So I’ve been watching Gurenn Lagann and Darling in the Franxx recently and I’ve asked myself, will the anime mecha design ever work? It turns out that mechas are just like my hopes and dreams. They will never come true.

Here’s why.

The idea of having a humanoid robot to be used in actual warfare has been the dream of anime fans throughout the world and it’s no wonder why. If you’ve ever seen any mecha show like gundam, Evangelion, Voltes V or even Micahel Bay’s transformers then you’ll know that giant robots annihilating everything that they come across to is pretty cool.

The big explosions of optimus prime, the flying beauty that is the MSF-007 and the iconic Voltes V which has been a huge icon in pop culture as well as my childhood. Me and my cousins wearing cardboard boxes pretending to be Voltes V while having a wrestling match is still a fresh memory.

But unfortunately fiction is not reality and even in the dirrer efforts of battle bots and mecha enthusiasts that actually made bigger than life models. The flaws of mechas are glaring.

The thing is that you don’t even have to look far into the scientific back end of the machinery to notice its problems nor to prove its dysfunctionality.

This can be countered by the argument that the technology is still at its early ages. Of what use is a baby? Some might say and although I must admit that the technology behind the current generation of mechas is indeed very impressive, the futility of mechas lies in a problem beyond technological advancements.

These are: Logistics, cost-efficiency, design and necessity

The Mecha/Kaiju conflict is heartbreaking

Necessity in warfare:

War is a nasty business and any veteran will tell you the exact same thing when asked about it.

“It should be the last resort”                   

But it seems that violence and barbarism is always in the nature of man. An instinct that one resorts to when he doesn’t get what he wants by conventional manners. Violence is the primal instinct of a creature biologically programmed to go to the most desperate of measures just to survive, persist and keep on existing.

Throughout the history of man warfre has  existed since the first hunter gatherers and tribal conflicts, since then we have deviced much better, more efficientt ways to kill each other, like making bows, canons and guns, some are even very creative and are meant to make people talk like Judas’s cradle, the brazen bull, Lynching and Flaying also called as the art of skinning someone or something alive… Most of the time, it’s someone.

We have even devised many ways to break someone’s sanity and make them crazy like the whiteroom torture method, playing the same music nonstop over the course of months on end and highschool.

We have become so efficient at killing each other, that we have an entire war that produced countless meat grinders because both sides are too good at killing each other that they cant advance anymore. Seas of bloods and relentless artillery barrages made world war 1 the living nightmare of any man.           

Then we eventually came up with a weapon that’s so efficient in killing that we can make our own race extinct if we use it. It’s so efficient that it ended all global conflicts all together.              

Oftentimes military research and weapons development are one of the pioneers of the big push of technological advancements. It forces entire nations to move forward and create better technology to advance forward and stay relevant on the battlefield. Although the reason for this is to kill people, hundreds or even thousands of them in the blink of an eye.

Historically, the bulk of medical advancements are made during or for wartimes.

With that being said in order to know if a mecha is truly useful in warfare then we must first know what it’s used for. 

In shows like Evangelion, mechas are often portrayed as frontline tanks, often taking the bulk of enemy fire and retaliating in return with its tremendous amounts of firepower in its arsenal.

It’s almost like a multi-purpose, quintessential war machine, able to take hordes of enemy vehicles, structures and menn in one fell swoop without having any damage at all, but in reality this is not entirely the case.

You see in warfare, especially in these modern times, range is key to winning an engagement. If you can see where the enemy is before he sees you, if your firing range is longer than his, then that means you can attack first and it will take some time for him to assess where you are and eventually return fire. If he’s still alive to do that.

Engaging in a confrontation without being confronted is the best option in most engagements. This has been used in the guerilla warfare of the Vietnam war, and by te Finnish army in world war 2. 

Imagine if you’re walking in the middle of the desert and then all of a sudden someone starts shooting at your unit and 2 guys get killed, 5 are screaming for help but you can’t help because that means getting out of cover. You don’t know where the shooter is and you’re out in the middle of nowhere.

