Geek culture has always been infatuated with big robots. Whether in manga, anime, video games, or television, there have always been stories of pilots and their larger than life suits that save the day. As always, the question is, “why?” What is it about this “mecha genre” of story that draws so many of us to it, and keeps us coming back for more?
The answer is they are always relatable stories.
Not in the sense that we all would want to pilot multi-story mechanical monstrosities (though that would be a selling point for many of us,) but rather it is the motivation of the pilot that makes these stories reach out to us. It is the “why” of the pilot that keeps us all tuned in.
Why They Fight
…because there are things in this universe worth fighting and dying for.
The Power Rangers fought to protect Angel Grove (in Power Rangers.) The Voltron pilots protected the galaxy itself (in Voltron), and more recently, the Jaeger pilots (from Pacific Rim) fought to prevent the invasion of Earth from Lovecraftian creatures from another dimension.
In all these expressions of the genre, the pilots and other characters are fighting to protect something. That “something” may be existence itself, while for others it’s simply protecting a way of life. In some of my personal favorites, they are fighting because it is the only option; and it is the right thing to do. Regardless, in each instance the pilots are fighting for the greater good…for something worth fighting for.
Simply put, a man will go to great lengths to protect something that he loves. It is a simple and relatable truth that sits at the heart of the much of the mecha genre. We all would care to believe that, if given the chance, if given the ability, we would rise to the occasion and fight.
Why they Use Mechs
…because what they are fighting is both literally and figuratively bigger than themselves.
These are stories of men and women taking on gods and monsters; of fighting ideals and political machines; and these are things that a person cannot do on his own. They simply do not have the power. In many cases, they are completely powerless before their mech comes into the picture. Take for instance the more recent film, Pacific Rim. In it, the world is on the brink of being destroyed, and conventional wisdom and warfare has done nothing to stop the creatures from carving paths of destruction. It takes the creation of Jaegers (the mechs of this universe) and their pilots to finally turn the tide.
They use and choose to pilot their mechs because it gives them a chance; a chance to survive, to hold the line a little longer, to fight back the end for just one more day. The giant suits in all these examples are the equalizer; they are the one thing that puts the pilot on the same level as whatever they may be fighting.
In the real world there are bullies, anxieties, stress, social structures, and physical conflicts that can make anyone think that the situation is, “too big for me.” Life can have a way of making us feel utterly powerless in the shadows of these type of problems. The mecha genre tackles that internal fear on a very literal level; showing our heroes and heroines taking on creatures and powers that outclass them in many ways. Yet, they have the one thing that many of us hope for; a way to fight back, a way to win.
Why There’s Always A Team
…because, in the end, you can’t always do it on your own.
For Voltron and The Megazord to be formed, all the pilots are needed to come together to construct them. Jaeger pilots go into The Drift and let their minds fall in sync with each other to pilot their suits. Even in the Gundam series, the individual pilots have to overcome their differences and act as a team to fight back against the opposing forces.
With certain exceptions, most entries into the mecha genre revolve around a group of individuals who are fighting together. Ideals, god creatures, militaries, and monsters are too large for just one man or woman to tackle alone… even in a large multi-story death machine. One of the best examples is in the PSOne RPG Xenogears, where by the end of the game the pilots are tasked will killing their universe’s equivalent of god. Nonetheless, in most cases of the genre it requires that the team to come together, sometimes literally, to defeat what lay ahead of them.
This again hearkens to the simple fact that we need each other. John Donne said, “no man is an island.” For all the flash, the mecha genre tries to communicate the fact that if humanity is to succeed – humanity has to do it together.
There’s a lot of reasons why we all watch our shows with big robots, and some may be more shallow than others. Yet, these shows speak to us on very base levels; they tell a relatable tale in a completely unrelatable situation. We will never fight literal monsters, nor will we ever be fighting inside of a giant robotic cat. Nonetheless, we all have our own “monsters” we fight on a daily basis, we all have our ideals and way of life that we will fight to protect.
The big robots that we love to watch give us hope. They represent our ability as a species to overcome what is put before us; no matter how big or small. The very tangible mechs represent the intangible spark that we all share that gives us all the strength to stand up to adversity.
Maybe these seemingly ridiculous shows are trying to say that despite the odds being stacked against us…
…we still have a chance.