Sunday, April 3, 2011

On Sai Mecha

Alternative Title:  Giant robots occasionally drag me back to the blagosphere.

I have been busy, of late, and while I have composed a few blog posts in the last month or so, I haven't posted any of them.  This is a different problem I have.  I blame the fact that I've been writing papers for class on Manga with the energy I use for blag posts, but that's a transparent excuse.  Maybe I'll convert one of those papers to a post, when I've got some time.

However, I would find myself derelicting my duties if I failed to blather on about my top 15 mechanical designs from anime ad-nauseum when everyone else is doing it (and HONOR is on the line).  If I didn't vote and something like the Strike Freedom won, I'd be pretty  sad  pissed.  So here are my top fifteen nomination picks (in semi-coherent order) for Sai Mecha:

1.  Escaflowne (Vision of Escaflowne)


The Escaflowne is one badass machine, and when I was twelve, I liked few things more than watching it fight.  Every time I rewatch the show that's still true.  I still love watching it in battle, even if there really could have been more of those in Vision of Escaflowne (especially the second half).  I like the way the show makes clever use of its transforming qualities (and it turns into a dragon, how badass is that?  That's almost as awesome as a robot samurai who turns into a dinosaur (and then turns into a reference to Hamlet!)(Beast Wars Spoilers)).  I like its imposing, regal aura on the battlefield.  I like the organic elements of its design, and the way it groans and creaks like a thing almost alive, and steam flies from its vents as it rages its way through hordes of enemies.

It's hard for me to split nostalgia from my current aesthetic appreciate of the Escaflowne's design, but that's all right.  You never forget your first time.
 2.  Eltremus/Eltemus/Artemis/Whatever we're calling it this week (Broken/Break/whatever we're calling it this week Blade)

Sleek frame, angular corners, and a cool head.  Off to a good start.

Believably powerful prototype used by the antagonists.  Cool, I'm listening.

Realistic drawbacks to high-performance capacity.  That's neat.

Red Girge custom colors?  Be still my heart.

3.  Toudou Custom Gekka (Code Geass)

A classic 'Ace Custom' version of a mass produced mech, the Gekka Custom strikes the perfect balance of ostentatious detail and ridiculous custom weapons (not to be outdone by his subordinates and their chainsaw katanas, Toudou wields a ROCKET POWERED CHAINSAW KATANA) without going entirely overboard.  I like a lot of Knightmare Frames a fair amount, especially the way they are treated as semi-believable weapons of war (in the first season), but in terms of design, most of them are merely 'cool,' and not 'list material.'

But the Custom Gekka gets on to the list.  Unlike most prior Knightmare Frames in Code Geass, it is not a refitted Britannian piece.  As such, it stands out visually from the Sutherlands, Gloucesters, and Burais (and custom versions thereof) that have dominated the battlefield to this point.  It has a much more organic profile and much sharper edges than the boxy KMFs we had seen so far, introducing an interesting visual contrast between the factions.  It is one of (though not the first) Knightmare Frames built, and not just converted, with the aesthetics of the 'Black Rebellion' in mind, and of the KMFs of that generation, it is easily my favorite.

4.  MS-018 Kampfer (Gundam 0080: War in the Pocket)

Once upon a time in the winter of U.C. 0080, a mildly intoxicated Zeon soldier with a thick Russian accent laid waste to a Federation task force (and base) single-handedly armed with a prototype Kampfer and a flask of what I can only assume is vodka.  He was able to do this because of three things:

(1).  The element of surprise.  The Kampfer was constructed by the commandos aboard the colony they were infiltrating.  TACTICAL GENIUS!

(2).  He brought guns to a gunfight.  The Kampfer used almost exclusively heavy, anti-mobile suit weapons for the job, and only once failed to bring the target down in a single shot.  Even that time (against the RX NT-1), Misha used *extremely gratuitous* firepower on his target.

(3).  He never needed to reload.  Out of ammo?  Drop gun, pull out next gun.  REPEAT.  DO NOT STOP UNTIL EVERY MOTHERF*CKER IS DEAD.

