What is considered a mecha anime? The staple genre explained

Diversity of Mecha genre (Image via Studio MAPPA)
Diversity of Mecha genre (Image via Studio MAPPA)

For many years, the mecha genre has been a beloved part of Japanese anime. Iconic series like Neon Genesis Evang­elion and Code Geass have even challenged traditional tropes to redefine the genre.

Mecha has consis­tently brought us timeless classics that push storyt­elling bound­aries. However, in recent times, the genre has become oversa­turated and faces new challenges. To keep its legacy alive, innov­ation is crucial.

This article goes over the characteristics of the genre and what makes it so alluring.

Disclaimer- This article contains minor spoilers for Code Geass and Evangelion.

Mecha anime and its diversity

Mecha anime is a genre of Japanese animation that showcases the use of giant, humanoid robots known as mechs. These mecha­nical vehicles are typically piloted by human crews. Early series like Tetsujin 28-go and Mazinger Z paved the way for the concept of colossal robots engaged in epic battles.

While mecha can be found across various genres, it is most commonly associated with science fiction settings. In the world of the mecha genre, there are two popular subge­nres: "super robot" and "real robot."

Super robots are typically one-of-a-kind machines that possess incre­dible strength and often have mystical or legendary origins. Some super robots even exhibit sentience or draw power from unique abilities or weapons. Examples of classic super robot anime include Mazinger Z, Getter Robo, and Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann.

On the other hand, real robots are designed to function as military weapons using realistic science and technology. Unlike super robots, they are not unique but mass-pr­oduced. Shows like Mobile Suit Gundam depict futur­istic wars where soldiers pilot mechas resem­bling tanks or fighter jets. These shows delve into military drama within a sci-fi setting.

In the early days, mecha anime often followed a formulaic approach with weekly episodes featuring stand­alone stories. However, groundb­reaking series like Evang­elion and Gundam trans­formed the genre by intro­ducing intricate narra­tives exploring profound themes.

Over time, mecha has expanded its horizons to encompass a wide range of genres while maintaining its central premise of humans contr­olling giant robots. From romantic comedies like Full Metal Panic! to fantasy adven­tures like Jujutsu Kaisen and even satires like KonoSuba, the genre has found a place in diverse storyt­elling beyond traditional sci-fi settings.

Mecha, regardless of genre, often symbolizes the intricate relationship between humanity and techn­ology. Its versa­tility has made it a timeless feature in Japanese anima­tion, going beyond mere spect­acles for robotic battles.

When executed effectively, mecha anime employs its iconic giant robots to convey profound stories about individuals and society. While the genre origi­nated from sci-fi action narra­tives, it has undergone significant diversi­fication over time.

Series like Neon Genesis Evang­elion and Code Geass merged mecha with psycho­logical dramas and political intri­gues. Evang­elion particularly broke the mold of traditional mecha anime with its flawed and tormented characters as well as its abstract imagery.

In the case of Code Geass, it skill­fully blends military action, political intrigue, and high school drama to create an engaging story­line. This show goes beyond using mecha purely for visual spectacle. Instead, the robots become vessels for intricate storyt­elling.

Thanks to series like these that break free from stereo­types, mecha anime now encom­passes a diverse range of tones and themes. The presence of giant robots remains a consi­stent and alluring aspect, while the narra­tives surro­unding them const­antly push bound­aries.

Final Thoughts

In recent years, the mecha genre has seen a resur­gence with an array of compe­lling story­lines, spanning from thought-provoking psycho­logical dramas to politically charged narra­tives. This genre has continuously pushed its bound­aries and redefined itself.

However, it has also faced challenges stemming from oversat­uration in the market. To keep the allure of giant robots alive in the rapidly evolving world of anime, fresh innov­ations are necessary.