I just made my 14-year-old little sister watch Power Rangers on TV with me because I had a hankering to reconnect with my childhood. She wasn’t the least bit pleased but I didn’t care, I was in heaven. I was suddenly 8 again, in my Power Rangers pyjamas on a Saturday morning watching a marathon of the series on Ktv. And looking at the new version nothing had changed at all. It’s still the same neon coloured suits, the ridiculous poses, the clunky dialogue expressed by talentless actors/martial arts experts and the same plot: monster terrorizes city, rangers arrive, beat monster, monster is reborn in giant size, Rangers get into their toy robots and beat monster again and the grotesque monster mastermind who creates all these monsters cries out in anguish and vows to try again. Awful stuff really but it kept me glued to the screen. Ever since the lofty heights of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, the series has steadily regressed (which takes some doing) yet they still keep making them; on last count 9 different versions exist. I wondered why they still created them and then I saw the plastic ‘weaponry’ the rangers fought with and it all suddenly made sense. It was all about the money. The merchandising for the shows has kept on churning millions as kids continue buying the pyjamas, the matching bed linen, the toys and the games, all in those gauche neon colours. We all won out anyway; we kids loved all that stuff, the money men looked at their bulging bank accounts, the performers could call themselves actors and our parents could watch as their kids were slowly programmed with the ‘good values and morals’ of society like fairness, compromise, teamwork, respect and all that. A wet dream for educationists and holier-than-thou type folk, a nice indoctrination tool to catch kids when they are young and impressionable. Everybody wins.
That actually brings me to one of several points I wish to make; shows about giant robots kicking butt were my staple diet during my adolescence and they taught me a lot of valuable lessons that I have kept till this day and Power Rangers was just the beginning of my schooling and my love affair with giant robots. I’m sure other types of television shows attempted to do the same but I like to think that only mecha anime and its ilk were truly capable in getting through not only my thick skull but through to kids worldwide and as I have gotten older these lessons have only gotten more profound as my resistance has withered. The first and most important lesson was that giant robots can only be controlled by young emo adolescent boys who thought that the world revolved around them and their feelings. I repeat, the full capabilities of these giant robots could only ever be unleashed by these young emo boys with some form of childhood trauma, case in point; Setsuna. F. Sei from Gundam Wing, Renton from Eureka Seven and Sousuke Sagara from Full Metal Panic. That lesson there, is like the first law of mecha anime, that and that the main villain of the show has to wear a mask for I guess dramatic effect since they are never disfigured and we all know who they are anyway. The giant robot cannot be controlled by a trained ace pilot nor could it be controlled by the very scientists who built it and never ever God forbid, someone well adjusted. No, it has to be some idiot a la Coop from Megas XLR, who counts as an adolescent pube thanks to his behavior, or some highly trained child soldier that make Kony’s efforts in that direction seem positively pedestrian.
The unfortunate part of this realization is that I’m no longer an adolescent boy, I still maintain the emo part for good form mostly though but as a result according to the above mentioned rule I cannot pilot Exia or Death Scythe or God Gundam. You’d think after watching endless hours of moping, screaming as they find their ‘inner strength’ and their general battling technique that I would be an ideal candidate to pilot advanced alien tech but no, I’m too old now.
The second lesson I learnt is that you must kill all disillusioned soldier that are members of your army. The rule book (The Evil Overlord Handbook) warns you of having an heir apparent, the problems of playfully watching your opponent grow stronger because it’ll be more fun that way and being a really oppressive douche bag is a general no no (being evil doesn’t mean you have to be a shit head) but it forgets to tell you that all dissenters should be killed, even on mere suspicion. Disillusioned veterans always become the crack troops of The Resistance and the officers become not only The Resistance’s intellectual leaders but often your heirs too but even more crucially, they have a tendency to become the guides and mentors to the young emo adolescent boy with the super powered giant robot that ends up destroying everything you’ve worked for and more often than not, kill you in the process. Just take a quick gander at Last Exile or Eureka Seven or my personal favorite, Lelouch of the Rebellion. I also learnt the wholesome lessons like the value of teamwork and courage; all those fusion mecha animes like Voltron, Samurai Pizza Cats and the fantabulous unbelievably vapid and stupid but OH MY WOW so much fun Gai Gao Gar, weren’t very subtle in trying to embed that particular lesson. The constant reminder of them joining to get more strength and the occasional episodes highlighting that they only achieved victory or some new power by finding new strengths within each other or reaching a perfect synced state made that a lesson I learnt no matter how much I cried that I was a lone wolf and that I don’t play well with others. I occasionally do something stupid just to remind them of that from time to time.
