Edward Ju (gundam@loop.com)
Tue, 28 Sep 1999 04:34:18 -0700


Here is the long-promised translation of the essay that appeared in the debut
issue of "Image" magazine, a new anime mag published in Taiwan. Written by
"AI Plus" as the first column for the Unofficial Gundam Club. Note that
I've taken some editorial liberties with the essay, because it was apparently
written as a reply to another essay published in different magazine. I've
rephrased some passages to make the translated essay more readable by
eliminating the distractive references to the previous article. This began
as a synopsis but ended up as 99% complete translation... hope it's not too
long or too hard to read - posted without proofing - hey, I am not being
paid to translate it!

----- begin -----

        Spirit of Tomino and the True Legitimate Gundam
                written by "AI PLUS"
                translated by Edward Ju

The difference between "legitimate" (hereafter abbreviated as "legit") and
"illegitimate" (hereafter abbreviated as "knockoff") Gundam does not depend
on whether the show was good or not. What is a "legit" Gundam series? Some
would argue a "realistic military" approach defines legit/classical Gundam.

Taken literally, there is no doubt that a "legit" Gundam series hinges on
whether series creator/director Tomino is onboard. Like mentioned earlier,
being "legit" or not has nothing to do with the show's being good or bad.
Maybe some dislikes Tomino's preachiness, or the goddamn bratty NewType
punk kids. But all these have nothing to do with the show's being "legit".
Therefore even though 0080 and 0083 have succeeded by taking the
"realistic military" approach, and established themselves as quality anime
shows, they are still not "legit"! They'd be called "knockoff realistic
Gundam" just like "knockoff fighting Gundam" and "knockoff bishonen Gundam".
(I did not say they are bad, low-quality, or lame...)

Maybe some would feel it is too biased to call a realistic military approach
kind of Gundam show a knockoff by the sheer lack of Tomino's presence.
That is correct, but the realistic military approach should be categorized as
knockoffs for another reason: the complete abandonment of legitimate Tomino's
Gundam in terms of the spirit of the show and the emphasis focus. If G and
Wing have borrowed the Gundam name for a totally unrelated story, then the
Gundam shows with a realistic military approach have only borrowed the Gundam
universe for an independent story. Blindly following Tomino's formula is
not necessarily a good thing, but today we're going to talk about legitimacy,
not the quality of the show. In order to prove that realistic military-type
of Gundam shows are knockoffs, we must first understand the spirit of
Tomino's Gundam.

THE ESSENCE OF TOMINO'S WORKS

In the article "The Dream of NewType is Not Over", the Tomino philosophy
based on his work from "Prince of the Sea" (1972) (Eddie's note: I do not
know the American name of this show, and made a literal translation of the
show's Taiwanese name) to "V Gundam" (1993) can
be summarized as follows:

1. Doubts on blood relationships, and the desire to join a quasi-family
   community.

2. The question of "what is the meaning of war".

3. The direct and involved communication between persons.

Obviously, the third point was crystallized in Tomino's concept of NewType.
Many have misunderstood NewType as a gimmicky rationalization of things that
can't be explained with today's science, just like Minovsky physics. This
kind of thinking severely underestimated the importance of the concept of
NewType. Reviewing the three principles of Tomino's philosophy, the first
principle manifested itself through all of Tomino's works. The second
principle has been asked since "Prince of the Sea" and reached its pinnacle
with 1977's "Zambot 3". His works after "Zambot 3" did not develop the
point further. The third principle would be central to the discussion of
Legitimate Tomino's Gundam. We will compare it with the knockoffs based on
these three principles.

First: doubt of blood relationship and the desire for a quasi-family community.
In "Prince of the Sea", we have a quasi-family entity found in the Sea Prince,
the mother-like dolphin, and the wife-like mermaid, which fights against a
difference species. Here, war is illustrated by the conflicts between a
quasi-family entity and a big, powerful, military-based, nation-like
organization instead of the back-and-forth between organizations of similar
size and strength. This setup becomes even more obvious in "Zambot 3",
the protagonist's family is clearly defined as a familial unit, which fights
off the alien invasion. This kind of setup is not so special when compared
to other anime shows of the time - Mazinger Z and Getta Robo follow basically
the same formula of "family" vs "army" kind of war. But upon closer
examination, one can still see how Tomino's works differ from the others.

