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Not Your Kid’s Giant Robot Show

Written by Subject: Philosophy: Libertarianism
Not Your Kid’s Giant Robot Show

A review of the Gundam Seed animation franchise and an explanation of why Libertarians should even care, by Michael Haggard

I have long been a fan of Japanese animation, usually called Anime (anna-may: a transliteration of the Japanese word for animation. Anime in English specifically refers to animation from Japan.) Since my high school days when we would rush home after school to turn on channel 47UHF (before cable) and watch a show called Starblazers, I have been hooked. It was rich in drama and emotion, full or moral questions and dilemma, and unlike any cartoon we had ever seen. Later in life I learned that Starblazers was actually a Japanese Anime called “Space Battlecruiser Yamato,” and had a rich history in Japan. The original Japanese version was even more delightful and robust than the cut down and edited American version I had seen. I was in love with the genre.

In my adult life I have seen many Anime and collected quite a few of the best. The genre suffers from a lot of cheap, pornographic, and meaningless flow intended to simply make money off the fan base. However… One series that endures is the Gundam franchise. Gundam has often been called “The Japanese Star Trek,” because of its endurance as a scifi franchise in Japan. It started in 1979 as a children’s show… but quickly was seen to be far more than the giant robot shows that had come out of Japan in the past. Compared to those, Gundam was hard scifi (in comparison) with very deep moral questions about war and aggression. Both sides of the conflict were shown to be real people that were good and bad… who were both right and wrong in their aggression. Even the earliest episodes of Gundam, though dated in their animation technology, stand up today as good stories.

A Gundam is a giant robot in its simplest terms. But a better explanation is that a Gundam is a futuristic carrier based air-superiority fighter. A space suit becomes called a “Normal Suit” as these large robot like fighter are called “Mobile Suits” cross referencing the self-propelled armor nature of the craft with the space suited fighting man look of the craft. A pilot sits inside and operates the Gundam as a fighter pilot would today. Gundam is not the only mobile suit in the mecha list, but it is the star of the show. The various other mobile suits make viewing the show for scifi hardware buffs a treat. There is a serious cool factor to this kind of giant robot show that far outshines the Transformers and RoboJox of our own American youth.

Gundam has seen many incarnations, spin offs and movies (including one live action movie using CG SFX for the giant robots). Most of these shows take place within the same “universe” and involve the same characters or at least the same histories. In this way they are much like the Star Trek franchise in America. However, the Japanese are not averse to mixing the literary pot. The Gundam moral, style, and concept have been taken into other story lines where many things are the same but a lot has changed much like an alternate universe. Fans keep the versions separate by using a code system that delineates the alternate universes. For example, the original Gundam, the later Gundam 0080 and Gundam 0083 series, the M.S. 08th and the movie Char’s Attack, and even the Live Action G-Savior Gundam, all take place in what fans call the “Universal Century” (UC). While the popular Gundam Wing series takes place in the “After Colony” era (AC).

Gundam Seed, the most recent addition to the franchise, takes fans in a new direction, called the “Cosmic Era” (CE). In many ways it is a retelling and modernization of the original Gundam for a new generation of views hungry for new animation technology. Yet it is also a new vision of story line and does not detract from the original Gundam. Seed, in this way is not a simple remake.

Gundam Seed is 50 twenty-three minute episodes, done in a crisp and visually pleasing animation style. It takes place in a future were mankind has colonized the Lagrange points around the Earth and Moon. Over time, the people living in space have turned to genetic engineering to enhance their abilities to live and work in space. These people start being referred to as “Coordinators” and their government is called PLANT: Productive

Location Ally on Nexus Technology… their military is called ZAFT: Zodiac Alliance of Freedom Treaty. “Normals” (unenhanced humans) live on an Earth that is far from homogeneous. PLANT has some territory on the African continent and in South America. North America and Europe are allied much like they are in the real world today. In a nondescript part of the world is the free nation of Orb, ruled by the ideals of freedom, independence and non-aggression. Our story begins with a faction of the ZAFT forces attempting to draw the human populations into a “race” war between the Coordinators and the Normals. The Earth Alliance Battleship Archangel is the center of attention as she tried to turn the tide of war. The shows start out pretty bland as far as the moral story goes, but they are big on excitement. However, the moral dilemmas quickly build and come to a head as members of both sides of the fight and of the nation of Orb come together in order to end the war.

The series returns in 51 more episodes called Gundam Seed: Destiny, though it adds new characters and shows the Earth Alliance with a conspiratorial aggression this time. Orb is finally forced into the Earth Alliance Treaty because it is the “easier” route. “We must preserve our nation at the cost of our ideals,” becomes the party line as the Supreme Leader tries uselessly to return their minds to peace and non-aggression. A third Gundam Seed series, Gundam Seed Stargazer, is in the making and there are talks of movies.

