The mecha genre is probably one of the most creative aspects to anime as it takes sci-fi to a different plane of storytelling. It’s more or less as old as anime itself as it goes back to almost the beginning with the likes of Tetsujin 28, or Gigantor outside of Japan. For the past 50+ years, it has been further evolving from the super robot days of Mazinger Z, to realistic mecha such as the Mobile Suit Gundam franchise. So, in what ways do mecha diverse?
In most mecha anime, they commonly tend to be used in the confines of war, which was popularized in the original Gundam series. Eventually, it paved the way for the likes of other “clones” from Votoms to Aldnoah.Zero. Gundam is probably the biggest mecha franchise to have ever existed. However, if one anime does a great job of portraying the war aspect of mecha, it is certainly in 08th MS Team, which is told from the point of view of a squadron stationed in the jungles. As opposed to highly evolved people fighting each other head-to-head, you see guerrilla tactics applied and a hit or miss can make the difference.
While the mecha are rather secondary in Code Geass, it is another great example war and mecha. In its spin-off, Akito the Exiled, you see how the designs of the mecha can be applied in certain environments. For those in high-tree forests, sometimes a multi-legged mecha with low suspension is most effective for camouflage and efficiency. When you’re outmanned, there are instances that (literal) horsepower that give you the speed and agility advantage can be the key to victory.
What Gundam and numerous mecha anime all have in common is the use of teenagers as the pilots. Yes, part of the trope is to appeal to younger audiences, but there are more subliminal ideas behind it. To modern Japanese society, they see their teen years as the last stretch of freedom they have in their life before they become adults and become a slave to the workforce. By “violating” this sense of freedom, it can capture mature audiences as well.
With Iron-Blooded Orphans, the present incarnation to the Gundam franchise, it presents the teen/child soldier trope in a much more mature context. As opposed to having the pilots being academically inclined, the pilots/soldiers portrayed in IBO are driven by economic conditions. As a result, as opposed to having a genius pilot, Mikazuki and a majority of his teammates are illiterate and he’s as socially awkward as Sheldon Cooper from The Big Bang Theory but to a different kind of extremity.
A significant percentage of mecha anime use space as the setting. Under zero gravity conditions, you can see heavy machinery operate at believable speeds and agility while in combat. Though the original Gundam paved way for this, it mostly took place within the Earth’s realm. Other anime from the old days such as Ideon, Dougram, and Votoms largely took place in the vastness of space, but they never interacted with other alien lifeforms, and mostly focused on humans expanding throughout the stars. However, if any anime solidified intergalactic mecha, it was certainly the Macross franchise. With Delta, its most recent release, you see how humans have migrated across the galaxy, how they interact with other forms of intelligent life and become friends with them. While the Earth initially start off as enemies with some of the aliens they encounter, they still come to learn that peace is always the answer for everybody to advance.
Some cultures on Earth have a tendency to be isolated and for good reason, and at times, we should respect such sovereignty. But by sharing when the time is right, all good (and maybe bad) things are possible. Through Delta, audiences can come to learn how precious life is when the average lifespan of a Windermerian is at max around 30 years. With Freyja, you learn that no matter where you come from, everybody has dreams and sacrifices have to be made to make them come true. But whatever those dreams are, not only will they take you places, but so can they people you encounter. They can help make your dreams come true, and the pursuit of your dreams can also make a difference in their lives as we see in Macross Delta.
As we shared before, mecha anime originated as what is now called super robot, meaning that the featured robot was more of a superhero as opposed to lets say a soldier. The designs from Mazinger Z to Go-Lion (or Voltron outside of Japan) gave them numerous colors and all the bells and whistles. They had gimmicky attack moves, etc. While younger audiences can call them silly and out of date, it doesn’t mean that they’re still out of fashion. For example, Evangelion, which has been listed on many polls as the best anime of all time, is an homage to super robot where they have to face a monster of the week. Gurren Lagan, another masterpiece by Gainax, is another homage to the super robot genre with its design and novelty with its unconventional weapons and abilities.
Mecha is a very distinguishing genre that some casual viewers think has been done to death, and we understand that. However, as more titles are produced, they do add one small element that can be a game changer or find a way to stand out from the rest. Yes, some comedic oriented titles do exist such as Nadesico and Full Metal Panic, and there are some isekai titles such as Aura Battler Dunbine and Escaflowne. While comedy and isekai in relation to mecha are small in numbers, they offer quality distinction and add to the genre as a whole with something unique.