The Roles of “Characters” in Mecha Anime

Sometimes, you’ll see a wild claim about mecha anime, like “Gurren-Lagann was the first giant robot series to be about characters instead of the robots,” and it inevitably results in a backlash—in this case, the counterargument that all giant robot shows are about characters. Whether the initial statement is made in jest or as a genuinely ignorant take by someone with only surface-level knowledge of mecha, it reflects certain assumptions about what the genre is like.

I got to thinking about the notion that giant robot anime are about characters because it’s both true and an oversimplification. Moreover, the extent to which the giant robots truly “matter,” as in they’re inexorable from the world being portrayed and can’t be substituted with some other form of weaponry, varies tremendously. But regardless of the true “necessity” of either characters or robots, I feel there is more to it than just one side mattering more than the other. Then a thought occurred to me, and I have a kind of nascent “universal theory of giant robot anime”:

Giant robot anime are about characters, but more specifically, the main character reflects some vital or fundamental aspect of the world and story around them. The giant robot, in turn, is reflective of the connection between the hero and that aspect.

If it seems nebulous, that’s because it is. I’m thinking less about trying to justify every mecha anime and more about how the giant robots end up being the avatar through which so many of these protagonists interact with their environment and their histories, and thus reveal more about the anime themselves. There’s also no denying the close ties between giant robots and merchandising, but this also ebbs and flows over the decades.

So let’s start with some of the big ones. 

Tetsujin 28 is about Shoutarou trying to make a difference in a post-WWII environment by being a boy detective who fights crime. Tetsujin 28 the robot was created to fight the Allies, but is now being used for an alternate purpose: as a guardian of peace instead of a weapon of war. 

Mazinger Z draws a direct lineage to this sort of thinking. While the power fantasy and toyetic appeal of the robot itself is undeniable, Kouji is presented with a question about human potential from the very beginning: If you had great power, would you be a god or a devil? The robot Mazinger Z is Kouji’s way of making a difference, and he chooses to use it as a protective guardian.

Mobile Suit Gundam, the first “real robot” anime that emphasized the robots as weapons of war over superhero-like entities, is about its hero Amuro’s repeated exposure to the trauma of war. It’s through the Gundam that he experiences physical and emotional scars alike, and the very fact that his piloting experience molds him into a capable soldier also contributes to the overall “horror of war” message that girders Gundam and its many sequels.

Superdimensional Fortress Macross has three main components: romance, music, and robot battles. Here, the titular robot is literally a flying city traveling through space, and it functions as both an urban cosmopolitan center and a massive superweapon. In other words, it is the very space in which all three pieces of Macross take place.

Neon Genesis Evangelion centers around Shinji and his fear of human connection, be it with his family, his peers, his friends, or anyone else. It is the anime of extreme introspection. Not only is the EVA-01 the means by which he tries (and fails) to find self-worth, but the EVA itself is revealed to house the soul of his dead mother. He is contained in a womb-like structure inside of his giant mom.

Tengen Toppa Gurren-Lagann is about Simon and the limitless potential of humanity to overcome all obstacles slowly but surely—and ultimately whether there should be limits on that power. Gurren-Lagann manifests this through numerous transformations fueled by human spirit that bring on exponential power growth.

The above examples are all heavy hitters, but what I also want to emphasize is that this applies to “lesser” titles as well.

Brave Police J-Decker is maybe the most on-the-nose example of the relationship between a boy and his giant robot, as the story is about how Yuuta’s friendship with the giant police robot Deckard is what teaches the latter to develop true emotions and a proper sense of justice and humanity. 

Shinkon Gattai Godannar is about the relationship between Gou and Anna as husband and wife and how their love affects both their personal and professional lives as co-pilots. Godannar Twin Drive is literally a combination of both robots.

Robotics;Notes focuses on Kaito and his relationship with Akiho’s giant robot club, and the blurring of augmented reality with actual reality. The creation of the Guntsuku-1 is basically an untenable goal that, through the events of the series, becomes effectively “real” through how Kaito and Akiho view and utilize it.

Trider G7 is about Watta, who’s both a little kid and the CEO of his own company, utilizing both the image of Japanese corporate culture of the early 1980s and the classic child desire of wanting to do what the adults do. The Trider G7 robot literally flies out of a playground, and has tons of cool and wacky weapons, but the fact that it’s Watta’s robot and the main way he gets his job done means it’s the conduit through which that “grown-up” fantasy takes place. 