The Sea Prince's race has been exterminates, he is the sole survivor; the
family in Zambot 3 belong to an alien race and they went to earth to escape
their pursuers. Compared to the "families" from Mazinger Z or Getta Robo,
which are "government approved" organizations, and are usually the last
shining hope of earth/mankind after futile resistance by the government's
regular military forces, the families from Tomino's "Prince of the Sea" or
"Zombot 3" are basically abandoned units, because the nation-sized
organization that would back them have been completely eliminated before
the show even started. Earthlings aren't even sympathetic, the family from
Zambot 3 were even seen as the cause of the war, they were stoned, and even
beaten after being tied up.

Because the family's (or quasi-family's) line of communication to the outside
world has been severed, they bond even closer. This situation would extend
to the Gundam shows Tomino directed. The organization to which the main
protagonist belongs to invariably becomes an "independent fleet" or
"autonomous unit", despite their belonging to a major organization such as
the Fed (0079), AEUG (Z, ZZ), or LM (V) - the relationship was in name only
and there was rarely any kind of direct support from the major organization,
and the fleet rarely accepts order from the organization. It is a very
loose kind of relationship, and the way combat is handled is also like the
aforementioned "family vs. army", plainly seen in the White Base's struggle
against waves of Zeon attackers, or the Aghama's war against the Titans and
Axis, or Lond Bell's war against Neo Zeon. Note that the quasi-family entity
is not the bona fide family you see in Zambot 3, because by now doubts of
blood relationship has been added to Tomino's mix, the blood family has now
become a questionable subject in Tomino's works. Also, the main cast has
shifted from blood family to a quasi-family, a substitute when blood
relationship is no longer sufficient to sustain a family. For Amuro, his
true family lives on White Base and Lond Bell; same story with Camille, whose
spiritual family are onboard the Aghama.

Discussion of the paradoxical reliance and doubt of blood and family
relationship is almost a universal theme in Tomino's works. From the broken
family of Amuro (and the resulting Oedipal complex Amuro has developed in
liking older women) and the similarly situated Camille, to the patricidal
Quess from CCA, to the death of Hathaway by his father Bright's own hands
in "Hathaway's Lightning", Tomino has presented a very negative view on a
family based on blood relationships. A family based on mere blood
relationship cannot sustain itself without any commongrounds between its
members. This viewpoint has improved somewhat by F91, where understanding
and compromise was the order of the day: Seabook's father sacrificed himself
to protect his children, and mother Monica was able to reunite with her
children and earn their forgiveness. Even so, Cecily's family could not
escape the hands of fate... but at least Tomino allowed the possibility of
"if you try to understand and compromise, a family can still exist". He
became even more forgiving in V Gundam, although in the end Usso's parents
both died in the war, at least they basically accept and agree with each
other, which is very different from previous families in Tomino's Gundam
shows.

Although some changes have been made over the years, the fascination and
philosophical musings on blood relationship remains a major theme in
Tomino's works, and shall remain a core theme in Legitimate Gundam shows
(even in his recent work "Brain Powerd" Tomino can't seem to shake off
the family curse...). Moreover, "family-sized entity vs. nation-sized
military organization" is the model of war for Legit Gundam and even all of
Tomino's works. To say that Legit Gundam is defined by realistically depicted
military warfare is to restrict your basis of comparison to the super robots
shows of the 70s. However, there is more to it than the simple difference.
The combat in Tomino's Gundam is indeed more realistic than Mazinger Z, but
don't forget Gundam's realism lies in the realstic depiction of characters,
not the combat/warfare. Misconceptions such as "Gundam is a work of
realistic depiction of war" and "Gundam's greatness lies in its realstic
depiction of war and the detailed scientific designs" are what caused the
misunderstanding that only realistic military approach type of shows are
Legit Gundam shows. Scientific setups and depiction of war is not the most
important elements in Legit Gundam, they are no more than stages or props.

QUESTIONING THE MEANING OF WAR

Now let's take a look at the second principle: the question that asks "what
is the meaning of war?" Many feels that Tomino is anti-war, but questioning
the meaning of war, and asking what one is fighting for is far from anti-war.
In "Prince of the Sea", Tomino clearly stated that "the meaning of war has
nothing to do with justice". If you want to talk about justice, it should
side with the race that the Sea Prince fights against, because since the
beginning of time the Sea Prince's race has oppressed the now villainous
"enemy" race - they were treated as domesticated animals to be sacrificed
in ceremonies to please the Gods. The "enemy" race rebelled to fight for
their survival. Because they have been fed and domesticated for so long,
they feared that leaving any of the Sea Prince's race alive will pose a
great risk to the survival of their own race. Therefore they took no chances
and aggressively pursued the Sea Prince, attempting to eliminate him. The
ignorant audience cheers the Sea Prince on as he carried out his fight for
justice all the way to the "enemy" race's base. What awaits him there is not
fierce resistance and combat, but a city full of corpses. The recordings
left by the elders of the "enemy" race made the Sea Prince realize that he
has been a murderer all along, and the "enemy" race are the weak who rebelled
because they could not take the oppression.

