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Mecha Design in a Space Fantasy Setting for nonhumans

I'll say it right now, I know next to nothing about Mecha as a genre. I would only consider myself a "mecha fan" on the basis that giant robots trying their hardest to kill each other is cool and timeless. I want to introduce Mecha into my worldbuilding, but I have a lot of fantasy races and subraces and I wanna have the Mecha be at least slightly different from race to race. How would a Dwarven Mecha be different from an Orcish Mecha? How do politics get involved? Is it like Gundam where there are corporations selling giant robots to the highest bidder or are they strictly military arms. Are my mechs just giant hunks of Magitech? If so, does the pilot 100% need to be a Mage and of what caliber and qualifications? A lot of these are my decision to make as an author, but I'm absolutely stumped. What kind of Mecha Anime what be good research material for me to watch and where can I watch it? If my Mechs are Magic-based, does that put them in the category of Super Robot no matter how many elements of "mature storytelling" typically associated with Real Robots I go with? Can a series with Super Robots, or just Magitech in general, have the same level of narrative weight as it would with more realistic tech? Is Final Fantasy the only franchise that can get away with having the kind of narrative I want to portray? I'd love insight, ideally from veterans of Sci-Fi Fantasy Hybrids like what I'm trying to do. Thanks in advance.
 

CupofJoe

Myth Weaver
I'd have a look at the Warhammer 40K universe. Each Race there has it's own version of Titans [REALLY BIG MECHA].
 

Devor

Fiery Keeper of the Hat
Moderator
I took a note from some game supplement somewhere about a giant insect whose carapace was being used as a mech, controlled by fungus. You could expand on that for a kind of unique setting, where after defeating some kind of invading insect-ish monsters of varying types, people have adapted their corpses into mechs and augmented them with magics and other weaponry. With different base monsters and different magics reinforcing them, you can get a massive variety. And people can paint a dead insect, so they even look cool.
 

Aldarion

Maester
I'll say it right now, I know next to nothing about Mecha as a genre. I would only consider myself a "mecha fan" on the basis that giant robots trying their hardest to kill each other is cool and timeless. I want to introduce Mecha into my worldbuilding, but I have a lot of fantasy races and subraces and I wanna have the Mecha be at least slightly different from race to race. How would a Dwarven Mecha be different from an Orcish Mecha? How do politics get involved? Is it like Gundam where there are corporations selling giant robots to the highest bidder or are they strictly military arms. Are my mechs just giant hunks of Magitech? If so, does the pilot 100% need to be a Mage and of what caliber and qualifications? A lot of these are my decision to make as an author, but I'm absolutely stumped. What kind of Mecha Anime what be good research material for me to watch and where can I watch it? If my Mechs are Magic-based, does that put them in the category of Super Robot no matter how many elements of "mature storytelling" typically associated with Real Robots I go with? Can a series with Super Robots, or just Magitech in general, have the same level of narrative weight as it would with more realistic tech? Is Final Fantasy the only franchise that can get away with having the kind of narrative I want to portray? I'd love insight, ideally from veterans of Sci-Fi Fantasy Hybrids like what I'm trying to do. Thanks in advance.
Mecha genre is defined by the mecha... which is basically short for mecha-humans.

In short: an alien species using mecha would have mecha that roughly looks like the species in question. Humanoid species would use basic humanoid shape, octopuses would use basic octopi shape, and so on. You can look at Warhammer 40.000 to see how each species' mecha basically reflects said speciec' aesthetics.

Other than that, details of the look would be influenced by the technology and culture. Less advanced mecha would be stockier and blockier, more advanced could afford to put more thought into aesthetics. You should also look at the environment: mecha of subterranean races (e.g. dwarves and perhaps orcs) would likely be adapted to subterranean work, or show such features. They would obviously also be decorated in a way that reflects the culture of the race making them.

Mecha would be used for whatever they can be used for. In some cases you might have civilian corporations deploy them first before being adapted by military, in other cases military would use them first. Mecha would only be exclusive in case they are either a) militarily useless (too immobile, too vulnerable due to humanoid shape), in which case they would be limited to civilian sector; or b) very expensive to operate but militarily extremely useful, which would limit them to military sector.

Regarding mecha anime, I cannot say which would be good research material, but my personal favorites are:
  • Suisei no Gargantia (Gargantia of the Verdurous Planet)
  • Kakumeiki Valvrave (Valvrave the Liberator)
  • Buddy Complex
  • Pacific Rim: The Black
And movies:
  • Pacific Rim
  • Atlantic Rim
(With Atlantic Rim being into "so bad it is excellent" territory for me. Campy acting, bad CGI... and whole load of fun. My personal favorites however are Gargantia and Pacific Rim: The Black).

