Ian’s Top 10
The idea for this article came about when Craig and I were recording the second episode of the podcast, seeing as the purpose of the podcast was to have an in depth dissection of classic and forgotten mecha shows, movies and OVAs from a couple of mecha heads, what were the mecha designs that we actually liked?
In many ways the list was quite straightforward for me to put together, there were some immediate, long held favourites that populated around 7 places but I did mull a bit over the final few and had a tough decision on the final 10. To be honest a lot of the shows that are listed in this top 10 are full of great mecha designs and I could easily produce a top 50.
There is a pattern to the list that is obvious from a quick glance and that I am totally unapologetic about; the bulk of the list is 80s Sunrise and a few Masami Obari designs.
I grew up with a particular aesthetic, Super Robots gave me the mecha bug, but the sequence of Devastor on Mega CD, Dangaioh then Detonator Orgun on VHS through the 90s truly cemented my love of the mecha genre and given that Masami Obari was involved in the mecha designs of all three it’s hardly a surprise I adore his designs. Then after the anime explosion and proliferation of the internet in the early 2000s, I was exposed to Sunrise’s back catalogue and it just so happens that it’s full of designs that instantly appealed to me!
It was difficult leaving out a few designs like the Mortar Heads from The Five Star Stories, the Blood Sucker from VOTOMS and the Zeta Gundam, but I’ve made my choice and I’m happy with it.
So there aren’t any Super Robot designs in my top 10 and that’s because while I love the shows themselves the aesthetic doesn’t quite appeal to me like the Real Robot stuff does. I’m an Engineer through and through and in my day job I’m all about the detail and unsurprisingly that carries over into my private life which is why I can appreciate some of the exquisite detail in the Real Robot genre so much. There are some I like, I think the original Mazinger is really iconic, Reideen is a cool design and I like the Getter Dragon speaking of which…
Honourable Mention: Getter Dragon (Getter Robo G 1975)
So the whole mecha obsession started with Starvengers, Jim Terry Productions’ syndication of Getter Robo G as part of their Force Five series in 1980, and the Getter Dragon, so I couldn’t leave it out completely.
So on to my top 10 mecha designs in reverse order:
#10 Apsulus II
Anime: Mobile Suit Gundam – The 08th MS Team (Sunrise 1996)
Pilot: Shiro Armada
Designer: Hajime Katoki
Ok, not technically a humanoid suit in the traditional mecha definition (it has a Zaku’s head so I can justify it in my head) but I think the Apsulus II just looks cool and (can you see a pattern here 😁) it’s another high powered experimental ‘suit’ that forms a formidable foe to whoever the hero is that opposes it!
#9 Dragon Fang
Anime: Platinumhugen Ordian (Plum 2000)
Pilot: Yuu Kananase
Designer: Masami Obari
Anyone familiar with Masami Obari’s original opening sequence for Metal Armor Dragonar will spot similarities to the Dragonar-1 but that’s not to say it’s a copy and for me it epitomizes everything I like in Obari’s designs; the sinister face and eyes, the big shoulders and the angular fine detail to the rest of body without being as ostentatious as some of his other designs.
#8 Type 18 Garde Tsugemori
Anime: Knights of Sidonia (Polygon Pictures 2014)
Pilot: Nagate Tanikaze
Designer: Tsutomu Nihei
Knights of Sidonia has been one of my mecha highlights from the last few years. I love the way it fully realises the world of Sidonia and a big part of that is how the Garde mecha fits into it. The Garde has a functional but purposeful look, it’s not extravagant or excessive in any way and that’s why it’s a perfect fit for series. There’s some nice details like the integration of the backpack, the shoulders and the way the Garde work together.
#7 Gundam Epyon
Anime: New Mobile Report Gundam Wing (Sunrise 1996)
Pilot: Heero Yui
Designer: Kunio Okawara
This was my favourite Gundam from Wing. Like the Layzner, I loved the fact that it had a dangerous side that pushed the pilot to the edge. I also like the Epyon’s dragon-esque looks, I know it’s not something unique to the Epyon but I really like the way it was executed and it brought something new to the generic Gundam look.
#6 NZ-666 Kshatriya
Anime: Mobile Suit Gundam UC (Sunrise 2010)
Pilot: Marida Cruz
Designer: Hajime Katoki
High powered, bulky and formidable combined with some sleek looks and gorgeous detail the Kshatriya highlights a lot of what I like about Katoki’s mecha designs and the particular shade of green it’s in really suits it.
