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.
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
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!