'Real Robot' (リアルロボット Riaru Robotto) is a term in the Super Robot Wars series of video games used to describe robots or mecha that are treated as realistic tools/weapons rather than as heroic semi-characters, or Super Robots.
It can also refer to a subgenre of Japanese animation. Tomino Yoshiyuki's Mobile Suit Gundam series is the quintessential example of the real robot genre and is largely considered the first series to introduce the real robot genre. It established the concepts behind "real robots" that set it apart from previous robot anime, such as:
- The robot is used as an industrial machine with arms/manipulators and is manufactured by military and commercial enterprises of various nations.
- The concept of industrial production and commercial manufacturing processes appeared for the first time in the history of robot shows, introducing manufacturing language like "mass-production (MP)", "prototype" and "test-type".
- While classic super robots typically use special attacks activated by voice commands, real robots more commonly make use of manually operated scaled-up/advanced versions of human weapons, such as lasers/particle beams, guns, shield and swords.
- Real robots use mostly ranged weapons that require ammunition.
- Real robots require periodic maintenance and are often prone to malfunction and break down, like real machines.
- Real robots do not have regenerating/limitless fuel or power supplies.
Other series, such as Patlabor, explore non-military uses for real robots, like law enforcement and construction.
Japanese examples include Macross, Genesis Climber Mospeada, Front Mission, Armored Trooper VOTOMS, Nadesico, Southern Cross, Full Metal Panic, the Patlabor movies and, of course, the aforementioned Gundam series. Western examples include games such as Heavy Gear and Battletech, and the novel Starship Troopers, which is more related to powered exoskeleton than giant robots but gave motif to the very first real robot show, Mobile Suit Gundam.
What Japanese speakers refer to as real robots are popularly referred to by English-speaking fans as mecha, a re-borrowing of a Japanese abbreviation for the English term "mechanical". In Japanese, "mecha" refers to all robotic and non-robotic mechanical objects, including real robots, super robots, and everyday objects such as cars and toasters.
Inevitably, there are some types of mecha that are difficult to classify as either a real robot or a super robot. Some of these include the Aura Battlers from Aura Battler Dunbine or the Evangelion units from Neon Genesis Evangelion, which follow the general motif of real robots, but their origin and abilities are more like the typical super robot. The Mortar Heads from Five Star Stories are unique artifacts, treated like individual works of art by the fictional society present in the story, and their power often borderlines on super robot. However, their intricate engineering and the motif of their weaponry is often scientifically explained by series creator Mamoru Nagano which makes them very real robot-esque in other ways.
As this mixing of both genres is becoming increasingly popular in anime, it is often difficult to classify mecha as either real or super, although they often tend to lean more in one direction than the other. Note that in general the longer a Real Robot series runs, the higher the chance that the protagonist's mecha will start to display Super Robot traits, though some are content to simply label these mechas as nothing more than overpowered advanced Super Prototypes or Ace Custom-modified mass production models in the "treated as weapons, not superheroes" sense. If this is the Grand Finale the odds are doubled.
Even Gundam shows this tendency; while the mecha designs are based in the real robot genre, the characters in the show typically have unique robots designed specifically for them, and the shows often feature characters with psychic powers (Newtypes) or superhuman abilities (Coordinators and Innovators); the latter are both common in super robot anime, though the degree to which Gundam leans to either side of the spectrum varies considerably between installments.