Moments of 2009: A Definitive Portrayal How Mecha Can Rule the Battlefield

No I’m not talking about realism. I’m just interested in a more or less complete picture in how mecha can change the face of warfare. It’s the conceit of Gundam, and any real robot show for that matter. From the original 0079 Mobile Suit Gundam, to Macross, to Code Geass, mecha is presented as the present and future of warfare. I’m not sure if Mobile Suit Gundam MS Igloo 2 episode 3 will convince anyone, but to me it’s the most complete display of combined arms warfare involving mecha.

Why do I even feel the need for this? It’s because that mecha fights started out as giant metal monsters swatting conventional aircraft a-la King Kong, or stomping on them like Godzilla. Eventually this led to robot vs. robot brawls, but ultimately the format is a duel between the titular mecha (mecha anime are named after the featured mecha so no one makes the mistake of buying the wrong toy robot) and the rival or monster of the week.

Even in the transition to real robot, you had either duels (a lot of these in Code Geass and Gundam 00), or dogfights (Macross franchise – though Macross Frontier episode 07 is also a great combined arms display — though in space). If not that, you had a mecha deliver massive area of effect damage against many enemies (Code Geass again, Gundam 00 again). The problem here is that why shouldn’t these mecha mounted weapons be used by non-mecha vehicles?

I accept the Rule of Cool, but it’d be great if other rules can be observed too. Hence this big fray in the ‘Odessa’ campaign during Universal Century Gundam’s ‘One Year War’ is such a treat. You have artillery, air support (albeit marginalized|nerfed  to a ridiculous degree; don’t be fooled by the core fighter scoring against Zakus — it’s just a core fighter), tanks, and infantry in one big mess of a battlefield.

But why exactly do I think this episode is superlative? It’s because it did just enough with involving the combined arms conceit. More would be nice, but I don’t think it’s detrimental not to have more. Instead we are shown very awesome feats of piloting and carnage by the individual hero. Ultimately Gundam and mecha anime is vehicular to the exploits of the individual pilot, and it doesn’t break tradition here.

First moment: Conventional Tank meets Mecha Tank (by conventional tank I merely mean it doesn’t turn into a robot specifically; never mind the ret-con for transformable real robots prior to Macross or Southern Cross).

CRUSH! Opposing mecha are dispatched with the main ordinance, but infantry are dealt with using a flame thrower, and another tank is dealt with via physical ownage at the closest possible range. It’s the conceit: mecha deal with other mecha on equal terms, but conventional weapons are dispatched with crushing contempt.

Second moment: Death from Above

Not that ‘rival’ mecha won’t be engaged up close, but in such cases the fight takes more the form of a duel, which features rather spectacular moves, one of which is called in mecha gaming as ‘Death from Above.’

Death from Above is an old ‘Classic’ Battletech (tabletop game) and Mechwarrior (pen and paper RPG) move wherein the mecha is vaulted in the air (usually using jump jets) with the intent of smashing feet first on a target (usually another mecha). It was quite rare and difficult to pull off, with very high risk. It’s rather fun to see the move as a highlight spectacle here. The Guntank merely used velocity and an incline to vault itself in the air, but the result is the same: Enemy Zaku is CRUSHED.

What we have here is a moment wherein the combined arms aspect of warfare is rather deliciously fleshed out; then the order of things is reinforced: mecha > conventional weapons (vehicles); then mecha vs. mecha fighting is displayed to be the most spectacular and awesome. This is the triumph I see in this show, and particularly this episode. Glorious.

Further Reading:

The idea that this kind of show represents the best of Gundam (action?) has its supporters (crusader 2009/08/30)
This series is a breath of fresh air for mecha and of course Gundam fans (Kaioshin Sama 2009/05/25)
How Macross does combined arms warfare with gorgeous mecha [->]
This post is part of CCY’s annual 12 Memories of Anime 2009 activities, his first post is out now (CCY 2009/12/14)
Unfamiliar with Gundam but really curious to get into it? Do this first! FIND YOUR GATEWAY GUNDAM

About ghostlightning

I entered the anime blogging sphere as a lurker around Spring 2008. We Remember Love is my first anime blog. Click here if this is your first time to visit WRL.
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20 Responses to Moments of 2009: A Definitive Portrayal How Mecha Can Rule the Battlefield

  1. DonKangolJones says:

    Well, I haven’t jumped into the IGLOO part of the Gundam universe yet, but I can share my love for the “mecha bias” that we see in such mecha shows. Much of the time I prefer the real robot battles that are portrayed in these kinds of shows. I guess the closest anime I can relate to IGLOO in my experience is 08th MS Team. In that show, it is nice to see that superior weapons are only superior due to the pilot’s competence.

    In some shows, the mecha are so superior that you wonder why the militaries use anything besides mecha. In shows like Gundam & Code Geass, the mecha are basically walking, flying battleships. Macross is a bit more humble in that they are walking, flying jet fighter bots. And further down the line for shows like VOTOMS, & to some extent the Gundam series, the mecha are big cumbersome walking tanks that need oil, maintenance, love (not creepy Gundam Wing love, min you) & a well trained pilot. Exceptions: see Newtypes/Coordinators/Innovators.

