From Dragon Ball Z to Attack on Titan: 10 Anime Themes Perfect for Pinball
Anime fans have waited patiently to see anime-inspired pinball machines, and some have grown so impatient, they’ve made their own (here’s a Sailor Moon retheme from a Popeye machine). The anime market offers huge pieces of IP with built-in fan bases, so what’s the hold-up? In case a quick Anime 101 course is needed, anime is a Japanese colloquialism used to abbreviate “animation.” In Japan, anime refers to animation of any kind from anywhere, but internationally, anime is referred to as animation produced from Japan.
The style itself would really pop in a pinball machine: sharp colors, lucid lighting, bright graphics, characters with large eyes, wild hair, and other exaggerated features, and, one of the most notable things in the genre, compelling stories, plots, and themes that are usually in a sci-fi, futuristic, or mystical arena.
Here are ten anime themes that fans would love to draw up as pinball machines.
Dragon Ball Z
A sequel to the Dragon Ball anime series, Dragon Ball Z ran all the way from 1989 to 1996. The “Z” in the title was put in the translation to indicate it was the end of the series (since Z is the last letter of the alphabet). Spoiler alert: due to its success, it was not the end of the series, and it was followed by two sequel series, one as recent as 2015 (Dragon Ball Super). The show focused on adult Goku and his son Gohan, who defended Earth against a myriad of villains, including magical beings, robots, and aliens.
Choose to play the Dragon Ball Z pinball machine as the adult Goku or the young Gohan and focus on different objectives and targets depending on who you choose. Build up enough power to shoot a “kamehameha” - aka a turtle destruction wave - at the opponents scattered across the playfield such as intergalactic space enemies, larger-than-life robots, and creatures who seem impossible to defeat, all while the epic theme song plays.
Ghost in the Shell
A cyberpunk franchise that also spawned video games and films, Ghost in the Shell followed Major Motoko Kusanagi as she led the squad of Public Security Section 9 in mid-21st century Japan. After a horrible accident as a child, she adopted a cyberbrain, a technology of that time that allowed her to interface her brain with various networks, making her part cyborg. This allowed hackers to attempt to get into her brain and control her. Talk about a mentally and physically taxing fight.
We’ve seen a brain-focused cyberpunk pinball machine work before, plus there's even a homebrew of a Ghost in the Shell pinball out there, so let’s get an official one. Navigate New Port City on the playfield to prevent crime, or dedicate the whole machine’s theme to the popular Laughing Man arc. Given that Motoko’s an advanced model with a heightened sense of touch, treat your fingers to buttons that deliver low-frequency tingles when you hit drop targets.
Neon Genesis Evangelion
It only ran from 1995 to 1996, but Neon Genesis Evangelion didn’t need a long run to leave its mark. Set 15 years after a worldwide catastrophe called Second Impact in the futuristic city of Tokyo-3 (though futuristic at the time was 2015 which now feels like ancient history), Neon Genesis Evangelion followed Shinji Ikari, a teenager recruited by his dad Gendo to an organization that piloted mechas, large armored robots, called Nerv. Shinji piloted a bio-machine named Evangelion in the fight against the beings known as the Angels.
In pinball machine form, players won’t be able to ignore a Neon Genesis Evangelion machine that has Evangelion looming over them as a topper with the backbox built into its torso. The strongest Angel awaits as a toy in the upper playfield, ready to battle Evangelion once players destroy all the inferior Angels by way of standing targets and drop targets.
Originally a manga series - manga are comics or graphic novels originating from Japan - Naruto followed Naruto Uzumaki, a young ninja who wanted to become the leader of his village. Moving from his pre-teen years to his teenage years, Naruto is one of the best-selling manga series in history with 250 million copies in circulation, and its anime series lasted 220 episodes.
It’s hard to imagine selling 250 million Naruto pinball machines, but they won’t know until they try! Step into Naruto’s shoes and play in the village of Konoha, increasing scores to move him along on his journey to become a ninja, and, further down the line, the greatest Hokage the village has ever seen.
