This post went through a few versions. When I first decided to put it together, I said to myself that I would stick to androids or at least droids of some form and eliminate mechas from my list because there would be just way too many options otherwise.

Then, I realized there were tons of options anyways. Anime is a really robot intensive genre! Finally, I thought back to just how many robots featured in the anime I watched as a little kid so I narrowed things further by focusing on old school anime. Your definition of old school may vary…

These are 5 anime robots from the days before androids were a reality when we thought the most convenient form for smartphones to have is roughly human-shaped! My Top 5 Most Memorable Old school Anime Tobi’s.

I didn’t remember him being this small

5) Nono (Ulysses 31)

I won’t lie, I don’t remember much about Ulysses 31. Back when I was really tiny and living in France, friends of my parents had a kid who had recorded them all when they played on tv. On VHS! And I watched those tapes religiously.

I had no idea what an anime was and probably most of what I was watching went completely over my head, but I still remember that little red robot that shared in Ulysses’ adventures. He was so cute and funny. I really wanted one.

To me, this design still embodies the classic robot aesthetic. Small, very angular and painted a bright highly visible colour. No mistaking this little guy for a real human. And that’s great!

turns out Metropolis is more recent than I thought but it’s based on the 1920s movie

4) Tima – Metropolis

I saw metropolis after my introduction to anime proper because it had been presented to me as a great classic of the medium. Being a sci fi lover, I had also seen the Fritz Lang movie and wanted to find out if the two had anything in common. Turns out, they have a LOT in common.

Metropolis definitely has a vintage feel to it. It’s a 2001 Anime after all. To be fair that’s way more recent than I thought. But it’s quite beautiful.  The fact that people still talk about an almost 20-year-old movie, speaks for its long-lasting impact on Anime in general. And at the center of it all is little Tima.

The traditional example of the “innocent” and pure robot, removed from the sins of humans an unaware of her own nature. Her image is iconic and she truly is one of the most classic archetypes on this list.

resting confused face!

3) Tokiko Mima – Key the metal idol

Another anime I saw before I could properly grasp what was going on is Key. A very loose sci fi anime retelling of Pinocchio. I spent most of this series confused and vaguely mystified (I feel like that should just be my default description), but some part of me really related to Key and her plight.

Hum…yeah…I found a short robot with a tough time making friends relatable for some reason. Who would have seen that one coming! Key is a sweet girl and one of the first Anime iterations of the robot that wants to be a real child that I have seen.

Of course, the ultimate reveals of this story is where the fun really lies. You have to see this one for yourselves.

astro boy
they should have painted a shirt on…

2) Astro Boy

I never actually watched Astro Boy as an entire series. I’ve seen episodes here and there, that’s about it. Yet as far as I can remember I always knew who Astro was and could recognize him. And I’m pretty sure this is still true for a lot of anime fans.

Beyond his own series, Astro has become a veritable anime icon. A poster boy for both animated robots in particular and Japanese animation in general. It was impossible to leave him out of this list even if I can’t actually tell you much about the character at all.

And there is no denying that Astro has had a far-reaching influence on everything that has come since. Heck, even the Powerpuff girls look like him in flight!

yeah…I’ve had those mornings

1) Alita – Gunm

Gunm was my favourite manga as a kid and that was in no small part due to the lovely mix of badass strength, resourcefulness and touching vulnerability that is Alita. A deeply sensitive little robot in a harsh and violent world. It almost didn’t matter that Alita was synthetic, it certainly didn’t make her any less human… That robot strength and resilience certainly came in handy though, and it allowed the little girl to realistically protect everyone from the front lines. Boy was I impressed at the time.

I eventually watched the anime but I didn’t like it as much and for now, I’m avoiding the scary looking live action movie. To me. The original manga Alita remains the one true Alita. And Alita remains my favourite anime, robot girl. We grew up together.

I always liked Chi wired

Another 1) Chii – Chobits

And my other favourite Anime robot girl is Chii.

