The Stigma of Giant Robots

First, no Kaze no Stigma jokes.

Okay? Okay.

Mecha is one of the main stereotypes of japanese animation, along with martial arts, sci-fi, and not being for kids. But despite being one of the first things many people think of when they see the word “anime” it somehow has gotten a negative reputation among many fans in the United States. People will turn away from a title if giant robots are involved, and the only Gundam series to ever truly be successful is Wing.

I have no issue with people not preferring giant robot anime, but what is bothering me is the idea that robots, be they real or super, are an automatic red flag for a lot of anime viewers.

What happened? I know that the large female otaku population tends not to be fond of titanium titans, but why do so many guys also brush these titles aside? Could it be that giant robots are no longer considered a staple of anime, that in the eyes of this newer generation of anime fandom it is something to be ignored? Are there certain tropes of robot animation, different from say, shounen fighting, which detracts from the viewing experience?

11 thoughts on “The Stigma of Giant Robots

  1. I think you’re on to something with the comparison to shounen fighting series. I don’t watch much giant robot stuff (unless you count Evangelion and Flag), but then I don’t watch much shounen fighting stuff, either.

    Part of it may also be the fact that a lot of the giant robot stuff comes with a heritage of promotional toy tie-ins (even, or especially, Gundam). That cheapens them, making them seem like Pokemon and Yu-gi-oh — kids’ stuff.

    Beyond that, the mobile suit stuff is also a bit dubious as a science-fiction concept. They don’t really seem like realistic mobile platforms.

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  2. I’ve not noticed this. Then again, I don’t personally know anyone else who watches anime. All I do know is, I love robots. Giant or otherwise. :)

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  3. I think some people get the idea that robots automatically equal pointless action and fanservice and that by watching mecha anime, any mecha anime they will be perceived as less intelligent. I remember one time not to long ago claiming that there is a definite negative bias against mecha among certain anime fans and being called a conspiracy theorist, but I mean really….it’s quite blatant when you go to look at it. Perhaps there are other straight up biases these fans have, but the mecha bias seems to be the most popular one they admit to. Mostly during those pre-season run down lists a lot of blogs including my own (Deathkillz does it and I do guest commentary) do is when you really get to see the “Mecha? No way I’m watching this” type comments. It’s like other genres are taboo to admit to outright disliking, but they feel disliking mecha is something everybody will agree on.

    As for causes, I find that most people I chat up on the subject have either had a really bad first experience with a mecha series before or they just plain don’t have the heart of steel, that little drive that attracts people to the titans as you call them.

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  4. The “giant robot bias” is exactly like the “shounen fighting show bias”–there’s a perception that everything that could possibly fall under that label is trite, overdone, and lacking originality. I’ve run into several people who have told me that they “don’t do the Gundam/mecha thing” and look at me funny when I talk about mecha series. I also know several people who complained about mecha series, and then someone talked them into watching Gurren-Lagann, and they had a complete 180 on mecha and wanted to see more series.

    I have a coworker who grew up in the 70s and 80s, and her early memories of anime were about robot shows that (she perceived) were more about how cool the robot is than about the people who piloted them. I had to quell her down by pointing out the merchandising aspect, plus the fact that since the post-cancellation success of Mobile Suit Gundam, mecha series have, generally speaking, been focusing as much or more on the characters.

    And I think the mecha fans themselves alienate potential viewers–there was a period of time, years and years ago, where any time I ran into super robot chat I’d tune it out and go do something else, because I had no idea what people were talking about and felt alienated. I know more about the genre now, of course, but even outside Macross and Gundam, discussing mecha series can reach a level where you just shut people out who aren’t devoted followers of every mecha series ever. It’s like the daunting task of starting to follow superhero comics, or trying to get into Star Trek–there’s so much, and it’s incredibly daunting.

    And, just looking at what’s popular hot topics on the Internet at the moment, Code Geass, Macross Frontier, and Gundam 00 are dominating everything else. Macross and Gundam have storied histories to back them up, but Code Geass is a newcomer, unrelated to either franchise (except to Gundam via Sunrise, if that even counts) and is super massive popular anyway.

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  5. Kaze no Stigma walks into a bar and Ryu Sasakura says … oh wait you said //no// Kaze no Stigma jokes. My bad.

    I can’t wrap my head around why shonen fighting is popular but mecha shows are not. They both appeal to people mainly for the same reason. Wish fulfillment on a conscious or subconscious level. You get to imagine yourself as the kick arse dude who beats up everything that gets in his way. So individuals having a preferences is unsurprising but such large scale hatred seems odd. I feel it’s like the difference in popularity between baseball and soccer in the US. They are both team sports that are insanely popular in the rest of the world but baseball is popular in the US but soccer is not. They are both team sports but the nuances of each sport determine which is popular where.

    My only theory is that the robot in a robot show dehumanizes the pilot and takes you one step away from the self insertion. When Ichiago or Goku do their crazy awesome fights you see yourself as them. But in a giant robot show you mostly see the robot not the pilot as the one being the fetish. I feel to love the giant robot show you have to love the robots as much or if not more than the pilot. This is apparently not the case for Americans. Or so my theory goes.

    I wonder if Gundam 00 and/or Code Geass will have any effect on girls watching mecha anime or at least those two particular mecha anime. They both seem like the type of show that superficially have enough in common with Gundam Wing that they have a chance at having the same appeal to women. I’m pretty sure that will not be the case but who knows.

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  6. There are a couple of reasons why mecha anime is being ignored.

    It’s stagnant. Gundam and Evangelion invented and reinvented how a mecha anime should be. Consequently, most mecha anime after it “cookie cutter” the hell out of it.

    It’s out of style. Ninjas and Shinigami are where it’s at, lol!

    I dunno for sure. I’m not that big of a fan, but I’ll watch one every once in awhile.

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  7. >>dm00

    It really depends what Gundam show you’re talking about. Many Gundam shows have been artistically and thematically done despite being giant toy commericals (Zeta, 00), while some have avoided being toy commericals all together (Turn A). Sure, if you’re talking about Wing and Seed, then yeah they are made to peddle model kits and yaoi doujins, but Gundam at its core is actually something that supposed to be a serious war drama with social commentary about humanity.

    Giant Robot series themselves area really like all Science Fiction. They can be useless drivel that is made to entertain children and the lowest common denominator, or they can be fashioned for the purpose of discusing matters such as the human condition, courage, and war. The reason why people in America don’t like Giant Robots is because they have only seen Wing and Seed, and judged the rest of mecha as things for children.

    It is because of this perception that Giant Robot have been crudely relegated to the corner. It is iionic that sophisticated shows like the original Mobile Suit Gundam are ignored as childish while Naruto and Bleach are in the mainstream. For some reason, while both shows are made for a younger demographic than Gundam is suited for, they exert an aura that makes appear more adult like from afar. Sad really.

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  8. Yeah sure theres Gurren Lagann and a very few other stuff but if it’s anything else about Giant Robots my friends don’t like to watch it. But I personally really like anime including giant robots and I’m a girl but it’s really wierd that guys are now tending to shy away from such titles including Mechas.I’ve been wondering that to lately, maby it’s the case of ninja fever?!(=3=)

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