|Synonyms:||mecha, mech, giant robots|
|See also:||Robots, Gundam|
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In fiction, mecha or mechs are large robots or combat machines, usually humanoid in design, that are controlled by people. The term is also used to refer to a subgenre of science fiction that focuses or feature such machines. The word "mecha" is a shortening of the Japanese loanword メカニカル (mechanical). In Japanese, "mecha" is more commonly used to describe all mechanical objects, including guns and cars, with "giant robot" (大ロボット) being the narrower term.
Mecha fiction is a popular genre in anime and manga thanks to the extreme popularity of long-running franchises like Gundam and Macross, but also appears in Western media such as Starship Troopers and, more recently, Pacific Rim. The mechs featured in mecha media can come in many shapes and sizes, from the single-pilot mechs featured in Gundam to the combination mechs featured in Power Rangers and Voltron, but the term usually doesn't cover robot suits of armor like the one Iron Man wears.
Early science fiction by authors such as Jules Verne featured precursors to what we now think of as a "mech." The Steam House, for example, featured a steam-powered mechanical elephant that pulled two carriages and could be piloted but not in the manner currently associated with the mecha genre. H.G. Wells' famous novel The War of the Worlds features "tripods," which are oan early example of alien technology being combined with the idea of a (presumably controlled somehow) mechanical device.
Ōgon Bat, a kamishibai that debuted in 1931 (later adapted into an anime in 1967), featured the first piloted humanoid giant robot, Dai Ningen Tanku (大人間タンク), but as an enemy rather than a protagonist, Dai Ningen Tanku (大人間タンク) means Giant Ningen Tanku (人間タンク), Ningen Tanku (人間タンク) is the Japanese title of The Master Mystery (1919), and the Japanese name of the Powered exoskeleton appearing in the film. In 1934, Gajo Sakamoto launched Tank Tankuro (タ ン ク タ ン ク ロ ー) on a metal creature that becomes a battle machine.
In 1938, a mexican comic called Invictus by Leonel Guillermopietro & Victaleano Leon C., was published featuring something very similar to the modern idea of a mech, in the same year, no longer having stories of Invictus, the Brazilian supplement A Gazetinha launched a comic called Audaz o Demolidor ("Audaz The Demolisher") from february 13, 1939 to march 16, 1940, the American comic strip Brick Bradford featured a giant robot in the "Metal Moster" arc.
In March 1943, in Clue Comics vol 1 # 3, the series Jackie Law and the Boy Rangers showed teenagers controlling a giant robot called Loco.
The introduction of mech into Japanese media, however, primarily dates to the immediate post-war period. While earlier examples of robots can be found in Japanese media, the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II had a profound effect on Japan and the trauma of those atrocities was reflected in the media they were producing. The most well-known of these works is Astro Boy, known in Japan as 鉄腕アトム ("Mighty Atom"). Astro Boy was extremely influential on the genre of robot media in Japan, but isn't strictly a mecha work since Astro Boy is fully autonomous and therefore a type of android.
Tetsujin 28-go ("Iron Man #28", known in the West as "Giantor"), written in 1956, is probably the first well-known example of a mech in manga although Tetsujin 28 is controlled remotely rather than being piloted. Mazinger Z, written by Go Nagai and released in 1972, is considered to be the first widespread example of a mech in the modern sense, although it is predated by several post-war manga. It can more accurately be said that while Mazinger Z wasn't the first work to put a human pilot in a robot, it can be credited with giving the mecha genre many of the tropes and themes that it would continue to use into the modern day. Mazinger Z was heavily censored during a brief American run as Tranzor Z, but it was hugely popular in Europe and South America so it's no wonder that Guillermo del Toro would choose mecha as a vehicle for telling Pacific Rim.
Similarly, post-war American media also turned to mecha-like ideas with the release of Starship Troopers in 1958 and Kimball Kinnison's battle suit in the Lensman novel Galactic Patrol, published in 1950. Piloted mecha never really caught in with American media, however, with America works preferring suits of armor like the ones Tony Stark wears and more distanced portrayals of robots such as Transformers or the Cylons featured in Battlestar Galactica. In Japan, however, mecha has continued to thrive with the release of popular anime such as Neon Genesis Evangelion.
There are many current, ongoing, and past fandoms in which mechas are integral to the plot or storylines.
- Gundam Wing
- Macross 7
- Pacific Rim: Called 'Jaegers'
- Power Rangers
- Steel Battalion
- Voltron: Called 'Lions'
Some common tropes in fandoms with mechas include:
- The Missing Piece: Fics will be written about an additional mecha to the team, either a mecha that has been missing, or is another part of a different legend. These missing mechas tend to be godlike, angelic, or even demonic. Many examples of the missing piece tend to be the most powerful mecha in the universe according to the fic.
- Just a Legend: Sometimes the mechas that show up in shows are part of a larger legend, myth, or prophesy in the canon. They are considered almost magic, even though the format of the mecha is deeply rooted in mechanical, technical, sci fi.
- Found Family: Often a team of misfits comes together as part of a mecha army, and create intense relationships with each other.
- Badass Names: Many mechas are named. Examples include Pacific Rim's mechas, some of which are: Gipsy Danger, Shaolin Rogue, Crimson Typhoon, etc. Voltron is another example.
- Federal Men-Siegel and Shuster-1936
- Carper, Steve (2019-06-27). Robots in American Popular Culture. McFarland. p. 99. ISBN 978-1-4766-3505-7.
- Audaz, O Demolidor. Posted 5 Feb 2011. Accessed 14 Oct 2019.
- Invictus by Leonel Guillermopietro & Victaleano Leon C.
- Carper, Steve (2019-06-27). Robots in American Popular Culture. McFarland. p. 111. ISBN 978-1-4766-3505-7.
- Clue Comics v1 3 [3 - Version 1 ]
- The apocalyptic echoes of the atomic bomb in Japan’s anime and manga. Posted 26 April 2017. Accessed 14 Oct 2019.
- Rise of the giant robots: how one Japanese cartoon spawned a genre. Posted 13 Dec 2012. Accessed 14 Oct 23019.
- @NAM_1974 on Twitter. Posted 30 April 2017. Accessed 14 Oct 2019.