Guest posts mecha

Guest post: Rocket Punching Straight to Your Heart – An Absolute Beginners Guide to Mecha

The Reverse Thieves are a blogging duo made up of the stylish Narutaki and the indomitable Hisui. With a detective theme they report on and analyze all aspects of anime and manga fandom with the hope to promote critical analysis and an overall love of Japanese pop culture. Their complementary eclectic tastes, over all positive attitude, and emphasis on character studies make their reviews a unique voice in the blogging community. The duo can frequently be found puttering around East Coast anime conventions and presenting panels on a wide variety of subjects. They also like to orchestrate large-scale projects that bring together various elements of the blogosphere and the fan community including the Otaku Diaries and the Secret Santa Project. You can visit them at http://www.reversethieves.com.

Whether you are just curious about the mecha genre but don’t know where to start or you are a seasoned fan hoping to recruit others, this guide is for you! (cue cheesy infomercial music and scrolling 800-number) Some mecha fans are pretty much born that way by virtue of the innate appeal of robots. But many people have to be coaxed into the fandom. This is a guide for the self-starter and/or the recruiter.

Our beginner level shows have a strong robot presence but the stories mostly focus on the characters or comedy and keep the robots more in the background. These are great shows to introduce your friends or yourself to the world of robot anime without being overwhelmed by the hardware. Check the robot level on these shows to see just how much is in each. When you or your friend has watched enough of the beginners shows to be not only comfortable but curious, take up the intermediate category. While these stories still focus on the characters and plot we also have increased the amount of robot action present, hence no robot level necessary. If all goes according to plan, after finishing an intermediate show or two anyone will be comfortable enough to try any number of other robot shows and judge them without taking off points just because there are robots prominently featured. But let us emphasize that this guide is to help people see the variety of robot anime, not necessarily make a mecha-head out of them.

Before we dive in, we’d like to give some general tips to those who are trying to recruit others! Most important is to think about who the person is and picking a show that is right for them, not right for yourself. It is all too easy to fall into the trap of picking your personal favorite while ignoring two shows better tailored to your friend’s taste. You may love Full Metal Panic! but the fantasy setting of Escaflowne might work better for someone who reads Pern books. Another great strategy is watching shows with a group. The more the merrier! Some shows are born to be watched with others, it has the ability to make things more funny, more suspenseful, or more whatever the feeling the show is exuding may be. And finally, remember, in the end you know your friends better than us. You don’t have to pick these shows, but try to apply our ideas of character focus of comedy as a great lead in to the robot genre! These are more guidelines to get you thinking rather than hard and fast rules.

BEGINNER LEVEL

Eureka Seven: When Renton meets Eureka, he decides to join a group of outsiders who are trying to disrupt the government and to awaken the people to what has been kept hidden from them. The colorful cast of characters, their growth, and both the friendships and relationships are central to this show. The series shines as it takes a look at love from new to mature. Eureka Seven’s character designs, music, and surfer culture all give it a very hip feel. And the unfolding of the many mysteries encountered is capturing. (more information) (full review) Robot level: Medium

Code Geass – Lelouch of the Rebellion: Lelouch becomes a revolutionary to free Japan after he gains the ability to control people’s actions. With its slick character designs and animation its obvious that Code Geass has modern appeal. While this series has a lot of battles the focus is on Lelouch out thinking his opponents and the tricks up his sleeve. There is also a great deal of intrigue, politics, and moral ambiguity that are touched on in the series that give it much needed spice. (more information) Robot level: Medium

The Vision of Escaflowne: Hitomi is an ordinary girl until she is transported to a magical world where she must help to over throw an evil empire. Escaflowne has story elements and characters that appeal to both guys and gals by mixing the action and romance and keeping not only Hitomi at the forefront but also Van and his struggles. There are plenty of battles but many take place outside of mechas. Music by Yoko Kanno. This series boasts more of fantasy vibe than a mecha one making it a good bridge between the two. (more information) Robot level: Low

