Anyone who knows me knows that I’m a fan of big ol’ robots (a technical term). I love the genre and nearly all that it entails. That said, I am not without criticisms towards my beloved mecha. When I look back at how giant robot designs in anime and manga have progressed since their inception, I get the feeling that robot designs have grown too much without evolving enough.
There was a time when giant robots in anime were mainly known for having cylinders for limbs and looking more like superheroes than weapons of war. As the years went by, however, the robot designs became more and more detailed, to the point that today when you think “giant robots” or “mecha,” complexity in design is something that comes to mind.
It was really an inevitability. Even as far back as the mid 70’s, we could see that Daitarn 3 looked a little more detailed and structured than Combattler V, and Combattler featured more complex design features than Mazinger Z. And it’s not a bad thing either; in many ways it shows how far along mecha design has come since Tetsujin 28. At the same time though I can’t help but lament that the giant robot fandom seems unable to reverse gears and bring itself back to those simpler times.
“But giant robot fans love Mazinger!” you might say. Yes, they might, and they might even refer to its design as “classic” or even “enormously influential,” but as the mecha fanbase has grown older and more concentrated, their heyday of being the go-to shows for marketing to kids having passed, the idea of presenting an old-fashioned robot design as a modern one is something that I think simply would not fly. All recent attempts to create super robot series, remakes aside, still do not match the level of simplicity in robot design that once existed.
So what I mean by mecha designs growing without evolving is that the giant robots of today aren’t that different from those of yesterday in basic design, and that the major developments in mecha design that have persisted over the years have mainly had to do with how to make robots look sleeker and more detailed, whether it’s with the more angular robots of the 80s or the muscle-like excess of the 90s. Compare this with character design development, which people can criticize as being worse today than it was previously, but it still feels like character design trends moved a certain direction.
I can’t entirely fault giant robots for the direction they took over time. Like I said earlier, it was practically inevitable, as one show tries to top another, which then inspires another. It’s just that I think a lot more people might get into designing robots if “robot design” wasn’t the massive undertaking it’s perceived to be because of expectation as to what a giant robot is “supposed” to be.