Pacific Rim Robot Giants and the Big Business of Mecha Anime

Category: Financial News

They’re big in size, courage and business. They are giant robots of the mecha anime genre that fight for humanity, without vacation leaves we assume.

The Jaeger robots from the Pacific Rim are the latest addition to the mecha anime line of metallic heroes and, once again, the fan boy (or girl) in us is ready to claw his way out of the aging body, the same child who was first mesmerized in kindergarten by all that firepower and sleek metal clanking.

Now that we’re all grown up, let’s talk business: just how big is the money that goes around these giants?

For good marketing measure, we’ve also listed three possible reasons why we can’t get enough of these robots, either manned or in alien life form, who, in our thirties or so, we now know are impossibly high-tech and ridiculously law-abiding despite of their immense power to rule the world.

Let’s take a look at the Jaegers and other popular good giant robots, that despite their different makeup and temperament and galactic origins, they are found to have general characteristics that endear them to fans, both child and childish.

Transformers and Jaegers

The three Transformers films raked in about $2.7 B in gross tickets. Not the least, Hasbro, the franchise owner, reported $960 M in earnings related to its best-selling Transformers toy line, among others.

Will the Jaegers get the same reception for Pacific Rim? Considering its estimated budget to be near the $200-M mark—almost matching the cost of The Avengers—the producers hope so.

If the Internet buzz is to go by, the high-impact trailers and early blueprint and wallpaper “leaks” of the Jaeger models making the rounds in blogs and social networks, we think it’s a win for director Guillermo del Toro.



Before the Jaegers and the Autobots and Decepticons came to American consciousness, three decades ago a legend arose from three robot anime series in Japan recycled, re-edited and spliced together, the Nihongo overwritten in English, the story changed, and voila! Voltron was born, five lion robots that merge into a super robot to fight the interstellar bad guys. It was a hit-series in the U.S. from 1984 to 1987. Talk about money in recycling.

The franchise spawned three versions, all hits, sold over 300,000 DVDs, and created an American cult following who are probably architects, engineers, bankers, doctors, firemen, policemen, conservatives and liberals now. It has also inspired the latest Nicktoon animated series, Voltron Force, the highest-rated debut ever recorded by the studio.

Ironically, where Voltron: Defender of the Universe paved the way for robot anime like the Transformers in the United States back in mid-eighties, the success of Optimus Prime and company in the big screen in 2008 has inspired talks to bring Voltron to the movies.

Relativity Media has announced that it’s pushing for the movie release with a rumored budget at around $65 M, but that was two years ago. Meantime, fans are gnashing their teeth for the long wait, this after the false alarm of the Cloverfield Monster teasers in 2008 being taken by many as the much awaited lion robot’s big screen debut.

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Mechagodzilla, the anti-hero

Further back in time in Japan, where the robot anime started, a villain-turned-hero emerged in 1974 with its own cult following and big money. The mechanized monster churned out four big movie hits in Japan, culminating with having sold combined ticket sales of 5.5M in Japan alone for its two films, Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla (1993) and Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla (2002).

In the first film, Mechagodzilla was an evil alien robot that sought to destroy the world; only that he was destroyed instead.

Give it to Japanese innovation, the monster was revived for the succeeding films through DNA cloning and organic-robotic fusion and given a 360-degree makeover: he now works for the Japan Self-Defense Force.

Mechagodzilla has never entered the American psyche as much as its organic predecessor. However, it was voted at no. 15 in the 50 Best Movie Robots by The Times in 2007, zooming past Optimus Prime, the T-1000 from the Terminator franchise and even C3PO of Star Wars fame.

Perhaps it’s because the mechanized monster is a pioneer in the use of alien giant robots to conquer earth. Years later, a whole set of robot anime series would be adapting this story concept.

It seems Megatron, leader of the evil Decepticons in Transformers, has much to thank Mechagodzilla for this genre.


The look-alikes: Gundam, Macross, Robotech

The newly minted Jaegers, different models of giant robots piloted by humans, are an old concept popularized by sleek-looking Gundam and Macross robots.

Non-fans find it hard to distinguish the two. It doesn’t matter. In the robot anime world, they all really look the same for the uninitiated.

In fact, if you think Robotech looks eerily similar to Macross, it’s because they are. Macross was re-labeled, re-edited and re-launched as Robotech in the United States in 1985.

