So I’ve been listening to Partizan, the new Friends at the Table campaign that started last fall. I’ve never been able to get into actual play pods before. I tried Critical Role but bounced off, I even tried the other Friends at the Table mech campaign — COUNTER/weight — and couldn’t. I think it’s a genre problem, one that Partizan is helping me learn from.
Partizan is intensely inspired by mech anime. It’s Real Robot in the vein of Gundam, with the crunchy, low-tech setting of a series like 08th MS Team. As I’ve listened, I’ve had to push past not remembering all the characters or who is voicing them, as well as keeping track of the rules of an RPG system I’m unfamiliar with. It was a lot, but by episode five, I started to get it (and now I should listen back to the first episodes with this new-found clarity). What’s kept me going is the touchstones of mecha that infiltrate into every scene.
Partizan’s characters, combat, and even its action scenes are all communicated through generic mecha conventions. Relating scenes through cuts and camera movements, subtle movement through recognizable animations, and character drama through established archetypes (the stuff of octahedron fantasies). Partizan is teaching me to read and appreciate actually play. I think it could do the same to others with mecha.
Mecha is a very inaccessible genre. I mean, have you ever watched a mech anime? I don’t know how you’re supposed to follow Knights of Sidonia if it’s your first mech anime (it was mine). Have you ever played a mech game? Daemon X Machina is apparently simple compared to something like an Armored Core but I don’t know what half the UI means. Have you ever read a mech manga? I haven’t, now that I think about it. What do you recommend?
I only got into mecha as an adult through persistence and some of Austin Walker’s words about bodies and queerness in the genre. Heaven Will Be Mine is what sold me on the genre, but I played that before watching Evangelion. The queer girls flirting and the BDSM subtext made sense, but not the mech stuff! So much about super robots is based on its ambiguity (and in HWBM’s case, unintelligibility), but to a newcomer it can just seem confusing, daunting, or poorly written. As Uppercut Crit recently reminded me, our ability to enjoy mecha is so reliant on our understanding of the genre — its conventions, its canon — that we might find completely different experiences in the same text.
So how are people supposed to make it into this genre? How can new mecha be more intelligible to those unfamiliar with its conventions? How did you get into mecha?
Autumn A. Wright.