Weekend Roundtable: Mecha Robot Mayhem

We’ve done Roundtables in the past about robots and A.I., so our focus this week narrows specifically to the mecha genre, in which human pilots operate robotic suits or vehicles. What are your favorites from movies, TV, comics, video games, or any other media?

Note: Robots that are sentient or can make decisions independently do not qualify for this category. That means no Transformers, Terminator, K.I.T.T., etc.

Brian Hoss

Honestly, who doesn’t love mechs? Giant, pilotable robots from the walkers in ‘Star Wars’ to ‘Voltron’ to even less stellar fare like ‘Real Steel’ or the ‘United States of Japan’ are easy to imagine but nevertheless as elusive as flying cars. For me, the standalone ‘Gundam’ spinoff ‘Gundam Wing‘ is an easy favorite when it comes to this class of fantastic vehicle. In ‘GW’, mobile suits (mechs) have already outclassed all other military equipment (like tanks did over horses) in Earth, space, and in the floating space colonies. The Gundams are then introduced as the ultimate mobile suit, able to take on entire armies with an array of armaments while looking colorfully imposing. Back in the ’90s, the designs of the Gundams were referred to as “Transformers on steroids,” a description that still fits.

Luke Hickman

I hardly watch any anime, but thanks to a good older brother, I’ve become quite a big fan of the ‘Robotech‘ universe. The mechs from the series are especially awesome because of their dual functionalities. At first glance, they’re pilotable jets that can function in both the atmosphere and space, but at any point, the pilot can engage a mode that converts it into a giant mech suit that can hurl a slew of missiles. After years, I still don’t know exactly why you wouldn’t just keep it in jet mode since the functionalities are the same, but since the transforming capability is pretty badass, I won’t complain about it.

Adam Tyner (DVDTalk)

There are 27 different characters to play as in ‘Overwatch‘, but the one I keep coming back to more than any other is D.Va. Why wouldn’t I?

This 19-year-old eSports-champion-turned-superheroine defends her homeland of South Korea and the world at large with a slick looking mech. This walking tank has twin fusion cannons with unlimited ammo, can blast a barrage of micro-missiles at her enemies, and blocks incoming fire with her mech’s force shield defense matrix. MEKA is also equipped with jet boosters and a self-destruct feature, which, when used together, arm D.Va with a rocket-propelled bomb. When D.Va’s mech goes boom, you’re not stuck waiting a few seconds to respawn; she attacks on foot with her light gun and can even summon a new mech, given time.

D.Va is so instantly accessible that she was the first character I played as in ‘Overwatch’, and even nearly two years after the game was officially released, she remains my go-to. Beyond being so fun to play as, I’m a huge fan of the character design. Heck, even if the appeal of Funko Pop’s line of collectibles completely escapes you, I bet you’d still have a tough time denying how incredible D.Va and MEKA’s oversized, richly detailed figurines look.

Chris Boylan (Big Picture Big Sound)

I was pleasantly surprised by the movie version of “Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots,” a.k.a. ‘Real Steel‘. Sure, it’s a bit formulaic, and maybe a bit derivative of films before it (I’m looking at you, ‘Rocky’), but it’s heart-warming and smile-inducing enough for me. And my kids (12 and 14) enjoyed it as well.

Hugh Jackman plays Charlie Kenton, a down-on-his-luck ex-boxer turned Robo-boxer owner/operator. When his robot boxer is destroyed by an angry bull, Kenton reaches a new low: he’s in debt to some bad people and has few prospects. As luck would have it, Kenton is summoned to a custody hearing for his long-lost son, Max, when an ex-girlfriend (the boy’s mother) dies. Seeing an opportunity to make a buck, pay off some debts and be back in business, Charlie offers to “sell” the kid to the boy’s aunt, courtesy of a generous offer from the aunt’s rich husband. But before he can hand over the boy for final payment, Jackman must babysit the kid for the summer while the rich aunt and uncle vacation in Tuscany.

Dakota Goyo plays Max, a precocious lad (aren’t they always?) with a penchant for power tools and… programming robots. When Kenton’s newest robot gets destroyed in the ring, Max and Charlie’s friend (the daughter of his now deceased ex-trainer) Bailey (Evangeline Lilly) are able to put together a working robot from parts left over from the destroyed robot and the shell of a sparring robot they find in a junkyard. It turns out that the sparring robot, Atom, has a rare “mirror mode” function which mimics the motions of its human controller. So as Max uses mirror mode to make Atom do a cute little dance before each match, and as the robot unexpectedly makes it further and further in the competitions, the team comes together as a sort of family. And they start building up a huge fan base for the Little Robot that Could. It all leads to an exciting showdown with the current Robot World Champion. In the big match, damage to the robot’s vocal control system makes it necessary for Charlie himself to perform all the robot’s boxing moves (with the robot shadowing these moves in the ring). It’s Charlie’s chance to make a comeback from his own failed boxing career and to literally fight for his son, in a way that he never has before.

