Comments on Raymond H's F91 and the Problem with Gundam Pacifism

Gundam F91 has all of the franchise's flaws and none of its strengths

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Arthur B at 12:26 on 2018-07-08
So first off, for those of you who have never heard of Gundam or who know the name but don't know the details, the original 1979 Mobile Suit Gundam is basically what happens when your producers want to make a super duper robot action show while your writers want to make a serious, gripping war drama.

Once upon a time the Picturehouse Cinema in Oxford did a sci-fi all-nighter. This was built around a special preview showing of 28 Days Later, which managed to be extra-scary when nobody in the cinema was expecting zombies, and included (among other things) a screening of Evangelion: Death and Rebirth - which was exactly as hilarious as you'd expect it to be when you're just plunged into it with no prior context.

The person introducing that discussed how they considered Evangelion to be pioneering because of the way it adopted this questioning approach to whether it's even moral to expect teenagers to pilot giant mecha, or whether that's nothing more than a SFnal update of the old kamikaze idea and unworthy of a nation and a world which has made such errors in the past.

The reason I tell this anecdote is that, after watching the movie condensation of the original Mobile Suit Gundam series, I realised that this was bunk. Evangelion is fun because it's trippy bullshit; as far as the pacifism goes, Gundam did it decades earlier, and better.
https://arilou-skiff.livejournal.com/ at 16:50 on 2018-07-08
I haven't actually seen F91, but I *have* seen other Gundam stuff, and I can already tell that F91 seems to be not only very Gundam but very, very Tomino.

Now, I think, to be fair, the "Adults are corrupt" is a position that makes much more sense in Tomino's position: He was born in 1941. He grew up in the aftermath of a world seemingly destroyed by the senseless actions of adults, just like there was a reaction in Germany against the parental generation for the atrocities they committed and the refusal to take responsibility, there was something similar (though less comperehensive) happening in Japan at the time. (combine this with Cold War apathy and the general political culture in the 70's and you can easily see where Tomino is coming from) And it's not just him either, there are other stuff of the same generation that reads kind of similar, there being a real tension between the new generation, who grew up in peace and prosperity trying to figure out why the hell their parental generation seemingly went bananas, and then tried to convince them everything was normal.

"What did you do in the war?" has a very different tone when asking it to your german or japanese grandparent than your american one.

The "Run headfirst into things and seemingly not explain stuff" is actually another of Tomino's signature moves: He tends to show rather than tell (or tell you in oblique terms) like in Zeta trying to figure out what the heck is going on (especially without any previous guide sor having only watched the origianl series) is a huge challenge. Plenty his series don't even get basic stuff (like "Who the heck are the guys fighting?") until halfway into the show. I think the most interesting case of this is probably his last series: G-reco. Which very clearly and deliberately explains basically nothing. (I'm not sure it's a *good* show but it is an interesting one, and has some great bits of incidental animation)

So it's not just about pacifism, although that's a part of it, but it is also a rejection of the last generation enmeshing their children in the web of loyalties, conflicts, etc, that they were a part of. I honestly think the "War is bad" part isn't *that* central (as mentioned, it's a war show, and the kids do eventually fight) so much as it is the kids eventually engaging with the war on their terms, and not on that of the adults. (successfully or not)

But Tomino at his most Tomino is still probably Victory Gundam. That show manages to mix everything (an even more kid pilot than usual, a frantic, bizzarre setting with little explanation, lots of weird imagery (robots that are basically giant wheels! Space guillotines!) psychics! Weird gender politics! Character developments that are kind of hinted at but never explored! Etc. etc. It's in many ways bad, but I can't hate it because it's such a distillation of the Tomino-ness of Gundam. (and it has some pretty good visuals at times)
Raymond H at 10:15 on 2018-07-09
@Arthur
You went to Oxford? Somehow I can see that...

