One of the most remarkable moments in the second episode of Mobile Suit Gundam Unicorn followed the meaningful conversation at a Sleeves officer’s dinner table. In that dinner conversation, Gundam does something cute: the naïveté of the protagonist Banagher Links is confronted by an even younger person’s, Tikva the eldest son of the Sleeves officer.
I’d put Tikva’s age to be 11 to Banagher’s 15; the equivalents of Alfredo Izuruha in War in the Pocket, and Amuro Ray or Kamille Bidan from Mobile Suit Gundam and Mobile Suit Z Gundam respectively. Banagher’s age allows him to loudly question everyone’s motives against his own (naïve) ideals, which is expectedly polarized against the (jaded and/or corrupt) adults’.
While adults are for the most part dismissive or defensive, Tikva gets to be confrontational, as certain and as ignorant as a kid idolizing his father could be. He starts by cheerfully prying into Banagher’s reasons for being with them. Eventually commenting,
Oh, then you’re lucky to be our prisoner! If you were a Federation prisoner, they wouldn’t give you anything to eat. You’d be tortured! [Banagher denies this] Yeah they do. My dad says so. He was a prisoner on Earth…
The two boys go back and forth, while the adults seem uncomfortable but do not interfere. When Tikva’s father does admonish him, it seems more to correct his manners for being rude to their guest than to agree or disagree with his arguments.
Banagher keeps talking, and when he mentions the colony drop, the father looks thoughtful. It’s obvious that he isn’t proud of the fact that Zeon did that.
But see here, Banagher wasn’t really interested in defending the Federation from criticism or in aligning himself politically with either Zeon or the Federation in light of his being born in and having lived in space. He was fully present to the fact that he killed the Sleeves mobile suit pilot Sergi. He’s beginning to feel the reality of being a killer. Obviously, being a murder is farthest from his self-identity.
It is interesting to note that the Colony Drop that devastated Sydney, Australia was targeted to Jaburo in Brazil. Just as Banagher was shooting at the Sinanju, his stray beam ripped apart Sergi’s Geara Zulu, killing the pilot instantly.
Equally interesting, is how throughout that battle, Banagher was fighting mobile suits. He wasn’t fully present, if at all, to the fact that there were people in it. It reminds me of Amuro’s own realization, only after he’s shot down a number of Zaku IIs after several engagements, that there are people in these mobile suits the same way he’s inside the Gundam.
In his naïveté he willingly accepts the mandate to “protect everyone” not understanding that that meant using a very deadly weapon, and that meant he’d be responsible for taking lives.
Marida Cruz gets the situation, and cuts the awkwardness in the dining room by taking Banagher out. As I mentioned in my previous post on this episode, Marida is a revelation here. While her devotion to Mineva was to be expected, as well as her courage (enough to hold Full Frontal into account regarding Mineva being held hostage on the Nahel Argama) didn’t surprise me, there are two things that stand out:
- Her sensitivity to others and genuine care for them: see how she returned the sunglasses on her fellow soldier when Banagher attempted to evade them, then how she handled the daughter running around the dinner table.
- Her compassion for Banagher.
The latter is the component of this moment I just recounted and what follows the most remarkable moment that is the (supposed) subject of this post.
What you said is not wrong. There really is no justifiable war. However, justice does not always save lives.
This [chapel] was built when Palau was still in the asteroid belt. When you think about the earliest space pioneers they were mostly beggars or political criminals, without any other way to live.
I hear that when the Universal Century began, the Prime Minister stated in his speech that “we are bringing an end to the Era of God,” [Anno Domini] but the people living in the asteroid belt, where the sun is indistinguishable from any other stars, probably needed a light to guide them…
The story here is that the space pioneers are principally those who have no place on Earth. They are on the periphery of the Earth sphere. Earth is still the center. Colonization is a function of Empire, and the Earth Federation behaved like one. This is interesting because the colonization effort is less about the exploration of space and the seeding of the cosmos with the seeds of humanity. For that to be the case I’d imagine humanity would send at least some of the best examples of its species, so that the genetic future of the race will be best suited for the challenges of space.
