Mecha is a fiction genre that features large humanoid robots or machines piloted by people. It is also used to refer to the machines in these series.
The term mecha (メカ meka) was initially used in Japanese as an abbreviation for the words mechanism and mechanical. Due to the popularity of mecha anime and manga, the term was gradually adopted as the name of the genre.
A mecha is generally larger than its operator, who usually pilot the mecha in a cockpit. Form-fitting powered armour suits are not considered mecha. The most common are humanoid mecha, ranging between units that have a vague humanoid form, such as the bipedal Mechs in BattleTech, to those bear close resemblance to humans, right down to having fingers and digits.
The size of mecha vary between several metres to tens of metres tall. In rare instances, some of them are as big as a city, a planet, a galaxy, or even a planet. Most mecha are mechanical. Some have a biological link or even contain a biological components.
Mecha are typically portrayed as war machines. In some series, mecha have a big influence on everyday life, and are employed in civilian usage such as construction, transportation, law enforcement and fire-fighting.
While most mecha series are science fiction, there some that use fantasy setting such as the Aura Battler Dunbine series and The Vision of Escaflowne.
There are two sub-genres of mecha series: super robot and real robot.
Super robot was the first type of mecha depicted in anime and manga. These portray fantastic mecha whose powers and abilities were so far-fetched that they are often inexplicable. The real robot genre was created to display greater realism through using mecha with functions that can be reasonably explained.
The early mecha anime and manga series portrayed mecha in style of the super robot genre. Super robot mecha have devestating weapons and extreme damage resistance. The abilities of these fantastic mecha are usually implausible, sometimes even blatantly ridiculous.
The creators do not try to explain the powers of the mecha. Depending on the what the plot requires, the mecha can be invincible for the most part and then suddenly have a vulnerability that is exploited by the enemy. Super robot mecha would typically have special attacks that were activated by voice commands.
Released in 1956, Tetsujin 28-go, also known as Gigantor in the English dubbed version, was the first mecha series with the concept of a giant robot controlled by a person. The term super robot was only coined in 1972 when it was used in Mazinger Z. Unlike previous mecha series, the mecha in Mazinger Z was piloted by a person within the mecha.
Super robot series usually followed the “villain of the week” format, with a general theme of good triumphing over evil.
The real robot concept was introduced by Mobile Suit Gundam, released in 1979. Real robot mecha had abilities that were grounded in real-world physics, and their functions and the technologies used could be reasonably explained.
Real robot was created as a response to the over-the-top style of super robot series, with the aim to create mecha that were more realistic, to the extent of having production and manufacturing processes involved in the creation of the mecha, and explaining the physics and technologies used.
Unlike super robot mecha pilots who could fire away thoughtlessly with a seemingly infinite amount of ammunitions, real robot mecha pilots are acutely aware of the limited ammunitions available. They are usually very cautious about how they expend their ammunitions, especially for weapons that carry only few rounds. They would also find themselves in tight situations where they are running out or have run out of ammunitions.
In certain series, the real robot are so prevalent in everyday life that they are also used by civilians.
Real robot series also tackle more mature themes and have a more developed storyline compared to their super robot counterparts. These series also have a more developed settings with complex political landscapes. Military factions in these series would often be portrayed with detailed hierarchies.
Some mecha series contain elements of both super robot and real robot, and thus are difficult to classify.
The mecha in Aura Battler Dunbine and Neon Genesis Evangelion can be considered real robots, but their origin and abilities are super robot in nature.