Mecha Design: Selling toys

I’ve touched this on multiple occasions before, but I still need to give it a single, emphasizing post: most robot franchises are there to sell toys. Transformers being the most prominent example of this, with the cartoon and comics supporting the toyline rather being a separate entities based on the toyline. Both the comics and cartoons had to adhere what Hasbro had to say, which resulted in death of numerous characters while loads of new ones being introduced in one panel. Writers can often try to tackle these as challenges, and while that has been less successful at times, it has given birth to a very rich franchise, with Beast Wars still contesting the place for the best written entry overall.

With Transformers, a lot of the things that goes in the designs can work in the toys, and sometimes Hasbro mandates things. However, that being said, Japan still likes to design toys first and foremost based on gimmick ideas to implement in the shows themselves. This is rather clear in modern Kamen Rider, where the themes and gimmicks have been decided beforehand and designed based on these. Sometimes, the concepts can be to counter previous seasons’ concepts, or based on research on what kids may like. The usual stuff really, and this is part of the whole research part when designing something for purpose use; find what it needed and wanted, and then fill those.

But enough intro talk, let’s talk about a Super Sentai mecha first.

These photos are from greenflour5757.blog96.fc2.com/blog-category-53.html I recommend giving it a look, there are a lot more there

Studio PLEX is a company that is under Bandai Namco holdings, and their main task really is to design and realise toys. GoTaurus above is one of their creations for Gingaman, and does exhibit a lot of their design ideas from the get go. I’m sure everyone can see how its transformation is essentially just to stand up. The reason this is of course; toys.

Most, if not all, Studio PLEX designs are not driven by technology, lore or the like, the things I’ve been praising with harsh bias all year around. The very core their designs are driven is to make the toy sturdy for kids to play with, and to look neat and accommodate all the necessary gimmicks. There are no flimsy bits to bob around, no sharp corners to speak of to pop one’s eye out. Real world concerns for child safety and sturdiness have driven the design, but that has not not impacted it. Certainly, GoTaurus may not have the most interesting design, and the relatively low production quality of the toys often can demerit it, yet ultimately the design is very eye pleasing due to the used colours and shapes.

The chains do seem a bit arbitrary, but they work in both modes

It is designed and build with intention. All the joints too are big and relatively heavy-duty compared to modern, more adult-oriented toys, where joints could be build from metal or have somewhat more complex design in a small build. Because the intent and use of Super Sentai toys is very different from what adults want to do with their toys, either just pose them on the shelf or hotglue them, there’s not much put into low-cost production and high sturdiness. At times, it feels it is the exact opposite, with high-cost productions with extreme detailing, but with even one hit or the like, the toy’s bust.

The A3 toyline of Tactical Surface Fighters from Muv-Luv Alternative is a good example how the toys were made with rather  high detail count and decent paint application, but everything else tended to be terrible.

This is, of course, because the TSFs were not designed to be toys in the first place, but that doesn’t necessarily mean their toys need to be terrible. The joints were designed from ground up, and ended up being very loose. The used plastic is either too soft and has warped, or lacks toughness and breaks easily. All these combined make the A3 line very flimsy, and knowing how to repair broken bits is pretty much required. As the line went on, some of these issues were fixed, but in the end the A3 was a disappointment. The franchise moved on to the Plastic Model field, but even there the TSF models were costlier and of lower quality than competition, especially when compared to Gundam models. That may be a bit unfair comparison, considering what sort of gold mine Gunpla is for Bandai.

Speaking of Gundam, while the series is know for its giant robots and relatively good storytelling in general, it should be noted that it is very much driven by its model sales above all. Adults and kids alike find building their own toys fun, after all.

The one core thing that allows Bandai to roll out loads of different sort of varied designs like the above BG-011B Build Burning Gundam is the use of general use frames that you can slab armour on.

A generic frame, nothing specific

Bandai often reworks this frame. Certain series and eras themselves have a certain set frame, which may have an extra part to add a function or the like, but largely what makes the most difference in the model is its outside appearance. Part swapping is easy, as generally Bandai wants to make things modular within the series to a certain degree for their own benefit in mould reuse. It also makes kitbashing easier, when everything uses standardised parts.

