Opinion Prone

My opinions, let me tell them to you.

The Mystery of Mecha

July 9, 2008 Editorial

So recently, I realized that 4 of 5 of my listed favorite anime series on MAL are either mecha series (Gurren Lagann, Gundam SEED, and Code Geass) or include mecha in some way (Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex). The odd one out is Paranoia Agent, which is last on the list anyway because I kind of included it on a whim. I find this kind of strange because even though I do like my giant robots, I’ve never thought that they had much influence on my overall impression of a series. After all, I don’t think I go out of my way to watch that many mecha series, and I certainly have positive opinions of wide variety of other series. But nevertheless, it’s the mecha series that hold up as my favorites. Is it just a coincidental statistic that 80% of my “top favorites” are mecha? Or 60% if you want to disqualify GitS:SAC for only having Tachikomas that are mostly irrelevant anyway? Or is there really something about mecha series that makes them rise above the rest?

Is it just the fact of the mecha itself? I find that notion silly considering all the other just-as-awesome substitutes that other series use in place of actual giant robots. Ghost in the Shell, as previously noted, might sit on the borderline of the definition with their Tachikomas, which don’t look anything like your traditional humanoid robot and can either be autonomous or facilitate a human rider. But even beyond that, there are supernatural powers, fantasy-based powers, dragons and aliens, and other companions and tools that may do the same things as mecha. Besides, mecha designs fluctuate from series to series, and it isn’t as if the ones with similar designs are collectively more or less popular than the rest of their comrades.

These days, as the newer generation encourages an increase in the number of AU timeline series and a gradual departure from the traditional, UC timeline, the only real connecting thread between the various Gundam series is the mecha design. Almost all of them retain the characteristic head and the red, white, and blue color scheme for the main protagonist. But these various Gundam series definitely don’t maintain the same level of popularity; indeed, there seem to even be universally praised (08th MS Team) and universally scorned (Gundam SEED Destiny, at least critically) series, and very few fans seem to compare the actual designs of the mecha unless they’re just wildly, wildly different as was the case with G Gundam and SD Gundam.

So I don’t really think it’s the mecha itself, but does the presence of mecha encourage better storytelling somehow? Better character development? Those are the two most important factors of any series, and I tend to be somewhat critical in both areas if you’ve ever read any of my reviews. Do a higher proportion of mecha series have good plots and good characters? Mecha series, because of the very simple fact that mecha are weapons of mas destruction, are almost always about war, which kind of limits things. Then again, you can consider that because of this limitation, writers for mecha series may have to work harder to secure something that can be considered fresh or different. When almost all of your characters are teenagers and young adults, personality elements become more important; war also forces characters to give morals and ethics more thought, which definitely adds a dimension of depth that many other genres lack.

It’s the same with the story — war after war after war, there’s gotta be something about each one that sets it apart from others, right? The motivation for the war, the politics of war, and the role of leaders and soldiers all make for a complex story… So maybe it is the nature of mecha series to offer more complex storylines? Could that generalization be applied to any other genre? Would anyone consider that maybe shounen series need to “work harder” to stand out when they’re a dime a dozen? Most of the top shounen series share many of the same elements and don’t offer amazingly deep or profound though, so what about another genre? Fantasy? Supernatural? Cyberpunk? Actually, I can’t think of any other genre that has an near-universal generalized theme like mecha has war, so maybe we’re on to something?

Gurren Lagann doesn’t call its conflict a war, per se, and actually, the most appealing thing about the series isn’t its deep or complex story as much as it is its grand originality when it comes to what is considered “the enemy,” not to mention its unprecedented progression upwards in regards to scaling (lol, no pun intended?). So then the series doesn’t utilize the previously derived “advantage” of mecha series because its story and characters aren’t forced to be “deeper” because of war; really, there weren’t that many morals or ethics involved. Gurren Lagann might just be the exception though, and that isn’t that hard to believe. Certainly Gundam SEED and Code Geass take advantage of their wars and introduce rich, three-dimensional characters that provoke emotion and thought. These characters in turn enrich the plot of the war and revolution because in the end, story and character rely very heavily on one another.

Hmm… obviously none of this means that other genres don’t generate equally complex and deep stories and characters, but now I’m really starting to think that maybe mecha series (and maybe other war-themed series) have a slight advantage. Or in any case, it seems that this theme is attractive to me personally, and that’s reflected in my favorites’ list… A curious note though: none of my favorite manga feature mecha, so maybe those previous deductions are only applicable to anime? Probably because war and robot action don’t look as cool on static pages…

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One Comment

  1. Alexius on August 9, 2008 11:31 pm

    I don’t know. Maybe it’s the tendency for most of these mecha series to also delve into a great deal of the technology and background behind the mecha technology and often large presence of other technology as well. I know what you mean. I find that mecha series tend to be, on average, better in quality of storytelling and setting than most other anime series. It is strange, but maybe having to hire all those artists to design those mechas (and design them so they don’t seem too similar to other mechas from other animes) also begs for good storytellers, too.