#5 PMX-000 Messela & ORX-005 Gaplant
Anime: Mobile Suit Z Gundam (Sunrise 1985)
Pilot: Paptimus Scirocco (Messala)/Yazan Gable (Gaplant)
Designer: Kazumi Fujita
I know this technically makes a top 11 but I can’t put one in without the other, Zeta Gundam is a series that is full of fantastic mecha designs, but I single out these two Titans Mobile Armours because to me they have a quite unique and menacing look about them, no co-incidence they’re designed by the same person. They’re experimental with very high performance and only the best pilots can control them.
#4 L-Gaim Mk II
Anime: Heavy Metal L-Gaim (Sunrise 1984)
Pilot: Daba Myroad
Designer: Mamoru Nagano
I think the original L-Gaim is a really clean looking mecha design but I really like the way Nagano evolved its look and made it edgier and the way he integrated the backpack, arm ‘shields ‘ and Buster Launcher into the overall look. I also liked the way it looks in Land Booster mode.
#3 SPT Layzner
Anime: Blue Comet SPT Layzner (Sunrise 1985)
Pilot: Eiji Asuka
Designer: Kunio Okawara
Even after 30 years, I still think the Layzner is a really unique mecha design, I love the blue, white and lilac colour scheme with the green canopy on the head and some of detail features such as the way the eyes glow through the canopy and the little winglets on the shoulders. I also really like the way the multiple AIs in the Layzner take control when Eiji or the suit are in danger and it has the V-Max mode that makes it invulnerable.
Anime: Detonator Orgun (AIC 1991)
Pilot: Tomoru Shindo
Designer: Masami Obari
Masami Obari is a man who frequently splits opinion but boy can he draw some cool robots. I know it is often slated in various media channels but I absolutely adore Detonator Orgun, l love the story, the look of the future world Obari presents on screen, the soundtrack that accompanies it and then there’s Orgun’s design. I love the sleek lines and bulky shoulders of Orgun.
#1 MSN-04 Sazabi
Anime: Mobile Suit Gundam Char’s Counterattack (Sunrise 1988)
Pilot: Char Aznable
Designer: Yutaka Izubuchi
There are numerous reasons why the Sazabi is my favourite mecha design. First and foremost is it’s bulky yet sleek and purposeful look, especially around the head and upper body, resplendent in Char’s Red and I like the way the funnel racks look integrated into the design rather than an afterthought. But I also love that it represents the pinnacle of Mobile Suit development during Tomino’s original Universal Century storyline and you can see it’s evolution from Char’s original custom Zaku. Designed under the guidance of ace pilot Char and built by the duplicitous Anaheim Electronics, it was created to be Char’s ultimate weapon and maximise his NewType powers during his bid to push mankind permanently into space. If only he hadn’t given it’s secrets to Amuro…
Craig’s Top 10
This list was surprisingly difficult for me to write. There are so many great designs I absolutely adore that whittling the list down to ten was tough. While a lot of my favourite mecha anime are within the category of the “real robot” genre there are a few super robots that occupy a special place in my heart too.
I would say that generally I prefer sleeker and more humanoid designs however there are some gigantic, bulky bots that are just so crazy and larger than life that I can’t help but love them.
I’m a little bit younger than Ian and while I don’t remember Starvengers I do remember being quite taken with a lot of the enemy robot designs in Battle Of The Planets the westernised version of Gatchaman which aired on TV here in the UK when I was a kid(which might account for my love of animal based robots). Some of my earliest childhood memories involve getting up out of bed, racing downstairs and getting a drink or cereal and then putting on BBC1 and watching the show, my mind racing with the possibilities of what kind of robot or costumed villain (or both) was going to turn up in that day’s episode.
Like many kids in the early 80’s I loved Transformers and robots in general but I didn’t truly get started with mecha anime until around 1993 or 1994 (The first time I knew what I was watching was anime). I remember liking the designs in Macross II (The UK’s first Macross release) but I think the trailer for Patlabor the movie that played at the beginning of another Manga Video title on VHS was the first one where I was actually went “Whoa” at how cool the mecha designs looked. I remember turning to my friend Adam at the time, pausing the tape and having a full on conversation about how big the Ingram would be in real life after seeing a few seconds of the scene where it reloads its giant revolver.
Not long after that Gunbuster got its claws into me and I started to seek out more mecha shows. More on that later though. Without further ado here are my top ten mecha.
Anime: Mazinkaiser (2001)
Pilot: Koji Kabuto
It should be pretty obvious to anyone who enjoys Go Nagai’s work that the man really loves drawing demons, particularly ones with bat-like wings (hence his early creations like Demon Lord Dante and Devilman) however that theme continued into his mecha shows with the advent of Mazinger Z in the 70’s. In fact the wings of the various mazinger robots got more bat-like as time went on culminating in the very demonic looking Mazinkaiser in 2001 and Mazinkaiser SKL in 2011.