Mobile Suit Gundam 0080 – War in the Pocket: A soldier behind enemy lines befriends a young boy as they both discover the true price of war. This is a Gundam series so of course the robots are important, but more to move along the plot which is demonstrated by there being only a couple of fights in the entire show. 0080 is heavily focused on themes such as moral decisions and how war affects civilians. This is also by far the shortest series on the list which can help to sell it. (more information) (full review) Robot level: Low

Full Metal Panic!: Military officer Sagara has to go undercover to high school in order to protect Chidori and her secret power. Don’t take the “protecting the girl” part of this series too seriously, Chidori is strong and capable. Full Metal Panic! has a high comedy factor that mostly stems from Sagara being a complete fish out of water and socially awkward to the extreme. This creates a serious juxtaposition between the action and the school life scenario. (more information) Robot level: Medium

Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann: This is sort of an exception to our rules since it has high robot content, but its popularity with non-mecha fans can’t be denied. This comes from many reasons including its bold but enjoyable archetypal characters and its incredibly over the top theatrics and fights. The sweet/sour approach to comedy and action is worked very well. Plus plenty of Yoko service for the guys, but also Kamina, Viral, and Simon score high for girls. The show has plenty of homage and themes but can easily be overlooked by newcomers. (more information) Robot level: High

INTERMEDIATE LEVEL

The Big O: Roger Smith is a negotiator in a city where everyone has lost their memories a mysterious happening that Roger is looking for answer to. With its distinctly Batman vibe, The Big O easily reaches out to a western audience. This is also accentuated by its striking visual style and its world that draws the viewer in. The characters are bold, broad stroked archetypes but made immensely enjoyable. (more information)

RahXephon: After Ayato is rescued from Tokyo which is occupied by alien invaders from another dimension, he is recruited into fighting to overthrow them. RahXephon is a very character based drama where the robot fights are more of a punctuation of the emotions. There is also a strong romantic plot as its centerpiece. You can see strong elements of symbolism throughout but it can be ignored if the viewer wishes. (more information)

Vandread: In a universe where men and women are at war, the two factions must come together on one ship to fight an alien threat. Vandread can easily be sold to people who watch shonen romance while sneaking in a good deal of robot action on the side. A mostly female, easy on the eyes, crew is an easy selling point to guys. The series for the most part is light and breezy comedy but counterbalanced with enough action and tension to keep the pace brisk. (more information)

Turn A Gundam: Loran becomes torn between two worlds which pushes him to try to find a peaceful resolution to a war between the Earth and the Moon. While this is part of the Gundam franchise, there will sometimes be episodes without any robot fights at all. Turn A focuses more on complex and compelling character based political drama. Music by Yoko Kanno. Turn A Gundam is a unique mecha show whose protagonist is primarily a man of peace. (more information) (full review)

Giant Robo – The Day the Earth Stood Still: Daisaku works with the Experts of Justice to foil the evil organization Big Fire’s plans for world domination. This series is over the top in many ways including high energy fight scenes not involving robots which will hook conventional action fans. The quality of the production is apparent in its powerful full orchestral soundtrack that grabs your attention, the meticulously detailed animation, and some superb storytelling. (more information)

Aim for the Top! Gunbuster: Teenager Noriko joins enters a training school where she must learn to pilot a giant robot to fight invaders from beyond the solar system. This show has a gradual build from comedy to drama that invests the viewers in the story and just may surprise them. Gunbuster has amazing OAV quality animation that makes it great eye candy and a short running time that adds to it’s accessibility. (more information)

Now before we wrap this up, let us mention a few shows that are loved, that are great, but may not be the best thing to throw at someone or yourself if you are just starting out. And be aware that people will praise them, they may even say you should watch them, but it could be folly. In general, the “super robot” genre is a precarious one for people new to the scene. The robots are like the main characters in most super robot shows so you better like robots if you watch them. Series like The King of Braves GaoGaiGar, Mobile Fighter G Gundam, and Shinkon Gattai Godannar!! which lift heavily from the subsect, and Shin Mazinger Shougeki! Z Hen all land a spot here for this reason. There are also shows like Armored Trooper Votoms and Mobile Police Patlabor that are character intensive but the robot stuff is so heavy that you have to want it, you can’t ignore it. And lastly, be careful of older shows in general, design/animation can really work against you. So a classic like Mobile Suit Gundam are best to hold off on till later.

