The Uncompromising Mecha Melancholy

Whether I was consciously aware of what  anime “was” or not, for about as long as I’ve liked Japanese cartoons I’ve been a fan of giant robots. On a more intellectual level they can be used to represent so many things and tell so many stories, but on a simpler level they’re just big and awesome and I am never against that. But when I look at giant robot fans as a whole, my perception of the fandom is this uncompromising group which laments the fact that the shows today are not the shows of yesterday. Of course not all robot fans are like this, and it could very well just be a loud minority, but there is this persistent message that for them, mecha will never satisfy them again unless it does a complete 180 and goes back to the 80s or the 90s or whenever they think mecha shows achieved their pinnacle.

Out of those loud, complaint-prone fans, I feel that the prime example is hardcore fans of the Universal Century timeline from the Gundam series, i.e. the timeline that comprises the original Amuro Ray vs Char Aznable series from 1979 and all of its true sequels. If you’ve ever attended a “History of Gundam” panel at an anime convention or gone on mecha forums or even /m/ on 4chan you’re bound to see these guys, who will express their strong opinion that Gundam Wing or Gundam SEED as inferior to their beloved UC shows. And it’s perfectly okay to like UC more than alternate timelines, but the point at which it gets unreasonable, and the point where I start to get annoyed by the hardcore UC contingency is when they start to villainize the non-UC series and assign traits to them that they don’t really have, or that are so unfair that not even their preferred series could hold up under that kind of scrutiny. One of my favorites is the idea that Gundam was ruined when it began to pander to fangirls, but Gundam has always held a certain appeal for females, just not in the way mecha fans might prefer.

While I don’t think it’s wrong to have standards or even extremely high standards, I feel like it gets to a point where these really hardcore giant robot fans will never be satisfied, first because the industry will never be at the point it was when it produced these shows that mecha fans loved, and second because even it it did, a lot of fans don’t actually know what they like or why, and will try to find these scapegoats. Or if a mecha show manages to do well, it won’t be for the reasons they’d like.

Does anyone else feel this way about giant robot fans? Is this merely an image I’ve built up because I focus on mecha a lot and see these fans a lot more? Please tell me if you disagree, or at least what your view of the giant robot fandom is like.

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18 thoughts on “The Uncompromising Mecha Melancholy

  1. To a lesser degree this happens to the Macross franchise too. I still see opinions (on twitter for example) like “Anything after SDFM is Macross in name only!” and the sequels are all ‘insults’ to the original.

    Not only do I disagree with the opinions, I find it that the kind of obsessiveness about the particular standard they hold (whatever that is) is unhealthy.

    I love UC the most myself, but to unilaterally pre-dismiss future shows that aren’t in the UC continuity is counterproductive to anyone’s enjoyment.

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  2. I feel that you’re making a huge (and seemingly popular) generalization on behalf of UC Gundam fans. I’m not quite an elitist myself, but I personally do like most of the UC entries in the franchise more than the AU ones – with G Gundam and Turn A being prime exceptions. However, throughout my time browsing forums and other online communities, I’ve realized that there are an equal number of anti-UC elitists as there are UC elitists. Many fans prefer newer shows like Gundam SEED all on the basis that they dislike the dated animation and/or the music in older entries. In my opinion, that’s more ignorant reasoning than the general UC elitist complaints of bad story elements or unoriginality in the newer Gundam shows.

    On that note, there always appears to be a taboo when anyone voices dislike for non-UC Gundam shows, and they are instantly labeled an elitist for their opinions regardless of the legitimacy of their complaints. I remember having been called one myself when I expressed dissatisfaction towards Gundam 00’s finale. Despite having said that I enjoyed the series on a whole, I was labeled an elitist for saying that killing off all the bad guys and leaving all the good guys alive in the finale was predictable and disappointing.

    On the contrary, those who demonstrate their dislike towards UC shows relative to AU ones are respected for their opinions. And I’m not saying their complaints aren’t reasonable at times. For example, many of the characters in the older shows behave erratically and do illogical things (not that the newer shows are free of this) which turns a lot of people away. Nevertheless, it’s a double standard and I can’t seem to figure out why I’m not allowed to voice my complaints freely without being labeled an elitist, whereas the other guy can be respected for having the opposite opinion.

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  3. There are a lot of these people, and I find that a lot of them complain for its own sake. There are probably as much anti-UC fans I know as UC elitists themselves, and this annoys me to no end since the two sides just bicker with everything Gundam should be.