After 3 mins you finally assess that they are shooting from a nearby abandoned village and you call in an airstrike there. They bomb the hell out of the village, but when you get there you see no bodies, no hints of human existence, no signs of life, just pure desolation.

Now imagine that same situation except that now you’re in malaria town, with venomous snakes lurking at the humid jungles of Vietnam with trees and plants at every turn and then someone fires at you, you don’t know where it is, so you fire at nowhere, the VC kills 5 of your guys, and in return you don’t even know if you killed any of them.

You call in a napalm so you burn an entire jungle just to kill them but when you get there you see no one, nothing. No signs that they’ve even been there. 

this is how napalm works, right?

This is how important the element of range is. You might be near your enemy but you are so far from them. Now imagine a 224 ft. robot walking in the middle of the desert

. It’s basically a big, walking target.

Think of these mechas as like the Titans from attack on titan except that attack on Titan was made in American that grew up in Texas. Now the question is that even if if they do have modern weapons, and immense firepower they still wouldn’t be able to fare against modern day weapons and firearms as they can simply spot them from 3 kilometers away and they’ll never know what hit them.

I haven’t even mentioned the jets and only the ground troops.

So if they don’t work as frontline tanks, then what can they work as? Nothing. They are not necessary. They might be, as Disneyland attractions but in actual warfare, they simply aren’t, why? That leads to my second point, the design.

Design:

The reason why so many engineers are using animals as the base model for their research is because evolution is the greatest engineer. It has specifically modified certain creatures to fit certain environments and do their best there. You can have animals that can withstand extreme heat and cold and still function as a prominent predator. 

You have a bird that can dive down at extreme speeds to catch a fish underwater and fly straight away after catching it. You have cats that are annoying. You have dogs that are very loud. You have bears. You have koalas. You have insects whose sole purpose in life is eating garbage. You have fungi that live off of shit. You have ants. 

So many things can be learnt from the evolutionary design of these creatures because they have evolved for thousands of years to best suit their purpose and environment. Then here comes man. More specifically, that homosapiens.

Flamingos are finely tuned machines!

We have brothers and other species that are close to our kind but they all died off, why? Because they don’t have the ability to make funny sounds and communicate to people, therefore they haven’t been able to co-operate and make a thriving civilization. Unlike us who have language systems so that we can actually understand each other and express our opinions better.

If you look at humans and compare them to other animals you’ll see that humans are pretty weak in comparison. You have elephants who are 3x as big as us, you have lions and tigers who are faster, more vicious and stronger than us, then you have the apes and the chimpanzees who in their 2 year of life have more strength than your average human.

But humans are smart creatures who can make use of their environments to better adapt to survival in any conditions. That’s why we have been able to go to the ends of the earth and still survive. We are biologically programmed to go to the most desperate lengths just to live.

With this in mind we have to keep in mind that in making a vehicle or anything with a human design you must know that it will suffer human flaws. 

How exactly are you supposed to lift 500 tons of weight using 2 legs? Sure the legs might be strong and sturdy but the center of gravity is so far from the body that a strong gust of wind can knock it over and render it useless. If that’s so, how do you suppose that it can survive a shot from a rocket launcher? Artillery? Shells? Or even a barrage of automatic rifle fire? 

Ever wonder why a full-length pencil is easier to break than a small one? It’s because of the center of gravity.

Then we have the hands. Why make fully functional fingers that can use bigger versions of guns when you can just put them in there in the first place? Well suppose that you actually put them in there in the first place, if so then how are you sure that i can withstand the recoil and the force emitted from firing a gun of such a high calibre?

Recoil is a huge factor in making guns and often the best guns are those who have controllable recoil suitable for infantry. The M4A1 is a good example of a decent standard rifle because a trained soldier can use it. Now imagine if you replace that M4A1 with a howitzer artillery cannon? 

uhmmm…

Have you any idea how strong the recoil of the gun is? The sound itself can pop someone’s eardrums and can be heard tens of kilometers away. Some stronger canon variants are fitted into most modern day tanks but that’s because its design is suited to sustain such force, with it’s turtle like design but on a human like design? The moment that it shoots that canon the arm would be blown off.

