Super Robots and Mythology – How I Learned to Love the Rocket Punch
As a show, Voltron has not aged gracefully. But as one of my first mecha series, it started my love affair with the super robot genre. I came to appreciate giant robot shows that embraced the ridiculous and ignored the laws of physics – from Mazinger to Godannar, Transformers to the Braves, and everything in between.
That’s not to say that I dislike anything featuring real robots. I find the UC Gundam universe endlessly fascinating, Macross remains one of my favorite long-running franchises and the Break Blade manga has me searching daily for the newest chapter.
But as much as I can appreciate the themes that those shows explore – the true cost of war, the line between heroism and murder, the façade of villainy, the emptiness of victory – they don’t grab my attention on the same visceral level as the Getter Robos or Dendohs of the world. This is mainly because the theme that sits at the core of the super robot genre is also one that has intrigued me for years – good vs. evil.
Some series explore this theme more than others, and many shows aim specifically to turn the concept on its head. It’s a primordial conflict, and its presence in the vast majority of super robot mythos allows the genre to get in touch with some archaic motifs.
There’s a reason so many of these shows draw inspiration from mythology. Shapeshifters, minotaurs and golems find new life as aliens, machines or creatures from the center of the earth. And just like the old myths, you have two types of heroes that rise to defeat them: a human who takes up a weapon and, in doing so, casts away his humanity, and god-like beings who descend to protect their defenseless charges (piloted and living mechs, respectively).
These roots are central to the appeal of super robots. Ideon’s Black Hole Cannon (which does exactly what it says) seems ridiculous, but so is Typhon, a giant from Greek mythology who had a hundred dragon heads and a body covered in wings. The world that super robots inhabit is over-the-top and fantastical, but built on the solid foundation of stories that have survived for centuries.
Entertainment, as a whole, has moved away from simple myths, embracing more naturalistic and complex plots. Yet, super robot shows buck that trend to create a modern myth, featuring golden lions, star warriors and ancient golems. Look at the plot synopsis of GaoGaiGar or Aquarion, and you will find a tale that follows this ancient story structure. The simplicity of these stories lead to them being consumed mostly by children, but that same simplicity is part of the reason why they appeal on a more visceral level.
The super robot genre’s utilization of base emotions is a large part of my fascination with it. Within one episode, you can go from riotous laughter to all-consuming rage to crushing tragedy, all at extremes, with no real gradient between them. It’s old-fashioned and exceptionally cathartic. Many criticize the genre for being too ridiculous, but a gravity gun isn’t any stranger than the earth being borne from a giant egg formed of coalesced chaos (as in the Pangu legend from Chinese mythology).
When you get right down to it, super robot shows are fun. But when you look at the reason they’re fun, scraping away the veneer of super-attacks and high-level animation, you find that they’re resonating with an internal story that has been part of culture since we first started asking how we came to be.
In other words, every Rocket Punch carries with it the weight of history.*
*Imagine this line read by Norio Wakamoto
**Featured art: Rocket Punch by ~SeVeNTH-FLaSH