With the release of the popular 1995 anime Neon Genesis Evangelion on Netflix last week, the classic anime series is experiencing a resurgence in popularity. Though the series was first aired in Japan over two decades ago, veteran fans are enjoying the opportunity to revisit a beloved series while first time viewers like myself are finally able to understand the enduring devotion to the show. As viewers finish their Netflix binge of the 24 episode series, they will likely turn to other early anime series like the monumental film Akira or cross-cultural favorites like Sailor Moon and Dragonball.
For longtime fans of anime, these classic series signify their introduction to the world of anime, enthralling young viewers long before they were old enough to realize anime was an entirely different realm of fiction from their typical Saturday morning cartoons.
Neon Genesis Evangelion is named for the skyscraper-sized robots that defend the citizens of Tokyo-3 from creatures known as angels. The main character of the series, Shinji Ikari, serves as the pilot for the iconic purple robot. Anime has seen its share of fads, and throughout the 80s and 90s, giant robots—known as mechs—were a common theme. In Neon Genesis Evangelion, Shinji questions his unique purpose in the world, all the while fighting creatures he doesn’t fully understand with a weapon he doesn’t yet understand either. This colorful tattoo not only pays homage to a groundbreaking series, but also plays up its retro vibe with the vibrant surrounding shapes.
Futuristic landscapes of decimated versions of Tokyo are another common theme in classic anime series. Both Neon Genesis Evangelion and Akira take place in Tokyo, but the Tokyo of these anime is not the Tokyo we are familiar with. Rather, these anime depict the city after it has been razed by some powerful force. In Evangelion, Tokyo is still hurting from the attacks of the angels, and in Akira, the city is overrun with gangs and activists fighting against a corrupt and dangerous government. Depicting the havoc that ensues when Tetsuo awakens psychic powers following an accident, this tattoo defines anime ink as bold and bright.
In contrast to the colorful and heavy handed depictions of anime in tattoos, this piece dedicated to Sailor Moon not only exemplifies the many possibilities for anime ink, but also reminds us that classic anime is similarly diverse. Though giant robots, dystopian societies, and corrupt governments are a common theme across early anime series, and even show up in Sailor Moon as well, they are not the definitive characteristics of classic anime. For series like Sailor Moon and Dragonball, the stories focus on simpler battles of good versus evil. Though this tattoo delicately portrays Sailor Moon’s important weapon, the hero herself is powerful and resilient. While Sailor Moon herself is indeed delicate, constantly referenced as a crybaby, her delicate nature is also an important aspect of her power as the series hero. The pretty and tiny tattoo then serves as a perfect artistic representation of the anime.
Like the fine-lined Sailor Moon homage, this Dragonball piece brings anime together with unique styles of tattooing. This dedication to the Dragonball hero, Goku, uses sketched linework and small pops of color to make it appear as if Goku is leaping right out of the tattoo. Because the style is reminiscent of an unfinished sketch, it also highlights the series as a work still in progress. Another characteristic many of these classic series share is that each is still running in some way. Whether the series has been rebooted with a fresher and sleeker animation style, like Sailor Moon, or whether fans are eagerly awaiting new installments, as is the case for Evangelion, none of these series has really ended for good.
Like Dragonball, Mobile Suit Gundam has produced multiple sequels and reboots. It is therefore fitting that this masterful anime tattoo, inked by artist Horibenny, should end the list of classic anime ink. Horibenny is frequently credited as one of the pioneers of anime tattooing. Based in Japan, American tattoo artists working frequently with anime look to Horibenny for inspiration. Many American tattoo artists working with anime combine their traditional tattoo roots with anime, but Horibenny’s anime ink is more akin to the smooth, dimensional appearance of hyper realism.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the official position of PainfulPleasures.