I actually struggle to come up with easy comparisons to American media, and I've spent a while trying to figure out why and it's sort of related to why it's so hard to make a live-action superhero movie work. Superhero comics and giant robot anime have this in common; they are both inherently melodramatic, which should be self-evident to anyone who watches something like this or has seen a picture of Batman crouched on a gargoyle in the rain. I'm hesitant to call genre fiction melodramatic across the board, but usually genre's purpose is to raise stakes and heighten circumstance and if you go too far in that direction you end up in Melodrama Town, population Your Father, Previously Thought To Have Perished. Regardless, we tend not to look too fondly on melodrama here in the States. Realism reigns supreme here, for good or ill, and even when we're talking about fantasy or sci-fi we tend to have problems if things aren't 'realistic' or 'believable' (by which I think we usually mean 'internally consistent').
Giant robots could give a fuck about realistic. The idea of a mobile weapons platform in the shape of a human being that can be piloted by one or many people, possibly capable of doing kung-fu, is completely absurd. I don't think you have to turn off your brain, necessarily, to watch giant robot cartoons, but you do have to turn off your sense of shame. This is not because this stuff is for kids (some of it is, but there are just as many that aren't; Getter Robo, one of the original, formative giant robot shows, can basically be summed up as "three murdering psychopaths fly giant robot, kill dinosaurs") but because it operates on a level that we, in our post-modern age, are probably too ironic to be able to deal with. Giant robot shows are not concerned with irony. That orange robot over there, that can transform into a tank, is going to now transform into a giant hammer, which the main robot (formed though the following process: a cyborg human merges with an alien robot lion to form a smaller robot, which then merges with a drill tank, a bullet train and a stealth bomber) is going to grab and use to turn the enemy robot into motes of light, except for the core, which is actually a human transformed by despair and hatred. We tend to, as Americans, look at something like that and not give the correct response, which is, "Yes, that is awesome," and instead say things like, "oh, that's silly," which is not correct. You cannot approach a giant robot show with irony, unless you are taking that word in the Pratchettian sense (i.e. 'like iron').
|The pinnacle of civilization|
This gets to why I love these shows, though, because they are usually examples of people taking advantage of the medium. I have liked plenty of psychological thriller anime and slice of life romantic comedy anime (okay, fine, I like Monster and Mitsuru Adachi stuff) but those shows aren't really doing anything you couldn't do in live action. Giant robot shows take the medium by the balls. Oh, I can draw anything? How about this: a kid finds this robot head underground, and there's room to ride around in this head, which then grows arms and legs to it can run around. Then his friend steals a robot from their enemies, who all have these ridiculous looking mecha they run around in, and they fight together, and then his friend decides that they are going to combine the robots, so he grabs the head (which can form a drill at the bottom of the head instead of having the arms and legs) and shoves it onto the top of his body.
And it works.
And then later, they literally fight the moon.
Go big or go home, I guess is what I'm saying here.