The person introducing that discussed how they considered Evangelion to be pioneering because of the way it adopted this questioning approach to whether it's even moral to expect teenagers to pilot giant mecha, or whether that's nothing more than a SFnal update of the old kamikaze idea and unworthy of a nation and a world which has made such errors in the past.

Yeeeah, I...Evangelion is about a lot of things, but I never thought it was about kamikaze ideas or anything like that. I always thought it was more an examination of depression and the human desire for control and happiness in the vast and uncaring void that is our universe. So, y'know, if Lovecraft did a mecha series. But yeah, when Gundam is great, it's AMAZING.


@arilou-skiff
That's an interesting way of looking at it. Not to sound like a reactionary old fart, but that attitude you described is probably one of the reasons the wave finally died. Sure, it's fine to say something is wrong, but again, what alternative do you propose? As you say, sometimes the Gundam protagonists find such alternatives, but other times they simply come across as immature and childish.

As for Victory Gundam, I honestly think that's the only UC thing I haven't seen yet (except for...you know...). Might I ask if you've seen After War X and if so, if it's any good?
https://arilou-skiff.livejournal.com/ at 09:47 on 2018-07-10
@Raymond H

I have indeed seen Gundam X. (the ones I haven't seen, and that's "started but never finished" is Iron Blooded Orphans, AGE, Turn A and Wing, and I started all of those at some point before dropping them for various reasons)

Gundam X is good. It's not the best of Gundam, and in some ways it feels a lot less gritty war drama and a lot more somewhat less ostentatious super robot show, there is a MacGuffin Princess whose relationship with the main character is actually pretty sweet. There's psychic space dolphins. The "early villains inevitably getting hit by character development" is pretty decent. Etc.

It's not my favourite Gundam (though I know some people who love it to bits) but it's pretty good.
Raymond H at 10:50 on 2018-07-10
Okay, thank you. I've been thinking of watching it for a while now for all the good things you just listed (except the dolphins, I didn't know about that), but never had the chance.

Oh god, Iron Blooded Orphans. I was there! I was there IN JAPAN for its premiere! And my host father, who was a teenager when the very first MSG came out, and who is the single biggest Gundam fan I've ever met, we were both glued to the television when it first premiered, and after it was over, we both just sort of exchanged awkward glances and went "Nnneh? Maybe...it'll get better in the next episode?" By Episode 3 we were cursing all the time we'd lost watching it. Also for his birthday I got Otou-san a DVD set of G-Reco, and he accepted it in that awkward way you do when you hate the gift but love the giver, and I was so surprised by this reaction that I went online to read the series' reviews, and then smacked myself upside the head for not having done that before the gift-buying. Ah, good times. :)
https://arilou-skiff.livejournal.com/ at 13:06 on 2018-07-13
The thing is, I've mostly heard good things about IBO, and that it does some decently interesting things with the "broken child soldiers" premise. I was mostly just turned off by the artstyle.

G-reco is a weird, weird show. But like most other Tomino stuff there is a lot of stuff to like there, the animation is really lively for instance, and there's lot of incidental stuff (one example is that in one scene the main character enters the room wearing a spacesuit and bumps his head on the doorframe while the other people are talking, it's not a joke really, or noted by the other characters, it's just something that goes on in the background, and there's a ton of stuff like that)

Raymond H at 06:53 on 2018-07-15
Yeah, they're broken child soldiers, but they're broken in the same sense a lot of superheroes from the 90's were, i.e. "Crawling in my skin, these wounds, they will not heal. Come, bask in the glow of my smoldering, generic rage." Like, they're only broken in the sense that women may swoon and men may secretly wish to be just as broken as them, and even if people die, war is shown as this manly thing, where manly men prove their manliness as they man up in the face of mantastic odds. But yes, the otaku-pandering moe art style is another deeply annoying factor.

