Giant robots are a trope closely tied to images of anime in popular culture, and I can never get enough of them. But it’s no stretch to say that they don’t have quite the firm grip that they used to, with a handful of major exceptions like Gundam and Evangelion. This is why the Fall 2021 anime season feels so unusual—not one, not two, but as many six mecha series debuted in October. Rather than feeling like the harbinger of a genre revival, they seem to be taking different routes to using giant robots as selling points.
Muv-Luv Alternative fills the role of adapting a work that already has an established fanbase, though the story of how Muv-Luv became associated with giant robots is a strange one. Originally a purely school-romance-themed visual novel, a series of alternate-universe side stories eventually led to Muvluv Alternative and the fight against aliens. It’s a lot like how Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha is a spin-off of the visual novel Triangle Hearts.
Megaton Musashi is also based on a video game, but instead of tapping into a long-existing fandom, Megaton Musashi seems to be functioning more as a commercial for the original. The series is by game developers Level-5, and it has a lot more of a children’s shounen battle anime feel compared to everything else on this list. It’s a shame that this is the only series not being officially subtitled in English, as the premise of delinquents with a giant robot is actually quite entertaining.
AMAIM Warrior at the Borderline
It’s not all adaptations, as AMAIM Warrior at the Borderline is the latest attempt by Sunrise to establish another franchise, and follows in the steps of shows like Code Geass, Valvrave the Liberator, and Cross Ange. Sunrise is the studio behind the enduring juggernaut that is Gundam, and every so often, we see a push to try to further its dominance in the mecha-genre space.
Ancient Girl’s Frame
Ancient Girl’s Frame is actually a Japanese-Chinese co-production, but rather than just a monetary influence on the Chinese side, the work itself reflects the fact that it’s an international co-production. It’s noticeable in a variety of places, from the Chinese-language theme songs to environmental aesthetic flourishes. The series reminds me a lot of RWBY in the sense that it feels like a mishmash of popular things the creators enjoy, with giant robots being one of those elements.
Rather than grand, epic battles, Sakugan is more of a father-daughter story with a surrounding giant robot aesthetic. While the motifs of drilling and exploration call to mind Gurren-Lagann, the show feels like it sometimes has more in common with the home-cooking anime Sweetness & Lightning or last year’s Deca-Dence. Personally, I think this series has the most potential to become a classic.
And as for the final series I’ll be talking about, Rumble Garandoll literally has a world where the heroes use mecha because of their ties to otaku culture—the series takes place in a world where otaku hobbies are banned. Arguably more than any other series mentioned, Rumble Garandoll embraces giant robots as a part of anime history, while also mashing it with other established tropes.
The Biiiiiig Picture
Six giant robot anime have emerged in Fall 2021. While none of them are likely to shake the world or the foundations of anime, they each approach the concept of giant robots differently from both storytelling and production perspectives. Whether they’re adaptations or original works, and whether they’re trying to forge new ideas or work with well-worn tropes, they provide some hope that the mecha genre can still have a place if it adapts to the times.
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