Gundam as a franchise is freakish in the sense that it doesn’t serve the toys all the way, despite Bandai being the end-of-all being that dictates the final design. It allows the designers to work within the fiction, and this often results in a design that functions within pre-existing model limitations and fiction’s demands, as the paradigm in Gundam design emphasies using all three at the same time. Rarely you see a Gundam that could not be realised in model form, and even then it’s more common to see a modern redesign that makes them fit that box.

Gundam began to use transformations when the technology became cheap enough for it, and after Macross had made it popular. Looking at the current lineup of Gunpla, we can always see one or two models designed just around the shape changing gimmick. Thus, in a mainline Gundam show, the transformation has to work, toy accurate if possible. Because this mind set shifted only after later, mechas like Zeta Gundam had to come around its complex and nigh impossible transformation schemes (for toys) to the point of Bandai making a Zeta Model that, for in-universe reasons, had a simplified scheme. Namely, the MSZ-006 Zeta Gundam Wave Shooter Equipment Type. Nowadays, moel engineering and plastics have evolved to the point of pretty much anything is possible.

Though even when everything has become possible, it also has a cost. A simple design like with GoTaurus won’t cost too much to produce, but a more complex piece like a Zeta Gundam will due to complex mould needed. Considering the needs of the toy first yields a very much different design than considering the in-world or technological points. Toys, after all, exist.

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Suidobashi Heavy Industry vs Megabots Inc

So we finally had the long promised Giant Robot Duel. Seeing part of this blog’s thing is to comment on mecha designs, it’s only fitting to comment on real world giant robots.

While we shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, I can’t help but give some feedback on the outer appearance from the get-go.

Their first robot, Iron Glory MkII is outright dirty. This is certainly by choice and often fits the whole worn-out industrial look Megabots wanted to go, but in a publicity stunt like this, they could’ve cleaned it up a lot and tweaked it to simply be more eye pleasing. The earthy tones here give a look of something that was dug up from a hole somewhere. It also looks unbalanced. Without a doubt it’s designed to stay upright and move around without the height becoming an issue, but we’re talking about a fight here. It’s going to get pushed around, and any mass that’s outside the region directly above the tracks it has will sway it if push comes. As long as it stays as low as possible, there shouldn’t be anything to worry about. Those arms may be neat for target shooting, but as the video makes clear, this is a hand-to-hand battle, meaning they’re more or less useless.

 

Kuratas on the other hand is painted showy red, and during the pre-fight interview, we see its left hand constantly opening and closing. While useless, it does give off a certain attention to detail. While Megabots is traditional American dakka and looks the role, Kuratas follows rather unorthodox Japanese design. No legs to be seen here, Kuratas rolls on wheels. The clawed right arm could’ve used more red paint for sure, at least for its shoulder. The welding do look sturdy and up to standards.

Well, let’s get to the first fight.

Here we see how small the treads on Iron Glory MkII are. Kuratas’ design has spread the mass rather low while Iron Glory MkII decided to stand up and make itself a sitting target.  The blow Kuratas delivered easily tipped Iron Glory MkII over. This may have been prevented with the treads extending further back, or adding a pivoting action. Like with tanks that keep their turret to one direction while the lower body pivots on place. However, I doubt Iron Glory MkII would’ve had enough power for that otherwise. Kuratas seemed to be pretty good on straights, but that mass must be hard to direct to another direction without slowing down.

Furthermore, it looked like the cockpit for Iron Glory MkII was not designed to fall, and the pilots clearly got rather serious shock. There was no head support or harnesses to speak of. That’s dangerous, and anyone who wants to make their own mecha, please make sure whoever pilots it is secured in place and has the necessary shock absorbents around.

Iron Glory MkII was just a warm-up though. Its design has loads of problems that simply won’t work in a competitive fight. Megabots’ Eagle Prime was specifically designed to for this contest, and it shows.

Eagle Prime has twice the mass either Kuratas or its predecessor has. This alone makes it a bit harder to tip over. However, they stuck with the rising legs idea, meaning it’ll spread its mass again between low and very high points. However, it is stated to be bottom-heavy with 60% of its mass residing on the lower half. It also stands in the middle of the treads, making it much harder to topple over.

