Bradford Walker recently posted how the blaster designs used in Star Wars were a brilliant example of borrowing from actual design to lend a feeling of reality to the universe portrayed.

Blasters. They’re a regular feature of science fiction small arms. George Lucas didn’t invent them; E.E. Smith did, a generation before. However, with Star Wars we have an accident of history turn into a brilliant bit of practical worldbuilding. By filming at Pinewood Studios in the United Kingdom, Lucas had access to a lot of weapon props made from de-militarized fireams from World War 2. These props added a lot to the “lived-in” feel of the Original Trilogy, that sense of verisimilitude that every other entry into the franchise lacks.

It’s not gone unnoticed. One of the reasons Cameron’s Terminator and Aliens have that feel (regarding the Future War scenes for the former film) is because the same spirit is present; the prop weapons are unreal, but you can see clearly the parallels with real-world equivalents, so the effect is maintained.

Across the Pacific, it’s no surprise that creators of various science fiction series in Japan do the same sort of thing. Some are far more blatant than others, and some use more obscure referents than others, but the practice endures. It endures because this sort of short-hand is simple, easy, and effective. (e.g. Space Battleship Yamato uses the historic Borchardt C-93 as the basis for the Cosmo Navy’s sidearm.)

One thing I’d noticed the first time I walked into a shipyard was how the “futuristic” hangars and cranes and environments of anime and manga borrowed heavily from the look and feel of actual industrial environments. Study and research had obviously gone into how they look, and why, to adapt them over to the requirements of giant robots, spaceships, etc.

Even for completely made-up stuff, making it up with an eye to what the needs of the job are, and what in the present day does that job, how things have to move, power supplies, hydraulics, conduits, joints, couplings, makes it feel far more real.

As an example, take a look at this dogfight and launch sequence from Honneamise.