Type: Battle cliché, Mecha cliché
What made it popular: Even the earliest of mecha anime already had flying mechas, newer mecha anime are simply continuing this trend.
Cliché Level: High (Within the Mecha Genre of course)
Where can you find it: Code Geass R2, Majestic Prince, Kakumeiki Valvrave, Zegapain, Susei no Gargantia, Gundam 00, Gundam Wing, Gundam Seed, any Gundam except MS Team really. Macross Frontier, Macross Zero etc.
This cliché refers to the ability of mechanized mobile suits to fly for long distances. Whether this is done via technology, magic, wings, jets, anti gravitation or any other means couldn’t matter any less to this cliché as long as they can fly for longer periods of time to enable aerial combat, then they apply here.
Why its bad:
Now you might be wondering what this is even doing in my cliché list, and it does seem like a strange pick from a certain perspective. But before you leave, allow me to explain: I have watched several dozen mecha anime, and if I had to draw up a general list of problems within the genre itself, then the fact that mechas can fly would make it into the top 5 problems of the mecha genre.
Like all other clichés, flying mechas are overused and do nothing but harm the show that they are in. In fact aside from a mere “rule of cool” effect, nothing positive comes to the anime by having mechas fly, while it brings a lot of negatives with it.
But why is this? Whats so bad about them being able to fly?
To understand why they are bad, we must first go back to the very concept of mechas. And by mechas here I do not mean mechas from the super robot genre, but mechas from the real robot genre. This cliché couldn’t matter any less in the Super Robot Genre due to the fact that they are over-the-top to begin with, so adding flying is actually beneficial to that particular genre since it only adds to the “cool-factor” aspect of those anime.
But this is not the case with the Real Robot Genre, where this is actually a huge drawback. The reason being is that them being able to fly is against the very idea of realistic mechas.
What do I mean?
Mechas are essentially humanoid robots that can be piloted or remote controlled, the idea with them is that since they are shaped like a humanoid, you can do whatever you could do as a human soldier also with the humanoid mecha. Meaning for example if you produced large enough guns, then your mecha could wield it like a human soldier and fire it. Hell if you designed any equipment large enough, then the mecha could very well make use of it.
And this isn’t just limited to equipment but also tactics. A mecha can execute the same moves and maneuvers that a human soldiers on the ground could do, meaning they can crouch, hide, climb, pick up objects or anything you could think of. They are extremely versatile in what they can do compared to tanks or armoured vehicles. Because of this they are actually semi-viable and believable machines of war, since they can fulfill a role on the battlefield that tanks and other vehicles can’t.
And you can bring this to a whole new level by simply putting mechas into a squad or a team. Do this and they will be immediately able to execute complex and cooperative maneuvers and tactics that a human squad could do. However this is limited to tactics that are constrained to the ground, mechas will always be only capable of field-tactics due to their design and very concept.
The moment you put mechas into the air, you essentially throw out all manner of strategy out the window. The reason for this is also due to the very concept of real robot mechas. These mechas are meant to mimic humans in their capabilities and movements, but naturally humans themselves cannot fly, by nature we are grounded beings, not airborne ones. So the moment you put a mecha, which was based on the earth-bound humans, you get a complete cluster fuck that is present in almost every mecha anime that allows flying.
Mechas are actually feasible as ground war machines, but they are not feasible in the least as flying ones. But of course your average mecha show always manages to make them fly via some utterly bullshit engine, method or outright magic. So now your mecha can fly, but so what? Why would you ever use a mecha over a fighter jet? Not only a fighter jet would be infinitely better for that purpose, the very design of mechas becomes a hindrance when taken to the air. How is having 4 limbs or having a head for that matter, useful for the purpose of flying? It isn’t useful in the slightest, it only makes the mech less aerodynamic than a plane, which will obviously make them slower as a result.
But then comes the typical defense of “muh super special engine which allows them to move at impossible speeds”. That various anime use to justify their flying mechas. The answer to that is that they could simply equip that same engine to a jet, or design one around it, and get a far, far better result than when that same engine strapped into a humanoid mech.
Flying mechas are incapable of tactics, and following this statement, naturally comes the fact that then that any anime, which only employs flying mechas is also devoid of any tactic or logical thought in its battles. It’s not that the creators don’t want to mix tactics with flying mechas, but rather that they are incapable of knowing what kind of tactics would even be feasible for a flying mecha. Unlike grounded mechs, where the creators can always turn to human soldiers and squads and take inspiration there, they cannot do the same with flying mechas for obvious reasons.
We have no idea how a human could fight in midair, because humans themselves are incapable of fight. Therefore most of us also cannot imagine realistic ways of how a humanoid shaped mecha would fight in midair. Because of this anime with flying mecha typically lack intelligence in their battles.
Yes, this cliché is terrible because it essentially eliminates the possibility of employing tactics and thinking into the fights, which honestly makes the battles uninteresting to watch, as they are nothing but rule of cool and flashy showoffs (like firing ginormous lasers or dueling with swords [really?] in midair), case in point Gundam 00 is one the worst examples of this: https://youtu.be/KBDDhd4L-IQ?t=2m20s
And no. Before anyone would defend this, mindlessly zigg-zagging around your enemy’s mech doesn’t constitute much in the tactical department. Mecha anime typically try to trick you into thinking that there are tactics in their fights with such methods, when there is really none. Not to mention its horrible for the viewer’s eye due to the stupidly fast movement that is usually present in these scenes.
This “lack of any real tactic” is especially obvious when a mecha anime, shifts from ground-based mechas to flying mechas, like Code Geass did from season to season 2. Sure even Code Geass season 1 had two flying mechas (Gawaiin and Siegfried) as well, but they still only showed up at the very end of the anime so they weren’t that bothersome. Before that Code Geass was actually utilizing legitimate, and sometimes even smart tactics during battles, but the usage of these tactics and their overall smartness decreased as we were approaching the ending, and in season 2 tactics were non existent thanks to the introduction of overpowered flying Knightmare frames.
I found it hard to ignore how the anime went from utilizing squads of mechs for various goals and tactics, to dick measuring contests based on who has the better and more advanced avant garde robot, all the while constantly powering these said mecha up under the guise of “upgrades” every few episodes. Code Geass devolved into a state where these new flying mecha could easily eliminate a hundred other mecha by themselves. The Soldiers themselves lost their meaning as a result, and became little more than mooks for the slaughter. With the only pilots that actually mattered now, were the so called “aces.”
A counter example to this whole cliché would be: Gundam The 08 MS-Team, which is perhaps the only Gundam that has actual field tactics as all the gundams are strictly restricted to the ground and unable to fly, except during the first episode when they are still in space. Particular thing to note is how due to being grounded, in Gundam MS-Team, the mech pilots do not only have to fight the enemy pilots, but also the environment, which is something that would never be present in air combat.
One of the better solutions to this problem, is when they combine a mecha and a jet into one machine. This is usually done by making the pilot be able to switch between the two forms at will via transformation, this is the ancient gimmick of the Macross series. But it actually works since by turning into a jet, the pilot can now actually use the same aerial tactics and maneuvers that are used by real life jet pilots. And when he needs to be on the ground he can just turn back into a humanoid mecha and use ground tactics.
But unfortunately the large majority of mecha anime don’t make use of such a method, despite the fact that it would also be a completely logical way of enabling the mecha, the ability of flight. The typical mecha anime instead just attaches a set wings or some bullshit anti-gravity device to the mech and calls it a day, which leads to the clusterfuck that I detailed above.( Not to mention that wings generally look absolutely retarded on mechas)