    • I didn’t like the first MS Igloo much, though I must say the first, and last episodes are worth the watch. This installment though, all three episodes are rather excellent pieces of entertainment — the problems re story, character performances, the shinigami nonsense, don’t really matter much.

      This installment accomplishes many of what Kaioshin talks about below, but for me the standout aspect is the battlefield action. If you’re starved for mechanized combat, this will satisfy you.

      The superior mecha you talk about in contemporary Gundam, and the latter parts of Code Geass are more due to the fetishization of the superprototype, which is to me — a barely hidden love affair with the super robot shows that came before. So much power is packed in singular units, that military maneuvers and tactics are duly torn asunder by the imbalance they bring onto the battlefields.

      An unlikely comparison would be how the named heroes fought in Tokien’s work, specifically those from The Silmarillion, where Fingolfin stood toe-to-toe with a God (a Greek god equivalent); and Feanor (another elf) single handedly took on all the balrogs. ‘Lesser’ Noldor elves would kill many many orcs the same way Gundams Kyrios, or specifically Exia would tear through dozens of mass-produced mobile suits.

      I do believe that superprototypes vs mass-produced squads can be done well. It is for this reason that I treasure Mobile Suit Gundam 0083: Stardust Memory above all Gundam shows. Conversely, I believe mass-produced grunt units can take on a prototype monster in a one-on-one fight plausibly and remarkably and this is one of the reasons I treasure Mobile Suit Gundam 0080: War in the Pocket above most Gundam shows.

  2. Certainly one of the best moments of the past year. The first time I watched it I had to replay that opening scene two or three times. All the various weapons, coming together in the climactic ground battle of the One Year War, and set to great and somewhat sorrowful music to boot! Being as into IRL military stuff as I am, I’m always impressed when a show uses realistic (for its universe) tactics and equipment/weaponry. Air power and artillery almost always get neglected because their effectiveness against mecha in a real world situation would be a little inconvenient for mecha writers/fans. But at least in this episode their power was acknowledged, even if it was downplayed.

    I remember Death From Above. While I never played the tabletop games, I was a big fan of the universe and played the MechWarrior computer games since I was really young (MW2: Mercenaries and MW4: Mercenaries being my favorites, though MW3 definitely was the best in terms of ‘realism’ and faithfulness to the tabletop) and read some of the novels. I pulled off Death From Above a few times when things got desperate and even though it damaged your mech’s legs a good bit and knocked you down, it was pretty devastating against an enemy. Plus if you had jump jets and they didn’t (or didn’t utilize them) you could get back on your feet and firing before they could. Good times. I would kill a man for a Mechwarrior 5 game, though unfortunately it seems that the franchise is done.

    • LOL I remember how a squad, er, lance engagement of 4 vs. 4 mechs took us over four fucking hours to play. It was terrible, with soooo many numbers to keep track of, such ridiculously underpowered weapons, and even more ridiculous aircraft nerfing. We figured how terrible the game was soon enough, but it was the only game where we can fight with big robots among my brothers and our friends. So we persisted.

      We played many of the video games too, and even the collectible card game. But my handle, ghostlightning is that of a terrible and feared champion in Mechwarrior: Dark Age tournaments (the miniatures game) back in 2003. What was terrible about me was I was an odious and irrepressible troll in the local forums, though I made sure I was friends with almost everyone. I wasn’t the best player though. That would be my kid brother who went by the handle Honey who was the National Champion that year.

      Ultimately, the game still sucked. But again, we played it for the opportunity to set robots on each other. I had my share of pulling death from above stunts during my time playing that game.

      I remember the 2025 technical readout, illustrated by Duane Loose. Man you can see all the designs from Macross and Dunbine. I didn’t understand it back then, but it’s really lulzy now considering that the MADCAT is supposed to look like the MAD-Marauder, who doesn’t have official images (or at least for a long time while we were into the game).

    • Droniac says:

      This reply is a tad late, but I thought it worth mentioning that the Mechwarrior franchise is not done.

      Aside from MechWarrior 4 being re-released for free (with a whole bunch of fan-made extras) last year, there’s also the upcoming MechWarrior reboot to consider. It’s in development at Piranha Games for PC and Xbox 360 platforms and a pre-production concept CG trailer can be found at GameTrailers. Supposedly the new MechWarrior will be a prequel to the first game in the series.

      More important, in my opinion, is the popular MechWarrior: Living Legends total conversion for Crysis. It’s a combined-arms warfare game with infantry, tanks, airplanes and even space battles in addition to BattleTech mechs. Many consider it to be superior to the MechWarrior franchise itself even in its current, far from complete, beta form. It also helps that the game looks absolutely amazing thanks to CryEngine 2. Crysis is still the most beautiful video game ever made (not in terms of art direction or aesthetics, but in the level of detail and the way lighting and shadows are handled) and it shows even in its mods.

