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Old November 20th, 2012, 12:16 PM   #1

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Mobile Suit Gundam and WW2


One of the icons of Japanese pop-culture is the giant robot Mobile Suit Gundam. Released in 1979, this anime was the first to treat giant robots as military machines rather than the preceding "super-robot" genre, where the lead robot is a super-machine, sometimes of mystical origin.

But I don't want to talk about those aspects of the anime in this post, I want to concentrate instead on how the series reflects the history of Japan during and preceding WW2. There will be spoilers, but that shouldn't be an issue for anyone.

The anime depicts a war between space colonists and the Earth Federation, which controls all of known space (which is largely confined to Earth orbit and the moon). The space colonists, who are the antagonists, have formed a republic known as "The Republic of Zion" (ジオン in Japanese). This is usually translated as "Zeon" or "Jion" to avoid controversy. However, the uniforms and mannerisms of the Zeon are clearly modelled on the Axis powers. The salute of the Zeon is "Jeeg Jion" or "Seig Zeon" - in English this is usually translated as "Hail Zeon" or "Victory to Zeon" for obvious reasons.

The backstory begins with the colonists, who number in the billions, rising up under a dictator and declaring independance from a tyrannical Earth that seeks to exploit them and treat them as second-class citizens - shades of the way the West treated Japan prior to the war.

The colonists have few resources, but have developed a new weapon - the mobile suit, a giant robot deployed from carrier spacecraft, reflecting the development of Japanese carrier tactics. The Earth Federation applies economic sanctions to try and force the Zeon to capitulate - the US policy towards Japan prior to opening of hostilities.

The colonists begin their campaign with a surprise attack, dropping a 3-mile long space colony on the Earth, causing massive devastation, killing half the world's population, in a strategy reminiscent of Pearl Harbor. The new carrier-based mobile suits prove superior to the big-gun battleships that the Federation is armed with, and the colonists are able to invade and capture swathes of Earth territory, in a bid to acquire the resources that they are lacking - the same strategy used by the Japanese, when they invaded rubber and oil rich countries.

However, they are unable to force the Earth Federation to surrender, and gradually, the Earth Federation develops its own mobile suits. The eponymous Gundam mobile suit proves superior to the Zeon models, but on its own, it doesn't turn the tide of the war. The decisive factor is the ability of the Earth Federation to massively outproduce the Zeon republic, overwhelming them with numbers during the late stage of the war. Although the Zeon develop increasingly better mobile suits, by this point, many of their experienced pilots have been killed and all that are left are largely untrained, green pilots, which was the situation Japan found itself in as the US finally found its feet.

In the anime, the closing stages of the war take place in a series of battles at Zeon-controlled asteroid bases, similar to the island-hopping campaign in the Pacific theatre.

The Japanese title is "Kidou Senshi Gundam" - "Kidou Senshi" translating to "Mobile Soldier". The name almost certainly stems from the kidou butai, or mobile strike force of the IJN.

Although the Zeon are portrayed as factionalised and led by a cruel dictator, they are also portrayed sympathetically as fighting for a just cause, with individual soldiers fighting for values like honour. The Earth Federation is also, to an extent, also portrayed in the same way, with individuals being good and honourable, but the power structure behind it corrupt and only motivated by self-interest. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Zeon have proved to be far more popular in terms of merchandising than the Federation.

The structure of the Zeon forces also reflects that of the Japanese navy, with pilots being relatively low ranking, pilot officers being mostly ensigns and lieutenants, despite extended service and kills.

If anyone finds this interesting, I will continue with this thread.
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Old November 20th, 2012, 12:21 PM   #2
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interesting story, could you continue?

Last edited by Gorge123; November 20th, 2012 at 12:31 PM.
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Old November 20th, 2012, 01:19 PM   #3

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used to love watching the 90's version of this show so continue on, the parallels with WW2 are quite interesting.
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Old November 20th, 2012, 02:15 PM   #4

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I'm liking this. Was always a fan of MSG. One thing I always thought was interesting was this excellent character:


Parallels to Manfred von Richtofen perhaps?
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Old November 20th, 2012, 02:54 PM   #5

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Got to say im a huge fan of the Gundam franchise, my favourite character is Char Aznable.

I think some it was meant to be related to the world wars. I know the space colony elements of it, were based on the O'Neil cylinder theory.

O'Neill cylinder - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
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Old November 21st, 2012, 12:14 AM   #6

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Quote:
Originally Posted by Thegn Ansgar View Post
I'm liking this. Was always a fan of MSG. One thing I always thought was interesting was this excellent character:

Char Ga Kuru - YouTube

Parallels to Manfred von Richtofen perhaps?
Ah yes, Char Aznable, aka Casval Rem Daikun, aka Quattro Bageena (or, in some unfortunate translations, Quattro Vagina).

You know, in all the years I've watched Gundam, I've never made the link between Char the "Red Comet" and the Red Baron, but it's kind of obvious now that you mention it.

I shall post some further musings later on.
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Old November 21st, 2012, 01:37 AM   #7

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I am also enjoying this. I do have one question though - if half the world's population have just been wiped out, how did they outproduce the billions of colonists?
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Old November 21st, 2012, 01:42 AM   #8

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Ah yes I love this, I too noticed the parallels though to be honest I always cheered for Zeon despite the Zabi non-sense (even despite that only 1 or 2 Zabi could be considered bad), actually in all UC I always cheered for the "bad guys" except in Zeta.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Naomasa298 View Post
(or, in some unfortunate translations, Quattro Vagina).
This is specially funny because Quattro in Portuguese/Spanish means four, so yeah to me his name sounds like "Four Vagina"
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Old November 21st, 2012, 01:44 AM   #9

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Quote:
Originally Posted by Sargon of Akkad View Post
I am also enjoying this. I do have one question though - if half the world's population have just been wiped out, how did they outproduce the billions of colonists?
The colonists numbered around 2 billion at the time, and the Earth (after the colony drop) somewhere around 5 billion, but more importantly, the Earth had access to raw materials, which the colonists found hard to obtain.
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Old November 21st, 2012, 01:50 AM   #10

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In the followup to MS Gundam, the very excellent Zeta Gundam, the Titans were a breakoff Earth Federation military group charged with suppression of dissent. They were probably based on the SS, with their dark blue/black uniforms reminiscent of the black SS uniforms.

Many of the Zeon and Titan mobile suits had distinctly Germanic sounding names - the Dreissen, Jaeger, Schuzrum Dias etc.

The standard mass-produced Zeon mobile suits, the Zaku, was also equipped with a weapon called the Sturmfaust, which was basically a giant Panzerfaust.
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