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Since the 1970s, the mech genre has been one of the distinct categories that have created a strong percentage of the appeal of Japanese anime as a whole. For some of the older readers, you probably got into the genre through Robotech, Voltron and the G1 Transformers. And for the younger readers, you probably have seen some of the newer Gundam and Macross installments. Who loves the idea of getting into a giant robot and saving the world? Just the idea of the power of what a giant robot can give you is a very strong appeal. You can fight other robots, monsters, or hopefully, use it for constructive purposes. But of course, it takes a certain set of skills to be able to pilot one. So in the world of anime, who are some of the best mech pilots? Read this list to find out who Honey thinks is!
10. Daigoji Gai from Martian Successor Nadesico (Kidou Senkan Nadesico)
- Episodes: 26
- Air Dates: Oct 1996 – Mar 1997
Kicking our list into blast off is Daigoji Gai from Nadesico, who you can say represents the hardcore mech fan. What makes Gai a quality addition to this list is his childish passion and creativity. His motivation to become a pilot is that he is a fan of a super robot show called Gekiganger 3, an in-series mecha anime that pays homage to Mazinger Z. Despite how cool his name sounds, Daigoji Gai is not his real name. His name happens to be Jiro Yamada, a name that is just about as plain as John Anderson and/or Smith (no offense to anyone with such names). Not liking his real name, he chooses the name Daigoji Gai to reflect his soul.
Just like the pilots of old school robot anime, he likes to make up crazy attacks and scream names for them. For example, he has a punch he likes to call the Gai Super Napalm. In a later episode, while he was on the injured list, he takes advantage of the cockpit system of the Aestivalis with Akito (Akito was using a mech that couldn’t fly and Gai launches with a flying mech and lets Akito change cockpits). The funny thing is that Gai makes a name for this (the Cross Crash) and requires Akito say it with him in sync. He feels by verbalizing things, it puts more feeling into it. And his battle plan drawing skills are up to the elite level (all drawn in crayon!). Even when some of his plans fail, he can always go back to his Gai Super Napalm.
9. Sousuke Sagara from Full Metal Panic
- Episodes: 24
- Air Dates: Jan 2002 – Jun 2002
Sousuke as a regular high school boy is no doubt socially awkward but in his real profession as a soldier, he is the best at what he does to the point it’s an obsession. His portrayal may not be considered politically correct by the standards of some nations in regards to those who honorably served and to child soldiers, but to anime fans, it is hilarious. Putting his qualities as a teenager aside, if you are out on the battlefield or in a schoolyard fight, he is the man you want to cover your six.
To him, the best defense is a good offense. He fights to the finish and fights to win. Stealth, hand-to-hand, guerrilla tactics, sniper, blade combat, by land, sea, or air, you name it he can do it. Due to his unfortunate upbringing of being in combat zones as far back as he could walk, his training and experiences combined make him the ultimate soldier with or without a mech.
8. Nagate Tanikaze from Knights of Sidonia (Sidonia no Kishi)
- Episodes: 12
- Air Dates: Apr 2014 – Jul 2014
In this post-apocalyptic space opera, what is the best way to become a mech pilot? Be genetically engineered from birth to become one! Hiroki, Nagate’s surrogate father/grandfather was the best pilot the Sidonia had for 500 years except that even in that kind of lifespan, age has to catch up. So what happens when father time catches up? You just make a new one, but not the birds and the bees story way. However, having the perfect DNA alone doesn’t make a pilot. You also need to go to school and though he wasn’t the top gun of his class, on the battlefield, you’d want him to be your wingman (or you can be his).
Due to his programmed upbringing and training, he is a natural and fights in a manner where he tries to be as efficient as possible. Beyond his individual abilities, he is a team player when it counts. Furthermore, his genetic engineering also allows him to have an amazing healing factor similar to X-Men’s Wolverine’s (even something similar to immortality though he is technically capable of dying under certain circumstances). So if you need someone to take on the most demanding of missions, send in Nagate.
