Giant robots are how humanity tells physics we’re not finished yet. They prove that technology doesn’t have to compete with art and religion, because it’s already both, and much more effective at moving our hearts and changing the world.
The problem is that giant robots became obsolete a full century (and counting) before they existed. The instant someone fired an anti-tank missile, going to war in any vehicle became how you tell the enemy you don’t want to walk to your own funeral. Luckily the whole point of fiction is fixing the stupid flaws in reality. Which is why we’re looking at five of the coolest robots ever imagined, and how they solve this problem.
Megas XLR had the greatest intro ever written:
When someone say music speaks directly to the human soul, that’s the song they’re talking about. And they’re right. Megas is the Last Starfighter of giant robots: lead character Coop learns advanced mech combat through a lifetime of videogaming and pay-per-view wrestling specials. Which explains why it was a giant mech made of everything electronically cool from 1979 onwards.
You now either want to see this or are on the wrong site. This also explains why his rewired mech can dragon punch, has to shoot outside of the screen to reload, and is fitted with an emergency backup Dance Dance Revolution control system.
Excuse: Driving License
Coop found the robot in a junkyard, replaced its missing head with a kickass car to create an even more kickass car, and his entire awesome universe agreed with him. As far as his reality is concerned, it’s simply the muscliest car in existence. The only time the government bothers him is when he has to renew his driving license, and an alien armada almost conquers Earth because he’s waiting at the DMV.
DISQUALIFICATION: Gundam Turn A
Gundam has featured so many series and species of giant robot you’d swear they were trying to make one for every human on the planet. Which does seem to be Japan’s master plan. And which would actually solve every problem on Earth. The most powerful Gundam is the Type A, a robot which understands that the only thing manlier than a hundred meters of giant robot is one with ten tons of solid steel moustache.
Unfortunately the Type A is more overpowered than a barbecue grill on the surface of the sun. And less fun to use. Its powers include total regeneration, the ability to teleport anywhere in existence, resurrecting its own pilot, and shooting enemy pilots in their cockpits right through their robots. That’s ruder than sitting down to play a chess match and shitting in the seat. Those are the kind of powers you get when you hire an eight year old to design your all-powerful mech. But its real weakness is its emergency weapon, which turns all other technology in existence to dust. Including other Gundams. Meaning this is a giant robot specifically designed to PREVENT giant robot fights from happening, and therefore the worst mech ever made.
Gundam GNT-0000 00 Qan[T]
That’s why we’re going with the double-oh-quanta. That’s two phrases based on impossible awesomeness.
The Qan[T] understands that if we wanted to shoot enemies, we’d do it with a nuke. Giant robots should do it by giant hand, wielding a massive sword and shield, with chunks of sword roving around the mech firing weapons and absorbing enemy fire. Proving that Gradius perfected the art of space combat thirty years ago
Excuse: Minovksy Particles
Most giant robot series ignore physics, but Gundam tried to deal with it, and it was like an Ohio lawmaker trying to describe the female reproductive system: physical impossibility, imaginary words and a lot of people getting screwed. “Minovksy particles” were the fictional subatomic equivalent of “a wizard did it” but slightly less convincing. These particles self-organize to create a field which prevents conventional weaponry from working, which is why tanks don’t just shoot the robots with guns, but doesn’t stop robot weaponry from working, which is why the giant robots all have guns.
Then again, you shouldn’t expect sanity when you realize that most of the robots are designed to operate only in space and still have legs. When you’re talking to starship designers who refuse to give up the ability to tap dance, logical tactics are not your concern.
Warhammer 40,000 is the most ass-kicking name for anything ever. That’s 4.44 times more science fiction than HAL and infinitely more murderous. The Warhammer galaxy is one where every species is locked in a battle for survival and they’re all awesomely losing. 40k has been described as a world where you take a warp battleship to the other side of the galaxy, fly an armored assault craft down to the surface, crash a massive tank to the front lines, then get out and run at your enemy waving a sword. The crazy thing is, the person who said that was trying to make it sound bad.
The giant robots of 40k are the Titans, the God-Machines of the Machine God, and you get to be tautological when your mere existence changes the orbit of the planet you’re on. Each is a cathedral of ass-kicking.
