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The term mecha (Japanese: メカ, Hepburn: meka) may refer to both scientific ideas and science-fiction genres that center on giant robots or machines (mechs) controlled by people. Mechas are typically depicted as humanoid mobile robots. The term was first used in Japanese (meka) after shortening the English loanword mekanizumu (メカニズム, 'mechanism') or mekanikaru (メカニカル, 'mechanical'), but the meaning in Japanese is more inclusive, and "robot" (robotto) or "giant robot" is the narrower term.


These machines vary greatly in size and shape, but are distinguished from vehicles by their humanoid or biomorphic appearance and size—bigger than a human. Different subgenres exist, with varying connotations of realism. The concept of Super Robot and Real Robot are two such examples found in Japanese anime and manga. The term may also refer to real world piloted humanoid or non-humanoid robotic platforms, either currently in existence or still on the drawing board (i.e. at the planning or design stage). Alternatively, in the original Japanese context of the word, "mecha" may refer to mobile machinery/vehicles (including aircraft) in general, manned or otherwise.


The word "mecha" (メカ, meka) is an abbreviation, first used in Japanese, of the word "mechanical". In Japanese, mecha encompasses all mechanical objects, including cars, guns, computers, and other devices, and the term "robot" (ロボット, robotto) or "giant robot" is used to distinguish limbed vehicles from other mechanical devices.[ citation needed ] Outside of this usage, it has become associated with large humanoid machines with limbs or other biological characteristics. Mechas differ from robots in that they are piloted from a cockpit, typically located in the chest or head of the mech. [1]

While the distinction is often hazy, mecha typically does not refer to form-fitting powered armor such as Iron Man's suit. They are usually much larger than the wearer, like Iron Man's enemy the Iron Monger, or the mobile suits depicted in the Gundam series.

In most cases, mecha are depicted as fighting machines, whose appeal comes from the combination of potent weaponry with a more stylish combat technique than a mere vehicle. Often, they are the primary means of combat, with conflicts sometimes being decided through gladiatorial matches. Other works represent mecha as one component of an integrated military force, supported by and fighting alongside tanks, fighter aircraft, and infantry, functioning as a mechanical cavalry. The applications often highlight the theoretical usefulness of such a device, combining a tank's resilience and firepower with infantry's ability to cross unstable terrain and a high degree of customization. In some continuities, special scenarios are constructed to make mecha more viable than current-day status. For example, in Gundam the fictional Minovsky particle inhibits the use of radar, making long-range ballistic strikes impractical, thus favouring relatively close-range warfare of Mobile Suits.[ citation needed ]

However, some stories, such as the manga/anime series Patlabor and the American wargame BattleTech universe, also encompass mecha used for civilian purposes, such as heavy construction work, police functions, or firefighting. Mecha also have roles as transporters, recreation, advanced hazmat suits, and other research and development applications.

Mecha have been used in fantasy settings, for example in the anime series Aura Battler Dunbine , The Vision of Escaflowne , Panzer World Galient , and Maze . In those cases, the mecha designs are usually based on some alternative or "lost" science-fiction technology from ancient times. In case of anime series Zoids , the machines resemble dinosaurs and animals, and have been shown to evolve from native metallic organisms.[ citation needed ]

A chicken walker is a fictional type of bipedal robot or mecha, distinguished by its rear-facing knee joint. This type of articulation resembles a bird's legs, hence the name. [2] However, birds actually have forward-facing knees; they are digitigrade, and what most call the "knee" is actually the ankle. [3]

Early history

The 1868 Edward S. Ellis novel The Steam Man of the Prairies featured a steam-powered, back-piloted, mechanical man. The 1880 Jules Verne novel The Steam House (La Maison à vapeur) featured a steam-powered, piloted, mechanical elephant. One of the first appearances of such machines in modern literature was the tripod (or "fighting-machine", as they are known in the novel) of H. G. Wells' famous The War of the Worlds (1897). The novel does not contain a fully detailed description of the tripods' mode of locomotion, but it is hinted at: "Can you imagine a milking stool tilted and bowled violently along the ground? That was the impression those instant flashes gave. But instead of a milking stool, imagine it a great body of machinery on a tripod stand."

