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Mecha, also known as meka or mechs, are walking vehicles controlled by a pilot, often appearing in anime, science fiction, or other genres involving a fantastic or futuristic element. Mecha are generally, though not necessarily, bipedal, with arms, hands, and fingers capable of grasping objects. A mecha that approximates the shape of a human body allows the use of martial arts movements and swordsmanship, ceremonial acts of honor, saluting, and other human mannerisms that cannot be performed using a tank or airplane.

In most fiction in which they appear, mecha are war machines: essentially armored fighting vehicles with legs instead of treads or wheels. Some stories, such as the manga Patlabor and American miniature games BattleTech, also encompass mecha used for civilian purposes such as heavy construction work, police functions or firefighting.

Some science fiction universes posit that mecha are the primary means of combat, with conflicts sometimes being decided through gladiatorial matches. Others represent mecha as one component of an integrated military force, supported by and fighting alongside tanks, fighter aircraft, and infantry, functioning as a mechanical cavalry. The applications often highlight the theoretical usefulness of such a device, combining a tank's resilience and fire power with infantry's ability to cross unstable terrain. In other cases they are demonstrated with a greater versatility in armament, such as in the Armored Core series of video games where mecha can utilize their hands to carry a wide range of armament in the same manner as a person albeit on a much larger scale.

The distinction between true mecha and their smaller cousins (and likely progenitors), the powered armor suits, is blurred; according to one definition, a mecha is piloted while a powered armor is worn. Anything large enough to have a cockpit where the pilot is seated is generally considered a mecha.

The first occurrence of mecha in fiction is thought to be the novel The War of the Worlds by H. G. Wells where the Martians use tripod walkers very similar to mecha, but this fails to take into account that, thirty years before, Jules Verne published the La Maison à vapeur (The Steam House), which featured a steam-powered, piloted, mechanical elephant. The first occurrence of mecha robots being piloted by a user from within a cockpit was later introduced in the manga and anime series Mazinger Z by Go Nagai.[1] However, it has been argued that the original idea for piloted mechanical suits should be attributed to Robert A. Heinlein. In his 1959 serial Starship Soldier, which was later published as a novel under the title Starship Troopers and then adapted for film in 1997. In his story, Heinlein writes about the soldiers being equipped with powered armor exoskeletons. Whether mecha was inspired by Heinlein's Starship Troopers or not, it was popularized by Japanese anime and manga.

Rarely, mecha has been used in a fantasy convention, most notably in the anime series Aura Battler Dunbine, The Vision of Escaflowne and Maze. In those cases, the mecha designs are usually based on some alternative or 'lost' science-fiction technology from ancient times.


Word origin and usage

s from the cover of the novel The Legend of the Jade Phoenix by Robert Thurston.]] The term "mecha" is derived from the Japanese abbreviation meka (メカ?) for the English word "mechanical". In Japanese, mecha encompasses all mechanical objects, including cars, guns, computers, and other devices. In this sense, it is extended to humanoid, human-sized robots and such things as the boomers from Bubblegum Crisis, the similar replicants of Blade Runner, and cyborgs can be referred to as mecha, as well as mundane real-life objects such as industrial robots, cars and even toasters. The Japanese use the term "robots" (ロボット robotto?) or "giant robots" to distinguish limbed vehicles from other mechanical devices.[2] The first widespread English language usage of the term was in the animated series Robotech which was an English dubbing and rewriting of three different anime and the terms usage since then has mostly associated in the west with either robotic (occasionally transforming) piloted vehicles or powered armored battlesuits which are worn akin to exoskeletons. There are exceptions; in the film A.I.: Artificial Intelligence, the word is used to describe "mechanicals" (robotic humanoids), as opposed to "orga" for "organics" (humans).

from the 1906 French edition of The War of the Worlds]]

With respect to powered armor suits, mecha typically do not refer to form fitting garments such as the Iron Man armor. Armored suit mecha tend to be much larger and bulkier than the wearer and the wearer's limbs may or may not actually extend completely into the respective limbs.

The Life Model Decoys in the Marvel Comics miniseries Livewires and Artificial Intelligence refer to themselves as mecha.

The term "mech" is used to describe such vehicles considerably more often in Western entertainment than in Asian entertainment. "Mech" as a term originated from the BattleTech series (where it is often written as 'Mech, short for BattleMech or OmniMech), and is not used in Japan in other contexts except as an unintentional misspelling of "mecha." (One exception is the Japanese version of BattleTech, which attempts to retain the English word.) In Japanese, "robot" is the more frequent term (see Other, below).