Shinkansen Henkei Robo Shinkalion the Animation is literally a commercial for bullet train toys that are, in turn, advertising for the Shinkansen trains in Japan. Its main character, Hayato, is basically a Shinkansen fanatic who sees them as not only the coolest things ever but as reflecting a philosophy of unwavering service to the people of Japan. The Shinkalion robots, by extension, portray a more action-packed version of this concept.

Giant robot anime embody many values, from crass commercialism to dreams of being brave and strong, from anti-war sentiments to deep looks inward at the psychological scars of society. The mecha themselves are often not “characters” in and of themselves (with a number of notable exceptions), but they are symbolic of how the protagonists of these stories relate to what they experience. The hurdle for those who think that these anime are “more about robots” is that this particular way of communicating the characters’ stories requires an acceptance of giant robots as a storytelling device.

Precure Can Drink in Japan: Ogiue Maniax Status Update for February 2023

February has arrived, and that means new Precure, of course. It’s this odd exception in that February debuts have been typical of the franchise, so I have it on my mind—especially because it’s the 20th anniversary [I’ve been informed that Precure is actually only 19, so oops.]. I still remember seeing the original Futari wa Pretty Cure being mentioned in an English-language anime magazine, and noticing the large combat boots and floppy socks they wore. It’s been a part of my fandom for two decades now, and while I don’t have plans to write a retrospective, I wonder if I should. At the very least, expect a review of Delicious Party Precure.

Moving on from a two-decade-old magical girl juggernaut, I’d like to thank my Patreon subscribers!

General:

Ko Ransom

Diogo Prado

Alex

Naledi Ramphele

Sue Hopkins fans:

Serxeid

Hato Kenjirou fans:

Elizabeth

Yajima Mirei fans:

Machi-Kurada

Blog highlights from January:

“Son Goku” vs. “Sun Wukong”: The Challenge of Translating Chinese Names in Japanese Media into English

If you’ve ever wondered why a Chinese character’s name in an anime sounds so unlike what the subtitles say, this might be hwy.

Mobile Suit Gundam: The Witch from Mercury Season 1—Bold New Steps

My review of Season 1.

The Elegant Design of Suntory’s Virtual Youtuber

Many VTubers have extremely busy designs, but one notable exception comes from a surprising source: a Japanese beverage company.

Kio Shimoku

Kio actually retweeted one of my posts this month!!!

Closing

I learned along with everyone else that Love Live! School Idol Festival is shutting down to make way for the sequel game. Given this information, it’s all too perfect that I finally managed to achieve my goal. Will I play the new game? I really don’t know—it depends on how much time I have and what the gameplay looks like.

Mobile Suit Gundam: The Witch from Mercury Season 1—Bold New Steps

WARNING: SPOILERS FOR SEASON 1 OF GUNDAM: THE WITCH FROM MERCURY

I know I probably shouldn’t do it. Sunrise is notorious for fucking up a good thing by meddling midway, and Mobile Suit Gundam: The Witch from Mercury has been good. Yet, even if I regret in the long run giving this show praise, I want to lay out my thoughts now, especially after an intense and shocking season finale.

Gundam: The Witch from Mercury is the first major Gundam anime to feature a female protagonist. While there have been heroines before like Christina Mackenzie in 0080: War in the Pocket and Hoshino Fumina in Gundam: Build Fighters Try, no one has been as prominent as Suletta Mercury. It’s a milestone that can easily be mismanaged, but the creators have done an amazing job not just with her portrayal, but also constructing a world that is a significant departure from typical Gundam while also feeling true to the spirit of Gundam and addressing modern concerns.

One of The Witch from Mercury’s biggest adjustments to the lore of Gundams-as-mecha is simple but profound: In this universe, Gundam technology was not originally designed for war. Rather, it was meant to help people with disabilities, and was only made into weapons through the greed of others. The world is dominated by corporations operating from space at the expense of those on Earth, touching upon a very relevant concern about the unchecked power of the moneyed. 