Chobits is actually one of the earliest anime I remember watching while being fully conscious of what anime was. I knew it was Japanese, sometimes a little weird and I wanted to know more about it. Although I don’t often talk about Chobits, I remember the series fondly. What I remember most though was how impressed I was with just how pretty and generally adorable Chii was. I wanted to be just like her! Yeah… I don’t know what happened either…

Chii is basically all the allure of a beautiful girl with all the fun of a smartphone brought together. I don’t want to say the perfect woman cause that would be sort of sexist but you know…..

I might not want to be Chii anymore but I still want to be her friend. And have her wardrobe.

Hmmm, my robot list turned out to be rather skewed towards cute girls. What do you think that says about me? That I have great tastes?

Here’s a little random fact for those of you that bothered to read all the way down here. Shinto religion has fairly vague delimitations between animate and inanimate Kami (gods) can be animals, spirits, humans or even objects, such as robots. Traditionally, robots in anime and manga are viewed much more positively than in other media because of this. Good to know, huh?

Do you have a favourite old school robot? Something from before plastic memories maybe? Let me know!

found it here

45 thoughts

  1. A callout to Metropolis made me smile nostalgically. A callout to Key the Metal Idol was almost shocking; it’s a show almost no one I know has heard of. Great work!

  2. Metropolis is a wonderful film!

    Haha! This next one is a bit of a cheat because I only know the book character. Long before he showed up in an anime, my favorite robot character was Tik-Tok from Frank L. Baum’s “Oz” series. FYI, “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” was the first of 14 books. Tik-Tok is introduced in “Ozma of Oz” (book #3) and subsequently appears frequently in other books. There is a 1982 anime series (Japanese-produced) that includes the clockwork-driven, copper-clad robot as a guest star. I haven’t watched the anime, not to mention it’s been decades since I read the books, so I am unsure how well they match. 🙂

  3. I don’t want to give any spoilers (sure, it’s over 2 decades old now, but I’m guessing plenty of newer anime fans haven’t seen it), but I’d recommend giving Bubblegum Crisis Tokyo 2040 a go sometime. Definitely a couple of robot-related surprises there.

  4. Bless your heart for picking Chii!

    I forget which episode it was, but it was after she escaped from some idiot who wanted to exploit her. He’d tried to reboot her but instead triggered her powerful mode. Hideki was frantically searching for her, and he found her — standing on the top of a telephone phone, her hear streaming around her. It was such an arrestingly beautiful image that it’s stuck with me all these years.

    Plus, CLAMP designed the characters. I love their work!

  5. I really enjoyed the live-action Alita Movie, it was pretty fun.
    It’s not exactly super old school, but my favourite robot is Odette from Karakuri Odette.

  6. I’m not sure I have favourites, and you’ve mentioned the most important ones. (I’ve never seen Ulysses, and to this day I’m not sure I’ve seen Astroboy; I may have seen the first black-and-white series (I’m fairly sure I haven’t seen the 1980 version, but we still had a black-and-white TV back then, so there’s that…).

    Other than that? Lime from the Saber Marionette series is fun, voiced with typical chaotic charm by Megumi Hayashibara. Mid to late 90’s all through the early 2000s had a lot of robot girls. I still haven’t seen the All Purpose Cultural Cat Girl Nuku Nuku, for example (she’s a robot with the implanted brain of kitten, so I’m not sure if she should count as a cyborg?)

    First one I remember (unless you count Pinnochio) is Greg from Captain Future. Typical metal man design and behaves just like a human, so it feels more gimmicky.

    I also dimly remember high school comedies with the random robot student thrown in, but I can’t remember which shows those were. I’m fairly sure there was a robot in Ichiban Ushiro Daimaou, but that’s later. I’m very forgetful these days. Can’t remember lots of things (a digital brain extension might come in handy).

    1. Off the top of my head I know that Negima, Cromartie High School, and Nichijou all had robot students, though I haven’t actually seen any of those. And Haruhi, of course (assuming we treat “robot” and “android” interchangeably).

