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10 Iconic Anime Vehicles

Modes of transportation that set the standards

By John Rose     October 05, 2010

10 Iconic Anime Vehicles
© Bob Trate
While animation has existed for the better part of a century not everything resonates with the public to the same degree. Many characters and concepts find that they are brushed away by the next new thing but this article will take a look at 10 vehicles that have changed the flow around them and influenced those who followed their adventures and the works that they impacted.
10: Nautilius from Nadia, The Secret of Blue Water
Being an adaption of perhaps the most famous fictional submarine in history might give it a head start in the recognizable category to begin with. Then add in that it was the most famous product from Studio Gainax before their neon robot series and the sub becomes perhaps the most recognized submersible in animation.
9: Swordfish II from Cowboy Bebop
The Swordfish II is emblematic of the spirit of Cowboy Bebop. It continues on in the tradition of the free spirited and somewhat lawless period (or the legend anyway) of American history of individualism and freedom. Where an individual could operate to a great deal on their own depending on their own skill with a gun. The Swordfish exemplifies this image with its single seat design and large canon allowing its owner to be like the lone cowboy of legend going where needed and backing up his beliefs with action.
8: Galaxy Express 999 from Galaxy Express 999
Sometimes genius is in finding images people can already connect to and understand and broadening it so that unfamiliar tales in strange lands become connected to a reality people can use to ground themselves and accept the more bizarre. Likely borrowing from the work of Japan’s master poet Kenji Miyazawa and his Night on the Galactic Railroad, Leiji Matsumoto uses the image of the old single engine train to take his characters on their journey to the stars while giving his audience a familiar starting point before leaving the station for the fantastic.
7: Mercedes-Benz SSK and Fiat 500 from Lupin III
Whether it is his Mercedes-Benz SSK with its space for the whole gang and legendary status among collectors or his Fiat 500 that has a number of after market changes Lupin’s choice of vehicle always makes a splash. With the SSK giving him the power and speed to make a quick getaway and the Fiat smaller size and ability to do things the SSK can’t Lupin is always at the top of his game when traveling and his tastes have spurned many who grew up with his stories to pay homage to that style.
6: Super Dimension Fortress 1 Macross (SDF-1) from Superdimensional Fortress Macross/Robotech
With its aircraft carrier looking deck, squat rear design and the tow ships attached at its side on first glace the Macross is an odd amalgamation of a ship and alone might have just disappeared into history with the “What were they thinking?” design. However the Macross’ ability to transform into a giant robot form helped carry it into the status of iconic. Add in its revolutionary concept of having a city of citizens who did not ask to be there and shows that gathered attention on both sides of the Pacific and the Macross has become an icon to itself.
5: Kanada’s bike fromAkira
IIn a genre where bikes can fly, turn into various robots or shoot lasers from the tail pipe it says a lot about the design of a bike and the visual impact it has made where a vehicle one with none of these features makes the list. Akira was an introduction for many people to the world of anime and many of the various promotional materials over the years have had the bike featured in it. Throw in that it just looks like a powerful beast and one can see why it has become so recognized.
4: Nekobus (Catbus) from My Neighbor Totoro
Perhaps the most imaginative transport on the list, the Nekobus, comes from one of Hayao Miyazaki’s most loved tales.. The bus roams seemingly at will though it will stop to help Totoros when summoned. With its ability to appear and disappear and large grin it conjures up images of Alice in Wonderland’s Cheshire Cat. It’s also easily notable for its eyes which act as headlights illuminating its path and its many legs that carry it in its own particular gait across the woods and fields.
3: God Phoenix from Science Ninja Team Gatchaman
The God Phoenix has had two different US TV incarnations and is well known in its native Japan which has helped it soar into the iconic ranks. With its primary red and blue coloring and capacity to carry the other four individual members of team Gatchaman vehicles-each with their own memorable transformation capabilities-the God Phoenix is hard to forget but it really stands apart from other vehicles with its fire effect ability that causes it to live up to its namesake.
2: Yamato fromSpace Battleship Yamato
With a design that captured the imagination of generations of sci-fi lovers the Yamato merged the image of past displays of military might with the future. When Leiji Matsumoto wanted a design to sell his space epic to people he cast his sights back to the greatest symbol of Japan’s strength in World War II. The fact that the image struck such a nerve is reflected by how some of the designs of today’s sci-fi ships still reflect the old battleship images of old despite the lack of actual practicality of having vehicles designed for two dimensional fighting doing so in a three dimensional space.
1: Mach 5 from Speed Racer
The most famous car to come out of anime and perhaps the most famous fictional car of all time causes the Mach 5 to make the list at number 1. For over 50 years since its manga debut the car has been racing in some form or another. The open wheel car has been racing across TV sets in Japan and America since the late 60s and has been popular enough to spin off some later years attempts at revamping and a major Hollywood picture. Whether it is partially due to the car and its array of gadgets (including a special small child and monkey hiding trunk), the racing aspects or the stories central focus on family Speed Racer and its Mach 5 have become an icon of immense proportion well beyond being limited to just anime fans.
You can check out all of these vehicles in shows that are available to English language fans and our reviews of them here: Lupin the 3rdGatchamanCowboy BebopNadia, Secret of Blue WaterMacrossAkiraMy Neighbor Totoro, Starblazers / YamatoSpeed Racer and Galaxy Express 999