Ōgon Bat , a kamishibai that debuted in 1931 (later adapted into an anime in 1967), featured the first piloted humanoid giant robot, Dai Ningen Tanku (大人間タンク), [4] but as an enemy rather than a protagonist. In 1934, Gajo Sakamoto launched Tank Tankuro (タ ン ク タ ン ク ロ ー) on a metal creature that becomes a battle machine. [5]

The first humanoid giant robot piloted by the protagonist appeared in the manga Atomic Power Android (原子力人造人間, Genshiryoku Jinzō Ningen) in 1948. [6] The manga and anime Tetsujin 28-Go , introduced in 1956, featured a robot, Tetsujin, that was controlled externally by an operator by remote control. The manga and anime Astro Boy , introduced in 1952, with its humanoid robot protagonist, was a key influence on the development of the giant robot genre in Japan. The first anime featuring a giant mecha being piloted by the protagonist from within a cockpit was the Super Robot show Mazinger Z , written by Go Nagai and introduced in 1972. [7] Mazinger Z introduced the notion of mecha as pilotable war machines, rather than remote-controlled robots. Nagai later introduced the concept of gattai ("combination"), where several modules slot together to form a super robot, with Getter Robot (1974 debut). [8]

An early use of mech-like machines outside Japan is found in "The Invisible Empire", a Federal Men's story arc by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster (serialized 1936 in New Comics #8-10). [9] Other examples include the Mexican comic Invictus Leonel Guillermo Prieto e Victaleno León, by Brazilian comic Audaz, o demolidor, by Álvaro "Aruom" Moura and Messias de Mello (1938-1949), inspired by Invictus, created for the supplement A Gazetinha from the newspaper A Gazeta, [10] Kimball Kinnison's battle suit in E. E. "Doc" Smith's Lensman novel Galactic Patrol (1950), [11] the French animated film The King and the Mockingbird (first released 1952), [12] and Robert Heinlein's waldo in his 1942 short story, "Waldo" and the Mobile Infantry battle suits in Robert Heinlein's Starship Troopers (1958). [11]

A transforming mech can transform between a standard vehicle (such as a fighter plane or transport truck) and a fighting mecha robot. This concept of transforming mecha was pioneered by Japanese mecha designer Shōji Kawamori in the early 1980s, when he created the Diaclone toy line in 1980 and then the Macross anime franchise in 1982. In North America, the Macross franchise was adapted into the Robotech franchise in 1985, and then the Diaclone toy line was adapted into the Transformers franchise in 1986. Some of Kawamori's most iconic transforming mecha designs include the VF-1 Valkyrie from the Macross and Robotech franchises, and Optimus Prime (called Convoy in Japan) from the Transformers and Diaclone franchises. [13] [14]


Anime and manga

RX-78-2 Gundam, introduced in Mobile Suit Gundam (1979), the first Gundam anime. It was the first real robot, in contrast to the super robots in earlier anime. RX-78-2 Gundam illustration.gif
RX-78-2 Gundam, introduced in Mobile Suit Gundam (1979), the first Gundam anime. It was the first real robot, in contrast to the super robots in earlier anime.

In Japan, "robot anime" (known as "mecha anime" outside Japan) is one of the oldest genres in anime. [15] Robot anime is often tied in with toy manufacturers. Large franchises such as Gundam , Macross , Transformers , and Zoids have hundreds of different model kits.

The size of mecha can vary according to the story and concepts involved. Some of them may not be considerably taller than a tank ( Armored Trooper Votoms , Megazone 23 , Code Geass ), some may be a few stories tall ( Gundam , Escaflowne , Bismark , Gurren Lagann ), others can be as tall as a skyscraper ( Space Runaway Ideon , Genesis of Aquarion , Neon Genesis Evangelion ), some are big enough to contain an entire city ( Macross ), some the size of a planet ( Diebuster ), galaxies ( Getter Robo , Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann ), or even as large as universes ( Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann: Lagann-hen , Demonbane , Transformers: Alternity).

The first giant robots seen were in the 1948 manga Atomic Power Android (原子力人造人間, Genshiryoku Jinzō Ningen) [6] and Mitsuteru Yokoyama's 1956 manga Tetsujin 28-go . However, it wasn't until the advent of Go Nagai's Mazinger Z that the genre was established. Mazinger Z innovated by adding the inclusion of futuristic weapons, and the concept of being able to pilot from a cockpit [7] (rather than via remote control, in the case of Tetsujin). According to Go Nagai:

I wanted to create something different, and I thought it would be interesting to have a robot that you could drive, like a car. [7]

Mazinger Z featured giant robots that were "piloted by means of a small flying car and command center that docked inside the head." [7] It was also a pioneer in die-cast metal toys such as the Chogokin series in Japan and the Shogun Warriors in the U.S., that were (and still are) very popular with children and collectors.

Robot/mecha anime and manga differ vastly in storytelling and animation quality from title to title, and content ranges from children's shows to ones intended for an older teen or adult audience.