Japanese mecha

Robot mecha are quite popular in Japanese manga, and by extension anime. In Western entertainment, they are occasionally seen in video games, especially the action, strategy and simulation genres, but the most well-known Western context for mecha is the series BattleTech. The original BattleTech—a tabletop strategy game—has been the basis of numerous games, such as Games Workshop's Warhammer 40,000 Titans and products in other media.

Mechas in fiction

In manga and anime

In Japan, "robot anime" (known as "mecha anime" outside Japan) is a genre that features the vehicles and their pilots as the central plot points. Here, the average robot mecha are usually fourteen feet (4.3 m) tall at the smallest, outfitted with a wide variety of weapons, and quite frequently have tie-ins with toy manufacturers. The Gundam franchise is a prominent example: Gundam toys and model kits (produced by the Japanese toymaker Bandai) are ubiquitous in Japan.

The size of mechas can vary according to the story and concepts involved. Some of them may not be considerably taller than a tank (Armored Trooper Votoms, Megazone 23), some may be a few stories tall (Gundam, Escaflowne) and others can be as tall as a skyscraper (Space Runaway Ideon, Genesis of Aquarion, Evangelion). There are also mecha which are big enough to contain the population of an entire city (Macross), some the size of a small moon (Transformers, Diebuster) and some the size of a large galaxy (Getter Robo, Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann). Some are even implied to be able to be as large as the universe (Demonbane).

The genre started with Mitsuteru Yokoyama's 1956 manga Tetsujin 28-go (which was later animated in 1963 and also released abroad as Gigantor). Its inclusion is debatable however, as the robot was controlled by remote instead of a cockpit in the machine. Not long after that the genre was largely defined by author Go Nagai, into something considerably more fantastical. Mazinger Z, his most famous creation, was not only the first successful Super Robot anime series, but also the pioneer of the genre staples like robots being piloted by the hero from within a cockpit[1] and weapons that were activated by the hero calling out their names ("Rocket Punch!"). According to Go Nagai:

"I wanted to create something different, and I thought it would be interesting to have a robot that you could drive, like a car."[1]

This led to his creation of the Mazinger Z, which featured giant robots which were "piloted by means of a small flying car and command center that docked inside the head."[1] It was also a pioneer in die-cast metal toys such as the Chogokin series in Japan and the Shogun Warriors in the U.S., that were (and still are) very popular with children and collectors.

Robot/mecha anime and manga differ vastly in storytelling and animation quality from title to title, and content ranges all the way from children's shows to ones intended for an older teen or adult audience.

Some robot mecha are capable of transformation (Macross, Zeta Gundam) or combining to form even bigger ones (see Beast King GoLion and Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann). Go Nagai is also often credited with inventing this in 1974 with the television series Getter Robo.

The mecha genre, one of the oldest genres in anime, is still alive and well in the new millennium, with revival OVAs like Getter Robo: Armageddon and Mazinkaiser from the Super Robot tradition, the recent Mobile Suit Gundam 00 and Code Geass from the Real Robot genre, and Reideen, a recent remake of the 1975 hit series Brave Raideen. Other recent anime series in the mecha genre include Heroic Age and particularly Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann, a Super Robot anime with few elements from the Real Robot genre.

Not all mechas need be completely mechanical. Some have biological components with which to interface with their pilots, and some are partially biological themselves, such as "Neon Genesis Evangelion","Eureka Seven", and "Zoids"

In film

Perhaps the most well-known example of mecha in Western culture are the Walkers such as the AT-AT and AT-ST from the Star Wars series of films.

The Hollywood movie Aliens featured a cargoloader as a civilian mecha (although this instance blurs the line between being a mecha or an exoskeleton). The film Robot Jox, featuring two giant mech fight scenes, or Japanese live-action Ganheddo are another examples.

In Matrix Revolutions Captain Mifune leads the human defense of Zion, piloting open-cockpit mecha-like machines called APUs against invading Sentinels.

The tripods featured in The War of the Worlds, with advanced weaponry and dedicated piloting stations, are perhaps the forerunners of modern mecha.

Mechagodzilla, from the Godzilla series, is a rather famous mech.

In games

Mecha are often featured in computer and console games. Because of their size and fictional power, mecha are quite popular subjects for games, both tabletop and electronic. One popular classic of mecha in games is the MechWarrior series of video games, which takes place in the Battletech universe. . Another game, Heavy Gear 2 offers a complex yet semi-realistic control system for its' mechas in both terrain and outer space warfare. Armored Core is one of the more popular Japanese franchises today, combining industrial customizable mech designs with fast-paced action. Rivalling Armored Core is Front Mission, a Turn based tactics series of games by Squaresoft. It features Japanese mech designs with more realistic physics, reserving the lightning speed common in the Japanese mecha genre to special machines. MechQuest also features numerous mecha, since it is the primary objective of the game. The player battles other mecha using an RPG-Style combat interface and is able to purchase other mecha using the in-game currency, which is acquired by winning battles. Older American Tabletop games, Battletech, uses hex-maps, miniatures & paper record sheets allows players to mech in tactical situations and record realistic damage, while add RPG elements when desired.

