This post also serves as part of WRL’s episodic series of Macross Frontier; Episode 24 “True Beginnings.” The beginnings of the overarching narrative, at least from the point of view of the villainy of Grace, and the origin story of Ranka are only revealed so close to the end. The stage is set for the finale, complete with a the cheesiest kind of cliffhanger ending. What I’ll be focusing on this post takes advantage of the full exposition of the primary villain’s plan and motivations. While it is a novel twist within the Macross franchise, it bears significant similarities with the two other major ‘real robot’ franchises in anime. My analysis here will mostly be a comparative one.
There’s a lot to take in, so I’ll plunge immediately to what we find out about the Vajra in this episode:
- The Vajra are a species able to communicate through fold-waves, and are not impeded by fold faults. This means they are capable of communicating with each other throughout the Galaxy.
- Vajra society is hive insect-like, only that every being who is not the queen, is only semi-autonomous. The queen controls all.
- Ranka, with her version of the V-Type sickness, manifests an ability to control the Vajra.
- The Vajra network, when Grace controls it, can be replicated in humans, via implants – a practice already mass produced in the Macross Galaxy colony.
- The human (Zentraedi) race will be networked via these implants, and Grace – whose existence is already similar to that of an artificial intelligence (non-dependent on a human body) will become an equivalent of a god, as the Vajra Queen is unto her ‘subjects.’
- The Vajra soldiers are to be used as enforcers. Those who will not agree to being implanted, will be destroyed.
This is somewhat similar to the ideal in Gundam wherein ‘Innovation’ or awakening of Newtype powers allow for communicating telepathically without constraints of language, and supposedly a means to achieve perfect understanding. The difference is that in Gundam there isn’t a centralized controller for the ideal, though in Gundam 00 Ribbons Allmark put himself up as a master of a master race to control the new version of humanity.
Here’s a look at this science fiction preoccupation in the three major “’real-robot’ franchises.
Neon Genesis Evangelion
Remarkably, the most ‘benevolent’ version of this is that of Neon Genesis Evangelion. Seele, a shadow organization that controls the United Nations are manipulating events and organizations in the service of the “Human Instrumentality Project,” which aims for:
the forced evolution of humanity through bringing about Third Impact under their own control. As a result, all Lilin souls would be gathered into Lilith’s Egg and united as one being. This would create an existence where nobody existed singularly, but merely as part of the whole. In Instrumentality, the flaws in every living being would be complemented by the strengths in others, thus erasing the insecurities in people’s hearts.
The catch is that this goal will be achieved without anyone else’s knowledge, much less consent. The consequence of this is the removal of individuality. There will be but one self, and the path to this is a violent one (the Third Impact). The violence is through the provocation of the angels, and the use and manipulation of the Evangelions; complicated by the independent motivations and actions of Ikari Gendo, supposedly SEELE’s asset, who uses the material of SEELE to reunite with his dead wife despite the consequences of the Third Impact.
Mobile Suit Gundam
The Universal Century continuity of Gundam doesn’t put forth a master narrative wherein Humans evolve to achieve a state similar to that outlined by Evangelion’s Human Instrumentality Project. Instead, the concept is an ideology; corrupted at times – as with Gihren Zabi of the Principality of Zeon’s fascism in the One Year War, and as a possibility as told by Cardeas Vist of the Vist Foundation in Mobile Suit Gundam Unicorn. The hopeful ideology values the ability to unify, or eliminate conflicts between human beings.
In Mobile Suit Gundam 00, the visionary scientist Aeolia Schernberg ‘prepared’ humanity to undergo “Innovation” via interaction with GN Particles, which allows a similar experience of communication without misunderstanding. This is in the hopes of humanity to eradicate conflict amongst themselves, and prepare for “the dialogues to come,” presumably with life-forms beyond the solar system.
The violence here is the planned armed interventions of different organizations including Celestial Being, the United Earth Federation and then their autonomous ‘peace-keeping’ force A-LAWS, and then the Innovators. The innovators and their leader Ribbons Almark, sought to take over the plan and set up the Innovators as a master race under his absolute control.
This theme or science fiction preoccupation is very new to the Macross franchise. It flirted with galactic oblivion in Macross 7, with the Protodevlin’s insatiable hunger for life force or Spiritia, but nothing like this until Frontier. In Macross, there is no pretense to benevolence the way Newtypes and Innovation is idealized in Gundam, or how Instrumentality is idealized by SEELE in Evangelion. This ability to communicate across space and time is wholly alien – an ability by aliens, that isn’t really coveted by humans as a species.
