Gundam Ecole du Ciel is so Doomed Moe

gundam ecole du ciel c01 asuna elmarit 00-cover

A collaboration of incompetents, no matter how diligent or well-meaning, cannot be successful.

Michael Schrage

The Law of the Vital Few tells us that 20% or even lower of the contributors are responsible for 80% of the desirable results. Applied to the evaluation of military organizations, particularly those within the narrative of Universal Century Gundam works, most of the results – pilot kills, meaningful missions accomplished, were contributed by Newtypes.

In the ‘war’ against Haman Karn’s Neo Zeon, it is arguable that almost every meaningful consequence is performed by some form of Newtype. After all, the AEUG and the Federation hardly organized a sufficient military force to fight the Neo Zeon. But The Argama and the Near Argama that replaced it carried the fight entirely, with its band of Newtype non-military pilots and personnel.

In the One Year War, the exploits of Newtypes such as Amuro Ray and Lalah Sune became notable, and as Cardeas Vist in Mobile Suit Gundam Unicorn comments, “became synonymous with being ace pilots.” Both the Federation and the Prinicipality of Zeon committed resources to take advantage of the potential fighting abilities of Newtypes.

gundam ecole du ciel 00-extra1

The Earth Federation developed the RX-78NT-1 Gundam ‘Alex’ after acknowledging that Amuro Ray’s RX-78-2 Gundam was already overstretched to keep up with its pilot’s Newtype ability to react quickly to threats (see Mobile Suit Gundam 0080: War in the Pocket). Zeon developed the MAN-08 Elmeth with its ‘Psycommu’ (Psychic Communicator) system as its trump card along with Kycilla Zabi’s would-be Newtype Corps. as a countermeasure to the Federation’s advance.

The concept of elite troops isn’t a novel one by any means, but in Gundam it is of great significance. It is the very subject of the manga Ecole du Ciel, set in UC 0085 just before the beginning of the Gryps conflict (See Mobile Suit Z Gundam). It is an ongoing manga that began publication in 2002, authored and illustrated by Mikimoto Haruhiko, character designer for Mobile Suit Gundam 0080: War in the Pocket, and most notably of Super Defense Fortress Macross.

The manga begins with the training exercises of would-be mobile suit pilot Asuna Elmarit, a high-school age girl formerly a resident of the Principality of Zeon. Being born in space (a ‘spacenoid’) there is a likelihood that she turns out to be a Newtype herself, but in the opening chapter, she is shown to be rather incompetent at piloting the mobile suit simulator.

gundam ecole du ciel 00-extra3 asuna elmarit character design

What’s also remarkable, is how the manga itself looks. The design of the characters look decidedly moe. I wish I had a definitive way to explain how I came to that conclusion, but you’ll have to settle with references to how cute Asuna and other female characters are drawn, and how clumsy she is overall (a common trope among moe characters).

This is by no means a new thing. A learning institution devoted to mecha piloting with cute high school girls was a big deal in Aim for the Top! Gunbuster and its sequel Diebuster found a clever way to make underage girls pilot humungous mecha. Takaya Noriko is a great character to base clumsy girl mecha pilots on, but since this is Universal Century Gundam, I expect that the grimness and darkness will operate differently from the oh so dire situations the Gunbuster characters find themselves in.

gundbuster mikimoto illustration noriko takaya

For one thing, the war in Gundam is between humans. I find that the darkness that emanates from a mirror held up to us to be far more compelling than an unknown or unfathomable threat. In my reading of Mobile Suit Z Gundam, I speculate that the situation of war may not ‘suck’ as much as the people that participate in it do.

It isn’t the accepted reading of the Gundam narrative, where we often find common or ordinary citizens squirming amidst the evils found in large organizations in conflict with each other: Amuro Ray, ‘ordinary’ teenager; Kamille Bidan, ordinary high school student; Judau Ashta, ordinary ne’er do well teenager; Alfredo Izuruha, ordinary grade schooler, and so on. Even leads like Shiro Amada and Kou Uraki are ‘grunts’ as opposed to ‘stars’ and these characters find themselves betrayed by the organizations they’re part of.

I don’t disagree with this reading, only that I don’t make a big distinction between the constructs that are organizational systems and the humans that participate in it. I only mean that humans are still responsible for these things they create, and the actions they perpetrate during wartime.