Please realize we are talking in broad strokes here. Nothing will work for everyone and likewise some of the things we say to avoid may actually bring in a new fan here and there. At times I am absolutely convinced that we watch robot show for completely different reasons than then average mecha enthusiast does. We watch robot shows for the characters and love the robots. Most mecha enthusiasts watch shows for the robots and love the characters. But this unique perspective on the genre is what made us want to compile this guide!

25 thoughts on “Guest post: Rocket Punching Straight to Your Heart – An Absolute Beginners Guide to Mecha”

  1. Wot, no high level? I have to give a big thumbs-up to the inclusion of Eureka Seven – probably the only remotely mecha series in the past few years that has *really* caught my imagination – and pleasantly note the absence of Evangelion. Or was that simply because we’re *expected* to be aware of it? 🙂

  2. This really isn’t much of a “mecha” with no shows from the 1980s on it. Where is Macross, VOTOMS, Xabungle? The mecha genre was steeped in solid science fiction ideas, not fantasy.

  3. Roger: You seem to have misunderstood the purpose of this guide, as its stated goal is not to introduce people to the all-time greats of the mecha/giant robot genre, or the ones that are considered stand-out series within the mecha fandom, but to, as the title says, introduce ABSOLUTE BEGINNERS to it.

    In that respect, while all three shows you mention are good, the problem with all of them is that they are shows that are good for people who are ALREADY mecha fans, which again is not the point. You’re not giving mecha shows to people who love mecha, you’re giving them to people who either are not sure they like the genre or have had prior negative experiences with it, and in that respect you need to sell them on things beyond the mecha, beyond the “science fiction” ideas.

    Also, all of those shows are old. While I’d rather have it otherwise, the reality is that it’s hard to sell old-looking shows to people.

  4. I offer my own experience in support of Vision of Escaflowne as a good beginner series. It’s the first mecha show I had exposure to, and it hooked me more or less instantly. The English dub is pretty awful, though, so maybe something to consider.

  5. If I was introducing a beginner to the genre, I’d start at the beginning, in the 1980s. And the mecha genre _is_ supposed to be hard core science fiction. The shows that pioneered the genre de-romanticized the robots and attempted to give them a more logical context using science fiction concepts. That’s the point.

    However, I realize that I’m officially an oldfag, my first exposure to these shows was in the 1980s, watching them on grainy 3rd generation VHS tapes. I’ve only watched three of the series on this list, the rest I tried out, but they were all too silly or fantasy-based for me to enjoy like the old shows.

  6. @maehara
    Once you are already a mecha fan the guide would have to be more specific. We would have to do something like “The Best Mecha You Have Never Seen”, “The Obsessive Compulsive Guide to Tomino”, “Keeping it Real Robot” or something like that. Anything more general than that would be sort of unless for more hardcore mecha fans. They tend to know all the basics past that point.

    Also you can try any other the shows we listed as “do not start with these shows” as a great advanced mecha spring board.

    As to why no Eva: to tell you the truth I have no idea why the heck Eva works some of the time. I guess it is because it is so head trippy that everyone who wants “OMG serious cartoons” eats it up but I think it would turn most everyone else away as I first time mecha anime. Using Eva is a dangerous gambit that I would hesitant to recommend. I did put on RahXephon is you wanted to try that after you showed them some beginner level shows.

    @Roger
    To give one last hit in on a dead horse this is about getting super new fans into watching mecha not a primer for people who are already mecha fans.

    In my experience mecha fans mostly wonder why they have a hard time getting new fans to watch shows with them. I think it is this exact attitude that keep new fans out of mecha anime. You cannot push on them what YOU think is great anime. You have to ease them in on what is familiar and fresh and then slowly get them to slowly go back and appreciate what was great about older mecha shows. You have to get people over their fear of “It’s a robot in my anime. RUN AWAY!”

    Also VOTOMS has to be one of the worst shows to introduce people to mecha on. I love the series but it is has crazy powerful real robot vibes. There is almost a fetishistic love of the mass produced robots. The character drama is well done but the mecha intensity is also as bright as the sun. You need to ease people towards that high level unless they already are a part of some similar robot filled genre.

