Giant Robots and Mecha are a creation unique to Japan embraced by the world.
Mecha is a worldwide phenomenon that has not only survived but thrived since its inception in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s. It’s a subgenre of Japanese animation that blends action, mystery, adventure, and even romance into an immensely popular mix of series and the stories that tell their tales.
Mecha was popularized by Japanese anime and manga and is essentially a Japanese creation. The first humanoid giant robot is Tetsujin 28-GoT, introduced in 1956. Known in America as Gigantor, Tetsujin was controlled externally by an operator via remote control. The first occurrence of mecha piloted by a user from within a cockpit first appeared in the manga and anime series “Mazinger-Z” by Go Nagai, first published in 1972.
Mazinger Z innovated by adding the inclusion of futuristic weapons, and the concept of being able to pilot from a cockpit (rather than via remote control, in the case of Tetsujin). According to Go Nagai: I wanted to create something different, and I thought it would be interesting to have a robot that you could drive, like a car.
As far as autonomous giant robots go with no accompanying pilot, early examples include Gort from The Day The Earth Stood Still (1951).
The most popular of these series is easily Gundam, a title that is known across the globe and needs little introduction. Gundam is the king of mecha series and the franchise that rules them all. Mobile Suit Gundam is said to have pioneered the real robot subgenre of mecha anime. It is a science fiction media franchise created by Sunrise that features giant robots (or “mecha”) called “mobile suits,” with titular mobile suits that carry the name “Gundam.”
Of course, they are not truly robots in the traditional sense of the word, but rather machines that resemble robots but carry a human pilot inside. When Japanese animators took the older giant robot series like Gigantor and added the human element of putting a pilot inside they created a whole new sub-genre that took the world by storm
The franchise started on April 7, 1979, as an anime TV series called Mobile Suit Gundam, which was revolutionary in that it defined the real robot genre of anime by featuring giant robots in an aggressive war setting. The popularity of the first TV series and the merchandising that followed spawned a franchise that has come to include works released in various media. Titles have appeared in the form of multiple television series and OVAs, movies, manga, novels, and video games. The franchise has also led to the creation of one of the biggest toy and hobby franchises in the Japanese toy industry.
There have been many iterations of the franchise, including Gundam series Mobile Suit Gundam, Mobile Suit Gundam SEED Destiny, Mobile Suit Gundam SEED, and Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam. Also, Mobile Suit Gundam Wing, Mobile Suit Gundam ZZ, and Mobile Suit Gundam 00. I have been revisiting Mobile Suit Gundam Iron-Blooded Orphans lately, a more recent edition of the franchise with better character designs and artwork than the older versions of this long-lived franchise, and one of my favorites. Things have changed a lot regarding the quality, artwork, and animation for these shows, mostly for the better, making them more enjoyable to watch.
The first time I saw Robotech, it seemed like a science fiction military themed series. I was just discovering anime, the Japanese animation I saw quickly had me enthused. The show didn’t seem like anything out of the ordinary until near the end of the episode, the plane the protagonist was flying transformed into something unexpected – a robot-like machine. I was hooked.
Little did I suspect I was witnessing the start of something huge, these original “Transformers” would soon grow into an international phenomenon, known and loved by fans all over the world. Robotech, and the series it imitates, Macross, were a Japanese export that helped make the word anime as common as apple pie as a part of American pop culture, and beyond. Both series were greatly inspired by Mobile Suit Gundam (1979-1980).
Robotech was one of the first anime televised in the United States that attempted to include most of the complexity and drama of its original Japanese source material. Produced by Harmony Gold USA, Inc. in association with Tatsunoko Productions Co. Ltd., Robotech is a story adapted with edited content and revised dialogue from the animation of three different mecha anime series: The Super Dimension Fortress Macross from 1982, Super Dimension Cavalry Southern Cross from 1984, and Genesis Climber Mospeada from 1983.
Harmony Gold combined the series to form Robotech out of necessity. To get the series into syndication, it needed at least 65 episodes, so combining the series was the solution they used.
There are several versions of Macross and Robotech out there, sometimes leading to confusion among fans of the shows. There are hardcore fans that make comments such as “Robotech sucks”, and that only Macross will do or vice versa. The fact is, Robotech is Macross, with only slight differences due to editing and revision of the dialogue. In fact, the first season of Robotech is the Macross Saga.
Macross Zero is an anime prequel OVA to The Super Dimension Fortress Macross released for the celebration of the 20th anniversary of the Macross franchise during 2002 in Japan. It is a nicely done CGI series that more or less depicts how the Macros saga begins and is a good place to start when approaching the series
Macross, as many fans already know, portrays “a love triangle against the backdrop of great battles” during the first Human-alien war. It is the first part of two franchises: The Super Dimension series and Macross series. It was a science fiction series that combined transformable mecha, apocalyptic battles, wartime romance, and music. It is, for the most part, pretty simple-minded stuff but served as a basis for the popular Robotech.
The story behind Macross goes like this: In 1999 a city-sized alien spacecraft crashes in South Ataria Island on Earth. Over the course of 10 years, the military organization U.N. Spacy reverse-engineers its technology and rebuilds the spacecraft, naming it the SDF-1 Macross.
In 2009 at the launch ceremony of the Macross, a young civilian pilot, Hikaru Ichijyo, comes to visit the Macross upon U.N. Spacy pilot Roy Focker’s request. During the launch ceremony, a space war fleet from an alien race of humanoid giants, known as the Zentradi arrives into the solar system and identifies the Macross as a former battleship used by their enemies, the Supervision Army. This encounter starts the first Macross war.
When the earth people try to use the alien FTL drive they discover in the technology; it results in the Macross transported to the edge of the solar system. The inhabitants of the massive alien spacecraft redesign it, and begin the long journey back to earth, without the now useless FTL drive.
Guillermo del Toro’s Pacific Rim (2013) is keeping the ideas, started so long ago, alive with a live-action film that features suits based on the same idea. A live action film based on Robotech is in the works. No release date yet, but James Wan (Saw, Furious 7, Aquaman) is signed on to direct. Long live mecha!