It’s within this context that Suletta stands out in contrast to her peers as she enters school for the first time. When we first see her (outside of the traumatic childhood events of Episode 0), she’s a nervous mess of a teen who has never interacted with kids her age, and whose only friend is her Definitely-Not-a-Forbidden-by-Law-Gundam, the Aerial. She seems to have the power to persevere in spite of her anxiety, carrying an innocent-yet-powerful sense of right and wrong. She wants to both make friends and do good, and the wrench she throws into the systems in place at her school is a big one.

The school setting is also something of a first for a main Gundam series, and the way it’s handled is beautiful. While on the surface it makes The Witch from Mercury look like it’s trying to mimic a popular trend, the show successfully does two things to make this work. 

First, it presents the school as an unusual place with unusual rules: a place to train students in the use and management of mobile suits, which also features a formalized mecha-dueling system that participants can use to wager and settle disputes. It seems silly, but it’s also contextualized as a kind of sheltered space to protect/mold the rich kids of the corporations running the world and give them advantages to further leverage their positions. This is precisely what Suletta gums up by becoming the “groom” for the “bride” of the school, Miorine Rembran—the daughter of the CEO who owns the school.

Second, it takes those setting elements of the school and uses them to drive home certain themes and metaphors. The Witch from Mercury has often been compared to Revolutionary Girl Utena, and while the abstract symbolism and allegories aren’t as robust and dominant here, they still carry a lot of weight. Not only are the yuri vibes undoubtable and a more overt step into that territory, but the duels are very revealing about each character and their motivations. The balance is very reminiscent of G Gundam.

So when the other shoe drops in Episodes 11 and 12 as a real battle begins, it really highlights what an isolated environment the school really is. Duels are playtime and ways to establish hierarchy. Combat is where lives are lost. The competition between corporations is only one factor when the tensions between Earthians and Spacians can lead to such death. And when Suletta emerges as being surprisingly okay with murder (for the “right” reasons, like saving people), her lack of hesitation is downright frightening. It’s why Miorine’s reaction at the end is so powerful. She and Suletta worked out their emotional differences and trust issues, but now here’s an unexpected side called “Suletta can literally smash someone into a bloody stain and not bat an eye.” It really is like Utena and Anthy switched spots.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the similarities between Suletta’s mom and Char Aznable, and how they go beyond the masks. I was mostly thinking about their presentations and mannerisms, but this has made me realize there’s a vital aspect of Char’s character I didn’t look at enough: the unwavering desire for revenge. And so it begs the question—what would Char do of he has a child? The likely answer is “shape them into a bringer of vengeance.”

I hope The Witch from Mercury can live up to the greatness we’ve already seen. Please let this one get through okay. The next time I write about this series, I imagine it’ll be as a Gattai Girls entry.

RABBIT!: Ogiue Maniax Status Update for January 2023

Yesterday, I watched the Hololive COUNTDOWN LIVE 2022▷2023. It involved 3D concert performances by a variety of members including two of my faves, the currently COVID-stricken Haachama and the on-hiatus La+ Darknesss. I highly recommend it, especially the crossover sections between the girls of Hololive and the boys of Holostars. This clearly takes some inspiration from Japan’s long-standing end-of-year musical event, Kohaku Uta Gassen, but I’ve never actually watched it.

Looking back, it didn’t hit me how long the past year felt until I saw Kio Shimoku mention that Hashikko Ensemble concluded back in January of 2022. At times, it’s like the days move by all too quickly, and other times, it’s like they slow to a crawl. I can’t tell at this point how much of it is the prolonged funk of the pandemic and how much is just me getting older.

But here we are at the start of 2023 and the Year of the Rabbit, at least if we’re going by the solar calendar. Whenever I think about it, I find myself remembering a certain old flash video from the 2000s. Thankfully, someone uploaded it to Youtube, so I can inflict it on a new generation.

January’s Patreon subscribers are looking good. Thank you, everyone, and here’s to another fine (?) year.

General:

Ko Ransom

Diogo Prado

Alex

Dsy

Naledi Ramphele

Sue Hopkins fans:

Serxeid

Hato Kenjirou fans:

Elizabeth

Yajima Mirei fans:

Machi-Kurada

Blog highlights from December:

Elegy of Fire and Metal: A Tribute to Mizuki Ichiro

Paying respects to one of the greatest singers in all of anime who passed away.

