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10 Peak Mecha Designs (In My Opinion)

10-peak-mecha-designs-in-my-opinion


Yeah, I’m just jumping into that peak mecha bandwagon in social media. But then, someone asked me what I think is the peak mecha design. It’s a matter of taste and opinion. Chances are, what I like is something you don’t like. But I will pick 10 of the mecha designs which I think are the best according to my taste, and to the criteria you will see below. They range from the classics to the well-known, and even from non-anime films.

What Makes a Peak Mecha Design

For me, the best mecha out there should be:

1. Aesthetically good looking.

2. Has impact on pop culture.

3. Influential.

Hence, here is the list of what I think are peak mecha designs. Do note that the list below is not based on rankings. Hence number 10 is not the worst, and number one is not the best. They are all equal.


1. Mazinger Z

The real king of mecha.

The real king of mecha.

The concept of the giant robot being piloted by a human wouldn’t have come to be, if not for Go Nagai. Once he was stuck in traffic, and he wished for cars with legs to bypass the congested road. And his fantasies later evolved into the concept of a piloted giant robot, which gave birth to Mazinger Z.

And surely, Mazinger Z is a certified classic.

The recognizable aesthetics of Mazinger Z still holds up today, in the sea of giant robots. And we could say that every mecha owed its existence to Go Nagai’s giant monstrosity. Guillermo del Toro even cited that Mazinger Z has an influence on Pacific Rim. So mecha anime fans, hats off to Go Nagai for basically changing the face of anime and pop culture.

2. GoLion/Voltron

Defender of the Universe.

Defender of the Universe.

Western fans won’t recognize Beast King GoLion, but the American version Voltron, Defenders of the Universe will ring a bell. If Mazinger Z is a classic back in Japan, Voltron is perhaps the most popular Super Robot type mecha in the U.S.

For a good reason.

It’s unique aesthetics of robotic lions merging to form a mecha with lion heads for hands and feet is a hit among fans. And to complete the picture of perfection is an imposing Blazing Sword it wields. Simply put, it was unique, even by modern standards. For Gen X, Voltron will come to mind if giant robots are mentioned. Peak mecha design indeed!

3. Walkers (Star Wars)

Timeless!

Timeless!

But peak mecha design is not exclusive to anime. Unlike the more humanoid Japanese mecha, western mecha tend to be more vehicle-like. But that doesn’t stop some western mecha from being a classic.

Together with various piloted vehicles of Star Wars, fans surely remember its own version of giant robots. The walkers. They were first seen in Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi (All Terrain Armored Transport and All Terrain Scout Transport). They were brought to life through stop-motion and matte paintings, and more variants of these mechanical monsters are introduced in the prequels and side stories. They served as transport and armored cavalry, taking the roles of tanks and IFV in the real world. And since making their appearance, they became a celebrated part of Star Wars lore

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4. The Veritech/Variable Fighter (Macross)

Plus, they have an idol singer.

Plus, they have an idol singer.

Another 80s classic that will bring back the kid in you. Like the Voltron series, that neat transformable mecha that flies like a normal fighter, before sprouting chicken legs and folding into a humanoid robot was known by different names. If you saw the original Macross series, it was called “variable fighter.” It’s American version “Robotech” refered to the mecha as “veritech fighters. Whatever you call it, this mass produced transformable mecha were the one sent to fight alien invaders in the series, and its aesthetics were based on various American warplanes. The F-15 Eagle air superiority fighter jet, and the carrier-based swing-wing F-14 Tomcat served as inspirations, while the name VF-1 Valkyrie came from a real experimental bomber XB-70 Valkyrie.

And it became a hit for a reason.

One reviewer reckoned that it was the first “Americanized” anime he saw with character depth (in his opinion). While the unique mecha design inspired a myriad of other well-known characters, like the Transformers Jetfire and Starscream.

5. Transformers

Autobots, transform and roll-out!

Autobots, transform and roll-out!

And I know that one’s childhood won’t be complete without the Transformers. They carry the distinction of being the only non-piloted and sentient robot in the list. The real magic of the Transformers is how they take various vehicles (even animals) and transform them into eye catching and colorful giant robots. Yes, they are still classified as giants since the smallest types like Bumblebee exceed the normal human height.

