So as I’m sure all of you are aware, Japan is obsessed with robots. There are COUNTLESS animes/mengas/shows about robots (aka メカ, or Mecha. I’ll be referring to them as Mech because typing Mechas as a plural bothers me more than Mechs), with sizes ranging from toy-sized to the size of an entire universe, pilots as young as elementary school kids, and powers as ridiculous as, well, becoming the size of an entire universe. I know, wtf. But as much as they are silly in concept, watching them is an absolute blast.
So where did Mechs begin?
The first robot-related piece of entertainment ever released in Japan was Astro Boy, a manga originally released in 1952 about a robot (that looks like a boy) named Astro that fights bad guys with his robot-y powers. Astro Boy paved the way for others to explore the topic of mecha; 4 years later, Tetsujin 28-go (Iron man No. 28) was released as a manga about a remote-controlled robot used to fight crime. The robot manga/anime just kept coming after that: the Mazinger series (started the trend of rocket punch), the Getter Robot series (started the trend of combinations), just to name a few. Notably, these robots are generally referred to as Super Robots, or robots with usually legendary/fantastical origins (built by Aliens, summoned from an alternate dimension, etc) that have butt-kicking powers without even trying to seem scientifically possible; they also usually favor swords and punches over guns, because slicing monsters in half is cooler than shooting them. Not that it needs to concern itself with practicalities; super robots are meant to be blood-boiling awesome, like an Dragonball-Z episode where things actually happen.
Then one day in 1979, an anime called Mobile Suit Gundam was released, forever changing not just the world of Mechs, but also the world of manga/anime in general. To the Mecha world, Mobile Suit Gundam introduced the concept of Real Robots, more realistic looking robots that use more weapons that follows the limitations of reality (i.e. laser beams that uses ammunition instead of magical holy light gifted by Alien gods). To the Anime world, Gundam’s mature anti-war themes, its realistic portrayal of human conflict, and its futuristic sci-fi setting of space introduced the idea that animes aren’t just for kids. Since the release of the first Gundam anime, countless spin-offs, extensions, re-imaginings of the Gundam universe has been produced; each follows the same formula of a young boy/girl discovering a gigantic mecha through various circumstances and ends up piloting it to save his/her loved ones from war.
If you didn’t figure it out already, I’m a huge Mecha anime fan. Not that I watch a lot of animes, but out of the ones I have watched, 4/5 involves robot in some way shape or form. My three favorite anime series? Gurren Lagann, Evangelion, and Code Geass. Needless to say I was very excited when I came to Japan, to finally be able to observe mechs in their “natural habitat”. And so, since I’ve arrived two months ago, I’ve been on a hunt across Japan, chasing after mechs, in real life.
Chasing After Mechs – Gundam Cafe
My first destination was the famed Gundam cafe in Tokyo, because it was the most accessible. There are at least two Gundam cafes in Tokyo (this one and one in Odaiba, next to the life sized Gundam statue), offering various Gundam-related foods and beverages while boasting an internal design inspired by Gundams. The one I went to in Akihabara is the smaller one, located right outside of the train station and right next to the AKB48 Cafe. Lol.
Also the toilet was pretty cool, as per usual with all Japanese toilets.
Overall the place is pretty chill. However, the food was a little too expensive for what they are, and once you saw all the cool Gundam-y decorations you’re pretty much done with the place. My curiosity was satisfied, but I still needed more Mechs in my life.
Chasing After Mechs – Evangelion Museum
Then one weekend I went to Fuji-Q with a bunch of friends. Fuji-Q is an amusement park at the foot of Mount Fuji that has a lot of previously-world-record-setting roller-coasters. What it also has, to my surprise, is an exhibit called “Evangelion World”. I had no idea what was in it, but (un)fortunately Evangelion was one of the things I would unhesitatingly spend money for. So in I went, picking Mechs over Roller-coasters. Easy choice, it was.
As if all of those things weren’t cool enough already, there was also this mini-performance in the life-sized EVA-01 room.
Compared to the Gundam cafe, this place was absolutely amazing, especially for an Evangelion fanboy like myself. The recreations of scenes from the movie were really fun to look at and be in, and, boy oh boy, were the life-size models awesome. Too bad this was located in Fuji-Q, which is like 2 hours away by train from Tokyo. Totally worth the travel though. The Evangelion gift shop near by, however, was a total rip off, with T-shirts selling for up to $75. Thanks, but, no thanks.
Chasing After Mechs – Life-sized Gundam
2 weeks before the end of my summer program, some Japanese students brought a bunch of us to Odaiba (お台場) for Onsen (hotsprings). Odaiba is an artificial island in Tokyo bay that is a seaport turned into an entertainment heaven. The entire island is full of various theme parks, shopping districts, onsens, and general fun stuff to do. Evidently, it was also the place where the life-sized Gundam Statue (aka my reason of coming to Japan) is. And so off I went, after sharing some interesting time being completed naked in the hotspring (pretty much public bathhouse), to the final stop in my Mech-chasing journey.
Apparently if you go at the right time the Gundam would be holding a beam saber (basically Gundam sized light saber) and you would also be allowed to walk through its legs.
Chasing after Mechs – the moral
When you say Japanese culture, you’d probably think kimono or samurai or tea ceremonies. You know, something nice and traditional. But after spending all this time looking at all the efforts and passion the Japanese people put into Mechs, I’m starting to realize that, hey, mechs are totally a part of Japanese culture too.
So what’s the moral of the story?
Mechs are fking awesome. That is all.
Read the last picture adventure about doodling at Japanese Shrines.