A Love Letter to Giant Robots


Ah, giant robots. I grew up thinking they are the coolest things ever, and I still do. My first exposure to them was probably through 1994’s BattleTech animated series, where Adam Steiner piloted an AXM-2N Axman, in its frankly ridiculous neon green and purple paint job. And from there, well. I was hooked. Lets explore a little about some history, some of my favourite giant robot media, and even a small work-related thing.

A Note on Terminology

Giant robot, or mecha, media is a broad church. That said, there are generally two accepted terms for the two main types of giant robots: the Super Robot and the Real Robot. The aforementioned AXM-2N Axman is thoroughly a Real Robot - they are mass produced (kind of) and require visible maintenance and care of the systems involved, even if some handwavy science is involved. Perhaps the clearest definition is that in Real Robot media, the robots are tools - they are used by the characters, but they are not the characters themselves.

On the other, hand, we have the Super Robots. These are characters in their own right, and are typically unique. Expect explanations of their powers to be virtually non-existent, and for them to be powered by concepts rather than fuel cells or nuclear reactors. Transformers is probably the most famous Western example of a Super Robot - sentient machines powered by Sparks (in the appropriate continuity).

With that out of the way, lets talk about some of my favourite giant robot media. I’ll be covering a mix of Super and Real Robot, across TV, film, video games and a little bit of table-top gaming.


  1. TV & Film
  2. Video Games
  3. Tabletop RPGs
  4. Bonus: A Small Work-Related Thing
  5. Closing Words

TV & Film

Mobile Suit Gundam: The 08th MS Team

A promotional poster for "Mobile Suit Gundam: The 08th MS Team", an anime series. It features a large, heavily weathered and battle-damaged Gundam mech (robot) standing in a dense jungle setting. The Gundam is primarily white with red and blue accents and holds a large shield with the number "08" visible on it. The shield and the Gundam both show signs of rust and damage. Above the Gundam, three soldiers are descending from the sky using parachutes. The background consists of lush green foliage, tall trees, and a blue sky with some clouds. The title "Mobile Suit Gundam: The 08th MS Team" is prominently displayed at the bottom in bold black and red letters. The logo for Sunrise, the studio behind the series, is located in the lower right corner of the image.

Mobile Suit Gundam: The 08th MS Team Poster. Copyright Sunrise / Bandai Namco Filmworks, Inc. 1996

I am a huge fan of the Mobile Suit Gundam franchise, and The 08th MS Team OVA (Original Video Animation) is probably my favourite entry. It is a Real Robot series, set during the One Year War of the Universal Century timeline. The series follows the titular 08th MS Team, a group of Federation soldiers stationed in Southeast Asia. The series is notable for its focus on the human cost of war, and the fact that the main character, Shiro Amada, is a lieutenant - a rarity in anime. I have kits of both the RX-79[G] Gundam Ground Type and the MS-07B-3 Gouf Custom on my shelf, and they are some of my favourites.

What makes this series stand out in the wider Gundam franchise is its focus on the grunts - there are no heroes here, just soldiers trying to survive a war. There is a heavy emphasis on the horrors of war and “life in the trenches” - resources are scarce, and the soliders are often forced to scavenge parts from the battlefield to keep their machines running. The series also features a very good romance subplot - not every show can manage to pull off a slow-burn romance over 12 episodes, but its managed here.

At the time of writing, The 08th MS Team is available to stream on Hulu and Disney+. Obviously, go and watch the rest of the Gundam UC timeline too, but with special recommendations for working up to Gundam Unicorn - plenty of watchlists out there to help you with that - this one is quite good, though I’d put THE ORIGIN later on, after Unicorn.

Also Karen best girl.

Patlabor: The Movie

The image is a promotional poster for "Patlabor: The Movie", an anime film. It features a character standing in a side profile with their head tilted back, looking up. The character is a young woman with short, reddish-brown hair. She is wearing a uniform consisting of a white shirt with short sleeves, a black tie, and an orange vest. The vest has a patch on the sleeve, and she also has blue trousers and brown shoes with white spats. The character holds a white helmet under her arm, indicating that she is likely part of a police unit. The background is plain white, with no additional scenery or context. The title "PATLABOR" is prominently displayed in large, bold, black letters across the bottom of the image. Above the English title is the Japanese title written in smaller, black characters.