Hololive 3D Concerts and Bringing Different Fans Together

This is partly an analysis of how different fans have different expectations for their VTuber faves, and partly an excuse to post more videos of La+ Darkness’s amazing dancing skills.

Prospera Mercury, She Is a Char

How the mom in Gundam: The Witch from Mercury nails that Char Aznable feel.

And normally, I only pick three highlights, but I must mention that I’ve selected my anime characters of the year.

Kio Shimoku

Kio’s tweets mostly show his model-building progress and his thoughts on the 2022 World Cup.

Apartment 507

Chainsaw Man Anime vs. Manga.

Closing

At the start of the year, I feel myself wondering if I should be doing more both with Ogiue Maniax and outside of it. One thing I’ve thought about is starting a Substack, but I have no idea how I might divide my writing. In my head, there’s no real differentiation between “regular” posts and “premium” ones, and I’d probably have to figure out some way to make it worthwhile. One possibility is to break off the VTuber stuff into its own dedicated area in case it’s becoming too intrusive, but I don’t think it’s that bad currently.

I could also do premium posts on Patreon, but that sort of runs into the same issue. If anyone wants to see that sort of content (or if you even hate the idea), feel free to leave a comment. I think I care less about the money at this point and wonder more about how to promote Ogiue Maniax in 2023. All the old ways seem to be vanishing (and Twitter is constantly on the verge of collapse because of its moronic new boss), and I still haven’t caught up.

Whichever ways things go, though, I hope you’ll keep reading.

Prospera Mercury, She Is a Char

“Char clone” is a fan term to describe a certain character archetype in Gundam. It references Char Aznable from the original Mobile Suit Gundam, and is typically used with a constellation of certain traits: some combination of a rival to the protagonist, who’s masked, morally gray, and mysterious. But while Char clones are practically a given at this point in the franchise, Prospera Mercury from Gundam: The Witch from Mercury might be the most Char of them all.

While Prospera Mercury is indeed a masked character, she’s also unique in that she’s the mother of the heroine, Suletta Mercury. And this isn’t a Darth Vader–esque secret either: Suletta knows she’s her mom, and Prospera even takes off her mask on a regular basis. At this point in the story, they haven’t fought, and there’s nothing saying that they will in the future. Prospera doesn’t have a noteworthy color scheme, she isn’t battling her daughter on a regular basis, which might appear to disqualify her from the ranks of Char clones. But what she does have is body language and a cryptic/veiled way with words that immediately brings to mind the Red Comet himself.

Prospera “Momznable” Mercury is voiced by Noto Mamiko, who’s famous for her gentle voice. Yet, every time she speaks, I can practically hear Char’s actor (the inimitable Ikeda Shuichi) reciting those lines. And every time Prospera is shown interacting with others, it’s like I can picture Yoshikazu Yasuhiko (the original Gundam character designer), drawing her making those exact physical expressions. It’s uncanny, probably intentional, and gives me goosebumps.

Other Char clones have the visual trappings or follow the tropes. Be it Zechs Marquise, Schwarz Bruder, Lancerow Dawell, Mr. Samurai, Harry Ord, Raww Le Kleuze, McGillis Fareed, or others, they look and act the role of the Char. But Prospera Mercury captures the soul of Char, and it makes her the most intriguing figure in all of The Witch from Mercury.

Yes My Dork: Ogiue Maniax Status Update for December 2022

I’m riding high off of three things: recent elections defied expectations, the VTubers of holoX have just been celebrating their one-year anniversaries, and it’s been 15 years of Ogiue Maniax! It’s hard to believe each one for somewhat different reasons, but I’m hoping I can carry this joyous monentum through this month and into the eventual new year.

Here are my Patreon subscribers for December 2022! Thank you to everyone.

General:

Ko Ransom

Diogo Prado

Alex

Dsy

Naledi Ramphele

Sue Hopkins fans:

Serxeid

Hato Kenjirou fans:

Elizabeth

Yajima Mirei fans:

Machi-Kurada

Blog highlights from November:

Hope and Chaos Take the Subway: Anime NYC 2022

My con report for this year’s Anime NYC. Note that it has a lot of coverage of Hololive.

I Started Reading the Saint Seiya Manga

And what a ride it is.

Non-Subpar Robot: Astroganger

I reviewed a lesser-known 1970s giant robot anime, now available via Discotek.

