MECH101: An Introduction to Giant Robots
May 28, 2014 7:09 AM   Subscribe

When it comes to mecha, what are your core recommendations? Specifically, what media, including games (pen and paper, computer, or otherwise), television/movies, books, or otherwise, are best to appreciate and understand those giant freakin' robots?

My own experience is patchy, and I'd really like to learn more about the history of mecha in media and the influential materials. I watched Voltron as a kid (but not Robotech, afaik), watched Evangelion (but not Gundam), played a Rifts Glitterboy, played MechWarrior (but not MWO). Where's a good place to start with all of the stuff out there?
posted by swrittenb to Technology (17 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
I started watching anime in the mid-80's.
These are my two favorite giant robot/mecha sources:

Mobile Police Patlabor
Dominion Tank Police (Bonus cat girls!)
posted by John Kennedy Toole Box at 7:24 AM on May 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

MechWarrior 2, MechWarrior 4, Code Geass has a decent amount of mecha, something named something like MS08 Gundam, and then more Gundam Wing variants than I have fingers if memory serves.
posted by Slackermagee at 7:45 AM on May 28, 2014

If you haven't already, definitely check out Pacific Rim.

Seconding Patlabor, also, Gundam in all of its permutations!
posted by Hanuman1960 at 8:16 AM on May 28, 2014

Ahh, this question is relevant to my interests. :P

Caution: heartfelt gushing ahead.

I recommend watching the 'Gainax mecha' set of series. All of these are smart and sensitive explorations of the genre and the idea of mechas, and the tropes and forces that surround them (growing up, making something of yourself, banding together against impossible odds, the allure and danger of the unknown, etc), while at the same time being extremely great, moving, beautiful, exciting etc -- and funny! -- examples of the genre. I could (and really should) write a big ol' essay about how cleverly they achieve their goals, but for now, I'll just list them! Suffice to say they're made by some of the best, and perhaps some of the smartest artists in the biz.

They are:

Gunbuster (1988) -- a classic-era miniseries that takes the scale and the stakes of the alien-invasion theme and pushes the dial all the way up and then keeps pushing. Also unusual in mecha series for being female-centred.

Evangelion (1995) -- You've already seen it, but it still belongs in this list -- if you haven't seen it, look for End of Evangelion pt 1 and 2, which provide a 'true' ending for the series in just about the most gobsmacking way possible. Evangelion is sort of a male version of Gunbuster -- a reaction to and exploration of the genre, but this time in the form of an anguished, deranged, defiant scream.

FLCL (2000) -- A slapstick, slice-of-life, nitrous-giggling take on the same ideas. Not strictly mechas but close enough. Sort of an Edgar Wright-ish feel, with confusing but ambitious art direction, incredibly dense parody, exaggerated but heartfelt character beats, and general sense of cool that's backed up by some smart, solidly-explored themes and ideas. Bears up to repeated watching as a lot of it tends to fly over your head watching it for the first time (but that just makes it more fun).

Gunbuster 2 aka Diebuster (2004) - Female-focussed again. A sequel to the original series but set far, far in the future, this takes the threads of the original, deconstructs them, plays around with them, mocks them, pays homage to them, and reweaves them together in a beautiful, affirming ending that's some of my favourite television ever. All while being extremely pretty and extremely kickass, and even having some interesting scifi in there.

Gurren Laggan (2007) The least 'realistic' series, but with very much the same spirit. The alternate world/universe it presents gives it room to spin out its ideas and make them grow.. and grow.. and grow.. until they are literally universal in scale. Fiery and exuberant to the point of being ridiculous and ridiculously great. Funny, kickass.


So that's those. What else might you want to watch?

Gundam is basically what the above-mentioned series are exploring and playing off, making fun of and paying homage to. Many different series, varying levels of quality, most of them without much in the way of self-awareness -- but they set up much of the genre, so worth watching if you want to see where all this mecha stuff came from. (Presumably there are older series which came before it in turn, but Gundam is what became the 'big name').

Patlabor is relatively hard-scifi, mecha-as-tanks stuff by the same guy who went on to make Ghost in the Shell (which also features some mecha/tanks), and a lot of it is worth watching. He also made Dominion which I don't know much about.

Macross is another overarching series with several series/films within it, some more dated than others. I saw the Macross Plus OVA and liked it a lot, but it seemed like I missed quite a bit of context by not seeing the rest.

In Blue Gender the mechas are more realistic, but well-portrayed. Despite sometimes shonky animation and pacing, I like this series a lot for the sheer, unrelenting sense of doom, apocalypse and hopelessness! Woo!

Two other series by the same guy, Armored Trooper Votoms and Gasaraki are also supposed to be pretty good.

Eureka 7 is a little more workaday/derivative but is very pretty!