Although Nagai himself wasn’t responsible for the design of Mazinkaiser he approved it and it does seem a fitting tribute in that its look is everything Nagai did with his designs dialled up to eleven. A big theme of the previous installments was that the mazingers had “the power to become a god or devil” and it was up to Koji Kabuto, Mazinger’s pilot to decide which. Everything about Mazinkaiser looks fierce and imposing. He has a skull at the top of his head, demonic eyes, horns and a bat-like motif attached to his chest armour. As far back as I can remember I’ve always loved monsters and robots and Mazinkaiser seems like the ultimate fusion of those two things for me. He just looks like a robot no-one in their right mind would ever want to mess with. Then there’s his sword. I love that it looks much more like something you’d traditionally find in the fantasy genre with its golden hilt and the red orb in the centre of the guard. Though he was succeeded by yet another Mazinkaiser (the aforementioned SKL) I find SKL’s design though appealing to be a bit too cluttered and messy with spikes protruding from everywhere. The cleaner look of the original Kaiser makes it my favourite of the franchise.
#9: Kurojishi and Tobikage
Anime: Ninja Senshi Tobikage (1985)
Pilot: Joe Maya
Designer: Koichi Ohata
I love stories about ninja and robots, I also love robots with animal modes – guess what anime has all of these things? Tobikage’s designs are good across the board and honestly it was difficult to pick between Bakuryu (a mechanical serpent-like dragon based on Japanese and Chinese mythology) and my eventual choice Kurojishi. His name means “Black lion” and no prizes for guessing that his alternative mode is a lion robot. However confusingly it’s not black in colour, probably a name more to do with his fearsome reputation than his colour scheme. Honestly his lion mode doesn’t actually look a great deal like a lion to me (though it is undeniably cat-like) and reminds me more of a cross between a regular cat and a triceratops because of the cannons that portrude from the head like horns and the similarity of the face to some of the dinosaur mecha of super sentai shows. He’s very cool though and one of those bots were I like both modes equally. The robot mode has a very blocky, boxy aesthetic but it’s beautiful in an 80’s kind of way, very old school. I also love that his lion theme isn’t particularly obvious just to glance at him when in robot form. Instead of anything too typical of super robots like a giant lion head in his chest he has a subtle lion head shaped helmet-like casing over his actual humanoid head. I cheated a bit by choosing his buddy Tobikage here as well but the two often merge together resulting in a powered up form. Tobikage is a much smaller humanoid Ninja who has one of the coolest looks of any humanoid robot I’ve ever seen. They really went to town with the shinobi theme with his body looking very much like a ninjitsu uniform reimagined as armour. In case you were wondering his name means “flying shadow”.
Anime: UFO Robot Grendizer (1975)
Pilot: Duke Fleed
Designer: Go Nagai
Another robot that is part of the mazinger franchise but not actually named Mazinger (Koji Kabuto from Mazinger appears in the show but isn’t the protagonist). This one unlike Mazinkaiser was in fact an original design by Nagai. I love robots with mouthguards or no pronounced mouth, not sure why I’ve just always really liked that look, perhaps it’s something to do with the legacy of Optimus Prime. Grendizer’s design is rather restrained for a super robot and nowhere near as outlandish or flamboyant as Nagai’s other creations. I like the way the horns protrude from the head sideways rather than straight up and something about the colour scheme is very aesthetically pleasing to me. Then there’s his arsenal. I love the harkens on the shoulders which are basically curved blades that look like part of the shoulder at first glance. These can be used as boomerang-like blades or attached to a staff to make a double edged bladed weapon known as the “double harken” it reminds me of the double ended spears often seen in many of the samurai epics of old that I love.
Anime: Megazone 23 (1985)
Pilot: Shogo Yahagi
Designer: Shinji Aramaki
A great example of many of the more realistic robot designs of the 80’s the Garland looks brilliant in both its robot and bike modes and retains a futuristic air despite having been designed decades ago, like many great anime robot and vehicle designs of yesteryear. I love the way the rider’s seat moves to the back of the robot to accommodate its pilot when in the humanoid form. Despite the wheels being visible in the robot mode they’re neatly tucked away and don’t look anywhere near as unsightly as many earlier vehicle to robot designs do.