Yeah, the main complaint I heard about the show was simply that too much happened at too fast a pace to really understand what was going on. Apart from that it looked interesting, albeit, as you said, very, very weird.
Robinson L at 00:30 on 2018-09-06
a troubled production forced director Yoshiyuki Tomino to turn the first 13 episodes’ storyboards into a movie

Wouldn't this be the first red flag? No wonder the pacing is awful.

despite banging the “war is hell” gong all day long, Gundam F91 never really gives a compelling alternative to the war presented in its story

In my experience, that's a common problem with war stories which try to have an anti-war message. However much they insist, "no, seriously, war is hell," and however much they shove in nuance and complexity, the creators ultimately undermine themselves by making the characters on one side of the conflict good guys, and the characters on the other side of the conflict bad guys. This leaves the viewer with the very obvious question of, "Yes, but what are the good guys supposed to do, instead? Let the bad guys just roll over them?" (A common criticism of pacifism, and given the deportment of some pacifists, a not wholly unwarranted one.)

I've recently been working my way through the highlights of Kurosawa's filmography, and so far, Seven Samurai is easily my favorite - ironically, despite being the longest of his movies I've seen, it's the one which, in my memory, feels the least tedious, and the one which for me carries the most emotional weight. What little research I've conducted suggests that Kurosawa was staunchly anti-war and Seven Samurai was intended as an anti-war film. This may be so, and it certainly has a bleak outlook on the villagers' and samurai's fight against the bandits. At the same time, at no point in the movie's runtime (at least the version I saw, which though quite long, might've been the condensed one) is there any suggestion that the villagers and their samurai allies have any alternate options, other than just letting the bandits plunder as they please. The bandits are just bad guys, and there's nothing our heroes can do other than either fight or surrender. (To its credit, Seven Samurai avoids the inclusion of a hypocritical pacifist character who argues against the fight with the bandits without offering a realistic alternative.)

I've been thinking a lot recently about war movies/stories with an anti-war message. I believe such a thing is possible, but only by ditching some of the standard tropes and conventions - one of which being the division of the sides into "bad guys" and "good guys," however complex.


On the subject of Oxford, I believe all or most of the original Ferretbrain crew lived, and/or studied, and/or taught there for several years, and some probably still do. (Well, probably not studying any longer, but you get the idea.)
Arthur B at 11:14 on 2018-09-06
The impression I have of Kurosawa's views on war is that he's generally against it but also is very aware that once it's kicked off, it's tremendously difficult if not impossible to stop the violence and using force to defend the innocent from those initiating violence is more laudable than allowing violent people to get their way by violent means (because in the latter case they'll just keep doing it).

Ran, in particular, ends very darkly, and I think we're meant to take away the idea that once the peace of the land was shattered people were pretty much doomed.

(And the ending of Throne of Blood must have had a particularly powerful resonance in post-War Japan, given that it depicts troops mutinying against a ruler who they realise is leading them to ruin.)
Raymond H at 02:45 on 2018-09-09
Wouldn't this be the first red flag? No wonder the pacing is awful.

You know, it really should have been, but at the time I was coming off a Gundam high and I thought that nothing could possibly be as disappointing as Char's Counterattack or Stardust Memory (shots fired).

In my experience, that's a common problem with war stories which try to have an anti-war message. However much they insist, "no, seriously, war is hell," and however much they shove in nuance and complexity, the creators ultimately undermine themselves by making the characters on one side of the conflict good guys, and the characters on the other side of the conflict bad guys. This leaves the viewer with the very obvious question of, "Yes, but what are the good guys supposed to do, instead? Let the bad guys just roll over them?" (A common criticism of pacifism, and given the deportment of some pacifists, a not wholly unwarranted one.)

Yes! And that's precisely why, despite being very much a film about how the Native American exists in relation to the White Man, I was so struck by Black Robe, because it managed to create a third party to serve as the antagonists. That's also why I loved The 08th MS Team and War in the Pocket, because the criticism is less on war itself and more on how it is handled once it starts (With 08th it's about higher-ranking, armchair military like with Children's Crusade. With Pocket it's about the involvement of civilian targets.). It also helps that the military protagonists of these works are simple, unknown grunts, who are just trying to stay alive and make the best of their situations, as opposed to messianic figures who manage to end the war because they've got the Jesus-kun powers.

