Friday’s Feature – Emotional Connections in Mecha Anime

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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12 thoughts on “Friday’s Feature – Emotional Connections in Mecha Anime

  1. I can definitely see how Mecha would eliminate the human emotional factor.

    Full Metal Panic was awesome. Eva is in my top 5 favorite anime. I enjoyed Code Geass but unfortunately never finished it. Gundam Wing is my favorite mecha anime. They never really created a concrete reason to dislike the opposing team. So your kinda right about that.

    Nice post. Thank you for sharing.

  2. Brilliant piece. There’s something quite special about mech anime and the juxtaposition between high emotion and cold, inanimate machines. My favourite example would be Evangelion and the mech as a womb.

        1. My problem is that there is just far too much to say and too many characters and ideas that I could focus on. I’m thinking I’ll have to just take them all one at a time and space out the posts.

  3. You and me are one being, because exactly! I tend to watch mecha anime, because of that disconnect. I do agree Code Geass, Evangelion and also Escaflowne center more around the characters than the mecha themselves. I still haven’t watched any Gundam, tho I’ve been told Seed and Destiny are good, so I do want to. I’m just kinda reticent because of the mecha aspect (;^ω^)

  4. It’s only very recently that I began to appreciate the mecha genre. Of course I’ve been watching some mecha anime here and there growing up, but they were just there to pass the time. Now I find myself genuinely enjoying the genre. I also loved Code Geass, excellent storytelling there and it really shows the complexity of the human psyche. In that series, the robots are but an extension of the war between humans. However, I must say that my #1 favourite mecha at this moment is Mobile Suit Gundam 00. The animation is gorgeous and the characters of course (wink wink), but even more than these I love the moral question it presents to the viewers. Is it okay to end war by declaring war? Is violence justifiable when the ultimate goal is to totally eradicate war? There’s so much depth to the story & I love it. Anyway, excellent post. Keep it up. Cheers!

  5. well, my opinion is diluted because i think giant robots are awesome, but i agree that the series that you’ve chosen as ones you liked were ones that stood out among the genre (also because we dont talk about gundam seed destiny…that never happened). though, to be fair, ive never actually watched evangelion, and aldnoah zero didnt really work for me

  6. Feel the same way – only straight up mecha anime I’ve enjoyed are Gurren Lagann, and Aldnoah.zero – but only season 1 of it because like you said, the second season was…such a mess haha. It’s a genre I sort of want to try and get into more, but other than the new Voltron series on Netflix (which also has a lot of character work, and is more to me than just a mecha) I really don’t find robots fighting each other, and all of the techno babble interesting. Aldnoah was interesting to me because Inaho actually used science and logic to win his fights, and it wasn’t just robot smaaaash but then once again in season 2 that…went away, so yeah XD

    I way prefer fantasy to mecha, I find the stories far more interesting, and in general I prefer fantasy to scifi. Plus, the world building is a lot better imo, even if the characters fall flat every now and again.

    1. It isn’t that Mecha is bad, it just doesn’t appeal to me the way other shows seem to. I find that the mecha anime I enjoy are the exceptions so someone telling me something is a great mecha anime just kind of makes me hesitate to commit to watching it.

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