I like the Kampfer because it's a break from the norm for Zeon.  It isn't a mass-produced fodder suit deployed with an anti-light armor weapon that can barely scratch the Gundam's paint, and it isn't an absurdly impractical prototype mobile armor that looks like a shark or a crab or a killer Pac-Man or a glaringly obvious Oedipus complex or a Big Zam (actually, I think that the Big Zam is kind of charming, but that's neither here nor there).  It's a high-performance mobile suit that trades in durability for guns, guns, swords, bombs, and more guns.

Yes, in the end, the Kampfer (and Misha) weren't enough to take out a Gundam 1v1.  What people often overlook is that they had to steamroll an entire Federation detachment in an orgy of destruction that would make many Newtype aces blush just to get to that fateful fight.  SOMEBODY in Zeon engineering got something right with this machine, which is essentially the Mobile Suit equivalent of one of those high-caliber rifles you can disassemble and hide in the secret compartment of a suitcase mostly filled with your classy business attire and vodka for martinis.  Only when you get it out, the gun has more guns hidden in it.

It's a pity that only one saw action, and without a Newtype pilot at that.

5.  MSN-001A1 'Delta Plus' (Mobile Suit Gundam Unicorn)

I like the Hyaku Shiki because it's *almost* a Gundam.  Just like Char is *almost* a good person throughout Zeta Gundam.  But for the Hyaku Shiki, some things are off (in interesting ways), so it falls just outside that definition.  And in the end, Char's still kind of a dick.

But the Hyaku Shiki isn't getting a spot on the list, because of a certain hot little number from Unicorn called the Delta Plus.  It has a few things in its favor.  It drops the unwieldy and rarely useful Hyper Mega Particle Bazooka and spends those points on a Wave Rider mode, giving it improved versatility and semi-believable atmospheric flight capabilities.  And I admit that I like me some transforming robots.  It drops the trademark gold anti-beam coating (which always struck me as a bit ostentatious, if impressive) for a sleek gray coat.  The Delta Plus knows that it doesn't need flashy colors or oversized guns to draw attention to itself.  It isn't compensating for anything.

6.  Hyukelion/Hykelion/We need to agree on some names for this show (Broken Blade)

Say what you will about robot cloaks, but I like them, at least aesthetically.  The cool thing about the Hyukelion, though, is that its robot cloak is functional.  Most of the machines in Broken Blade stick quite closely to the human form - head, torso, two arms, two legs.  And the Hyukelion appears this way - until you get close enough to find out how terrifyingly it defies this unspoken aesthetic rule of war.  The Hyukelion is Borcuse/Phorcys' murderous pragmatism given form - it too takes on the form of a monster (the extra, unexpected "arms" hidden beneath said robot cloak) when needed.  And the cloak, and the deadly secrets it hides, make the Hyukelion one ominous motherf*cker, and a great mech for a such an unrepentant villain.

7.  Vardant (Linebarrels of Iron)

I read a bit of the manga, and it was lackluster.  I watched a bit of the show, and it was UNFORGIVABLY AWFUL.

I still love several of the mechanical design, but especially this one.

Impractically large number of swords?  Check.
Samurai armor theme?  Check.
Single horn?  Check.
Mono-eye (mounted in the chest)? Gravy.

It's like Senbonzakura and Eva Unit 00 got together and made some kind of abomination offspring.  THE BEST KIND OF ABOMINATION!

8.  GP-02A 'Physallis' (Gundam 0083: Stardust Memory)

So, this may seem an odd pick, but I really like the GP-02 for a couple of reasons.  First and foremost, it's a Gundam-type mobile suit, but it was designed with a specific and sinister purpose - delivery of a tactical nuke.  This comes out in the design, both practically and aesthetically - it possesses a villainous flare that just isn't present in most Universal Century Gundams.  The heavy tower shield, the large pauldrons, and the sheer size of the feet all make sense for what it is - a specialized artillery piece that has to survive its own deadly attack, but also give it a sense of mass - of gravity - that isn't present (but contrasts wonderfully) with the more traditionally 'heroic' GP-01 (and GP-01FV/B).  It's a bit reminiscent of the Quin Mantha/Kshatriya in this regard (and in regard to the Pauldron Wings), but unlike those two, it also integrates the traditional 'Gundam' elements in recognizable ways, which creates an odd and compelling contrast.  I love the skull-like design of the head.