So here we find Asuna Elmarit, bumbling through her pilot training. Even this early I can feel something sinister about the Ecole du Ciel, though I can’t tell what exactly about it is wrong. I speculate: these kids are not only trained to become elite killers, perhaps something else is going to be done to them – perhaps force those who aren’t naturally-occurring Newtypes to become such artificially.

gundam ecole du ciel asuna elmarit cockpit in sky

The thing is, I’ve seen Z Gundam, and the readers of this manga will most likely have seen much of the Univeral Century shows. Why is this noteworthy? It’s because we know it won’t end well. The Principality of Zeon pioneered  Newtype research and development with its Flanagan institute, and Dr. Flanagan’s star student Lalah Sune. The institute itself can be called a success, though it collapsed after the end of the OYW.

It’s members found their way in the different Federation Newtype research institutes, who then introduced artificial or ‘cyber’ Newtypes: The Murasame Institute in Japan (Four Murasame), and The Augusta Institute in America (Rosamia Badam), and I speculate that the Ecole du Ciel itself is a similar operation, given the tremendous economic resources at disposal. The methods used to artificially develop Newtype powers involve hypnosis and drugs, and have resulted in very unstable personalities among the mentioned examples, and in Puru Two in Mobile Suit ZZ Gundam.

So yes, despite the ruthless methods, the organizational support, and tremendous resources put in these Newtype programs, they have all failed.

[…]not being in the top 10 percent isn’t the same as being incompetent—90 percent of the people in every organization simply fail to qualify [see exceptions such as Norris Packard and Anavel Gato among the Zeon, then Shiro Amada and Kou Uraki from the Federation; these are arguably either fighting aces, effective unit leaders, or both. None of these are Newtypes]. It is a mathematical fact that only 10 percent of the people are going to be in the top 10 percent. […] the talent mind-set is rooted in a set of assumptions and empirical evidence that are incomplete, misleading, and downright wrong[…]

  • Individual ability is largely fixed and invariant—there are better and worse people.
  • People can be reliably sorted based on their abilities and competence.
  • Organizational performance is, in many instances, the simple aggregation of the individual performances; what matters is what individuals do, not the context or system in which they do it.

Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert I. Sutton

All this adds another trigger for moe in the character of Asuna. While I myself am uncertain as to the precise specifics of what makes a character cute and make us want to protect them, my own observations as a father of a 2-month old daughter can give first hand account of the powerful desire to protect that is perhaps beyond our genetic relationship.

gundam ecole du ciel c01 16-17

The proportions of a baby indicate helplessness and yet are pleasant to observe: large head, large shiny eyes, short limbs and tiny hands and feet. She flails about clumsily and devoid of motor coordination, but she tries hard and does her best!  She does nothing useful, but I can watch her flail about and gurgle for hours. When she makes non-crying sounds, particularly of excitement, it’s daddy fanservice I tell you. I eat it all up (and silently vow to crush anyone who intends to do her harm).

Perhaps this accounts for part of the moe felt for characters like Asuna, the other part being the sexualization – Asuna is in puberty after all, and the readers are most likely either sexually active, or wish that they were. But this isn’t what interests me in this post. Asuna, is doomed. There’s probably no happy ending for her. While I find it difficult to feel moe for similarly to even younger female characters in manga like Bokurano, and Narutaru, Mikimoto’s designs aren’t stylized to look odd (i.e. skeletal) like Kitoh’s work. Mikimoto made sure Asuna looks awfully cute.

So as a reader I’m put in an interesting place, to feel protective of – in a Noriko/Gunbuster meets Yui/K-ON! kind of way – Asuna, who I’m expecting to go through terrible trials. I should also say I sort of want her to go through all of this, even if she fails and gets maimed or dies, because it wouldn’t be Universal Century Gundam (at least how it’s treated its artificial Newtypes). And surprise: I care more about Gundam and how Gundam entertains me than I feel protective of a moe character I just met.

Maybe this will change! Moe after all can be a very powerful thing; and now I’m very excited to read on.

Further Reading

Michael Schrage, “The Rules of Collaboration,” Forbes ASAP, June 5, 1995, 88.

Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert I. Sutton, Hard Facts, Dangerous Half-Truths, and Total Nonsense: Profiting from Evidence-Based Management, Harvard Business School Press, Boston, Massachussets, 2006. p. 90.

Newtypes, c/o Wikipedia (beware of spoilers!)

Fanservice isn’t limited to gratuitous sexualization (get your mind out of the gutter!) [->]

Kitoh does terrible things to young girls in his manga: Bokurano [->] and Narutaru [->]

Every time you make a typo, someone in Zeta Gundam gets smacked, yeah I did write that.

