If the EVA Unit Is a Mecha or Not

Updated on December 14, 2018
Mamerto profile image

Mamerto Adan is a feature writer back in college for a school paper. Science is one of his many interests, and his favorite topic.

Just try asking if the EVA is a mecha; you will get a variety of responses. Fans are divided on whether they could call the EVA unit a mecha or not. I had my fair share of disagreements when I first wrote an article about these fleshy monsters. I did give the EVA unit a beating when I said it was highly impractical in real life. I angered some fans. Some fans out there claimed that the unit is not even a giant robot at all.

They do have a valid point, which will be discussed later on. I've also heard some fans argue that despite being fleshy, the EVA units are still mecha (just a different breed). Nevertheless, I will dig through the deepest bowels of the internet to check for solid answers, just to be fair to anyone on the either side of the argument. I came up with a pretty interesting conclusion, which you will find near the end of the article. Now, if you’re the type of person that hates long reads, you might skip the rest here and head straight to section on some official statements. I hope that this article will answer whatever is hounding the fans about the nature of the EVA unit. And looking back at my experiences with anime fans, I also expect several hostile reactions. Now enough of this intro. Let’s get going!

Why the EVA Unit Cannot Be Considered a Mecha

The EVA Unit-01 without the armor.
The EVA Unit-01 without the armor.

To begin my research, I tried rummaging through the comment sections of my previous articles. I also went through many anime fan forums around the net. Reddit did provide a good place to search. I found an interesting forum saying that the EVA is not mecha. It’s just a monster in electronic armor. Then there was another saying that it is a biomech, therefore disqualifying the EVA as a giant mecha. Some agree that it might be a cyborg, or a clone of some space alien. Nevertheless, after getting past several rude comments that call others ignorant, or that they knew nothing, I managed to sum up why some fans thought that EVAs are not mecha:

  1. As previously mentioned, EVA units are flesh and blood, not mechanical monstrosities. This ruled out the EVAs as mecha.
  2. EVA units are also (nearly) sentient. They have minds of their own to a certain degree.
  3. Since they are sentient, they are living creatures and not mechanical like any other mecha.
  4. Despite being nearly sentient, they are controlled by brainwaves rather than computer controls.
  5. They have souls.

I also came across some comments suggesting that these monsters are too deep to be called mechas. I’m not sure what they meant, but I have a feeling that these people need to get a life.

General Definition of Mecha

Before we dig further, let’s first check how people define mecha nowadays. In general, it’s a giant piloted robot, as what most laymen define it. But lately, as anime genres merge to create more gray areas, the definition of a mecha has become blurred. Just to be sure, I will be referring to multiple sources from the internet.

I'll start with our dear old friend Wikipedia. According to them, the term mecha is an abbreviation of the word mechanical in Japan. Now, the Japanese label any mechanical object (from cars to guns to computers) as mecha, but the term became associated with large robots. In general, Wikipedia defined mecha as giant robots or machines controlled by people. In most cases, these robots are depicted as piloted fighting machines, such as Gundams.

The original Gundam, an example of mecha.
The original Gundam, an example of mecha.

Interestingly, Wikipedia also includes the EVA units in the mecha category (as biological mecha). Nevertheless, due to its usage in fantasy settings (The Vision of Escaflowne), where the giant robots seems to be non-mechanical, the general definition of mecha has become hazy. In fact, other anime in the mecha genre, like Brain Powerd and Zoids, present these machines as living creatures and not just a mechanized vehicle.

The Vision of Escaflowne presents unconventional and mystical mecha.
The Vision of Escaflowne presents unconventional and mystical mecha.

Other sources, like the Oxford Dictionary and some Fandom Wikis, also defined mecha as a large piloted robot. Based on the overall usage of mecha both in traditional (Gundam and Macross) and fantastical genres (The Vision of Escaflowne), and how the mechas represent either human or animal figures, I could arrive at this general definition. A mecha is a large piloted vehicle that emulates a human or animal.

What Is An EVA Unit

EVA Unit-01 in combat.
EVA Unit-01 in combat.

From what I uncovered in a Fandom Wikia (Evangelion Wiki), EVA units are giant humans or human-like creatures. They have detachable parts like their helmets, and their outside mechanical structure is some sort of metallic restraints. This is to keep them under control and allows them to be piloted by a human operator.

However, they are not completely flesh and blood. These creatures are cyborgs since they have several machines and computer components lodged into them.

The Official Words

According to all Fandom Wikias and the Wikipedia article, an EVA Unit is classified as a mecha despite having vague qualities. But we want to hear what the official sources say. I went back to scouring the depths of the net to look for answers.

And I finally found them.

The documents hold the answer!
The documents hold the answer!

The Japanese government once issued a report on the history of robot animation. It is a 90-page study written by anime critic Ryusuke Hikawa (head of cultural promotion at Sunrise Koichi Inoue) and writer Daisuke Sawaki. It is available through Media Arts Current Content, a government affiliated hub for anime, manga, and video games. The study is titled Nihon Animation Guide: Robot Anime Hen.

The first chapter details the cultural history of robot anime. The second chapter discusses the relationship between the anime studio and toy makers. Then there is the third chapter, which has a compilation of all mecha anime. And guess what, Neon Genesis Evangelion is included in the list. It even described the EVA units as “uniquely robot designs.” If you don’t believe me, just refer below.

At page 48, the Evangelion is mention as mecha.
At page 48, the Evangelion is mention as mecha.

So what does this mean? Officially, the EVA unit is a mecha. End of the argument.

Then Why are Eva Units Mecha?

EVA Unit-01 with weapons.
EVA Unit-01 with weapons.

I tried to digest how people arrived at this conclusion. Since EVAs are simply gigantic creatures, we should consider them as kaijus instead. Following an hour of deep reflection, here’s my take on why these flesh and blood monsters are considered mecha.

First is their handling. Kaijus behave like real animals (or at least close to animals). EVAs, on the other hand, are treated like machines throughout the show. Like a normal mecha, it goes into storage when not in use. It undergoes monitoring, maintenance, even repairs when parts are broken (or injured). And yes, it is not a robot, but it is a cyborg, Cyborgs still use mechanical components in addition to being flesh and blood. There is also the fact that an EVA unit is piloted. Another thing we must consider is that EVAs are not unique in being sentient and alive. There are also sentient and living mecha out there. The Mashins/Rune Gods of Magic Knight Rayearth are good examples.

As A Whole

The Evangelion franchise is definitely a deconstruction of the mecha genre based on how it presents its mecha. They have giant machines that are not really machines. However, I have never seen the series as a deconstruction but rather as a reinvention. The fact that the EVA units got the fans thinking proves how amazing the Evangelion franchise is. Now I can’t wait to finish the Rebuild series. I have a feeling that the flesh and blood mecha of Evangelion is another way Anno has trolled the otakus everywhere. Is he planning to confuse the fans?


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