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Mecha is a science fiction genre that centers on robots or machines controlled by people from inside. These machines vary greatly in size, shape and appearance. Some are little more than cars with arms and legs, while others are giant humanoid constructs. Different sub-genres exist, with varying connotations of realism. Super Robot and Real Robot are two such examples found in Japanese anime.
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The Japanese word "mecha" is derived from the Japanese abbreviation meka (メカ) for the English word "mechanical". In Japanese, mecha encompasses all mechanical objects, including cars, guns, computers, and other devices. In this sense, it is extended to humanoid, human-sized robots and such things as the boomers from Bubblegum Crisis, the similar replicants of Blade Runner, and cyborgs can be referred to as mecha, as well as mundane real-life objects such as industrial robots, cars and even toasters. The Japanese use the term "robots" (ロボット robotto ) or "giant robots" to distinguish limbed vehicles from other mechanical devices. One prominent example is the anime Mazinger Z, where the term "Super Robot", features in the Japanese theme song.
Mecha typically does not refer to form-fitting garments such as the Iron Man powered armor (although larger powered armor is considered mecha). Mecha tend to be much larger and bulkier than the wearer and the wearer's limbs may or may not actually extend completely into the respective limbs. Despite this, it is often difficult to distinguish between mecha and powered armor. An example is seen in Bubblegum Crisis Tokyo 2040 which feature both "hard suits" and "K-suits". Despite both technologies being called "suits" (implying they are worn), the K-suit is much more bulky, and does not fit the form of the person inside.
In most fiction in which they appear, mecha are fighting machines: essentially armored fighting vehicles with a body instead of a vehicular frame. Some stories, such as the manga Patlabor and American wargame BattleTech, also encompass mecha used for civilian purposes such as heavy construction work, police functions or firefighting. Mecha also see roles as transporters, recreation, advanced hazmat suits and other R and D applications.
Some science fiction universes posit that mecha are the primary means of combat, with conflicts sometimes being decided through gladiatorial matches. Others represent mecha as one component of an integrated military force, supported by and fighting alongside tanks, fighter aircraft, and infantry, functioning as a mechanical cavalry. The applications often highlight the theoretical usefulness of such a device, combining a tank's resilience and firepower with infantry's ability to cross unstable terrain. In other cases they are demonstrated with a greater versatility in armament, such as in the Armored Core series of video games where mecha carry a wide range of armament spread across 4 "hard points" (both hands and 2 backpack sockets) albeit on a much larger scale. Another example is the anime Mobile Suit Gundam in which military forces have mecha known as "Mobile Suits", the series signature mecha being the RX-78 Gundam. In some continuities, special scenarios are constructed to make Mecha more viable than current-day status. For example, in Gundam the fictional Minovsky particle inhibits the use of radar, making long-range ballistic strikes impractical, thus favouring relatively close range warfare of Mobile Suits.
Mecha have been used in fantasy settings, for example in the anime series Aura Battler Dunbine, The Vision of Escaflowne, Panzer World Galient and Maze. In those cases, the mecha designs are usually based on some alternative or 'lost' science-fiction technology from ancient times. In case of anime series Zoids, the machines resemble dinosaurs and animals, and have been shown to evolve from native metallic organisms.
The 1880 Jules Verne novel La Maison à vapeur (The Steam House) featured a steam-powered, piloted, mechanical elephant. One of the first appearances of such machines in modern literature was the tripods of H. G. Wells' famous The War of the Worlds. The novel does not contain a fully detailed description of the tripods' (or "fighting-machine", as they are known in the novel) mode of locomotion, however it is hinted at: "Can you imagine a milking stool tilted and bowled violently along the ground? That was the impression those instant flashes gave. But instead of a milking stool imagine it a great body of machinery on a tripod stand."
Mecha were popularized by Japanese anime and manga. The first humanoid giant robot is Tetsujin 28-Go, introduced in 1956. Tetsujin was controlled externally via remote control by an operator. The first occurrence of mecha being piloted by a user from within a cockpit was introduced in the manga and anime series Mazinger Z by Go Nagai, first published in 1972.
Mecha in fiction
In manga and anime
In Japan, "robot anime" (known as "mecha anime" outside Japan) is one of the oldest genres in anime. Robot anime is often tied in with toy manufacturers. Large franchises such as Zoids and Gundam have hundreds of different model kits.
The size of mecha can vary according to the story and concepts involved. Some of them may not be considerably taller than a tank (Armored Trooper Votoms, Megazone 23, Code Geass), some may be a few stories tall (Gundam, Escaflowne, Bismark, Gurren Lagann), others can be as tall as a skyscraper (Space Runaway Ideon, Genesis of Aquarion, Neon Genesis Evangelion), some are big enough to contain an entire city (Macross), some the size of a planet (Diebuster), galaxies (Getter Robo, Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann), or even as large as universes (Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann: Lagann-hen, Demonbane).
