I am far less a fan of creators than the works actually created. Being this way I approach this post knowing that I won’t be providing much insight or contributions to the biography of the anime director Imagawa Yasuhiro, or how biographical details factor in his work that I dearly love.
This post will have important spoilers on the following shows: Giant Robo: The Day the Earth Stood Still, Mobile Fighter G Gundam, and Shin Mazinger Z Shogeki Hen. If you haven’t completed the above shows I recommend that you do so. This post will be waiting for you at the end~
At some point, everyone gets their chance to train at the Guyana Highlands, and I will bring some of what I learned there into this post. HYPER-MODE ON!
Much to my delight, the works of Imagawa take on nothing less than putting the whole world and humankind in the balance of a massive conflict, both organizational (as in nation-states, and international agencies) and very personal (as in familial). Also, what draws me to him is how his works are chock full of love for tradition and their source works.
As far as I’m concerned, Imagawa Yasuhiro is a saint within my aesthetic of ‘Remembering Love.’ WTF is that? It’s just this idea I have of creative use of homage and referencing in the pursuit of creating something new and powerful. In the three works cited here, Imagawa has taken tremendous liberties with the source material, with such audacity and balls-out fearlessness in betting that the fans of the source material will not be alienated by the new work.
I think he won that bet every time.
This post is less about the method he used but rather a consistent theme that I still find difficult to express succinctly, much less with elegance. In the three works discussed here, there are these two elements:
- The nature of villainy and the presumed enemy is not quite the enemy.
- A machine that can go both ways: to be God or the Devil.
Both elements work together in expressing the fullness of the story. I should note that these are not the only themes at play, only that these are the ones I’ll look into in this post.
Giant Robo: The Day the Earth Stood Still
DR. FRANKEN VON VOGLER is not evil. For most of the show he is treated as the arch-villain both by the forces of good (The Experts of Justice), and the forces of evil (Big Fire) – who sought to benefit from his supposedly destructive work, the perceived legacy of the Tragedy of Bashtarlle.
The Tragedy of Bashtarle is when a terrible explosion wiped an entire country off the map due to an experiment gone wrong. Von Vogler was part of a crack team of scientists on the verge of completing the production of the perfect energy source. It was believed that Von Vogler insisted on pushing with a trial despite the risk of meltdown.
After the meltdown, Von Vogler left his son Emmanuel these words: “Stop Shizuma,” then handed him one of three drives that needed to be assembled. Dr. Shizuma had at the time gone on to supposedly perfect the production of the energy source, and the subsequent machine was named in his honor: The Shizuma Drive, a clean and rechargeable energy system that revolutionized the world.
By the beginning of the anime proper, the whole world was completely dependent on the energy produced by the Shizuma Drive. Emmanuel had thought that his father acted in bitterness and wanted to ruin the world running on clean energy thanks to the usurper Shizuma. Emmanuel was consumed by this idea of inheriting his father’s quest for revenge, and convinced Big Fire to let him lead an operation to bring the world to its knees.
But see, the Shizuma Drive can go both ways: within it is both God and the Devil. Von Vogler was no villain. He was the most brilliant of the scientists and wanted the strictest of trials. He foresaw that, the drive in its current incarnation upon reaching critical mass in terms of human dependency on it, will extinguish all oxygen on the planet.
The components he tasked Emmanuel to complete were not going to destroy the Shizuma Drive, but will rather complete it. And it did, in the end… but at the cost of the Von Vogler family’s lives, and Emmanuel’s soul. The monster sphere that Emmanuel used to try to wreck the world actually prevented its destruction.
Isn’t this beautiful, how Emmanuel fulfilled his father’s wishes while reading it the worst possible way, and doing truly evil things in his name? Emmanuel prevented the true tragedy posed by the Shizuma Drive, while attempting to cause the end of the world.
Mobile Fighter G Gundam
MASTER ASIA, THE UNDEFEATED OF THE EAST, is not evil. Cruel, yes. Horribly mistaken, yes. But he is not how Emmanuel Von Vogler is or how Franken Von Vogler was perceived, nor is he someone who wishes chaos and destruction for its own sake. It is easy to misunderstand Master Asia. For the most part Domon Kasshu read his actions as an attempt to rule the universe.
But the real villains are hidden from view, for the most part due to the distractions made by not only Kyoji Kasshu, then Master Asia, but also Wong – the head of state of Neo Hong Kong and current administrator of the universe. Furthermore, there is the interesting betrayal of Ulube and Dr. Mikamura – who betrayed the Kasshu family similar to how Shizuma did Von Vogler.
What was at stake? A machine that can save the world and destroy it. While it is easy to dichotomize God Gundam vs. Devil Gundam, the binary is misleading. God Gundam is only a machine for fighting. The Devil Gundam is the machine that has God-like powers: not only to destroy, but to change life (and control behavior via the DG Cells), and to evolve.
Master Asia’s goal is to get rid of humanity in order to save the Earth. This way he is in the tradition of Char Aznable, who intended the same; and the Anti-Spirals of Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann. With Devil Gundam, humans will all be unable to return to Earth, and the ecology of the planet will recover after millennia of human abuse and neglect.
But who is the real enemy? This isn’t an easy one to respond to. After the human desires that wanted to use the Devil Gundam for their misguided or selfish ends have been bested, the Devil Gundam itself has grown much too powerful. And the source of this power has shifted to appropriate Rain Mikamura, which transformed the finale into a damsel in distress love story: to destroy the Devil Gundam is to destroy Rain.
Of course, love prevailed – AND HOW! The machine that was intended to be God but became the Devil was vanquished, and humanity will have to make do, to govern itself progressively in a world without Gods and Devils.
It is interesting how Neo Japan – as a government is the systematic or organizational evil in the narrative. This is opposite to how Japan is usually portrayed only as the source of the nobility and honor in the story. The Japanese individual in the form of Domon (and Rain) is still portrayed as honorable and courageous, but organizationally Japan is corrupt in this show.
Shin Mazinger Z Shogeki Hen
DR. HELL is an evil man. There’s really no betraying a name like Dr. Hell and making him a virtuous character. This man is very, very bad. Rightfully he is portrayed without sympathy throughout the narrative, having done corruptions unto living things in the name of what seemed to be world domination,
But as it turns out, the perversions he performed unto the very sympathetically portrayed Baron Ashura served as humanity’s best defense against an entire race bent on destroying or subjugating it. While we aren’t invited to look upon Shin Mazinger Z, how no one really can claim to be innocent except the few young people.
Almost every character has compromised herself or himself, often in a life-defining way. The ‘good guys’ are often shown to be ‘no-good’ people indeed. This is important because Kabuto Koji and Mazinger Z itself are part of a clear choice: to be God or Devil. Between them is the power to be so. The real villain may yet to appear, and that may be Koji and Mazinger Z itself.
In this case, you have the Mazinger Z robot similar to how the Devil Gundam must have been when it was freshly constructed, before it began to develop a kind of consciousness that behaved in a dynamic similar to the Love Me AI in Summer Wars. Not that different is Gian Robo itself, whose energy source is the ‘dirty’ nuclear energy (capable of making the Earth a hell) juxtaposed to the perfect and clean Shizuma Drive energy.
The power of evil potential is used as a force of good. In this way the stories Imagawa presents in animation honors the human being with the power of choice. We can really go either way; great and terrible things are within our powers to bring forth; do we choose to be God or the Devil?