Series Recommendation: Mecha Samurai Empire

In a world where mechas dominated, a young pilot stand up to save his friends and his loved ones.
We’re on a reading streak lately, with our next recommendation being one of the best Mecha novels to date: Peter Tieryas’ Mecha Samurai Empire. Part 2 of the United State of Japan trilogy, Peter deliver yet another exciting experience just with written words alone. This really demonstrate that you don’t require big robots duking it out on-screen for awesome mecha content.

Mecha Samurai Empire is the 2nd book in Peter’s mecha trilogy: United State of Japan – Mecha Samurai Empire – Cyber Shogun Revolution. However, you don’t need to read the first book to start on the 2nd. USJ is more heavy on the detective/drama type rather than a more straight-up mecha story like Mecha Empire. The story follows Makoto “Mac” Fujimoto – a young pilot trainee in the US of J. In this world, Japan dominates the world with its military might and of course – giant robots! Makoto was soon sent to one of the frontline due to a blunder. But in misery lies fortune, he obtained an achievement so great that he was sent to BEMA – an elite mecha pilot academy. There he trained with the best allies and fight the worst enemies.

+ Plot: There’s a lot to unpack from the series. Just the settings of the world alone is enough to fascinate you. Mecha Samurai Empire is basically “The man in the high castle” cross with “Pacific Rim” and a sprinkle of “Argevollen” or any Real Robot series with a young teen achieving the impossible in a world filled with political violence. The main characters all receive great character arcs, especially Makoto. He went through many stages of development, from a normal student to involuntary pilot, to a shooting star and finally a mecha ace. The people he met along the way are very well written including the ones with only a brief appearance yet played a major role (in subsequent instalments). A personal favorite of mine is Noriko – an female ace pilot at BEMA, which is exactly like Kazumi from Gunbuster yet not her name. I imagine if Noriko went to school after fighting in Gunbuster, it is exactly what she’d be like.

The political intricacies in the novel are both simple yet complex. The baseline of it is basically a power struggle between Japan and other hostile states (since they pretty much took over the US with barely a sweat). For those who have read USJ, the tone of Samurai Empire is drastically different, yet it still carry the same weight when it comes to the iron fist of Japan’s reign. The only difference is this time, we’re chasing dreams and hopes through an adolescent’s point of view, which is less bleak and much more optimistic. But that also means it hurts more when things go south.

+ Combat Writing: Well, the biggest challenge of a Mecha novel is how to paint an action sequence. And frankly, Peter nailed it. It would be an advantage if you’ve seen Ghost in the Shell or Pacific Rim or Gunbuster or well, Super Sentai. Since smaller mechs in the novel are operated by one person with very similar style to the Tachikoma, while the big-hitters are operated by a team consisting of movement control, fire control, electronics engineer, etc… which requires a lot of coordination and we even have motion-capture system. And all that was described vividly by Peter in the novel, making the scenes much more easy to imagine since he used simple yet descriptive words.

+ Mecha Design: There’s not a lot of visual material, but the description in the novel is good enough for you to conjure up the image in your mind. The mechs in Samurai Empire are divided by classes. Different classes have different sizes, require different number of pilot, and of course, different special gimmicks to them. Some of the classes reach Eva-height of 80-100 meters while some are relatively small at around 20. So there’s quite a variety to them.

+ Conclusion: While the best way to enjoy the trilogy is to read from United States of Japan, if you want a more “conventional” teenage-mecha story, starting with Mecha Samurai Empire isn’t a bad idea. It’s entirely self-contained and has a more straightforward theme and a more progressive development that is easier for mecha fans to relate to. And frankly, it has the most amount of mecha action and the most badass as well in the whole trilogy. So that’s a lot of boxes ticked. Definitely pick it up if you want to try something fresh and exciting!