Gasaraki is one of the classic mecha anime. “If it’s a classic,” you ask, “why have I never heard of it before?” Despite the great animation (at least, to a connoisseur of 90’s anime like myself), many layers of intrigue, a unique plot, and great mecha battles, the dialog can be very abstruse–so abstruse that I switched from the Japanese to the English dub after four episodes. Esoteric anime generally don’t enjoy much popularity.
After four unintelligible episodes, the dub is a great improvement. The person who wrote the English script must have worked with the same translation, but he elevated the translation from “translationese” to proper English. Some of what occurred still went over my head, but the enigmatic nature of some of the dialog made me meditate longer about what the show was about. The show juxtaposes the individual against collective or group structures to highlight the goodness of the individual against the tyranny of the collective. This is not surprising when you consider that Goro Taniguchi, the director of Code Geass, also had a hand in making Gasaraki. One of the salient themes of Code Geass is nothing less than people’s thirst for freedom.
We start Gasaraki learning that the hero, Yushiro Gowa, works as a mecha pilot within the Japanese Self-Defense Force. He stands head and shoulders above his fellow pilots in terms of talent. This would appear to be his main job, except that the Gowa clan, i.e. Yushiro’s own family, highly values him for another purpose. We see him performing in an unsual ceremony with a Noh mask on. The dance which he performs appears tied to summoning an alien being which another character refers to as “the Terror.” Yushiro does not only perform this dance when requested to by the Gowa clan, but at odd times of his own volition.
Dancing always follows a certain song. In Gasaraki, one may say that the conflict is over who should be playing the song to which one dances. Yushiro begins by dancing according to the songs played by the military, the government, and his clan and ends by dancing to his own song. By the end of the series he’ll even–in an allegorical fashion–reject the idea of dancing to the song played by religion. His comrades in the military highly praise Yushiro’s independence of thought and action–an independence they themselves cannot imagine imitating.
Yushiro’s actions are all defined by their defiance of collective authorities. Not only in his present life, but a flashback indicates that Yushiro defied the Gowa clan during the Tokugawa Era. He defies the Gowa for the sake of his own repugnance to killing and his love for the series’ heroine, Miharu, whom Yushiro appears to have loved even in his past life. The flashback brings up the interesting point that individuals, because of their immortal souls, actually have a longer existence than cultures, governments, countries, or even family units. (Family trees only go back so far and some families end when the last members die without heirs or become incorporated into other family units.) By which metric, the individual holds much importance: in a curious way, each individual may even be considered a center of the universe, as Alexander Solzhenitsyn says.
While rightly understanding the importance of the individual, Gasaraki‘s mistake comes in condemning too strongly the collective authorities around us. One is reminded of Thomas Paine’s Common Sense, where he calls government a necessary evil and society a necessary good. However, Scripture asserts “Let every soul be subject to higher powers: for there is no power but from God: and those that are, are ordained of God,” (Romans 13:1). If all authority comes from God, no authority–whether State, Church, or parents–can be evil in itself. If God ordained the authority, its purpose must be good. And, how is the individual, fallen as he is, any less prone to corruption than collective authorities? If the individual is wounded by the Fall and dragged down by concupiscence, he must learn to be good. This learning must come from outside of himself.
People tend to focus on school as the primary place of learning, but school only exists as it does because of the wisdom and knowledge passed down by the Church, the State, and succeeding generations. Religion reveals the maximum good towards which individuals should strive, while the State ideally enforces the minimum expected of its citizens–yes, the minimum expectation. To try to make men angels by enforcing stricter laws is a tyrant’s errand which only makes the citizens devils in the end. American society was not improved by Prohibition! If the bar can be raised, it must be raised slowly lest prisons be swiftly overcrowded. On occasion, it might even be prudent to lower the bar, as certain American states have done in legalizing marijuana.
Conversely, families enforce a rule which varies between the heights of religion and the lows of human law–some more demanding, others less so. They offer a field for learning and practicing virtue. Families do more to make individuals virtuous than any other authority. Our interactions with family members not only teach virtue but moral sentiments: one comes not only to know, but to feel what is good. For example, I shed tears when I hear Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the USA,” learning new things excites me, and being in the presence of a priest fills me with a certain awe. From which, you may infer that my family inculcated the moral sentiments of patriotism, wisdom, and piety. Virtue is rational, but virtue merely understood is the least potent. Our good deeds are done more promptly and perfectly when moral sentiments are behind these actions, which can only be formed by living with those who have common values.
Yushiro appears to be the freest person in the world, but his conscience could not exist without some kind of collective influence. While he does have an awful older brother (perhaps symbolic of what’s colloquially called “Big Brother”), an uncaring mother, and siblings who act as extensions of his older brother’s will, Yushiro’s father and sister come across as positive characters. Gasaraki does not connect Yushiro’s sense of righteousness to either his father or sister, but virtue does not ordinarily exist in a vacuum. Even Christ, coming into a fallen world as he did, chose the home of St. Joseph, “a just man” (Matt. 1:19), and St. Mary, addressed by Gabriel with the appellation “full of grace” (Luke 1:28). In Yushiro’s case, we see that his father has a strong sense of justice. If the anime had been more just itself, it would have better developed the connection between Yushiro’s conscience and his father’s.