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Western Animation / BattleTech

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No guts, no galaxy.

This is the Inner Sphere - thousands of planets colonised by humankind. Once it was united under the Star League, but for the last 300 years it had been consumed by savage wars. Until a new enemy appeared, mysterious invaders known as "the Clans". Powerful and ruthless, they struck like lightning, attacking every sector at once. But they made one big mistake - they attacked my home planet! Now, in the spirit of the Star League, ancient enemies have reunited, and we're gonna take back our galaxy!
— Adam Steiner

FASA partnered up with Saban in 1994 to produce an animated series based on the tabletop game BattleTech, which would introduce and tie into the then-relatively-recent Clan Invasion expansion.

In the fourth millennium, humanity has expanded into the stars, and the area around Earth, known as the Inner Sphere, is divided into six realms who have spent the last few centuries warring against each other with big giant robots. Without warning, they are simultaneously attacked in 3050 by a force from beyond the boundary of the Inner Sphere, Clan Jade Falcon under the command of Star Colonel Nicolai Malthus, who possessed faster, stronger, more resilient BattleMechs.

Upon hearing that the Clans have conquered his home planet of Somerset and taken his brother, Andrew, prisoner, Major Adam Steiner of the Federated Commonwealth requisitions a smuggling vessel and crew recently captured from the Draconis Combine and, with the approval of the the FedCom Archon and the Combine Coordinator, recruits a small, motley band known as the First Somerset Strikers to liberate Somerset and gather information on the Clans along the way.

BattleTech only lasted one season. It was one of the first American cartoons to have an ongoing storyline, with plot threads developed over multiple episodes that weren't explicitly labelled as multi-parters. It was also one of the first to combine cel animation with CGI, using the latter for 'Mech battles; this was explained as a representation of Enhanced Imaging, a Clan technology that made it into the tabletop game.

While a fair amount of Adaptational Heroism was applied to keep things family-friendly, FASA did release a few sourcebooks which incorporated the characters and broad strokes of the story into the tabletop setting; Adam Steiner especially became prominent in subsequent stories.note  The series itself is regarded In-Universe as a dramatisation of Canon events, made as anti-Clan propaganda.

BattleTech'' provides examples of:

