Mark Simmons (scorpio@best.com)
Tue, 18 Jan 2000 00:31:52 -0800


Federico Makabenta poses some metaphysical questions about the state of
mecha fandom. I'll offer a few thoughts in response...

First, I don't know if there really is such a thing as mecha fandom
anymore. The "real robot" genre inspired by Gundam kinda died out in the
late '80s, leaving only the Gundam saga to carry on. I can almost count
the post-Dragonar real robot shows on the fingers of one hand - Patlabor,
Gasaraki, Brain Powered, Escaflowne, roughly half of Nadesico (which is
also an homage/parody of the "super robot" genre), Ehrgeiz...

  Which is not to say that this is entirely a bad thing. After Gundam,
Votoms, Macross, et al, what was really left to do with the genre? I'd
say that Patlabor and Brain Powered were the only ones in the last decade
which did anything even vaguely original with the real robot schtick. The
super robot genre, once derided as a burned-out cliche, has actually seen
more originality and life - witness Gaogaigar, Kishin Corps, Giant Robo,
Getter Robo, and Evangelion (though it's hard to say whether Eva is more
akin to a super robot or Ultraman show).

  I'd also say that the real robot genre fared poorly as the industry
shifted to quickie OVAs. The complex plots, intricate politics, and
developing characters that made '80s robot shows so cool can't be crammed
into a six-episode video series.

Also, mecha design is a subjective thing. As any professional mecha
designer will tell you - usually at great length - you can't consider a
mechanical design separately from the show it appears in, the world it
originates from, the technology it's based on, and the way it's used. As
an example, Katoki's Master Gundam looks really cool, but I thought it
seemed really out of place in the G Gundam world compared to the hokey
Kowloon Gundam (its earlier incarnation). And Katoki's decision to retool
the Gundam W designs as slender, angelic figures for Endless Waltz was a
sound one - these feminized Gundams fit the tone of the story, and the
expectations of its audience, much better than Okawara's tanklike originals.

  Thus, if the real robot genre is played out for the time being - and
with it the ultra-realistic military fetishism of series like Dougram,
Xabungle, Votoms, et al - it's natural to expect that, insofar as giant
robots continue to appear in anime, that their aesthetics will adapt to
the nature of the stories. I'd say that Kobayashi's revamp of Giant Robo
is a feat of design excellence easily comparable to the classic Valkyrie
(itself a totally bogus contraption that achieves its design goal of
_looking_ utterly feasible).

So, to each story its own aesthetic. Gasaraki, at least initially, hews
to the near-future, military-style design sense of Votoms and Patlabor.
Five Star Stories' Mortar Headds are works of decadent art, not tanks
with legs, and they certainly look the part. And the Black Getter and
Gaogaigar are super robots par excellence. I consider each of these to be
a case study in masterful mecha design, and I reckon that the art form is
in surprisingly good shape given the moribund condition of the real robot
genre.

  And speaking of the real robot genre... I hope that it makes its
comeback when, and only when, it thinks of something new to say. While it
may be entertaining for us to see the same damn thing rehashed over and
over again, it seems to be very frustrating for the creators, and I think
that's eventually reflected in the quality of their work.

-- Mark

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Mark Simmons / scorpio@best.com / http://www.gundamproject.com/
"He's a god - it'll take more than one shot."

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