Escape Mechanism


There’s no real reason behind my selection of this picture, beyond the fact that I’m talking about Turn-A Gundam in this post. It’s nice to see a Gundam lead piloting something low-tech now and then, though, isn’t it? (Given what I could have chosen, be thankful.) Anyway, this is a follow-up to ‘War Sucks!‘, and while it contains no spoilers for Turn-A, it does contain one moderate spoiler for the final episode of Gundam 00.

I pointed out that although, as far as the Gundam franchise is concerned, war sucks, this doesn’t necessarily make the franchise as a whole pacifistic. Cameron, swiftly dissecting Full Metal Panic, not only suggested that said franchise reverses Gundam’s ‘being thrust into war is being thrust into adulthood’ metaphor (so that Sousuke matures by being thrust into civilian life), but also that the story eventually escapes the attitudes to war of both its protagonist, and its villain, Gauron. I’m having to paraphrase, so do read his original post.

Now, it may well be that the challenges of war in Gundam are the challenges of adult life, writ large in beams and Minovsky Particles, and that the experience of the (almost invariably) adolescent, male hero being forced to fight stands for the experience of the (predominantly) adolescent, male viewers being trained to become mindless salarymen. Most stories with young male heroes seem to fit a coming-of-age stencil, and I’m sure there are people out there who will tell you that all stories are somehow coming-of-age stories. But that’s something that needn’t bother us right now. I like the idea that war is life — ‘a darkling plain / [. . .] / Where ignorant armies clash by night’ — as far as Gundam is concerned.

Pushing this, just for fun, a bit further, it strikes me that that statement is true in a slightly different sense, too: war is the life of the franchise. It’s inescapable. Every instalment has involved fighting, for without fighting, what would be the point of all the humanoid war machines? And without the humanoid war machines, how would the franchise be profitable? It would be hard to sell toy models of, say, the Combine Harvester Gundam, the Forklift Gundam and the Frankly, We Just Felt Like Building a Giant Humanoid Walking Machine Gundam.

Except, of course, for the Turn-A (or, for the perfectionists among us, ∀) Gundam, which is also the Washing Machine Gundam, the Agricultural Transport Gundam and the Weapons of Mass Destruction Safe-Disposal Gundam. Gundams into ploughshares indeed.

So Turn-A Gundam isn’t just (for reasons which I won’t spoil) the final conclusion to all the other series, including the alternate-universe ones, it’s also a conclusion to the franchise as a franchise, a franchise which needs war. Gundam can’t really spend time considering what a peaceful world would look like, because it’s Gundam, and merchandise needs to be sold. It can’t escape like Full Metal Panic can, either, because it doesn’t have normality (well, high-school comedy) as a counterpoint to its endless violence. But Turn-A, with its slice-of-life scenes and its unglamourous mechanical designs, gestures towards that world’s existence in a more sustained way than other Gundams. (Really, 00? Killing not-Amuro off in an RX-78? It’s amusing, but it’s no ‘Rebirth’.)

This might be quite obvious to some or indeed a lot of people. I feel like I’ve mostly been anticipated by (contains spoilers) OGT’s recent rewatch finale post: the point he does/n’t make (a kind of apophasis?) about the show’s ‘meta-joke’ is the kind of thought I was lacking. I think I’ve been too preoccupied by Turn-A‘s role as an ending to all the stories in the franchise to properly consider its role as an ending to the franchise itself: an end to its voracious desire for more sequels, more wars and more toys.

Further Reading

  • I haven’t noted down all the posts about Turn-A that I’ve come across, but besides OGT’s archive, IAmZim’s, Colin’s, Koji Oe’s and Crusader’s come to mind.
  • Speaking of Crusader, it would be foolish to react to Cameron’s post without mentioning Crusader’s assertion that ‘mecha is magnificent, but it is not war’ . . .
  • . . . and it would be foolish to mention that post without mentioning this one and that one.
  • I haven’t devoted much thought to the mechanics of Turn-A‘s effect on Gundam, but they probably resemble some of the chronological wizardry that Animekritik recently performed on the Leijiverse, in a series of posts starting here.

28 responses to “Escape Mechanism

  1. I’m definitely happy that I tried watching Turn-A again. I’ve begun to appreciate its relentless commitment to the world it has built:

    But Turn-A, with its slice-of-life scenes and its unglamourous mechanical designs, gestures towards that world’s existence in a more sustained way than other Gundams.