  • 2D Visuals, 3D Effects: The cartoon's BattleMech rendering sequences, justified in-universe as the Clans' targeting technology. While crude by today's standards, they convey well the ponderous weight of 'Mechs. The animated 'Mech combat has them move like giant humans, similar to many anime of the Super Robot Genre.
  • Action Girl: Kylie, and Rachel when needed. Kristen and Natalya on the Clan side.
  • A Day in the Limelight: Episode 11, Shadow Heir, is the sole episode not to feature any member of the Clans and instead focuses on Franklin Sakamoto's secret heritage and Inner Sphere political power plays.
  • All for Nothing: Adam defeats Nicholai in a Trial of Possession, winning ownership over the planet of Somerset. Unfortunately, thanks to Exact Words, Clan Jade Falcon takes all of their property with them when they depart, including the inhabitants of Somerset. Adam is left once again swearing revenge for his people and his brother.
    • In broader BattleTech canon, the people of Somerset weren't abducted, but the liberated planet was so far behind enemy lines that the Federated Commonwealth simply had no means of defending it, enabling Clan Jade Falcon to roll back in like nothing had happened.
  • All There in the Manual: The sourcebook published as a tie-in to the series clarifies a number of plot points as well as explaining some of the inconsistencies to the lore. This includes confirmation that the rebel group attempting to use Franklin to bring down the Combine is the Black Dragon Society, a recurring rebel group in the novels.
  • Attack Pattern Alpha: Since the show didn't have the budget or scope to demonstrate intricate military strategies involving Humongous Mecha, we had to take their word for it most of the time. The trope's quoted practically verbatim in the Trust-Building Blunder scene from the third episode.
  • Blue Blood: Adam is a distant relative of the FedCom archon. Though he insists (not inaccurately) that he didn't get his rank due to birth, he constantly has to deal with people insisting he did. Franklin turns out to be even higher-class, and is not pleased with this revelation.
  • Canon Discontinuity: The animated series was retconned as an in-universe, "poorly reviewed (but otherwise popular) Anti-Clan propaganda holo-vid". A later sourcebook explains it as based on canon events (and characters, see below), but suffering among other things from Anachronic Order due to drawing inspiration from events that hadn't happened yet in the timeframe depicted, as well as more general stuff like sacrificing the Grey-and-Gray Morality of the main material to make it more accessible to its new format.
  • Canon Immigrant: Some of this series' characters obtained this status. Adam Steiner is easily the most visible of them, becoming Archon of the Lyran Commonweath during and after the Jihad. Also of note are Vandervahn Chistu (Nicolai Malthus' superior) and Franklin Sakamoto. Chistu would briefly become one of the Falcon clan Khans, ultimately dying at Vlad Ward's hands during the Refusal War. Sakamoto, on the other hand, would survive until the early stages of the Jihad in 3070. (Worth noting that Sakamoto was captured by the Black Dragon forces, with his ultimate fate apparently remaining unknown.)
  • Catchphrase:
    • Adam's is well-known - "Information is ammunition".
    • Initiate Enhanced Imaging!
    • A lesser one is "No guts, no galaxy!"
  • Character Development: Interestingly enough, this is a series where character development doesn't necessarily lead to characters becoming better people. While the Strikers make the expected transition from a Ragtag Bunch of Misfits to a skilled and tight-knit team, their Clan adversaries begin the series as Consummate Professionals and deteriorate into an undisciplined, back-stabbing rabble by the last episode, mirroring the wider problems the Clans had in lore with the stresses of invasion, occupation and having to constantly fight opponents who neither knew, understood nor cared about Clan "honor", straining their previous discipline and codes of behavior to the breaking point.
    • Ciro ends up being an example of developing into a less selfish and more honorable soldier, but in an unexpected way. He starts the show thinking that being from a noble family makes him better than the rabble at the military academy where he's an instructor, but after experiencing the Clan lifestyle he sees them as being honest and honorable combatants, embraces their ways and becomes a loyal member of Clan Jade Falcon. It's because of this that he manages to convince Nicolai that he has to accept a challenge of a formal duel in the last episode, despite Nicolai forgetting his Clan honor in the face of his burning desire for revenge against an enemy who's frustrated him time and again.
  • Clip Show: Episode "5A", titled "No Guts, No Galaxy."
  • Continuity Nod: Ciro Ramirez first appeared as a classmate of Victor Steiner-Davion in the novel Lethal Heritage. Also, Franklin Sakamoto is first mentioned in Heir to the Dragon. That is, the reprint with extra chapters that came out after the animated series aired.
  • Crippling Overspecialization: Adam is very much opposed to this, insisting on cross-training for all his subordinates.
    • Ciro Ramirez is stuffy and formal, and thinks Adam only got his rank due to his noble ancestry. He ultimately proves to be a true hero, sacrificing himself to save those who aided the Strikers. He survives and is taken as a bondsman by Nicolai, where he comes to identify with Clan culture, eventually becoming one of their most devoted and honourable members.
