Mecha Essay

Okay, so, I wanna write about what the appeal of mecha is for me, in part as a way to procrastinate on getting something together for my writing group. Honestly, I might submit this as well depending on whether or not I can put together enough cool pictures in this, but really it’s a way of gathering my thoughts on it so when I go back and start writing the stuff I can try to pull out what I like about the thing in the hope that if I do it that way it’ll make the writing easier.

Because, the thing I like about mecha is that it’s got this natural tension to it that you don’t see in superhero stuff, which is the thing I was into before I got into mecha. Code Geass, which was my specific gateway series, is about exactly halfway between superhero and mecha. Lelouch’s a superhero, right? Well, supervillain. He’s got a penchant for theatrics and mind-control powers and his overall goal is VENGEANCE and the show draws a lot of dramatic tension from the fact that he has a secret identity he’s trying to conceal, but it’s also a mecha show and the Knightmare Frames are pretty cool as far as mecha go.

But the thing that makes the show work is that, while the mecha come out for most of the major fight scenes, a lot of Code Geass’ runtime is the characters walking around and talking to each other. Yeah, there’s cool giant robot battles and strategic planning and all that other neat stuff, but if you ask Code Geass fans what they remember most about the show they won’t talk about the giant robot battles. The part of Code Geass that lives rent-free in my head, 15 years after the thing finished airing, is Lelouch in the cockpit of a giant robot, hovering in the skies of a city he’s about to destroy, pondering his relationship with a man who has just vowed to murder him: his best friend – and most formidable enemy – Suzaku Kururugi.

I think this tension, between how formidable the characters are in the cockpit and how vulnerable they are outside of it, is what makes mecha shows work. At least for me, anyway.

Talking about Evangelion is hard, basically because a lot of people who are way smarter and way better versed in the Deep Lore of anime than me have talked about Evangelion a lot more than I have, but one thing I wanna talk about is the fortress-city of Tokyo-3 itself because the concept has lived in my head ever since I first was exposed to Eva in high school anime club. For those who haven’t seen the show or heard of it, somehow, despite being on Neocities, here’s the gist of it: traumatized teenagers pilot giant robots against invading alien monsters, all of whom are attacking one specific city because it’s got something in it they want. Over the course of the show, among other things it’s revealed that Tokyo-3 is a prebuilt killzone for the aliens, and that the Evangelion units have been designed specifically to defend the city.

Something about that concept: we’ll have one place that our enemies must come to, and we’ll dig in and build an fortress there, has always struck me as being cool on a fundamental level. There’s the stakes of your show, right there. The bad guys have one place they have to come to, and that’s exactly what they’re going to do. The follow-up here is that the city itself is a character in the show. Over the course of it, step by step, inch by inch, Our Heroes lose more and more of the defenses of the city to the aliens, until towards the end they’re reduced to defending a literal hole in the ground. Vulnerability and strength, juxtaposed against each other.

It’s also probably the best way to do a monster of the week anything I’ve ever seen. I’ve wanted to steal it for a tabletop RPG since literally ever. It has built-in stakes, adventure hooks, and enormously simplifies session prep. You don’t need to come up with something new. Here’s what’s happening this week: there’s an Angel attacking the city!

Gundam 00 goes interesting directions with this as well. Celestial Being, the main good-guy organization, are a group of elite mecha pilots who are determined to use violence to end war through superior firepower. The four Gundams are unstoppable superweapons, decades ahead of the technology of the rest of the world, and at first it looks like the threat of their use is actually going to stop conflict.

So, naturally, it all goes wrong. The governments of the world seek to manipulate Celestial Being into acting on their behalf, or seek to capture a Gundam for themselves, or seek to take out Celestial Being’s ship. Sinister forces acting in the shadows seek to create new Gundams, which aren’t acting on the mission to end war. The pilots – or rather, Gundam Meisters – are only four pepole, and even though inside the cockpit they’re all but invincible outside of it they’re just mortal. Moreover, the Gundams themselves are vulnerable to overwhelming force.

I’ve seen people call Gundam 00 the best intro to the franchise before, and I think this might be part of what they’re talking about. Despite being the most grounded Gundam, 00 is also the one with the least confusing Space Politics. It’s set in the distant future of our own world, and so all the major players are – pretty much – the same as they are now. To get into 00, you don’t need to understand the exact intricate details of Zeon zum Deikun’s philosophy of Newtype or have a deep knowledge of the Universal Century Lore. The show’s kinda self-explanatory.

None of this really solves the problem I’ve got, though, which is how to apply it for myself. How do you take a genre like this and translate it into prose? Prose has different stylings. You can’t do visual storytelling, as well, or at all. So, I guess all of this is just something to think about.

Go back