    It has come to a point that ∀’s clumsy battles (Sochie in the white doll lobbing a missile not completely like a shotput comes to mind) and unglamorous mechanical designs are already getting in the way of the quite pleasant slice of life show that only so happens to be set in wartime.

    This is when I knew ∀ broke me. It’s quite a different kind of ‘stylized’ battle choreography isn’t it?

    • It is indeed. Fighting seems weird in Turn-A partly because the characters themseles aren’t quite sure how to do it, Sochie’s shot-put-missile being a case in point.

      There are a few genuinely quite cool battles in the second half of the show, or at least I thought so.

      • I thought that Wil Game fight (the episode with the protruding hands at the end) was choreographed in a hilarious manner, and I always show it to my friends. And the shot-put is one of my best-loved parts about Sochie. <3

        I wish I had the brains to write a good post about Turn A, but my efforts might come out as too much Sochie fanboying, I fear.

        It also bears noting that in the Super Robot Wars metaverse (yes, it is also quite similar to the Gundam franchise’s continuity), Turn A appears in games with alternate world setups. In Alpha Gaiden, the heroes are propelled thousands of years into the future, and into a scarred Turn A/Xabungle/Gundam X world. In Z (which I haven’t played yet), the heroes jump through multiple dimensions (facilitated by the Orguss story), fighting various enemy factions. It also ends quite the same way–after the Big Bad Boss is defeated, the Turn A characters return to their own time/dimension, separating themselves once and for all from the main cast, which bands together time and again in future games.

  2. i guess the funny thing is that they’ve kept spewing out more gundams since ∀ (btw, isn’t that the logical sign for ALL?).

    • Wikipedia (and I don’t know how reliable it is on this subject) says it ‘is often informally read as “given any” or “for all”.’ Most of the article on the symbol is beyond me, though. There’s a section in the article for Turn-A Gundam that suggests some of its implications, but I also like to think that the symbol recalls the traditional Gundam V-fin (or, in the case of the Turn-A Gundam itself, moustache).

      It’s amusing that they’ve continued to spew out more Gundams, but it was also to be expected given the voracious desire I mentioned in the post. It was obviously a good decision: SEED Destiny is supposed to have been the most profitable one yet, and 00 apparently did rather well.

  3. Hrm… That’s an interesting point about any story being a “coming of age” story. Although I think I disagree, I do agree there are a lot of anime which seem to walk the line. This is going to take some thought.

    And I haven’t watched enough (or any) super-robot shows to know where to classify them.

    • Well, I disagree too: I think there are some people out there who will naturally read every story as a coming-of-age story, and a lot of stories written for people who are actually busy coming of age themselves (which is to say, a lot of anime) are probably written with that in mind. It’s partly an audience problem.

      But life would be dead boring if we decided that that was all that every story could ever mean. We’d all have to find something else to talk about.


    TERN, A~!

    Back on topic. I rather like the idea of Turn A remaining the last word on the franchise as a whole, even as the franchise marches on. It also seems the series most willing to take a look at the franchise as a whole and make statements about it and its themes.

    I’m also amused by the one believably pacifist Gundam pilot being the only one who actually turned his war machine into a tool of peacetime utility.

    • That’s a relief. I was worried that too few of my readers might be ornithologically-minded.

      It may well be a coincidence, but Turn-A is apparently the last main Gundam series to be animated using cel painting (if that’s the right phrase for the technique).

      Someone told me the other day that Tomino wanted to do a peacetime sequel to Turn-A that didn’t have any mecha in it. That’s an unsubstantiated rumour, and I imagine it’s probably not true, but I rather like it.

      • Hypothetically, such a sequel would pique my interest! After all, my favorite part of the series’ last episode was the ending. I was very interested in seeing how everyone ended up after the fighting was over.

        (Loran and Diana’s ending being particularly sweet.)

        • I’m not really an outdoors person, but Turn-A‘s epilogue briefly convinced me that actually living in a wooden house in the woods might actually be quite pleasant. The show always, it seemed to me, did autumn colours rather well, and the trees in the shots set around their house were really nice.

  5. Pingback: THAT Animeblog - Peace in My Gundam 00?

  6. Sadly I dropped Turn A Gundam for the original Gundam but I probably should have kept Turn A Gundam instead but oh well. I’ll pick it up again eventually.