    Also I have not seen Xabungle but it seems a bit to crazy Tomino mixed with robot fetish Tomino. I threw in Turn A Gundam so it’s not like avoided Tomino but over all he tend to be very robot heavy.

    I will say that Macross Plus or Do you Remember love might work well as intro to mecha but any other party of the franchise is far less guaranteed.

    Here is obviously the list you wanted:
    1. Golden Warrior Gold Lightan
    2. Getter Robo Go
    3. Machine Robo: Revenge of Cronos
    4. Invincible Steel Man Daitarn 3
    5. Mobile Suit Gundam 0083: Stardust Memory

    😉

    @Matt Brown
    I have never listened to too much of the Escaflowne dub to tell you the truth and it was long ago enough that I have mostly forgotten it. But my other bit of advice when recruiting is always to watch a show first yourself. That way you know all the merits and flaws of a show yourself and can better gauge what will work. Other than that we tried to focus on why shows would work rather than why they would not but good call on Escaflowne.

  7. I can personally vouch for the appeal of TTGL to newcomers. That was the first mecha anime I watched and, even without knowing all those homages to past series, I still loved the thing and never felt like I was missing something

  8. I think you did a great job on this guide.

    Part of the reason people may be intimidated by mecha is that it feels like it has such a weighty legacy, and whether it be the terribly animated Mobile Suit Gundam, or the terribly written/animated/produced Mazinger Z, people may not want to get into a genre with so much old background material that they may feel obligated to appreciate or obsess over.

    Also, I think there’s a core bias against super robots. For some reason, “a kid and his robot” gives off an immature vibe that turns some people off. Not sure I understand that discrimination, as there are far sillier things in this fandom of ours.

    Anyway, a fun way to consider things might be as a series of if/then statements, since some mecha anime corresponds rather well to non-mecha anime. Here’s a quick stab at it:

    If your friend loves Berserk, recommend Getter Robo.
    If your friend loves One Piece, recommend Gurren Lagann.
    If your friend loves Elfen Lied, recommend Evangelion.
    If your friend loves Cowboy Bebop, recommend Big O.

  9. @Emilio

    I think your if/then examples are a good way to predict an intro mecha to someone. Though I hated Elfen Lied but was a huge Eva fan, so what do I know 😉

    @Hisui

    Re: Why Evangelion Sometimes Works, Or, Why Would Anyone Like That?

    I get what you’re saying and I think it’s a good idea to leave it off as a mecha intro series. I don’t think Eva’s really a good intro to anything series (mecha/anime in general) despite my burning love for it. Unless of course the person really likes confusing and ill explained plot devices with seemingly pointless symbolism – and yes, I’ve met this person and they really liked Evangelion hehe.

    Overall I think you guys put together a pretty well rounded list and there’s a little something to appeal to even to the most robo-phobic viewer.

    Gun x Sword was a show I’d toss on the list as a beginner mecha anime. To borrow from Emilio, if they liked Cowboy Bebop they’ll probably like this. It’s not terrible, but it’s not great either. It is rather entertaining and overall forgettable, but I know lots of people who got into anime or a particular genre of anime by watching something some of us might consider “trash” now but was great to them at the time due to it being accessible and light. (Don’t take this to say I mean Cowboy Bebop was mediocre or trash, it wasn’t, I’m just saying thematically they’re similar).

  10. I think Gundam 00 is a decent intro mecha anime too. For whatever anyone thinks of the story, the series is visually exciting, has some good action and memorable characters (even if poor Graham is totally ruined in the second season :P).

    This is a good list, though, even if I’m not the biggest fan of Escaflowne or Full Metal Panic. Before watching Escaflowne, I’d probably warn someone that the story gets absolutely batcrap insane at points.

  11. Going to agree with Robert here that some of these choices are pretty poor. While I can understand sentiment of 80s shows looking “too old,” that notion that something liek Code Geass is any sort of introduction to mecha anime is absolutely ludicrous.