      • Not being a PC-gamer anymore, it’s harder for me to get excited about these things. It’s still great news however!

        Having said that, I really think that PC simulation-style gaming (or even tactical gaming or RTS) is a far superior expression of Battletech than the pen and paper game I played back in the day. The fights resolve ^9000 times faster and provides a truly exciting experience. I’m all for imagination and such, but the very notion that a small skirmish takes days of real-time to play through is nuts.

  3. kadian1364 says:

    Oh yes, glorious cg mech action. That’s all I ever wanted from the Igloo series, which it doled out in spades.

    The eerily exaggerated, sometimes hysterically comical characters are another matter, but luckily they all got killed off before any one of them got too annoying.

    • Blame it on the overacting of motion capture actors.

      I think MS Igloo 2 was big for furthering my enjoyment of the OYW Gundam story. It really does help to illustrate the way in which Gundam is like the quintessential war story of a battle that seems lost and hopeless at first as Zeon is totally overrunning Earth and as we see the helplessness and anger in soldiers like Ben Barberry who desperately want to fight back and yet can do little but retreat and lose more and more ground and good men to the onslaught of the Zaku II. However by the time we get around to Arleen’s story we start to see how when the technology of the mobile suit is married with the determination of the E.F.F soldiers to stave off domination by Zeon and Gihren’s Ambition that they are able to turn the tide and beat Zeon off of Earth, turn the tide and ultimately win the war as we see in Mobile Suit Gundam.

      At no point is it really easy though, and I think MS Igloo 2 like the original series does a great job of showing that in the deaths and personal sufferings of each main character of the episode even as they afforded less screen time than the average Gundam lead. So at the end of it all I have to say that MS Igloo 2 does a great service to not only the war epic and tales of heroism, but also the mecha genre. For it shows what I’ve always felt about war, and that is that even the greatest of men is powerless without the weapons with which to wage a just war at the same time as a weapon is useless without the courage of a hero to put it to use properly in that just war.

      Hope this makes up for the dreary posts on K-On and Haruhi there ghosty. 😉

      • I think MS Igloo 2 like the original series does a great job of showing that in the deaths and personal sufferings of each main character of the episode even as they afforded less screen time than the average Gundam lead.

        Yes, I agree. I’m rather taken by how much you feel for the show and look forward to your blogging Unicorn.

    • I still can’t stand most of the first series, in part due to the terrible CG performances.

  4. Crusader says:

    It should have been a movie, but I did enjoy every minute of it. As far as conventional weapons go most of the mobile suits weren’t all powerful and they did get pummeled by artillery which is the longest reigning KING OF BATTLE. Nazon and her team didn’t take that hill all by themselves, that Big Tray, and Heavy Fork helped out too, not to mention the GMs helped shoot that Gouf in the ass.

    Granted a mecha is probably unfeasible as a weapon given the technology required just to make it walk, but Igloo 2-3 was a delightful presentation on how it might look. Certainly I would hope to seem more mecha series adopt the combined arms conceit since it means more designs and more combination of confrontation not to mention how awe inspiring the sight of so much hardware, and GMs is.

    • Yeah man, nothing says KING OF BATTLE than making a mission for the Queen to check the Dabudes. Artillery really was awesome here, and was really cool of the show to showcase it since space battles used beam weapons primarily: another reason why I like Macross more. Kinetic weapons rock, beam weapons are awesome too — but selectively.

      The mass action of so much hardware is indeed awesome. I want more of it. Like I keep yammering about, GIVE ME JABURO.

  5. Pingback: Kaioshin on Mobile Suit Gundam MS Igloo II « The Ghosts of Discussions

  6. animewriter says:

    Now, this is rock-in, as a former IRL infantryman I can say that infantry is the queen of battle, armor is the arm of decision, and artillery is the KING OF BATTLE. Napoleon once said “God fights on the side with the best artillery”.

    • In the game I was sharing with Executive Otaku above (Mechwarrior: Dark Age tabletop miniatures game), the designers attempted to introduce artillery. The results were terrible — since the game was supposed to be tactical in nature, and artillery was supposed to be KINGS OF BATTLE the consequence was that mecha became a liability in battle force composition.

      Of course we wanted to play the game for the mecha, so much suffering was had by all.

  7. B-Mecha says:

    I watched this episodes few months ago. The new guntank is really kick ass when it comes to ground battle. However… it is kind of suicidal where they actually charged to the enemy with long range support unit? =___=

    Personally, I would love to think that high speed tank can actually perform better than a 2 legged mech for ground battle.

    • Well, the Guntank here isn’t technically new — as it was made during the OYW. There isn’t much of a case for a 2-legged ground mech if you think about it: it’s tall profile makes it a big target. It’s running speed is slow. It’s high center of gravity doesn’t make it a superior gun platform.

      This is why Gundam is even more ‘fantastic’ than Mazinger if you ask me. Mazinger doesn’t pretend to realism, while Gundam attempts for a realistic aesthetic. This too, however, is why I like Gundam more.

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