Why we need more citizens and fewer kings in mecha anime– an analysis

“Did you not see on the Lupercal where I thrice presented him a kingly crown and he did thrice refuse? Was this ambition?” – Marc Anthony “Julius Caesar”

Ever since I read the Postman, I’ve been enamored with the idea of the citizen solider. (No, I never saw that godsforsaken movie.) In the book, they use the example of Cincinnatus, a farmer who assumed the role of military dictator to help fight off the Aequians. Once his defeated them, he returned to his farm (sixteen days after he was appointed.) Essentially he came to his countries call and he returned to him farm once he did what needed to be done.

It’s not really surprising that this idea has crept into fiction, especially fantasy. Off the top of my head, I can pick out about three or four, but this is an anime blog, so I’ll stick to anime.

The rules of a citizen solider


While Julius Caesar wasn’t a citizen solider (he was far more concerned about advancing his own career and taking over Rome), Marc Anthony’s quote reflects the spirit of the citizen solider. Which leads to the first rule, they’re not interested in glory. Yang Wen-li in LoGH is a perfect example of this. In fact, he’s a perfect example of all of them, but I’m only going to use him for the first point. When he’s called “the hero of El-Facil” or “Miracle Yang” he scoffs, deferring the attention to other people. While he may not live a Spartan life, it certainly isn’t ostentatious either.

All of that is part in parcel with the second rule, they’re apolitical. Now that doesn’t mean they don’t have a political view, but they don’t have political aspirations. Kenshin Himura ironically is a good example here. Fairly early on in the series he gets offered a post in the Meiji government. He turns it down because his country doesn’t need him to do it, or rather his country needs him not to be in a position of power. Even when he goes back to work for the government, he’s doing it because they don’t have anywhere else to turn. And he doesn’t have any political motives.

Which leads to the third point (and arguably the most important), they are the best men for the job, sometimes the only men for the job. One important point to make about citizen soliders is that they’re always qualified to do whatever they’re going to do. That doesn’t mean they’re not outnumbered (in Yang’s case) or outgunned (in Kenshin’s case), but there is no where else for their country to turn.

And the last rule of the citizen solider is: when the job’s done, they go home. This kind of goes hand in hand with the first two rules, but the citizen solider is very rarely the political leader of a country. They might be the strongest warrior or a military genius, but they either don’t want the responsibility or don’t have the talent to run a country. Again Yang’s desire to just “retire” is one example of this.

As I’ve been thinking about this subject though, I’ve made a realization. There’s one citizen solider in mecha anime: Yuushiro from “Gasaraki”. And that’s only for one brief moment towards the end of the show that it comes up. Granted throughout most of the show he’s still a citizen solider.

Which begs the question, what allusion fits most mecha pilots? I’d argue they’re Arthur-like heroes.

The rules of an Arthur-like hero


Okay, so I wanted to avoid the word Arthurian, mostly because there’s entire books dedicated to studying Arthurian legend and these are just my observations. But in fact, most mecha stories (yes, even TTGL) have Arthur-like heroes. The first thing that defines this type of hero is: they’re not born great, but they have greatness thrust upon them. Much like when Arthur pulled the sword out of the stone, he wasn’t prepared for what would happen, most mecha pilots (even in war epic anime) aren’t prepared for their first encounter with greatness. Take the first episode of Macross Frontier as an example. The main character doesn’t have any training to use a Valkyrie, he’s just an average high school student who happened to come across a sword sticking out of… err… a giant robot in a time when he needed to take action.

Which leads to the second rule of the Arthur-like hero, they have divine right and divine grace. What’s important to note here is that Arthur-like heroes are never the best men for the job when they get the job. They’re novices, but they’re been imbued with something special that makes them inherently qualified. In the case of the Zeta Gundam, you have Newtypes. In the case of Eureka 7, you have the Omega drive. This gives them the ability to be the lynch-pin in any defense or offense the heroes might take.

And because they have both divine right and divine grace, they’re inherently political. Like the old saying goes, those who have the guns, make the rules. Because they’re the most powerful characters on the heroes side, they’re almost always involved in the larger plots of the nation. If they disagree with what their government is doing they’ll fight against them. But even more often they rise to a level of political prominence and become both a military and political leader.

The fourth rule is that their job is never done. Much like Arthur they’ll set up their Camelot and die there because they’re building a utopia.

On a side note


If anyone’s paying attention, or still reading by this point, they’ll probably notice that I haven’t mentioned Eva or RahXephon. To be honest, I don’t think Ayato Kamina or Shinji Ikari are either one of these archetypes. Instead, I’d put them closer to Adam when he ate the apple. But I’m not talking about that, so I thought I’d leave that can of worms for another time.

Why Arthur needs to retire


The thing is that almost every mecha pilot follows the Arthur mold. They start out wretched. They come across big robot. They learn to pilot big robot. And they go on to be heroes. The thing is that all of them tout being heavily political, but generally they aren’t. And that’s simply because whoever the Arthur happens to be, they’re in the right. Now a citizen solider might also be in the right, but there’s an inherent tension between them and the powers that be. What makes Yang interesting is that realization that he isn’t the government and he doesn’t want to be the government. And the clash of ethics of what is good for the country right now versus what is good for the country in the long term.

To be fair, there is more that anime could do to play around with the Arthur theme, and I haven’t watched either Code Geass or anything more than the first episode of TTGL, so I can’t really comment on them. But for the most part I haven’t seen them do it. Also it would mean no more whiny boy pilots.

