MANHOOD: What Gundam Teaches About Manhood
Don't let the giant robots fighting fool you! The Mobile Suit Gundam anime franchise can be broken down into a shattered window of serious maturation and strong social commentary, coming-of-age tales wrapped in space opera environments with young men and women discovering who they really are with the help of being exposed to the harshness of war. Pilots of these giant mechas called Gundams through the ages of the 37+ year old franchise have mostly been full of youthful innocent wonder before learning the cold truth about the fragility of human life, and how easy it is to take one away.
Although some Gundam pilots like Christina McKenzie and Setsuna F. Seiei are introduced trained and accustomed to what it means to be a soldier, most of the stories revolve around young men only just discovering the frightening power and overwhelming responsibility of piloting a Gundam. 17-year olds Kamille Bidan and Seabook Arno; 16-year-old Kira Yamato; 15-year-old Amuro Ray; 14-year-old Judau Ashita; and even 13-year-olds Uso Eving and Kio Asuna. Watching these boys become men during wartime says a lot about what a man is supposed to be. I've gathered a lot from watching Gundam, and I'd like to share that with you today as is pertains to manhood.
Symbolically, a mobile suit is nothing more than a manned piece of crude military hardware, developed and mass-produced to have a leg up during war. But a Gundam, a highly unique mobile suit with advanced weaponry and complicated mechanics, often finds itself and its pilot on the forefront of the battlefield, weighed down by the responsibility of protecting those behind them. Through the years of the franchise, the name Gundam has rang fear in the hearts of its adversaries (as in Gundam), hope for the future driven by unity (as in Gundam 00), and a spark for revolution (as in Gundam Wing). And the young man having to pilot the Gundam of any given series has had to learn quickly what it truly means to fight, adapt, and fight.
A Man Protects.
In Gundam, space-colony citizen protagonist Amuro Ray discovers that his father Tem Ray developed the titular Gundam mobile suit he would eventually become the pilot of during the One Year War. Amuro, 15, is not superhuman, determined, and hardly self-sufficient. At the beginning of the series he is often left alone by his constantly working father Tem and relies on money sent from him every so often, but is primarily looked after by his neighbor and classmate Frau Bow. Though their friendship never sparks into romance due to Amuro utter obliviousness, Frau provides for Amuro the surrogate mother figure he had been missing for so long (his parents are separated and his mother lives on Earth, running a shelter for the elderly). He isn't a bad kid, but at this age--caught up in his techno-hobbies and caging his own brilliance with laziness--Amuro needs no girlfriend, but a mother, to nourish him and clean up after him.
After joining the White Base crew, he admits to Frau that he only fights for his own survival, looking out for himself simply so he does not die. We also see his hormones at work when he innocently but heavily falls in love with an older woman, Earth Federation Lt. Matilda. With his ties detaching from Frau, Matilda's inconsistent presence, and feeling socially alone, Amuro steals the Gundam from White Base to fend on his own, as if the Gundam were a toy--his own personal possession--and sobs deeply when the Gundam is returned and he is thrown into solitary confinement, realistically depicting his child-like impulsivity. Dealing with the death of several comrades on his consciousness, including that of Matilda's and her fiancé, we see Amuro's skills sharpen quickly and his attitude adjust overtime. But by the final 1/3 of the series, Amuro is no longer a citizen wandering around and acting like a child. Sobered and experienced, Amuro is finally accepting who he is and his responsibilities as a soldier. He is becoming a man who is finally looking after more than his own safety.
Amuro had it in him all along but various events and experiences stunted his growth. An example of this was earlier in the series when Amuro had a tearfully joyful reunion with his mother back on Earth, and respectfully declined her offer to leave the military and stay with her. He left the nest for good, never knowing if he would even see her again. As far as I know, and heartbreakingly enough, he never did. But again, he realized his responsibilities to himself and to his crew to protect him with the power given to him in the form of the Gundam.
A Man Decides His Own Destiny.
One of my favorite things about the series Gundam Wing is the independency of its five Gundam pilot heroes, who's involvement with Operation Meteor was so secretive that, until they came across each other on Earth, they were not aware of each other's existence or involvement with the Operation. They each acted quite independently of each other throughout the entire series, making their own decisions and developing their own plans of attack, only following orders from the scientists who created their Gundams very early on in the show. These five boys are as independent as they come and are always discerning of the next best move.
Another great example of a man trailblazing his own unforseen path is Kira Yamato, the 16-year-old main character of Gundam SEED and pilot of the Strike Gundam. Like most Gundam series, Kira is introduced as the kind, innocent protagonist who's never done so much as used a pistol, let alone kill another with a mobile suit, and during the earlier episodes we see a drastic change in his character as he attempts to distinguish murder from militaristic duty. Once he completely loses his cool and attempts to kill his best friend, he loses his Strike Gundam, blacks out and subsequently wakes up heartbroken and lost at his own actions. After a long moment of self-reflection, clarity, and rejuvenation, he decides to return to the battlefield with the new Freedom Gundam, under two conditions of his own--to operate independently and, ambitiously enough, to never kill anyone ever again. Sure enough, for the remainder of the series, Kira uses the immense, overwhelming power of the Freedom Gundam to NOT kill his enemies, but only disable and dismember their mobile suits. Despite both his allies and enemies' decision to remain on their own path and kill their enemies, Kira never once strayed from his self-set conditions. And he--not his enemies, and hardly his won Gundam--ended up victorious in the end.
We live in a very interesting age in the the real world. Men aren't what they used to be, at the core of their being, and we often find ourselves impressed with men who don't overindulge in instant gratification, hoarding attention, or dismissing responsibilities to his family and himself. When a man can set aside his own desires for what he knows is right at the end of the day, he becomes someone worth following and listening to. He does not become invincible--Henken and Blex from Zeta Gundam can attest to that--but he does become legendary.
A Man has Ambition.
Jerid Messa from 1985's Zeta Gundam, though not the key antagonist, is the rival of protagonist Kamille Bidan during the entire course of the show. Jerid, a young pilot of the Titans, has huge ambition to no longer follow the commands of his superiors but to one day lead the entire Titans fleet himself into glorious battle. A talented pilot with a drove of mentors, Jerid often finds himself in and out of love and into sorrow, as Kamille and Jerid always seem to kill someone close to the other. But Jerid, not an evil man, lived by the very thing that killed him in the end: his ambition. He continued to climb to the very top and, rightfully dying in combat against Kamille, found his place among the stars. He lived exactly as he needed to. With zero ambition comes the inability to protect, or even the desire to.
Trusting in the power of their Unicorn Gundam and Unicorn Gundam Banshee respectively, Banagher Links and Riddhe Carneas used their Gundam's bodies as shields against a superweapon so massive it had the ability to destroy and entire space colony--a vessel that can literally contain billions of human lives. Their ambition led to trust in the tools they were given and, quite honestly, both of them hardly made it out of the blast alive. They had no idea whether they would live or die, but they only knew they were called to try, and their ambition led to discovering new abilities within their Gundams and themselves they had no clue were there before. With drive and ambition, a man can do anything.
The portrayals of manhood in Gundam are immense and quite interesting. A lot can be taught by the young boys of this franchise who become men, and the older mentors who help carve a healthy path. Stay tuned, next time I just may realize a blogpost about Gundam and womanhood...!