Another interesting contrast in the GP-02 is that it is equipped with two kinds of weapons - small, defensive ones (Vulcans, Beam Sabers), and A GODDAM NUKE.  Given that one of these is kind of a one-shot deal that takes significant time to set up, it means that the pilot has to play defensively most of the time.  This works out well for Stardust Memory, and lets it get away with having relatively inexperienced, non-Newtype protagonists go up against veteran war heroes without being slaughtered instantly.  The GP-02 isn't really equipped for anti-Mobile Suit combat, and given its role (essentially, nuclear sniper), this makes sense.  It is built to get one job done (and it does).

And finally, it has PAULDRONS, which means that it's important.

9.  NT-1 'ALEX' (Gundam 0080: War in the Pocket)

The 'ALEX' is probably my favorite incarnation of the 'classic Gundam.'  It's a couple of things - a more detailed design used for animation, the fact that, unlike many Gundams (looking at YOU, RX-78-2) it takes visible damage from just about everything, the lack of lots of "hey, shoot me!" red in the color scheme.

But mostly it's the wrist-mounted gatling guns.  Yes, there's no space for those guns in those wrists.

I don't care.  They're WRIST MOUNTED GATLING GUNS, and it's all worth it for the look on the other pilot's face when they come popping out, spitting a zillion rounds of hot metal death per second.

10.  RX-0 'Unicorn' (Unicorn Mode) (Mobile Suit Gundam Unicorn)

I'll be honest, I'm not that big of a fan of Destroy Mode.  It isn't bad, but other than the oversized head-fins it isn't terribly visually distinct from the 'classic Gundam.'  Also, it's kind of overpowered, but that's a different matter.

The Unicorn Mode, however, I really do like.  In this mode, it is actually quite unique-looking, picking up the best elements of the EZ-8, moving the 'eyes' into a slim 'visor,' and adding the 'horn' that becomes the head-fins in Destroy Mode.  All three of these things make it visually distinct from other Gundams.  The different face (mostly featureless) evokes a different feel, and the horn tempts the animators to show the Unicorn in profile, which (because of their "v-shaped" head-fins) is often an awkward angle for traditional Gundams.

11.  VF-25 'Messiah' (Ozma Custom) (Macross Frontier)

DAT HEAD.  I'm not usually a big fan of the heads of Valkyries, but Ozma's is totally awesome.  Naturally.

Suddenly, missiles.  Missiles everywhere.

12.  MSN-04 'Sazabi' (Char's Counterattack)

I'm one of those people who got into the franchise a bit out of order.  For most, Char's iconic machine is the red Zaku II (thrice as fast!).  For many other, his iconic mobile suit (and personality depiction) come in Zeta Gundam, with the Hyaku Shiki.  But I saw Char's Counterattack first, and that Sazabi is, to borrow a phrase, "one badass mother."  It's equipped with something called a "Beam Shot Rifle."  From its name (and uses in the film), this appears to be some kind of terrifying Beam Rifle/Shotgun Hybrid ideal for ruining the day of zombies and Jegans alike.

But the Sazabi isn't just about impressive firepower.  CCA's Char is a politician - whether he likes it or not - and so he rides in style.  The Sazabi invokes the great machines of Zeon's past (Zaku II, Gelgoog) while embracing the future of Mobile Suit Tech (Funnels, psychoframes, escape basketball cockpits), and it does it while covered in bulky, imposing armor.

Of course, putting bulky armor on things can go a bit too far, I suppose.