In terms of offensive, it’s right hand is an industrial claw that is more designed to crush than punch, but that’s not really important. The mass of the whole thing is enough to be worried about. It’s left hand’s cannon is useless, unless it manages to paint Kuratas’ to the point of  pilot being unable to see outside. A definitive upgrade, and another very American design.

Let’s not forget that is movement macros it has, but onward with the second fight.

The second round was more about the environment. Kuratas launched a drone that got knocked out of the air and Eagle Prime utilised the environment. This sort of slow-paced fighting isn’t exactly Kuratas’ strength, and in close combat they got stuck to each other. Most damage was done to Kuratas, not by Eagle Prime’s claw or shots, but with the barrels of the cannon. So, what’s the next most American choice of weapon after your guns fail?

I admit, I did not see Megabots going so far as to install a chainsaw. Because live ammunition is not an option here, might as well go straight in cut. Kurata’s plan in this second round was to blind Eagle Prime’s cameras, but as we already saw, cannons do jack shit. For whatever reason, neither Megabots or Suidobashi had well designed, accurate paint ball cannons with them.

The problem in using a chainsaw that was intended to cut stone is that you need to have it revved up at full speed before you can cut through. With low velocities like this, the blades simply get caught and rip pieces off rather than cutting them. On a more smoother surfaces, like the main body of Kuratas, the chainsaw mostly skims cross before hitting the shoulder.

With this, the American Megabots was announced the victor. Nothing really came out of this, outside all the money that went into production of these things, and some stupid fun. Kuratas never really had any chances against Eagle Prime, seeing it was few weight classes lower. Without some sort of puncturing weaponry or something else to mess with the opponent’s system, the sheer weight difference made it lost. Maybe having a high-yield flamethrower or a blowtorch of some sorts could’ve delivered victory by frying off the exposed electronics and piping, but that would’ve been too easy and not hand-to-hand combat. That’s why a close-combat torch might’ve been a good call.

Both designs of Kuratas and Eagle Prime do show us the reality of giant robots. We can’t have them walk around on two legs, because that is largely unfeasable. Strength and speed are all relative, and while all this may have seemed slow, there was large amount of power behind each hit. The plating on Kuratas was stripped right off rather easily by just one direct hit and some chainsawing, something we barely every see in fiction. An idea of having as unified armor as possible with no corners or holes for the enemy to have anything to latch on, might be a good idea overall. A smoother surface would also make bullets skim off easier if their angle is low enough.

The whole content probably was scripted to a degree, but hey, at least got to see metal turned to scraps.

Exogularity; F-47 Ishkur

To celebrate Muv-Luv Alternative hitting Steam, let’s talk about the future of Tactical Surface Fighters. Namely, the 8th Generation Tactical Surface Fighter F-47 Ishkur.

Needless to say, this be spoiler country.

 Ishkur is the Sumerian name for Hadad, the god of rain and thunderstorms of spring. A fitting name for mankind’s latest weapons against extraterrestrial threats: the BETA and their Silicon creators pose. While the previous generation of TSFs were defined in their G-Generators and system made possible through them; a decade of operation time without replenishment, TSF sized particle cannons and advanced Rutherford fields that could withhold Fortress-Laser Class’ barrage for fifteen minutes. Tactical Surface Fighter development became stagnant after the introduction of the 7th Generation due to mankind-wide civil wars. With the global unification of 2043, a project to face the creators of BETA was launched a year later, with a need for the 8th Generation following in suit. Three years later, the F-47 would meet with abilities such mission would demand.

The 8th Generation is redefines the role of a TSF to the point that it’s no longer “Surface;” Space is its main field of operation, but the F-47 has been designed to function from Zero-G to 3-G environments. Movement is attained by manipulating gravity, and as F-47’s main role is to function as an envoy to the space fleet aiming to contact the Siliconians, it boasts an impressive long-range particle cannon as its main weapon. Furthermore, the F-47 is able to engage in limited ranged warps and contains regenerating life-support systems, giving the unit ability for independent interstellar travel.

The name Ishkur represents this aspect of F-47 being able to rain down storm and thunder on whomever the pilot chooses to strike.

This rough design shows where we’re going. One thing that I didn’t include in the above description of the unit, is that Ishkur would be able to purge its damaged sections to continue to fight unhindered, at least according to Ishi Sho. Notice that the melee blade below is attached to the F-47’s right arm here, it’s not a lengthy cannon.