Not really mecha-focussed as such but if you liked any of the above you might also like the films Spriggan, Jin Roh, Robot Carnival, Redline and Dead Leaves.

Those are the best ones I know of, but there are a ton of other mecha series out there, of varying quality. Most of them pretty standard, by-the-book fare but I'm sure there's a few gems I've missed.

Zone of the Enders is a pretty good mecha game. So's Hawken...
posted by Drexen at 8:33 AM on May 28, 2014 [10 favorites]

Drexen... really nailed a lot of the stuff I was going to say.

Just briefly though, before you watch Macross Plus, check out the movie version of the original series free on youtube: Macross: Do You Remember Love.
posted by Oktober at 8:39 AM on May 28, 2014 [2 favorites]

If you want a subtle sendup of the anime genre, try Gravion and Gravion Zwei. (They're the first half and second half of a single story.) Not everyone agrees with me that it's a sendup, but I'm sure of it. (It features some of the worst tropes in anime. For instance, one of the main characters is a blatant Marty Stu.)
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 8:42 AM on May 28, 2014

If you enjoy the Mechwarrior games, check out Mechwarrior Online. It's free-to-play and, though investing real money speeds things up, it's not pay-to-win. I like it a lot.
posted by VTX at 8:53 AM on May 28, 2014

For the early stuff, Giant Robo (Johnny Sokko and his Flying Robot) was one of the first live action shows. And of course in anime there was, Tetsujin-28. The US version was known as Gigantor and was shown as early as the 1960s.
posted by cazoo at 9:07 AM on May 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

Branching out a little bit:

Bubblegum Crisis and its sequel Bubblegum Crash are about the pinnacle of late-80s cyberpunk 'real robot' mecha, in the vein of Patlabor. The 90s remake, Tokyo 2040 is inferior, but interesting as an artifact of decade-by-decade changes in stylistic and formal conventions. The A.D. Police and Parasite Dolls spin-offs, however, are terrible.

For current manga, Nihei Tsutomu's Knights of Sidonia is about the best we've had in years. Just don't confuse the manga with its currently airing (atrocious) CGI anime adaptation.
posted by fifthrider at 9:39 AM on May 28, 2014 [2 favorites]

Personally, I love putting together Gundam models when I'm in a 'hobby' mood. ..the new RG (Real Grade) series is good fun, with lots of interior structure, fully posable, etc. There was a store I went to in Akihabara (Tokyo) that had an entire floor of these models (every one since #1 is still in production, and the original boxes are'll need glue for those though...the new ones snap together) and all the accessories, like paint, decals, and tiny, tiny little rivets to glue on...also a gallery of the best models of the month...some were pretty amazing with how real and battle - scarred they looked.
posted by sexyrobot at 10:26 AM on May 28, 2014

The anime version of Giant Robo is the only anime that I still like and think about. It has a lot of good themes like what it means to be a hero, who is the hero the mech or the pilot. But what really seals it is how absolutely outrageous the voice acting is in the English dub. It is so over the top but that is exactly what it needs.
posted by munchingzombie at 10:42 AM on May 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

For the Giant Robo fans in this thread: Robot Alchemic Drive (Gigantic Drive in Japan) is basically the best thing ever.
posted by Oktober at 12:01 PM on May 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

Wow, loving these suggestions. Thank you very much! (and giant robot arm'd high-five to Drexen for the great list) :)
posted by swrittenb at 12:29 PM on May 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

There have been good links to some of the notable shows already in this thread, but here's a little gem that helps a lot if you're interested in a broader cultural perspective on Japanese giant robots:The History of Giant Robot Anime in Japan.

Incredibly useful as this is a piece of internal academia (written by a Japanese scholar and one of the staff of Sunrise, translated into pretty easy English) which gives a solid grounding on the genre from within its intended cultural context. Most writing about anime is written from Western POV.
posted by Queen of Robots at 12:31 PM on May 28, 2014 [5 favorites]

Wow, not mention of Battletech? I wish I could find better quality. The way they changed animation style when going into a fight was one of my favorite things about this series
posted by Redhush at 12:47 PM on May 28, 2014

RahXephon is good, but it's from 2003 and it shows. I love the Evangelion Rebuild movies, if you haven't seen those.
posted by betweenthebars at 11:29 PM on May 28, 2014

Nthing Patlabor and Giant Robo. Those two are some of the best robot cartoons Japan has to offer (for completely different reasons)

Gundam is of course the elephant in the giant robot room. As I'm sure you're aware, looking at the vast array of Gundam productions over the last 35+ years can be pretty intimidating. If you want a single, self-contained series to give you a taste of the whole thing, I've used Gundam 0083 to introduce newcomers before with success.
posted by Aznable at 1:27 PM on May 30, 2014

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