Armored Core 6: Fires of Rubicon, the latest game from developer FromSoftware of Dark Souls and Elden Ring fame, was released last week to critical and commercial acclaim. The first installment in the Armored Core series in a decade, Fires of Rubicon marks not only a much-welcomed return for the franchise, but also a revitalizing jolt to the slumbering genre of giant robot action games.
Armored Core 6 taps into a specific niche of giant robot media: military sci-fi mecha. Unlike classic anime like Tetsujin 28 and Giant Robo or more contemporary series like Neon Genesis Evangelion or Gurren Lagann, the Armored Core mech suits that players pilot and customize in-game are not their semi-sentient friends, nor are they animated by the soul of the protagonist’s dead mother or the anti-entropic power of friendship. Instead, Armored Core suits are treated much like they would be in a real-life context: as a form of artillery equivalent to that of tank, piloted by soldiers and mercenaries as weapons in an ongoing war for resources and political dominance.
To celebrate the release of Armored Core 6, we’ve pulled together a list of some of the best entries in the subgenre of military sci-fi mecha anime available to stream online. Honorable mentions like Gasaraki and Blue Gender are not currently available to stream, but are available to purchase either on home media or VOD.
Number of episodes: 23
Of all the anime included on this list, 86 is the series whose premise most resembles that of Armored Core 6. Set in an alternate future, the series centers on Major Vladilena “Lena” Milizé, a military officer for the Republic of San Magnolia who has been locked in a bitter war of attrition with the Empire of Giad for nearly a decade. The San Magnolia military has devised a way of fighting the war without demoralizing the country’s citizens: deploying autonomous drone units known as “Juggernauts” to fight against Giad’s “Legions.”
However, as the audience quickly learns in the series’ first episode, these “autonomous” units are anything but, piloted by a caste of minorities within the Republic who are denied names and forced to fight on penalty of death. In Armored Core 6, players assume the role of “C4-621,” an augmented human who is deployed to the planet of Rubicon 3 by their handler Walter to accept mercenary assignments from competing corporations and armies in exchange for their eventual freedom. If you’re looking for a riveting speculative military drama about outcasts fighting on behalf of their oppressors before eventually mounting a campaign to claim their own freedom, 86 will be right up your alley.
86 is available to stream on Crunchyroll.
Armored Trooper VOTOMS
Number of episodes: 52
If you’re looking for a classic military mecha anime with heavy action and high stakes, look no further than Armored Trooper VOTOMS. Set in an alien galaxy where the nations of Gilgamesh and Balarant have recently come to an uneasy truce following a century-long war, the series follows Chirico Cuvie, an Armored Trooper pilot fighting on behalf of the Gilgamesh Confederation who is framed for a mission to steal state secrets. Abandoned and left for dead, Chirico embarks on a personal mission to absolve his name while searching for the truth behind the operation, all the while hunted by the Gilgamesh military and criminals alike eager to collect on his bounty.
Directed by Ryosuke Takahashi and featuring robots created by legendary mechanical designer Kunio Okawara (Mobile Suit Gundam), Armored Trooper VOTOMS is considered a classic of the “real robot” subgenre and an easy recommendation for anyone who is a fan of the Armored Core series.
Armored Trooper VOTOMS is available to stream on HIDIVE.
Metal Skin Panic MADOX-01
Number of episodes: 1 (41 min.)
If you’re looking for a more lighthearted take on military sci-fi mecha, you have to check Metal Skin Panic MADOX-01. The OVA follows Koji Sugimoto, an engineering student and part-time car mechanic who accidentally stumbles upon a prototype exoskeleton suit designed by the military to fight tanks. Unwittingly trapping himself inside of the suit’s cockpit, Koji leads the military on a chase across Tokyo, all while he desperately searches for a way to escape the suit.
