Monday, February 11, 2008

Why we need more citizens and fewer kings in mecha anime– an analysis

"Did you not see on the Lupercal where I thrice presented him a kingly crown and he did thrice refuse? Was this ambition?" – Marc Anthony "Julius Caesar"

Ever since I read the Postman, I've been enamored with the idea of the citizen solider. (No, I never saw that godsforsaken movie.) In the book, they use the example of Cincinnatus, a farmer who assumed the role of military dictator to help fight off the Aequians. Once his defeated them, he returned to his farm (sixteen days after he was appointed.) Essentially he came to his countries call and he returned to him farm once he did what needed to be done.

It's not really surprising that this idea has crept into fiction, especially fantasy. Off the top of my head, I can pick out about three or four, but this is an anime blog, so I'll stick to anime.

The rules of a citizen solider


While Julius Caesar wasn't a citizen solider (he was far more concerned about advancing his own career and taking over Rome), Marc Anthony's quote reflects the spirit of the citizen solider. Which leads to the first rule, they're not interested in glory. Yang Wen-li in LoGH is a perfect example of this. In fact, he's a perfect example of all of them, but I'm only going to use him for the first point. When he's called "the hero of El-Facil" or "Miracle Yang" he scoffs, deferring the attention to other people. While he may not live a Spartan life, it certainly isn't ostentatious either.

All of that is part in parcel with the second rule, they're apolitical. Now that doesn't mean they don't have a political view, but they don't have political aspirations. Kenshin Himura ironically is a good example here. Fairly early on in the series he gets offered a post in the Meiji government. He turns it down because his country doesn't need him to do it, or rather his country needs him not to be in a position of power. Even when he goes back to work for the government, he's doing it because they don't have anywhere else to turn. And he doesn't have any political motives.

Which leads to the third point (and arguably the most important), they are the best men for the job, sometimes the only men for the job. One important point to make about citizen soliders is that they're always qualified to do whatever they're going to do. That doesn't mean they're not outnumbered (in Yang's case) or outgunned (in Kenshin's case), but there is no where else for their country to turn.

And the last rule of the citizen solider is: when the job's done, they go home. This kind of goes hand in hand with the first two rules, but the citizen solider is very rarely the political leader of a country. They might be the strongest warrior or a military genius, but they either don't want the responsibility or don't have the talent to run a country. Again Yang's desire to just "retire" is one example of this.

As I've been thinking about this subject though, I've made a realization. There's one citizen solider in mecha anime: Yuushiro from "Gasaraki". And that's only for one brief moment towards the end of the show that it comes up. Granted throughout most of the show he's still a citizen solider.

Which begs the question, what allusion fits most mecha pilots? I'd argue they're Arthur-like heroes.

The rules of an Arthur-like hero


Okay, so I wanted to avoid the word Arthurian, mostly because there's entire books dedicated to studying Arthurian legend and these are just my observations. But in fact, most mecha stories (yes, even TTGL) have Arthur-like heroes. The first thing that defines this type of hero is: they're not born great, but they have greatness thrust upon them. Much like when Arthur pulled the sword out of the stone, he wasn't prepared for what would happen, most mecha pilots (even in war epic anime) aren't prepared for their first encounter with greatness. Take the first episode of Macross Frontier as an example. The main character doesn't have any training to use a Valkyrie, he's just an average high school student who happened to come across a sword sticking out of… err… a giant robot in a time when he needed to take action.

Which leads to the second rule of the Arthur-like hero, they have divine right and divine grace. What's important to note here is that Arthur-like heroes are never the best men for the job when they get the job. They're novices, but they're been imbued with something special that makes them inherently qualified. In the case of the Zeta Gundam, you have Newtypes. In the case of Eureka 7, you have the Omega drive. This gives them the ability to be the lynch-pin in any defense or offense the heroes might take.

And because they have both divine right and divine grace, they're inherently political. Like the old saying goes, those who have the guns, make the rules. Because they're the most powerful characters on the heroes side, they're almost always involved in the larger plots of the nation. If they disagree with what their government is doing they'll fight against them. But even more often they rise to a level of political prominence and become both a military and political leader.

The fourth rule is that their job is never done. Much like Arthur they'll set up their Camelot and die there because they're building a utopia.

On a side note


If anyone's paying attention, or still reading by this point, they'll probably notice that I haven't mentioned Eva or RahXephon. To be honest, I don't think Ayato Kamina or Shinji Ikari are either one of these archetypes. Instead, I'd put them closer to Adam when he ate the apple. But I'm not talking about that, so I thought I'd leave that can of worms for another time.

Why Arthur needs to retire


The thing is that almost every mecha pilot follows the Arthur mold. They start out wretched. They come across big robot. They learn to pilot big robot. And they go on to be heroes. The thing is that all of them tout being heavily political, but generally they aren't. And that's simply because whoever the Arthur happens to be, they're in the right. Now a citizen solider might also be in the right, but there's an inherent tension between them and the powers that be. What makes Yang interesting is that realization that he isn't the government and he doesn't want to be the government. And the clash of ethics of what is good for the country right now versus what is good for the country in the long term.

To be fair, there is more that anime could do to play around with the Arthur theme, and I haven't watched either Code Geass or anything more than the first episode of TTGL, so I can't really comment on them. But for the most part I haven't seen them do it. Also it would mean no more whiny boy pilots.

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