    It’s not just Gundam. The problem extends to Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann as a reaction to its wild popularity. Some numbnuts try to devalue the show in favor of their well-loved super robot classics (GaoGaiGar, Gunbuster, etc), or outright hate it because “it is popular, therefore it sucks”.

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  4. “One of my favorites is the idea that Gundam was ruined when it began to pander to fangirls, but Gundam has always held a certain appeal for females, just not in the way mecha fans might prefer.”

    This has always amused me personally for the reasons you mentioned, but that’s generally what happens when a particular segment of fandom is dominated by guys, particularlly overly vocal nerds. That and UC has just as much BL fanart as the rest of the franchise, it just gets forgotten about whenever their is a new series to troll (Be it Gundam, Code Geass, Gurren Lagann, etc).

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  5. Speaking as a non-Gundam fan who was around and active when Z Gundam hit the airwaves in Japan, I can say that the female fans over here who were active were (for the most part) big fans of the show. Gundam fanfic was being written and passed around for both the original anime and Z Gundam.

    If I had to guess, I’d say the time period was as much responsible for “Gundam love” as the show itself. Back then, the Gundam shows meant “serious SF” by nature at a time when a lot of anime was neither serious nor SF and original Gundam led to Dougram, Dunbine, Ideon, Votoms, and the rest. It was a time when mecha show = serious buisiness, which set anime apart from American cartoons of the time period. Basically, it represented a reason why they appreciated anime as a medium.

    RWG (it was different)

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  6. The thought that comes to mind to me here is that some of this is just “secret club syndrome” at work. I think there is a certain perception out there that there are certain shows you must watch and opinions you must share in order to be taken seriously as a mecha fan. So saying these sort of things becomes the club’s “secret handshake” of sorts. How people actually feel about the issues at hand is sort of a non-issue, because this is a matter of whether you’re “in the club” or not. And it takes a turn for the worse, as alluded to in Geno’s comment above, when you get a *second* “club” formed to counteract the influence of the first club. So now it just becomes a polarization where you must either be on one side or another, and so everyone has to become “hardcore” on one side or the other in order to be taken seriously at all.

    But going back to the main point, you’re probably right that this hardcore group of fans will never be happy or satisfied, but that’s simply because being dissatisfied with modern shows is one of the central tenets of the club. If they admitted that “you know, there’s good and bad in everything”, they might lose their strong sense of camaraderie with fellow mecha fans! It sounds silly, there’s nothing like rallying together to support a common cause, no matter how seemingly minor, trivial or obscure.

    (Personally speaking, though, I’m not really qualified to be part of either club, so this is all just observations from the sidelines. :p )

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  7. Of COURSE the mecha shows of today aren’t the mecha shows of yesterday. The mecha shows of today for all intents and purposes DO NOT EXIST.

    Show me all these so-called new mecha shows of today, because I sure as Hell ain’t seeing them. Most of what anyone can come up with at this point is “shows that occasionally have mecha in them” as opposed to “shows for which mecha are prominently featured.” Even the mighty Sunrise of Gundam and VOTOMS fame has taken to this approach, as Code Geass is the only thing that even resembles a new mecha series they’ve done. Maybe it’s just me, but I always forget that show even has robots in it.

    I can’t think of a single new mecha anime title that’s currently running in Japan. Can you? If you can, then you probably had to look it up first because I don’t see anyone talking robot ANYTHING right now, positive OR negative.

    How about last year? What were the great new mecha titles of 2009? Off the top of my head, there weren’t any new properties. It was all remakes, and while I loved Shin Mazinger Z and could take or leave Eva 2.0 and Eureka Seven, personal preference is beside the REAL point: the mecha shows of today don’t exist because nobody knows how to draw robots anymore. I liked most all of them, but can you really say that the nostalgia grab efforts such as the Go Nagai remakes and new VOTOMS are mecha shows “of today”?

    You could probably count the number of mecha designers working in anime on one hand, and most of the names you’d come up with would be old timers like Kunio Okawara and Shoji Kawamori who’ve been doing it for decades that are STILL kicking them out because there’s just not enough people waiting in the wings to step in and take over. As such, the best most can manage is using pre-existing designs that were made decades ago, modeled in a computer so they can be animated in CG (which I don’t mind) because basically nobody is able to create such animation by hand anymore.