    0080 is a pretty disingenuous way to introduce someone to Gundam, if only because it’s so unlike the rest of Gundam. The same could probably be said for Turn A, as well. In this case, something like Wing would probably work much better.

    The lack of Macross Plus is criminal, as a mecha newbie would find that far more approachable than Gunbuster or Giant Robo.

    Comparing VOTOMS and Patlabor as “mecha heavy” is so untrue it isn’t even funny. Patlabor is certainly “real robot” (perhaps the most real of all real robots), but for much of the series they’re little more than background details and claiming that Patlabor is a typical mecha show (or even a mecha show at all, really) means that your experience probably doesn’t extend much beyond the movies.

    You might have also done well to include FLAG.

  12. Sean:

    The thing about this list is that it’s not meant to be an introduction to what “MECHA REALLY IS,” it’s meant to be a list to get people who have discounted mecha or whose eyes glaze over whenever robots are on the screen fighting. It’s not a matter of, say, whether or not 0080 truly represents what Gundam is, but just giving people the idea that what they want in anime can also be found in giant robot shows, and not to go running for the hills whenever a mech shows up.

    The other thing to take into account is that there is no ONE type of giant robot newbie. Code Geass is about as perfect a show I can think of for someone who’s big into shows like Inuyasha or Bleach for example. Giant Robo can be good for people who are looking for broader themes in their stories combined with strong character moments, like people who enjoy greek dramas. Gunbuster has the girl and friendship element that can’t be discounted, even if it started off as a parody.

    Macross Plus from what I’ve seen is mainly praised by people who are really into mecha. Do you think the non-mecha elements of Macross Plus are good enough to keep people watching? I’m seriously asking here, and because that’s clearly what the thrust of this article is for: A list of shows where the non-giant robot elements in a giant robot show can keep people interested.

  13. @Scamp
    TTGL has this golden character formula than makes people overlook the robots. It is a great way to get people to start thinking about mecha in a new way. You just have to choose the next step carefully. if you jump right to Mazinger you might scare people away.

    @Emilio
    Exactly. There is a ton of excellent older stuff but you have to get people into the genre. Once they start wanting more they are more willing to accept the older series. You have to hook them of the soft stuff and then slowly introduce them to the hard stuff.

    And not feel like a horrible drug dealer. 😉

    @Lothos
    Goodness I do not like Elfen Lied but you, Narutaki and I are in the minority.

    Yeah no matter what if the little voice in the back of your head says to use something different for someone don’t ignore it. The idea of the guide is more to get you thinking than to be the bible for recruitment.

    I never saw Gun x Sword but I have heard mixed reviews of it. But you are right. The idea is not always to show the the best but show them something they will like that chances their opinion of robots. Everything I have heard about Gun x Sword makes me think that it is a good choice in that regard.

    @Shinmaru
    Narutaki and I totally played with the idea of putting a new Gundam series on the list like SEED or 00. But they are still pretty robot focused. They might make good intermediate series but I am not sure they are good beginners series for all but a select few.

    If I have not said it before I will say it again. Watch everything before you try to sell it to others. If you know your friends you will know what they accept and what they don’t accept. What characters, plots and flaws in a show will appeal to them most and turn them away the quickest.

    @Sean
    I am going to say the same thing to you that I said to Robert. It is this same thinking that keeps so many people out of mecha fandom. You want to rush to show them the best stuff but if they are not ready for it they are going to run in the opposite direction. You have to be willing to ease people into fandom unless they are pre-made mecha fan.

    Also VOTOMS and Patlabor is not mecha heavy to a mecha fan but they are utterly drenched in mecha to an outsider. If you are in too deep it is easy to miss this point. People are going to watch the first 2 episodes of Patlabor and Votoms and see robots robots robots and ignore the character drama. You have to give them their broccoli with cheese sauce for awhile before you can get them to eat plain broccoli. Then they will hopefully realize that broccoli is really good.

    Other than that what SDShamshel said.

  14. @Hisui and @SDS

    And again, I can appreciate not wanting to throw people into the midst of the more hardcore mecha series, but it might be nice to actually show them something that is more representative of the genre. If they’re so adverse to having mecha in their mecha anime, mecha anime might just not be for them!