If that’s the case then why not equip it with lower calibre weapons? You might ask. Then that completely destroys the purpose of a mecha, you can just use a regular infantry unit and they will do the job 10x better at 50x less the cost.

The outdated design of the Sherman tank is probably better than a mecha, and that’s a tank from 1942! Almost a century old! It even costs less.

Speaking about costs, let’s talk about money.

Cost-efficiency:

War is more than just what happens on the battlefield, sometimes even more factors are in play back in the homeland like politics, which is always a big part of warfare since war is a bottle of people, if you don’t have the people on your side then you won’t win a war because your country will crumble under large protests before the enemy gets to the capital anyways. Another factor is logistics which is something that most people overlook in favor of battle strategies, something which the 3rd Reichh (Germany in world war 2) made the mistake of doing. There was even evidence that high command and Hitler himself put away the warnings made by the logistics commander on Operation Barbarossa that they would not reach Mosccow at all. 

But one thing is being overlooked by many, many people, even the history enthusiasts themselves and that is the budget, the money. Because who wants to talk about money? It’s boring, why learn about factory productivity and production costs when you can talk about the brilliant tactics and strategies? Who wants to talk about boring statistics when you can talk about the ginormous tanks of Russia and Germany, who wants to talk about numbers all day when you can talk about the honorable and the greats?

Well it’s because it is the biggest contributor to a victory in war.

Money rules the world but we can solve that comrad

But what is the meaning of ‘cost’? Well, some might say that its money and it kind of is, in peacetime money is a big factor in weapons production, mostly these productions are named projects. For example, the F-22 fighter plane project of America costs millions to make or the Leopard variants of Germany, but in a war economy the meaning of ‘cost’ is not money but in resources, raw materials, labor and so on.

Basically the big questions in production in war time is: 

“Can you make it as cheap as possible?”

“Can you make it with as little resources as possible?”

“Can you make a lot of it?”

“How effective is it?”

If you have 1 weapon of surefire destruction and you can only give it to 1 guy then that is decent and all but if you have 1000 weapon of semi-decent destruction and can give it to 1000 guys then that is more horrifying. An army unit that comprises of many men, is meant to move as one body and a body that consists of 1000 men is scarier than just 1 guy.

Basically, spread your resources. 

This is also -again- one of the reasons why Germany lost ww2. It’s because they spent too much resources on these technological marvels like the Heinkel He 178 but completely disregarding the fact that their country is being ran over by the Soviets, British, Americans, and baguette country has just been relieved of their control. Some people argue that they should’ve made more Panzer IV’s instead of making Tigers. I couldn’t agree more, but that probably means only the prolonging of the war, something that should end as soon as possible, and it will end -most likely- with the nuuking of Berlin. A horrible fate that even I wouldn’t wish upon the most wicked of men.

Even back then at the American Civil war when the union were fighting the confederate they lost because the union just stalled them out and because of lack of money and resources they were forced to surrender.

There was even the battle of American independence against  Britain, where America simply stalled out the British to make war too expensive for them. That’s how important ‘cost’ is in warfare.

turns out I have a limited amount of warfare screencaps

Of course there are other factors like industry and raw materials. A good example of this is the USA in world war 2 whose industry alone made a great contribution to the war and made Britain stay afloat during the Blitz and handle Germany all on her own before the Americans joined in the war. 

It is the raw materials that are needed to get production of a certain thing that is the main definition of cost. Sure money iss indeed important but we have someething that we call a war economy, a country can turn its entire teconomic system ti just steer towards that say ‘fuck it’ to everything else and just go all in the war. This is what happened to almost all the countries after world war 2, that’s why so many people are more afraid of a huge economic downfall after the war, and coincidentally it also became the nail in the coffin for the fall of the British empire.

This is something we call wartime austerity where a country steers everything to achieve victory. Nothing else matters. This can be seen in Australia when they’re facing Japan.

Now the true determining factor of being “count efficient” is whether or not you can achieve your desired results in the most efficient way possible, least money and doesn’t take up a lot of your resources while being effective.

