Universal Fatherhood and Pessimistic AGE

You know, Cardeas looks rather like a space vampire...

The Gundam franchise is an excellent source for strong male characters and it’s no accident so many of them are fathers or surrogate fathers. Even if we’re unaware of it, as men, most things we do in life are measured and compared against the lives of our fathers if only by ourselves. As I looked at the two current flagship shows of Gundam, AGE & Unicorn, I see two very different perspectives on the same idea. Spoilers ahead!

In Unicorn, the father/son relationship is arguably the defining theme. Cardeas Vist is estranged from his illegitimate son Banagher but has been watching over him from afar, providing him a place in the world to call his own. When they finally meet again he performs an act of kindness disguised as cruelty, threatening to remove that place in an attempt to disentangle his son from the Sleeves and the Zabi princess. Being more worldly than the boy trying to force out a hasty confession, she aids Cardeas by shutting Banagher down hard. This is the toughest role a dad must play, to be harsh and uncompromising because he sees further than his child. But when all has fallen apart it’s not the traitorous legitimate son Alberto that receives the father’s legacy but Banagher, who has now seen his dad’s true intent. It’s after his death that Cardeas’s role as father the protector is made most clear, because instead of giving in to rage, despair, and loss, Banagher’s first act upon being anointed in his blood and taking up his father’s mantle is to force the fight outside the colony, defending countless innocents just as he believes his father would have wanted.

'Course I'd at least try and dodge

From this point on Banagher meets several men that can be taken as father figures, each filling a specific role from Full Frontal as the false father, to Captain Otto Midas as the wise counselor. But the two most interesting of these relationships are with Daguza Mackle and Suberoa Zinnerman due to their adversarial nature. Daguza and Banagher spend most of their time together clashing over differing ideas of honor. However, Daguza never sees Banagher as a tool and does another thing that is extremely difficult for a father figure: admits, even if indirectly, he was wrong. This leads to their reconciliation tragically just moments before Daguza’s death at the hands of Full Frontal. Daguza’s death causes Banagher to lose control, killing Gilboa, a man he knows. This takes a good father from Tikava, a boy not much younger than himself. It’s this act that presages Banagher’s figurative and literal fall from grace as he plunges to earth and into the hands of the second of these complex men, Captain Zinnerman.

Having a mustache that's interchangeable with your eyebrows isn't for me but this guy makes it work

Zinnerman helps a broken boy put himself back together at his lowest moment with the rough and threadbare love of a father who has lost everything. In return, Banagher saves Suberoa’s heart from falling into darkness and losing himself to vengeance at the battle of Torrington. Sometimes a son’s role is to fight their father when they are wrong. We spend so much time trying to catch up to our dad’s backs that we forget that they are fallible men as well. I don’t believe we become men until we have learned to stand up to our fathers when we must, and still love them as we fight, just as they do for us. Fists, sometimes, are a man’s romance.

In the side characters we’re given two men that are mirror images of one another: a bad man with a good father, Alberto Vist; and Riddhe Marcenas, a good young man with a morally compromised father. Alberto Vist becomes visibly more uncomfortable with the repercussions of his and his colleagues’ actions as the show goes on. It’s subtle, but at several points you can almost hear him thinking: “I was raised better than this.” And then Riddhe Marcenas, that moral and ethical failure on his father’s part steadily colors the son’s actions as the series goes on. From the simple entitlement he displays by stealing the Delta Plus and trying to make himself seem important, to murder on the battlefield to avoid being seen as “naive”.

"Hi kid, your family was brutally murdered so I'm going to use you to build robots!" No one called Bruzar sensitive.

In contrast to Unicorn’s complex view of male relationships, AGE presents a simpler view as befits its younger target audience, but there are a few things worth noting. Flit’s adoptive father, Mr. Bruzar, tells him as soon as they first meet that he isn’t taking him in out of pity but to see the Asuno talent at mobile suit engineering. The only moments of bonding we see between them before Bruzar’s self sacrifice are during the construction of the AGE-1. Then there’s Grodek Ainoa who makes no secret of the fact that he is using Flit as a tool to enact his revenge against the UE. When he has gotten it, he turns himself over for his prison sentence leaving the temporary family he made aboard the Diva to fend for themselves.

Mildly concerned about the badger living on his face

These examples combined with Flit’s marriage to a woman he loves but was not in love with, goes some way toward explaining his actions at the start of Asemu’s story. The only way Flit knows how to be a dad is not to be there.

Spaghetti, chicken and birthday cake has got to be the best anime meal ever.

