Giant Robots & Character-Driven Stories

I love watching Giant robots fight.

But for as cool as giant robot fights are, I often feel like the least interesting giant  robot shows I know are ones focused around the fights. Which isn’t to say that giant robot fights are boring, so much as I feel like they’re at their best when they act as a vehicle for character-driven stories.

For a  good example of this, I recently started watching an anime series called Flag, focused around a military unit testing an experimental bipedal  robot known as HAVWC (High Agility Versatile Weapon Carrier).

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What makes Flag interesting to me, however, is not the robot or the action sequences. Rather, I find myself most interested in the story and presentation. The narrative in flag is delivered entirely through photos, video footage, and vocal narration, documenting the lives of the people involved in this mission and those in a city struck by civil war. In some ways, the robots are a backdrop.

But in my mind, this is how I feel a lot of mecha anime should be. Certainly, many of my favorite franchises place an emphasis on the lives of the characters and how they live in this world. Which is not to say that I dislike seeing giant robots fight, not at all. However, I often feel like the fighting is meaningless if there’s no backdrop or drama surrounding it.

This is where I feel Flag succeeds.

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The action sequences in Flag are made incredibly tense due to the amount of drama and build-up surrounding them. Several episodes of character-building, establishing a setting, and preparation precede the first actual mission in Flag, with the entire thing being seen through various cameras and monitoring equipment. Because of this, Flag feels more like a well-paced thriller or drama than an episodic giant robot show. I like that.

I recently wrote an article about the series Gundam Build Fighters and why I liked its theme of working together. This is, again, a case where I enjoyed the fights but felt more drawn to the story surrounding it. The fights were cool (and made slightly cooler by the acknowledgement that this is all a game) but I often felt myself drawn more to how well-written the characters were, how the various plot threads tied together, and how the theme came together perfectly.

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I find giant robot stories interesting because often, they exist in a setting where humanoid weapons of mass destruction are considered commonplace. I feel like this quality makes them well-suited for exploring themes of war and the increasingly fierce arms race, and how it affects the characters/their relationships and ideals. Thus, it saddens me to see people insist that shows focus more on giant robots fighting and less on the characters, or their personal stories.

Now again, this is not to say I don’t love giant robot fights. But with rare exceptions, I find shows that are just about the fights incredibly boring. The story and characters are just as important, if not moreso.’

Flag can be bought on Amazon on DVD (Part 1, Part 3, Part 4). The second part is unavailable as of writing this article, however.

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