Frederik L. Schodt (who translated into English the fine three volume set of the original Gundam novels by Yoshiyuki Tomino with DelRey press) called this style of Space Opera in Anime "Samurais in Space" because it pulled into the Science Fiction realm all of the honor, angst, and moral self-inspection that the Bushido philosophy illustrated in the Samurai novels and movies of the past generation. Gundam Seed has every feel of "The Seven Samurai" and its re-envision "The Magnificent Seven." This review does not even scratch the surface of the depth that this “cartoon” has for the viewers (including the hints of aliens in pre-history, the “SEED” effect on genetic manipulation, and the rights of normals compared to the rights of enhanced people who ARE better than we are in many ways yet not so in others. Even more interesting are the romantic triangles and various other multi-sided polygons of romantic relationship throughout the show that adds even more angst to the battles).

Many scenes throughout the series impress the moral dilemma of Non-Aggression upon the viewer. Some are more effective than others, and though many are more dramatic and shocking, none do so as clearly as the ending of Episode 23 of the second season. ZAFT and The Earth Alliance are about to enter into bloody battle when the independent and free battleship Archangel and her crew enter the battlefield in order to sue for the end of hostilities. We hear n the background thoughts of one of Archangel’s Gundam pilots:

“Not invading other nations, not tolerating any invasions by other nations, and not becoming involved in other nations’ disputes… We the people of Orb hold that ideal and have held onto it through the changing times… because I believe that it is the most fundamental and important ideal for us to exist as a nation. Even in our current situation, I believe that our ideal is correct. If we were to join the Earth Alliance, it may be true that we might avoid impending military invasion. However, that would be allowing an invasion into what is most important to us… Our mentality as citizens of Orb, no, our mentality as human beings. Right now, the Earth Alliance is threatening to attack us unless we choose a side. However, there is no way we can obey them. If we do, we will someday become a nation who fights people pointed out by others as enemies as we are ordered to. Not allowing an invasion… this is the ideal held by Orb. In order to defend this ideal, we will keep trying until the end. So, my dear citizens, it is unfortunate that the crisis is upon us.”

- The Supreme Leader of the Nation of Orb

Gundam Seed: Destiny - Episode 23

The viewer is reminded of this quote in flashback as the eyes of the Supreme Leader’s Daughter, now herself the keeper of Orb’s ideals, watch a horrific battle between ZAFT and The Earth Alliance (now including her beloved Orb citizens under a despot’s rule due to the treaty they were warned against) that she is powerless to stop. The best her own forces can achieve is to lessen the destruction of what COULD have been in this battle by confusing the lines of aggression with their presence and with metered response in force against both sides.

What we are seeing is the cry from a nation (Japan) through the medium of animation and pop culture, asking the world to never again be placed in a web of political lies and deceptions that cause us to wage genocide through technological power. The writers speak through a cultural understanding that Americans can only guess at, as survivors of nuclear war. The message is clear: no matter the “side” of the battle, no matter the ideology or politics,

Gundam in any flavor is usually good. Some are much better than others as some are geared towards different aged audiences. Many Gundam series and movies are available in English or with English sub-titles on DVD and VHS in America… often at Wal-Mart, Best Buy, and even Blockbuster and other rental stores. (I would suggest starting with Gundam 0083, but MS 08th is good and so is the original series though it is dated. Gundam Wing, though popular and easy to find in America cannot hold a candle to these IMOHO).

Alas… Gundam Seed is not yet fully available in America. Bandi Entertainment should be releasing DVD Volume 1 as of this time, with other DVDs to follow (expect four to six episodes per DVD). This DVD comes in English and in Japanese with English Subtitles. However, I fear it will be an edited version. Gundam Seed graphically (though not gratuitously) shows the death of war, the assassination of helpless and bound military leaders after rebellion, and wholesale genocide. Most Americans (and publishers) see Animation and Anime as a kid’s market and tend to edit out these adult content parts. I hope I am wrong and that the English edition will be the full force, original show. Fans have made their own English subtitled versions of both series that are available on Bittorrent, E-Mule, Gnutella and the like all over the Internet. The legality of this form of intellectual property sharing is dubious… but it is the only option for English speaking fans to view the all the shows at this time.

I need to note here for those of you who are new to Japanese entertainment… the Asian style of acting and story telling is rather melodramatic to American standards. The voice performances can be over the top and the use of facial expression and vocal primitives (grunts, sobs and exclamations) can seem silly at times. Get past it. It is simply a cultural bias. Enjoy the story for what it is and avoid the main stream’s deprecation of “big eyes and small mouths” that so often cloud and color reviewer’s opinions of Anime. The only “real” irritation of the story is the sudden unveiling of a new and better Gundam unit to replace the old one each time a hero gets his own shot out from under him. But, hey, it just wouldn’t be a series if the hero had no way to continue.

Do what you can to see Gundam Seed… encourage others to see it… write the BanDai American Publishing house and demand more DVDs… and THEN start to talk to the people you share it with about libertarianism and the non-aggression principle. Like Firefly and Serenity, you will now have a popular culture entertainment tool to communicate our philosophy to the masses.

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