However, the space colonization effort is born entirely (or at least nearly entirely) out of a reaction to a Malthusian population explosion. Earth is great, but Earth is scarce. Some of us must leave, but the assumption and conceit in the Gundam story is that most people did not want to leave Earth permanently. Thus, those who remained on Earth, were those who had the political and economic capital to do so. Those who did not, were shipped off-planet.
The Zeonic conflict was born out of the Space Colonies’ drawing the line on what had been generations of Earth Federation hegemonic abuses. The colonies had no say on EF affairs, but the EF had every say on colony politics and economy. The colonies were taxed, at times heavily; maintaining the wealth of the Terrans who were the wealthy ones to begin with. The Principality of Zeon became a political state behind which the disaffected colonies rallied behind.
While this back story is pretty much taken as assumptions in all Gundam shows in the UC continuity, it’s only now in Gundam Unicorn that we are made to feel how dire and hopeless the spacenoids felt, how desperate and disaffected they felt, and how ripe they were for the domination by a demagogic leader and/or state. Marida continues,
No one can live without light. But the people abandoned in space eventually found a light to replace God. A new light called Zeon. It was what they needed, so that they could resist despair and keep living in this cruel world. Something that made them think that there was room in this world for improvement. Some may say you can live without that, or that it’s stupid to cling to something so intangible. If they’re sure about that, then those people must be true optimists or completely detached from reality.
This part of Marida’s speech, while still indulging the idea of God via the focus of the animation on the light of the cross, actually reinforces how the Universal Century really did change things, that the move to space ended the “Era of God,” by showing how even those who needed God in the periphery replaced the concept with that of the ideal of Zeon.
An ideal for an ideal, both reactions to the enemy of life that is despair. It is one thing to subsist, but without possibility, without anything to look forward to, the human being is unable to ‘survive’ without any quality of life. God, as represented by the Christian Cross, represented salvation after death, at the very least. This hope was enough for people not to forsake kindness and compassion for others; this created community and the supportive relationships that implied.
Zeon replaced this because it represented hope for a better existence within one’s lifetime. If not that, at least the hope of redressing the spacenoids’ accumulated slights in the hands of the Earth Federation.
Banagher quotes an unnamed source, that God was possibility itself, and this is a uniquely human thing to have. Marida cuts history lesson as well as the digression,
Ensign Sergi… don’t worry about the one you shot down. When anyone goes into battle in a mobile suit, they become a combat unit called a pilot. There’s no need for regrets.
But… keep in mind that you are already part of the situation.
Marida performs the absolution. It is not her place to forgive, and she’s taken God out of the equation as well, but she shares with Banagher a truth about soldiering, about fighting. Furthermore, the absolution is meant to free Banagher from guilt, but also hold him fast to the responsibility of piloting the Gundam. Banagher, you musn’t run away.
This frames the human condition perfectly in the post-Zeon era of the Universal Century. Full Frontal uses Char as a propaganda engine, invoking the ideal of Zeon, but not perhaps as Zeon Zum Deikum was, but more like the Zabis were: a political stand against the Earth Federation. Full Frontal the way he is does not have the resources to stand up against the EF directly as the Zabis did, or as Char did in the previous conflict. But the Laplace Box supposedly has within it something that’ll bring down the EF. So, this is his light.
What is Marida’s light? What is Banagher’s? I think she goes by the name of Mineva, who interestingly does not seem to follow a light herself.
There are no more innocents, though citizens from neutral colonies like Industrial 7 may disagree. Spacenoids and Terrans have already done much against each other. For true colonization to succeed, elitism and hegemony must be re-evaluated, and war in that perpetuates that status quo (regardless of who comes out on top) is the most wasteful thing in the age of space.