    • Nicolai Malthus is aggressive and ruthless, but straightforward and, in the Clan way, honourable. His repeated failure to defeat Adam leads to him adopting such dishonourable, un-Clannish ideas as deception and ambushes, and disobeying orders to pursue his personal vendetta.
  • Culture Clash: The Inner Sphere and Clans have great difficulty understanding one-another's approach to warfare, and often make no attempt to do so. The Inner Sphere characters are bewildered by the Clans' rituals and honor system, and the Clans, in turn, view the Inner Sphere's pragmatism as dishonourable and cowardly.
  • Cut Short: The final episode ends on a Cliffhanger, intended to set up a second season that never came: Adam wins a Trial of Possession for Somerset, which he'd been trying to liberate all season. But since that's all he specifically named as stakes in the fight, the Falcons withdraw from the planet as promised, but take all its people with them as captives. While the novels reveal that the main characters went their separate ways (for example Adam Steiner and Franklin Sakamoto returned to their home nations), the fate of Somerset's populace has remained a mystery.
  • Demoted to Extra: Several Timber Wolves/Mad Cats appear in the show, but in spite of being one of the most prominent 'Mechs in the franchise, not to mention one of the strongest Heavy-class 'Mechs in the game, they're only there to fill out space in the Jade Falcon star formations. This may be yet more fallout from the legal troubles that plagued the series, as the Exo Squad toyline had a figure suspiciously similar to the Madcat in it, which was complicated by the fact that the show's sponsor, Playmates, was also in charge of the American Robo Tech toys.
  • Enemy Civil War: As in wider canon, the Clans' warlike nature eventually drives them to start fighting amongst themselves for petty reasons as the campaign stagnates, which the protagonists exploit to gain an edge.
    • "Road To Camelot" sees detachments from Clan Jade Falcon and Clan Wolf come to blows over an SLDF relic base discovered by the Strikers.
    • In "The Enemy Of My Enemy", Nicholai Malthus' vendetta against Adam Steiner leads him to disregard the campaign in favor of setting up an ambush, resulting in the Jade Falcon Star Commander ordering Kristen and Pytor to bring him to heel. Even when the two groups call a truce to focus on the Strikers, Adam exploits their distrust by disguising his Axeman's signature as Pytor's Hunchback, starting a second bout of friendly fire when he harasses the Clanners with long-range missiles.
  • Ensign Newbie: Adam is technically in charge, but the lower-ranking Hawkins initially looks down on him for being inexperienced.
  • Evil All Along: Jeroen Frestadt — captain of the jumpship Katana and Franklin Sakamoto's Parental Subsitute — turns out to be a member of the Black Dragon Society, who had been keeping Franklin's heritage a secret so he could be used to one day usurp the Draconis Combine.
  • Eviler than Thou: Kristen and Nicholai spend the series more hostile to each other than to the Strikers, each intending to be the one to defeat them.
  • Face–Heel Turn: Ciro Ramirez joins Jade Falcon and embraces their culture midway through the series. He sees them as being honest about their more warlike methods and honourable in combat, unlike the petty, squabbling Successor States.
  • Fantastic Racism: The issues between freeborn and trueborn are here as well.
    Adam: You were born in a gene-vat? You're not even human!
    Nicolai: We are more than human! Better!
  • Fashionable Asymmetry: The right side of Kristen's face is dominated by an eyepatch with a gnarly scar behind it. On her left side is her Clan tattoo.
  • Good Colors, Evil Colors: Under enhanced imaging, Clan mechs are outlined in green while the Inner Sphere are red. Played With in that the imagining is Clan technology, and shown from their perspective until later in the show, so of course they'd assign the "friendlier" color to their own troops. However, even after the protagonists get access to enhanced imaging of their own, the color arrangement remains unchanged.
  • Gratuitous Japanese: Occasionally comes from a Draconis Combine citizen. The honorifics are used accurately.
  • Groin Attack: In the show's toy line, there was a panel on each 'mech that would cause its arms, legs or head to fall off if hit by weapons. It was usually located around the groin.
  • Guile Hero: Adam Steiner, who in the animated series considers accurate intel to be the most powerful weapon around and isn't above manipulating rival clans into fighting each other while his crew quietly escape.
  • Heel–Face Door-Slam: When Kristen is defeated and captured, she assumes she'll be joining the Strikers as a "bondsman" (a widespread Clan practice), but the confused Strikers consider her a mere prisoner of war and have understandably little reason to trust her. When she offers to make Clan-tech adjustments to the Strikers' mechs to prove her worth, and goes as far as to escape captivity to tinker with them without their consent, the group naturally assumes it's an attempt at sabotage (since Adam was gearing up to have a duel with Malthus at the time). Infuriated by the Culture Clash, Kristen flees their ship and returns to her Clan.
  • Hospital Hottie: Dr. Nakamura is very good-looking, to the extent that she's the main reason Val signs up.
  • Large Ham: The Clanners are portrayed as quite bombastic, with Nicholai's first words being a dramatic batchall issued to the world of Somerset (followed by indignation when the locals barely understand what he wants).