Airing 85 episodes beginning in 1985, Robotechnology, or Robotech for short, was what was discovered when an alien ship crash-landed on an island in the South Pacific. These discoveries allowed advances in science to be made, and Robotech was developed to fight alien invasions, including a mecha that could be transformed.
Let’s hope one of these recent UFOs shot down provides the materials needed to get a Robotech pinball machine. Players have to complete all three of the Robotech Wars. In The Macross Saga, defeat the Zentraedi and gain knowledge about protoculture. In The Masters, defeat the titular Masters and watch the Flower of Life toy bloom. Lastly, in The New Generation, face off against the Invid, who descend from the backbox for the final battle.
My Hero Academia
Winner of several Best Anime awards throughout the 2010s, My Hero Academia followed a middle school student named Izuku Midoriya who - in a society where people are born with superpowers aka “quirks” - is part of the 20% born without any. He desperately wanted to become a superhero and attend the exclusive superhero school, UA High. When the most famous hero, All Might, met Izuku and told him he’s dying, he chose Izuku to be his successor and set him on his path to UA High.
A high school full of students with quirks is a ripe setting for a pinball machine. Hit a Bakugo drop target to activate his “explosion” quirk, or use the Tsuyu magna save feature to magnetize the ball to the side of a lane a la her frog-like ability to stick to walls. Access a special training round by All Might to sharpen Izuku’s skills.
Released in 1979 as an adaptation/translation of a Japanese anime series called Space Battleship Yamato, Star Blazers was the first popular English anime that had an overarching series plot that required its episodes to be viewed as aired. Its success led to other popular anime translations. The show followed the spaceship Yamato’s journey to the planet of Iscandar to retrieve and bring back to Earth a device that could save the planet from radiation.
Star Blazers may have adapted Space Battleship Yamato, but now it’s time to adapt Star Blazers… into a pinball machine. Play in three phases that cover each season. Defend Earth from Gamilon and send the Yamato toy into orbit to Iscandar. In the second one, face off against Prinze Zordar to protect Earth. Lastly, work to save Earth from the sun’s thermonuclear reactions, seen increasing in a meter displayed through animations in the LCD screen.
Starting as a superhero manga in 2009, One-Punch Man spawned a digital manga and an anime adaptation in 2015, and thus became one of the best-selling manga series. The story followed Saitama, a superhero who lacked a real opponent because he could defeat anyone using - who would have guessed it - “one-punch.”
Climbing the ranks at the Hero Association, which employs superheroes to fight evil, is a great setting for a One-Punch Man pinball machine. Defeat a sea monster and save people from an asteroid to move from C-Class to B-Class, and help the cyborg Genos to find and kill the cyborg who killed his family to move to A-Class. Anyone who can beat the game with only one ball receives the title of One-Play Man.
Mobile Suit Gundam
Mobile Suit Gundam aired in 1979 and began the Gundam franchise, as well as revolutionized the Real Robot genre of mecha anime. The series was later re-edited for theatrical release and split into three movies, leading it to become a successful media and toy franchise. Set in the futuristic year Universal Century 0079, Mobile Suit Gundam highlighted the eponymous giant robot named RX-78-2 Gundam, who was controlled by the teenager Amuro Ray.
Dropping into the ongoing war between the Principality of Zeon and the Earth Federation, players act at Amuro and pilot Gundam as they square off against the Zeon Lieutenant Commander Char Aznable and his army of mobile suits. A Gundman toy making its way around the playfield destroying enemies would bring a real Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em energy to the table.
Attack on Titan
Attack on Titan adapted the manga series of the same name into a critically acclaimed show that is still going (season 4 is slated to release its last batch of episodes in March 2023). It even broke the Guinness World Record for the "most in-demand anime TV show." How do we also get the show the record for the most in-demand pinball machine?
After giant humanoid Titans raid the city and eat Eren Jeager’s mother, he finds out the hard way that being eaten, himself, allows him to transform into, control, and fight as a Titan against the other Titans. Aim the ball at the mouth of the Titan to be consumed and sent down digestive inlanes, triggering the ability to power up and now control the Titan against his own.