Welcome back, Vice-squad. This week’s Top 5 is gonna be a big one. Giant even! Watch out for rocket punches, last minute transformations and secret planet-busting technologies.
That’s right, we’re counting down the very finest in Mecha and Giant Robots.
Only five!? Lets see if this is even possible…
HONORABLE MENTION == PATLABOR
PATLABOR is an amazing series with nicely developed characters, great designs and two pretty kickass movies directed by the one and only Mamoru Oshii in his prime. The only reason this franchise didn’t actually place on the list is because it’s so frequently not focused on the giant mechanical Patlabor suits themselves.
I love the OVA's, the movies, and even the way crazier, more light-hearted tv show but if we’ve only got room for five robots, PATLABOR just can’t hang. If the Top 5 eventually does a list of the best “character-driven, sometimes-political anime with a subtle sci-fi angle, featuring appearances by robots” PATLABOR might just be #1.
I’m actually starting to get some ideas for that list…
NUMBER FIVE == GETTER ROBO
We had to include at least one of the classics on this list, but choosing just one was heartbreaking! It was a close race, with MAZINGER Z and VOLTRON putting up a damn good fight but, in the end, GETTER ROBO stands victorious.
GETTER ROBO is a real man’s giant robot show, with drill-arms, angry teenage dudes, flowing scarves, and hot white passion. Plus, that robot has one angry face, which I always appreciate.
Perhaps most importantly, GETTER ROBO introduced the idea of separate ships combining- action figure style- to create one stupidly big robot. This isn’t the down-to-Earth “it could almost be science” kind of robot show. This shit is absurd and fun and for the 8-year-old boy inside of you.
Plus, Robo's got an enormous robot-sized ax. Toughest ever. Indisputable.
NUMBER FOUR == GIANT ROBO
How could GIANT ROBO not make this list? It’s all right there in the title! But this show has so much more to offer than just it’s titular enormous crying robot with a pharaoh's headdress. The cast of characters is top notch, with tons of lively and memorable designs in a slightly cartoony style with at least a few nods to Tezuka and his contemporaries.
Big Fire is also the best secret shadowy organization since the Illuminati: with hilarious hoods, evil round table discussions, and nefarious world-ending plots. Big Fire and the Magnificent Ten fall somewhere between the Legion of Doom and the Russian mafia (if the Russian mafia had more robot eye-patches).
I could talk all day about how great the designs for this show are (Robo’s face makes me laugh every time, plus he has a ladder on his cheeks so his lil buddy can pose heroically from his shoulder!), but ROBO also delivers in the classic city-crushing big-punching robot-on-robot mayhem we all want from this kind of anime. GIANT ROBO is the complete package.
NUMBER THREE == NEON GENESIS EVANGELION
EVA almost didn’t make the list, believe it or not. There’s already been so much written about this franchise, and it doesn’t even seem to fit into a list of good times robot fisticuffs. GAOGAIGAR with his enormous lion-face-for-a-chest came dangerously close to stealing this spot, honestly. Of course, it’s the fact that EVA stands out in the sea of giant robot anime that makes it so great and undeniably deserving of a spot in the TOP 5.
Yeah, yeah, you’ve all heard it before - - EVA changed robot anime, and the anime industry, as a whole, forever. It’s a career defining piece of work, and an intense and rewarding roller-coaster ride, even if some of the “heavier” iconography is a bit forced/ultimately meaningless.
NEON GENESIS EVANGELION has big robots, some big ideas, and a handful of way unsettling images that will stick with you for years to come. The designs of the robots are unique and eye catching, and not at all bulky. They feel organic, and in fact, do seem to be made from some sort of tissue, possibly living? This was new at the time, and the Evas still stand out as unique, interesting and kind of beastly bots.
I wont waste your time describing all the AT-field ripping, face-smashing, angel-bopping, teen-angst awesome that is EVA. You’re probably already well aware and if not, I don’t want to ruin any of the surprises for you!
NUMBER TWO == MACROSS
Ahhh, MACROSS. This franchise is like a breath of fresh air, especially after all the gloom of EVANGELION. Macross has plenty of melodrama and angst, but it’s also sure to balance it all with just the right amount of robot-plane fun and giant swarms of missiles dancing across your screen!
The “Itano circus” as coined by fans of Ichiro Itano’s work, refers that favorite anime trope of the mass of missiles with smoke trails converging on a target. You’ve seen it in tons of shows, and it all started here! Original MACROSS looks pretty dated and the animation is ROUGH on a lot of occasions, but the dogfights and robo-showdowns tend to look pretty damn good. They took care to give the fans what they wanted, and to use their limited budget in the best way possible to do this.
Plus, the characters are great. I got around to watching MACROSS on Hulu probably two years ago and I was on the edge of my seat the whole time. It’s a rare thing when you really and truly don’t know where a story is headed, especially in anime, and especially in giant robot anime. MACROSS is a classic for a reason - - because it’s genuinely compelling.
And of course, MACROSS PLUS is a favorite of all the old men like me who came up in the 80's and 90's anime scene. The animation is top notch, the music is great, and while the feeling of the OVA is pretty different from the original, it captures a lot of what made the universe so appealing.
And yeah, lots of planes that turn into robots shooting at each other. The climactic fight between Isamu and Guld in an empty city at dusk is so well done that it could bristle even the most stubborn new fan.
Thanks to ROBOTECH, an entire generation of American kids was introduced to anime and giant robots, and the first (and I think best) season was all MACROSS. Lets just try to forget MACROSS II ever happened…
NUMBER ONE == MOBILE SUIT GUNDAM
If you didn’t see this coming then you’re either completely unfamiliar with robot anime or really holding out for VOTOMS. Either way, this list is sure to disappoint you.
GUNDAM is the undeniable champ of Robot anime - - it spans all kinds of robot sub-genres, from the realistic tactical believable (if that’s possible) style of 08TH MS TEAM, to the completely insane over the top bananas madness of G Gundam. The designs are rock solid and appealing right from the very beginning and completely versatile - - perfectly able to support all these very different styles of robot madness.
GUNDAM defined the genre, and while the franchise has had its ups and downs, there’s no denying the appeal of the more successful series. There has been at least one GUNDAM for every generation of fan, and a steady stream of new takes on the universe. UNICORN (I cringe every time I see the name) is a beautiful thing to behold, and is undoubtedly ushering in a new generation of fans to the GUNDAM universe.
Also CHAR’S COUNTERATTACK! This movie practically invented every cliche in sci fi anime (any time an enemy’s plan is to ram an asteroid or moon or planet or whatever into earth... yeah that was Char’s idea first), plus it’s a non-stop giant robot drool-fest. I don’t care if you’ve never seen a minute of any GUNDAM before, if you like animation and have a pulse then CHAR’S COUNTERATTACK will entertain you.
While it’s tempting to call out every awesome iteration of the franchise, that seems a little indulgent, even for us. Maybe a top 5 GUNDAM properties is in order… Suffice it to say there’s a lot to like and a lot to watch, so get to it! For once most of it is worth your time.
Unfortunately many of the greats didn’t quite make the list. BIG O, GUNBUSTER, MAZINGER Z, GAOGAIGAR, GURREN LAGANN! Which robots captured your heart? Did they make the list? Tell me all about your TOP 5 in the comments section below. i'll try not to make fun of your favorite.
Alex Eckman-Lawn is an illustrator and comic artists from Philadelphia. Check out his site - -alexeckmanlawn.com - - rumble with his Tumblr - -dudenukem.tumblr.com - - and hit up his Twitter: @alexeckmanlawn