Disclaimer: This is a partial response to a post that I saw a while ago. If you know what post that is, please don’t like this there. I’m trying not to be petty here and sometimes that is hard.
I’ve always wondered what people just see the genre title or a cover of mech anime. Do you only see giant robots? Do you think it’s going to be about mech robots fighting and nothing else? Seriously, I don’t even have a clue of what an outside perspective is like. I have never been a member of the outside group when it comes to this topic. I’ve been watching mech anime since my anime conception. Big O and various Gundam series aired on Toonami and I was addicted to them ever sense. There was a time when it was the only thing that I’ve watched. In that way, they’ve formed what I look for when it comes to watching anime. Giant robots fighting is only one out of many aspects of what makes the mecha genre unique.
The most obvious trait that anything mecha labeled has is a high layer of politics. This is more of a real robot kind of thing, but it’s attached to all of them in some way. People are going to have disagreements and they are expressed through the factions that they join. Or for more of an evangelion inspired route, the group that the protagonist joined to protect mankind may only using him as a pawn in their schemes of something even darker. Yes, all of the mech shows that I’ve watched have this trait. Even Rideback, a story that focused on robot bicycle races, had a terrorist focused plot in its second half. It was completely ridiculous and out of place for what the series was trying to achieve, but it happened anyway. Mech series have mastered the concept of political intrigue. It is part of how they live and breathe.
Another thing that all mech series have is a way for the protagonist to pilot robots beyond the level of a normal human. I feel like this is a left over from the transition out of the super robot portion of this genre. Let me know if you want me to write about that in the future. These could come from having the pilots obtain psychic powers for some reason to genetically engineered people to giant robots having the dna of other individuals. I feel like I have lost count of how many ways different mech series try to push their protagonist pilots to levels that haven’t been reached before. It’s kind of awesome in some ways, but It is also scary. Seeing how people can mess up human being for the purpose of power can be horrible. The result of some genetic engineering can be mentally destructive watcher in a large variety of ways and watching the mech change a human being through body horror can be terrifying as well. They aren’t that terrible though. Something like Gurren Lagann uses this attribute, spiral energy, as a very fun psychical attribute and it’s incredible to see on screen. How a series pushes a human being to levels beyond normal is directly proportional with how dramatic and horrible the series can be.
Yet another attribute that is important to the mech genre is world building. If you don’t feel like you can live in breath in the world represented in the show, then that mech show did something wrong. How a show can achieve a peak level of world building is from a combination of side characters that add more to the world through their stories or protagonists traveling from place to another and seeing how that main world’s/universe conflict affect normal people. Doing things like this makes the current world feel like you can almost live in this world. Maybe not make you want to live in the world the anime takes place in, but you get what I mean. The world the anime takes place in is only a smell away from being real. This is partially why I prefer mech series. With world building like this, it’s almost like the rest of the anime writes itself.
One of the last elements I am going to talk about is an incredibly obvious one for the mech franchise. Giant robots. Insert a giant duh here. They come in different sizes. Some are incredibly small and barely have cock pits. Sometimes as small as bikes. There are also some as big as sky scrapers that can cause destruction with a single step. Sometimes they can be the size of a galaxy, but that one is a very special case. They can also come in different levels of power. Some are much more realistic and work like tanks with two legs instead of tracks. There are also some that have the power to wipe out the technology of an entire civilization or destroy entire universes. Oh man the variability. This goes along with the fights.
Battles are a part of the mech genre that this post would be incomplete without. can take place in many different ways. On the ground is a typical one, but there are so many things you can do with ground. In jungles, cities, farm lands, mountains, and sorts of geographical things. There is also the sky with its different weather patterns and connections to the ground that make each fight unique. Lastly there is space. Space has its own set of variabilities and conditions that I don’t feel like I have to describe. Add some basic ground units, air units, space ships, or all of them at the same time, because it has happened, and you have some cool and unique fights you can’t see anywhere else.
I realize that some of complain about how unlike shonen anime, the pilot isn’t as important of a factor in the fights or how the human isn’t connected to the robot. I don’t think that’s true at all. Mech fights are more than metal banging against metal. The human pilots are just as important as the robots in the fights. Strategy of one pilot against another is a significant thing here. Especially when robot is being beaten up or pushed around. The pilot is the one deciding what the robot does and they also feel the damage of the battle on their suit themselves. I know it’s not the same thing as a shonen battle, because the camera needs to cut away from the battle to the pilot to show the strain on them, but there is a connection here. I guarantee it.
So yeah, here is my general list of why I love the mecha genre. I have written similar to it before, but that post is more about Gundam itself then the mech shows. When I break it down like this the mech genre may seem formulaic, but I guarantee you that it’s not. I love seeing what new way it can be twisted around to make it interesting and unique. There are some duds here and there, but for the most part I have found some good works around it as well.