Japan's Newest Working Gundam Suit Is Available to Rent If You Need to Kill a Kaiju

mecha pilot
The cockpit inside Japan's newest mecha. Sakakibara

If Godzilla emerges from the Pacific Ocean, Japan will probably be the only nation prepared for the attack.

Sakakibara Machinery Works Co., a Japanese robotics company, has just revealed a new, giant, functional robot-suit (or mech) which appears torn from the pages of Gundam manga. The suit, which allows a single human to pilot it, is 27.8 feet high and weighs 16,314 pounds. It's the third of its kind from Sakakibara, which introduced its first giant mech in 2005.

Despite their appearance, Sakakibara mechs aren't really weapons. They're typically designed as rent-able, fun distractions for parties and public events. The 2005 "Landwalker" model shoots tennis balls, and the 2013 "Walker Cyclops" model is built specifically for child pilots—though, admittedly, it does have a vicious looking drill-arm.

Sakakibara mechs are far from Japan's only functional mecha. Building these structures has become a cultural phenomenon that's separate from robotics, though Japan excels in that field as well. Whereas robots are fully-functioning tech that can operate on their own, mecha function only when a human pilots them.

The mech design first appeared in a 1956 manga, Tetsujin 28-go, and mecha quickly became the focus of several classic manga and anime, including Gundam, Gurren Lagann and Neon Genesis Evangelion. The Pacific Rim film series calls its giant fighting robot-suits "Jaegers," but they're essentially just mecha piloted by more than one person.

According to Kotaku, Japanese pop culture began exploring the concept of mecha while trying to grapple with the United States having fire-bombed Kobe in 1945. There was an anxious, fearful undercurrent to mecha stories, which grappled with the idea of governments building secret, powerful weaponry unbeknownst to the general public.

"Tetsujin-28 was a modern take on the Frankenstein monster, with a little boy able to control the enormous robot's every move," Kotaku theorized in 2011. "It was, in a way, a fantasy version of a real Metal Gear."

Tetsujin 28 At Shin Nagata Kobe Hyogo Japan
Tetsujin 28 At Shin Nagata Kobe is a must see free tourist attraction for fans of Japanese Manga. This is a giant robot statue dedicated to a 1960's cartoon called Tetsujin 28 go. It is 18 meters tall. Tetsujin 28 was built in honor of the 15th anniversary of the Great Hanshin earthquake that destroyed many parts of Kobe on January 17th, 1995. Flickr / Stingy Scoundrel

It's probably worth mentioning that Pacific Rim Uprising, the upcoming sequel to Guillermo Del Toro's first mecha film, includes an independently-made Jaegar (mech) called a "scrapper." A young character builds it on her own as a response to the war against the kaiju. Though mech stories have historically followed the design and use of mechs as government-sanctioned initiatives, 2018's mech story allows for some personal ingenuity, making a timely edit to the age-old concept of people piloting robot-suits.