We already did an overview podcast of Mechademia which included the third volume but we didn’t get to every little thing that we found interesting. Since this collection included the first Gundam essay so far, we thought we would pull it out for discussion (plus there is no way we couldn’t take a minute to say how creepy that sculpture is). It features a translated essay, Gundam and the Future of Japanoid Art by Takayuki Tatsumi, and then a response from the translator, Christopher Bolton.
When we were on the Manga Out Loud podcast Ed Sizmore discussed the idea that in academia the progress and exchange of ideas is facilitated by follow ups on establish papers. In the spirit of promoting an academic mindset in the anime and manga communities we decided to take a stab at writing out own response to one of the articles instead of just doing a review of the third book. Gundam and the Future of Japanoid Art discusses how the novel Starship Troopers influenced Gundam and in turn influenced the way authors view the relationship between man and machine in fiction. The translator then wrote a response in which he talks about his recollection of the Gundam Generating Futures exhibit where Tatsumi’s article originally appeared in the catalog for.
As Tatsumi incorporates many ideas both politically and visually into his essay, Bolton’s response focuses on the “visual richness of Gundam.” He calls it ironic that Tatsumi sees Gundam’s stylistic origin in Starship Troopers since the book’s text is rather sparse on visual description. However, the crux of Tatsumi’s proposal of such had less to do with the text within Starship Troopers instead pointing to Studio Nue’s cover for the book in 1977 as a spring board for the Gundam franchise. And I can easily imagine that the image was enough of a spark for the already challenging ideas of Tomino’s robot work. I’m reminded of how Tezuka recalled merely seeing the poster for Metropolis (another work discussed at length in this volume of Mechademia) and being inspired by it. The ideas of Starship Troopers, still highly debated even today, surely had a profound impact on Japanese mecha genre and I don’t doubt that extends to Tomino. But the way robots appear in Gundam especially the mass-produced army of suits, I almost wonder if it didn’t need to be Starship Troopers. Had that image appeared somewhere else, I’d speculate that it would have had a great impact anyway. I’d like to read further essays comparing Starship Troopers and Gundam, and also I would love to hear what Tomino has said about the work in relation to his own body of creations.
I find it interesting that Tatsumi begins the article talking about the Turn A Gundam novel by Fukui Harutoshi then goes on to talk about original Gundam considering that while both are directed by Tomino as part of the franchise, they both look at war and the relationship between man and machine very differently. The original Gundam series was so revolutionary when it popularized the idea of mecha being mass-produced tools of war and not unique super weapons. There is also no specific judgment on their use in war. Tomino’s message was to highlight the pointlessness and tragedy of war itself. Turn A Gundam on the other hand can be seen more as a response to the original Gundam. Turn A deals heavily with the concept of how machines are neither good or evil but serve to further the goals of those who use them. Throughout the series there is deep introspection of mecha as tools of war. Also both protagonists have a very different view of war and ending the conflict. In the original, Amuro fights to survive and end the war for his side quickly by defeating the Zeon. In Turn A Gundam, it is Loran’s goal to find as peaceful a solution to the conflict between the Earth and the Moon as possible. Considering how famous Fukui Harutoshi is for his unique voice I wonder how his novel ties into the discussion. Sadly, I assume that we will not see a translation of that novel any time soon.
I hope we can expect to see further discussions and Gundam essays in the Mechademia books. Though I certainly don’t see myself as being able to add a great deal, I like to speculate on the pieces I have had a chance to read. You may have noticed we didn’t really comment on the art exhibit mentioned so prominently in the essay by Bolton. It should come as no surprise that we would find it rather difficult to discuss such an exhibit without ever having the pleasure of viewing it. And I’m sure it would be pleasurable, minus the giant Sayla that would give nightmares to those present. Forever.
In conclusion, if I ever have to see another picture of “Crash Sayla Mass” again it will be too soon. Whenever anyone does anything involving Gundam Generating Futures they invariably prominently display pictures of that statute which has to be one of the ugliest things I have ever seen. It is especially jarring when I am looking for normal Sayla pictures. The horrific face and monster teeth combined with the HR Giger styled cockpit in her stomach is prime high octane nightmare fuel. I have a feeling it is supposed to provoke that reaction but it still makes me uneasy. Can’t anyone focus of the rest of the exhibit. Pretty Please.