The Interaction of Mecha Fandom and Code Geass as Mecha/Not-Mecha

I was listening to the most recent episode of the Veef Show, where the argument that Code Geass is not a “robot” show came up by way of another podcaster, Anime World Order‘s Daryl Surat. It’s an argument that I’ve heard before from Daryl, whether it was through AWO itself or just talking with him online, and it all hinges on a simple statement: A show which does not focus primarily on robots cannot be called a “robot anime.” The direction the fanbase of Code Geass takes, one that emphasizes the characters in a variety of ways such that arguments about attractiveness and character motivations occur side by side, is used as supporting evidence. Seeing that I just appeared on the Speakeasy Podcast and endorsed Code Geass as a solid mecha show for people who feel a little put off by mecha though, I figured that it would be a good idea for me to say something. Also because I enjoy both the Veef Show and AWO and they’re cool dudes.

While I’m on the side that says Code Geass is a mecha show, I’m not writing this to argue in its favor.  Where one person draws the line between genres (or whether they choose to draw them at all) is predicated to a certain extent on their own preferences (the reason I put the qualifier of “a certain extent” is that obviously a show with zero robots and zero mentions or implications of robots would have a hard time justifying itself as one), and that argument can just go back and forth with no signs of budging. It happens to all sorts of genres, particularly science fiction, which may be appropriate given the subject at hand, but I’ll leave that alone for now. What I really want to do is look at some of the deeper layers of meaning behind the above argument about why Code Geass isn’t a mecha show, as I think it says some things about the anxiety that exists in a fanbase for a genre which perhaps fears irrelevancy. I do not think Daryl necessarily feels this way, but underlying questions still exist within.

The notion that Code Geass does not fall into the genre of “giant robots” is based on the level of presence that mecha possesses within that series. While they appear in virtually every episode in some way or another, they are not integrated into the main thrust of the story, thus the show does not attract fans through its robots, at least not in comparatively great numbers. Given this view, the first underlying element of this argument is a question, “Why isn’t Code Geass emphasizing the mecha?”

The answer can be presented with varying degrees of cynicism, and I will show two here on somewhat opposing ends. The first version is that their goal is to pander to a larger anime fanbase by placing importance on those character traits previously mentioned. Mecha are thrown in for flavor but not much else. The second version is that giant robots for the sake of giant robots do not capture the attention of a wide enough audience. Whether you’re more inclined to express this same idea as the former or as the latter, the commonality between them is the fact that giant robots as a genre, be they super or real or some kind of hybrid, just aren’t that popular anymore. So then the next question that comes up is, “Why aren’t robots popular?”

I don’t have the answer to that. All I can say is, for fans who got into anime because of giant robots, or those who lived in a period where mecha shows made up such a huge part of industry output that it became one of the genres inextricably linked to anime, the idea that robots do not capture the general viewing population’s imagination can be a bitter pill to swallow. The properties of anime that are bringing in fans now may not be what brought people to the table in previous eras. As soon as what you thought was popular no longer is, and you can’t quite figure out why things have changed, it can be baffling. How you reason through this change can depend on how you feel towards what has supplanted your old favorites, and it can be conveyed with different degrees of discontent.

At this point, it’s important to remember that giant robot shows that place enormous amounts of emphasis on the robots themselves and their influence on the story as a whole still do exist and are still being made. The problem with them, however, is that they are few in number, and that as a niche genre it appeals to a dwindling hardcore fanbase. I know that Daryl is also aware of this issue, as must be a great number of mecha fans whether they consciously realize it or not, and embodied in that feeling is the uncomfortableness of having gone from riches to rags, from being one of the premiere fanbases to a minority. I find that in actuality, the negative reaction towards categorizing Code Geass as a “robot anime” comes not from simply definition semantics and pedantry, but from what I think is perhaps the most central question underlying everything: “Why aren’t Code Geass and other shows doing more to convince people to like giant robots?” With that, giant robot shows must thus not only appeal to fans who already like the genre but also act as ambassadors to people who are less receptive.