Perhaps the Gundams are the closest to the Jaegers, huge bipedal mobile suits controlled by a human pilot with badass guns that can send the enemy alien crying for his mama. The Jaegers are controlled by two humans interlocked in a neural bridge.

Bandai Co., the franchise owner, said in a 2000 press statement to celebrate Gundam’s twenty years in the business, has sold over five billion dollars in retail that span across novels, comics, videos and toy model kits. Gundam has also produced eight movies and over 400 television episodes.

Whereas Macross refers to the main ship that hosts aerospace jets that transforms into humanoid fighting machines. It’s like USS George Washington—a real aircraft carrier—carrying an ensemble of F-18 fighter jets.

The Macross franchise has created three television series, four movies, six original animations, a novel and five comic series (manga). In fact, the franchise is enjoying a renaissance in Japan with the recent launch of Macross 30, a video game that combines the characters across the super series since 1984.

If you haven’t heard from Macross lately, it’s because of a legal tussle between the Robotech IP holder, U.S.-based Harmony Gold, and the creators of Macross, Japan-based Taktsunoko Productions. Harmony apparently holds the international rights for Macross, except in Japan where it’s owned by Taktsunoko.

Harmony argues that it owns the international rights when it bought the Macross animation from Taktsunoko decades ago and introduced it as Robotech in the United States.

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Too bad for Macross fans worldwide, Harmony appears uninterested to expand its Robotech line. Robotech undermining Macross? It’s a bipolar crisis for the robot.


Real Reason We Love Mecha Anime Giants

We want them big

Perhaps it’s our spiritual throwback to ancient times when gods and demigods loom larger than life. The Buddha is big. Olympian gods are enormous. Even God in the Old Testament has a ring of physical bigness as he stretches his hands across the universe in Genesis.

Coyote Tango, a Jaeger made in Japan, stands at 85 meters, taller than the four other Jaegers in Pacific Rim and Voltron, who’s 60 meters. A Gundam robot stands at about 18-20 meters.

All three are much taller than Optimus Prime, who at 8-10 meters, is closer to humans than the robot giants.

But Mechagodzilla rules them all standing at 120 meters tall, although at one point he’s depicted at 60 meters like Voltron.

We want weapon awesomeness

If humankind history is any clue, we want our weapons bigger and more awesome. Somebody invented the slingshot, we topped it with catapults. We created cannons, but we wanted howitzers. The musket was okay, but the Gatling gun was truly awesome. We started with bombs and graduated with intercontinental nuclear warheads.

The Jaegers’ weapons are truly impressive. Sting blades that channel thermal energy, ionized brass knuckles and atomic cannons, among others; we wonder though if they can stand Mechagodzilla’s rainbow-colored fire breadth.

A Gundam mechanized bipedal may be twice bigger than Prime, but does its vulcan gun able to penetrate the Autobot’s cybertronic metal or stopping his ion blaster gun?

Utlimately, Voltron’s blazing sword will cut them all to pieces, if a Voltron fan is to be believed.

Fans love these weapons so much that pitting the good guys’ armaments against each other will result in a cataclysmic debate, not unlike perhaps asking which is better, Playstation or Xbox.

We love humanity

Size and weapons aside, out true attraction to good giant robots lies on, of all things, their humanity: their moral compass to fight for justice and stand against oppression. Best of all they don’t ask for payment, which makes them genuinely concerned for us.

And in the rare occasion they started off with a plan to eliminate all mankind like Mechagodzilla’s first instinct, we understand that even giant robots can turn over a new leaf to fight for us.

But perhaps the most interesting aspect of the giant robots, one that cuts across the whole robot anime genre through the years, is their dependence on human factor.

If humans are not piloting them, they are creating them. Even the Autobots were saved by the least likely hero, a college student, and for three times at that.

In the uncertain times of evil aliens and supernatural beings out to bring humanity down, it feels good to know that Voltron will defend our universe and that the Jaegers are ready to rumble it out.

And it’s the humans in control.


By Louie Andre

B2B & SaaS market analyst and senior writer for FinancesOnline. He is most interested in project management solutions, believing all businesses are a work in progress. No stranger to small business hiccups and drama, having been involved in a few internet startups. Prior to his for-profit ventures, he has had managed corporate communications for a Kansas City-based Children International unit.

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