    2. Ooh lime! I forgot about lime. And I know I’ve seen all purpose cat girl but I can’t remember a thing about it

  7. As a Toriyama fan I at least must mention
    Arale being one of the classics! Dragonball had Android 8 who was such a good boy as well! GT gave us Giru, and not as old school, but definatly nostalgic robots for me is anything from Medabots.

  8. Ooh…nice post: it’s both about classic anime, and robots, two of my favorites! 😃😃 Well, I’m going to add my favorite to the list. Ginrai! He looks like Optimus Prime, but it’s not the same character and he was introduced into the Japanese Transformers Takara series: Transformers Super God Masterforce! He was just a great character! 😊

  9. Good choices, especially Chii. And I’ll echo everyone else here, Cameron’s Alita is legit good. Though I do understand your reservations about seeing a new version of an old favorite.

    Robot girls were a fad for a while in the early 2000s, and one of my favorite robot girls from that era starred in a cute little short film called “Azusa Will Help.” Azusa is a robot maid, who also gets drafted to play on her owner’s high school baseball team when they find themselves short a player. Azusa is very moe – she’s cute as a button, earnest, and a bit clumsy – but she’s also charming as heck and basically made the whole show for me (since the story itself was pretty basic – I think it was probably written for kids).

  10. They aren’t humanoid, but I really do love Haros from Gundam. That add some needed comedy when things get too rough.

    Also, you took most of my choices (which is why this post speaks to me), but I’ve been rewatching Cyborg 009 recently and I can’t help but love my robot/cyborg X-Men group. More Tezuka to add to this Tezuka heavy list 😁.

  11. That’s a very good list. Funny enough, I’ve reviewed two of the anime mentioned on there (Key the Metal Idol and Battle Angel).

    Astro Boy is totally a given since he is the anime archetype. I never realized how similar the Powerpuff Girls’ flying stance was to him, and now I can’t unsee it. Hahaha!

    Metropolis is one Tezuka work I want to see the most. I’ve heard great things about it and it seems that the co-production with Tezuka Pro and Madhouse worked well.

    I haven’t seen Chobits since high school, but I remember liking it a long time ago. I saw the English dub with Crispin Freeman as the main character and that one boy genius character (forget his name) is totally Izzy from Digimon which is too appropriate.

    I would pick some Kurogane Communications characters as older robot picks. Maybe Angela even though she’s a parody of Motoko Kusanagi.

      1. I was just curious. I thought it was a good and underrated series. It can be a refresher after watching something depressing especially of the post-apocalyptic variety.

  12. Hi Irina,
    I’ve still not seen ‘Metropolis’ so I have to lift my game there – but for me I can only echo Astro since ‘Astro Boy’ was a big part of my childhood 🙂

      1. Great idea, maybe I should too! (I did once ten or fifteen years ago and I was once again surprised at just how much pathos it has. And I also remember being really impressed with how bold Atlas’ character design is compared to all the other main characters.)

  13. I am happy to say that James Cameron was a weeaboo, because he actually managed to pull off a live-action Alita. Well, as best as you CAN pull off a Battle Angel Alita movie. I’ve always been a big fan of weird, underrated live-action adaptations by talented directors (*cough* Speed Racer in live action is better than the anime *cough*).

  14. I must gravitate too much towards mechas and cyborgs, because I’m struggling to remember any androids, even though I know there must be hundreds. Outside of the ones you’ve mentioned the ones that come to mind are Android 18 from Dragonball Z and R. Dorothy from Big O. Dorothy’s my favourite. “You’re a Louse, Roger Smith.”

    Also I’d recommend seeing the Alita movie, they fixed the eyes and it’s very enjoyable.

  15. Astro and Tima will always have a special place in my heart. Tezuka’s creations~

    I also was a big fan of Chobits! I was Freya. She always had the black outfits. lol

    I was going to mention the Major from GITS but… she’s a cyborg. Not a robot. The Robots in GITS are beautiful when they aren’t trying to kill cyborgs/humans/androids.

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