It is really coveted as a means of domination by Grace O’Connor (and the Macross Galaxy Colony Fleet’s Board of Directors, behaving/portrayed in a way very reminiscent of SEELE). There is no idealization of this ability. The Vajra are wholly alien, the most anthropomorphic thing done to them by the narrative is the contextualization of the song ‘Aimo’ as a “love song” (a mating call). Otherwise, it is difficult to think of Vajra as a race. They are many, but one.
I do wonder if this is how post-instrumentality humanity will function. Assuming they/it is able to manifest itself physically, it will interact with other intelligences similarly the way Vajra interact with humans, Zentraedi, and the Protoculture. That is, manifested ‘bodies’ do not represent individuals but are rather physical forms controlled by the singular being (formerly of many). Perhaps this is how Vajra colonies find and mate with each other, hence the need for ‘Aimo.’ Post-instrumentality humanity won’t have the benefit of fold-wave communication systems, but maybe they won’t have to – the way Newtypes communicate with each other.
But if I understand it correctly, NTs require some proximity, though Innovators seem not to need any. Non-innovator humans require the use of GN Particles, but I think when “Innovation” is complete, dependence on such particles will decrease. In any case, a Ribbons-led “Innovation” would situate him very similarly to where Grace would be should her plans come to fruition.
What I find interesting is how the villainy in both Macross and Gundam is rather simple, and is in keeping with cartoon character kind of villainy: an evil genius who would be overlord of the world. Evangelion’s SEELE enjoys far more nuance and ambiguity. Its aims have the semblance of nobility. After all, the end point is the elimination of the self. If they succeed (and in some ways they really do), it is the triumph of selflessness itself. The wishes of one can no longer supersede those of others. There will be no more others. The villain in the form of Gendo Ikari, actually stands as an obstacle – manipulating SEELE and everyone else for his own ends. Gendo represents the very concept of what Instrumentality will remove forever.
I attempted to document some of the similarities in table form:
|Anime||Visionary/Source||Proponents||Black Swan/Mule||Enforcers||Methodology||Cause of Failure/Resolution|
|Mobile Suit Gundam Universal Century||Zeon Zum Deikum||Vist Foundation (?)||Char Aznable||Zeon/Neo-Zeon||Cyber-Newtype Program||God-Mode Amuro/Tomino|
|Mobile Suit Gundam 00||Aeolia Schernberg||Innovators||Ribbons Allmark||A-LAWS||Innovation||God-Mode Setsuna F. Seiei|
|Neon Genesis Evangelion||Dead Sea Scrolls||SEELE||Ikari Gendo||Eva-Project||Instrumentality||Ikari Shinji (unresolved choice)|
|Macross Frontier||Protoculture/Bird Human(?)||Macross Galaxy Board/Council||Grace O’Connor||Vajra||Rankamentality||Triangler (Music, Mecha, & Love)|
The Visionary and/or Source pertains to from whom the idea of unification, or the power involved in it comes from, or is learned from.
Proponents involve the organizations who sponsor or stand to benefit from the results of the unification (or believe they will benefit from it).
Black Swan is a concept in probability science by Nassim Nicholas R. Taleb, pertaining to events that cannot be explained by the planning models that the event(s) undo. The Mule is such an example in the context of the Seldon Plan in Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction novels The Foundation Series.
Methodology is the means by which the proponents attempt to achieve their unification objectives.
Cause of failure (of the plan)/Resolution (of the conflict) is more often than not, by being stories about characters, a character or characters heroically (or in the case of Shinji, unheroically) undoes the plan.
Macross Frontier remembers love for Evangelion not only for crucified Ranka (a la crucified Lilith) but also with Giant (not quite)Naked Ranka (a la End of Evangelion’s Giant Naked Rei).
This episode should have settled the love triangle business.
In exploring this theme, I am rather limited to robot anime, and more and more limited to the main franchises of ‘real’ robot anime. Are there other shows or manga that explore or feature similar themes or preoccupations?
Also, considering how Neon Genesis Evangelion is sandwiched between old and new incarnations of Macross and Gundam with decade long intervals, isn’t it remarkable how it remains the most interestingly complex work? I don’t merely mean in terms of plot complexity, but in the form of the characters and their motivations.