This Is Not My Future: Gundam Unicorn & Generational Conflicts

For those who didn’t shell out to get the blue-ray OAV releases, Bandai is broadcasting a re-edit of Gundam Unicorn. Mecha addict that I am, even though I’ve seen it before, I’ve been re-watching the series and it’s and finding more depth to it the second time around.

First, the opening theme as a spoiler break:

It’s really rare you open a series with a song trying to convince someone not to keep harming themselves. But in a way, Unicorn Gundam or UC as I’ll call it is the perfect vehicle for this song. Because the entire series is about wounds – old and new, inflicted and self-inflicted – and trying to grow beyond the pain into something better.

First, you’ll want to read up a little on the Unversal Century timeline in Gundam. You can check out wikipedia for some starting points, but ther eis also an amazing timeline here.

The key places to look are the main series (Mobile Suit Gundam, Zeta Gundam, ZZ Gundam, Char’s Counterattack) and the OAV’s 0083 Stardust Memory (which bridges Gundam and Zeta Gundam) & the ongoing Gundam: The Origin. For those in a reading mood, Gundam: The Origin is a beautiful manga retelling of the first series and I really recommend it. The Gundam Unicorn appears at the end of this timeline, 17 years after the start of the first series in Universal Century 0096.

What was to be the start of man’s glorious new future in space has, instead, been a century of war and horrors: environmental damage on Earth lead to forced migration of poor populations to space. A terrorist attack on the Earth Federation’s prime minister created a totalitarian atmosphere over the Earth sphere. Conflicts bloomed between those who remained on Earth (Earthnoids) and those who lived in space(Spacenoids). Exploitation, colonialism, nationalism and greed dominate humankind.

Even the idea of a “new type” of humanity, adapted to space and able to use psi gifts to communicate and increase understanding, is twisted by the rulers of the Dutchy of Zeon into an ubermench style philosophy. Political tensions come to a head in 0079, when the One Year War begins between the forces of Zeon (ostensibly representing spacenoid independence movements) and the Earth Federation.

The One Year War sees the death of billions. Even the hippiesh idea of a “NewType” is turned into a weapon of war, where pilots with these gifts are pitted against each other at the behest of their superiors. The series that follow deal with the aftershocks – entrenchment and pro-Earth fascism (0083 and Zeta), resurgences of Zeon by remnant forces (ZZ Gundam and Char’s Counterattack). Throughout it all, colonies are destroied or dropped on earth, along with several asteroids. When the series starts, there’s been about 3 years of peace.

And then, a mysterious foundation makes an offer to the NeoZeon remnants – a secret which will shake the Federation to the core. The dark heart at the center of the Universal Century.

The main trio of protagonists all grew up during the war years, and they all bear burdens based on legacies their parents & grandparents left.

Banager Links: An engineering student at the Anaheim Electronics school (leading builder of civilian and military mobile suits), Banager discovers he is the illegitimate son of Cardeas Vist, head of the powerful Vist foundation and holder of the LaPlace box – the key to the Federation’s power in the Earth Sphere. He’s given the Unicorn – a mobile suit designed to respond to(and destroy) NewTypes. It’s the map to the location of the LaPlace box.

Mineva Zabi: We first see her as a small baby in the original Mobile Suit Gundam series. Heir to the Zabi family, the ‘royalty’ behind the Dutchy of Zeon, she’s trying to prevent the Vist foundation from giving the box to the Zeon remnants under the command of the terribly named Full Frontal, as this may cause yet another war. Her grandfather, uncle, aunt and father were responsible for the start of the One Year War and all the horrors which ensued. History weighs heavily on her.

Riddhe Merceas: A Federation mobile suit pilot, assigned to the Nahel Aghama, part of the Londo Bell fleet. Their task is to neutralize Zeon remnants. Riddhe’s father is the Chairman of the Federation council and, through the series, he discovers that his family is the dark mirror of the Vist family, helping keep the LaPlace box secret and ensure the Federation remains in power.