Patlabor: The Movie Poster. Copyright Headgear / Bandai Visual Co., Ltd. 1989

In the Criminal Justice System, Humongous Mecha-based offenses are considered especially heinous. In Tokyo, the dedicated officers who deal with these vicious felonies are an elite squad known as the Special Vehicles Unit. These are their stories.


From TVTropes

When writing this, I was trying to decide if I liked Patlabor: The Movie, the OVA, or Patlabor: The Movie 2 more. I recommend all of them, especially The Movie 2 if you end up watching this one.

Patlabor is a Real Robot series (perhaps one of the realest along with Armored Trooper VOTOMS), set in a near-future Tokyo where giant robots - Labors - are used for construction and law enforcement. The series follows the members of the Special Vehicles Section 2, a division of the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department that deals with crimes involving Labors.

So why The Movie? It’s a great standalone story, following a series of mysterious Labor malfunctions that cause significant destruction and endanger lives. These incidents are traced back to a new advanced operating system called the HOS, developed by a programmer named Eiichi Hoba. As the SV2 team investigates, they discover that Hoba has committed suicide, leaving behind a cryptic message and a legacy of chaos through his software. If you are a software engineer, you will understand that this is a big mood.

What I like about The Movie is that, again, its a slow burn where the Labors, although cool as hell, are falliable tools. The Patlabor series always feels like we are only one or two technological steps away from it being made real, and The Movie highlights the complex interplay between technology and the people that create and operate it.

At the time of writing, Patlabor: The Movie is not available for streaming. All three movies (though I’m not a huge fan of WXIII) are available on Blu-Ray.

Space Runaway Ideon

A promotional poster for "Space Runaway Ideon", an anime series and movie collection. The central figure in the image is a large red robot, known as the Ideon, depicted from the waist up. The Ideon has a humanoid shape with a square, mechanical face and prominent V-shaped antennas on its head. Its chest features various rectangular panels and a circular emblem. The background shows a view of space with a planet's horizon visible at the bottom. Above the planet, there is a bright light source, possibly a star, casting a glow. The title "IDEON" is written in large, white letters across the top of the image, with the words "SPACE RUNAWAY" in smaller white letters inside the "O" in "IDEON." Below the title, it states "COMPLETE SERIES + MOVIES" in smaller white text.

Space Runaway Ideon Poster. Copyright Sunrise / Bandai Namco Filmworks, Inc. 1980

Oh, Space Runaway Ideon. What happens when the father of modern Real Robot stories, Yoshiyuki Tomino, directs a Super Robot show immediately after Mobile Suit Gundam? You get Ideon.

In brief, Ideon follows the crew of the “Solo Ship” as they flee from the pursuit of the Buff Clan with their mysterious giant robot, the Ideon. Ideon subverts many of the tropes of the Super Robot genre - the Ideon is not a hero, but a weapon of mass destruction that is poorly understood, by our heroes and the Buff Clan. Rather than taking a “monster of the week” approach like many of its predecessors, Ideon works slowly over the course of 39 episodes and two movies, exploring existential dread, cosmic horror, and the human condition.

Yeah, no wonder Hideaki Anno cites Ideon as a major influence on Neon Genesis Evangelion.

I love Ideon for its sheer ambition - it is a show that is not afraid to ask big questions, and it is a show that is not afraid to answer them. The show is not perfect - the animation quality is inconsistent, and the pacing can be a little slow at times. But the show’s ambition and willingness to take risks make it a standout in the Super Robot genre. There hasn’t really been anything quite like it since, except maybe Bokurano and the aforementioned Evangelion.

At the time of writing, Space Runaway Ideon is not avaialble for streaming. The series and movies are out of print - you may be able to find them on eBay or similar in Blu-Ray.


A promotional poster for the anime series "Dai-Guard." It features a large group of characters posing in front of the giant robot, Dai-Guard. The robot is prominently displayed in the background, towering over the characters with its distinctive red, black, and yellow design. The Dai-Guard has a stern, humanoid face and a bright, star-shaped crest on its forehead. The foreground features the main characters standing confidently in front of Dai-Guard. At the bottom of the poster, the title "Dai-Guard" is prominently displayed in bold, blue and red letters, with the subtitle "Terrestrial Defense Corp." written above it in smaller, yellow letters.

Dai-Guard Poster. Copyright Studio Xebec 1999.

Listen to the opening while reading this.