  • A Lighter Shade of Grey: While the morality here is much more stark than in the tabletop, it's not quite black and white. In particular, Jade Falcon treats Ciro relatively well when Nicolai takes him as a bondsman, while the First Somerset Strikers humiliate Kristen by treating her as a prisoner even though she is completely willing to help them. Likewise, while the Clans believe in attaining position based on (their idea of) merit, a succession issue in the Draconis Combine leads to a combat between one faction attempting a coup and another attempting to assassinate the potential new Coordinator, who until that day had no idea he had noble blood.
  • Mid-Season Upgrade: Halfway through the show the Strikers are outfitted with new 'mechs built using reverse-engineered Clan technology they captured. Not played totally straight, as the new hardware hasn't been tested yet and a lot of it acts up when the Strikers get ambushed by Jade Falcon mechs in the middle of doing their dry run with the new weaponry.
  • Mysterious Past: Franklin frequently demonstrates skill with a combat vehicle just when the other Strikers have their backs to the wall, and refuses to ever give a straight answer as to how he acquired all his skills. The sourcebook finally reveals that he received an extensive education that included Battlemech and aerospace fighter training with the Sakamoto family who were connected with many of the shadowy groups operating in the Combine. His actual background comes as a surprise even to himself.
  • Never Say "Die": While the word die is never used, Franklin is told that his mother was eliminated by the Combine's Internal Security Force.
  • Non-Action Guy: Patch is the Strikers' mechanic. The closest he gets to fighting is being in the room with combatants.
  • Old Soldier: Pytor, a Jade Falcon mechwarrior approaching solahma age. His profile in the official sourcebook makes it sound as if he was intended to be used to criticize the Clan way of thinking that only young, vital warriors and worthwhile. Because of the myriad other things the show included, this only got lightly touched upon a couple times.
  • The Only One Allowed to Defeat You: Both Nicolai Malthus and Kristen Redmond develop a grudge toward Adam Steiner. In the last episode Malthus even shoots down the surviving mechs of his own unit to have a one-on-one match with Steiner.
  • Opening Narration: Quoted above. Considering the intricacy of the property's lore, probably necessary.
  • Pardon My Klingon: The Jade Falcon warriors used a lot of made-up insults that let the show get around prohibitions against swearing on kids' shows.
  • Powered Armor:
    • The Clan Elementals, of course. The Strikers refer to them as "Toads".
    • The Inner Sphere battle armors, Infiltrator and Sloth, are closer to Mini-Mecha.
  • Power Tattoo: The Clans' bright green enhanced imaging facial implants come down to this.
  • Ragtag Bunch of Misfits: The First Somerset Strikers have two minor officers, and a motley group of criminals, bounty hunters, and washouts. Needless to say, their unit has certain "integration difficulties".
    "All the Clans gotta do to win is leave us alone with each other!"
  • Real Robot: Naturally, considering the source, and one of few Western examples. 'Mechs come in a few standard (though modular) types, targeting systems can misalign, individual parts give out, and pilots need to keep their engines from overheating. A common tactic is to force their opponent to overexert their heat sinks.
  • Retronym: It's commonly referred to as either BattleTech: The Animated Series or BattleTech: 1st Somerset Strikers.
  • Spoiler Opening: Ciro Ramirez is not standing among the protagonists in the opening titles which play before each episode.
  • Story Arc: Plot points continue over the 13-episode season, noteworthy for American animation of the time.
  • A True Story in My Universe: Later games said this was an in-universe propaganda holovid.
  • Villainous Valor: Episode seven has Kristen go up against the Strikers with a ludicrously inadequate force since she had to underbid Malthus for the honour. She still makes a pretty impressive go of it before they manage to take her down (although it's worth mentioning the Strikers were field-testing brand new mechs they weren't used to and which acted up in various ways at the time).
  • You Don't Look Like You: While most 'Mechs that appear are pretty faithful to their tabletop counterparts, Nikolai Malthus' Summoner looks quite different from the original version, lacking its massive, shoulder-mounted missile launcher and replacing the tank-like off-center canopy with a slightly more humanoid looking head with two eyes and a fin on top. This is almost certainly due to the original design being an upgraded version of the Thunderbolt, one of the "unseen" 'Mechs (based on Fang of the Sun Dougram's Ironfoot Hasty). Funnily enough, the new design's red paint job and antenna give the 'Mech a passing resemblance to a certain other robot piloted by the blonde primary antagonist of another Real Robot show.
  • Your Size May Vary:
    • This is a huge problem for the cel animated parts of the show, while the CGI "enhanced imaging" parts are more consistent. 'Mechs are frequently out of scale, whether being compared to each other, to Elementals, to ordinary humans, to dropships, etc. The 'Mech cockpits are sometimes Bigger on the Inside.
    • The worst offenders are the new Inner Sphere battle armors, Infiltrator and Sloth, which are introduced halfway through the show. They are supposed to be just slightly larger than the Clan Elementals, but in their intro episode they are sometimes drawn as being more than half as tall as the 'Mechs.
    • The toyline has issues in both directions, where the battle armors are too big compared to the human figures, while the 'Mechs are too small.