The main series antagonists are a former member of the Vist family, now head of Anaheim Electronics and representing the corrupt side of the Earthnoids, and the Zeon remnants lead by Full Frontal. All are fighting for both the Unicorn and the data it’s revealing about the location of the LaPlace box.

In this series, the sins of the past weigh heavily on the plot and the characters. Each one starts off trying to free themselves from their legacies. Banager is our POV into this conflict, and the Unicorn is a literal representation of his legacy both negative (it’s designed to destroy NewTypes and the propaganda they represent for the Zeons) and positive (it literally responds to his will – a beast of possibility that grows with him).

And that thought of legacy, of paying for the sins of our parents and grandparents, is key to this show. At every turn, our protagonists are sincerely trying to avoid starting another war – Minevea’s whole character arc is about trying to fight against the Zabi’s genocidal legacy – but decisions they had no part in block the way. Riddhe eventually drowns because of his poison legacy, turning against his former friends and crew until the very end.

The show takes a lot of time to show the people getting caught up in this conflict. Between showing you good pilots on both side, as well as callous ones, you start to see the dividing lines are less about Earthnoid vs. Spacenoid, or Feddie vs. Zeek. It’s about power and control. Who has it? What do they want to do with it? Full Frontal is a (literal) Char Aznable clone but his plan for the LaPlace box is actually more terrifying than any colony drop – it literally involves isolating Earth and dooming it to economic irrelevance and impoverishment.

Cycles of violence are also a big part of this – do we choose to continue supporting the same cycle of violence? Mineva counters that Frontal’s plan by saying it will just flip elites, and we’ll have a generation of Earthnoids howling for blood against their oppressive Spacenoid masters. It won’t lead to a better world for anyone, just create fertile ground for the next war.

If any character represents poisoned legacies and cycles of violence, it’s Loni Garvey. Pilot of a massive Mobile Armor, it uses a psionic control system to direct fire through dozens of ‘funnels.’ It’s a system her family built, her father in specific, to tap into her Newtype capabilities and make her a weapon of mass destruction.

She and Banager connected, briefly, and on the battlefield he tries to use the Unicorn and their connection to get her to stop the slaughter. Innocent civilians are dying under the pent up rage of every Zeon remnant trapped on Earth for over a decade. And at one point they do connect. The system disarms – until the ghostly red hands of her father pushes Banager away. Literally possessed by her parent’s agenda, embodied in the war machine she pilots, she cannot stop the generational hate.

In the end Riddhe is forced to kill her while Banager watches a legacy of hate overcome the possibility of escape. It’s not the first, nor the last, tragic death in this story. But it illustrates the theme perfectly.

Given my family history, and the circumstances of my birth (GenX’er living under the shadow of the all powerful Baby Boom generation) this theme resonates with me. In the show, the Unicorn represents the ‘beast of possibility’ where we do not have to be trapped by past mistakes, and can make amends before going into the future. The show is about trying to find a better way than enforcing the same power structures and fighting the same wars over and over.

In the end, you do get a sense of hope that these kids – and they are all young kids – will be able to end the wars, escaping from their poisoned legacies and making something new. I like that idea and I do hope that our next generation can do the same.

I just despair that we won’t be able to do it – to escape, to stop the cycle, to reconcile and look for a better way – because we don’t have a Unicorn Gundam on our side. Where is our beast of possibility, or have they all been hunted down?

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Our Map is Not The Territory

I originally wrote this before the events in Dallas, Minnesota, and Baton Rouge unfolded on our screens. It’s leading me to rethink a lot of things, especially what is happening in Baton Rouge, where a good chunk of Metaphysical Graffiti takes place. Will I have to revise the book so what happens to Ieshia Evans becomes commonplace? Should I be telling this particular story, seeing as I’m a traveler to this world and not one who has to live in this reality every day? –

Protestor Ieshia Evans is detained by law enforcement near the headquarters of the Baton Rouge Police Department in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, U.S. July 9, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Bachman

Protestor Ieshia Evans is detained by law enforcement near the headquarters of the Baton Rouge Police Department in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, U.S. July 9, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Bachman

Thinking about how to process these events, my need to tell a story about them, and how they could be seen had me reflecting on an article I’d read earlier on about the novel Underground Airlines. Go ahead and visit, I’ll wait.