In "Zambot 3", the main protagonist has been stuck between a rock and a hard
place from the very beginning. On the one hand, his little family has to take
on the powerful enemy aliens, and on the other hand, their efforts to protect
earth was not being appreciated by earthlings, who did not want anything to do
with the perceived conflict between two warrning alien races. The earthlings
even thought his family was responsible for the war, and expressed their
hatred and rejection of the family without any reserve. At the end of the
show, before being choked to death by the main protagonist, the enemy alien
race's leader asks:

"What do you fight for?"

"To protect earth!"

"You are not an earthling, and they did not ask you to fight for them. You
 fight for them, but they aren't even appreciative, they hate you!"

The main protagonist of Zambot 3 had no answers, and Tomino probably doesn't,
either. That's why after losing most of his family, the main protagonist is
left trembling on the beach, unwilling to open his eyes again to face the
world and the question "What do you fight for?" Tomino never answered this
question.

In the first Gundam series, the heroes are really running for their lives
instead of fighting. To borrow Bright's words: forget about the meaning of
war for now, keep yourself alive first! Tomino's work after the first Gundam
series not only asks what the meaning of war is, but also "what causes war?"
This question can be rephrased to ask "what causes the conflict between
people?" The reason for rephrasing this question is because Tomino is not
concerned with war historians' discourse on politics or economics, but the
communication problems between people. "Would war disappear if people can
treat each other with goodwill, which can be mutually understood and not be
misunderstood due to miscommunication?" - to analyze what causes a war from
such an angle will probably piss off those who swear by the realistic military
approach - "How naive! What does this have to do with realistic warfare?"
Indeed, this may not be a good starting point to discuss what starts wars, but
is an excellent way to look into the interactive relationship between people.
Therefore although Tomino's Gundam shows use the battlefield as the stage,
and are being categorized as "realistic mecha warfare anime", their greatest
accomplishment lies not in the realistic depiction of war, but of human.

THE DIRECT AND INVOLVED COMMUNICATION BETWEEN PERSONS

A prime feature of Tomino's Gundam is the direct, face-to-face interaction
with people from the opposing side. We can intuitively see that this is
device that allows the character to feel "actually they are just like us".
No matter what the reason is for fighting, these reasons usually only have
any meaning to the leaders, and for the soldiers, there is really no reason
to hate the other side's soldiers. Actually this probably undermines
Tomino's Gundam: while the hero is screaming not to kill people, he is the
most terrifying killing machine on the battlefield. This looks like Tomino
is being paradoxical, in order to allow the hero to live, the nameless grunts
must die by the hands of the NewType.

This is a problem area, but note the following:

1. The hero kills in order to survive, he does not rationalize his killings
   by self-righteousness. In other words, he was forced to kill, even if he
   hated killing.

2. Because of NewType's telepathic abilities, they are very unwilling to kill
   because they can feel the dying's remorseness, sadness, and fear.
   Imagine that you will die in a second. What kind of feeling is that? Now
   multiply that by hundreds or thousands, if all that emotion passes through
   your mind and consumes your heart and soul, what kind of feeling would it
   be like? Maybe you haven't been through a war, but imagine the instant
   when a major disaster happens (say a plane crash), hundreds of victims'
   emotions coursing through your head, try to imagine it. It must be
   terrifying, and even a single second of that happening will be more than
   one can handle. If you can understand that, then you probably won't feel
   the NewType "brats" are too sensitive or emotionally unstable. In such a
   crazy environment, the emotional pressure they are under is unimaginable.
   Therefore, Camille's mental breakdown and becoming a vegetable in the end
   of Zeta Gundam is a course of matter. The hatred released prior to
   Scirocco's death might be the catalyst, but all the mental pressue
   Camille has suffered prior to that is enough to drive one insane. In ZZ
   Gundam, when Haman dropped a colony on Dublin, Judo was also driven to
   extreme confusion and rage because he felt the emotion of the millions who
   could not escape. Judo then heard Camille's voice, telling Judo "if you
   want to ask why keep fighting, the rage you feel now is the best reason!"
   Although Camille is a vegetable in a coma, but his subconsciousness is
   awake and was able to use his NewType powers to communicate what he learned
   and experienced from the fights in Zeta and understood as the meaning of
   war to Judo. This is Tomino's answer to the question that asks the meaning
   of war. Because NewType can feel people's pain suffered in war, so the
   hope to end the war and all the pain is what helps the NewType to keep
   fighting.

Of course, this explanation does not sound as cool as the reasons based on
politics, economics, or military tactics, and will be ridiculed by the
realistic military factions as naive, immature, emotional, unrealstic. But
what kind of war is it if it is fought without people? (In 0083 Delaz and
Gato kept saying they were fighting for a cause, the writer does not see a
true cause and asks if anyone knows to enlighten him). Due to Tomino's
limited abilities, the series appeared self-contradicting (the hero doesn't
want to kill, yet is extremely efficient at killing), and the "hero lives"
symptom does make the show somewhat unconvincing. However, Tomino's taking
the angle of a battlefield participant's heartfelt feelings in presenting
the war is a new concept in anime, and should be appreciated as such. To
make it work, the show's heroes (as Tomino's mouthpiece) must be able to
correctly and deeply feel those on the frontlines. Therefore the concept of
NewType becomes a necessity. Although initially the introduction of NewType
was to rationalize how untrained kids end up fighting better than ace pilots
and war veterans, but because of Tomino's emphasis on searching for the
meaning of war and the cause of war, this rationalization device became a
pivoting cornerstone of Tomino's Gundam, which also happened to be the
biggest dividing line between Legit and knockoff Gundams.

Because the main characters from both sides of the conflict tend to be
NewTypes, we can see that the interaction between these characters tend to
occur far more often and with a deeper impact than their interaction with
other OldType supporting characters. Take a look at Amuro with Lalah & Char,
Camille with Haman, Scirocco, Judo and Haman, Amuro and Char with Quess and
Hathaway... in many situations, the hero is in a conflicted situation,
because the NewType telepathy with the opposing side makes one identify with
the enemy more than with one's friendlies. Amuro obviously identifies with
Char far more than the Feds; compared to Haman, Camille and Judo have more
reason to hate the Feds or Titans. But they still fight for the Feds
against Char/Haman. On the other hand, Char treats Amuro as an equal, and
Haman has attempted to assimilate Judo and Camille. Because of the mutal
understanding from the NewType telepathy, Amuro knows that Char's ideals
are correct, Fed and the military officers are just operating on their own
greed. Despite mutual understanding, Amuro has trouble agreeing with Char's
way of handling things, so Amuro ends up fighting for the side that he does
not really believe in, against an enemy that he identifies with. This is
very cruel, because usually soldiers are able to fight because they believe
they were righteous and the enemy is evil (this is basically the kind of
brainwash being performed on soldiers in different degrees all over the world).
NewTypes do not have such benefits and must fight under conflicting emotions,
under such duress it is not surprising that they are emotionally tortured at
all times. That is why after killing Jerid, Camille asked "Are you
satisfied to die like this? Who will be happy about it?" That is why the
hatred released by Scirocco prior to dying pushed Camille over the edge.
That is why Judo was so pissed after Haman commits suicide and had to beat up
Bright to vent his frustration.

Strictly speaking, Tomino cannot be credited for inventing the concepts of
"doubting the meaning of war as a direct result of face-to-face interaction
with the enemy" and "understanding I am not righteous, and the enemy is not
evil, but I still must fight", but the mutual understanding of NewType makes
such self-contradicting emotions even more pronounced and severe (of course,
the over-the-top, emotional, illogical scenes serve as a double-edged sword
too, because they attracted criticisms or preachiness and confusing dialogs).
In sum, if we remove the mutual understanding of NewTypes from Tomino's
Gundam and decide whether a (non-Tomino) Gundam show is Legit or not by
judging if it is a realistic military depiction is obviously unfair.