    Without searching, the only new 2008 mecha anime I can think of is Linebarrels of Iron, and that show was by Gonzo and therefore awful. If you go back to 2007 you can at least find Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann, and while that was cool I find its standing among English speaking anime fans to be somewhat paradoxical. Here we have a series that’s a very “retro revival” effort, which tons of people watched and LOVED…yet nobody on any significant scale really went “wow, that was great! What else is like that?” afterwards. It didn’t spark any interest outside of itself (hmm, Gainax has a real knack for eliciting that response in people). The GaoGaiGars, Getter Robos, Godannars, and other exciting robot shows starting with “G” that came out in the same decade and were much in the same spirit of TTGL’s mecha action remain virtually unknown.

    So yes, the people complaining that modern-era mecha shows aren’t as good as the ones they grew up with are probably crazy. But the reason why is because modern-era mecha shows may as well not even exist.

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  8. Come to think of it, are there ANY mecha shows currently airing in Japan? The last ones I can think of are Shin Mazinger Z and Basquash, and those ended what, six months ago?

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  9. Double comment, but I couldn’t resist: I went through MAL and looked up the vote counts for all of the mecha series in the last 15 or so years that were even remotely “old school” in style like Gurren Lagann (read: lots of shows that begin with “G”). Average number of votes: 643, making these on average the #2,500 most popular anime on there.

    (Gurren Lagann, OTOH, has 35,000 votes, which puts it in at #13.)

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  10. If I really worked at it, I could probably build a decent argument that it’s not a robot show if the name of the robot isn’t in the opening theme in some manner, it’s only a show that has some robots in it, and yes, of course that would be a razor thin difference in some cases.

    I agree with Daryl insofar Gurren Lagann. It reminds me of the whole Gekiganger III thing from Nadesico. People go on about how cool it is but don’t go out to actually watch the original show (s) that are the spark of inspiration.

    Gundam, to me, became rocky when Bandai bought up Sunrise and put forth the demand that in the future, since only Gundam sold well (in the plamo world), henceforth all robots must be Gundam, which hasn’t exactly worked out for them as expected because they focused on numbers, not actuality. Gundam sells because it’s the protagonist’s whip, not because it’s called Gundam.

    (and I’m an intense iconoclast. UC Gundam ends with Double Zeta because Char’s Counterattack makes no sense as a way to ‘end’ the Char/Amuro dynamic)

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  11. The first thing that I thought of when I read this was “But aren’t most mecha anime made now done in the spirit of older shows, if not straight up incarnations of older shows?” And then I read the comments suggesting the same thing. Guess I’m late to the party!

    Gurren Lagann is a strange thing. I have seen the exact same thing where my friends who aren’t normally into mecha adore Gurren Lagann, but still will steadfastly ignore any other giant robot show. My best guess is that since they have already decided that they are not fans of the genre, Gurren Lagann is their accepted exception that proves the rule.

    Whereas for me it was the wake up call of “Oh yeah, I DO like giant robots!” and lead me to catch up on the genre I had ignored previously.

    (Although Daryl, and scale you set me on will find me quite significant, I promise you!)

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  12. New people aren’t really going to go look back because it’s almost too daunting. There’s so much out there, and more and more is easily accessible, where does one start? Going to places like /m/ are too polarized one way or another that it’s hard to see the gold because of all the crap being thrown around. Let alone the point that this makes it difficult to weed out the good and the bad (sampling yourself should do that). the elitists do make it difficult for new people to get into series because they’re ALWAYS fighting. No one wants to go walk into the middle of a bitchfest over is ZZ Gundam a legitimately decent series, good for a laugh or the scourge of all UC Gundam.

    Not to mention that even starting older shows is a dedication with many older mecha series being in the 40-episode range at least, and add decreasing attention spans, and its no wonder people loving Gurren Lagann or Code Geass are just sticking to what they know.

    Gurren Lagann isn’t going to bring floods of new fans to older titles because that requires effort on their parts to find them, perhaps more than we realize. This is why everyone needs friends to sit them down and make them watch other series. Help your fellow man, people. Drag them away from their 13th torrented Macross Frontier doujinshi and force them to watch SDF Macross (and Plus and 7 and even Zero because even if it’s not that good, they need to learn for themselves).

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  13. You’re 100% correct.

    However, I also feel something has to be said about the legions of new anime fans who shy away from anything with robots in them. This, to me, is the bigger problem.

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  14. Let me lead off by saying that I’m an old Macross fan; I even still have my DYRL laserdisc and G1 Jetfire toy to prove it. :)

    I can watch Macross over and over again, because I first saw it many many years ago. When I go back to it now, I have a nice set of rose-tinted glasses that help me overlook the horrific animation and painful OP and ED songs and the unavoidable fact that it, like most mecha shows, was a 22 minute toy commercial gussied up with a little plot.

