I often point out I have a love-hate relationship with the Gundam franchise in general. Some series I love and others I really hate and can’t get into at all. I kind of have that same relationship with most Mecha anime. Some I get right into and others, even though the storyline is ostensibly the same, I just can’t like or enjoy.
In a moment of clarity I finally came to realise what my issue with Mecha Anime is. It’s the fact that the robots themselves dehumanize the conflict and remove my emotional connection from the characters. Clearly that doesn’t happen in all of the series featuring giant robots fighting one another, given the number of series I have enjoyed, but ultimately it is the mecha themselves that take away from my enjoyment.
Let’s be honest, the vast majority of mecha anime set up conflicts between groups of people who have developed these fantastic machines (either mainstream or as a highly experimental and new kind of weapon) and the show then finds some way to spark that conflict into a full on battle whereby the various pilots get into their machines and we then spend a few episodes zooming past one another and blowing things up. I’m severely oversimplifying but that’s the basic set up when you boil it right down.
During these fights we sometimes get to see the pilots and their internal dialogue or their conversations through the comms with other pilots, but the action is seen from outside. The robot with its big gun or sword thrashing another robot that then explodes or smokes while the pilot may or may not eject. Very occasionally (if the character is someone the show wants us to care about) we see the damage to the human pilot, but more often we get a scream over the comms and then the bang and we move on to the next part of the conflict.
Therein lies the problem. When there are a large number of combatants, we know little about anyone other than the main group so have little reason to care. Most of these stories set up governments that are all equally despicable and so we aren’t really standing behind any one groups ideals more than any other. So we don’t know the individuals particularly well and we have no reason to rally behind any one political stance, why do we care about the outcome of the battle? And I get that we’re usually meant to like the ‘heroes’ side but regularly they are just as bad as the people they are fighting.
When we see an anime set in a more medieval setting we often have vast armies confronting one another and getting mowed down by a hail of arrows, and that is more affective to me than a giant robot going bang, flash. Why? Because of the human element. There is nothing between me and my view of the human combatants being mercilessly slaughtered. That scene affects me and makes me feel sorry for them or happy that the other army is winning, or gives me some emotional impact.
One robot hitting another? That might be cool and visually awesome but the human aspect is gone, at least for me.
So which mecha anime do I like? I love Code Geass. Why? Because of Lelouch, Suzaku and Kallen. They are the human element for me even if the vast majority of soldiers I don’t care about. Gundam Seed (and more recently Iron Blooded Orphans) won me over with the human characters at the core of the story even while the greater political agenda within the story kind of rolled past me in a haze of grey morals. Even Aldnoah Zero worked for me, though Slaine kind of went off the rails in the second season making it a bit harder to care about the outcome. Then I also loved Full Metal Panic with Sagara and Chidori. They were great characters and the contrast between the military fight sequences and the high school daily life was well done.
Of course, my favourite mecha anime is Evangelion, mostly because it gives you the cool and awesome giant robot fighting monstrous (and bizarre) angels but is almost totally focussed on the human elements of its story.
I know this wasn’t much of a feature, more just a ramble about something that I probably should have figured out awhile ago, but I think since starting this blog I’ve wanted to really understand where some of my opinions have come from.
I’d love to know your thoughts on mecha anime. Do you watch it? Do you like it? What works for you and what doesn’t when watching giant robots fight?