And these guys weren’t just remembered through their toy lines.

Children of the 80s will line up in front of TV to watch its cartoon, and we know how the death of Optimus Prime hits hard. And the fact that big-budgeted movies are still being produced up to now is testament to its timelessness. And lastly, Transformer just became the generic name of any giant robot in the West. Even the Gundams are called Transformers.

6. The original Megazord

It's morph'n time!

It's morph'n time!

The Super-Sentai series was with us since the late 70s, but its introduction to the west as the “Power Ranger” really made an impact. For the America audience, the concept of people transforming into multicolored costumed superheroes, and finishing those monsters in their giant robots was something new. So much that the fans embraced the first Americanized Super Sentai; the adaptation of Kyōryū Sentai Zyuranger into Mighty Morphin Power Rangers.

And no Power Rangers will be complete without the Megazord.

According to some fans, the robotic dinosaurs combining into this robust looking mecha with horns invoked memories of another iconic robot; Voltron. Plus, the original Megazord is simply cool looking, with nothing like it in the west before. More variants of the series, and the megazords that come with it will come, but fans will always remember the first one.

7. The BattleMech (Battletech)

A Destroid knock-off?

A Destroid knock-off?

If you’re into tabletops, BattleTech will surely ring a bell. Basically, it’s a wargame done with miniature robots set in an apocalyptic world (or game mat). And that’s why we love it. And going back to their giant piloted robots (BattleMechs), the design is pretty much western. Exactly what one will expect on the American concept of piloted giant robots. They are more vehicle-like and less humanoid, with their legs resembling that of the Variable Fighter in Gerwalk mode. Others even have four legs. Weapons are mostly onboard and fixed on their limbs and shoulders, although some designs are more humanoid. Overall, the BattleMechs distinguished themselves as robust and rugged giants, compared to the more humanoid and gracile Mecha of Japan. Admittedly some of the designs are not original, and probably a rip-off of some Macross vehicles. While the cartoon adaptation was all but forgettable. But who cares? The franchise remains relevant, and we could say that the BattleMech is one of the legit western giant robots.

8. The EVA Units (Neon Genesis Evangelion)

Get into the robot Shinji!

Get into the robot Shinji!

My list won’t be complete without the most influential 90s mecha. Based on a Japanese demon Oni, Neon Genesis Evangalion’s EVA units are unique in many ways. People are still debating if the thing is a robot or not. It’s a live flesh and blood giant encased in armor for control. But officially, it’s classified as a mecha since it’s piloted and maintained as one. And when the anime came out, the world was introduced to sleek and slender mecha, opposed to the boxier traditional design. To be honest, the anime may not be for everyone, while people claim the themes have deeper meanings. Yet the slender mecha design, and sometimes, the biomechanical build will influence later giant robot aesthetics. Noticeably, some Gundam series seem to adopt the slim EVA-unit design, like the Gundam 00.

If that’s the case, then get into the robot, Shinji!

9. Gundams/Mobile Suits

Gramps!

Gramps!

If Mazinger Z gave birth to the piloted giant robot genre, the original Gundam series kicked started the rise of the Real Robot anime. Some of the peak mecha designs I listed above wouldn’t be here if not for the Gundam revolution. It pioneered the concept of piloted robots close to realism, more serious stories and deeper characters. But the real star here is the mobile suits themselves. It began with the original RX-78-2 Gundam and Zaku, and the rest is history. The red, white and blue robot carved after a samurai warrior, and a rough looking mecha with monoeye will forever be a classic for the fan. The iconic design of those two giant robots was a hit when they were first seen and remains a hit today. The mobile suit aesthetics are simply unique.

10. Gurren Lagann

Basically a more normal Shinji.

Basically a more normal Shinji.

What would we get if Shinji from the Neon Genesis Evangelion was brought up properly? The Mecha anime Gurren Lagan will be the result. It’s an animated science fiction show that earned a rare 100 percent in the rotten tomatoes, with a lively storyline and a mix of elements, not just from the super-robot genre, but from various anime. The emotions it brought are a mix, from comedy, drama, to action. And leading the way is the mecha design that so reflects the entirety of the show.

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