While the F-47 Ishkur sounds overpowered, the mook it is from, exogularity 01, hints that BETA tactics have evolved as well. Despite this, it does carry more traditional weaponry.

We can already see from these roughs that the two familiar weapons seem to be a mainstay still. The Assault Gun boasts rather functional design, probably to give emphasize how it has to function in variety of environments an interstellar mission might have. The Close Combat Sword we have here seems to have taken the handle idea from BWS-8 Flugelberte as it is arching to the wrong direction, but I’ll let that pass, as we’re talking about a giant robot and not a human hand. The lowest one is 8th Generation multi-purpose additional armour, a shield of sorts, though it is rather small for that function alone. It is missing from Strike Frontier render of the unit, and may have been dropped from the design for now.

As the F-47 is a completely new design, not based on any existing aircraft, its Jump Units are based solely on Tactical Surface Fighters’ own design language.

If you look too long at these, you may end up seeing a skull of sorts. That may just be me.

To summarise all this, F-47 Ishkur is what Tactical Surface Fighter line would naturally evolve into when materials, sudden surge in advanced technology and necessity for interstellar warfare all come together. It was Yoshimune Koki himself who jokingly said that it’s not longer “Surface” and that TSFs have now entered the realm of Super Robots, but he isn’t half wrong. Perhaps calling F-47 Ishkur Tactical Space Fighter would be more appropriate, even when it could function on Earth-like bodies. Tactical Multi-Environmental Fighter doesn’t have the same ring to it. I’m not ready to agree that this mecha fits in the Super Robot category straight away. It certainly is a compact and hi-performance mecha all things considered, but in a world where technology is being combined with extraterrestrial material that allows bending dimensional barriers through the sheer power of love, I’m reminded of Third Clarke’s Law; Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

The design itself is combination of two things; the designer Ishi Sho’s own taste and view how the TSF line is to evolve, and cues from Mamoru Nagano’s Mortar Hedds from Five Star Stories. However, I would also argue that there is an influence from Tomohiro Shimoguchi’s illustration works, namely Linebarrels of Iron. Furthermore, some elements, like the shoulder armours, do remind of Gundam AGE‘s Vagan designs, thought this is probably just my eyes tricking me. F-47 Ishkur is probably the first properly modern design in the franchise, as even the 4th TSF Generation still has visible vestiges of the early 2000’s mecha design. If I can be frank about my own view for a moment, Ishkur’s design does please the eye and probably does good to the franchise in that it is far removed from any real life fighter jet.

This mecha, Ishkur, represents what will probably be the future of the franchise, if it has the chance to go that far. Things have certainly changed, with âge now more or less servicing as the brand and front for ixtl, Avex Pictures acquiring ixtl itself and both Muv-Luv and Muv-Luv Alternative being officially released in English. However, with both Total Eclipse and Schwarzesmarken being largely failures all around, the staff at âge/ixtl are in a position very few people would wish to be in. Whatever comes next has to strike true. Of course, with Avex Pictures now being the upper management, an adaptation of Muv-Luv and Muv-Luv Alternative itself isn’t far too far-fetched. However, it would have to be an adaptation that would aim to expand the audience, something the core fans probably would not prefer. It would be necessary for the health of the franchise and companies involved.

But for now, let’s enjoy what we have.

Listen, The wind is still, And far away in the night — See! The uplands fill With a running light.
Open the doors. It is warm; And where the sky was clear– Look! The head of a storm That marches here!
Come under the trembling hedge– Fast, although you fumble… There! Did you hear the edge of winter crumble
-Mark Van Doren, 1924

Plane elements in Tactical Surface Fighters; MiG-29OVT Fulcrum

While we’re probably going to discuss the base MiG-29 Lastochka one of these days, the main reason we’re going to have MiG-29OVT variation on the table today is because it had a significant antagonist role in Total Eclipse, and that I had the pictures readily available and didn’t want to do Active Eagle.

To save most of real world MiG-29’s history for Lastochka, I’ll shorten it here and see what we have on the OVT model. Which isn’t much, but we’ll get to that later. One of the major differences between the real fighter and the TSF is that all MiG-29 variants are known as Fulcrum in the NATO designation. The Soviets and Russian pilots adopted this name later on. NATO just adds a letter and a number after the designation to denote which variant we’re talking about.