Some of the first mecha featured in manga and anime were super robots. The super robot genre features superhero-like giant robots that are often one-of-a-kind and the product of an ancient civilization, aliens or a mad genius. These robots are usually piloted by Japanese teenagers via voice command or neural uplink, and are often powered by mystical or exotic energy sources. [16]

The later real robot genre features robots that do not have mythical superpowers, but rather use largely conventional, albeit futuristic weapons and power sources, and are often mass-produced on a large scale for use in wars. [16] The real robot genre also tends to feature more complex characters with moral conflicts and personal problems. [17] The genre is therefore aimed primarily at young adults instead of children. [18] Mobile Suit Gundam (1979) is largely considered the first series to introduce the real robot concept and, along with The Super Dimension Fortress Macross (1982), would form the basis of what people would later call real robot anime. [19]

Some robot mecha are capable of transformation (Macross and Zeta Gundam ) or combining to form even bigger ones ( Beast King GoLion and Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann ), the latter called gattai. Go Nagai is often credited with inventing this in 1974 with the television series Getter Robo .

Not all mecha need to be completely mechanical. Some have biological components with which to interface with their pilots, and some are partially biological themselves, such as in Neon Genesis Evangelion , Eureka Seven , and Zoids . Attack on Titan features titans, 10- to 15-meter-tall humanoid organic creatures, some of which are piloted by teenagers, thus sometimes referred to as meat mecha. [20]

Mecha based on anime have seen extreme cultural reception across the world. The personification of this popularity can be seen as 1:1-sized Mazinger Z, Tetsujin, and Gundam statues built across the world.


Imperial AT-AT walkers during the Battle of Hoth in The Empire Strikes Back, the second film of the original Star Wars trilogy. All Terrain Armored Transport in Star Wars.JPG
Imperial AT-AT walkers during the Battle of Hoth in The Empire Strikes Back , the second film of the original Star Wars trilogy.

Video games

Strike Suit Zero is a 2013 space combat video game featuring mecha designs by Junji Okubo. Strike Suit Zero - Screenshot 01.jpg
Strike Suit Zero is a 2013 space combat video game featuring mecha designs by Junji Okubo.
Mecha selection menu in the roguelike-like, GearHead RPG. Gearhead rpg 01.png
Mecha selection menu in the roguelike-like, GearHead RPG.

Mecha are often featured in computer and console video games. Because of their size and fictional power, mecha are quite popular subjects for games, both tabletop and electronic. They have been featured in video games since the 1980s, particularly in vehicular combat and shooter games, including Sesame Japan's side-scrolling shooter game Vastar in 1983, [21] various Gundam games such as Mobile Suit Gundam: Last Shooting in 1984 and Z-Gundam: Hot Scramble in 1986, [22] the run and gun shooters Hover Attack in 1984 and Thexder in 1985, and Arsys Software's 3D role-playing shooters WiBArm in 1986 and Star Cruiser in 1988. Historically mecha-based games have been more popular in Japan than in other countries. [23]

Tabletop games

Mecha are part of the World of 1920+ as created by Jakub Rozalski. 1920 - before the storm.jpg
Mecha are part of the World of 1920+ as created by Jakub Różalski.


Real mecha

There are a few real prototypes of mecha-like vehicles. Currently almost all of these are highly specialized or just for concept purpose, and as such may not see mass production. Most of these experimental projects were made and first presented in East Asia.

In the Western world, there are few examples of mecha, however, several machines have been constructed by both companies and private figures.

See also

Related Research Articles

<i>Mobile Suit Gundam</i>

Mobile Suit Gundam, known in Japan as Kidō Senshi Gundam, is an anime television series, produced and animated by Nippon Sunrise. Created and directed by Yoshiyuki Tomino, it premiered in Japan on Nagoya Broadcasting Network and its affiliated ANN stations on April 7, 1979, and lasted until January 26, 1980, spanning 43 episodes. It was the first Gundam series, which has subsequently been adapted into numerous sequels and spin-offs. Set in the futuristic calendar year "Universal Century" 0079, the plot focuses on the war between the Principality of Zeon and the Earth Federation, with the latter unveiling a new giant robot known as the RX-78-2 Gundam piloted by the teenage civilian mechanic Amuro Ray.

<i>Gundam</i> Japanese media franchise

Gundam is a Japanese military fiction media franchise/media mix. Created by Yoshiyuki Tomino and Sunrise, the franchise features giant robots, or mecha, with the name "Gundam". The franchise began on April 7, 1979 with Mobile Suit Gundam, a TV series that defined the "real robot" mecha anime genre by featuring giant robots called mobile suits in a militaristic setting. The popularity of the series and its merchandise spawned a franchise that includes 50 TV series, films and OVAs as well as manga, novels and video games, along with a whole industry of plastic model kits known as Gunpla which makes up 90 percent of the Japanese character plastic-model market.