Excuse: Utter Non-F$#k Giving
Warhammer is to realistic combat doctrine what fireworks are to safety matches. They don’t just field robots the size of five empire state buildings full of guns welded together in the shape of a person, they have people fighting with chainsaws around its ankles just for the glory of being on the same battlefield as something so awesome. Then they give the giant robot a chainsaw too. Because they tried sanity once and found it boring.
Neon Genesis Evangelion
“Evangelion” is Japanese for “Giant Robot What The F$#%ery”, and every word of that is in eighty meter tall armor plated capitals. The giant robots are eventually revealed to be clones of pieces of Adam, filled with the blood of Lilith, psychically grafted with the souls of dead mothers so that their own 14-year-old children can pilot them while wearing fetish suits. Any three random words of that sentence would render you a useless mental patient. They use it to kick impossible ass.
The pilots were the most horrifically maladjusted and annoying teenage whiners even anime can produce. Which turns out to be a good thing: it turns out that the EVAs can go into a berserk super-mode if their pilots endure enough pain, so it seems they’ve been specifically staffed with the most unbearable brats possible to make sure everyone is okay with that.
Excuse: Absolute Terror
This wasn’t script-writers being scared off by how screwed up their own creations were, but another physics-style effect. EVAs generated an “Absolute Terror” field which makes them totally immune to guns. But not giant guns held by other EVAs. Which might sound like a logical flaw, until you see one …
… and realize that nothing could be immune to a gun like that. That’s the kind of weapon that makes Zeus stick up his hands and offer you his wallet.
Metal Gear Rex
The Metal Gear Rex is what happened when they tried to build something tough enough to take on Solid Snake, and proved it was impossible. Metal Gear Solid was the moon landing of third-person computer games. It elevated them to a whole new level. That shock when Solid Snake didn’t move as the giant robot lurched towards him, and you realized that this wasn’t a cut scene, it was the game, is still the greatest terror moment in videogames.
This was the high point in Metal Gear design. Every Gear before this was a 2-D runaround, while everything after was a wibbly wobbly gooey organic mess. The Rex was the high point of solid steel ass-kicking.
Excuse: Pure Nerd Love
The alleged excuse for the bipedal battle robot was to act as an untrackable nuclear launch platform, but unless it had a hidden ability to transmorph into a giant aluminum Usain Bolt and outrun a nuclear explosion, that was nonsense. The real reason was this guy:
Metal Gear Rex was built by a nerd, for nerds, and it was glorious. He even designed it with weaknesses so that a single human could fight it just because of how awesome he thought that would be. In the story he was meant to be the standard smart guy, but he was far more intelligent than anyone gave him credit for: he knew he was in a video game, and decided to be on the player’s side.
Devastator was the greatest Transformer ever made. Optimus Prime was more heroic, and Soundwave had the coolest voice, but for simple ass-kicking you couldn’t beat an angry cement mixing truck which turned into a giant robot, which then joined a gianter robot just to be the bit that kicked you.
Devastator was the high point of giant robot cool. The transforming cities were far too big to actually turn up more than once a season, and even when they did, “providing a stable economic hub for outlying areas” isn’t quite as much fun as “bulldozing”. Later Transformers would try to up the coolness by combining race cars and jet fighters, but just this once those vehicles were too late to the party.
Excuse: Glorious Capitalism
Transformers are more worried by rust than projectile weaponry. Giving a Transformer a laser gun is better way to get disco lighting than accurate fire. Devastator’s giant size made him a bigger target in the same way that eating a second slice of pizza makes you more gravitationally attractive to incoming meteor strikes: the physics of your universe mean you don’t have to worry about it. But the real reason for his existence was co-operation even more magical than his own design. Devastator was the one time the innocent children enjoying the show and the heartless executives making it agreed on one perfect thought: wouldn’t it be awesome if they sold a toy robot that was made of even more toy robots?
Unfortunately the movies forgot that beautiful vision, deciding that we’d rather see Shia Labeouf instead of giant transforming robots. Or nails being driven into our eyes.
So we’ll just have to go with the nuclear vortex generating, supertanker-bat swinging, rocket-elbow-powered-punch-making Jaegers instead.
Yo dawg, we heard you like Pacific Rim, so we put rims on your Pacific with Pimp My Giant Robot! For more mechanical glory, check out The Truth Behind Pacific Rim. And once all the monsters are defeated, prepare for the digital cold war in How To Fight Machines!