The Fulcrum has a long history behind it. The fighter was developed in early 1970’s as a hi-performance, hi-manoeuvre light-weight fighter to tackle whatever the West was cooking against the Soviet nations. Indeed, it’s not rare to see enthusiasts to decree the Fulcrum to be an equal to Western fighters, especially due to it incorporating numerous technological advantages not in its Western contemporaries, the F-16 Fighting Falcon for example. The base model, Fulcrum-A, became operational in the mid-80’s and had a very high manoeuvrability. It could track ten targets at the same time with its cohere pulse Doppler radar at a range of 69km. Combined with a laser range finder and infra-red search and track, which all where linked to Helmet Mount Sight, made the base Fulcrum a very dangerous enemy in a close-in fight. It should also be noted that the Fulcrum has LERXs, or leading-edge extensions on its mid-mount swept wings. These small extensions improve and control airflow at high angles of attack.

The 29M and OVT are both Second Generation fighters and have enhancements everywhere, including evolution to the overall airframe in order to increase its thrust-to-weight ratio. As OVT is essentially just Fulcrum-M with thrust vectoring RD-133 engines, it shares all the same advanced avionics its brother does. To go slightly into the history of the Fulcrum-M, it’s development began in the mid-80’s with a new need for a frontline fighter that would be able to carry out multi-role missions. Due to shift in Soviet military strategy, the Fulcrum-M design saw constant updates and variants before it eventually split into MiG-29M and M2, denoting whether or not its a two-seater. It should be noted that the MiG-29M, despite sharing its name with its original variant, is completely redesigned version. External differences may be sparse, pretty much everything else was improved beyond the Fulcrum-A.

MiG-29OVT is more or less an acrobatic performer that mainly showcases the modern MiG-29’s capabilities rather than being a frontline fighter.

Remember to click for a larger version

In Muv-Luv Alternative‘s BETAverse, the Fulcrum is a given name to the advanced MiG-29. Based on MiG-29 Lastochka and shared technology gained via Project Prominence, the MiG-29OVT is an advanced variant that is supposedly able to go toe-to-toe with the American F-15 ACT Active Eagle. Changes from the earlier MiG-29 variants include upgraded avionics, improved Jump Units, Light by Light and redesigned shoulder blade vanes.

To reflect the thrust-vectoring capabilities of the real world OVT, the TSF OVT now has added thrusters in the shoulders and hips. This supposedly gives it 3rd Generation level manoeuvrability. It carries Blade Motors from earlier MiG-29 variants in its arms and legs, as well as the A-97 Assault Gun. Being on the side of close-combat, Fulcrum pilots tend to favour brutish tactics and acute-angle attacks on the enemy. One might even assume that the Fulcrum showcases the changes in Soviet’s doctrine against BETA and human targets.

In terms of design, the MiG-29OVT shares more with its in-universe brethren than with the real fighter. It’s chunkier than blockier to keep in-tone with the rest of the MiG-29 series. Similarly, while the MiG-29 has rounded and smooth corners to it, the TSF design has opted to angularise itself in many cases, like with adding more corners to the wings and fins. There are surprising amount of included elements from the fighter in the TSF, albeit the TSF elements govern the overall look of the unit.

There would have been few points that the MiG-29 could have stood out overall. The fighters are unique in that their intakes and nozzles, indeed almost the whole department, resides under the fuselage. The pilot also sits very high in the cockpit. Neither these aspects carried into the MiG-29 line. However, perhaps the TSF elements again override the fighter design points in this case.

Music of the Month; Streets are hot

If you haven’t seen California Crisis, it’s worth watching at least once

It’s the middle of the summer in the Northern hemisphere and the streets indeed are hot to the point of the asphalt burning the feet and tar boiling in the cracks. This time of the year should be for relaxation for yours truly, but of course it isn’t. The past months have been hectic and stressful, to say the least, but at least I managed to keep my two posts per week rhythm, despite the quality being every which way occasionally.

