A collaboration of incompetents, no matter how diligent or well-meaning, cannot be successful.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!) [->]
Every time you make a typo, someone in Zeta Gundam gets smacked, yeah I did write that.