I think it’s no accident that the more mature of these two works paints a more complex, and frankly sentimental, view of fatherhood and male relationships in general. As we get older, many of our friendships with other men fall by the wayside and our dads’ influence in our lives diminishes or passes out of reckoning altogether. When that happens, we have a yearning to regain the safety and companionship those relationships once offered. But for a young man, a father’s motivations are often seen as mysterious and inscrutable if not outright in the way of making their choices. And that is a good impulse as well, it encourages us to grow and expand our horizons beyond what childhood offers.

Both shows crouch the idea of fatherhood as being inextricably bound up with sacrifice, which may be true to a degree, but it’s not a sacrifice without recompense. Every child will remember their father, for good or ill, as a hero or villain on par with the great figures of their times. What else is immortality?

14 Comments

Filed under Editorials, Mobile Suit Gundam

14 responses to “Universal Fatherhood and Pessimistic AGE

  1. Daguza…. *salute*

    While I appreciate the father-son relationships in these anime, they don’t really resonate with my on a personal level as much. The only thing I learned from my father is to not be a smoker like him.

    • Daguza is fascinating to me because he’s not a newtype or high-ranking official, but a hard working, righteous grunt. An elite grunt yes, but a grunt none the less.

      If that is all you learned from your dad then he still did you a great favor, terrible habit. Thank you for commenting on my post!

  2. Ryan A

    There is a great deal of truth here, and I’m not following any of these Gundam series.

    Fists, sometimes, are a man’s romance.

    I wanted to blockquote just about every sentence from that paragraph. Fathers, in story, fiction, time, and life are quite amazing and perhaps the underrated parent. I think because they provide more complex-misunderstood relationships as parents as mothers tend to be in-tune (vicious intuition), but fathers are more mysterious, with both sons and daughters. Maybe in fiction it’s the Skywalker legacy, who knows. But one additional piece to the perspective is that we receive a great deal from our fathers, whether we know it or not, even if they aren’t around. Yet I have found it very difficult to understand when they are pleased (men are often poor communicators, esp young fathers). This leads me to believe something fascinating, because I think there is a duality in the “distance” we see between father and child. With mothers, there is a kind of direct connection and fathers the connection is somewhat indirect. The distance may be the same, but one is like driving down the street and the other, traveling through a wormhole. The time and distance may be the same, simply different technology.

    And I believe the other side of the coin is that the day a man become a father, there is greater realization towards their own father. Dads are magic.

    I do wonder if Gundam has ever portrayed the character as a father. I know we’ve seen characters with father-figures, but I feel both sides are important.

    • Thank you, I chose these two shows and this set of characters not so much because they were Gundam shows but because I wanted to talk about this relationship.

      I think you are correct, The father and child relationship is more complicated than the mother and child one. It always seems as though we are working at cross purposes with our dads until we come into sync with them. Understanding a father requires a great deal of non verbal communication I feel. Due to that however, they impart so many things to us without explicit instruction. From little things like how we drink our coffee to big things, such as how we handle conflict. And that is certainly mysterious.

      I believe I learned more about my own dad in the two years I was my nieces guardian than the thirty some years preceding that so you may be on to something there.

      That’s one of the reasons I touched on Gundam AGE, it’s a multi-generation story, but as it is still airing it’s not had time to really get into the meat of that aspect of the story.

      Thank you again for commenting!

  3. What the fuck happened to the blog design? It’s hideous.

    Anyway, great post!

    Sometimes Gundam can be worth watching apart from the robots, maybe.

    Cartoons made for boys and their boys’ clubs…

    You never really see a father-daughter relationship in Gundam. Perhaps if Dozle survived… but nope, as you said, fatherhood is bound in some kind of sacrifice. This is an important omission or failure. No strong father figures for girls, which perhaps is bound with how fucked up female characters are in Gundam. The only exceptions I can think of are Maharajah Karn from the manga Char’s Deleted Affair (Haman’s dad) and Cagali’s dad from Gundam SEED. He was an okay dad to her.

    Otherwise, they’re either dead/killed like Zeon Zeum Deikum (to Char and Sayla), or absentee/evil douchebags:

    Amuro’s dad.
    Kamilles dad.
    Alfred’s dad (sort of).

    This is important because this is after all, the main story/originating story of Gundam that Unicorn is building on/redressing the sins of.

    Then you have the case of Bright Noa — who isn’t a douche. In fact he’s pretty much like Flit Asuno minus the fascism. And yet his absenteeism must have played a part in how his son Hathaway ended up being one of the most annoying fail retards in the franchise.

    In any case, back to my sort of thesis. Just as much as the OVAs seek to redress, flesh out, fill gaps made by the original and main line TV series, Gundam Unicorn is very much part of this tradition, offering alternatives to the douchey dads that is typical and fundamental to Gundam. Even in Gundam AGE, the redress of the sins are similar and explicit — good dads give good Gundams to their kids and still remain good dads.

