The genre I’m most interested in writing about is the Mecha sub-genre of sci-fi. These are stories where people (including the protagonist) pilot robots in the same way soldiers pilot fighter planes or tanks. It isn’t recognized as often as other genres, due to it mostly being a Japanese thing (Though that isn’t to say that their haven’t been Mecha stories from outside of Japan, such as Pacific Rim and MechWarrior). I like to compare it to the Superhero genre, in that if superheroes are the modern day equivalent of the Greek gods, then mechs are basically the modern equivalent of the titans.
Most Mecha stories are anime, an two of my favorite Mecha anime are Mobile Suit Gundam (Which revolutionized the genre in 1979 by being less of a superhero show featuring robots like previous mecha anime, and instead being a war story where these mechs are instruments of battle) and Neon Genesis Evangelion (Which I consider to be the greatest anime ever made, and my second favorite show, too).
Mobile Suit Gundam tells the story of the “One Year War”, which is a violent armed conflict between the Earth Federation and the Principality of Zeon. Our protagonists are a group of Earth Federation citizens who are forced into joining the fight after their space colony is infiltrated by Zeon forces, with the lead character being Amuro Ray, a 14 year old boy who pilots that titular Gundam. The first act of the story follows the crew of the White Base ship as they go from citizens to soldiers and escape their colony and head back to earth. Act 2 follows their regrouping with Earth Federation forces on Earth, and wiping out Zeon bases and strongholds along the way. The final act depicts the Earth Federation forces taking the offensive and launching a full scale assault against Zeon in space. The show weaves a coming of age tale into the war story, as our young protagonist Amuro has to mature in order to ensure the survival of his friends. It also depicts the war in a “grey vs grey” matter, as the Federation isn’t depicted as truly good, and Zeon isn’t depicted as truly evil. Mobile Suit Gundam is now considered a classic, and its story has inspired countless Mecha animes in the decades that followed.
Neon Genesis Evangelion, on the other hand, is a much different breed of story, and not just for the Mecha genre alone. The basic premise is that extraterrestrial beings called Angels are driving humanity to extinction, and our protagonist, Shinji Ikari, has to pilot the giant humanoid robot, EVANGELION Unit 01, to fight the Angels. The first act consists of Shinji accepting his role as an EVA pilot, the second act consists of everything getting better up till a certain point, and the final act consists of everything going downhill from there. Saying much else would give it away, and despite the show being 20 years old now, I still wouldn’t want to spoil it for anyone that has yet to see it. Regardless of spoilers, describing the structure of the show’s plot is no easy task, and it isn’t helped by the fact that the conclusion movie, End of Evangelion, is a story that consists of two acts. The show is a deconstruction of the mecha genre, blending elements of both old and new mecha shows alike, and then adding a plethora of religious imagery and questions about identity and society. The best way to describe it would probably be “Lost meets Space Odyssey meet Gundam,” More than three years after finishing the show, I still discuss it with friends, and discover new things that I had not thought of before. Even if you don’t pull any meaning from the show’s psychedelic scenery and symbolism, it’s still an excellent show, filled with beautiful artwork, great characters, a fantastic score by Shiro Sagisu, and more cool images than you can make posters of.
Both of these shows tell coming of age stories, though in two completely different ways (I guess now would be a good time to mention that Evangelion fairly twisted and depressing). Although I enjoy this kind of story, it’s not the only one that can be told within the genre (As can be seen in shows like Gundam 00 and GaoGaiGar), and in creating a Mecha story, I would work on something a little more akin to a “monster in the room” scenario.”