Having just recently reviewed Gundam Wing, I was reminded of something I noticed a number of years ago. It came partially out of a lively discussion I had with an acquaintance of mine. Skipping all the details, we disagreed on how an anime, or any other story, can use violence as an argument for peace. I was in favor of this, not only that they could, but that it was better to use fake violence, where nobody was actually getting hurt, to get the point across instead of real violence.
As I was thinking about this, the Gundam franchise was actually the first example to come to mind, though Rurouni Kenshin and Trigun were not far behind. It was very clear to me that the people behind the Gundam stories were absolutely arguing for peace. Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say they were creating stories to carry messages for peace. But what began to fascinate me was how each series I could think of had a unique message, rather than just repeating exactly the same things over and over. Ironic? Considering how much they borrow from previous shows, yes, definitely ironic. But still true, and rather amazing.
So, in no particular order, and in the mecha-themed spirit of March which I’ve seen in my fellow bloggers, I present a handful of the Gundam-based messages of peace, as I see them! 🙂
First, the one that started all of this for me, and it was surprisingly difficult to determine.
Throughout the show, there is a rather ham-fisted insistence upon the benefits of pacifism. That is, they heroes continually advocate throwing away one’s weapons and simply refusing to support senseless war any further. So, it seems, at first glance, that is what Gundam Wing argues for: pacifism. But that’s not quite right, I think.
Peace is continually shown as something that everyone desires, but few people actually try to obtain it. They just expect it to be made without their involvement and then given to them. That makes it very hard to get and very easy for someone else to take away. The pursuit of peace, then, begins and ends with a choice, and choices are built upon one’s own determination.
The choice to support pacifism requires one to actually do something, every bit as much as does the choice to fight. To that end, there are several scenes I will never forget.
When a group of soldiers defects and are being hunted by former comrades who deride them, saying that soldiers should just follow orders. That is hauntingly imitated in the Endless Waltz movie, where the villain declares that the public is automatically expected to obey the victor of a military conflict. That is in response to when a number of people show up to protest the latest would-be conquest of the world, unarmed but with the serendipitous protection of a Gundam. These people have just learned that peace isn’t something that will just be handed to them, and so now they intend to defend it themselves. Another character says, at this climactic moment, that one of the great leaders of their time, “Loved people who were unafraid to keep their stance and fight.” And that is what marks the Gundam pilots, their allies, and even their enemies as something apart from the crowd: the will to act.
In a word: resolve.
The show reaches its own conclusion when the whole of the world is made to see two warriors fighting, each in pursuit of their own path to peace, with someone narrating, urging everyone to look for their own solution to peace. That is followed shortly thereafter by a declaration from a governing body that has been fairly spineless, announcing their own decision for the world to hear, and apologizing “for the suffering endured by many people as a result of our unclear stance.”
Whether it be pacifism or militarism or anything else, it all begins with one’s own resolve. That resolve, and not any particular ideology, is a critical first step towards obtaining peace.
This story, which sort of happens somewhere in concurrence with the original Gundam story, if I understand correctly, was the second installment of the franchise which I ever saw, and it’s message is much easier to grasp: love. Specifically, that love which manifests itself as acting with humanity towards one’s enemy, even on the battlefield.
Of course there’s the obvious romantic love between the male and female leads, Shiro and Aina, a’la a Gundam version of Romeo and Juliet, but that is only a starting point.
Their romance, such as it is, begins when one (Shiro, the male, of course), discovers that he is fighting a woman and he does not kill her. Even more, she is in a little trouble and he helps her, complaining all the while, even as she resists. Then there’s a moment of silence between the two of them, and they decide to work together to survive, because, if they don’t, they both die, and that does no good for either them or their respective sides.
Afterward, the both of them have a moment where they are being interrogated, judged, and they both spout the same talk about both sides having good people. Obvious? Yes. But still true, as evidenced by the two of them and their friends.
The villains on both sides of this war are villains because they do not see their enemies as anything except someone to kill. Heck, they don’t show much value for people on their own side either, caring for little besides their own supposed importance. They do unspeakable things without hesitation, and their inhumanity soon consumes them, and everyone around them. They have no compassion, and so they find no refuge.
One of the most tragic scenes I have ever seen in anime was when three soldiers came to a remote village, secretly inhabited by guerilla fighters. They stopped for some food and rest, and, out of three soldiers, two of them were decent, honorable, respectful people. One made the children smile, and one held a gun to her own subordinate when he began behaving inappropriately towards one of the locals. The third man, however, still lashed out when the girl threw the food he asked for in his face after his attempt to take liberties with her. The locals, the guerillas, responded by immediately murdering all three of the soldiers. They did not see them as human, no matter how two out of three were clearly decent, because one of them was not. In the end, many of the villagers were slaughtered, and three soldiers, two of them good people, were killed as well.
This tragedy could have been avoided entirely if the villagers had simply been less eager to kill everyone. They had no love for the enemy.
The ultimate villain of the show has no love for anyone at all, not his superiors, nor his comrades (whom he murders), nor even his own sister (whom he attempts to murder). And he is defeated at the last by two people who, though they were on opposite sides at first, found the room to love each other.
So, love is definitely the message here.