The first giant robot seen was Mitsuteru Yokoyama's 1956 manga Tetsujin 28-go. However, it wasn't until the advent of Go Nagai's Mazinger Z that the genre was established. Mazinger Z innovated by adding the inclusion of futuristic weapons, and the concept of being able to pilot from a cockpit (rather than via remote control, in the case of Tetsujin). According to Go Nagai:
I wanted to create something different, and I thought it would be interesting to have a robot that you could drive, like a car.
Mazinger Z featured giant robots which were "piloted by means of a small flying car and command center that docked inside the head." It was also a pioneer in die-cast metal toys such as the Chogokin series in Japan and the Shogun Warriors in the U.S., that were (and still are) very popular with children and collectors.
Robot/mecha anime and manga differ vastly in storytelling and animation quality from title to title, and content ranges all the way from children's shows to ones intended for an older teen or adult audience.
Some robot mecha are capable of transformation (Macross, Zeta Gundam) or combining to form even bigger ones (Beast King GoLion and Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann). Go Nagai is also often credited with inventing this in 1974 with the television series Getter Robo.
Not all mecha need be completely mechanical. Some have biological components with which to interface with their pilots, and some are partially biological themselves, such as Neon Genesis Evangelion, Eureka Seven, and Zoids.
Mecha based on anime have seen extreme cultural reception across the world. The personification of this popularity can be seen as 1:1 size Mazinger Z, Tetsujin, and Gundam statues built across the world.
- The Star Wars series of films contained the Walkers, such as the AT-AT and AT-ST.
- The Hollywood movie Aliens featured a cargo loader as a civilian variant of a mecha. The film Robot Jox, featuring two giant mecha fight scenes, and the Japanese live-action film Gunhed are other examples.
- In (Sentinel 2099) 1995 film features a 40 foot tall walking tank called a Sentinel unit they are used to combat an alien race known as the Zisk.
- In (Crash and Burn) 1990 film features a 25 foot tall construction robot that is used to fight a cyborg villian.
- In the Power Rangers movie, it featured pilot colossal assault machines called Zords to defeat and overcome evil forces that threaten humanity.
- In Matrix Revolutions, Captain Mifune leads the human defense of Zion, piloting open-cockpit mecha called APUs against invading Sentinels.
- In Starship Troopers 3: Marauder, mecha with rapid-fire, machine gun and flame-thrower arms were used near the end of the film, and were under the command of the main character, Johnny Rico.
- Some versions of Mechagodzilla, from the Godzilla series, are giant robots rather than mechs.
- In James Cameron's 2009 film Avatar, mecha are used as instruments of war called AMPs.
- In Shane Acker's 2009 animated film 9, giant walking war machines called Steel Behemoths were created by the Fabrication Machine to destroy all life on earth.
- A heavily weaponized powered exoskeleton that envelops the operator is featured in the 2009 film District 9, and aptly named the Exo-suit.
- In Zack Snyder's 2011 film Sucker Punch, Amber (Jamie Chung) uses the "Bunny Mech", a mecha-gunner with a pink cartoon-bunny face painted on it.
- Guillermo del Toro's 2013 film Pacific Rim focuses on a war between humans who pilot massive mechas known as Jaegers and aliens that emerge from the Pacific Ocean.
- In the film Iron Man, the Iron Monger, a powered exoskeleton suit operated by Obadiah Stane, is another example of mecha.
||This section may contain excessive, poor, or irrelevant examples. (September 2013)|
Mecha are often featured in computer and console video games. Because of their size and fictional power, mecha are quite popular subjects for games, both tabletop and electronic. They have been featured in video games since the 1980s, particularly in vehicular combat and shooter games, including Sesame Japan's side-scrolling shooter game Vastar in 1983, various Gundam games such as Mobile Suit Gundam: Last Shooting in 1984 and Z-Gundam: Hot Scramble in 1986, the run and gun shooters Hover Attack in 1984 and Thexder in 1985, and Arsys Software's 3D role-playing shooters WiBArm in 1986 and Star Cruiser in 1988.
A popular classic of mecha in games is the MechWarrior series of video games, which takes place in the Battletech universe. Another game, Heavy Gear 2 offers a complex yet semi-realistic control system for its mecha in both terrain and outer space warfare.