#6: Big O
Anime: The Big O (1999)
Pilot: Roger Smith
Designer: Keiichi Sato
If Ian and I ever get round to reviewing The Big O on our podcast I’m sure I won’t be able to get through the episode without using the word “unique”. The setting, the story, the characters (but most importantly for our focus here) the mecha are all quite unique in one way or another. Everything about Big O’s design screams Industrial. It has vent holes all over it, giant pistons in its arms and much of its body looks like it was made out of an old steam locomotive. Then there’s the huge size of the arms compared to the rest of its frame. Because of Big O’s lumbering gigantic form it is slow and extremely sluggish but it offsets that with an incredible level of power and an insane arsenal of weapons slowly revealed throughout the course of the series. Then there’s its mysterious origins and the history of both robot and pilot Roger briefly glimpsed in short flashbacks that give a real sense of mystery to the robot’s true nature. Another aspect of the design I find interesting is that it has a very vintage look that seems to recall the very early mecha designs of Mitsueru Yokohama creator of Tetsujin 28 and Giant Robo.
#5: AV-98 Ingram
Anime: Patlabor: The Early Days (1988)
Pilot: Noa Izumi
Designer: Shoji Kawamori
I still remember the effect the Patlabor movie’s trailer had on me. I’d never seen anything that looked quite like it before and I thought the attention to detail and its streamlined humanoid form looked so cool compared to many of the bulky, box-like robots of old. It was a design more suited to the real world that was far less fantastical. Indeed in the series the robots are sort of mundane. They’re a tool to do a job,a vehicle… just like a police car (the police lights on the shoulders are a nice touch). The series is full of great designs but the humble Ingram has always been my favourite. Perhaps it’s the head visor or the rabbit ear-like parts on the head which are things I always like on Japanese robot designs. I also like the way the riot shield and stun baton can be stored in the arm and the Robocop-esque leg holster for the handgun.
#4: Gundam RX 78-2
Anime: Mobile Suit Gundam (1979)
Pilot: Amuro Ray
Designer: Kunio Okawara
The grand daddy of all Gundams, the original Mobile Suit. While its design has been modernised over the years for subsequent model kits and new anime projects such as Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin the original is still remarkably good for such an old design and remains a firm fan favourite decades later. It may look simplistic compared to some of the Gundams that came later however its design paved the way for everything that would follow. The samurai influences (discussed in Retro Mecha Podcast Episode 1) are a cool touch too.
#3: Unit 01
Anime: Neon Genesis Evangelion (1995)
Pilot: Shinji Ikari
Designer: Ikuto Yamashita and Hideaki Anno
Because Evangelion is so well known as a classic series these days I’m sure some people may see this as a very safe and boring choice but it’s easy to forget the impact (No pun intended) that the show had at the time it was released. The monstrous biomechanical Eva 01 with its extremely slender frame, menacing looking head and unusual purple and green colour scheme was and still is a truly wild design. Apparently the idea was based on the Japanese version of the ogre: the Oni and Anno wanted it to have more of a human-like body shape that wasn’t instantly recognised as a robot.
Anime: Armoured Trooper Votoms (1983)
Pilot: Chirico Cuvie (and various others)
Designer: Kunio Okawara
Whereas many of the robots on this list are hard as nails “hero” robots piloted by the protagonist and remain intact until at least the end of the series. Votoms broke the mould with its interesting use of mecha as disposable tools of war that were easily destroyed and offered scant protection from explosives and heavy armaments. The scopedog isn’t a particularly pretty mecha (there are definitely more striking armoured troopers in the later OVAs) but its design fits its gritty war ravaged universe perfectly. One look at it tells you everything you need to know: the designers of this thing weren’t trying to make something that had a wow factor, they were building a functional tool for warfare. The three eye “scopes” that rotate and allow the pilot different kinds of vision are one of the most interesting design aspects and are used to great effect in the series. I also like the way the cockpit lowers to the ground to allow the pilot to disembark. Then there’s the fact that its somewhat clunky and slow in its regular form but it can increase its maneuverability by extending wheels from the feet like roller skates and speed around on all kinds of terrain. It even can be modified to be used in space, its versatility along with its unusual look are what makes it a firm favourite of mine.
Anime: Aim For The Top! (AKA Gunbuster) (1988)
Pilot: Noriko Takaya
Designer: Koichi Ohata
One of my all time favourite anime because of its strong emotional core and great cast of characters and brilliant use of world building and technology. Gunbuster is a well deserved classic for many reasons not least of all the spectacular titular robot. The head’s spiked protrusions along with its singular eye make it look very striking indeed. Then there’s the huge wrists and forearms and the huge parts on the lower legs. These could have easily made it look silly but for some reason enhances the design no end. There’s something about its fairly streamlined look mixed with those larger proportions on the legs and arms that gives it a fairly interesting silhouette. Also because it is introduced in such epic fashion with brilliant use of music and editing its first appearance gets me pumped up every time! This is the anime that made me wonder if there were other mecha titles as awe inspiring as this one and set me on the path towards Ian and our podcast.
Well that’s our list. I’m sure mine will change over time when I see some shows I’ve not experienced yet but for now these are my choices. I hope you’ll share yours with us in the comments below.