This led to the trademark tanks of world war 2 and created a dilemma that is “what is the best tank of world war 2?” The simple answer is nothing. Every country created a tank or a war machine that suits their needs and their current status when it comes t ressources.

Is the Sherman the best, most powerful tank of the war? No, but it became the standard tank for both BBritish and American armies because they can’t go for any bigger variants. The tanks had to be shipped by sea because they were manufactured in America. Having lighter tanks means that you can transport more tanks per ship, and more tanks means more havoc on the frontline.

Is the T-34 the best tank of all time? No, but due to the quick push for standardization because of the quick German offensive during Operation Barbarossa, the Russians had to come up with a tank that can ‘at least’ sustain and eventually stop the German spear, which due to their sheer number, they eventually did. Sure they are bad tanks, the crew comfortability, optics, and the tank itself was a death trap but they did their job, and  if you can only produce decent tanks, you might as well produce a metric ton of it. 

they sent in tanks, what more did you want?

Was the Tiger the best tank? No, some might say yes but in reality it is no. That’s probably just due to it being extremely overrated by German propaganda that later on, holly wood and game companies adapted to pop-culture. They needed a big bad villain in the battlefield and that Tiger tank was it, but in reality it was far from that.

The Tiger suffered a lot of transmission issues and cannot traverse varied terrains very well, the Germans has very little spare parts for it so if the tanks engine was destroyed you have to scrap the entire tank itself, and actually encountering a tiger is very rare, some soldiers even acknowledge it as a myth, or just some German propaganda meant to scare them. 

But it is what the Germans can afford to make. Having a tank that is bigger than my house, and having it take down many tanks before it goes down is their main purpose, and they did it well.

Many countries need varying tanks and vehicles to suit their needs, and no country is the same as another, comparing one is like comparing oranges to apples. They have varying doctrines, strategies and necessities and I’m pretty sure a mecha isn’t one of them.

You see, making a decent mecha that works in the level of operationality just like what you see in anime requires a lot, and a lot, and a lot of technological advancements and even more resources to make. We’re even struggling to make a normal sized mecha, how long do you think it would be before we make a proper, functional and military grade 24 ft mecha? How are you even gonna power up the thing? 

By the time that it does become functional, the conventional tank design would highly outclass it, there might even be an anti-anti-anti-anti-anti-anti tank shell before it comes to that point. 

and you know what’s even better?

Logistics:

Here comes the big man of warfare, logistics. This is where the bulk of the military works and it might not sound impressive but the transportation of things from point A to point B is one of the deciding factors in war. 

Lack of efficient logistics, or lacking a reliable one can destroy a country that is almighty big and powerful just like -once again- Germany in world war 2. They’ve been looking for the ultimate weapon of war but it’s not the tanks, the planet and the rifles that win you one, it is the trucks, and the ships. Something that the allied powers put a huge emphasis on. It’s also the reason why they can rain down artillery on the Germans non-stop. 

Well if you take into account the sheer weight and height of a mecha, let’s say it weighs about 1000 tons and its height is about 140 ft -This is the size of an evangelion mecha- then that’s just like transporting an entire building to a warzone. 

There are 3 ways on how to transport something, by air, by land and by water. They mostly use helicopters and planes to transport supplies since it’s faster and it doesn’t weigh that much although they can transport tanks and trucks, there really is no point when you can just have a ship or train to do it for you that can carry more weight relative to the time spent transporting them.

Ships are used for big shipments like tanks and other vehicles but this is dependent on where you’re shipping it from and to where. For example if you are from Britain and want to ship a truck to Poland then you’ll have to use a ship and a train or better yet, you can just drive it there.

If you are in China and you want to ship a bulldozer to Mongolia then a train is probably your best bet.

If you are from Singapore and want to ship some supplies to a typhoon devastated country like the Philippines then you can do it by air.

If you’re from America and want to ship a mecha to the middle east then that’s probably not a good idea. Why America? They’re probably the only country willing to fund such a thing just to blow up some hut in the middle of the desert, but why? Because it’s America motherfuckers. I mean the mad lads went to the goddamn moon just because they can. What do you expect?

There are some security reasons that need some concern once it touches land, not taking on the fact that it needs to cross half the earth just to reach its destination. 