So we’ve had two by the books Real Robot series, a highly subversive Super Robot series, and now we have Dai-Guard. Dai-Guard is… hard to define. Ostensibly, this is Real Robot show, but the emponymous Dai-Guard really, really wants to be a Super Robot - again, listen to that opening!

If you have ever worked for any large corporations, the trappings of the 21st Century Security Corporation will be painfully familiar. Sure, you own a giant robot, but its been mothballed for years. Now you’ve got to pay for upkeep, deal with the government, fill out forms, and oh god the paperwork. Dai-Guard is a show about the bureaucracy of giant robots, and it is hilarious. There is a fantastic line where, doing a lot of “hurry up and wait”, one of the pilots says something along the lines of “I’ve watched a lot of giant robot anime all my life, and they never mentioned this part”.

Beyond the relatively silly trappings, there is - you might be seeing a theme here - a lot of focus on the people, rather than the robot. The alien threat of the Heterodyne stops being a threat about a third of the way through the series - the real threat is the bureaucracy, balancing the budget and dealing with megalomanical bosses - something anything a corporate worker can relate to.

As mentioned earlier, its a Real Robot show, but it wants to be a Super Robot show. The Dai-Guard is a unique machine, and the pilots are unique people, but Dai-Guard isn’t a very good robot and the pilots aren’t very good either. No matter how much Akagi Shunsuke wants to win through the power of hot-bloodedess, the square-cube law is a harsh mistress and no laws of physics will be violated today.

At the time of writing, Dai-Guard is not avaialble for streaming. It is also out of print, so you may be able to find it on eBay or similar in DVD.


A promotional poster for the anime series "GunBuster." The central figure in the image is a large robot, known as GunBuster, standing tall against a vibrant, dramatic sky. The robot has a predominantly black and orange color scheme with a humanoid shape. It has large, wing-like appendages on its back and a distinctive headpiece with a star-shaped crest. The robot's arms are folded across its chest, giving it a powerful and imposing presence. In the foreground, three female characters are standing confidently, each in a different pose. The title "GUNBUSTER" is prominently displayed in large, bold, red letters across the top of the image.

GunBuster Poster. Copyright Gainax Co., Ltd. 1998

inazuma kick!

So, GunBuster. Before Evangelion and Gurren Lagann, there was GunBuster, and it is amazing. It isn’t quite a deconstruction, or even a parody, but crammed full of love for Super Robots and classic tennis anime. Yes, tennis anime. The full title - Aim for the Top! GunBuster - is a reference to Aim for the Ace!, a classic tennis anime, and the show is full of references to classic Super Robot shows like Getter Robo and Mazinger Z.

The story of GunBuster is very much a classic coming-of-age story - Noriko Takaya evolves from an insecure trainee to a confident and capable pilot, while showing a lot of emotional depth. What is also particularly interesting is how time dilation is used to great effect, and the very real impacts it has on the characters - see Interstellar for a more recent example of this.

We can’t talk about GunBuster without its sequel, Diebuster. Diebuster is a very different beast - it is a lot more abstract and experimental, and is a lot more of a deconstruction of the Super Robot genre. It is also very good, and I recommend watching both - I don’t think you can do one without the other.

Both have absolutely banging soundtracks. Groovin’ Magic is a bop, and Active Heart just oozes 80s cheese, in the best way.

At the time of writing, GunBuster and DieBuster aren’t available for streaming, but they are available on Blu-Ray.

What about Evangelion/86/Code Geass/Getter Robo/whatever?

Look, I could write a whole post on Gundam alone, let alone getting into Evangelion and other more well known stuff. These ones are my particular favourites. You could work your way through the Anilist top list for mecha or the MyAnimeList top list for mecha if you wanted to, but this was meant to be a more curated, personal list.

Some other recommendations

A front on portrait of Ryoma Nagare from Getter Robo. He is a man with a serious expression, long black hair with the famous Go Nagai sideburns of hot bloodedness, a grey t-shirt and beige overcoat. A long, fraying red scarf is dramatically wrapped around his neck.

Ryoma Nagare, king of hot blooded sideburns. Copyright Brain's Base 2004.

Video Games

Frankly, there is a precious dearth of good mecha games, for some reason. They are mostly Real Robot focused - outside of Super Robot Wars there is precious little Super Robot representation. Here are three of my personal favourites:


Wolfstride. Copyright OTA IMON Studios 2021.

