Anti-War Novelist, Tokyo University Professor Discuss Conflicting Morals In Gundam

Does Mobile Suit Gundam inadvertently portray war as “cool” despite its overt anti-war message?

Japan has a rich history of anti-war film and literature. In light of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, novelist Tо̄ma Aisaka and Tokyo University professor Shigeki Uno discussed what it means to be anti-war in Japan today. Part of this discussion involved the role of entertainment media such as Mobile Suit Gundam in depicting the horrors of war for audiences during Japan’s extended peacetime.

Aisaka is the author of Dо̄shi Shо̄jo Yo, Teki Wo Ute (“Young Woman Comrade, Shoot the Enemy”), a bestselling novel about a female sniper active during the German-Soviet War. He expressed his desire to portray the female perspective in war, which has often been overlooked in both historical recounts and fiction. At the same time, he indicated his awareness that, regardless of the intentions of the author, fiction can be perceived differently depending on the audience’s priorities. As an example, he brought up the manga adaptation of The Unwomanly Face of War by Svetlana Alexievich, which is consumed as a “military moe” product in some circles.

He went on: “The creators of the Mobile Suit Gundam anime were trying to convey the tragedies of war to young people in the form of entertainment. In spite of this, it ultimately opened the forbidden door of ‘depicting war as a cool thing.’ Even though the generation with vivid memories of air raids had a hand in the show, this kind of misinterpretation still comes about. In the end, I think the only thing the creators can do to avoid misinterpretations is to continue speaking vehemently against war.”

Uno replied that this reminded him of The Wind Rises, directed by Hayao Miyazaki. Although the protagonist is the designer of the Zero fighter aircraft, he did not necessarily support the war but was instead pursuing the beauty of aircrafts. Thus, his character embodies the contradiction between a high-minded pursuit and the reality of weapons of war.

“Within the individual, ‘I hate war’ and ‘planes are beautiful’ can exist side-by side,” Uno said. “This complexity is also part of what makes us human.”

In the same interview, Aisaka professes that he has military geek interests despite his personal hatred of war. Because of society’s growing detachment from the older generation’s lived experiences, it is easier to compartmentalize war in this fashion.

“I think that in this current moment it is easy to experience the horrors of war vicariously through entertainment novels,” he said.

Source: Mainichi Shimbun

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