Kio Shimoku

If there’s anything to take away from this month’s tweets, it’s that Kio Shimoku loves Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honneamise.

Apartment 507

Looking at Akiba Maid War through the lens of 1999 Akihabara.

Closing

As with every year, I’m going to be rating the anime characters I think are the best of 2022. It is unbelievable how tough this year’s field is. I feel like the top candidates would have won in virtual every other year had they been eligible.

Inktober 2022 Archive: My First Time!

After years of hemming and hawing, I decided to actually do Inktober this past October. The results were, well, results.

Especially with the state of Twitter being extremely abunai, I decided it’d be good to just have a gallery here.

Domon Kasshu, Tenjou Utena, and the Witch from Mercury

Many viewers have remarked on the similarities between The Witch from Mercury and another anime, Revolutionary Girl Utena. Both feature heroines having to protect a prized bride in ritualized duels that involve cutting off a symbol to win (an antenna and a rose, respectively). It’s hard not to make the comparison. But I think the fact that we are seeing “Utena Gundam” so readily embraced is a sign that the Gundam fandom has progressed in ways I couldn’t have seen years ago. This is especially the case when looking at a different spiritual predecessor to The Witch from Mercury, 1995’s Mobile Fighter G Gundam.

There was a time when G Gundam was the black sheep of the family. Eschewing the backdrop of war for a gigantic mechanized fighting tournament, many fans regarded it as antithetical to what Gundam was supposed to be. But as the decades have passed and new fans have come to the franchise and brought new perspectives, the notion of Gundams in formal duels isn’t viewed in such a negative light anymore. We even got a tournament anime about fighting with Gundam model kits! There might be an inherently ridiculous quality that seems to (double) harken back to 70s super robot shows like UFO Robo Grendizer, but that doesn’t mean such a series can’t be serious and insightful in its own way.

The larger setting of The Witch from Mercury, beyond the school, clearly sets up a world where the shady politics of militarism and capitalism shape events in ways worth analyzing that feels very current but connected to the past. When the duels are viewed in this context, they feel not so much separated from the outside as connected to the larger problems that exist. In this sense, it truly does feel like the child of G Gundam and Utena, but also the grandchild of Gundam itself.

The Results Matter: Ogiue Maniax Status Update for November 2022

The new anime season is in full swing, but while I’m enjoying the hell out of so many things (like Gundam: The Witch from Mercury!), my mind is on the upcoming US midterm election. I plan on (sort of) following up with my thoughts on this subject in a few days but for now, I’m using this time to encourage citizens to vote however they can: in person on Election Day, by mail, by early voting, anything.

I’d also like to thank my Patreon subscribers for this month of November 2022.

General:

Ko Ransom

Diogo Prado

Alex

Dsy

Naledi Ramphele

Sue Hopkins fans:

Serxeid

Hato Kenjirou fans:

Elizabeth

Yajima Mirei fans:

Machi-Kurada

Blog highlights from October:

Gattai Girls 12: “Idolmaster Xenoglossia” and Amami Haruka

After like two years, Gattai Girls is back with a new entry!

Evangelion + Beavis & Butt-Head = Chainsaw Man

Call it an epiphany?

Rock-Troll Remake: “Mobile Suit Gundam: Cucuruz Doan’s Island”

My review of the nostalgic Gundam movie.

Kio Shimoku

A sparse month of comments, but his tortoise is feeling better!

Apartment 507

Thinking about VTuber Gawr Gura’s recent animated short relative to other bonus animations.

Closing

Congratulations to Brazil for making the right choice and not re-electing an authoritarian nationalist who cares more about his self-image than the wellbeing of the people (sounds familiar).

How about I make some Saint Seiya posts to celebrate?

Rock-Troll Remake: “Mobile Suit Gundam: Cucuruz Doan’s Island”

Mobile Suit Gundam: Cucuruz Doan’s Island can be described as one of the most elaborate shitposts ever. 

This doesn’t mean the film is bad—quite the opposite, in fact. But it’s precisely because Cucuruz Doan’s Island turns out to be a solid work that makes it even more of a shitpost.