It's worth noting that this spot very nearly went to the Sinanju, a wonderful update of the classic machine.  The extension of the shoulders into the wing-like fronds is a nice but not overly ambitious touch, and the head is pretty pimpin'.  It just looks so wonderfully disdainful sometimes.

But I've got too much Unicorn stuff on here already, so for lack of a clear favorite between the two, the classic wins out this time.


I love this mech.  Transformable and versatile, practical.  Difficult to use, but still effective enough that you can believe that people would WANT to use it.  The gatling gun nets it a +1 awesome, if a -1 to real-life practicality.

But I almost* invariably hate CG robots in animated works, and this one was only passable.

It would have been higher if not for that.

14.  AMS-129 'Geara Zulu'

I like Zakus, and permutations thereof, a lot.  However, the Geara Zulu has something the standard Zaku lacks - a creepy WWI-style gas mask! 

15.  Evangelion Unit 01 (Berserk Mode) (Evangelion, End of Evangelion, "Hey, give us more money"vangelion: The Movie, etc, etc)

The only biological weapon on the list (unless the Linebarrels thing is biological, but I truly don't care enough to find out), and one of only two Super Robots (Hi again Linebarrels!).  An extremely memorable profile (that I like, and is echoed in many other designs, like the Unicorn*), and the absolutely feral countenance it assumes when the gloves (restraining bolts) come off help to move this abomination against nature and God from 'another quirky Gainax thing' to 'List-Worthy death machine.'  When Unit 01 enters its battle-rage, reason loses its grip not only on the pilot, but on reality itself.  Inexplicable things start happening, and the animation style often shifts slightly.  And the Eva's hunger is so palpable you can almost taste the blood in your mouth.

*(Exception: Macross Frontier.  No clue how they did it, but they made me actually like the use of CG robots in an anime.)
**(Come to think, the Unicorn "breaks" out of its armor when it enters Destroyer mode and begins to use the pilot merely as a conduit to channel emotion so that it can go on a rampage and slaughter any Newtype unfortunate enough to be in range, and it's somehow connected to a prophecy about a step in human evolution that could bring about the end of the world..., it's probably nothing.)



  1. I dunno, I think this one always hold the first place in my heart:

  2. We need to figure out if there's a way to get links in the comments to work.

    Also, you're a troll.

  3. Geara Zulu: Black Templar mobile suit.

    Also, on the subject of 0080:

    Shopkeep: Here are the explosives you wanted, large man whose name I don't know with a thick Russian accent. That sure is some strong stuff you've got there.
    Misha: Strong enough to break through colony wall? (*laughs*)
    Shopkeep: Now that you mention it... Yes. That is at least enough to break through the colony wall. Why am I allowed to sell you this many explosives on a space colony? Why am I allowed to have so many high-grade explosives in one place in a space colony? Why am I allowing you to transport said explosives in your pickup truck, which could crash right outside my place of business, thus making me the first person to get sucked out into the vacuum of space in an ironic gesture by the universe for being so irresponsible with my business practices (I don't count you as being the first person sucked out because you'd be blown into way too many pieces to be considered anything close to a person by that point). Why would you even mention the possibility of using those explosives to break through the colony wall? It wouldn't by any chance be because THAT'S EXACTLY WHAT YOU'RE PLANNING ON DOING IN LESS THAN 24 HOURS FROM NOW, IS IT?
    Misha: Nope.

    *Less than 24 hours later*


    I was fine with everything in that movie except when Misha got the materials to blow a hole in the colony wall so easily and that when he got said materials, he said almost EXACTLY THE WRONG THING and still pulled it off.

    Otherwise, a great, detailed list.

  4. Thought process: He's being so blatantly honest about it, he has to be joking!

    Also, who *doesn't* keep a large stockpile of explosives together? That's why buildings always blow up so pretty in movies and stuff!

  5. I'm surprised you didn't mention Nu-13, especially since Vardant's pretty clearly ripping off her.

  6. Nah man, it's the Hi-Nu Gundam that's ripping her off, remember?