Mechas are cool. Mecha toys are even cooler. But mecha toys based on my own stories has been the coolest.
When I was eight (making it the late 80s), I spent two years in South Korea. I remember how much I used to love going to toy stores and staring longingly at all the various mecha kits. Miniaturized robots fighting titanic battles over the fate of the world was a fun escape, especially with the Cold War still breathing its last gasps and the threat of North Korea ominously real, making every day life intense.
My love of big robots continued throughout the years after I returned back to the States, growing with games like Hideo Kojima’s Metal Gear Solid and Zone of the Enders, while anime such as Neon Genesis Evangelion, Patlabor, and Escaflowne fired me up even more. That passion influenced me professionally too as I spent my first big gig writing game manuals for LucasArts and building mechas in what was then a new 3D package called Maya on my own time to improve my art abilities. I obsessed over details, how the parts would actually move, and what type of complex rigging systems the robots would need to be animated.
When it came time to writing my new book, Mecha Samurai Empire, I drew on those experiences and tried to craft a more realistic mecha book, integrating my knowledge of animation and visual effects. I made parallels between the huge teams that are required to bring a character to life and the crews driving the massive mechas.
The book was published by Hayakawa in Japan six months before the English edition. The whole story was translated in what felt like record time by Naoya Nakahara. The mix of alternate history and mecha combat against the Nazis in their own twisted Cold War has had an incredible reception in Japan. My favorite was the unbelievably cool fan art.
G_P_Solo’s mecha art is some of the best, combining miniatures and real backgrounds in Hokkaido to recreate the climactic scene in the book, the Battle of Berkeley. He graduated from Hokkaido’s design school and is currently an independent graphic designer, though he was previously with two other productions. The backdrop of Hokkaido really gives his images a unique setting and the mechas feel so real.
Ryuji Umeno’s art of umegrafix, LLC, is vibrant and oozes with character. Born in Shizuoka, he’s currently a freelance designer based out of Tokyo. He graduated from Tama Art University, joined Hirano & Associates before branching out on his own. Also working as an illustrator, he created stunning imagery of the mecha cadets as well as the crab tank battle along the Quiet Border (the Nazi-USJ DMZ).
As a writer, I often have no idea how people visualize the stories I write. Through these two incredible artists, the alternate history comes to life in a breathtaking way that takes me back to my childhood, dreaming of playing with mechas.
Peter Tieryas is the author of Mecha Samurai Empire and United States of Japan, which won Japan's top SF award, the Seiun. He's written for Kotaku, S-F Magazine, Tor.com, and ZYZZYVA. He's also been a technical writer for LucasArts, a VFX artist at Sony, and currently works in feature animation.