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The Evolution of Mecha Design

6. October 2010

While we were at AWA, Simeon and Tobias decided to have a party Saturday night.  I hear it was a grand fun time for all but left them completely unable to exist in the early morning hours.  As such, Tobias had to miss two panels he wished to attend: The Evolution of Mecha Design and JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, both presented by the good people at Anime World Order .  I however was able to attend both, and oh how grand they were.  Here is a brief summary of the Mecha Design panel.

In the beginning there was Astroboy.  Perhaps not what most people would consider as Mecha, but he was a robot, and his design greatly influenced his larger siblings.  Also, keep in mind that Astroboy was modeled after the character designs of Walt Disney.  This is not the only time we will find Japan looking across the Pacific for inspiration.

After Astroboy, Mecha became bigger, but they were still human shaped.  This left open the possibility for kaiju monster shows, though this rarely ever happened from what I have been able to tell.  The Mecha were very blocky, with sharp lines, stovepipe arms and legs, etc.  They looked very bulky at the beginning.  A big reason for this kind of look was Robbie the Robot, a very popular robot in Hollywood movies such as The Forbidden Planet (which is a great movie if you have never seen it).

Over time, Mecha became less blocky and more organic.  This largely had to do with toy manufacturing.  Towards the beginning, toy companies could only work with die-cast metal, and no one wanted to design a Mecha that could not be marketed as a toy.  That’s because Mecha shows were originally marketed towards children.  A prime example of this design are the Gundam mecha. Why else would a top-secret military weapon be colored bright red and white? Over time, technology gave toy creators more flexibility.

Originally, Mecha had no pilots.  Gigantor and Giant Robo, for instance, were both controlled remotely.  However, the pilot eventually moved inside. Mecha also began to transform and combine, as the toy technology improved of course. At first, transformation and combining involved pieces mashing or crashing together to meld into something else.  Over time, fans demanded that transformation and combining became more logical, and the Mecha were designed to fit together or have some kind of obvious transformation animation, which would be greatly overused.

The audience watching these shows had grown older as well.  From the 90’s onwards, there was a huge wave of remakes of older shows, trying to update them for newer audiences and allowing them to become involved in the phenomenon.

All in all, it was a very informative panel, but I am not doing it justice at all.  If you are interested in the evolution of Mecha Design, please visit the people of Anime World Order if you see them at a convention, or check out their podcasts.  I’m sure you will enjoy what you find.

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