is anime with giant person-shaped robots. While it is a genre of
narration-with all of the conventions, tropes, and clichés
this implies-it ultimately transcends the realm of cartoons, influencing
and derived from many aspects of Japanese culture. It's also incredible
Think of detective
movies. While detective flicks have their own set of narrative devices
and visual cues, such as the noir style and the down-on-his-luck
protagonist, these elements are by no means particular to detective
films. They're ubiquitous throughout our media and culture; it's
possible to allude to or even temporarily adopt for ironic or comic
effect the trappings of detective flicks.
much like that. There are comic mecha, tragic mecha, farcical mecha,
and even shoujo
Some conventions of current mecha productions
at some of the general features of mecha, which could be considered
part of an operational definition of the genre.
Simplification of Large-Scale Conflict
In the futuristic worlds of mecha, large-scale conflict
takes on a different flavor. It is presented as a conflict between
the Alliance and OZ in Gundam
Wing - or a struggle between
a loose jointure of humanity and invading aliens. Sometimes, as
Genesis Evangelion, both types of conflict take place, with
human organizations clashing as they decide how to best cope with
the alien threat.
character is always aligned, at least nominally, with the organization
that controls and uses mecha.
New Sources of Generational Conflict
Almost universally, children or young adults pilot
the mecha, which is invented or serviced by older adults. Sometimes
the relationship is truly familial, as in Evangelion, and
the adult inventor-maybe downplayed as a mad scientist-but the relationship
is always present.
have an intuitive, empathetic relationship with their mecha. Traditionally,
this has been the kind of feeling one develops for the merely mechanical-our
automobiles, Palm Pilots, and Gundams. More recently, some mecha
have become more fundamentally animate, allowing for true relationship
and sympathy between pilot and robot.
The adult world
takes a different view, considering the mecha primarily as a tool--at
least as far as the pilot can tell. This dynamic is often integrated
with more conventional aspects of generational conflict within the
Ancient Technologies and Knowledge
The good guys in mecha are always at an apparent
disadvantage. Knowledge is power, and often, that knowledge is derived
from the distant past. The technology that allows for mecha is often
recovered from an ancient or prehistoric source.
from this return to the discontinuous past is a concern for the
moral or utilitarian purpose of the human race. This conflict can
be political and social, as it is in Gundam, but it can additionally
be philosophical, as in Evangelion.
Why They Look Like People
Anthropomorphism seems a pretty nonsensical approach
in designing a giant robot. The sensible route would be, of course,
to build a large, squat tank-at least if mecha were simply an advanced
development in military technology.
A common device
in mecha stories is for conventional military technology-missiles,
tanks, air raids, and so forth-to be sent against the threat to
no effect. After this approach fails, the mecha is sent out and
ultimately destroys the enemy.
A mecha and
its pilot-or sometimes a small team of mecha and pilots-are able
to do what pure hardware cannot. The centrality of the human is
reaffirmed. It is people who will succeed or fail-not their technology.
Allison, Anne. "Can Popular Culture Go Global?:
How Japanese 'Scouts' and 'Rangers' Fare in the US." A Century
of Popular Culture in Japan. Ed. Douglas Slaymaker. Lewiston:
Mellen Press, 2000.
Gill, Tom. "Transformational Magic: Some Japanese super-heroes and
monsters." The Worlds of Japanese Popular Culture. Ed. D.
Martinez. Cambridge UP, 1998.
Izawa, Eri. "The Romantic, Passionate Japanese in Anime: A Look
at the Hidden Japanese Soul." Japan Pop. Ed. Timothy Craig.
New York: Sharpe, 2000.
Tanner, Ron. "Mr. Atomic, Mr. Mercury, and Chime Trooper: Japan's
Answer to the American Dream." Asian Popular Culture. Ed.
John A. Lent. Boulder: Westview Press, 1995.
- even Astro Boy - wants to do this.
Dead Mothers? Dead Parents?
You may have noticed that in
many stories, young characters are often without their parents,
especially mothers. Absence of parents is a common theme;
stories like Card Captor Sakura, Tenchi Muyo, My Neighbor
Totoro, Jubei-chan, Kiki's Delivery Service, Grave of the
Fireflies, Battle Athletes, and Neon Genesis Evangelion
all involve characters whose parents are either dead or out
of most of the story. This phenomenon, in extremely basic
terms, is a common story-telling strategy used in fairy tales.
Parents or other authority figures are eliminated from the
protagonists' lives to put them a position where they have
to be directly responsible for themselves.