Once it’s on the land there is a high possibility of leaking intelligence to the enemy and then destroying it before it actually sees service. It needs a lot of escorts since it probably costs so much that they can’t mass produce it and have only one. That alone can cost them a lot of men and money that is probably better used elsewhere than to escort a walking target.

Intel also wins wars

Conclusion:

Although the idea of a mecha is really cool the reality of warfare, imitations of design, lack of necessity, and low cost-efficiency is what makes the mecha design futile but who knows maybe one day some crazy rich guys will probably make a fully functional one, a guy like Elon Musk can do it.

Yeah he’ll probably do it once he’s done buying all the bitcoins and colonizing mars. 

He’ll probably do it.

He will.

7 thoughts

  1. Before you make any decisions on the practicality of mecha’s I recommend that you watch the anime Gasaraki. That show makes the most compelling argument for mecha’s in war. In the show a defense contractor is trying to sell the army on mecha’s when conveniently something akin to the gulf war happens. The mecha’s are 4.5 meters tall and weigh 3 tons. In the demonstrations they were able to show that mecha’s are useless on open ground and easily taken out by conventional hardware. However, they are unbeatable in urban combat due to high maneuverability and, through the use of grappling hooks, the ability to move in 3d. Even aircraft have trouble dealing with mecha that can make full use of the urban environment to hide and attack from unconventional angles. The combination of high firepower, maneuverability, decent armor and electronics and the ability to use the urban setting as cover proved to be decisive in urban combat and special forces work.

  2. I see two other problems with building battlebots in real life. First, physics. They’re unstable (just like humans), and have many single-point-of-failure features (just like humans). Of course, no-one in anime would ever think of sneaking up close and shooting one in the back of the knee, or the ankle, or pulling the old Ewok log rolling attack. The second problem is human. If a human does a duck-and-weave, their head moves maybe a foot. A thirty foot tall robot jerks its head (and its pilot) five or six feet. And sitting in the cockpit while a battlebot runs into battle is like sitting in a box that’s being attacked by a two-hammered blacksmith while being dragged downstairs. Thud-thud-Thud-thud. I am on the verge of a mild headache every time I watch one of these shows.

    Also, I think Hands Off Eizouken had a good commentary on this.

  3. A new favorite post for me. Not just because of mecha, but for an the historical relevance as well. I wonder how long that you’ve been thinking about this one.

  4. I think you’ve made some valid points. I think your examples are a little narrow though. I don’t even consider Eva actual mecha because it more like a armored alien zombie that is piloted, than an actual robot. The better examples are the mecha from the Muv-Luv universe and the Kataphracts from Aldnoah.Zero. The use of the mecha is also important. You use humanoid mecha because its ability to handle and adapt to different environments especially urban, a tank can’t move fast over a debris filled road way, a humanoid mecha can. The opponent is also important… the enemy in Muv-Luv overwhelmed the human soldiers and their conventional equipment and we found atomic weapons ineffective. The Muv-Luv mecha evolved out of a need. The Kataphract was designed to counter the Martian kataphract (which was far more advanced), to paraphrase Sean Connery in the Untouchables “They pull a knife, you pull a gun. He sends one of yours to the hospital, you send one of his to the morgue.” The idea is about escalation. They had a knife we made a spear and so they made an arrow, we had the A-bomb and they got the A-bomb so we created the H-bomb. War is about a technical advantage. Yes, a war of attrition and cost is how the Americans pushed out the British but there was no clear technical advantage other than the British Navy. Its more about will than expense in a hot war. A cold war/ arms race is all about money. But, when it comes to a hot one remember, Though it lasted fewer than four years, World War II was the most expensive war in United States history. Adjusted for inflation to today’s dollars, the war cost over $4 trillion and in 1945, the war’s last year, defense spending comprised about 40% of gross domestic product (GDP).

    I could probably go on for a while but you’ve probably got my point. Do I think we will live in a world with Gundams as the main tool of war? No. But, I’ve seen some really great early versions of real robots similar to the load lifter Ripley piloted in Aliens. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XfBDKK-aZ0E

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