Thanks to Owen for indirectly referencing me to this post idea. I’m a huge super robot fan (as if that isn’t clear enough by now), and there are some things I find lacking in the genre, things that I would really like to see more of.
1) Realistic settings. Not every super robot show has to be about a valiant crusade for something. Not every super robot show needs to top the last one. Case in point, Dai-Guard. I’ve written about Dai-Guard in the past, but its setting deserves attention–it’s really just our Earth except with semi-sentient natural calamities (I mean semi-sentient in the sense of “will fight back when pushed or prodded”). The pilots of Dai-Guard (Akagi excluded) aren’t really out to save the world, they pilot because it’s their job, no matter how crappy the benefits are. Because if no one does it, who would?
And the company that handles Dai-Guard isn’t even special, too. 21st Century Security Corp. doesn’t have cheesy slogans and other nonsense. Giant robot mascot aside, they’re just another security firm that aims to maximize its profits. A part of the show even deals with the company’s stock prices dropping because of the incompetent new management. Awesome problem is awesome. I bet Simon never had to handle stuff like that!
2) Non-combat uses. How about a super rescue robot? Doesn’t even have to be as tall as a skyscraper–but it could easily rescue survivors trapped under a mountain of rubble caused by a major earthquake. Super robots could also repair dams, avert nuclear meltdowns, or help neutralize asteroid threats! I could actually see Mazinger Z taking on roles like this. It even tried to play Mazinger Dryer to complement the Gundam Washing Machine in SRW Alpha Gaiden (sadly, the Breast Fire at minimum setting still burned through most of the clothes).
Hell, at least it would give over-righteous parents a second thought about giant robot shows promoting violence.
3) Piloting a super robot is difficult. A part of /m/ loves to bash super robot pilots as being brainless–anybody with a loud voice and a capacity to push levers could pilot a super robot!
But that isn’t true, at least in the earlier days. Mazinger Z isn’t a strong robot, but Kouji wins battles thanks to his quick wit and ability to improvise (before the Jet Scrander was invented, he once rode Aphrodite A’s oppai missiles to “fly” at the target). And everyone should remember the fact that it took Noriko 4 episodes worth of HARD WORK AND GUTS to finally kick ass in Gunbuster.
People don’t think that piloting a super robot is hard, mainly because most shows don’t really expound on it. Yell attack name, pull lever. Push button, initiate automatic gattai sequence. Scream, power up. Meh.
Getter Robo is one successful franchise that shows piloting to be srsbzns–few people can handle the extreme Gs that Getter pulls, and the act of gattai itself is a difficult process (one prospective pilot screws up and explodes in a cloud of smoke). Also, the Shine Spark is a move that requires all three pilots to be in sync with each other.
I like the sound of “licensed super robot pilot”. You would need to undergo training for it. You’d need to take a board exam, a psychological exam, and a physical exam on top of that. It solves the problem of recruiting angsty high school students for pilots. Please, think of the poor mechs having to deal with TEH EMO.
4) Multiple pilots, multiple jobs. One thing why I never got into Voltes V that much was that out of its 5 pilots, only the leader seemed to be doing the important stuff. The others were all quite useless except for screaming in their cockpits every time Voltes V got hit. The sad thing is that most multi-pilot mechs are like this.
So what’s another way to make piloting difficult, especially for multi-pilot mechs?
Give the pilots different jobs, that is. Aside from the main pilot, why not have the other dudes do stuff like hacking, analyzing enemy data, coordinating with helpful organizations like the police and the military, or monitoring the engine (if the mech is powered by a volatile energy source). A good example is Dai-Guard, which has a main pilot, a data analyst (for finding out the Heterodyne’s structural weakness), and an engineer who controls the engine’s output.
Or, allow each pilot a hand over the main controls. Like Aquarion and Getter. Also meshes well with point #3–gattai in these shows is srsbzns, moreso with Aquarion and its funky Kabbalah themes (Operator: Gattai index dropping! At this rate, the pilots lives are in danger! Disengaging gattai immediately!).
Another way is to make the combined robot form to be the heroes’ trump card. You don’t need to gattai right away–the original Dancougar team only had access to their machines’ Beast Form at the start of the show, acquiring the Humanoid Form later, and by episode 18, combine to form Dancougar itself. It also fits nicely with the show’s theme of “surpassing the beast and man, becoming a god”. Fuck yeah, Dancougar.
5) No cockpits. The evolution of the super robot came in two simple steps: first, the robot was controlled from the outside (via wristwatch or joystick or what-have-you); second, the robot was controlled from an inside cockpit. 99% of all super robots today are cockpit-controlled, which makes sense because inside a gigantic mech of destruction is usually the safest place during a battle.
But that’s no fun! If danger is what you’re looking for, what easier way to achieve it than put your pilots outside the robot? They wouldn’t be called pilots now, but rather, controllers. It’s one of the things that made the mecha fights in Giant Robo awesome. And these so-called controllers don’t even need to be boys in shorts.
It could even attach a new dimension in robot combat. A controller could kill the opposing one to stop his robot, which would mean that he would need some tools and skills to survive, in addition to ordering his robot around. Goodbye, useless pilots!
Just because the concept is outdated doesn’t mean it’s shit.
6) International Super Robot League. No, not the mecha counterpart to ISML. Ever thought about why all super robot threats are almost always centered in Japan? Well, how about other parts of the world? Sure, enemy threats may occur in them, but do the involved countries have a robot countermeasure of their own, and not ask Japan for help? Rarely happens. The only show I can remember with this is Godannar. There are American, British, Chinese and Russian robots too, each having their own bases, and there is a treaty stipulating different branches to actively cooperate with each other. And they’re all quite strong enough to handle threats on their own!
It’s not a huge issue, but simply allowing other countries to have strong super robots of their own make for a well-defined setting.
So, what do you think? Do you agree/disagree? Tell me about it.