Mecha

From Academic Kids

For the Chicano organization, see MEChA.
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The title mecha RX-78-2 Gundam from the popular anime Mobile Suit Gundam

In some works of science fiction, mecha (singular or plural) or mechs (singular: mech) are piloted or remote-controlled limbed vehicles. The key difference between mecha and robots (in the English usage of these terms) is that a mecha has a pilot or controller. The term is derived from the Japanese abbreviation for the English term "mechanical," although English speakers have repurposed the term to mean only the vehicles described above. The original Japanese term of mecha has the broader denotation of all mechanical objects, including cars, guns, computers, and other objects without pilots or limbs.

Mecha are generally war machines, sometimes mass-produced, and are seen as a component of a whole military body and do not act alone in their conflicts, although it is common that only mecha fight mecha, much in the same way tanks and fighter planes do, even in large scale battles.

Mecha, being war machines, are subject to the machinations and political intrigue that characterises human conflict. Very often their power is abused and manipulated by the commanders, often to the psychological detriment of their pilots.

A large, bipedal machine is not the most flexible of designs, and aside from occasional use in things like heavy construction work, mecha are most often built for combat purposes. As such, their status varies widely between different settings, from one type of unit among others to the undisputed rulers of the battlefield.

The distinction between smaller mecha and their smaller cousins (and likely progenitors), the powered armor suits, is blurred; according to one definition, a mecha is piloted while a powered armor is worn. Anything large enough to have a cockpit where the pilot is seated is generally considered a mecha.

Rarely, mecha has been used in a fantasy convention, most notably in The Vision of Escaflowne and Maze animes. In those cases, the mecha designs are usually based on some alternative steampunk technology or 'lost' science-fiction technology from ancient times.

Contents

East vs. West

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Battlemechs from cover of the book The Legend of the Jade Phoenix by Robert Thurston

Mecha are quite popular in Japanese manga, and by extension anime. In Western entertainment, they are occasionally seen in games, especially the action, strategy and simulation genres, but the most well-known Western context for mecha is BattleTech. The original BattleTech - a tabletop strategy game - has been the basis of numerous MechWarrior computer games and a role-playing game and is the origin of the related term "mech." Other products bearing the BattleTech name include a collectible card game, books, comics and an animated TV series. Ironically, FASA, the company that produced BattleTech, was sued for copyright infringement for using several mecha designs from The Super Dimension Fortress Macross and other anime series allegedly without the proper copyright licenses1 (the first edition of BattleTech, then named 'BattleDroids, actually included two Japanese 1/144 model kits from the Fang of Sun Dougram anime series).

Though designs vary widely in both eastern and western mecha, there is a general difference in style. Japanese ones tend to be sleeker as opposed to the rougher and more rugged western ones, and it's not unusual for Japanese mecha to perform difficult acrobatic manoeuvers while some western machines would have trouble getting up. Hands are much more common on eastern mecha; western designs often just have upper limbs with permanent weapon emplacements.

An interesting compromise of the two design philosophies can be found in the Armored Core series of videogames; while the mecha can frequently be humanoid and are capable of flight and hand-to-hand combat, in the Eastern tradition, a plethora of weight, power, heat and other semi-realistic limitations are placed on them during their design and customisation by the player, more reminiscent of Western mecha design.

The word 'mech' is used to describe such vehicles considerably more often in western entertainment than in Asian entertainment. "Mech" as a term originated from BattleTech, and is not used in Japan in other contexts except as an unintentional misspelling of 'mecha.' In Japanese, 'mecha' is the more frequent term (see 'Other meanings' below), though in the series themselves they are seldom known as such.

Specific mecha in media

(list is not comprehensive)

The mecha genre of anime

In anime, 'mecha' is a genre that features the vehicles and their pilots as the central characters. Here, the average mecha are usually twenty feet tall at the smallest, outfitted with a wide variety of weapons, and quite frequently have tie-ins with toy manufacturers. The Gundam franchise is an excellent example: Gundam toys and model kits (produced by the Japanese toymaker Bandai) are ubiquitous in Japan. In this genre teenage pilots are more common than would be feasible in real life.