    Franklin Bidan is still the fucking absolute worst, just thinking about how he named his only son… what a bag of cocks.

    • R1CK_D0M

      KAMILLE IS A MAN’S NAME.

      But seriously I could hardly have said it better than ghost did here. Good job on a great post!

      “Fists, sometimes, are a man’s romance” That one quote especially left a significant impression on me, despite it having been said many times in various shounen anime. It seems, wrapped in this post in the context of gundam, the phrase was given new understanding. Or something like that :P

      • I catch flack for it, but with a name like “Shane Thumper” I’ve got to have Kamille’s back. Kamille is definitely a man’s name! ;D

        I always try to remember that trite sayings are trite because of use, and wide usage is a good indicator for a saying to be a truism. So if you place such a saying in a new context it’s meaning will outshine it’s triteness.

        Thank you for reading and commenting!

    • Gundam is always about more than robots! It’s really soap operas for guys. Else why all that yelling at each other in the cockpits if not for character drama? ;D

      How very different Mineva would have been with Dozle in her life! I’d personally love to have seen that. But yes, the girls do get the the short end of the stick in Gundam and the only glimmer of hope I see to change that is École du Ciel. But the chances of that getting animated are slim to none I fear. This time the boy’s club nature of these shows served my purposes though. I’ll confess, this was a round about way for me not to talk about Gundam per se, but my own dad and what he meant to me.
      As such, that’s why I didn’t fold in Tem Ray or Franklin Bidan. Although Franklin almost did get a mention, my dad gave me the middle name “Thumper”. A study of Ramba Ral would have fit my criteria here but I decided that might be a bit esoteric for a general audience.

      Of course the underlying corollary to your thesis is that good dads buy gundam toys for their kids!

      When AGE finishes I’ll probably write a broader, more inclusive piece on the character relationships in the franchise. It’s kind of amazing Asemu turned out as normally as he did. Perhaps Akihiro is trying to say fascism builds character? I suppose the jury is still out on that.

      Thank you for taking the time to read and comment Ghost. I’ve looked up to you for some time now, may we both keep remembering love!

      • Thanks for the kind words.

        You don’t need to convince me that there’s more to Gundam than the robots, as someone who’s written a shitfuckton of shit about the franchise (as someone who has written FOURTEEN POSTS ON FOUR FUCKING EPISODES of Gundam Unicorn… ohmygod what a faggot).

        Truthfully, I don’t think there’s enough writing about the robots, their battles, and how they play out. This is a tragedy for me. The ubernerds who have the power levels to appreciate the robots and the battles are unfortunately such a pain to read (and interact with LOL as they tend to be incredible retards with the personalities of buttraped skunks).

  4. Woooo hoooo! A post by blackholeheart! Of course I have to leave a comment.

    Great post! And it is very true! There are lots of father figures in the Gundam universe, but the ones that stand out for me would be the same ones you mentioned from Gundam AGE and Unicorn.

    I really enjoyed watching Flint’s progress through the start of Gundam AGE and now he is the father. Finally we get to see a father in a gundam series who actually lives! Usually they just die early, sadly I can see them killing off Flint sometime just to have Asemu go into OMG RAGE MODE for that all important “trigger” to unlock his special gundam powers..

    I don’t really remember any in Gundam 00 or Wing? There might be a few in SEED/Destiny? I guess in Seed Cagali’s dad? Sacrificing himself to save her life? And Athruns dad was just plain CRAAZZZYY.

    • I suspect you’re right, plus there’s the stuff with Yurin that I fear will make Flit go all “walking death-wish” on us. This last episode I was most scared for Emily and Unoa though. They’ve got great big targets painted on them too.

      It’s been too long since I’ve seen Wing or SEED/Destiny to recall but for 00 there’s the lovable lolicon Ian Vashti and Sergei Smirnov made a pretty good adoptive dad to Soma if not to his own son.

      Thank you for commenting Fosh, I’ll have to take your masters class in screencap captioning now that I’m doing this blogging thing! ;D

      • Ohhhh right you are right on 00! I liked watching Lan and Sergei together…they were an odd bunch but not so bad. Yeah Sergei liked Lan’s company more than his actual sun..

        Welcome! I WILL TEACH YOU THE WAYS! <3

  5. Now that I’m a bit more caught up on Gundam AGE, I fully understand how amazing this post is. Thank you. ^ ^

  6. Pingback: Happy Mother’s Day! Mothers in Anime « Forty-Four Fennecs

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