7. Van Fanel from The Vision of Escaflowne (Tenkuu no Escaflowne)
- Episodes: 26
- Air Dates: Apr 1996 – Sept 1996
In this unique anime by Shoji Kawamori, this is one of those rare animes that feature mechs in a fantasy world. And appropriately reflecting that quality is how the titular Escaflowne is gear operated in a steampunk sense as opposed to electronically (in addition to a little bit of magic and alchemy that makes Van its exclusive pilot). Due to how the Escaflowne works, it is probably the most physically demanding mech to use since it requires full control from the pilot’s body as opposed to using levers, buttons, and pedals.
Any damage it takes, Van takes too. So in order to heal his injuries, Escaflowne has to be repaired. As stated, due to the series being fantasy oriented, firearms are not really the main weapon so it is more centered around sword fighting in addition to using extended weapons with the use of wires. Because of the demands, Escaflowne requires physically, mentally, and spiritually, Van is an undeniable addition.
6. Eureka Thurston from Eureka Seven
- Episodes: 50
- Air Dates: Apr 2005 – Apr 2006
Next, we have Eureka. The basis of her skills is due to her unique alien/artificial background. Her base race is that she is a Coralian, and is not initially familiar with human behavior. Due to being more advanced in terms of intelligence, she approaches things in life in a more systematic/calculating matter. This aspect of her personality extends to her abilities as a pilot. She is collected and takes everything into account to take down her enemies or accomplishing her mission.
What also solidifies her skills is her ability to handle the Nirvash Type Zero, an advanced mech that not many people can pilot. But despite how we described her behavior, she treats her ability as if it were a fellow person. Thanks to her emotional attachments, she takes great care of it and this also allows her to develop her skills in human interaction. Sometimes, being a great pilot can create great people and Eureka is a great example of that.
5. Kamina from Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann
- Episodes: 27
- Air Dates: Apr 2007 – Sept 2007
Next, we have Kamina, one of the initial main characters of Gurren Lagann. Known for his act now, think later personality, it extends very well into his skills as a pilot. Though those are qualities he shows on the outside, deep down he is very methodical and intelligent. Thanks to these abilities, he can adapt to many situations including the ability to pilot a mech such as the initial Gurren mech. Of course, everybody needs to learn how to do something with assistance, and thankfully he had Simon to make him a better pilot to add to his list of natural skills he already has as a soldier and as a leader.
Not only was he able to fight Viral, one of his rivals, in regular hand-to-hand combat outside of mechs, he would eventually come to equal him in mech combat as well. In addition to his piloting skills, he also knows the value of a good mech, which is why he hijacked other mechs that would later serve as the other parts to the titular Gurren Lagann.
4. Akito Hyuga from Code Geass: Akito the Exiled 1 - The Wyvern Arrives (Code Geass: Boukoku no Akito 1 - Yokuryuu wa Maiorita)
- Episodes: 5
- Air Dates: Jul 2012 - Feb 2016
From the Code Geass side story series, Akito of the Exiled, we have the main character, Akito Hyuga. As opposed to Lelouch who is more of a master politician and overall strategist, Akito is much more withdrawn and takes action himself without using others as his pawns. Like some pilots on this list, in addition to having some natural abilities, a certain portion is artificially enhanced through a Geass he was bestowed upon. Through his Geass, it is different from Suzaku’s but both come to the same conclusion, win at all costs. While Suzaku’s is more of a defensive mechanic, Akito’s is offensive. Upon his debut, he is ordered to take part in a mission with a 5% chance of success with fellow Japanese soldiers (though Akito was born and raised in Europe). The mission was a success, but with great cost with him being the sole survivor.
Due to taking out an entire enemy unit single-handedly, he is promoted to Lieutenant and is feared as Hannibal’s ghost. Even without a mech, he is a very capable soldier and was able to take down an enemy mech with just a bazooka. Even with his aggressive nature in a mech, he is also capable of beating enemies with minimal force when necessary. But in the heat of battle, he’s all about survival.