For a good summation of the response amongst many, I recommend this article from the Daily Dot. This quote in particular stood out:

Some found this positive coverage galling for a number of reasons. First of all, it’s demonstrably harder for authors of color to receive equal media attention alongside white writers. Secondly, the Times story plays into a long tradition of white artists being celebrated for tackling topics others have already covered with more personal expertise.

Now, from all accounts, this is a < href=”http://www.tor.com/2016/07/07/book-reviews-ben-h-winters-underground-airlines/”>good book. But as the reviewer says, “Movies, TV, and books have repeatedly sidelined PoC-penned narratives in favor of white creators.” And all the while, these white creators get heaped praise for work build on the backs of other authors, who never get the credit or voice they deserve.

Call it “Literary Colonialism” if you will, but you can apply it any number of cultural aspects, like music or history or just ideas. For now, we’ll focus on literature itself.

Imagine an author striding upon what he (and it’s usually a he) feels is virgin country. Chin out, he braves the “perils” of this untouched land of storytelling, mining it for golden ideas or tilling it until his crop of tales grows to harvest. He then returns to his native lands, arms overflowing with plunder, and is praised for his “bravery” in bringing civility to this barbarous new world.

Of course, our bold explorer never bothers to notice there are already people living in this “dark country.” They’ve been mining and growing and creating for ages before he stepped foot on their shores. But if they are acknowledged, it’s either as inferiors who didn’t realize what they had or obstacles to conquer.

In the end, the work of the original inhabitants were not worth noticing. That is, until the anger builds up and someone screams out “Enough!” That’s when revolutions begin.

Literary fiction often treats fiction by marginalized groups (or genre fiction) as little more than new grist for their mills.

There are exceptions, of course. I like to call them trading partners – people with a genuine love of the genre, or understanding of the culture – that wish to share that love, and facilitate travel between these lands. They use their inherent privilege to say, “We were not here first – you need to see and understand.”

But they’re few, and don’t have the influence of the grand conquerors. The establishments don’t support anyone trying to counter the grand default narratives.

So these literary colonizers take the stories of minority authors and recast them (figuratively and literally). They plunge into genres and literary traditions, rip loose stories told within and yell, “Look what I’ve created! ME! I’m the God! I’M THE GOD!”

What can we do? First, speak out when we see it. Don’t let it go unrecognized. But when speaking out the second thing we can do – and the most important – is to point out the others who have been there before us and were ignored. In the case of Underground Airlines, many are pointing out Octavia E. Butler’s groundbreaking novel Kindred as an alternate. But they’ve also mentioned Derrick Bell, Robert O’Hara, Sigrid Gilmer and others.

But most importantly we have to realize we need to step aside, to listen and to amplify the voices for whom these stories have deep, personal resonance. And if the people who should be, and are, telling these stories cannot be heard then it is incumbent upon us to help them be heard.

Co-opting a story is, in a lot of ways, worse than silencing it. It shuts down any real conversation and exchange. It demeans the original tellers and their experiences. And it makes it easier for us to not question uncomfortable narratives, or confront ugly truths about ourselves.

I’m still going to write about Baton Rouge, but I will do it with care. And I’ll likely write about everything that’s happened in the last few weeks as well. But I will try very hard not to pretend I’m the first, or best, voice on this subject. And when better voices need to speak up, I will step down and insist the mic be passed to them. That’s the least I can do.

And if I allow myself to be called “brave” or “daring” for it, may Huey Freeman strike me down with a folding chair.

HueyFreemanChair