Perhaps the only things that Japan loves more than creating wildly improbable plush costumed mascots for every town within its borders are giant robots. Massive pilotable mechs have long dominated the Japanese pop cultural landscape, as well as the city of Tokyo’s actual landscape: for years there has been a giant Gundam statue overlooking Tokyo’s Odaiba Bay. Now with Pacific Rim Uprising hitting theaters on March 23, we’re getting a celebration of all things giant robot on the big screen. Pacific Rim Uprising is a movie that has anime in its DNA, and it shows; it feels like a live action anime in the best way possible. But what about after the credits roll? How do you keep those good giant robot vibes going? Well today on The Dan Cave, I’m going to run down some of the most essential mecha anime that you need to see after watching Pacific Rim: Uprising.
Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion
All great mecha anime needs at least one of the following: Machiavellian geopolitical power struggles, massive robots doing righteous battle, and intrusive Pizza Hut product placement. Code Geass has all three in spades. It’s the story of Lelouch, a young exiled Britannian prince who leads a rebellion in occupied Japan against Imperial Britannian forces. Except unlike other insurgents, Lelouch has a special power called the Geass which lets him command an individual to do anything he wants once by making super intense eye contact. You know, a power that you definitely wouldn’t abuse for evil? Anyway, come for the political intrigue, but stay for the giant robot fights, then wonder what the hell happened when you black back in hours later, surrounded by $300 of pizza with tiny hot dogs attached to the crust like vestigial pigtails.
Image: Studio Nue
You might be saying to yourself, but Dan, where’s Robotech? Well, my friend, the answer is the real Robotech is the anime we met along the way, and one of the shows that made up its Frankensteinian hodgepodge was Macross. There are so many versions of Macross, but to paraphrase Richard Eisenbeis’s excellent primer on Kotaku, it really boils down to a couple core elements: an overwrought love triangle, fighter jets that turn into giant robots, and some certified jams. If you’re confused about where to start, I don’t blame you, but I’d recommend Macross: Frontier, the story of three people–a pop star, a kabuki actor turned military pilot, and an aspiring singer with a tragic past–who are onboard a human spacefleet looking for a habitable planet to colonize. As you might surmise, hijinks and some seriously kickass mecha-on-alien action, ensue.
Full Metal Panic
You know that one kid in high school who was a little too into military history? Well this is the anime all about that kid if he actually was a member of a covert paramilitary organization devoted to fighting terrorism all over the globe. It follows seventeen year old Sousuke Sagara who is tasked by the organization Mithril with protecting a Japanese school girl named Kaname Chidori, who is being targeted by enemy agents due to her incredible ability to create advanced machinery. The only problem–apart from people trying to kidnap Kaname–is that Sousuke is about as well-adjusted as a feral child, so navigating high school could prove even trickier than saving the world. So if you like your high school comedies tempered with a heaping helping of giant robots kicking the ever-loving crap out of one another, this is the anime for you.
Image: Aniplex of America
Row, row, fight the powers that be that have kept you from experiencing the majesty of Gurren Lagann. It’s a show all about believing in yourself. Well, actually not quite believing in yourself. In the show’s own words: Don’t believe in yourself. Believe in the me who believes in you. It’s the story of two miners, Simon and Kamina, who live in an underground village under the iron fisted rule of the Spiral King. All of that changes when they unearth an ancient mech, which they use to fend off a surprise attack by beastmen from the surface world with the help of another surface dweller, a girl named Yoko. Together, the unlikely trio uses their mechanized might to fight back against the cruel king and reclaim mankind’s rightful place on above ground. Is it the best anime ever made? No. But is it an absolute blast full of increasingly epic robot fights and inspirational speeches? You bet your Gurrenn Lag-ass it is.
Mobile Police Patlabor: The Movie
Image: Sentai Filmworks
Six years before he would make Ghost in the Shell, Oshii Mamoru told a heady, cerebral story of robots run amok, murders most foul, and a race against time to save Tokyo from total destruction as members of the Tokyo Police Department’s 2nd Special Vehicles Section must use highly advanced robots known as Labors to stop these berserk ‘bots before it’s too late. While the mech battles aren’t as flashy or over the top as some of the other entries on this list, its grounded, mature style of sci-fi storytelling makes it one of the best in the genre. And the best part? It’s set in the year 1999, so go ahead and laugh your ass off at how different our future actually was from Patlabor’s. Did they even get to experience Will Smith’s seminal album Willennium? If not, this this truly is the darkest timeline.
Image: Gainax/Bandai Visual USA
Neon Genesis Evangelion may be more popular, but the directorial debut of Hideaki Anno is also one of the greatest mecha anime of all time. It’s kind of like Top Gun in space with giant robots. Gunbuster tells the story of humans piloting giant robots known as RX-7 Machine Weapons — to repel an alien menace from destroying our planet. And humanity’s best hope is Noriko Takaya, a clumsy teenage girl who only got the job because her dad was a famous space admiral and a her polar opposite, Kazumi Amano, who is about as elite as pilot candidates come. Can they overcome their differences to work together to save humanity? Or are we as dead as so many Gooses in so many training incidents? Do they even play space volleyball? You’ll have to watch to find out!
Giant Robo the Animation: The Day the Earth Stood Still
Image: Media Blasters
If you put kung fu, wuxia, superhero movies, and massive mechanized combat into a blender, you would get the wild-ass cocktail that is Giant Robo: The Day the Earth Stood Still. This original video animation tells the story of a world that is overly reliant on a single energy source, which inevitably gets threatened by a shadowy cabal with superpowered soldiers bent on world domination. This naturally leaves it up to the International Police Organization to put together a group called the Experts of Justice, consisting of elite warriors, superpowered individuals of their own, and a 12 year old boy who owns an insanely powerful robot called Giant Robo to save the day. You know, that old chestnut. That 12-year-old preteen robot cop chestnut. Not only is this an awesome anime in its own right, but it’s also a massive tribute to the works of Mitsuteru Yokoyama, who created the O.G. Giant Robo manga. So educate yourself and enjoy the mecha madness that is Giant Robo.
Neon Genesis Evangelion
Image: Gainax/ADV Films
Do you really need me to tell you to watch this? No, you don’t so make like Shinji and get into the f***ing robot anime so you can finally understand dank memes like these:
Mobile Suit Gundam: The 08th MS Team
Honestly, you could put pretty much any Gundam series on this list as they’re all delightful in their own ways. Well, except for G-Reco, but who’s counting? Unlike many of the Gundam series, this one takes place primarily on Earth and pits the Earth Federation against the Principality of Zeon in a battle for global dominance. With the Zeon forces routed and on the run, we follow the 08th MS Team, a small squadron of Gundam pilots embarking on a guerilla mission to locate a powerful Zeon weapon. Instead, what they find is an up-close-and-personal look at the horrors of war as they experience them firsthand. This series gives a gritty, unvarnished look at life on the frontlines of a never-ending conflict and will give you a sense of the human cost behind these massive mech battles. And, you know, if you don’t like it, just watch literally any other Gundam series. Boom: you’re welcome.And those are some of the greatest mecha anime ever made. Which is your favorite? What would you add to this list? Let me know in the comments below. Also be sure to give me some of your popcorn when you go see Pacific Rim Uprising in theaters on March 23!
Editor’s note: Nerdist is a subsidiary of Legendary Entertainment
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Dan Casey is the senior editor of Nerdist and the author of books about Star Wars and the Avengers. Follow him on Twitter ( @DanCasey).