Show this to your noobie friends, who wish to become as l33t as us in terms of anime fandom. In my upcoming self-help series of posts, I shall express in a number of simple steps "Become a l33t XXXX Fan in X Steps" where XXX is not porn, but a certain genre of anime.
The rationale for writing this post at 6 am, other than the fact that I have an exam in 3 hours and cannot seem to fall asleep at all, is to provide a structured and efficient guide for newcomers to become seasoned pros. It seems that people always give excuses for their noobiness, such as "I don’t know where to start!" or "I don’t understand this!" but all those shall not be applicable once this guide is up and ready.
The first chapter of the guide shall focus on the mecha genre. If you’re a male, and feel inadequately equipped to participate in the indepth technical discussions of Gundam, Macross and other seemingly old school mecha series, read on.
The very first thing a noob should do is to cultivate an interest and a basic idea of what is a mecha. To do that, you (2nd person from now on) should watch an interesting, gripping, long series featuring mecha, that is aimed at laymen. Such a series would not be overly technical, have lots of drama, uncomplicated fights, cool mechas and pretty boys/girls. It must not have dated animation or look old, as this would turn you off. In short, you must watch GUNDAM SEED.
Gundam Seed is essentially the entire Gundam universe condensed into a soap opera. You will learn the basics of many mecha conventions, including space colonies, beam sabers, transformations, nuclear reactors, super powered mecha suits destroying many grunt suits, teenage pilots and Haro. You will also understand the world of Gundam, albeit in a simplified modernised version.
After Seed, it is time to move on and learn that mecha come in all shapes and sizes. Unrealistic designs like Gundam Seed’s serve to sell model kits. You will now see Macross Zero, which will shock you with its awesome animation and beautiful mecha designs, that leave you totally in love with the Valkyries and their versatility. After Macross Zero, you will be able to talk about why Valkyries are better than Gundams, even if you don’t know shit about Macross. You will be able to map form to function, and be discerning if which parts of the mecha are useful. Further readings include Macross Plus, but these are optional. Nobody really talks about anything besides Zero and Plus these days because Macross is really known for its mecha designs by Kawamori Shoji only. Remember this name, Kawamori Shoji as he will pop up often and if you have to know only one name, this is it.
Alright, so now you know what is a typical Gundam and what is a Valkyrie. The 3rd most important type of mecha is the Super Robot, but because most Super Robot fans are huge otakus, you can ignore the traditional ways of learning about them (Super Robot Wars) and watch Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann. Gurren Lagann will teach you about how mecha can use the spirit of manliness and defeat the enemy in exponentially-increasing scales of explosions, in proportion with the amount of belief needed to be suspended. Galaxy Shuriken? OK!
Now, the time has come for you to make a choice. Do you wish to major in realistic hard scifi mecha, flashy Super Robot, or a hybrid?
Those intending to major in hard scifi will proceed onto 08th MS Team and MS Igloo. You can ignore Votoms, it’s too old to be relevant. Watching the above two series will teach you about mecha battle tactics in a real world setting, and how teamwork is more important than the specs of the mecha. Preparation, resource limitation and deaths can also be learnt about. Hard Scifi Mecha majors will have more prestige than the rest, but suffer from a chronic lack of shows to talk about besides the above two.
Super Robot majors will first see Sousei no Aquarion, which is the best modern Super Robot anime besides Gurren Lagann. It has Kawamori Shoji designs so you can show that off. You can also discover how every attack has a move with a bombastically pompous name like "Super Unlimited Infinity Solar Punch Kick Spin Flare Laser Smash Volley Goal Whipped Potato". After that, move on to video games, such as Super Robot Wars. In fact, they should just play everything. Nobody cares about them anyway. If you intend to follow this path, you will gain the skills of Idealism and Non-stop Chatter about theoretical scales of power. Like, WOAH GRAVION IS WEAK COMPARED TO RAIJINOH. Or whatever.
The school that most people choose is obviously the hybrid, where there is a certain degree of realism and big bang explosions combined. Hybrid majors can ignore the ranting of the purists above. Now, equipped with knowledge gained from the basic lessons, it is time to go into the shows where everyone has seen and enjoyed, but you have yet to because of a previous lack of knowledge. First off, see Evangelion, preferably the movie series as it’s newer and thus has better animation. You have to see Eva because everyone else has, not because it’s that good. Eva will teach you about how mecha shows can pretend to be really deep and character-driven, even if they aren’t.
After you learn through Eva about how the big robots can serve as accessories in a convoluted plot, it is time to see how mecha can be interwoven into comedy. No show does it better than Full Metal Panic. This one you’ll have to see from season 1, Fumoffu, then the 2nd Raid. FMP will let you appreciate how unfunny most mecha shows are, and how difficult it is to weave humour into a show with maruding giant robos. You should not view FMP before this stage as you will not be able to comprehend the realistic military tactics and operational procedures involved fully as well as the Super Robot-ish Lambda Drivers. So you will need to have a solid grounding in hybrid hard/super theory.
The final learning chapter will teach you about the intricacies of Cyberpunk, Steampunk, Space opera and other subgenres of mecha. This is slightly difficult for newbies but is essential in understanding of higher quality anime. Steampunk is when Victorian designs, steam engines and other dirty looking stuff are used in a setting where they have far greater capabilities than what they had historically. For example, Last Exile, Sakura Wars etc. Sakura Wars is a better example of Steampunk mecha, but it is a shit show so just look at the pictures.
Cyberpunk’s best example is Ghost in the Shell, but that is saved for your graduate studies and pinnacle of mecha education. So just understand that cyberpunk is a largely dystopian setting where scary, realistic things are being done with technology, mostly involving mind control, hacking, hive mind etc. Like maybe Ergo Proxy, but that’s also a shit show so ignore it and look at the pictures only.
Finally, for your graduate studies, watch Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, its season 2 and then the movie called Solid State Society. You can safely ignore the GitS original movie as well as the 2nd movie, Innocence. Your knowledge of mecha anatomy, battle tactics, cyberpunk conventions, terminologies, patience in watching plot unfold, story cognitive abilities etc will be put to the test in the best mecha series so far in the history of mankind. If you don’t enjoy this show, go back to step 1 and watch Gundam Seed Destiny.
Once you’ve finished with GitS: SAC, you’re pretty much done with your education in mecha. Nothing else will surprise you, you can join into the bulk of every conversation and you’ll be… hard core. All that with just the viewing of:
1. Gundam Seed.
2. Macross Zero.
3. Gurren Lagann.
4. MS Igloo/ 08th MS Team or Sousei no Aquarion
7. Pictures of Ergo Proxy/ Sakura Wars
8. GitS: SAC, 2, and SSS.
There you go, in just 8 anime series, some of which are extremely short, you have learnt about and covered the entire mecha universe! Roughly. From here on, most mecha shows you see will be inferior to the 8 anyway. This is the quickest way to bring a total noob up into a graduate student of Mechalogy, based on entirely modern anime rather than old classics which are generally looked upon with rose tinted glasses.
Further readings include
Xenogears. Play the game and realise that all anime storylines are shit compared to it.
Eureka seveN. See more Kawamori Shoji.
Gigantic Formula. Shows the designs of 13 famous mecha artists. Other than that, it’s shit.
Nadesico. Just to shut people up.
IGPX. The ultimate in racing robots.
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