If you’re looking for a feel-good, family-friendly sports-inspired film with a hint of sci-fi thrown in, ‘Real Steel’ is worth watching.

Josh Zyber

For as little anime as I watch, I seem to have mentioned ‘Evangelion’ in a few prior Roundtables. I guess that show is my entry point into the expansive world of mecha anime, which feels like it encompasses an endless number of other series.

Luke sort-of stole my thunder by picking ‘Robotech’. My choice is actually the original 1982 anime that show was derived from, ‘Super Dimension Fortress Macross‘. The plot finds a hotshot teenage pilot recruited into the space navy aboard a massive battleship and at the forefront of a war with an alien race called the Zentradi. Decidedly a kids’ show, the series is often silly and falls victim to a host of clichés common to anime of the era, but it also has a lot of exciting space battles highlighted by the use of “variable fighters” – fighter jets that transform into robot modes. (The planes became so iconic that Hasbro purchased the design to use for the Transformers character named Jetfire.)

When ‘Macross’ was imported into the United States, the American distributor took the liberty of radically re-editing all of the episodes, dubbing them with entirely new dialogue, and even combining the show with two other unrelated series. The brand new program that resulted from this was called ‘Robotech’. That version is a bastardization, but has its own charms too.

Your Turn

Tell us your picks for favorite mecha robots in the Comments below.


  1. Bolo

    Ripley’s entrance in the climax of ‘Aliens’ wearing that mech suit is a crowd pleaser if there ever was one.

  2. Csm101

    Voltron Defender of the Universe Lion Force (favorite) and Vehicle Force Voltron ( second favorite) are some of my childhood go-to’s of all time along with Tranzor Z, Orbots, etc.

  3. David W.

    My first experience with anime was Project A-ko and thanks to the intelligent and villainous B-ko there is plenty of mech action, so this would be my favorite. Marcos’s Plus would be my second choice.

  4. William Henley

    Mechs is one of those generas that, for me, is either hit or miss. The very first one I found that I liked was Evangelion. I never really cared for the Power Rangers tv show, but the newest movie is actually pretty awesome. I never liked the original Voltron, but I LOVE the Netflix series (i think I like it because it never really takes itself that seriously). I also loved Pacific Rim. I never cared for Gundam – I tried.

    Do bionic suits count in the mech genera? For example, Bubblegum Crisis? it has been about 15 years since I have seen it, so I don’t remember much about it, but for me, it was my first anime that had more of a dark feel (that is, not the colorful Sailor Moon / Dragonball / Speed Racer that was many people’s intro to anime)

  5. Chaz Dumbaugh

    I dont know too many my age that didnt grow up watching the original Voltron, really wish I would have hung on to those toys though, cheap plastic ripoffs now a days 🙁

    Also, Gundam Wing when it first showed up dubbed in the US on Toonami’s Midnight Run, fully uncut after midnight. I taped those every time and couldnt wait to watch them, had a good friend back in the day that talked about that with me all the time, really loved that show and its music

  6. No mention of Iron Man… Interesting as it’s probably the highest grossing mech franchise of all time.

    I am a sucker for Robotech though. Even though, as Josh points out, it’s a total muck up of the original Macross, I’m a lifelong fan. Nothing was better than racing home after elementary school to watch my favorite mechs that had such compelling story lines.

    • William Henley

      Yeah, but that kind of goes back to my point, does a bionic supersuit count as a mech? Most of the movies and shows mentioned are with oversized robots. If Iron Man counts, count my vote as well – Iron Man is awesome!

  7. EM

    My first thought was Aliens. But Bolo cited it, and so I’ll move on.

    Tron delivers a virtual version of this concept, when the videogame warriors assume their Light Cycles. This is one of the great moments in cinema. Since the event takes place entirely within cyberspace and all but one of the warriors are AIs with the remaining warrior a digitized human, I realize this example does not conform to this roundtable’s parameters, but surely it deserves an honorable mention. [END OF LINE]

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