Much like with previous months, there are no plans for the blog. I haven’t had the time to come up with anything. Plus, I’ll be busy creating a programme for a local convention about Iczer-1, which will take most of my attention away from other matters. I’ve only got few weeks to build it from the scratch, but at least I have my own posts from which to pull information from.  I’ll be throwing other 1980’s pop-culture material in there as well, and as such it’ll be slightly more expanded view on the whole phenomena and the cultural situation during the era in Japan. However, due to this, this summer won’t see a massive thematic post like I’ve been putting up during the past few years, unless something extraordinary turns up that I can tap for information.

That is not to say I’ll be using this forced vacation I’ve been thrust into only doing something I should consider extra work of sorts. I picked up a pen digitizer Huion GT-220 v2 relatively recently, but haven’t had the time to sit down hours on end and draw with it. Plans are to spend notable hours per day with it and trying to find some way to produce images I’d be somewhat satisfied with, commentators be damned. With this I hope I’ll gain enough experience with it to give a proper view on the thingamajig and do a sort of review, but that’ll have to wait until the end of the month. You already saw some scribbles I threw together with the previous mecha design post, because I’ve ran out of paper to scan. Well, this should force me to concentrate on the digital side of things and further encourage me to step away from just pen and paper whenever possible.

Speaking of mecha designing, the rest of the year will probably become unique examples of transforming mecha. We’ve covered the core basics, and rather than trying force terrible doodle on everybody, I’ll be resorting on existing designs. This is just a thought for now and the end result will probably be something else. I still need to talk about Super Sentai robot designs and contrasted to e.g. Macross‘ Valkyries due to the core difference in the target market.

Summer is also a time when things tend to die out a little when it comes to news and such. It’s not the best time to release certain kind of game titles, though summer blockbusters are at their peak. The upcoming Spider-Man Homecoming is an example of this, though I have to admit I have reservations for the flick and will have to wager whether or not I’ll be seeing it in the theatres. If I do, I might as well go watch the latest Transformers while I’m at it. I’d rather see movies myself and make up my own opinion on any movie rather than rely on Internet reviews, because ultimately only I can say whether or not whatever fits my tastes. The same goes for you, which is why I quit doing game reviews as such and moved unto related stuff. At least with controllers and similar stuff I can review their ergonomics and function relatively objectively without getting stuck on whether or not I or someone else likes it.

Rather than forcing myself to remember the last subject I was supposed to cover in this post’s last four hundred words, I’ll just recommend you all to go out and enjoy the sunshine or rain. I’ll just go fix my summer bike and go take a stroll across the town, it’s such a good weather to break my knees open again.

And oh, remember to sharpen your kitchen and tool knives, and to oil them afterwards. A well sharpened and oiled knife will last more than a lifetime.

Mecha design: Straightened up A-6

To continue the theme of transforming mecha in a simple form, I’ve decided to take this chance to introduce another simple transformation, but one that isn’t a box and does alter its appearance quite a lot between its two forms. Furthermore, rather than choosing something that flies through the air, I’ve decided to pick one that makes some sense in its setting as well as is water bound; the A-6 Intruder, or the Tactical Surface Attacker Type 81, Wadatsumi.

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The unsung hero

Unlike Boxtron from one of the previous entries, A-6 Intruder requires some explanation about its role in-universe in Muv-Luv Unlimited/ Alternative. In a world where air superiority is not an option before a specialised enemy unit has been cleared off from the battlefield, an off-shoot branch has specialised on long-range combat and against enemy strains that are less armoured and smaller, but number in tens of thousands. The A-6 Intruder is the amphibious equivalent of A-10, another TSA. Both of them require to work in tandem, with Tactical Surface Fighters for effective warfare if they’re present. Furthermore, the A-6 has specialised in landing operations. These guys are the workhorse of things, able to take loads of damage and dish out about twice as much, reflecting the real world craft’s resilience. Effectively, they’re walking fortresses rising from the water and taking control of the beach, so the main force can move in.

If you were expecting a design comparison between this and the real life A-6, I’m not intending to do one due to the TSA effectively having no elements to go through. Well, outside the intakes that the 120mm guns were modelled after. The only real connections are the intention and relative role. The real world Grumman A-6 Intruder was a carrier-based attack craft that was designed around long-range and low-level tactical strikes. An interesting juxtapose is that the real world craft had no guns or internal bombing bay, whereas the TSA has nothing but build-in weapons. All the ordinance was mounted externally, and ranged from simple generic bombs to possibility of Mark 43 nuclear bomb. Fun fact, the A-6 delivered the most ordinance during Vietnam War than any other craft, including the B-52.

