Villains of Mecha Anime

Villains of Mecha Anime

(pop culture)
Perhaps one of the most popular icons of anime (the term for Japanese animation) and manga is the giant robot, or mecha. Ironically, the term “mecha” refers to any vehicle or ship featured, but it has become affixed to giant robotic fighting machines. Mecha can be of any size or shape, but the majority are humanoid shaped, resembling high-tech suits of armor, equipped with a wide variety of weapons. Giant robots are featured in both the manga and original 1960s anime for Astro Boy, but Gigantor (in Japan, Tetsujin-28 go) was the first anime to feature a giant robot as a major character. It would not be until the 1970s with Go Nagai's Mazinger Z that the main elements of the mecha genre would be introduced: the stalwart teenage hero, his loyal but concerned girlfriend, his one-of-a-kind giant robot, the super-secret base of operations, and the truly evil villain— sometimes human, sometimes not—who would send countless creations of his own to wreak havoc on the hero in a diabolical plan to rule Earth. Unfortunately, the mecha anime that followed Mazinger recycled the formula to the point of staleness. In 1979 director Yoshiyuki Tomino took the mecha genre in a fresh direction with his series Mobile Suit Gundam. Set nearly two hundred years in the future, Gundam chronicles a devastating civil war between Earth and a rebellious group of space colonies. Much of the fighting is done with machines called “Mobile Suits.” The anime was the first to combine mecha with a hard science-fiction feel, resulting in a very believable series. For his villains, Tomino created two major characters who, despite being human and lacking true superpowers, would set the standard for other villains of mecha animation: Gihren Zabi and Drake Luft. Gihren Zabi is Gundam's true villain. The eldest son of Degwin Sodo Zabi, Gihren is the supreme military commander of the Zeon forces (the group of colonies who began the war against the Earth Federation). A highly intelligent man in his mid-thirties, Gihren has no superpowers to speak of … but he was the ultimate mastermind behind the war that had wiped out nearly half of the human race—around four to five billion people. Tomino patterned this arch-villain after the major dictators of the twentieth century: Hitler, Stalin, and Mussolini. As with all megalomaniacs, Gihren has the ability to rally the people, and he believes that God had chosen the people of Zeon to lead humanity into a new age (after getting rid of those pesky earthbound Federation types, of course). Gihren is assassinated by his sister Kycilia at the end of Gundam. A “descendant” of Gihren is Drake Luft from Tomino's 1983 series Aura Battler Dunbine. A fascinating anime that blends sword and sorcery with mecha, Dunbine takes place in the fantasy world of Byston Well (but later moves to Earth). Drake begins as the ruler of the small province of Ah, but his ambition for power leads him to bring in two people from Earth to create “aura machines” and “Aura Battlers.” These robotic weapons allow Drake to conquer most of Byston Well and even Earth (referred to as “Upper Earth”). Only the brave rebel army of Neal Given can halt Drake's plans, but not before many lives are sacrificed. The most unique villain in mecha animation has to be Char Aznable of Mobile Suit Gundam (1979). Char is Zeon's ace pilot, and with his silver mask and helmet, red outfit, and urbane personality, he is called the Red Comet. Throughout the television series, he proves to be quite the foe for Gundam's hero, Amuro Rey. Char's skills as a pilot are due to the fact that he is a NewType—a human possessing a heightened state of awareness, intuition, and ESP. Char is closer to an anti-hero, cut from the cloth of Gully Foyle from Alfred Bester's The Stars My Destination (1956). While he is fighting for Zeon, he is also secretly plotting to kill the members of the Zabi family to take revenge. At the end of Gundam, Char disappears—but emerges as a hero in the 1985 series Zeta Gundam. Under the alias “Quattro Bagina,” he fights against the Titans, a vicious and corrupt army created by the Federation. Char even meets—and fights alongside— his old enemy, Amuro Rey. At the end of Zeta, Char disappears again. In the 1988 film Char's Counterattack, Char returns, this time as a villain. Still seeking the independence of the colonies from Earth, Char decides that desperate measures are needed—namely, crashing asteroids into the planet to trigger a nuclear winter and wipe out all life on the planet. Once again, he and Amuro cross paths, but at the film's conclusion, both men sacrifice themselves to save Earth. Other popular mecha villains would emerge over the years, such as Khyron from Macross (1982), Paptimus Scirocco from Zeta Gundam (1985), the Magnificent Ten from Giant Robo (1992–1998), and even characters bearing a resemblance to Char—Zechs Marquis from Gundam Wing (1995–1996) and Rau Le Creuset of Gundam Seed—but no mecha villain has matched Char in popularity, either in Japan or America. In the world of mecha anime, Char Aznable truly stands alone.