Armored Core is one of the more popular Japanese franchises today, combining industrial customizable mecha designs with fast-paced action. Rivalling Armored Core is Front Mission, a turn-based tactical series of games by Square. It features Japanese mecha designs with more realistic physics, reserving the lightning speed common in the Japanese mech genre to special machines. Older American Tabletop games, Battletech, uses hex-maps, miniatures & paper record sheets that allow players to use mecha in tactical situations and record realistic damage, while add RPG elements when desired. It is from Battletech that the term 'mech (a contraction of Battlemech) was popularized, but 'mech is not to be confused with the more general term of Mecha.
Mecha-like bipedal tanks called Metal Gears are a recurring element in the Metal Gear series. Iconic Metal Gears of the series include the Metal Gear D in Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake, Metal Gear REX in Metal Gear Solid, and Metal Gear RAY in Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty. The most common feature of a Metal Gear is the capability to launch nuclear missiles, though this feature is absent in the three newest models in the series; Metal Gears RAY, GEKKO, and EXCELSUS. Unlike in many mecha-featuring series, Metal Gears are not numerous or widely used (except the small, unmanned GEKKOs). Most of the Metal Gears featured in the series are prototypes. In the series, they are usually called "the ultimate weapon" and "the missing link between infantry and artillery".
In the tabletop game Warhammer 40,000, the forces use mecha of a variety of sizes and shapes. Tau use one-man Battlesuits while the Imperium as a whole use Dreadnoughts (for the Space Marines) and Sentinels (for the Imperial Guard) as walkers, as well as huge Titans. The Orks also use huge, ramshackle mecha called Gargants, and smaller-sized Deffdreads and Killa-kans. These are basically walking scrap metal with varying types of ranged and close combat weapons (killy bitz) and a wired-in driver. The Eldar also use their particular version of titans, which are often more agile and compact than their Imperial counterparts, as well as the smaller Wraithlords (although the latter does not have a pilot as such, they are controlled by the spirit of a dead Eldar contained in a 'soulstone').
Another example is in the game Battlefield 2142, in which mecha fight alongside conventional military units such as infantry, tanks, gunships, and APCs in the European Union's and Pan-Asian Coalition's military forces.
The Monolith Productions game Shogo: Mobile Armor Division blended Mecha game-play with that of traditional first-person shooter games. The game was divided into a series of missions with some having the player play on-foot as in a normal first person shooter while also having missions where the player could select through a variety of Mecha (referred to as "MCAs"in the game). A similar concept appears, although much less developed, in the game Quake 4, where the player can drive Mechs as well as other vehicles while the game is still primarily focused on ground based human combat. Dark Horizons: Lore Invasion took gameplay aspects of first-person shooter games such as Unreal Tournament 2004 and blended it with that of traditional Mecha simulation games.
In real-time strategy (RTS) game Command & Conquer Red Alert 3, a number of the vehicles of the Empire of the Rising Sun are referred to as mecha, since they are capable of transforming from ground or sea units to aerial fighters, granting them additional flexibility in battle but making them closer to robots then to true mecha. One such unit is called the Mecha Tengu. Command & Conquer 2 Tiberian Sun features more conventional/realistic mecha including the bipedal Wolverine, Titan and the 4-legged Mammoth Mk2. All 3 take the role of armored vehicles on the side of the GDI. The Wolverine is a light anti-infantry vehicle. The Titan with its 120mm gun and heavy armor is essentially a walking main battle tank and as such the primary combat unit of the GDI. The Mammoth Mk2 is a heavily armored super-unit with railguns of which the player is only allowed to have 1. Another RTS with mecha units is StarCraft, with mecha called Goliaths. In StarCraft II, the Viking and Thor mecha are introduced. The Viking is primarily an Air-to-air fighter which can transform to a ground mecha, similar to the Goliath. The Thor is a powerful, large assault mecha. In the upcoming Heart of the Swarm expansion, a mech called the Battle Hellion is introduced; this is a variant of the previous hellion unit (a flamethrower-equipped vehicle) which an transform into a mech. Another example would be the Warhound, a powerful anti-armor bipedal mecha.
In the RTS game series Empire Earth, the last epochs in the games allows players to build mecha.
In the game Supreme Commander, the player takes control of a mecha known as the Armoured Command Unit (ACU). The player uses the ACU to build up armies. The ACU is upgradable and can defend itself. Due to its power source, the ACU sets off a thermo-nuclear explosion when destroyed. Other units in the game are also mecha, but ranging in size and firepower.
The critically and commercially successful Square role-playing video game (re-released by Square-Enix) Xenogears also featured mecha, called Gears. Mecha appear in the game as a prominent part of the story line and part of the game's innovative combat system as well as a mini-game fighting arena.
A more recent game, Chromehounds was developed by From Software for the Xbox 360. This game featured a more 'realistic' take on mecha, with much slower speeds and realistic modern weapons payloads. A large feature of this series was the heavy customizability of the Hounds, as they are called.