Directed and conceptualized by Shinji Aramaki (Appleseed, Blade Runner: Black Lotus), Metal Skin Panic MADOX-01 is a short but oh-so-sweet mecha anime packed with explosive action sequences and technically impressive mechanical animation, including an iconic opening sequence animated by a young Hideaki Anno (Neon Genesis Evangelion).
Mobile Suit Gundam
Number of episodes: 42
You can’t talk about military sci-fi mecha anime without mentioning Mobile Suit Gundam. Yoshiyuki Tomino’s landmark 1979 mecha space opera is irrefutably one of the most iconic anime series ever produced, spawning a rich universe populated by memorable characters and a larger franchise of spinoff series that continue to inspire droves of generational fans to this day. The original series takes place in a universe where, just shy of a century after humanity has colonized space with gigantic orbiting space stations, the Earth Federation is locked in a bitter war with an empire of spacefaring colonists, known as the Principality of Zeon, who wish to secede from their mother planet.
A teenage mechanic named Amuro Ray is enlisted to fight in the war on behalf of the Earth Federation after escaping a battle on his home colony. Piloting the RX-78 Gundam, an experimental, cutting-edge robot suit, Amuro must face the horrors of war as the Earth Federation grows increasingly more reliant on his fighting skills as both a soldier and a leader. Chances are that if you love the Armored Core series, you’ve already watched Mobile Suit Gundam or another Gundam series. If you haven’t, what are you waiting for?
Mobile Suit Gundam is available to stream on Crunchyroll.
Mobile Suit Gundam: The 08th MS Team
Number of episodes: 12
I know what you’re thinking: Wait, you already recommended the original Mobile Suit Gundam anime; what gives?
And while yes, normally I would avoid repeat recommendations from the same series, this is a special exception. 1979’s Mobile Suit Gundam certainly earns its status as one of the most influential mecha anime ever produced, but the 1996 OVA sequel Mobile Suit Gundam: The 08th MS Team is one of the best mecha anime I have ever watched and a series that more closely aligns with that of the setting and combat seen in Armored Core 6. A series set parallel to that of the events seen in the original Mobile Suit Gundam, The 08th MS Team follows a ragtag unit of Earth Federation Gundam pilots who are fighting a ground war with Zeon forces in the jungles of Southeast Asia.
Aside from the main story, which follows 08th MS Team leader Shiro Amada and his star-crossed romance with Zeon test pilot Aina Sahalin, the 12-episode series features some of the most impressive combat sequences and mechanical animation seen in the entire franchise. A greater emphasis on the terrain and tactics of warfare in a terrestrial environment as opposed to the free-floating space battles seen in the original series means more opportunities for the audience to get into the minds of the protagonists as they size up their adversaries before leaping into action. If you’ve somehow never watched Mobile Suit Gundam before, I highly recommend this series as an entry point for newcomers to the franchise before making the plunge into the epic saga of Yoshiyuki Tomino’s original anime.
Mobile Suit Gundam: The 08th MS Team is available to stream on Hulu.
Patlabor: The Mobile Police
Number of episodes: 47
Most anime enthusiasts might know of Patlabor for its first two feature-length adaptations, both of which were directed by Mamoru Oshii of Ghost in the Shell fame and animated by Production I.G (formerly I.G Tatsunoko). As neither of those films is available to stream online, however, I’m more than happy to recommend the 1989 anime series as a substitute.
Taking place in an alternate futuristic 1998 separate from either of the Patlabor OVAs or movies, Patlabor: The Mobile Police follows the adventures of the Second Special Vehicles Division, a team of Japanese police officers who fight and investigate crimes around Tokyo. Their cases run the gamut from the most mundane of law enforcement duties to the most strange and spectacular of conflicts, calling upon them to use special mechanized exosuits known as “Patlabors” originally designed to aid in industrial and municipal work. Patlabor is an example of a “real robot” anime that relishes in the everyday details of public service, transforming the mundane into the extraordinary through the simple introduction of giant robots.
Patlabor: The Mobile Police is available to stream on HIDIVE.