gundam was broadcast and the Real Robot genre was invented that the next big advance in the Humongous Mecha genre would occur. (And both shows were directed by the same guy no less!)

Although the show has gained a well-deserved reputation as a game-changer in the robot anime genre, it, like its successor Gundam, wasn't particularly popular at the time and has achieved that distinction retroactively. In addition, the show's dark themes hindered international distribution: to date, the series' only official release in the West has been in Italy, where the show aired in 1981, a year after Gundam (and even then, being shown only on a series of regional channels, never nationwide). However, the series is available for viewing online with English subtitles.

Zambot 3 provides examples of:

  • Ace Pilot: The ace pilot Kappei literally pilots a robot called Zambo Ace.
  • A.I. Is a Crapshoot: The Big Bad is an alien super computer.
  • Alien Among Us: The Jin Family descended from Planet Beal, which has been destroyed by the Gaizok long ago. This being a Yoshiyuki Tomino work, it is deconstructed: The Jin Family is ostracized, being seen as a menace and generally unwelcome in Earth.
  • Alien Invasion: Just as standard Super Robot show in the age, it's about the heroes defending from the marauding aliens known as Gaizok, who has previously destroyed their home planet.
  • Alternative Foreign Theme Song: Averted with the 1981 Italian dub, which kept the original Japanese themes. This was unusual at the time for the Italian market, where redubbed anime series were usually given new Italian-language theme songs which were marketed as 45 RPM singles.
  • Anyone Can Die: Just to be sure, you did read who directed this anime, right? Now with him on the director's seat unlike the last time, the trope goes on full throttle.
  • Attack Its Weak Point: Most Mecha-Boosts are so heavily armoured that this is the only way to defeat them.
  • The Battlestar: King Beal for the heroes, the Bandok for the villains.
  • Big Friendly Dog: Kappei's oddly purple-furred hound, Chiyonishiki.
  • Bittersweet Ending: The series ultimately ends with many innocents killed, much of Japan completely wrecked, and several members of Kappei's family dead, including his teammates - but also with Gaizok's assessment that Humans Are Bastards proven wrong, as a crowd of people flock to Kappei to finally cheer him as a hero.
  • Bloodless Carnage: Whenever a human bomb explodes, the human completely vanishes.
  • Break the Cutie: Might as well call this series "Break the Cutie - The Anime". Kappei started out as an up and coming kid, even if he may be a bit of a jerk. Over the course of the series, he lost a lot of his positive outlook and became more jaded even if he would still fight to protect the Earth. Being shunned, losing friends and family, seeing how brutal the Gaizok could be while having to be a Child Soldier too early for his age will do that to him. Goddammit, Tomino.
  • Calling Your Attacks
  • Chekhov's Volcano
  • Character Development: Despite the massive Deconstruction here and there, it still contained some traditional development. Kappei learns to be less of an asshole kid and put more priority in protecting other people than just trying to show off. Kouzuki started off as an extremely unreasonable Jerkass despite the available justifications, but over time, he grew to respect Kappei (and vice versa) and became one of his best non-robot fighting human allies.
  • Child Soldiers
  • Combining Mecha: Zambot 3 is formed by combining the Zambo Ace, Zambull and Zambase.
  • Cool Ship
  • Cruel and Unusual Death: In one episode, Butcher captures a bunch of peace negotiators and ties them to giant balloons floating in the sky in order to use them as target practice, making them fall to their deaths when he hits the balloons.
  • Death Is Dramatic: At least, it becomes so - in the first few episodes, civilian casualties seem to be completely shrugged off.
  • Deconstruction: One of the first, if not the first, when it comes to the Super Robot genre, eighteen years before Neon Genesis Evangelion. However, the show just never really caught on, though recently, it's started to get a bit more attention.
  • Destructive Saviour: This series PERSONIFIES this trope. Yoshiyuki Kill 'Em All Tomino went to extreme lengths to show why it is not a good idea getting two Humongous Mecha fighting in a populated area. Although the children piloting Zambot stop the MechaBoost, they caused enormous amounts of damage, (which does nothing to convince the Earth folks who hate them they are ON its side).
  • Dragon-in-Chief: Butcher is Gaizok's minion but he has a much more active role in attacking Earth than the latter. It's a Justified Trope since Gaizok is actually a computer.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: Kozuki. And also Kappei, even if in a much more expensive way.
  • Expository Theme Tune: "Three mechas unite as one. Our justice in the shape of a giant robot. It's name is Zambot 3!"
  • Evil Cannot Comprehend Good: In the final battle, Butcher asks Kappei why he is so determined in protecting the Earth despite the humans being ungrateful to the Zambot team, and mocks Kappei's heroism saying that Earth's doom has already been decided. And then he dies for good.
  • Falling into the Cockpit: In Kappei's case, literally.
  • Fantastically Indifferent: When Kouzuki finds out that Kappei and his family are aliens, he responds with a blase "Man... I knew it would be something like that."
  • Fat Bastard: Killer the Butcher is both figuratively and literally one of the biggest bastards in the Super Robot genre.
  • Finishing Move: MOON ATTAAACK!
  • Forgotten Phlebotinum: The Gaizok create a material that can deflect absolutely any attack. One Mecha Boost is coated in this, then it is never reused.
    • Actually, the associated trope is averted. Butcher does bring back the most successful of the Mecha Boosts for one episode and that one is included.
  • Girlish Pigtails: Kappei's friend Michi.
  • Home Base: The King Beal, which was an Airborne Aircraft Carrier AND a Cool Starship.
  • Humans Are Bastards: The reason why Gaizok decided to destroy mankind.
  • Humongous Mecha