Wolfstride is a bit of an odd duck. Three ex-cons, a junkyard mecha, and a dream. Entirely in black and white, a hybrid pixel/anime art style and an excellent soundtrack make for a compelling experience. It’s a mix of turn-based combat and visual novel, and really is quite goood.

Available on Steam.

Into the Breach

Into the Breach. Copyright Subset Games 2018.

Into the Breach is a turn-based strategy game from the makers of FTL: Faster Than Light. It is a game about the last stand of humanity against an alien threat, and you control a squad of mechs to protect the cities of Earth.

Fundamentally, its a puzzle game. The robots feel chunky, and have some really solid designs to them, even in minature. Another pixel art game.

Available on Steam.

Chained Echoes

Chained Echoes. Copyright Ark Heiral 2022.

You’re probably thinking “this isn’t a mecha game”, and you’d be wrong. Sure, it has all the traditional trappings of a classic fantasy JRPG, but the inclusion of Mechs means it totally counts. Huge amounts of content, epic story and a phenomenal battle system.

Available on Steam.

Visual Novels

OK, I lied about the three games. Visual novels are a different beast and aren’t for everyone. That said, there are two I would recommend: Muv-Luv (and Muv-Luv Alternative) and Full Metal Daemon Muramasa.

I won’t spend too much time on these, due to their niche appeal, but thought I’d throw them in anyway.

Special shout out to Demonbane - I can’t recommend it directly because of the nature of its content, but it gets credit for perhaps having the largest mecha in any medium (at least, in a prequel novel).

What about Armored Core/Zone of the Enders/Front Mission/whatever?

You’ve probably heard about them, and they are all excellent. I haven’t yet played Armored Core VI, but I’ve heard excellent things. I adore Zone of the Enders, but I haven’t played it for some time. Front Mission is something I’m not super familiar with, I’m embareassed to say.

Tabletop RPGs

Last but not least, a couple of tabletop RPGs that I really ennjoy.


Lancer. Copyright Massif Press 2019.

Lancer is everything I have ever wanted from a giant robot tabletop RPG. With art by Abaddon of Kill Six Billion Demons fame, and a system that is tight, Lancer is a game about mech pilots, their mechs, and the world they inhabit. The game is set in a far future where humanity has spread to the stars, and the players are members of a mercenary company that pilots mechs called frames.

There are a bunch of narratives and settings available, both from the community and from Massif Press themselves. COMP/CON is a fantastic tool for building characters, keeping track of things and running the game. And you’ll need it - the game is very crunchy and requires a lot of bookkeeping. There is so, so much lore, but that is also half the fun.

It is, however, very mission based, and that might not jive well with a group that enjoys more of the intermission time. It requires a lot of effort from the GM to make a compelling campaign.

Salvage Union

Salvage Union. Copyright Leyline Press 2023.

Salvage Union, on the flip side, is much less crunchy and takes the mechanics from Quest - a single d20 is all this is needed.

The game is set in a post-apocalyptic world where the players are members of a salvage crew, tasked with recovering lost technology from the ruins of the old world. The game is very much about exploration and discovery, and the players are encouraged to build the world as they play. There is a lot of focus on narrative, and half the fun is building and maintaining your mech and Crawler as you go about, doing jobs that might or might not fit into a larger narrative.

This game is basically the anthesis of Lancer - it is very rules light, and the focus is on the narrative rather than the mechanics. It is a lot easier to run, and a lot more forgiving to new players.

Also dieselpunk is just straight cool, and so are the Meld.

What about Battletech/Heavy Gear/whatever?

I haven’t played Battletech in years, and I’ve never played Heavy Gear. MechWarrior: Destiny looks like it would be up my alley in terms of being a narrative-focused game, but I haven’t had a chance to play it yet.

Many, many years ago. Copyright Heroku, Inc 2011.

Looking into the distant past, before the era of standard-0 Heroku Postgres plans, the plan naming was quite different and a lot more whimsical. The mecha plan was the largest, and the most powerful, and used the iconic visage of the RX-78-2 Gundam as its logo.

For a long time, mecha was the highest tier, until a shake up of the plans where in the Enterprise tier, ryu was introduced. crane, kappa, ronin and fugu also went away, to be replaced by yanari and tengu.

Closing Words

Heck yeah, giant robots. I could have whole posts on Gundam alone (and I haven’t even touched gunpla!). Always remember:


Copyright Studio Gainax 2007.