3. Asuka Langley Sohryu from Neon Genesis Evangelion
- Episodes: 26
- Air Dates: Oct 1995 – Mar 1996
Asuka’s personality has made her controversial amongst fans and non-fans of Evangelion alike but out of all the pilots featured in this series, she is probably the most flamboyant. While Shinji and Rei in their first runs didn’t go well, Asuka in comparison makes a hell of a first impression (due to probably being the most trained). She pilots her unit in a manner that perfectly reflects the unique sleek frame of the Evas by relying on agility and swiftness.
She also shows excellent coordination with the use of her weapons and when fighting the other EVA units sent in by SEELE in End of Evangelion. She takes the offensive and gets the job done. She may not be the ideal roommate, but if you need a dance partner to win a competition when the going gets tough, she’s there when it counts.
2. Basara Nekki from Macross 7
- Episodes: 49
- Air Dates: Oct 1994 – Sept 1995
Out of all the pilots from the Macross franchise who have the most potential, it has to be Basara Nekki from 7. Throughout most of the series, in a combative definition, he holds back and just uses his assigned Valkyrie to perform his songs to win over the enemy. If in the event he ever attacks in an offensive sense, he would no doubt win in a battle royal between the other pilots from other Macross installments. Thankfully, he doesn’t like to use violence, even in self-defense or protecting others, he hates it when he has to launch missiles towards an enemy seeing it as a failure to his goals and principles. Though he chooses to not use any offensive maneuvers, he has the defensive skills to back it up with amazing maneuverability for dodging that has the military glad he’s on their side. And to top it off, he pilots his Valkyrie with an interface that appropriately matches a guitar.
Even when piloting a regular Valkyrie, he can use a basic control system and play a real guitar at the same time. But complimenting his skills in both a Valkyrie and as a musician is that the Valkyrie is customized with an amazing sound system. If the space age MTV makes a Pimp My Ride, Basara’s Valkyrie would be a top contender. The fact that he can multi-task while piloting and defeating the enemy without resorting to using firearms is no doubt why he is listed. As far how he was able to become an amazing pilot, that remains a great mystery.
1. Mikazuki Augus from Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans
- Episodes: 25
- Air Dates: Oct 2015 – Mar 2016
Some of you are thinking why we didn’t Char pick from the original Gundam series on this list, and with every reason, you can think of (and no, we don’t think he is overrated or that he’s been done to death). It all comes down to a sense of composure. Mika’s composure is an ideal quality pilot (or soldier for that matter) should have. Mika will react to unexpected twists with distaste but that’s just it. Char is the type of man who likes to think ahead, but Mika fights with a Mike Tyson mentality of everyone has a plan until they’re hit. Mika just keeps on fighting no matter what. He came into his Gundam, the Barbatos, like it was an extension of him, thanks to the system interface that syncs with his surgical implants.
If there are any other reasons that make Mika calm under intense pressure is probably due to his long experiences as a ground soldier. Piloting a mech in battle is no doubt risky, but the original Gundam even makes you feel you’re safe due to its protection with weak artillery. The mech is somewhat like armor and still, gives you security. Fighting on the ground doesn’t and even when Mika was fighting as a normal soldier, he still kept his cool. Thanks to his background and upbringing, he is a fearsome pilot you don’t want to face. Even with the injurious consequences the Barbatos’ interface during his battles, Mika doesn't care and still wants to fight because being a soldier is who he is.
Last, we would like to give some honorable mentions to Char from Gundam, Roy Fokker from Macross, the crew of Ideon, the crew of Go-Lion (aka Voltron), and Chirico Quvie from Armored Trooper Votoms. As you can see, all mech pilots come from various backgrounds, talents, ages, etc. Some are highly trained soldiers, others are very mechanically inclined, and there are those who are just superhuman. Some are in their mech by choice, some are by force, or just by circumstances. No matter what the reason, they choose to ride their respective mech for the sake of not just a cause, but to protect the people they care about. Like a good percentage of all of our lists, we know some of you readers may have your own ideas. So who are your top 10-mech pilots? Feel free to leave it in the comments.