  • Hypocrite: Mixed with Insane Troll Logic, and boy, this is a doozy. The Gaizock have decided that the violence of certain human beings automatically makes humanity as a whole morally inferior and therefore deserving of genocide. But if it is so, then the Gaizock themselves should deserve to be exterminated for the simple fact that they're carrying out a genocide. The Gaizock's self-appointed moral superiority only works if they exclude themselves from the standards they have set for everyone else.
    • It goes even further than that: The Gaizock enforce their Humans Are Bastards mentality; they believe that humanity can never become better than how it is, and they try to make themselves right by destroying it, therefore keeping humanity from developing further.
  • Jerkass: Kappei is a total asshole at first, deliberately refusing to have his machine combine with the others, nearly killing someone by pretending to punch them while in the machine, and pretty much mucking things up more than he needs to. As the series goes on and he receives a lot of brutal consequences of his actions and 'heroism', he becomes less so and much more jaded.
  • Kaiju: The Mecha Boosts are technically robots, but they generally look more like organic monsters you might find in a Godzilla film.
  • Kid Hero
  • Large and in Charge: Killer The Butcher.
  • Laughably Evil: Butcher is one of the most heinous villains amongst old school anime, but that didn't take away from the fact that he's also a very silly manchild, while he never went for the Bad Boss routine, he indulges in silly antics with his subordinates that more often than not goes into the Black Comedy area.
  • Let's Get Dangerous!
  • Limited Animation: No animation supervisor, and many episodes were animated by just one or two people.
  • Made of Explodium
  • Marked to Die: Literally. Those who have been turned into human bombs by the Gaizok are designated by a tiny star on their backs.
  • Miniature Senior Citizens
  • Monster of the Week
  • More Despicable Minion: Killer the Butcher, the top minion of Gaizok (not its leader, definitely), is basically the ones who came up with all those horrifying atrocities and executing it with a glee, while all Gaizok was doing was just observing and then coming up with the conclusion that Humans Are Bastards (based on the pettiness shown by humans even without Butcher's interference) .
  • Names to Run Away from Really Fast: The fake leader of the Gaizok is called Killer The Butcher.
  • Omniscient Morality License: So it's okay for Uchuta and Kappei to mock Keiko and imply she hasn't been weaned off her mother's breast milk and then laugh when she rips her birthday present kimono in the process of trying to grab them. It was all just to piss her off so she'd storm off and go visit her mother. Sure. That makes up for being, you know, asses for no real reason.
    • Gaizok is actually a super computer designed to find and destroy any creature with an evil intent in the universe.
  • "On the Next Episode of..." Catch-Phrase: "Well, how are they going to fight through this?"
  • Only I Can Make It Go: Only the kids of the Jin Family can pilot the titular mecha effectively because they have been trained with the knowledge and reflexes while they were sleeping. More adult pilots trained via simulator CAN actually pilot them, but the effectiveness will decrease as a result.
  • The Peeping Tom: In episode 18, Kappei tries to peep on Aki while she changes clothes, and gets hit in the head with his own pilot's helmet for his trouble. It's a rare funny moment in one of the most heart-wrenching episodes of the series, which includes Aki's death as a human bomb.
  • Psychopathic Manchild: Butcher's not only a completely unforgivable asshole, but spends most of his on screen time acting like a moron. Makes it all the more terrifying when he turns killing people into a game.
  • Robeast: Mecha Boosts
  • Scarf of Asskicking: A technicolor one made by Aki in one episode. Zambot wears this at the very end of the episode, possibly making this the Trope Maker for mecha.
  • Shout-Out: Butcher's rock concert in episode 18 contains one to the then-recently-deceased Elvis Presley.
  • Sky Face: Aki in episode 18, the episode in which she dies.
  • Sleazy Politician: Zig-zagged and then subverted. The politicians here are not malicious per se, but they were part of the Ungrateful Townsfolk and thought at first it was a good idea to negotiate peace treaty with Killer the Butcher. That ended badly and they were made into target practice by Butcher while tied on a balloon. One of them, however, was saved by the Jin Family and changed his tune into a more honest, supportive politician that eventually worked behind the scenes to make sure that the show doesn't end in a complete Downer Ending (influencing people to accept the Jin Family and their heroism).
  • Sleep Learning: Which is only the start of the child cruelty.
  • Some Kind of Force Field: Around the Bandok.
  • Super Robot Genre: This show is a deconstruction of it. Super Robot fighting tends to come off as a Destructive Savior that doesn't always win back the people's trust instantly, the fight to regain that trust is extremely costly.
  • Theme Music Power-Up
  • Tokyo Is the Center of the Universe
  • The Tokyo Fireball
  • Transforming Mecha
  • Two Girls and a Guy: Kappei, Aki and Michi were this before the Gaizok invasion.
  • Ungrateful Townsfolk: As part of the show's deconstructions, the Jin Family deal with this all the fricking time, being blamed that they brought the Gaizok with them and collaborated to destroy mankind when it was the other way around (because the Gaizok in general, especially Butcher, are not picky on who they kill), and until the end of the series, they just viewed the Jin Family's justifications as excuses.
  • Villainous Glutton: Butcher is often shown to eat piles of food and drinking liquor when he's not ordering atrocities.
  • Villains Out Shopping: Killer the Butcher, in spite of being a pretty depraved guy, is often shown doing stupid stuff like trying on jewelry or taking a bath.
  • Why Am I Ticking?: Halfway through the series, this becomes the weapon of choice for the Gaizok. And tragically, the victims are completely unaware through the very end, as they have no memory of the bombs being implanted into their bodies.