Mecha-like bipedal tanks called metal gears are a recurring element in Metal Gear-series. The most iconic metal gear of the series is the Metal Gear REX featured in Metal Gear Solid. The most common feature of a metal gear is the capability to launch nuclear missiles, though this feature is absent in the two newest models in the series; Metal Gears RAY and GEKKO. Unlike in many mech-featuring series, metal gears aren't numerous or widely used (except the small, unmanned GEKKOs). Most of the metal gears featured in the series are prototypes. In the series, they are usually called "the ultimate weapon" and "the missing link between infantry and artillery" (paralleling the missing link between men and apes).

Mecha are also enemies of Crypto in the first Destroy all Humans! game. They're about the size of a house, and difficult to destroy.

In the tabletop game Warhammer 40,000, the Tau use Mecha Battlesuits while the Adeptus Mechanicus use huge mechs called titans, the Orks also use huge, ragtag mechs called gargants. The Eldar also use their particular version of titans, which are often more agile and compact than their Imperial counterparts, as well as the smaller wraithlords (although the latter does not have a pilot as such, they are controlled by the spirit of a dead Eldar contained in a 'soulstone').

Another example is in the game Battlefield 2142, in which mecha fight alongside conventional military units such as infantry, tanks, gunships, and APCs in the European Union's and Pan-Asian Coalition's military forces.

In the game Red Alert 3, a number of the vehicles of the Empire of the Rising Sun are referred to as mecha, since they are capable of transforming from ground or sea units to aerial fighters, granting them additional flexibility in battle. One such unit is called the Mecha Tengu.

In the game MechScape (a new game from Jagex, soon to be released), mecha will feature.


  • The Great Spirit is a forty million feet tall robot from the Bionicle mythos, which houses the Matoran Universe. There are also various other characters and species (such as the Exo Toa and the Bohrok) which can be considered mecha on a tiny scale.
  • The Exo-Force line featured humans and machines battling each other in mechas, better known in the line as "Battle Machines".

Mechas in real life

Few prototypes are being made to build mecha-like vehicles in real life. Currently almost all of these are too slow or cumbersome to have any real application.

  • Landwalker: A functioning prototype Japanese bipedal mecha being developed by Sakakibara Kikai.[3][4]
  • T-52 Enryu: Translated name "Rescue Dragon", it is a 3.5 meter-tall hydraulically-operated robotic vehicle developed by Tmsuk. The vehicle has two hands, which copy the controller's movements. Its intended application is to open a path in the debris for the rescue team.

Few companies and organizations are doing some research about it:

See also

Notes and references

  1. ^ a b c d Mark Gilson, "A Brief History of Japanese Robophilia", Leonardo 31 (5), p. 367–369 [368].
  2. ^ [1]
  3. ^ Sakakibara Kikai website (Japanese)
  4. ^ A video on YouTube demonstrating the Landwalker
  5. ^ Timberjack Walking Machine at YouTube

External links


Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary




Reborrowed from Japanese メカ meka, itself an abbreviation of the English mechanical.




mecha (plural mecha)

  1. (anime, manga) A large armoured robot on legs.
    • 2002, Christopher Hart, Anime mania: how to draw characters for Japanese animation
      A transformation occurs when a mecha character, vehicle, or weapon unfolds and reassembles itself in a totally new form.
    • 2006, Dani Cavallaro, The animé art of Hayao Miyazaki
      Porco Rosso evinces a deep fascination with mechanical objects of all sorts but it is by no means a mecha movie...
    • 2007, Frenchy Lunning, Mechademia 2: Networks of Desire
      Each week the good guys fight the bad guys and vanquish them in a mecha battle, only to have the bad guys reappear intact the following week.





Perhaps from French mèche.


mecha f. (plural mechas)

mecha f.

mechas f.

  1. wick, fuse
  2. lock (length of hair)


Related terms

See also

Simple English

Mecha (also known as meka or mechs) are walking vehicles run by a pilot, often shown in science fiction or fantasy with a futuristic element. Some stories, such as the Manga Patlabor and American miniatures game Battletech, also show mecha doing civilian purposes such as heavy construction work, police topics, or firefighting.

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