    The fact is, nobody is going to “ease” into mecha fandom with a show like Code Geass. Your definition of a good beginner show seems to be a modern show with some mecha in the background. You might be better off looking at the history of fandom and the kind of shows that actually got people into this stuff: Gundam Wing, Macross, etc.

  15. @Sean

    The goal of the beginner shows is to show the wide range of storytelling that goes on within the mecha genre. It is also to help dispel the idea that all mecha shows are purely robot porn with characters slapped on.

    I won’t disagree with Gundam Wing, but original Macross I will have to beg to differ. The TV series animation alone might turn people off. Possibly Do You Remember Love, however that movie is indicative of the 1980s and so many younger fans just shy away from such things. While I agree about Macross Plus, it isn’t representative of the Macross franchise which was your complaint about our suggestion of Gundam 0080.

  16. @Sean

    We all know the Colony Drop stance on 0080 as a Gundam introduction, but the article didn’t advance it as such. Do you see it as a bad beginner’s mecha in general, and if so, why?

  17. @Roger

    I hated Mecha shows at first, because people just kept throwing around the old Gundam series at me and what not, if it weren’t for some of these series listed above I’d probably have never even considered going back and watching any of these older Mecha series

    @sean

    you’re wrong bro, code geass is a good way to get people subconsciously interested in mecha, and of course the newer Gundam series, 機動戦士ガンダム00

  18. @Scamp

    I agree with you, TTGL was a great “mecha” series… wasn’t full of techie stuff so it got my attention, beginning mecha viewers probably aren’t sci-fi junkies, I remember thinking I’d never watch Ghost in the Shell because of it’s lingo… “never” can be pretty short, but point is I had to acquire an interest in the genre over a period of time, and some of the less dialogue heavy series (i.e. more “ooh shiny”/action-fanservicey-packed) helped to do that

    @Shinmaru

    Escaflowne was awesome, I loved it… ended up watching it on vhs tapes :3

  19. I think this is a pretty good guide, with the intent of finding a gateway mecha show.

    I suggest Shin Mazinger-Hen. Sure it’s fetishistic, but in very goofy way; as storytelling goes, it’s a great example of the breadth of the genre.

    Perhaps Giant Robo too, plus it’s relatively short. A lot of the battles should appeal to more mainstream shonen anime fans.

    Lastly, we made this over a year ago: Find Your Gateway Gundam http://ghostlightning.wordpress.com/find-your-gateway-gundam/

    I think it’s in the same spirit that this guide was made (check out the link at the end of the post; the real guide starts there).

  20. I haven’t seen RahXephon yet, but from what I’ve heard, it sounds like it might work better after having seen Evangelion. I don’t mind the latter not being on the list — while I am a fan, it’s definitely flawed and an overall love-it-or-hate-it deal — but I was surprised that the former was listed when the latter wasn’t. Granted, this may just be my love of history talking.

    (Man, I’ve had those Giant Robo DVDs sitting on my desk for weeks now.)

  21. Hi guys – just wanted to say thanks again for the great post, is always exciting when something gets people talking this much.

    I was going to try and stay out of the debate, as so much seems to have been covered above. But it is my site after all…

    I think when recommending a mecha show to people it’s important to know their tastes to begin with. I mean most of my friends – and I’m talking about people that generally don’t watch much anime at all, have loved it when I’ve showed them something like Patlabor or Macross Plus. But then they’re mature, 30 something geeks. People that grew up on the original Star Wars trilogy and 1980s James Cameron and Paul Verhoven films as children – their taste is more inclined to a harder scifi feel. And bizarrely they look at mecha shows and go ‘Oh shit robots! Cool!’ far more than most modern day otaku do. For them the romance, soap opera and day-glo fantasy stuff of a lot of modern shows is a complete turn off. I happened to watch Maddox 01 last night, for the first time in at least 10 years – and while the artwork might look a little dated to younger fans, I know I could show that to some of 30 year old my non-anime friends right now and they’d just freak out.

    I guess, what I’m saying, is get to know your targets before launching your indoctrination attack 🙂

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *