SaiMecha Nonsense, Remembering Mechanical Designs

This is a neat idea, but I don’t have time for yet another one of these. It does presents the opportunity to make me feel slightly excited yet largely apathetic, a “what do I feel in your shoes” moment for my mecha otaku counterparts, coming from someone who can be moe-obsessed at times. Given that I just don’t have time for this stuff, I won’t be emailing in a nomination or anything.

That said, mecha is still the root of my anime fandom, so it’s a good time to do a short list. The very first anime that I was a fan of was no other than Go Nagai’s Mazinger Z, and there’s some pretty glorious stuff from that show. In fact from a design perspective the various iteration of the Z has stood pretty well against the test of time. Or maybe because they keep on releasing slightly redesigned versions of it.

I think the fact that Mazinger threw a rocket punch or did super kicks and shot beams out of its chest was all pretty cool to a 6yo, but at the time I was more infatuated with its wings and Aphrodite A’s famous boobie missiles. (I guess I was a moe fag from a young age?) More relatistically, the wing attachment was simply the coolest thing ever (at 6yo), and missiles are obviously weapons of the future. I mean look at how old Mazinger Z is, and we are barely getting started on actual laser weapons in field testing, with some prototype cannons fired from naval vessels. I suppose this is just to say way back then, I was more a wargame/military weapons boy than a pure fantasy person.

Coincidentally I hated how swords are used in giant robot shows. I mean, dude, these are super cool weapons of destruction from the future! Why are they using stuff we stopped using, like, 100 years ago?

Strangely enough, that impulse or leaning doesn’t push me towards “real robot” over “super robot” when the divide was made clear 10+ years later. If anything, how “unrealistic” real robots were became a major turn-off. (The Aestavalis system’s focus over logistics was the only one that pulled it off in my eyes in a convincing manner.) When it comes to anime and mecha, I was mostly a student of design and of setting elements. And when it comes to sexy mecha designs, there were very few that can rival Shoji Kawamori’s work in anime. Macross-style folding for FTL travel? Yea I can get behind that. Variable fighters? Sexy.

The first Macross mecha/spacecraft that I took to was probably Focker’s VF-1. I mean, it’s basically the F-14 in an alternative future. Nevermind that the F-14 is this aging aircraft that should have been retired from the US Navy 10 years before it actually did, it was pure, jet-engine-grade fantasy fuel. I didn’t think much of the Guardian form–I think at first I didn’t quite get the point of it–I mean, it’s a jet with legs? Things like vectored thrust were not entirely clear to me, in the early 90s. Or for that matter, how the basics of flights like how attack and lift worked with each other. Nonetheless, the swept wings, the transformation from plane to robot, the toys that did the same, the “calves” of the ship that was part of a vector thrust thing, the lines and curves, oh my.

I suppose it is a blessing in disguise that I was not well-informed, so something like Macross’s complexity is enough to pull the wool over my childish eyes. At least I was able to ignore the fact that it had arms, as it was at least justifiable in terms of having hard mount points that were on a robotic arm given the range of motion a Valk had.

Speaking of arms and curves and Macross, I was a big fan of those VR-052Fs in Mospeada too, although I was more taken with the way how action scenes and battles were depicted, combining the fact that it is a motorvehicle and a robot. In fact I didn’t get the same kind of feeling until way later that I finally got to see Priss & the Hardsuit girls. Shinji Aramaki hit a good spot. It was not the first “moe moe” fusion, as it was later coined, but if sexy models and car ads were like bread and butter, Aramaki’s motorcycle-inspired designs were the equivalent of buttered croissants. It is about mastering streamlined curves, and express loudly through design the function of things it may do.

I think as I got older, my fervor for mecha slowly dropped over time. I think part of the reason was simply because there weren’t a lot of variety. I could never really get into gunpla largely because they mostly looked alike, and between the variants of the same models and how the same model would get different releases based on grades it just kind of turned me off. Other franchises didn’t help much; I’ve definitely watched a lot more anime since then but fewer mecha were as awesome as how child perceived coolness for the very first time.

That said, there were plenty of interesting stuff, ranging from Escaflowne’s pulley-driven artifacts, CLAMP’s crystalline beasts, and even occasionally invoking from the best, such as the first scenes of Gundam 00. Maybe I just got too old for Gundam Wing and just right for Syd Mead: Turn-A featured innovative designs, just none very awesome . Maybe I was too young to hold the classic GM or the Guntank dearly in my heart (although the GM did age gracefully, perhaps much more so than anything else in UC): I appreciate the variety, even if to me it is not diverse enough. It’s good, but not moe, you know?

I do like a strong sense of industrial design; but unlike many others like myself I am not overly taken with things like, say, the glorified forklift from Alien 2. Still, I was in utter delight when Railgun featured one of the best take on the forklift weapon with those sexy grapple rocket punches (did it ever get a name? I guess). Tethered! I wish I can take the GAMA home. The MAR hardsuits were already pretty neat (but they were more like the tepid oasis lost in a sea of sand–yes, I am a hardsuit fan, no there are not enough hardsuits anywhere) but that final boss thing takes the cake. Sure beats a weird alien fetus anyways.

Speaking of Railgun, it was probably the last time I felt that dissonance when everybody else watching the show were busy oogling at middle schoolers, and other than Mii I could care less what they were really doing. It’s a solid show that somehow featured something everyone can appreciate (a cool final boss) but that was not what people were looking for.

I’m just limiting myself to humanoid stuff. I have no idea if it counts, but many of the Guild ship designs from Last Exile were superb. Ao no Rokugo’s submarine is something I want one for myself as well. I will probably never be able to afford a replica of ND-001 or any of her sister ships. The Kildren fighters in The Sky Crawlers were one of a kind. Macross Frontier reinvented the mothership/carrier concept with Macross Quarters, and it now is one of my favorite spacecrafts in general. Well, that is technically a humanoid mecha too, although I don’t think of it that way per se.

Let’s just stop here. Because I can go on…and on and on. I don’t really keep up with the newest development in the anime mecha world, nor do I want to. All my database-animal receptors for mecha are present and working, and that’s the thing that truly matters.

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