Once a juggernaut, now an obscure niche.
About a week ago I watched a video from YouTuber Gigguk, who frequently loves to talk about one of the fewest things that help us get by in life, Anime, which was titled Mecha: The Rise & Fall of Giant Robots. While I was initially expecting the usual dose of sarcastic comedy I was totally surprised about how most of his thoughts really made sense when it comes to the state of Mecha as an Anime Genre.
In brief, the video mainly talked about the rich history of the Mecha genre in Anime and how the genre itself is seeing a steady decline over the past 5 years or so with not much “notable” shows making it big in the mainstream, except for a few Gundam shows of course.
A few examples as to why Mecha fans are becoming a niche audience when it comes to anime are cited such as the cost of producing a Mecha series and the merchandising aspect, but perhaps the reason that did stand-out for me, which is totally true not just for the Mecha genre but also for any other good anime that deserved continuation is the new meta for Anime shows that being the 12-episode seasonal structure which allows for at least 20 shows to churn out each season from various studios. In contrast to the now-traditional structure of Anime, Mecha shows require more than 12 episodes to lay out its story, build its worlds and of course, showcase the awesomeness of mecha fights from land to outer space. Not to mention that it takes its time developing its numerous characters in hopes to show the audience the different sides of a conflict. This factor is also one of the reasons as to why some mecha shows have some of the most iconic antagonists in anime like Gundam’s Char Aznable.
Now, this doesn’t mean that the said elements are non-existent in other shows, for Mecha does have a huge influence in other Anime genres when it comes to story tropes and other elements. However, even when drawing inspiration from mecha shows, most of today’s shows are easier to digest, with the conflicts laid out in plain black and white, lesser characters to develop, and most of the main battles reserved for the latter part of the shows.
But is Mecha really dying?
It’s rather true, and perhaps really troubling, that Mecha hasn’t seen anything notable for the past years with only the “biggest” shows being Iron-Blooded Orphans and Gundam Thunderbolt, and while they have seen a good share of popularity, they still feel rather niche with both shows appealing mostly to hardcore mecha fans. However, this year could hopefully see the revitalization of the mecha genre in anime with both existing and upcoming shows.
Of course, there’s Studio Trigger’s Darling in the FRANXX which runs steadily and gaining more and more popularity among anime fans but aside from that 2 returning titles will be launching this April that being the new seasons of Code Geass and Full Metal Panic!
But it’s not just these 3 that I’m looking forward to when it comes to revitalizing the Mecha genre in anime, there are also other upcoming projects that may be worth looking forward to such as Studio Trigger’s take on Denkou Choujin Gridman and Shoji Kawamori’s new project, Jūshinki Pandora, which I feel is a homage to Kawamori’s other work, Eureka Seven. Gundam Build Divers is also just around the corner (although I have to say, I haven’t really immersed myself in the Build franchise, except for Build Fighters of course), and as well as the continuation of the Gundam: Origins series.
So yes there is still hope for mecha, and the genre will not be going away anytime soon, although the question of whether the genre will see another significant push into mainstream success, well, we just have to watch and wait.