You might also look into something like Titans from Shingeki no Kyojin (Attack on/of the Titan), where you have Titan Shifters which... basically control the titular Titans basically like their personal mecha.

Narrative weight depends on how you handle them, so no issues with having magical mecha.
 

A. E. Lowan

Forum Mom
Leadership
One of the really nice things about writing is there isn't a wrong way to do anything, if you can make it work. You can blatantly violate the laws of physics, but if you make it plausible, make it awesome, if you can invoke the Rule of Cool, very few readers are going to care. My team writes Urban Fantasy and we lean on the Rule of Cool all the time. How do dragons fly if they're 45 feet long and physics says their wings are too small? Dragon magic. How the hell do they breathe fire? Magical genetics. I'm serious. :D

Since we're talking about our favorite mecha anime/manga whatever and I'm jumping in before anyone can mention them, but Full Metal Panic is both very silly and a bit dark, sort of a High School Romance meets Mecha, and they do a great job discussing the culture that's grown out of the development of what they call "Arm Slaves."

The other is Neon Genesis Evangelion, also called "Eva." Do not watch this alone. Do not watch this drunk. And do not watch the whole thing in one shot. Eva is brutal and brilliant and I've known more than one person it's broken. Legendary Mecha anime, but brutal.


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Aldarion

Maester
One of the really nice things about writing is there isn't a wrong way to do anything, if you can make it work. You can blatantly violate the laws of physics, but if you make it plausible, make it awesome, if you can invoke the Rule of Cool, very few readers are going to care.
While this is entirely true, I do believe that laws of internal consistency should be respected. So questions OP is asking would need to be answered at one point or another.
 

A. E. Lowan

Forum Mom
Leadership
While this is entirely true, I do believe that laws of internal consistency should be respected. So questions OP is asking would need to be answered at one point or another.
Yes. The key to plausibility is consistency within the story's metaphysics. Which is why I followed with, "My team writes Urban Fantasy and we lean on the Rule of Cool all the time. How do dragons fly if they're 45 feet long and physics says their wings are too small? Dragon magic. How the hell do they breathe fire? Magical genetics. I'm serious. :D" So, not too sure where you got the idea that I didn't say sticking to the established story rules is optional. It absolutely is not. At least for us. Like everyone else, we put an incredible amount of time and effort into research to get it right. It's the difference between suspending disbelief and taking it bungee jumping. With one the reader will follow you anywhere. The other? Not so much.
 

pmmg

Myth Weaver
I think I was too old when I started to watch Evangellion. I found myself asking a lot of questions.

I kind of grew up with Ultraman and Johnny Socko's giant robot. (To me, they are all Johnny Socko clones).

I hate to say, but I already ask questions like, how can orcs be so thuggish and brutal, and still have those that make armor and seige engines? cuase that does require education and skill. If they were making giant robots, i'd probably have to ask how, it they remain so uncivilized. But....it would be fun for a wargame. I'd love to see their stuff. I suppose I imagine more spikes and serrated edges.

Actually, along those line, I might be seeing Godzilla tonight....
 

A. E. Lowan

Forum Mom
Leadership
I think I was too old when I started to watch Evangellion. I found myself asking a lot of questions.

I kind of grew up with Ultraman and Johnny Socko's giant robot. (To me, they are all Johnny Socko clones).

I hate to say, but I already ask questions like, how can orcs be so thuggish and brutal, and still have those that make armor and seige engines? cuase that does require education and skill. If they were making giant robots, i'd probably have to ask how, it they remain so uncivilized. But....it would be fun for a wargame. I'd love to see their stuff. I suppose I imagine more spikes and serrated edges.

Actually, along those line, I might be seeing Godzilla tonight....
I grew up watching Robotech in syndication. :D The Yamato is still one of my favorite ships.
 

pmmg

Myth Weaver
Think that was the best godzilla movie ive seen. It was good for all the reasons hollywood cant figure out. Godzilla minus 1. Two thumbs up.
 

Queshire

Auror
hate to say, but I already ask questions like, how can orcs be so thuggish and brutal, and still have those that make armor and seige engines? cuase that does require education and skill. If they were making giant robots, i'd probably have to ask how, it they remain so uncivilized. But....it would be fun for a wargame. I'd love to see their stuff. I suppose I imagine more spikes and serrated edges.

Which Orcs?
 