Beyond these lessons though these shows are just a lot of fun to watch; Who can forget classic scenes like the one in Star Wars Episode 6 when Luke finds out that Darth Vader is his father. The line ‘No, I am your father’ has though often misquoted been completely emblazoned in our collective conscience. In that story there is also an additional lesson- when building a giant planet sized robot like the Death Star, no matter how farfetched the possibility of someone somehow managing to fly through your booby-trapped tunnel to shoot at the one weakness in your robot please put shielding anyway, even better, build a giant planet shaped robot with no weaknesses.
These stories aren’t always about fighting evil or some sort of oppression, well that’s always a large part but only the part that moves the story along. Some like Eureka Seven and Gurren Laggann are about the usual man/boy finding inner strength to face their demons and fears and others; what I found to be a surprisingly inordinate amount are about finding love like Full Metal Panic and Macross Frontier. Others simply to stroke people egos i.e Star Wars (anything beyond the first trilogy) to father/son relationships, take a bow Real Steel (also take a bow Star Wars for one of the greatest shocks and cimatic lines ever). Two of my current favourites are social dramas, and yes there are battles and explosions but the environments and setting for these really take the cake. The first is an oldie called Big O. Its done up in film noir style like the old classic batman cartoon and looks and feels amazing. It takes a look into issues of memory, inheritance, nature vs nurture and how we interact as a result of this by creating a society that starts from zero when everyone loses their memories relating to experiences and relationships.The other is a modern classic, Ghost in a Shell: Stand Alone Complex. This here is entertainment. A clueless society, a semi-police state and philosophical undertones on questions on freedom,will and the greater good, intricate plots, obscure agendas, big and surprising pay-offs whilst keeping the society still clueless. Its everything that a good drama should be plus cyborgs, giant robots and explosions.
And I’ve absorbed all these lessons; social commentary, philosophy and morality alike but there has to be something said about the robots themselves. There is something that hits all the right buttons about watching two mecha pounding into each other, possibly on a whole battlefield with whole platoons and giant explosions to go with it. Its like the ultimate expression of techness, maybe even manliness; they are like extensions of our cars, an evolution if you will, an ideal even. The same way we race our cars and compare stats future versions of ourselves will do the same with their ionized fueled mechs. And like anything manly there has to be explosions. I know in the title I said I wasn’t talking about Transformers but when you process everything I’ve said there isn’t a reason why I shouldn’t . Giant robots are BADASS and Transformers are the most BADASS of them all. Especially the Michael Bay iterations. Transformers is like the ultimate guy porn in existence! It has giant robots with explosions, cars with explosions, a Dubstep soundtrack made from depending who the you ask,- an alien extinction message or the collective sounds of WUB WUB WUB + Darth Vader going all Jedi with a light saber on a Harley Davidson + your mom’s vibrator at full power + Megatron being fucked in the ass; and of course the very fine ladies that Megan Fox and my current celebrity-I-wish-I-woke-up-next-to, Rosie Huntington-Whitley are. I was going on about iconic scenes in film with mecha and the Transformers movies have offered us several but the two most memorable include these two ladies. Who can forget that scene in the first Transfomers movie with Megan Fox stretched over Bumble Bee’s engine tinkering with the oil cap? Beyond that, who can forget that opening scene in Tranformers: Dark of the Moon as Rosie Huntington Whitley climbs those stairs in that shirt with her ass just peeking out? Those two scenes were reason enough to watch the movies so I am always amused when the critics complain there didn’t seem to be a coherent plot in the Transformers movies or that the acting was terrible simply because they are missing the point. In these movies I learnt nothing. Because I wasn’t meant to learn a thing. I didn’t get captured by the plot because it wasn’t there. But these movies capture everything awesome about mecha. They were big. They turned into cars. They Fought.Those movies were not about the acting, it was about the cars that turn into giant robots and the plot, was just an excuse to move from giant robot cars to GIANT ROBOT CARS FIGHTING as they pounded, dismembered and obliterated each other whilst simultaneously destroying cities with the accompanying explosions and with the occasional sweaty Rosie or Megan running in heels and flaunting their delightfully flat stomachs. No one cared about the wimpy Shia Lebouf or the plot or the acting or the inaccurate car models (the camaro Bumblebee is more BADASS than the sissy beetle. THANK YOU General Motors for your sponsorship) or any of that stuff, it was all about the giant robots! Why? Because they are BADASS and nothing proves that better than Transformers and the $2.5 Billion they have made from the movie franchise so far. I’m thinking of getting matching pyjamas and bed covers. kidding. or maybe not.
Honour Roll: Mecha related series, anime, movies worth watching.
Voltron, Sabre Rider and the Star Sheriff, Power Rangers Mighty Morphin Movie, Big O, Gundam Wing, Gundam: 8th Mobile Suit Unit, Evangelion, Gao Gai Gar, Star Wars, Full Metal Panic, Ghost in a Shell, Macross, Robotech, Real Steel, Tranformers: Beast Wars, Transformers Movies, Escaflowne and Lelouch of the Rebellion.
I feel like I’m totally missing a crucial one here.