Yoshiyuki Tomino Japanese mecha anime creator, animator, songwriter, director, screenwriter and novelist

Yoshiyuki Tomino is a Japanese mecha anime creator, animator, director, screenwriter, songwriter and novelist best known for creating the Gundam anime franchise. He was born in Odawara, Kanagawa Prefecture, and studied at Nihon University's College of Art.

<i>Mekton</i> Role-playing game

Mekton is a role-playing game which centers on the conventions of mecha anime and science fiction. It has seen several editions since its introduction in 1984, the most recent, Mekton Zeta being first published in 1994.

Super Robot Wars is a series of tactical role-playing video games produced by Bandai Namco Entertainment, formerly Banpresto. Starting out as a spinoff of the Compati Hero series, the main feature of the franchise is having a story that crosses over several popular mecha anime, manga and video games, allowing characters and mecha from different titles to team up or battle one another. The first game in the franchise was released for the Game Boy on April 20, 1991. Later spawning numerous games that were released on various consoles and handhelds. Due to the nature of crossover games and licensing involved, only a few games have been released outside Japan, and in English. The franchise celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2016, and its 30th anniversary in 2021.

Shōji Kawamori Japanese Anime creator and producer, screenwriter, visual artist, and mecha designer

Shōji Kawamori is a Japanese anime creator and producer, screenwriter, visual artist, and mecha designer. He is best known for creating the Macross mecha anime franchise, and for his role in the creation of the Robotech franchise and the Transformers franchise. He pioneered several innovative concepts in his works, such as transforming mecha and virtual idols. His work has had a significant impact on popular culture, both in Japan and internationally.

SD Gundam is a media franchise that spawned from the Gundam franchise. SD Gundam takes the mecha from Gundam and expresses them in super deformed and anthropomorphic style.

Kunio Okawara

Kunio Okawara is a mechanical designer in the Japanese anime industry. Okawara was the first in the industry to be specifically credited as a mechanical designer. He designed mecha for the Gundam and Brave Series franchises, as well as those of numerous Super Robot and Real Robot shows.

Model robots are model figures with origins in the Japanese anime genre of mecha. The majority of model robots are produced by Bandai and are based on the Mobile Suit Gundam anime metaseries. This has given rise to the hobby's common name in Japan, Gunpla. Though there are exceptions, the model robot genre is dominated by anime tie-ins, with anime series and movies frequently serving as merchandising platform.

<i>Another Centurys Episode 2</i> 2006 video game

Another Century's Episode 2, abbreviated as A.C.E. 2, is a third-person mecha action video game produced by Banpresto and developed by From Software. It is the sequel to the popular 2005 game Another Century's Episode. It was released for the PlayStation 2 on March 30, 2006.

<i>Super Robot Wars MX</i>

Super Robot Wars MX is a video game for the PlayStation 2. It is part of the Super Robot Wars series by Banpresto, and it was released on May 27, 2004. It was later ported to the PlayStation Portable on December 19, 2005, with minor gameplay tweaks, titled Super Robot Wars MX Portable.

<i>Super Robot Wars Alpha Gaiden</i>

Super Robot Wars Alpha Gaiden, or simply, Alpha Gaiden, is a video game for the PlayStation, first released in Japan in 2001. It is the first side-story in the Super Robot Wars Alpha series, continuing from Super Robot Wars Alpha. The characters of After War Gundam X, Turn A Gundam, and Combat Mecha Xabungle make debut appearances in the game.

Mecha anime and manga, known in Japan as robot anime and robot manga, are anime and manga that feature robots (mecha) in battle. The genre is broken down into two subcategories; "super robot", featuring super-sized, implausible robots, and "real robot", where robots are governed by realistic physics and technological limitations.

<i>Space Gundam V</i>

Space Gundam V is a South Korean animated film directed by Kim Cheong-gi, released on July 21, 1983. Despite its title, the series is not related to Mobile Suit Gundam. It is known for incorporating an unlicensed version of the VF-1J Valkyrie of Macross fame and the heroic elements of Brave Raideen.

Yasuhiro Imagawa is a Japanese anime director and screenwriter. Much of his work evokes nostalgia for 1970s super robot mecha anime.

<i>Mazinger Z</i> 1972 Japanese super robot manga series

Mazinger Z is a Japanese super robot manga series written and illustrated by Go Nagai. The first manga version was serialized in Shueisha's Weekly Shōnen Jump from October 1972 to August 1973, and it later continued in Kodansha TV Magazine from October 1973 to September 1974. It was adapted into an anime television series which aired on Fuji TV from December 1972 to September 1974. A second manga series was released alongside the TV show, this one drawn by Gosaku Ota, which started and ended almost at the same time as the TV show. Mazinger Z has spawned several sequels and spinoff series, among them being Great Mazinger, UFO Robot Grendizer and Mazinkaiser.

<i>Super Robot Wars V</i> 2017 video game

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