We have a concise summary of the practical problems with mecha, and (the maternal half of my genes coming from a line of physicists and chemists) I was brought up to believe that kind of language. Bipedal mecha as war machines are apparently, if not impossible like sound travelling in a vacuum, certainly utterly implausible. You can throw bricks at people having problems with plausibility, but to do so is to write about things as they should be rather than things as they are: I find the idea that we’re all capable of controlling our reactions (at least, controlling them to the point of accepting every anime on its own terms) highly unrealistic.
Besides, we already have a bipedal war machine which uses its dexterity to cross awkward terrain and which can be fitted with a wide range of equipment to suit different circumstances. It’s called the infantryman. No point reinventing the leg, if you will. Better still, the infantryman runs on cheap, widely-available fuel and has surprising resilience: my paternal grandfather carried some shrapnel (from a head wound received in the bocage fighting) to his grave without showing any ill effects. Shoot your computer and see if it’ll last four more decades.
However, I am not interested in defending mecha anime, at least not directly: I’m not in an evangelistic mood today. What I find interesting is the question of expertise diminishing enjoyment, because this may be an explanation for my own struggle in recent years to enjoy a lot of fantasy anime, or fantasy in any medium.
Back in the day, you see, I used to enjoy fantasy – fantasy in the stereotypical, Tolkienesque vein – which took me to books from the period(s) which the Tolkienesque riffs on. Then the fantasy novels and films with which I began started to look ridiculous. Why read about a group of distinctly modern characters carving their way through Ye Olde Fantasyland when Pearl is on the menu? And if you do want to read about people carving their way through Fantasyland, there’s The Faerie Queene: still fantasy, but fantasy spun out to an impressive length, with added moral allegory and pointed remarks about politics. And one’s need for morally complex GAR is easily filled by Le Morte Darthur (or however you wish to spell it):
I promised by the faith of my body to do this battle to the uttermost while my life lasteth; and therefore I had liever to die with honour than to live with shame. And if it were possible for me to die a hundred times, I had liever to die so often than to yield me to thee, for though I lack weapon, yet shall I lack no worship.
[‘liever’ = ‘rather’; ‘worship’ = ‘honour’/’reputation’]
Perspective no, irony yes.
Now if, for instance, you had somehow secretly observed me while I watched Spice and Wolf, you would’ve overheard me muttering ‘medieval guilds weren’t this hardcore’ and ‘if she’s a shepherdess then I’m the King of France’. However much I told myself that no, Spice and Wolf is not a historical drama, nor is its world intended to be especially convincing, I couldn’t help nitpicking. I was being unfair – but I couldn’t stop being unfair, even though I rather liked parts of the show (the badinage between Horo and Lawrence, for example).
(Incidentally, one of the few things I didn’t complain to myself about was the economics. I don’t understand economics, past or present, as it was one of the wide range of useful and informative subjects I avoided studying at school. God bless Britain’s over-specialised education system and its propensity to produce knowledgeable drones.)
To make things worse, I find it hard to put up with the twee. Channeling the twee is one of the primary ways that we Britons sell our country to tourists – and to ourselves – and consequently it turns my stomach a little. Thus I found it hard to handle the first episode of Aura Battler Dunbine, with its twangly music and flitting fairy; a shame, as in substance Dunbine’s first episode was straight-down-the-line Tomino, albeit with an unusually nationalistic edge. I have a sneaking suspicion that, as a rule of thumb, when anime does fantasy it spirals downwards to the twee like an anime fan’s life spirals towards debt and a pungent body odour.
(‘What about Escaflowne?’, I hear you ask. ‘You liked Escaflowne, didn’t you?’ Well, leaving aside the show’s other merits, like Kanno’s soundtrack, Gaea as a whole wasn’t really Fantasyland. Fanelia was a little twee, but Fanelia was destroyed by rampaging mecha early on in the story.)
So – even though few (if any) fantasy writers would claim to be attempting to create a convincingly medieval aura – medieval books ruined me for modern fantasy, because I’m a snob and/or a prig. (Certainly not because I grew out of fantasy writing. Clothes seem to be the only thing I’ve ever grown out of.) Is something similar (minus the snobbery, and with added practicality) a problem with mecha for some viewers? Maybe mecha warfare is just unacceptable if you actually know how machines are put together, and how different weapons and vehicles interact on the battlefield – even if few of the writing staff on the latest Gundam would claim to be aiming for realism.
I can’t judge, because it’s hard to get into judging when your forename is a reminder that judging’s not your prerogative, so that will have to remain a speculation from a baffled bystander. Besides, Crusader evidently manages, and waterjunk claims an engineering background while exalting 00 as ‘the first ever Gundam to actually put in effort to make… sense’ (which I find hard to swallow, but there you go). Moreover, re-reading the previous paragraphs I realise that I’m assuming that knowledge from the Humanities and knowledge from the Sciences can do similar things. Given that my mother’s family is dangerously prone to saying what they mean and getting useful tasks done, I’m not sure that that’s a safe assumption.
Adopting Jeff’s suggestion that Japanese anime fans tend to be male and tend to grow up interested in machines, I propose that mecha is a genre for (though not necessarily enjoyed exclusively by) boys who were gearheads in their youth, but never learned much proper science or indeed much about military matters. Admittedly, I am just describing myself here: the child who cannibalised the Solid Rocket Boosters from the Lego Space Shuttle to make ICBMs for the launch tubes of his Lego ballistic missile submarine. Though . . . given the close proximity of all available targets (the compost heap at the bottom of our small garden being the most remote hostile state), should I have reclassified said weapons as cruise missiles?
Bits and Bobs
- I noted in my previous entry the element of monster-slaying in mecha. sdshamshel suggests that Evangelion is ‘the pinnacle’ of this movement, and makes some sharp observations about Rebuild‘s Angels.
- Owen defends Code Geass (good) by turning to its toned-down mecha (dubious). The division between ‘symbiote’ and ‘vehicle’ could be useful.
- They say mecha doesn’t rock. Yet random mecha talk is still good random talk. I need to hunt IGPX down someday.