Giant mecha robots, capable of inflicting and sustaining immense damage, have long been showcased in Japanese pop culture. The first appearance in manga of such a large robot was Tetsujin 28-go, which debuted in 1956. Other manga and anime series built upon the idea until the mecha robot trope became a recognized subgenre of fiction in Japan. Beginning in the ’90s, there has been a vast and growing market in the United States for Japanese animation and comics, including those titles that feature futuristic, hardcore robots.
Though fans of these robots have for many years had to content themselves with watching and reading fictional depictions of them, that’s about to change. In June this year, the American firm MegaBots challenged Suidobashi Heavy Industries of Japan to a robot duel to take place in about a year. Incredible as it may seem, both companies, prior to the challenge, had already produced robots capable of participating in such a brawl. The Mk. II robot by MegaBots can move at a top speed of 2.5 miles per hour and is designed mostly for long-range, projectile combat. Japan, however, boasts the mighty Kuratas robot, which moves at up to 6 miles per hour and can be equipped with diverse weapons systems, including a BB cannon, a launcher and a giant hand. The founder of Suidobashi, Kogoro Kurata, accepted the challenge but added the proviso that he wants the robots to grapple in hand-to-hand combat rather than just firing guns from afar.
Kurata stated that he was entranced by mecha robots from a young age and thought that they would become commonplace. “But no matter how long I waited, people were only able to make small robots…I thought ‘I can’t wait anymore,’ and set out to make one myself.” The co-founder of MegaBots, Gui Cavalcante, is driven by the vision of a sports league allowing spectators to cheer on their favorite robots as they face off head-to-head.
Although a few precursors to the modern warrior robot trend can be found in the works of Jules Verne and H.G. Wells, the modern concept originated in Japan. Popular entries in this category of fiction have included Mazinger Z in the early ’70s and Mobile Suit Gundam a popular anime series that debuted in 1979 and has become a long-running franchise, reminiscent of the Star Trek properties in its broad appeal and longevity.
The Kuratas robot is actually for sale for about $1 million each, so members of the public can have their very own mecha robots. If that’s out of your price range, you may wish to consider the Landwalker by Sakakibara Machinery Works, which comes with a price tag of a “mere” $318,000. The Kuratas received more than 3,000 orders from customers, who all eventually backed out of their purchases. Perhaps they were enthralled with the prospect of owning a human-controlled, multi-ton, gun-wielding robot like they had seen in Mobile Suit Gundam but then changed their minds when faced with the prospect of paying $1 million. Of course, automated technology is available at more reasonable price points in smart home appliances and automated security systems, but those applications are just not as undeniably cool as fighting robots are.
The rules and venue for the upcoming contest have yet to be determined, but it’s likely that both teams will implement changes and upgrades to prepare their robots before it’s showtime. If the battle were to happen today, it’s likely that Team Japan would take the victory because Kuratas can handle both melee and distance fighting. But MegaBots has started a Kickstarter campaign to add armor and close-range combat weaponry to the Mk. II. More than $450,000 has already been pledged of the $500,000 goal. Assuming the desired upgrades are successfully implemented, it could be a close contest indeed.
While we’ve seen many encounters between miniaturized robots trying to push each other or knock each other down, this upcoming battle will be the first involving huge robots utilizing industrial-grade weaponry. Regardless of the outcome, it will truly be something to behold and might even be considered a historic event if this type of combat ends up becoming popular in the future.