If you introduce a character, either hero or villain, and then you rebuild that character as a cyborg (usually because the character ended up with some limbs missing and needed some dang ol 'robot parts to replace them) you will have me as a fan forever. It might be my favorite trope, not just in anime, but in all of fiction.This love began back in the mid-1990s after I first saw Godzilla vs King Ghidorah, the Heisei era introduction to the famous three-headed golden dragon.Godzilla blows off King Ghidorah's middle head during a battle, which I'm sure was a bummer to not just Ghidorah but also to the time travelers that see the monster as their ace in the hole.
So they revive the beast as Mecha-King Ghidorah now with a dope metal head and neck, metal wings, a metal torso, metal tips on the tails, and also some metal shin guards … the last of which I'm sure has some kind of practical purpose but mostly just looks like King Ghidorah is gearing up for a game of kaiju soccer.Regardless, the revamped cyborg is awesome and it sent me on a path to watching anything that had a man-turned-cyborg plot in it. Sometimes this had great results (I honestly think it's impossible to make a movie that's better than Robocop) and sometimes the results are a little more mixed (Bless you, Jason X) .And eventually, when I got into anime, I found this trope used on numerous, incredible occasions.
At their core, these stories are usually about a sense of duality-man and machine, two things that don't naturally fit together, combining into one.And they also tend to be about that former thing becoming lost in the process.The more robotic someone becomes (basically the more shiny silver pieces they wear) the more they lose touch with humanity and the more they're unable to relate to mankind.
And this is so interesting in anime where "power-ups" and transformations into stronger forms run rampant. Isaac Newton once said that a man with an anime laser pistol for a hand is inherently stronger than a man without, but often these characters are shedding their appearance and often their entire personality in the simple pursuit of more might.It's a cool branch on the concept of evolving levels of strength, people that are willing to alter everything if only so they can get a second chance at life and another opportunity to beat up Goku.
One of my favorite examples of this is One Piece's Bartholomew Kuma, former Warlord of the Sea and former Revolutionary who, after being worked on over and over by the infamous Dr. Vegapunk, has become increasingly cyborg-ey. He shows glimmers of humanity, such as when he separated the Straw Hats When he could have easily killed them on Saboady. But for the most part, we can only react in horror as the characters who knew him and know of his past react the same way.
So his nature as a cyborg is built into One Piece's mysterious storytelling and lore behind Vegapunk, a guy who we haven't even met yet.We know the lengths that Vegapunk and the Navy are willing to go because we see others terrified and confused by Kuma's inhumanity.That's a really ingenious and intriguing way to build a character.
Other examples that I really like are Jinno from Afro Samurai (rebuilt by the cyborg-obsessed Dharman), Ein Dalton from Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans (who suffered extreme injuries and basically became one with his mobile suit), and my boy MetalEtemon from Digimon (who was beaten by the Digi-Destined and decided that the best course of action was to get a shiny metal body and then write a song about revenge).
However, I would be remiss if I didn't mention the cyborg transformations in Dragon Ball, especially the ones that never end quite how you expect them.In the original Dragon Ball, Tao Pai Pai was one of the first villains to ever really give Goku a run for his money.And when he came back after his "death," he'd been turned into Cyborg Tao. His quest for revenge isn't that spectacular , though.After beating up Chiaotzu in the 23rd World Martial Arts Tournament, Tien comes in (they both studied at the Crane School) and absolutely rocks him.
Then, in Dragon Ball Z, when Frieza returns after seemingly being killed on Namek, he's now Mecha Frieza. And when I first saw this I thought, "Oh, man. Frieza gave Goku a tough fight. But now that half of his face is metal (pop culture shorthand for "I'm much more powerful now") I can't wait to see what he brings to the table! "And then Future Trunks just wrecks him. Both of these are such fun twists on the formula, where the cyborg revenge missions you're expecting turn into humiliating losses.
Anyway, because 1) It looks cool, and 2) It can sometimes illuminate the themes of a story WHILE looking cool, I hope to see many more cyborg transformations in anime to come.
Let me know in the comments who your favorite anime cyborg is!
Daniel Dockery is a Senior Staff Writer for Crunchyroll. Follow him on Twitter!
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