Konami's Zone of the Enders is a series of action games centred around mecha combat for the PlayStation 2. In the ZOE series, the BAHRAM military corporation is the primary developer of Orbital Frame technology and the general antagonist. The commander of this corporation, Colonel Nohman, is the primary antagonist. The most intimidating Orbital Frame, Anubis, is his frame of choice in his mission to eliminate the universe. Orbital Frames can be taken from ground to air to space and beyond, and are generally superior to the other, more common mecha type of the series, the LEV.
Capcom's Mega Man X series featured mecha called "Ride Armor", which can dash, fly and punch depending on what type of Ride Armor you use.
The turn based strategy game Civilization V features a "Giant Death Robot" as a late-game unit.
The game Steel Battalion was particularly notable for an attempt to create a greater degree of realism and immersion by requiring the use of a large, dedicated controller with multiple joysticks, pedals, and throttle to control mecha in combat. With players required to undergo a startup sequence and featuring buttons for such mundane functions are windshield wipers and headlights.
Also, Metal Fatigue (video game) heavily features mecha combat. Mechas are referred to as combat robots, or "combots", and are one of the main units in the game. Players build combot parts, allowing customisation in the units. A combot requires a minimum of a pilot, a torso and a set of legs (legs are built as one piece) to function. However, various different arms are available, which give the combot different stats or weapons. During combat or when a combot is destroyed, there is also a chance for a combot part to fall to the ground. It can then be scavenged, for research and use in the player's own combots.
- The version of the Iron Monger featured in Iron Man: Armored Adventures is much larger than most other versions, about as tall as a six-story house. During its test, it was referred to as mecha.
- The American animated series Megas XLR also features a giant robot named Megas.
- The 2010 animated series Sym-Bionic Titan featured two different versions of mecha. The first were small one-man battlesuits used as infantry support by the military force of an alien world called Galaluna. At the beginning of the series two prototypes of this class, the 'Manus' heavy weapons and 'Corus' combat support models, had been designed with the capability to combine with a robotic assistant, named Octus, to form the titular 'Sym-Bionic Titan'. This mecha was piloted simultaneously by both the two pilots from the smaller suits and the Octus AI, requiring team co-ordination in order to perform at peak efficiency.
- In any Power Rangers series, it features a team able to utilize special powers and pilot colossal assault machines called Zords to defeat and overcome evil forces that threaten humanity
- In the 2012 American/Canadian animated television series Slugterra, robotic creatures known as Mecha-Beasts are used as a form of transportation by the characters. The Mechas sport similar designs and sounds of dirt bikes/motorcycles from the handle bars to the exhaust pipes/vents.
- The Great Spirit is a forty-million-foot-tall robot from the Bionicle mythos. Though not necessarily made as a vehicle, it houses the Matoran Universe, a whole system of continents and oceans. There are also various other characters and species (such as the Exo Toa and the Bohrok) which can be considered mecha on a comparatively tiny scale.
- The Exo-Force line featured humans and machines battling each other in mecha, better known in the line as "Battle Machines".
Real walking vehicles
There are a few prototypes of walking vehicles. Currently almost all of these are experimental or proof of concept, and as such may never see mass production.
A "walking vehicle" is a vehicle that moves on legs rather than wheels or tracks. Walking vehicles have been constructed with anywhere from one to more than eight legs. They are classified according to the number of legs with common configurations being one leg (pogo stick or "hopper"), two legs (biped), four legs (quadruped), and six legs (hexapod).
While the mobility of walking vehicles is arguably higher than that of wheeled or tracked vehicles, their inherent complexity has limited their use mainly to experimental vehicles. Examples of manned walking vehicles include General Electric's Walking truck, the University of Duisburg-Essen's ALDURO. Timberjack, a subsidiary of John Deere, built a practical hexapod Walking Forest Machine (harvester).
Some walking machines such as the BigDog have been designed for the potential military applications. The largest walking machine ever made is the Big Muskie dragline excavator, used primarily in mining operations.
- List of fictional mecha
- Chicken walker
- Land Walker (a machine developed in Japan that imitates a bipedal mecha)
- Model robot
- Powered exoskeleton
Notes and references
- "Anime glossary".[not in citation given]
- Mark Gilson, "A Brief History of Japanese Robophilia", Leonardo 31 (5), p. 367–369 .
- http://www.dra-mata.com/manga/nagai/gn-mazingerz01.jpg[dead link]
- Vastar at the Killer List of Videogames
- Carlo Savorelli, Z Gundam, Hardcore Gaming 101
- Timberjack Walking Machine on YouTube
- Gears Online
- Mecha Anime HQ: Extensive coverage on Gundams and other mecha.
- Entry in the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction