Anime: Universal Century Gundam & Gundam Unicorn

Monday, January 12, 2015

When it comes to science-fiction, you can probably count on two hands how many anime actually elevate into the science-fiction genre. There's probably more if you add manga, but for the most part, the industry handles science-fiction as the easy cash cow that is it but rarely introduces us to great hard science fiction or speculative/theoretical science-fiction. Space operas, the setting just being in space, mecha or VR, that can all be okay, they rarely even come close to the potential they could have.
But Universal Century Gundam proposes its own version of humanity's evolution after colonizing space.

Ignoring some actual science and logic behind the use of mechas and a lot of the space action, this is actually one of the franchises that may be considered (social) science-fiction. Mainly because of the thematic of space colonization and the resulting conflict of interests but also including this new kind of human race called "Newtypes".

Gundam Newtype Axis Shock
Tomino himself mostly focused on the conflict between the Earth Federation Force and Zeon, the Spacenoids. The basic idea is simple. Humanity, far in the future, started to move into space and created space colonies. The idea of Earth's economy, and politics still applied but shouldn't. Why should the established system that governs people, economy, and all that still work when we finally leave Earth?
Some old asshat in a suit shouldn't be able to tell you what to do and how to live when you live in space.
That's what the Spacenoids, or rather the Neo Zeon remnants in Gundam Unicorn think at least. I think that aspect is already enough for a proper science-fiction scenario considering how out there the thought of independent people really is. Of course people in charge don't like the idea so war ensures because instead sitting on a table and talk, aggression is the most human response. The fights span over decades and eventually end up being just a circle of acts if hatred and revenge. A key factor here are actually the Newtypes.
Originally Tomino said that the real motivation behind the creation of Newtypes was to form a new racial conflict where one side thought itself superior to the other. Zeon Zum Deikun originally proposed the idea that earth is sacred and that the people of space must protect it. This gave the spacenoids a sense of superiority, though initially, no harm was intended with this. But this somehwat gave birth to the "space nazi" ideology, and after Zeon Deikun's death, and his adviser Degwin Zabi took over the leadership of the Republic of Zeon, which still struggled under Earth's economy and diplomacy until they declared independence (and frankly turned the Zabi regime into a dictatorship).
Newtypes became the idea and practically symbol of the Spacenoids ideology, since they were meant to be humans' next step in evolution due to their departure in space which kinda makes sense, since we would maybe adapt to the new environment, with new needs. Ignoring that people from Earth could be Newtypes as well, proving their existence would justify the Principality of Zeon.
And so they became a crucial part in the conflict between Earthnoids and Spacenoids but with the biggest focus on them being in Gundam Unicorn. Their role in the Gundam universe is what made me truly accept U.C. Gundam as an interesting sci-fi scenario.
While initially seemingly inspired by the Jedi of the original Star Wars movie, Newtypes were mostly recognizable by inhuman intuition, empathy and occasional use of "the Force" (not really though).
But empathy, this idea really resonated with me. There are plenty of futuristic looks at what may become of human society or the species itself. It often looks grim or humans become "too evolved". Star Trek had a bit brighter future for humanity as a society, but other than proper manners, the species didn't actually change.
Gundam Unicorn's idea of humanity becoming a caring species due to their empathy, ultimately working out for the ideology of the Spacenoids, is actually rather interesting. Mutual understanding for the next generation of humans. This would imply that many of our established system would become redundant.

This kind of explains why so many characters of Gundam seem to be a little autistic (even though it's the opposite), it clearly has nothing to with Tomino's awkward writing!... But seriously, I always interpreted it this way. Kamille, Amuro, Banagher (I am aware that Unicorn isn't written by Tomino) and co. had feelings for people they just met and didn't really understand it due to their conditions. This was usually displayed by their irritating behaviour in the beginning of the shows but later they grew with it. They felt connected to people they just met and they wanted it to stay that way. It also explains their detest for war, death and battles even though their pacifistic nature is put on test by their observations and participation in all those conflicts.
Banagher's pain killed me. Normally this would annoy me in most other shows but this baka mecha show made me cry a couple of times

Gundam Unicorn Banagher

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