    I can’t do that with other shows of the same period. I’ve tried to watch the original Gundam series, Dunbine, Votoms… they’re just unwatchable to me. I feel really horrible about this, because I recognize they’re classics, but I can’t deal with the typically slower paced plots and 1980s animation.

    Right around Gundam 0080 and 0083 is where I can start enjoying them; co-incidentally those are also the Gundam series I watched via fansubs back in 1991-1992 or so, so I may have another pair of red spectacles there.

    Personally, I liked Gurrenn Lagann because it had all the over-the-top let’s-throw-logic-out-the-window style of old robot anime, but updated to put more focus on the humans instead of the machines and with a more approachable art style. It was very much like Giant Robo in that regard.

    Oh, and I quite enjoyed Gundam Wing and Seed, so I guess I really am a heretic. Seed in particular I liked because it took a lot of the plot of the original Gundam series – at least, as much as I remember reading in the old Del Ray novels – and spruced it up for modern audiences.

    I am going to go out on a limb here and blame the lack of modern mecha shows on a reduced interest in mecha toys and models and the enormous interest in high-quality character figures that has happened over the last decade or so and driven the production of more character-centric shows full of, well, cute girls for boys to drool over and buy plastic representations of. If giant robots become “cool” again with Japanese boys, we’ll see a corresponding ton of robot shows again.

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  15. Ever since Wing, Gundam has been nothing but a very long toy advertisement with plot. In fact, Sunrise is pretty much Bandai’s bitch.

    Ironically, after SDF Macross, Kawamori took over the directing and visionary work. Even though he’s just the mecha designer. And then we had Macross 7 (jawsome), Macross Zero (meh), Macross Frontier (conflicted) and, uh, is Plus directed by Kawamori? So, in a sense, everything after SDF can be technically not considered Macross. But you’d be missing out on how insane one man can take a franchise.

    Also, Code Geass is not a mecha show. It’s a Pizza Hut advertisement that also doubles as shipping fodder for every idiot who watches the show.

    Shit man, I think I’m a dying breed. Frontier triggered me to watch all the Macross. Gurren Lagann slowly awakened me to SUPER ROBOTS.

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  16. Well… all along I’ve thought that mecha anime were something likened to personal taste. I’ve met people who loved ALL giant robots, some who thought Gurren Lagann ought to be shut in an indestructable box and left to drift in the sea, and most other people I’ve met think I’m a reclusionist psycho when they see me watching something mecha.

    This is some proof that besides Gundam, few casual mech fans know of other similar shows thanks to Bandai’s marketing power. And in that knowledge of “Gundam” itself, few fans have ever expanded beyond SEED or 00. I’m afraid that ever since SEED, AU flagship Gundams have all upped the power bar one after another; first Strike Freedom, then 00 Raiser. What’s next, a Gundam that can enter Warp 10?

    I don’t hate any aspect of Gundam-heck, I don’t even hate any anime titles, whether it be mecha, slice-of-life, etc. If I can’t get into it, well, my loss, ok, next title. What seems to be the matter, however, are both sides of the fandom.

    On one hand, we have the elitists, utterly convinced that modern mechs shows are for gays. On the other hand, thanks to those elitists, we have the rebels, who openly announce their love for modern series. We also have the new-age fans, who pick on the elitists for being old-school. This three sides pick on each other because you have idiots on one side going to post in a forum dedicated to the fandom of the other side. Flaming ensues.

    In all this flaming, some reasons come up; the animation is too old, the animation is crap, the storyline panders to the fangirls only, one character is a Mary Stue, one character should have won the other. Oh, and the mech designs suck. All of them don’t heed the fact the fact that personal preferences are personal; they make it into a law, much like those shipping wars in a series. And as for those who think the mechs design suck, they live on the principle that as consumers, they can get away with any criticism, never mind that truly good-looking mechs take hours, days, months to plan out and draw, and they are later given a discount in details because of animation constrains. Anyone can name how many Katoki designs with excellent details made it to animation? I’m not trying to defend bad designs, but that mech designs, especially one for an animated series, is not even close to “moderately hard”. Anyone can slap 6 blocks together to make a Mobile Suit. How many can rework those 6 blocks into art? Few can, and before you say anything, I assure you I’m not one of them.

    Most of the mech fans I’ve met, online or offline are pretty neutral, and wouldn’t start breathing fire until they’re provoked; case in point are most UC fans about SEED Destiny, who don’t actually hate the designs, but the way character development was handled. But the few trolls who have too much time on the computer tend to be EXTREMELY loud.

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