Mecha anime and manga
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Mecha anime and manga, known in Japan as robot anime (ロボットアニメ robotto anime) and robot manga (ロボット漫画 robotto manga), are anime and manga that feature robots (mecha) in battle. The genre is broken down into two subcategories; "super robot", featuring super-sized, implausible robots, and "real robot", where robots are governed by realistic physics and technological limitations.
Mecha series cover a wide variety of genres, from comedy to drama, and the genre has expanded into other media, such as video game adaptations. Mecha has also contributed to the popularity of scale model robots.
The first series in the mecha genre was Mitsuteru Yokoyama's 1956 manga Tetsujin 28-go (which was later animated in 1963 and also released abroad as Gigantor). He was inspired to become a manga creator by Osamu Tezuka, and began serializing the manga in Shonen, an iconic boy's magazine, in 1956. In this series, the robot, which was made as a last-ditch effort to win World War II by the Japanese military, was remote-controlled by the protagonist Shotaro Kaneda, a twelve-year-old detective and "whiz kid". The story turned out to have immense mass appeal, and inspired generations of imitators.
In 1972, Go Nagai, another of Japan's greatest manga creator, defined the super robot genre with Mazinger Z, which was directly inspired by the former series. He had the revolutionary idea to create a mecha that people could control like a car, while waiting to cross a busy street. The concept became "explosively popular", making the manga and anime into a success. The series also was the genesis for different tropes of the genre, such as the idea of a robot as a "dynamic entity" that could join with other machines or humans to become unstoppable. Anime critic Fred Patten wrote that almost all mecha anime plots, such as monster of the week shows, were actually metaphors for re-fighting World War II, and defending Japan and its culture from Western encroachment.
By 1977, a large number of super robot anime had been created, including Brave Raideen and Danguard Ace. The market for super robot toys also grew, spawning metal die-cast 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. The super robot genre became heavily commercialized and stagnant, creating an opening for innovation, which was seized upon by Yoshiyuki Tomino in 1979 with the creation of Mobile Suit Gundam, a complex "space saga" that was called the "Star Wars of Japan" and birthed the real robot genre, which featured more realistic, gritty technology. Tomino did not like the formulaic storylines and overt advertising of the super robot shows he had worked on, and wanted to create a movie where robots were used as tools. While the response to Gundam was lukewarm at first, efforts by dedicated fans led to it becoming a success. It created a massive market for mecha model robots, and became an industry that earned Bandai ¥42.8 billion in 2004. Many real robot series and other media were later created, such as Full Metal Panic! and the video game series Armored Core.
1990 saw the release of Patlabor, a breakthrough animated movie directed by Mamoru Oshii that popularized the mecha genre and aesthetic in the West. Neon Genesis Evangelion, created by Hideaki Anno in 1995, was a major influence on the super robot genre, arriving when the real robot genre was dominant on television. A deconstruction of classic mecha anime tropes, it recast the "saintly" inventor/father as a sinister figure, and the enthusiastic teenage protagonist as a "vacillating" introvert. Due to its unusual psychological themes, the show became a massive success, and further caused Japanese anime culture to spread widely and rapidly around the world.
The mecha anime genre (as well as Japanese kaiju films) received a Western homage with the 2013 film Pacific Rim directed by Guillermo del Toro. Similarly the genre was inspirational for the 1998 first-person shooter Shogo: Mobile Armor Division developed by Monolith Productions.
Some of the first mecha featured in manga and anime were super robots (スーパーロボット sūpā robotto), ultimate, sometimes transforming weapons with superpowers. They are often the product of an ancient civilization or a mad genius, and are usually piloted by Japanese teenagers. Their abilities are described as "quasi-magical".
The later real robot (リアルロボット riaru robotto) genre featured robots that could not transform and did not have superpowers, but rather used largely conventional, albeit futuristic weapons. They were often mass-produced on a large scale and used in wars. It also featured complex characters with moral conflicts and personal problems. It was therefore aimed primarily at young adults and not children.
These are mecha that have the ability to be self-aware, think, and sometimes feel emotion. The source of sentience varies from aliens, such as the titular characters of American-produced and Japanese-animated series, The Transformers (1984), to artificial intelligence, such as the robots of Brave Police J-Decker (1994) to magic, such as Da-Garn of The Brave Fighter of Legend Da-Garn (1992). The first series that featured a sentient giant robot, also the first mecha anime in color, was Astroganger (1972).
This refers to mecha that are powered exoskeletons rather than piloted as vehicles, such as in Genesis Climber MOSPEADA (1983), Bubblegum Crisis (1987) and Active Raid (2016); merge with the mecha, such as in The King of Braves GaoGaiGar (1997); combine with the robots, such as in Transformers: Super-God Masterforce (1988); or become mechanical themselves, such as in Brave Command Dagwon (1996).
This ubiquitous subgenre features mecha piloted internally as vehicles. The first series to feature such mecha was Go Nagai's Mazinger Z. In a 2009 interview, Go Nagai claimed the idea came to mind when he was stuck in traffic jam and wished his car could sprout arms and legs to walk over the cars in front. Other examples include Mobile Suit Gundam (1979), The Super Dimension Fortress Macross (1982), and Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann (2007). There are series that have piloted mecha that are also in the sentient category, usually because of an AI system to assist and care for the pilot, as featured in Blue Comet SPT Layzner (1985) and Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet (2013), or because the mecha is also an organic creature, as featured in Neon Genesis Evangelion (1995).
Assembling and painting mecha scale model kits is a popular pastime among mecha enthusiasts. Like other models such as cars or airplanes, more advanced kits require much more intricate assembly. Lego mecha construction can present unique engineering challenges; the balancing act between a high range of motion, good structural stability, and aesthetic appeal can be difficult to manage. In 2006, the Lego Group released their own somewhat manga-inspired mecha line with the Lego Exo-Force series.
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