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spidergreg 10/5/2010 6:46:18 AM

Damn, Harlock's Ship should be first !

wessmith1966 10/5/2010 7:09:14 AM

Yeah, the Mach 5 should be #1, but the Yamato and it's wave motion gun will always be #1 to me. I loved Starblazers when I was a kid. I've seen bits and pieces from the live-action Starblazers and it looks great. Starblazers was followed by Ultraman on the channel I could pull in on my family's antenna when I was in elementary school. Kids are lucky today to have so many channels and shows to choose from. I think we got 5 channels, six if the weather was just right! I have to admit that I don't know what some of these are on the list, because I'm not a big anime fan, but I'll never forget Starblazers.

wraith729 10/5/2010 8:01:26 AM

Yamato was a symbol of their might, however we blew the crap out of it!

makabriel 10/5/2010 8:54:56 AM

 I've always stated the only bike I will ever ride would be one like Kaneda's (check you spelling, btw John ;) )

If only it existed.

lracors 10/5/2010 9:00:35 AM

I'd move the Akira bike higher in the ranking that's just an iconic image.

Mach 5 yah... should be #1... it is universally known.

Personally my 1st thought in seeing this article was that Bebop should have been on here somewhere...

invisioner 10/5/2010 9:01:06 AM

 @wessmith, you and I must have lived in similar neighborhoods. I had to RUN from the schoolbus stop, a 1/4 mile to home to be able to sing to the beginning of Star Blazers. And yes, Ultraman was on right after. Does ANYONE remember Goldar? The giant rocket robot and his human sized wife and son that also turned into tri jet winged rockets? That came on before Battle of the Planets.

boxker 10/5/2010 9:51:44 AM

The Japanese love that word Super.

wessmith1966 10/5/2010 11:31:09 AM

@invisioner...If I remember correctly, Starblazers and Ultraman were on channel 29 out of Philly, and yes, we had to dash to my place from the school bus (I was the only one n the neighborhood with an antenna that pulled in the station) to catch Starblazers.

scifi1972 10/5/2010 12:04:20 PM

I agree with spidergreg, where is the Arcadia?

CaptAmerica04 10/5/2010 12:23:10 PM

SDF-1 should be #1.  There is NO more iconic or well-known vehicle from anime than that.  For many, if not most of us, it's the first thing we think of when we think of anime.

The Akira bike... yeah, I guess I can see that.  Maybe not as high as #5 though.

I have to say, I'm surprised to see Galaxy Express on here.  I saw that movie when I was only 8 or 10 years old (back in the early 80s), and never realized it was that well known.  Very cool.

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