About ghostlightning

I entered the anime blogging sphere as a lurker around Spring 2008. We Remember Love is my first anime blog. Click here if this is your first time to visit WRL.
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30 Responses to Gundam Ecole du Ciel is so Doomed Moe

  1. Crusader says:

    Bah enough of you and your Zeke Loli propaganda and Char issued Child Predator manuals! You need to finish G Gundam leik NAO. Seriously comrade you are dithering…

  2. Will of the wisp says:

    Oh boy. I think you got your wish. Ecole due ciel, like non-Wing gundam series, are fond of killing off characters that the reader/watcher developed emotional attachment to.

    I can confirm that your suspicion about the Montreal institute is well placed. However, there are subtle differences. As well, the title is school of the sky. The school will not remain grounded forever, and halcyion days are usually over once you take flight.

    Overall, I thought Ecole Du Ciel was a wonderful manga, and I am hoping the translation would speed up. Ugly Duckling is doing the best he can, though.

    • W00t! You’ve put things in such a way that I can’t wait to read more. I’ll do so after putting away some writing tasks so I can binge on reading and watching anime again. Thanks!

  3. You won’t be disappointed as you read on, though it may be a bit different from what you expect. Without getting into spoilers (I’m eagerly awaiting the release of vol. 9 at the end of the month) the series shows a lot of the complex organizational and personal choices that occur for EFSF members just prior to the opening of the Gryps Conflict.

    “I don’t disagree with this reading, only that I don’t make a big distinction between the constructs that are organizational systems and the humans that participate in it. I only mean that humans are still responsible for these things they create, and the actions they perpetrate during wartime.”

    Organizations can be a major force for evil in conflicts and other situations due to the way they either give a false confidence to the people carrying out the orders. If someone is ordered, especially a soldier who is taught to respect their chain of command, to do something that they don’t understand or doesn’t sit well with them they assume that the people above them know the bigger picture and thus things that the individual wouldn’t normally do become okay in many cases. Or the truth could just be hidden from most people, as Cima Garahau’s escort of the poison gas-carrying MS-05s was hidden from her until it was too late. And if that should fail, there is the threat of punishment by an organization if the orders are not carried out. Organizations can sometimes make it very difficult to do the right thing or can encourage people to do the wrong things.

    That said, I lean more towards concluding that holding the organization more responsible is a cop-out. Some individual gave the order and in some cases other individuals executed orders that go against good conscience/the law/whatever. Reducing a conflict to the madness of states or organizations is an easy way out, a way of absolving the participants and comforting the minds of the bystanders who would rather not contemplate the evil that lurks in the hearts of men, sometimes their fellow countrymen. Once Chairman Zara was defeated in SEED, everyone seemed to forget about Yzak killing a shuttle full of civilians and other crimes. He even became a good guy! Clearly he was responsible for what he did (he wasn’t even ordered to destroy the shuttle), but SEED seemed to absolve him of this because he was part of an organization at war. In war terrible things happen, but this wasn’t a case of mistaken identity or even of stray rounds or explosions as happened to Shin’s sister. Sometimes it is politically expedient, such as in the peace treaty that ended the One Year War and only placed blame for it on the Zabi family. But it doesn’t address what happened in an honest fashion, and it can even be dangerous when the losers are not confronted with the fact that they lost, that they were wrong, as Operation Stardust proved. “A few corrupt leaders were wrong, but the people/the ideals were right!” as Gato might have said. Gundam may emphasize the ‘organizations are evil’ element, but it can only explain away so much. It’s an odd dynamic within the franchise: individuals (usually Newtypes) are given such a prominent place in the narrative, yet when anything bad happens it becomes all about the organizations that they are a part of.

    • I tend to agree with the findings of Philip Zimbardo (Stanford Prison Experiments, The Lucifer Effect), in that the participants in systemic acts of evil are responsible, despite how these actors are more situational in their evil behavior as opposed to being dispositionally evil (they were evil to begin with), and while these people are indeed responsible, we or the society that judges them should responsibly apply sanctions or punishment; taking into account these systemic behavior modifiers as mitigating factors.

      In Gundam, however, we see time and again really twisted officers (Col. Killing in 0080, Gineas Sahalin in 08th MS Team, Jamaican Daningham and Bask Om in Zeta, and of course Ghiren Zabi). The portrayal of evil in these characters is hardly a situational one, they were rotten dudes.

      Gundam as a franchise indeed lionizes the individual NT heroes while situating them in all-around fail of the organizations fighting (and giving them orders to fight). But ultimately, they weren’t fighting organizations or for organizations. Their conflicts ultimately become personal issues:

      Char vs. Amuro
      Kamille vs. Paptimus
      Judau vs. Haman
      and Char vs. Amuro again.

      The organizational conflicts (and failures) do add a rather spectacular context wherein these personal feuds play out. The organizational blame’s role is to contrast the ‘nobility’ of the individual heroes further from the aforementioned all-around fail. Great stuff my good man!

