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.