In the year 2016, the mecha anime crossover game Super Robot Wars V was released on the franchise’s 25th anniversary. This title had a lot of beloved newcomers and returning entries. One of the newcomers stood out from the rest however; Space Battleship Yamato 2199.
No one in their right mind will make a legitimate argument about how Yamato counts as a mecha anime. However, on the same coin, not many people voiced complaints about it. Yamato may not have been a mecha, but it is iconic, and the spaceship itself fits in well with the other franchises in the game.
Then, with the next entry, Super Robot Wars X, things got more complicated. Nadia of Blue Water was one of the newcomers in this entry. While Nadia did have a flying submarine, this stretched the definition of mecha even further than Yamato. The very next year, Super Robot Wars T cemented “Ship Anime” as being a mainstay in the franchise with the additions of Captain Harlock and Cowboy Bebop.
Ship Anime (as the fandom has nicknamed it) being a normal part of the franchise now certainly has its detractors but overall most people seem to approve of them as while they aren’t mecha per say they still are complex machines which fight in primarily space with pilots. They’re different from the typical Super Robot Wars fare but not too different to be alienating.
Here’s where things get interesting. Last year, Super Robot Wars celebrated its 30th anniversary by releasing its 69th game Super Robot Wars 30. 30 was a fantastic game and is getting more updates in the form of DLC!
However, 30’s base roster included one odd anime that may be signaling a change for Super Robot Wars in the future. I am, of course, talking about SSSS.GRIDMAN. The 2019 Gridman anime was a revival of the 90s Tokusatsu show of the same name and a love letter to the genre in general.
So, why does Gridman appear in Super Robot Wars matter? That should be obvious. While tokusatsu and mecha are linked at the hip and have a lot of overlap, few would argue these two genres are the same. The inclusion of Gridman in the series has opened a lot of discussion about the franchise’s future and what anime counts as possible SRW entries.
While Ship Anime had some detractors, they were still welcomed by the fandom with open arms. Tokusatsu, on the other hand have gotten as much backlash as people who are excited for them. For some people, a man who grows big to fight Kaiju is just a step too far.
The writers of Super Robot Wars 30 seem to have realized this reaction would happen. There’s a subtle meta narrative in the Gridman plot line of the game that centers around the characters of Ernie from “Knight and Magic” and Akane from Gridman. Anyone who knows either of these characters knows they are complete opposites. Ernie is an eternal optimist who loves Mecha, and Akane is a complete pessimist who loves Kaiju and hates mecha.
The two don’t get along despite Ernie’s initial efforts; Akane even questions if he exists just to annoy her. The game seems to insist that there’s some inherent difference between loving kaiju and loving mecha. One line from Ernie in particular stands out, “We’re both fans, but we simply express it in different ways. My robots, your kaiju. I think we should simply enjoy our dream worlds.”
Ernie, as an optimist, feels like a stand-in for people who are willing to accept tokusatsu in the series. However, he knows that the two genres are inherently different, and although he likes seeing the mecha and kaiju fight, he himself admits he’s not a fan of tokusatsu shows. He’s a mecha fan who wants the two genres to interact because it’s cool, not because he’s a fan of the other.
Akane, however, represents those who don’t want tokusatsu shows in the series. They’re water and oil; even the excitement she gets from seeing her Kaiju winning over Gridman doesn’t apply to them fighting mecha.
However, everything changes during the stage where you recruit Gridknight. Seeing Gridknight fight against the purpose he was created for to follow his heart and become an ally of Gridman’s moves Ernie, the boy who wasn’t even that excited when he sees Gridman compared to his fanboying over every mecha. He gets truly excited over this tokusatsu plot point and says the thesis of this article.
Hot blooded passion isn’t limited to mech or tokusatsu. Ernie says this without any hesitation and thinks that Akane must be moved by it as well.
I believe this is the common ground the writers want the two halves of the fandom to find. Our genres may be completely different, but we can all get excited for the hot blooded passion that the plots and fights of both genres bring to the table.
So, does this mean tokusatsu are here to stay? Can we expect stuff like Kamen Rider next game? Well, not exactly.
For Super Robot Wars 30’s second DLC, they announced that Ultraman would be added to the game. Finally, giving us the Ultraman and Gridman crossover we deserve. The thing is, though, this Ultraman wasn’t the iconic 60s show we were all expecting. No, this was Netflix’s Ultraman.
Why was this Ultraman the one selected to be in the game? Well, we don’t have any official statements on the matter; however, we can make an educated guess: actor likeness rights.
If the 60s Ultraman was used, they would need to pay for the likeness rights of Susumu Kurobe. Using live action shows is simply more expensive than using anime. Using the Netflix Ultraman allows for a convenient reason not to do this.
This isn’t the first time SRW has done something to get out of portraying live action actors. The mobile gacha game Super Robot Wars X-Omega used three different Super Sentai series. However, not a single character ever takes off their mask, not even during more calm scenes.
I would like to emphasize that this is all just a personal theory of mine. For all I know, the developers just chose Netflix Ultraman because they enjoyed it the most. I just find this reason to be logical.
If I’m right, however, this would mean that although we can expect more tokusatsu related things in Super Robot Wars in the future, it’s unlikely we will get anything that requires paying for actor’s likenesses. So, we are less likely to get stuff like Kamen Rider and more likely to get stuff like Godzilla.
I don’t know what the future holds for Super Robot Wars and tokusatsu; however, Gridman has opened the door to a whole new generation of possible roster additions. My only advice for the fanbase is to remember Ernie’s words and enjoy whatever hot blooded action and storytelling result from this new genre of additions.