Origins

Cucuruz Doan’s Island was originally Episode 15 of the 1979 Mobile Suit Gundam TV series, about an AWOL Zeon soldier who is now raising orphans on an island that the protagonist, Amuro Ray, crashes on. It’s infamous for a variety of reasons, not least of which are its abysmally off-model animation quality, and the fact that Director Tomino refuses to let it be included in releases outside of Japan. It’s an early instance of a yashigani crab episode, the kind of thing that seems to embarrass all involved. Well, what if 43 years later, they decided to turn it into a feature-length piece with the budget of a full-fledged animated film? 

It’s about as cheeky a move you can make, especially because the idea of re-animating something from First Gundam like this isn’t really done. Sure, there’s Gundam: The Origin, but while the manga is a retelling of the entire story of the One Year War, the anime version mainly covers events before that conflict, making it a prequel of sorts.

Doing More with More

So how do you stretch a 20-something-minute episode into a full movie? Well, you give it More of Everything. There’s more fights: Doan is shown in his Zaku to be fending off unwelcome island visitors from the start, and even has a tussle with the Gundam early on. There’s more plot: The White Base crew’s visit to the island, as well as Doan’s former role in the Zeon forces are given greater context. There’s greater stakes: The threat of worldwide catastrophe looms in this film in a way it never did as a TV episode. There’s more characters: Doan goes from having four orphans to having about three times as many (including an older boy who’s jealous of Amuro), and a whole new platoon of Zeon soldiers is incorporated into the story. Also, Char Aznable shows up (of course), but only in a literal fever dream.

On top of all that, Doan’s Zaku for the film has been purposely designed to be thinner and with a different head construction compared to the standard. This is actually a reference to it being horribly off-model in the original TV series, which has now become the catalyst that has transformed artistic mistakes into the baseline for a unique mobile suit design. This is perhaps the biggest indicator of the somewhat trolling nature of Cucurzu Doan’s Island.

Hindsight and Evolution

Yasuhiko “Yaz” Yoshikazu, the original character designer from the TV series, is actually the director of this film, and it shows. In many ways, it feels more like an episode of Giant Gorg than Gundam in the way characters interact with and explore their environment. The character designs in the film are very clearly based on Yaz’s more modern work a la Gundam: The Origin, but there’s also something about the way characters move that evokes their personalities more powerfully than even some of the best episodes of First Gundam. When Amuro walks around the island, he does so with an awkwardness that really hammers home the fact that he was originally an introverted tinkerer who got thrust into piloting the most powerful weapon of the time. The ways he walks, runs, and reacts come across as possibly even neurodivergent, and makes him feel that much more out of place in the world where he lives. 

In this way, one of the remarkable things about Cucuruz Doan’s Island is the way it acts simultaneously as a nostalgia piece and a work that reflects on Gundam’s long history. In addition to being an opportunity to see the old White Base crew in action again, there are all sorts of details that convey a kind of homecoming. For example, when you see Zeon soldiers (Doan included) react to the presence of the Gundam with fear and awe, it both makes sense in the context of the story and as a nod to the fact that this is the RX-78-2, the Ur-Gundam. Pretty much all the old characters are there with their original voice actors (provided they’re alive). It’s very clear that Furuya Toru and Furukawa Toshio are four decades older and can’t quite play teen characters as naturally as they used to, but they also bring just as many years of experience and refinement to the roles. 

There’s another aspect of Cucuruz Doan’s Island as a do-over that stands out to me, and perhaps to anyone who cares about Gundam lore: Despite being a remake of a TV episode, the movie places itself more in the original film trilogy’s version of events. In addition to the complete absence of the Core Fighter—the cockpit plane that was used as part of the “docking” sequences used in the TV series to give it more of a “super robot” aesthetic like Gundam’s predecessors—Cucuruz Doan’s Island also features the Core Booster vehicle that was created for the trilogy. And while I can’t remember offhand the exact sequence of events, the flow of the story seems to place it more in the trilogy’s timeline of events as well. This, too, feels like Yaz trying to correct past mistakes.

Beyond the Time

I’m not sure which would be funnier: this movie leading to an international release of First Gundam with the missing episode, or if we actually end up with the movie available to purchase but still no Episode 15. Either choice would add onto the legacy of Mobile Suit Gundam: Cucuruz Doan’s Island as arguably the ultimate shitpost, and I have to wonder if other properties might attempt something similar.