Agree or disagree? Leave a comment or e-mail iniksbane@gmail.com

12 thoughts on “Why we need more citizens and fewer kings in mecha anime– an analysis

  1. Nope sounds like you got it right. Although I admit I haven’t watched MS08 team. I’ve always thought about watching it.

  2. You have to contrast Rheinhard against Yan. Rheinhard did not retire and became the Emperor, but it must be realized that after he became the ruler, the battle was no longer fought within his realm, but at fringes of his newly acquired territory. More often than not, winning the battle is the easy part; maintaining the peace is always much more tougher(Otherwise, people would no longer fight any battles now) Rheinhard wanted to keep the peace he earned and he was the person best suited to maintaining the order. Yan wanted the people to become able to keep the order on their own, the ultimate solution for peace, for peace kept by a dictator would beget people who are unable to help themselves when need arise. Setting aside the Japanese Right Wing propaganda hidden in the series, Legend Of Galactic Heroes is asking the most painful question for humanity: is benevolent dictator better than corrupt democracy? History is filled with people who have answered ‘yes’ to this question and became mere oppressor of their neighbors. There are also cases, against all odds, rights of few who were weak overcame greed and corruption of the government just because there existed a minimum element of democracy that enabled the story of the few to reach the entire world( You would be appalled by stories of African Slaves and native Americans in 19th and 20th century USA ). In end, Citizen Soldier is a myth, a fantasy which can only become a reality if the highest ranking civil officials, please notice the plural here, happens to be someone wise, benevolent, only interested in doing their duties, and not interested in gaining fame or being reelected to their office, kind of like a citizen soldier like model for the bureaucrat.

  3. Well, I don’t think it’s a surprising convention – what are mecha if not great, gigantic, shining suits of knightly armour?

    Gasaraki uses the citizen soldier precisely because it tries to go for a more “realistic” or “modern day” approach to mechanized combat; most militaries today are supposedly made up of citizen-soldiers, as well.

    In most mecha anime (ex. Gundam), the star mecha is imbued with all the power of a knight of chivalric romance, unable to be killed and taking down scores of the enemy(unless expedient for the plot or if confronted by a similar champion). So I would argue that the portrayal of “citizen-soldier” characters in mecha is directly proportional to how much mecha are portrayed as utilitarian tools of war, rather than mythic avatars.

  4. @ maglor – I do realize that contrast. And they do talk about it pretty frequently. And I do like Yang’s answer to it: “A dictator might be a great thing for one generation, but there’s no guaruntee that the next ruler will be wise.” To be honest, I was using Yang as an example because he does represent the idea of the citizen solider.

    And I would argue that a citizen solider in the context of a politician is almost impossible. Simply because it’s an anethma to religion. It’s important that a citizen solider be in service to the government but not of the government. That’s the point I’m trying to make with the fact that they’re apolitical. In this case your argument about bureaucrats is especially true.

    A politician on the other hand is by definition political.

    @ AS – That’s a good point about the realism aspect.

  5. 08th MS Team! War in the Pocket! Infinite Rvyius (and isn’t the word citizen charged in that context!) Nadesico! (And possibly parts of the Votoms franchise, but I haven’t seen that . . . yet.)

    Very good post, though. I suppose (in stories told in the shonen mode especially) Arthurian mecha pilots are more common.

    I would take issue with the apolitical nature of the citizen soldier, though. I won’t throw Clausewitz’ famous saying at you, because it was part of a dialectical process rather than a simple dictum, but perhaps ‘Man is by nature a political animal’ would suit just as well. War is a political act, and if the citizen soldier chooses not to become involved in politics, that in itself is also political act and a potentially fatal abnegation of responsibility. Might it not lead to said citizen soldier standing before a tribunal trying to explain why his mecha sat by as war crimes were committed?

    Also, see Full Metal Panic! and Nadesico for the stories of heroes who’d like to be a citizen soldier, but can’t.

    Also also, Camille Bidan’s job might never be done, but he ceases to be able to do it . . .

    Also also also, there’s nothing I can see which prevents a citizen soldier from also being a whining Kira Yamato-esque angstbag.

    But this is all nitpicking on an excellent idea.

  6. @ iknight – Thank you very much. I do agree that man is a political creature, but I tend to think it in the sense that all social interactions are by their nature political. And you’ve touched on something that I think I’m going to bring up in my next post on the subject, but for right now I’d say that is that they’re apolitical in the sense that once they make the choice to serve the government they aren’t trying to score points. In that sense they’re of the government but they’re not part of the decision making process.
    Not that they can’t make decisions, but that’s going to come up next time.

    And OMG I can’t believe that I forgot Souske, seriously. FMP is probably one of my favorite mecha shows, and until you mentioned it I never really thought about the symbolism of shooting the Arbalest (is that the right one?) out of a sub. Especially considering it was done by an ethereal type girl with magic powers.

    Generally what usually prevents them from being a angst bag is that they’re the right man for the job. So yeah they may worry about being able to complete the task, but they aren’t completely overwhelmed by the task. Granted, I’m still struggling with Blue Gender and where that fits. Because I’d say that the main character is an Arthur who becomes a citizen solider. But I’m not sure whether I completely buy it.

    @ drmchsr0- If that’s the case than TTGL may be the coolest anime that I’ve ever seen.

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