The design reflects the intended function. While not exactly apparent from its land mode, the whole transformation is made simple as possible while having interesting shapes to go around. Nevertheless, it still has some notably intricate, smaller form changing in its legs.

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How the feet are pulled in during submersible mode is rather interesting for the reason that it’s slightly over-engineered. The question whether or not you’d want sharp double-heels when you’re landing on a beach, or walk anywhere on the sea bottom where its muddy as hell,  is a good one and probably the only individual detail that I can complain about. If you disagree, you go walk on the beach with stilettos. Don’t ask why I’ve done that.

The transformation has four main elements that change form. The head, the arms, the legs and the crotch piece. Just like some older Transformers, what A-6 essentially does it that is stretches itself out, with some twisting and turning here and there. This transformation scheme is dependent on water, as its submersible mode wouldn’t function on land. Maybe is space. Luckily, we do have step-by-step CGs from the Visual novels themselves.

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Here we see the submersible mode with its head extended from the main body. This seems to be the first step in the whole thing. Overall speaking, we do see that the A-6 is pretty nice overall, though you can see sections on the arms that have crevices. Nothing major going here yet.

2.png

The second step is to extend the shoulder and hip joints beyond the main body. This is the first thing that leads to the rest of the breakdown, but to be completely honest, this and extending the head should one and the same step.

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Here we see the hands extending forwards. These scene where this particular transformation takes place happens during a battle against a Tactical Surface Fighter. Hence, the arms are coming to grab something in-front of it. In order for the 120mm cannons to face forwards (as in the top image), they are required to twist 180-degrees forwards. The main shoulder pieces that keep the arms and 120mm cannons connected to the main body are still flat.

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The last phase  is extending the crotch piece forwards, twisting the 120mm cannons forward while turning the shoulder pieces out and straightening the legs and feet. At this point the A-6 Intruder would be ready to land ashore.

This transformation sequence uses the exact same core idea as Boxtron. The initial shape is mostly dictated by its function as an amphibious weapons platform, which on the other hand does limit how the humanoid form stands up. Well, semi-humanoid, as the A-6 does away with most human proportions.

While the transformation is simple, the main difference with its initial starfish form and Boxtron is not the shape or the sequence, but that it contains third dimension. While Boxtron was strictly a two-dimensional, A-6 needs to rotate and extend sections in the third dimension in order to achieve complete form change. As mentioned, the scheme of designed to work under water and only under water and ultimately the whole design works around this. The thrust is kept to the same direction at all times and the only bit that would seem to have any control over direction is the crotch piece.

Nevertheless, the good old tuck-and-cover method is practised here as well with, well, everything really. The amphibious mode is streamlined in most parts and doesn’t exactly have any hard corners for the water or currents to drag on. The geometry is overall sound. Outside the feet, anything more complex would be redundant.

In-universe the A-6 Intruder isn’t exactly a showpiece, and its transformation gimmick does give it a higher cost, but it’s specialised role makes it shine. While we can debate whether or not the design itself is something to admire, the A-6 is nevertheless a good example of a purpose-designed form changing mecha.

Mecha design; Combiner Core

Combining and transforming has been with the mecha genre at least since Kouji Kabuto’s Hover Pilder turned its hover wings up and docked unto the head of Mazinger Z. This is the first major example in the mainline media that shows two separate individual mechanical objects combining and forming one cohesive being, as small act as it is. Nevertheless, a Pilder is an inseparable element of a Mazinger in a form of another. However, Mazinger Z is not the first combining mecha, unless you belong to the school of thought that mecha is an umbrella term for all mechanical like it’s original intended use is.

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Kouji Kabuto becomes the brain within the helmet of Mazinger Z

Many would coin Getter Robo as the first combining mecha, but that’s not exactly correct either. It certainly can be said to be the first mecha that is formed by using three individual components that share equal amount if importance and space in the formation. Getter’s selling point was that all three fighters used to form a Getter had their own form in the lead. One Getter Robo thus has four configurations; three separate fighters, one for airborne fighting, one for land based and one to fight in water. This essentially translates into balanced, fast and strong forms. However, this power balance is not emphasized, as the balanced form gets the best attacks and most face time. The third form is most often wasted and almost practically useless.