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 mecha are capable of transformation (Macross to name but one) or combining to form even bigger ones (see Voltron). Go Nagai is often credited with inventing this in 1974 with the television series Getter Robo.

History

The genre started with Miseteru Yokoyama's 1956 manga Tetsujin 28-go (which was later animated in 1963 and also released abroad as Gigantor). Its inclusion is debatable however, as the robot was controlled by remote instead of a cockpit in the machine. Not long after that the genre was largely defined by author Go Nagai, into something considerably more fantastical. Mazinger Z, his most famous creation, was not only the first successful Super Robot anime series, but also the pioneer of the genre staples like weapons that were activated by the hero calling out their names ("Rocket Punch!"). 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. Getter Robo, for its part, was the first combining robot, something that became a frequent design theme and was aggressively imitated in similar mecha shows.

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The appearance of Gundam in 1979 is considered to have broken the mecha genre into two subsets: the super robot show, which focused on ultratech mecha that often had elements of mysticism and tend to use a "monster of the week" format; and the real robot show, in which the mecha are shown as tools rather than semi-mystical creations, and the focus is less on the machines and more on the pilots. The introduction of Mobile Suit Gundam in 1979 introduced a sort of paradox: a war show about giant war machines that was in fact anti-war at heart.

Other notable series include but are by no means limited to Macross, which in its modified Robotech form led to the breakthrough of anime in the USA, Hideaki Anno's Gunbuster, which along with Macross is considered the pinnacles of anime in the 1980s, the police-focused Patlabor, and as examples of older shows, Go Lion and Giant Robo.

One anime series that drew from the tradition of both super robot and real robot genres while being completely unique was Hideaki Anno's highly successful (and quite controversial) Neon Genesis Evangelion.

The mecha genre in anime is still alive and well as the new millennium came, with revival OVAs like Getter Robo: the Last Day and Mazinkaiser from the Super Robot tradition, the new Gundam Seed series from the Real Robot side, and Rahxephon, a successful sci-fi anime series in the vein of Evangelion.

Games

Because of their size and power, and the resultant potential for massive property damage demonstrating that size and power, mecha are quite popular subjects for games. One notable console game that focuses on the mecha anime genre is Banpresto's Super Robot Wars series (also known as Super Robot Taisen), which in each installment of its games depict an elaborate crossover of popular and less-known mecha anime series. Also popular is Zone of the Enders, an action game. Many game adaptations have been made of various popular mecha franchises, including Mobile Suit Gundam: Encounters in Space, many Macross games, and even American titles like Robotech: Battlecry and Robotech: Invasion. Also, there are the Front Mission games by Japanese developer Square Enix, which are seeing increased popularity in America, especially with the third and fourth installments for PlayStation and PlayStation 2.

Grammar

The word "mecha" is both singular and plural, it specifically covers the Japanese aspect of the genre (because they refer to it as "meka"). The word "mech" or "mechs", singular and plural forms respectively, refers to American mechanical design (such as Battletech, though many of those designs are actually Japanese in origin). "Mechas" is rare and deprecated (as would be "katanas," "samurais" or "ninjas").

Other meanings

In Japanese the word mecha (or meka) is an abbreviation of the English "mechanical" and used to refer to all mechanical objects, real-world or fictional. In this sense, it's 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.

This is far less frequent among English speakers. There are exceptions; in the film 'A.I. Artificial Intelligence', the word is used to describe 'mechanicals' (robotic humanoids), as opposed to 'orga' for 'organics' (humans).

Notes

  1. The related lawsuits were settled out of court, and later products of BattleTech do not use the designs under contention.

External links

Real-life attempts at building mechs

fr:Mecha it:Mecha pl:Mecha ru:Меха

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