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Otaku University – Lesson 2: What is Mecha?

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Otaku University Lesson 2

Welcome, class! Zaktaku-sensei here for Otaku University, your basic guide to everything anime!

For our second class session, we’re going to discuss one of the original and most popular anime genres of all time: Mecha!

Mecha is a science fiction sub-genre that includes giant robots that are usually piloted by a human inside. A unique aspect of mecha is the simple designs for the machines—they’re humanoid in shape! On a side note, I will now refer to these simple machines as mechs throughout this article.

Now, you can’t go around calling every human looking machine a mech, because the suits are usually much larger than the pilot. Sorry, Iron Man. Another key difference between a simple robotic suit and a mech is the space one has to operate in. Robotic suits like Iron Man are usually form fitting, like armor. Mechs, on the other hand, usually have cockpits inside of them, allowing quite a bit of space for the pilots. Really, they’re like giant tanks with legs and arms…and giant laser cannons.


There are two primary sub-genres of the mecha genre…which is, in itself, a sub-genre of science fiction.

The first is Super Robot, where physics is tossed out the window. These are usually the over the top mecha animes, such as Gurren Lagann and the Neon Genesis Evangelion…of course, between these two examples, Gurren Lagann is more the over the top of the two. Actually, both Neon Genesis Evangelion can actually fit into both categories of mecha…

ANYWAY! A lot of Super Robot anime completely ignores the laws of physics, with main characters’ mechs being able to take obscene amounts of damage and still win unless the plot requires them to lose. Super Robot shows usually has some kind of a transformation for their mechs or there is a combining of two mechs, which significantly increases their power. Finally, the main characters are usually courageous or daring heroes whose backstories are those of legend or mystique.

The second subgenre is Real Robot, where the mechs will follow the laws of real world physics. Really popular examples are the Gundam series (EVERY. SINGLE. ONE.) and The Super Dimension Fortress Macross, a series that made the genre popular in the first place.

Real Robot mecha series usually use a more militaristic approach for their mechs, as most mechs in the genre are either made by military forces or private commercial enterprises. As opposed to Super Robots, whose special attacks are activated by voice commands, Real Robot anime use special weapons based on old weaponry. This can include, but not limited to, guns, swords, and shields. Mechs in Real Robot anime usually not only require actual ammunition to use, but are also prone to malfunction and destruction. This results in maintenance on the mechs constantly.

Also, as a fun fact, Real Robot anime introduced terms like mass production, prototype, and test type into not only mecha anime, but the mecha genre in general.



That’s all for this lesson!

Thank you for attending this class session, and hopefully you’re one step closer to getting your PhD in Weeb-onomics! If you would like to suggest the topic for my next lesson, please leave it in the comment section below. And if you found this lesson to be at all helpful to you in any way, leave a like so I know that you enjoyed it!

This has been Zaktaku-sensei. Class dismissed!

Header image: “Gurren Lagann” from Gainax

Image 2: “Eureka Seven AO” from Studio Bones

Image 3: “Neon Genesis Evangelion” from Gainax and Tatsunoko Productions

We don’t own these images. Please don’t sue us. (Especially Zaktaku-Sensei)

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    1. I’m not the biggest fan of gundam series. The only one I’ve ever seen, and that was years back when Gurren lagann first came out, was Gundam OO. I just thought it was a popular enough series to mention it for the real robot section. Thanks for the correction, though!

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