  4. Without spoiling anything Ecole Du Ciel takes the reader through most sides of the conflict leading up to the outbreak of the Gryps conflict while shedding light on how things came to be the way they are at the beginning of Zeta Gundam. If only the translation by Tokyopop could have been a little less…..bizarre.

  5. schneider says:

    Tokyopop’s taking some huge delays in bringing out this manga, but it’s one of the awesome things on the printed side of Gundam media.

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  7. Gorillla says:

    Not much to say. I’ve also started reading Ecole du Ciel recently. So far (volume 2) I am loving it except maybe for the mecha combat. I don’t think it translates so good in paper or it could be Mikimoto’s art. I have a problem of keeping track of what’s going on.

    On the other hand, I am very fond of Mikimoto’s character designs. I own one of his artbooks (2 times), “Into the Sky” and its a visual treat.

    • I’m no fan of mecha in manga as well. I like my robots animated.

      I am however, a big fan of Mikimoto’s illustrations too. We don’t see a lot of artbooks here in the Philippines, but I’ll look out for them. I have an electronic copy of “Into the Sky” I think, and I can’t say I’d enjoy it more than holding a big old book and turning the pages.

  8. Gorillla says:

    “This is by no means a new thing. A learning institution devoted to mecha piloting with cute high school girls was a big deal in Aim for the Top! Gunbuster and its sequel Diebuster found a clever way to make underage girls pilot humungous mecha.”
    Well, after searching in wikipedia for Mikimoto, it looks like he was a character desgner for Gunbuster so that may be a reason for the similarities between the two works.

    Keep reading Ecole du Ciel it keeps getting more and more awesome.

  9. Colin says:

    Haven’t had the pleasure of reading this, as I don’t really read manga, but I keeping meaning to buy it. Newtypes seem to be more and more the difference makers as time goes by in U.C., but it seems to me that in the One Year War, it was that other 90 per cent who won and lost it.

    • I agree that they weren’t the biggest factor in the OYW, until I factor how Amuro stopped Char at Jaburo (this is a big deal that would’ve prevented or stalled a space counteroffensive by the Federation), then stopped Dozle’s Big Zam at Solomon (preventing him from destroying the Federation fleet that was all but victorious).

      These are important things that made A Bao A Qu inevitable, I think.

  10. 2DT says:

    The discrepancy between Newtypes and baseline humans is why I’ve long had an interest in Gundam 08 MS Team, because apparently that’s about how things look on the ground to the average grunt. But, as usual, anything Gundam and I inexplicably drag my feet. 😉 This manga also looks intriguing, though. And, well, I like the main character’s look. You got me.

    By the way, I’m sending you an e-mail right now. Please check it when you have the time. Thanks.

  11. donkangoljones says:

    This sounds right up my alley. Universal Century + Tragedy + Moe should = “up my alley”. Plus I like how it seems to be bridging a gap, too often if you see the inner workings of a artificial Newtype facility, you see the very tip of the iceberg. Rosamia’s fear of a falling sky, Four’s psycho torture, or in the case of Sarah you don’t get anything. The chick just shows up from a school and is a Newtype plain and simple.

    It would be nice to see the baseline propaganda and training. And to see how these flawed and corrupt (as if that makes them special) organizations recruit and train their candidates. It’s doomed for sure, but it’s an untapped area that I’m anxious to learn about.

  12. Ereos says:

    i brought the first 8 volumes i could find… and found out they stop making it or something it been ages since vol 9 has come out and brought vol 8 like beginning of last year

    • Ereos says:

      actually 9 has come out i just check but heck :S (came out this march)
      are they releasing 1 vol a year???

      • I don’t know, but I already feel lucky to have found vols 5 & 6 here in the Philippines. I can’t find any other copies at present and I’ve no idea about how Tokyopop does it’s business. I have heard that Ecole du Ciel’s run in Japan is concluded already.

  13. Connor Dino says:

    Sorry couldn’t resist adding in.

    Ecole has finished its run in Japan. I think it has been done for several years now. As for length I think it will be about eleven books, since every part of the story is about three to four novels.

    You are right though, from the start I have had more then just a feeling that this will not end well for Asuna, chances are that a few of the side-characters will end up having a happy ending, but somehow I don’t see Asuna doing that.

    • Oh don’t apologize. You’re welcome here.

      We’re all just eagerly waiting for copies here, as they’re actually faster than scanlations.

      The fact that things don’t go well in the end for Gundam characters I think is also a significant part of its draw. I personally am quite attracted by this.

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