The story of this show is, basically, that all the nations of the world, in order to avoid mutual annihilation, agreed to determine who rules the world every four years with a tournament on Earth. But there is a great evil at work behind the scenes this time, something truly dangerous that threatens to annihilate all of humanity. To stop it, the warriors of various nations, and, eventually, all nations must unite and fight to save the world.
This is one message that they almost never explicitly stated, but absolutely showed all throughout: unity.
Unity is when people realize their common interests and work together. Unity is when people overlook their differences and build on their similarities. Unity is based on understanding and honor, and it forgives petty slights. Sometimes unity is easy, and sometimes it is very difficult, but the unity of the many will always outweigh the brute power of the one.
Obviously, they did not go for “subtle” with this one. The central cast of warriors comes from all around the world, and they become so united that they speak and think in unison. The villains are constantly divided, both from each other and from themselves, by their own selfish ambitions. The world is supposedly decaying, yet complete destruction has been staved off with the united support of all the nations. When an evil tries to take the world for itself, they respond as one, unanimously opposing the enemy and fighting for humanity’s survival. They even speak, very clearly, about how the world does not belong to one, but to all.
And if the unity of warriors and nations were not enough, the united hearts of one man and one woman, crossing that terrifying bridge to join two hearts together, is what finally undoes the vile power which would destroy them.
A bit on the nose, perhaps, but very clear! 🙂
I cannot speak for Gundam Seed Destiny, as I still haven’t seen it, but there is clearly a message in Gundam Seed. As it happens, though, I almost missed seeing it because of what I did see.
Basically, there are two messages, treated with varying degrees of bluntness and subtlety.
The overall conflict is an outstanding message of tolerance. The entire show is about a war between humans who have been genetically enhanced from the womb and those who are all natural. It’s really a superficial difference, yet both sides seem determined to fight the other to the death. Terrible things have been done, countless lives lost, so much suffering and death, all over such a tiny difference. A little tolerance and it could have been avoided entirely.
But there is a second message: once the damage has been done, the only way forward is through forgiveness.
Tolerance is something done beforehand, but forgiveness necessarily comes after something terrible.
And terrible things do happen. Kira and Athrun spend the early portion of the show trying not to harm each other, without letting anyone know about it. Then they both lose comrades to the other, and they earnestly try to kill each other. It takes some time for them be on the same side after that.
Kira especially has to learn about forgiving, and he has to practice what he preaches. Among his enemies, there is one whom he knows killed a number of innocent people, including a little girl who gave him an origami flower. When he returns to the battlefield with the intent on saving people, he meets this enemy again, and he has this enemy at his mercy. He could have killed him, straight-up, and few would have said he was in the wrong. But he chooses to let him live.
One of the female leads speaks passionately about the futility of vegeance. One person kills another, then gets killed for that, and his killer is killed for that, and so on. How are they ever supposed to have peace if they keep doing that? It has to stop. Sometime, somewhere, someone has to stop it.
Most of the allies who join together to end the terrible war, they have done serious hurt to one another. But they work together anyway. And the villains? The villains are so consumed by how they’ve been hurt that they refuse all possibility of peace. They refuse to forgive, and it destroys them.
Gundam 00 is probably the single least subtle, but most convoluted, of them all. It begins with the gundams trying to end all war by force. It concludes with a magnificent display of understanding, one that reaches across barriers of cultures, nationalities, and even interstellar species.
The most obvious example is also my least favorite. One of the pilots and the princess of country that his nationality has long been at odds with, they meet and there is a connection between the two. They understand each other, which is a note the series as a whole ends on in the movie. Thing is, that felt kind of hollow to me because they’ve never argued. They’ve never misunderstood each other, so of course they understand each other in the end! That was just a little underwhelming, ya know?
There are other characters, however. One is a young man who comes to hate the gundams by the end of the first season, and then, in the second, learns how mistaken he was. And, as it happens, he finds himself on opposite sides of the love of his life, who has taken her own path to get where she is.
That path, as it happens, involved a renegade gundam pilot destroying her family on a passing whim, an act which immediately put her and her brothers at odds with the other gundams. Though they escape, they’ve drawn the eye of someone even worse than themselves, and so her brothers are murdered. Years later, these two women meet again, one determined to kill her family’s murderer, and the other screaming about how she’s not the only one to have lost loved ones. While it is difficult to sympathize with the psycho killer, her words have a certain truth to them.
Throughout the series, again and again, understanding builds a path to peace, and a lack of such brings only destruction. Right down to when a son kills his own father in battle, because he never understood the man.
Resolve. Love. Unity. Tolerance before and forgiveness after. Understanding.
There are several other series, of course, but these are the ones I have finished and can recall properly at the moment. Still, that’s five out of five shows, all talking about the same central point in a unique way.
The Gundam franchise is a message of peace, or a series of messages about such.
What do you think?
I feel that this says a lot about Japanese history and how their perception of peace has shifted quite a bit post-Second World War. You actually see motifs like this one quite often in Japanese literature as well and it I always find them to very candid and revealing about Japan as a country, especially post-war era. I also think it can sometimes be a difficult feat to get across, because the message can get lost along the way. However, some serials, like Gundam Wing and a couple others, can do it right and I feel it’s brilliant.
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GUNDAM LIST YESSSS was so happy to see this hahah LOL maybe too happy
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Eh, I know that feeling. 😉