I watched Eva pretty soon after it came onto Netflix. Blew my mind but didn't break it. Can't give a man depression if he was born with Bipolar lol. I love how Eva(spoilers sorry) depicts the Eva Units as being a synthesis of the alien biology of the Angels and human technology. I love that the "mech" is just armor plating for the supposedly very pretty ladies inside in the layers of armor. Loving all your suggestions, even though the bug exoskeleton idea would take some work on my part and isn't my first choice.
 

Rexenm

Inkling
I had a dream about the unicorn and the red comet in my early childhood. The unicorn sank beneath the sea then rose up after growing a statue of liberty like head. The power of god is in two mechs, making them one, but which is stronger, or an evolution? The power of the mech is in dualities and polarities. Same, same, but different... My opinion is they are made of the same stuff, thus the war. If I had one comment, it would be to make the mistake of having a son trying to dominate the father, like those ‘mech’ stories usually are about.
 
I had a dream about the unicorn and the red comet in my early childhood. The unicorn sank beneath the sea then rose up after growing a statue of liberty like head. The power of god is in two mechs, making them one, but which is stronger, or an evolution? The power of the mech is in dualities and polarities. Same, same, but different... My opinion is they are made of the same stuff, thus the war. If I had one comment, it would be to make the mistake of having a son trying to dominate the father, like those ‘mech’ stories usually are about.
Interesting. I haven't thought about the pilots themselves, what their motivations are. I take what I call an "outside-in" approach to worldbuilding where I start with the Lore, the Magic System, and other "superfluous things" that most people who take the "inside-out" approach will make revolve around the story and characters. I come with the world first, and let the world dictate the story. It's what Tolkien did!
 

pmmg

Myth Weaver
Interesting. I haven't thought about the pilots themselves, what their motivations are. I take what I call an "outside-in" approach to worldbuilding where I start with the Lore, the Magic System, and other "superfluous things" that most people who take the "inside-out" approach will make revolve around the story and characters. I come with the world first, and let the world dictate the story. It's what Tolkien did!

And Tolkien is on my list as not being one of my favorite writers. Too much world building, and not enough to make me care about the characters. To me, all his characters blended in, and were hard to tell apart. And the world building was well fleshed out, but dull to read. I felt much of his story was wasting my time with stuff that did not matter. Just sayin....
 
And Tolkien is on my list as not being one of my favorite writers. Too much world building, and not enough to make me care about the characters. To me, all his characters blended in, and were hard to tell apart. And the world building was well fleshed out, but dull to read. I felt much of his story was wasting my time with stuff that did not matter. Just sayin....
I agree with much of that, in the sense that his worldbuilding did a lot of holding up of what was essentially weak storytelling. He was admirer, almost a collector of information that he loved, and he always said he wanted to make an incredibly long narrative - well he did that but at the cost of something fundamental. Doesn’t mean I don’t love the the world and his use of beautiful language, but his writing sometimes leaves me wanting.
 
I would counter with this: What is the "goal" of Fantasy? Not just to tell a good story, but to endow the audience with a sense of wonder. That's why "rule of cool" is so important to me, cool things inspire a sense of wonder. If we as writers are focusing on the realistic, human elements of a story then I think we've lost sight of Fantasy truly is. Fantasy isn't supposed to make sense, Alice in Wonderland is a great example. Most of the mythology we draw upon as fantasy authors does not make sense. How did Ameterasu leave the cave? Why did the other Kami care? Who knows? Ame-No-Uzume doing a sexy dance for a depressed Goddess is cool, so throw that in there! Nobody cares about anything unless the writer can make them care, and that's a skill issue. I might be huffing copium, but that's how I feel.
 

Aldarion

Maester
And Tolkien is on my list as not being one of my favorite writers. Too much world building, and not enough to make me care about the characters. To me, all his characters blended in, and were hard to tell apart. And the world building was well fleshed out, but dull to read. I felt much of his story was wasting my time with stuff that did not matter. Just sayin....
I agree with much of that, in the sense that his worldbuilding did a lot of holding up of what was essentially weak storytelling. He was admirer, almost a collector of information that he loved, and he always said he wanted to make an incredibly long narrative - well he did that but at the cost of something fundamental. Doesn’t mean I don’t love the the world and his use of beautiful language, but his writing sometimes leaves me wanting.
Thing is, worldbuilding is essential to fantasy. It is what makes fantasy into fantasy. Otherwise you can just write a story set into real world.

So I don't think you can say that worldbuilding is "wasted". You can have weak protagonists* and excellent worldbuilding (Tolkien), or well-developed protagonists* and weak worldbuilding (Martin).

*Ironically, George Martin's antagonists are overall much weaker than Tolkien's are. Too many of them are just generically evil, with nothing to really motivate them.
 
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