On Mecha design and heroes

So The Animanachronism’s recent post on the nature of mecha brought to mind a set of posts I did a while back on the role of the citizen solider and the Arthurian hero in anime (a set of posts I’m still a bit proud of.) It’s got me thinking about what is the role of the mecha in mecha anime. Other than to sell toys and other merchandise to people who seem to like that kind of stuff. And sure there are shows that seem determined to do that, but even those the mecha has to play some sort of role in the show.

If it didn’t, well there wouldn’t be much of a show.

But the thing about analyzing the role of the mecha in mecha shows is that they’re intrinsically tied to the characters who pilot them. I mean what does the cape clad, white Lancelot say about Suzaku. (Even beyond the moral questions that it raises.) Or what does the vague Escher-esque Big-O with its hammer of God message say about the role of Roger Smith. Honestly, I think there are some consistencies between these categorizations that I’ve seen.

A Tool of War

Now with the citizen solider, the mech is a tool of war. Now arguably the theme of war pops up in a lot of more Arthurian shows, but unlike those heroes the mech is rarely flashy. VOTOMS is an almost perfect example of a mech that is ugly, utilitarian and kills people. The same can be said about the mecha in Gasaraki. Now there have been some variations on this theme, but in general the mecha are also uniform. These people didn’t just happen across some mech in an underground storage shed, or if they did then they aren’t really any more special than the average toaster.

Now later shows have played off of this theme. The Arbalest from FMP is an example of an Excalibur like mech that is given to a citizen solider (Granted, I might be the only one who thinks it’s strangely symbolic that a pale, wispy girl tossed a nearly magical machine out of a giant lake to land at the hero’s feet.)

But even then it’s still a tool. A handy tool, but the citizen solider doesn’t rely on it to win his battles, unless it’s the right tool for the job. And because it’s a tool, the citizen solider mecha tend to be nearly person-sized. They’re rarely more than 10 or 15 feet tall. It could be said that the man makes the machine and not the other way around.

A Magical Totem

Whereas when we look at Arthurian heroes, it is the machine that makes the man. In fact, the machine itself sometimes takes on a life of its own, becoming an extension of the hero itself. Gundam Zeta’s various power-ups seem to fit into this category. And since the central question of the Arthurian hero is “What type of country do I want to create?” and the enemies have to get progressively harder (because otherwise the tension would drop) the totem also has to become more powerful.

Now there is some gray area here, because occasionally you do have an Arthurian hero who has to learn his machine better so that he can accomplish his goals. In these cases, the machine itself is as powerful as it can get, but the pilot has to unlock its secrets. (Escaflowne comes to mind here.)

And since it is a magical totem, the machine itself has to be impressive and unique. Generally these mecha are giants and tend to dwarf their pilots. They tend to range about 15 to 50 feet high (or at least from what I can tell.)

An Otherworldly Being

Adam’s mecha provides the most difficulty in analysis, mostly because there are so few of them and there is a good deal of variation. But in general, Adam’s mecha is the impetus of his epiphany. This is true in both Evangelion and RahXephon. It’s even true in Gasaraki. But in most cases, they also tend to be reflective of both the tones and the themes of the story. Unit 01 in Evangelion is almost bestial when it slips loose of its traces. Reflecting back on the main struggle between how Shinji perceives himself and how he wants others to perceive him. RahXephon is almost majestic, but it’s also alien and unpredictable. Reflecting back on the main theme of acceptance (both of the self and others.)

In general, what separates Adam’s mecha from the Arthurian mecha is that in the case of Adam these mecha are alien and they’re at best impartial, at worst possessed with motivations that the hero doesn’t know anything about.


6 thoughts on “On Mecha design and heroes

  1. How do you think about Arthur’s mecha that “transforms” and take on Adam-like characteristics? Gundam Wing had a couple of those.

    To be honest I just stumble on your series of posts now. Decent read but would be cool if you took just a little time and make an outline or something, so it’s easier to refer to how different concepts across your posts fit together.

    I think there are a couple glaring issues with the whole construct you have, but in general they are descriptive enough.

  2. No model is going to neatly fit everything, but this is a good stab at it. It’s fun trying to fit odd examples into the system: the Ideon might be Adam’s, I suppose, though I’m probably going to have to go back through your posts (and I’m definitely going to have to get on with watching that show) to find out. Anyhow, the Ideon is referred to by some of the characters as a ‘god’.

    I was thinking that maybe Macross F‘s Alto is actually a citizen soldier, as so far there’s been little to suggest that he’s going to be doing any societal restructuring. That’s probably because Macross has its priorities elsewhere, away from the mecha action (fun as it is). And besides, Alto already lives in Camelot . . .

    (And I second omo’s suggestion of an outline/summary.)

  3. @omo – To be honest, I had a little bit of problems when I was thinking about Blue Gender and this post specific because most of those mecha are very utilitarian and they’re detrimental to the people involved. But I still think of the main character as more of an Arthurian character. And I also had some problems with Code Geass, but… I do think I have that one mostly figured out.

    Although I haven’t really watched Gundam Wing. Not because of any desire not to, it just has never been on my list of “I have to own this.”

    @The Animanachronism – It’s kind of tough to say, mostly cause I haven’t watched Ideon, how exactely it fits into that. But from what I’ve heard it almost seems like Ryvius as in a show that is about a colony of people who are all the hero at the same time.

    I definitely agree that Alto is a citizen solider (even with the fact that he happens across the mecha in a kind of Arthurian way.)

    And I’m definitely going to do an outline post, because it’s a sizable chunk of writing for anyone to have to go through.

  4. That’s a good point. Thinking about it, the Ideon and the Vital Guarder are both piloted by gruops of people. Though the Ideon definitely has a primary pilot, out of three, whereas the VG is more corporate – a team of programmers working under a few programmers who have l33t madskillz, or something.

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