For that, I point once again to that Speakeasy episode, because the whole purpose of that podcast was to talk about mecha shows that are capable of appealing not to simply those who are unfamiliar with the genre and just need to be exposed to it, but to people who have been burned by giant robots in the past. With some shows, the mere presence of robots can be enough for people to say “no thanks,” but if Code Geass attracts this large fanbase that is willing to stay even with robots continuously present within the show, then it must be doing something to not have them outright rejected. Perhaps all that is happening is that the robots are being conveniently ignored, but before people can even carry the potential to love giant robots, they should be able to tolerate them first.

Have you seen the “V8 VFusion?” It’s a drink whose purpose is to mask its vegetable content with fruity flavor. It’s even advertised by showing people who don’t like veggies drinking and enjoying it. You can make an argument that it’s not really a vegetable juice and you could even probably make a convincing case of it, but then I have to wonder about how much that distinction really matters.

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13 thoughts on “The Interaction of Mecha Fandom and Code Geass as Mecha/Not-Mecha

  1. Personally speaking, I think the things that attracted people to Geass were 1) CLAMP’s designs, 2) The show’s worldview and it’s treatment of said worldview, 3) A focus on character (melo)drama, and 4) The show’s generally bold and over the top sensibilities. Take away those things and it’s just not the same show we’ve come to enjoy. That being said though, most of the manga adaptations of Geass are mechaless, and while people can argue that the shows focus isn’t on the robots, something feels missing nonetheless. They are still an integral part of the setting and the action set pieces, so to exclude them is like taking away some of what makes the show what it is.

    Also, if you have ever interacted with the Geass fanbase, the generally value the same sorts of things (generally speaking) as the fanbase of Gundam SEED, Fafner, and even Macross Frontier. And I’m sure you know that the fanbase for Gundam SEED isn’t the quite the same as the fanbase for the rest of the franchise, since what they like and care about the most are the characters and their relationships as opposed to the tech and even the ideas behind the story. Kind of why there isn’t too much crossover between people who like SEED and people who like, say, Gundam 00 (which is more focused on it’s ideas/themes and it’s story by comparison).

    I think that a lot of these people in the anime industry have recognized this shift in focus are are just acting accordingly in order to appeal to the widest possible audience, epically since as you said, mecha just aren’t as popular as they used to be, and most of the material that people are really into besides Gundam are at least several decades old and there aren’t as many of those types of projects being put out anymore.

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  2. This past Sunday, Gerald and I recorded a guest spot for the Anime82 podcast in which he had us record responses to questions about mecha anime, some of which pertained directly to the topic of this post.

    Answering the questions took us roughly 80 minutes.

    If you want to analyze this phenomenon in more detail, I recommend not really considering “where we are now,” aka the 00/Frontier/Geass titles. Go back to the groundwork for this stuff, which for my money’s worth is The Vision of Escaflowne. (Gundam Wing is also a valid pick, but sorting through the extenuating circumstances makes it a little trickier to examine.)

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  3. You made a really good point here. I think a lot of talk about what is or isn’t a robot show comes down to what you just said – a worry that the stuff they love is changing. But isn’t that a good thing? Forcing shows to include more than what’s expected of the genre? Some of my favorite shows have come from people trying to expand what people think of when you mention robots (Eureka 7, Gurren Lagann, Big O). If you can describe what’s going to happen in 20 episodes of a show with two or three words I can see how it’s hard for people to get hooked.

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  4. Pingback: Ogiue Maniax on the Veef Show « OGIUE MANIAX

  5. It’s definitely too bad that apparently some of us who did actively like the mecha in Code Geass,at least during the first season, because they represented a good balance between combining aspects of Gundam and Votoms, are apparently entirely left out of this entire discussion.

    Clearly the show did put enough of an emphasis on them to catch my attention, yet it is implicitly treated as a non-issue.

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