@Kurosawa Yes, Kurosawa was staunchly anti-war, although he did make two propaganda films during his early years (The Most Beautiful and Sanshiro Sugata Part II). He did this though mostly because if he didn't, he and all the members of his immediate family would have been shot. I always wondered how he managed to get the White actors for Sugata, and if he knew that they were secretly subverting the script like the Navajo actors in A Distant Trumpet.
After his falling-out with Toshiro Mifune though, Kurosawa became somewhat more cynical, and his movies reflect that. Ran is a story about the tragedy of war and violence, but it's also about how an arrogant father brings about his own downfall with the treatment of his sons. Kagemusha is also about how strained familial relationships can have huge, tragic repercussions.
Then you have the simple fact that Kurosawa got old, and as is often the case, the axes he had to grind became more pronounced and less subtle in his films. Rhapsody in August and Mada da yo in particular aren't very subtle, although they at least manage to show how the post-war relationship between Japan and America is complicated and bifurcated (it also helps that their criticisms are directed at the atomic bomb and the Allied occupation, two aspects of WWII where even the people who believe them to be justified don't necessarily like them).
Robinson L at 22:36 on 2018-09-10
Arthur: The impression I have of Kurosawa's views on war is that he's generally against it but also is very aware that once it's kicked off, it's tremendously difficult if not impossible to stop the violence and using force to defend the innocent from those initiating violence is more laudable than allowing violent people to get their way by violent means (because in the latter case they'll just keep doing it).

That makes sense. Which is to say, I don't necessarily agree with that outlook, and I worry that as an artistic message it's exactly the kind of moral which aggressors are apt to pounce on and depict themselves as the ones defending the innocent from those initiating violence. However, I can see how one could reach that conclusion, and it seems in keeping from the sensibility I get from what I've seen of Kurosawa's filmography.

the ending of Throne of Blood must have had a particularly powerful resonance in post-War Japan, given that it depicts troops mutinying against a ruler who they realise is leading them to ruin.

I hadn't thought about that - I was just bemused that it never ties off the stories of any of the characters storming the castle.

Raymond: And that's precisely why, despite being very much a film about how the Native American exists in relation to the White Man, I was so struck by Black Robe, because it managed to create a third party to serve as the antagonists

Okay, but, well, still haven't seen Black Robe and still have no plans of doing so, but if your intention is to have an anti-war message, then isn't it a cheat to say, "this group and this group shouldn't be fighting each other ... they should both join forces to fight this other group?" Or am I misunderstanding your point?

That's also why I loved The 08th MS Team and War in the Pocket, because the criticism is less on war itself and more on how it is handled once it starts (With 08th it's about higher-ranking, armchair military like with Children's Crusade. With Pocket it's about the involvement of civilian targets.).

Never seen either of those, though I've seen a lot of commentary on War in the Pocket. Call me cynical, but my understanding is that, at least according to the way Western and imperial or post-imperial powers wage war, once it starts, any criticism of how it's handled is a useless exercise. You let the genie out of the bottle, and it's gonna run wild. Players gonna play, haters gonna hate, warmakers gonna commit atrocities. You either have to accept every nasty horrible thing that goes along with war, or you reject the whole package and try to find another way to solve your problems.

Yes, Kurosawa was staunchly anti-war, although he did make two propaganda films during his early years (The Most Beautiful and Sanshiro Sugata Part II). He did this though mostly because if he didn't, he and all the members of his immediate family would have been shot.

I'd heard that; as excuses for compromising one's principles in the service of a despicable cause go, that's a pretty good one.

I always wondered how he managed to get the White actors for Sugata, and if he knew that they were secretly subverting the script like the Navajo actors in A Distant Trumpet.

Interesting. In principle, I'm solidly behind that kind of trolling on the part of actors cast as the villainous/mysterious Other. Since it was white actors in this case, though, I shudder to think what they might've said instead of following the script.