Another common question is "How did NewTypes come about?" Of course, we can
explain it with evolution, but just like Tomino said, "for better or worse,
the hero's gotta be piloting the suit by the first episode". All the
explaining of "the expanded consciousness resulting from mankind's being
free from the bondage of gravity" is all retcon to make the show more
realistic. Just like how 0083 violates physics, the concept of NewType
likely violates evolution theories as well. This is also outside the scope
of this article, the emphais is this: humanoid vehicles of war and NewType's
telepathic powers are created to help tell the story. For Tomino's Gundam,
NewType is a more important factor than humanoid combat machines - if you
substitute the mobile suits with fighters, basically the spirit of Tomini's
Gundam can still be conveyed accurately; however, if you wipe out the
concept of NewType, there is no way you can tell a Tomino Gundam tale.
So for the audience, they must be sold on the concept of NewType. If Tomino
had been more convincing on his scientific explaination of NewTypes, then
his Gundam would have been even more realistic. But one should be reminded
that Tomino's Gundam is emotion over logics, intuition over logics,
psychological depiction over laws of physics...

Now that we understood the real Legit spirit of Tomino's Gundam, it's time
to compare the relationship between each non-Tomino (knockoff) Gundam and
Legit Gundam series. What is the series that is closest to Tomino's Gundam
in spirit? It's not a realistic militaristic OVA set in the UC era, it is
not a show that attempts to redefine NewTypes (Gundam X), and of course it
is not the Bishonen Gundam. The answer is: what everyone thinks is a total
mess and insult to UC Gundam... G GUNDAM! Whoa! Hold off your tomato and
eggs, let me explain...

Mobile Fighters G Gundam is the closest thing to a Legit Gundam show in the
Tomino tradition because it fits the three principles like a glove:

1. Doubts on blood relationships: Domon's father was to blame for creating
   the Ultimate Gundam (which would eventually become the Devil Gundam).
   Domon's brother betrayed and ran away (although he was later proven to be
   innocent) which caused his mother to be shot. Father was put into
   frozen cryogenics as punishment, Domon spent the first half of the series
   hunting down his own brother, etc. Take a look at Rain, whose father is
   jealous of what Domon's father accomplished, and conspired to destroy
   Domon's family. Guilt-ridden, Rain became the Devil Gundam's core.
   Moreover, Domon and Master Asia's master/apprentice relationship,
   Domon and Rain's lovers and pilot/maintainence engineer relationship
   are all quasi-family entities, whose importance was above and beyond
   that of the blood family.

2. The doubt of war's meaning: the war between armies/military organizations
   have ended in G's universe, and have been replaced with an athletic-event-
   like tournament of fighting Gundams. Although billed as an ideal way to
   carry out a war, from the very first episode, when the Italian cop
   uttered "Gundam Fight again? Another unpleasant year is about to begin..."
   until the conspiracy of Master Asia in the second half of the series,
   the meaning of war is constantly questioned.

3. The direct and involved communication between persons: this is the most
   obvious point. The NewTypes from Tomino's Gundam understand each other
   by telepathy instead of relying on deceptive language; martial artists
   communicate through their fists, and can similarly understand each other
   on a deeper level without speaking, and cannot lie to each other!

So if you want to talk Legit-ness, the most ridiculed G Gundam is without a
doubt the most Legit non-Tomino Gundam because Tomino Gundam's spirit lives
on in G Gundam! With the aforementioned guideline, 0080 would the the next
one in line for being "Legit" when you consider Alfred's own family when
compared to his relationship to Bernie and Chris, and how the ridiculous war
forced a tragic ending. 0083 used the same UC universe stage, so it gets
the next seat. The last one is the show that only has the "Gundam" name in
its title - Wing Gundam...

As mentioned before, being "Legit" or a knockoff has nothing to do with a
show's being good or bad, we are just speaking in terms of carrying on the
original's spirit. So if you are a fan of Wing or 0083, please don't get
pissed off... the writer also is not too concerned with who is more Legit
and who is more of a kncokff, the goal of this article is to speak on
behalf of Tomino's Gundam, providing Gundam fans or potential Gundam viewers
an angle to appreciate Tomino's Gundam. In recent years the realistic
militaristic school has taken over, and even began to criticize Tomino's
Gundam with their realstic military criteria, and even went as far as
calling Tomino's Gundam a knockoff of 70s super robot shows, I personally
disagree competely, and hope everyone can have a deeper level of appreciation
of Tomino's Gundam, and give it its due respect.

----- end -----

Coming soon...

Syd Mead gets trashed! And for good reasons!

Disclaimer:

This article was translated and posted to provide an alternative view as
presented by the original writer. It does not represent my own personal
views or opinions, and anyone who thinks so is a complete moron (you know
who you are).

Eddie

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