Thursday, June 23, 2022

Towards Making Better Mecha Fiction

The other day I posted a video essay about Western mecha and why they suck.

It's a bit worse than that. I noted the day before that post that BattleTech is built upon a Japanese TV series, Fang of the Sun Dougram, as its cornerstone and all of its other core visual and setting elements stem from contributing series Super Dimension Fortress Macross and Crusher Joe, with the Space Feudalism being warmed over Dune (same as 40K, also emerging in that era).

I mentioned that Western mecha is mired in Mil-SF fiction, with its tendancy for Grimdank wankery, and even then two of the best Mil-SF Western mecha properties--Jovian Chronicles, Heavy Gear--are ripoffs of superior Japanese originals: Mobile Suit Gundam and Armored Trooper VOTOMS respectively. As the linked essay notes, this is a consistent issue that has been so due to the influence of Hard SF bullshit and a willful dismissal of Japanese fiction of any sort in Western media. Where that is acknowledged and respected, you get very good results (e.g. the original Pacific Rim, even Megas LXS), and the co-productions have had fantstic results (The Big O); we already know what results from dismissal and disrespect.

Until that stops, Western mecha fiction will continue to suck compared to Japanese alternatives.

Guillermo del Toro gets what makes Super Robots work, and Pacific Rim shows it; they are structured like a Superhero story, and good Superhero stories are derivative of the mythological tales of folk heroes and demigods, so the structure of the best Super Robot fiction follows the structure of the most enduring hero tales of mythology. It's why Mazinger Z and Getter Robo are still able to draw massive crowds despite both being early 70s creations while other Super Robots of the era are half-forgotten or entirely so, and the same reason underlies the enduring popularity of GaoGaiGar and Gurren Lagann while showing the power of Evangelion's deconstruction despite Super Robots first getting that treatment in the 1970s (Daitarn 3, Zambot 3).

You cannot make reliably good mecha fiction outside of the Mil-SF ghetto without comprehending this fact, and even the best example therein--still the aforementioned VOTOMS--cannot avoid very subtle touches of mythological hero tales for the source of its depth of characterization. That means the same thing as learning how to write good fiction of any sort: you have to watch and read a lot of it, and do so with a critical eye. Fortunately this anime and manga is now far more easily available than ever before, and legally more often than not.

And I am doing that.


  1. For me, as a fan of Mazinkaiser, Shin Getter Robo, King Gainer, and GaoGaiGar, as well as being a fan of Tokusatsu Heroes like Kamen Rider, what would be the biggest selling point for Triplanetary and, for that matter, the whole Lensman series?

    1. Smith created the narrative structure that mecha fiction built upon, by way of the hero pulps (where Smith originally published before collecting into novel form, an early version of the Manga model) and Tokukatsu blends that with Superhero tropes from when Western comics were still clearly showing their Pulp roots.

      Manga/Anime generally, and Toku/Super Robots in particular, are inheritors of the Pulps and keep that spirit--and model of business--alive.

  2. Also, great to hear that your back in the Creation Seat.


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