I have yet to see Ran, but that's all consistent with what I've heard about it.
Raymond H at 04:15 on 2018-09-16
Okay, but, well, still haven't seen Black Robe and still have no plans of doing so, but if your intention is to have an anti-war message, then isn't it a cheat to say, "this group and this group shouldn't be fighting each other ... they should both join forces to fight this other group?" Or am I misunderstanding your point?

Ah, no, sorry. The message of Black Robe is not anti-war specifically, but rather a "these two seemingly disparate cultures aren't so different after all" message. However, since culture-clash stories require cultures to clash, they have a similar problem where oftentimes one culture is ultimately presented as the "good guys" while the other is the "bad guys". Black Robe manages to sidestep this by having the main antagonists be not the French or the Huron, but the Iroquois, which not only sidesteps the side-issue, but also demonstrates how the First Nations weren't exactly living together in peace and harmony before the European powers showed up.

Never seen either of those, though I've seen a lot of commentary on War in the Pocket. Call me cynical, but my understanding is that, at least according to the way Western and imperial or post-imperial powers wage war, once it starts, any criticism of how it's handled is a useless exercise. You let the genie out of the bottle, and it's gonna run wild. Players gonna play, haters gonna hate, warmakers gonna commit atrocities. You either have to accept every nasty horrible thing that goes along with war, or you reject the whole package and try to find another way to solve your problems.

That's really more a universal, human thing though, isn't it? We tend not to care about how wars are waged unless we're on the losing side, and even if we do lose, we can always spin things to a narrative of the lost cause.

I'd heard that; as excuses for compromising one's principles in the service of a despicable cause go, that's a pretty good one.

Mind you, Kurosawa didn't exactly get along with the censor board who had to approve every film he made during the war. He once remarked (only semi-jokingly) that if he was expected to go along with the Glorious Death of the Hundred Million, he was taking out an editor before himself. And even his two wartime movies have slightly subversive elements to them (The Most Beautiful has factory workers beleaguered by superiors who can't see past their own quotas, for instance) It's still surreal seeing the customary "CRUSH AND DESTROY THE ENEMY" message at the beginning of Beautiful though.

Interesting. In principle, I'm solidly behind that kind of trolling on the part of actors cast as the villainous/mysterious Other. Since it was white actors in this case, though, I shudder to think what they might've said instead of following the script.

...
Pffft! Hahaha! Not to worry, the only really memorable instance is when an American sailor is supposedly haranguing a rickshaw driver, but he's actually begging the driver to slow down. Also Ran is quite good. You should see it.
Robinson L at 15:02 on 2018-09-25
Re: Black Robe
Okay. I mean, I'm not convinced that culture clash films require villains, or that you can't have good people and bad people on both sides. But that's a very good point about not depicting Indigenous peoples as monolithic.

That's really more a universal, human thing though, isn't it? We tend not to care about how wars are waged unless we're on the losing side, and even if we do lose, we can always spin things to a narrative of the lost cause.

Is that meant to dispute my central thesis, or just a tangent? Because I see it working much better the second way, and I'm going to answer it as such. If I misread, please help me out.

I threw in that disclaimer to cover my ass because my knowledge of warfare is limited, especially outside of the traditional Western canon. I've done a bit of research on Indigenous peoples in the Americas, and allegedly, most nations practiced a mode of warfare which - though still awful - didn't entail the level of atrocity we see in Western warfare. I've also come across a smattering of other references to different types of warfare out there, so I'm not making a blanket statement about all forms of human warfare worldwide and through all of human history.

Not to worry, the only really memorable instance is when an American sailor is supposedly haranguing a rickshaw driver, but he's actually begging the driver to slow down.

Whew, thank goodness.

Ran is quite good. You should see it.

Yeah, I've taken a little break from Kurosawa's stuff lately, but now that I've finally read King Lear, I'll probably get to it in another couple of months.
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