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I love using this .gif, so sue me

Often a forgotten, and probably the first example of combining robots in how most think it as, is Gadem from Tetsuwan Atom. Gadem was a giant mechanical centipede formed from 47 individual androids. The reason Gadem doesn’t trump Mazinger Z is that Gadem’s a Monster of the Week, something that’s interesting for that one episode and then passed on. You don’t seem Gadem combining in the opening every single time.

The original Tetsuwan Atom is so much fun

The reason I wanted to go through this very short history of combining mecha first is to portray that much like with other things when it comes to designing mecha, there is no set rule as such. There are trends and styles that one prefers over another, and if you were to design your own combiner, the best way is to look what has been done, and then research real world mechanics how things are fit together. However, the real world doesn’t exactly have the highest amounts of combining war machines, e.g. there are no tanks that can form a big supertank, and thus we’re “limited” to our imagination and what we know of real world mechanics.

As with transforming mechas overall (most often a mecha needs to transform in order to accept other components of the combination), the design can be done so that it looks somewhat realistic in the sense that it could be realized e.g. in toys. The above example of Mazinger Z and Pilder combining is incidentally relatively realistic, despite being coined as the first Super Robot. There is no warping or the like. It’s a craft docking, landing, combining, whatever word you want to use, with a surface designed to hold the Pilder in place. We can question the design and all that, but it might as well be a spacecraft docking with a station or helicopter landing and locking itself down unto a carrier.

Getter Robo’s combination and subsequent transformation (the fighter are required to transform in order to take the shape of the robot) are no-sense kind. There are some indications what part ultimately becomes what, and we’ve gone this over before.

From here we can roughly split combining mecha into three styles. First would be vehicle combiners, where a giant robot is formed through combination of vehicles (or animals). Super Sentai tends to favour this the most above all. Second would be humanoid combiners, where humanoid shapes are first transformed into appendices or similar in order to complete their gestalt form. Despite Transformers having two forms most of the time, I would drop them into this category due to the fact that their main form, in the end, is their humanoid one. Their Alternative mode is the one they disguise themselves into, after all. Lastly, there is non-humanoid gestalt, where either vehicles or humanoids form up a combination result that isn’t a giant robot but something else.

Of course, there is also equip-combination, which is more or less one whole mecha gaining an extra pound of equipment of on top of itself. This is separated from the the aforementioned because it doesn’t create a new whole in itself; it’s just a mecha putting a jacket on, if you will. An example of this would be Sonic Convoy from Transformer: Galaxy Force.

Is this some new level of geekiness from this blog now that I’m referencing Japanese original version of Transformers Cybetron?

Each of these approach really would garner its own post with examples, as one combination style has quote a lot of stuff to go into. As such, maybe this post is best to take as a prepper for possible future expansions.

One thing that the designer of combining robot has to keep in mind is that it needs to be cool, no matter the approach.

A combination that has no tension behind it, no emphasize or meaning, lacks impact. Within fiction combination shouldn’t be treated as something trivial. Even in Getter Robo the combination plays important role with switching between forms and dramatic evasion manoeuvre. Even when combination becomes a common occurrence within fiction it has to leave some impact. Transformers has made offence of this few times over, but as long as the gimmick of combination is treated with respect, it works well as a dramatic device.

To use an example from the aforementioned Transformers, Combiners are almost always stronger than any other single character within fiction. A Combiner is the sum of its parts in pretty much every regard, and thus can change the tide of a battle on its own. To see a Combiner parts on the field should fill a soldier with fear or anticipation. Perhaps the most proverbial Combiner (not to mention a sort of classic example of modern humanoid mecha combiners overall) Devastator is the poster child for what it is to be a Combiner in Transformers fiction. You let Devastator loose on a field and follow it from afar how things just get devastated. Afterwards Megatron can always command its components, the Constructicons, to build something new. Treating Devastator otherwise would cheapen the fiction, character and the concept. Incidentally, Devastator’s intelligence is not the sum of his components, but who needs smarts when you have strength?