    Thanks for the trackback.

  7. I really like those odd little construction mecha you see in Turn A Gundam, and it was interesting that the WaD was originally for construction too. I think it makes sense that the Moon-Races technology was at times not as advanced as in other gundam series, after all, they were fighting a race which they considered barbaric. They didn’t think they needed anything advanced.

    The “peacefull Turn A series” I told you about is very unsubstantial, since I heard it from a friend, who probably heard it from another friend. Still, I think it would of been be interesting. Infact, my only issue with the end of Turn A is I feel its a little abrupt. I think it easily could of had a whole episode for an epilogue.

    • If I remember rightly (I must rewatch the show) the first mecha we see in Turn-A is the Moonrace one that Loran and his fellow explorers use purely as a method of transport.

      Turn-A could definitely have handled a whole episode of epilogue, though (thinking about it) it was nice how little dialogue and explanation there was in the short real epilogue.

  8. I have reservations about most stories being coming of age stories, certainly war itself doesn’t make one a man, but it can add a degree of maturity as well as other things. No matter what it seems that adults only want to be kids again, at least from what I have seen.

    Turn A was an odd end, but it did for the most part seem final, at least for the Tomino era. Now that the Franchise is out of his hands it’s not nearly as unified as it was with UC. Certainly the destruction of the RX-78 in Gundam 00 is less about rebirth, but perhaps it was trying to get out of Tomino’s shadow as inevitably all Gundams will be compared to UC, whether rightly or wrongly. A sort of slaying of Tomino’s ghost, though in the end I think they just took many of Tomino’s ideas and dragged them to a new extreme.

    Still it was the end of an era, and I miss it at times.

    • I reckon there’s definitely mileage in the idea that post-Tomino Gundams have a desire to ‘slay the Tomino ghost’. This reminds me (and maybe you’ve come across it before, so excuse my linking and glossing it) of Bloom’s Anxiety of Influence argument which, leaving aside its wackier Freudian and Kabbalistic elements, boils down to the idea that each generation of creators is forced to rebel against the father-figures who inspire them.

      I don’t think we need to refer to Turn-A as something in the past which we miss, though. As the opening song asks, why should time run in one direction?

  9. Having never watched any Gundam series beyond it’s first episode, I sadly can’t comment in an educated manner.

    I can however say that I’d totally buy Combine Harvester Gundam.

  10. Personally, I’d buy models of the Combine Harvester Gundam, the Forklift Gundam, and the Frankly, We Just Felt Like Building a Giant Humanoid Walking Machine Gundam. In Perfect Grade.

    Then again, I’d buy a gunpla of the Nether Gundam. Or the Nobel Gundam. Or the Tequila Gundam. Or the Zeus Gundam. So I’m certifiably insane.

    I’m trying to remember that particular Turn-A post well enough to figure out what exactly is an “apophasis” in it, although you pretty much got it down pat it seems.

    • I’d be tempted by a Nether Gundam model myself.

      I think the idea that ‘I won’t make it, even if I just did’ might be a kind of apophasis, but it’s after the fact or retrospective. I suppose, if we really want terminology, that might make it analeptic apophasis.

      • Oh, that particular phrase was “insert a joke that is funnier than the one I want to make here”, but I don’t think you’re off the mark. I sometimes inexplicably like to leave lacunae to be inferred in what I say against what should be my better judgment, under the notion that it should be self-evident; but what’s the point of an analysis if it doesn’t make you think?

  11. I for one would not buy the Gundam forklift.

    While escaping mechanism might be alright once in a while, I feel like it ignores the whole purpose of Gundam. The drama created by battle, conflicts and opposing sides, not to mention the sometimes attempted hard science fiction realism, is what sustains this kind of narrative in my view. Take away the war and the weapons and what is there but mostly one-dimensional characters who hardly change.

    That, for me, is why Turn A is so “bleh” sometimes. The characters are just so boring. Leave them alone without their mechs and crises and its like watching paint dry.

    How can one get invested in a character who is nearly unreachable anyway. Loran Chehack for example, is an androgynous weirdo from the moon and his friends walk around in petticoats selling bread. I’ll pass on the slice, if its their life.

    I suppose you could push the mechs into the background and focus on more entertaining characters and “ordinary” situations, but then why bother even calling it Gundam.

    Besides, Patlabor pretty much has/had the market cornered on that front. ;)


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