Gasaraki: the Collective, Conscience, and Freedom

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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10 thoughts on “Gasaraki: the Collective, Conscience, and Freedom

  1. Well…for me it’s not that question for a change (usually I don’t know a lot about the current anime series, but the older ones I do know😂). I really enjoyed this series a lot back in the days. Great to relive it through this post 😊

    1. I’m glad that this post brought back fond memories of Gasaraki. Many of my blogs try to encourage people to watch 90’s or old school anime. Hopefully, my musings above have convinced a few other people to try out this classic. 🙂

      1. I’m an enormous lover of older anime (both 80’s and 90’s anime). It really is a shame that a lot of people are quick to dismiss the classics 😢

        1. It is a shame. Most people can’t seem to get used to the animation. I myself used to only keep up with current anime until I noticed a severe lack of quality anime from 2010 to 2012. During that time, I turned to watching older series, and I’m happy that I did.

  2. That was a very intelligently written review. I watched the first few episodes of Gasaraki, but I never finished it. I’d like to see the whole series at some point. Also, Message #9 by Tomoko Tane is one of my favorite opening theme songs and it just happens to be the theme of Gasaraki.

  3. I love mecha shows as well. I checked out of course many of the Gundam shows, Evangelion, FMP!, Escaflowne, and Layzner, among many others. This post has made me want to check Gasaraki out. Thanks!

    1. I’m glad that you want to take a look at Gasaraki now. I was kind of a latecomer to mecha anime. I did watch Robotech and Gundam Wing when I was young, but that was mostly because my brother watched them. Then, in college I came across FMP! Fumoffu, which led to me watching the original FMP! Now, I’ve seen about forty mecha shows. I haven’t watched Layzner, but you mentioning it makes me want to check that anime out.

  4. This is incredibly interesting, as your posts in this matter tend to be. I know many great and very different works (OreGairu, Ping Pong the Animation, Lain, The Idolm@ster, Shirobako, Everything becomes F, RahXephon, Kyosougiga, Chuunibyou, Little Busters VN, even Madoka, in a way) which deal with some aspects concerning your point. That is, the eternal fight (more evident in teenhood) to find an equilibrium between a) discovering, learning to love and coming to affirm your unique personality created by God, in one hand, and b) coming to assume your role in the story you´re living right now, your mission in this particular human world, and come to terms with your bonds, your decisions and your debts. Others, the groups you belong to and those who rule and defend them are also an essential part of who you are, be it the staff of the school, your family, your comrades in arms or the rulers of Middle Earth. There is always a gap: only God knows fully who you are and what your mission is. But one grows only when taking steps which are both meaningful to oneself and significant towards others. Life is about you yourself fighting for love, after all.

    Excess in one field leads to someone whose only identity is the group, the family, the ideology, the clan or the kingdom they love, and that´s an impoverishment: there is always much more. In this matter, “no slacking” (Shirobako). Else, you would be trapped in your own history as if it were your definition. But more often fiction, and fantasy and science-fiction in particular, tend to emphasize the other element in detriment of the “collective” mission. Adults conspiring against us, we were always right, the world can go to hell, authority exercised over me means agression, stupidity or injustice… That way, the solution of all the problems of the world is simply to let the power of the individual flow without external opression and let him alone: play your own kind of music, sing your own special song. But this kind of thinking condemns us to never grow up, to be isolated, to always take for granted what is around us. It´s like a life-lasting Eight-grade Syndrome. We are not self-sufficient. We´re not alone. Authority, whatever its corruptions may be, means helping people to grow and achieve things, to help each other, coordinate and communicate. And coercion, whatever its corruptions may be, is just when used to defend such an order if threatened. If someone starts screaming when you´re giving a conference, you either have him expelled of the room or stop talking.

    So you may have the giant, essential robot, but you´re fighting with others, and you need to learn, to connect, to be part of a team. The only mecha show I´ve seen is RahXephon, but I liked how this aspect was emphasized (and there was also that feeling of Mayan/Egiptian/Freudian/Atomic Bomb horror and wonder in the robots). And how the wish-fulfillment nature of the premise was challenged by using a literal wish-fullfilment horrid dreamworld at one point. The point being, you won´t like every aspect of the world outside the shell, but is real, your mission and your growth is there, and there are others in it. A shell may be necessary to resist some attacks, but then it can become a prision. Aside from world-transforming deus ex machina powers, the only mean to challenge unjust authority is to affirm just authority strongly and unveil the unjust aspects by comparison. The rebellion, say, against Headmistress Umbridge is twice as strong because one can compare her to Dumbledore, and would be twice as weak if the motive is not having a director in the first place, so you can go to class or not go to class at your whim. I think we will always need more poets who sing to the just king, we´re starting to forget this sort of figure.

    After all, to dance only to the music you yourself compose and sing means to be a pretty limited dancer, and not capable of doing a choreography. Not to speak that nobody learns to dance by himself. So singing your own kind of music is important. But in tune, looking for beauty and harmony, like in Tolkien´s Ainundalë…

    1. Thanks! I’m glad that you found the post interesting. The Japanese in particular have a unique problem with escaping the collective, and Gasaraki is probably reacting to that by taking the opposite extreme.

      Ever since the Enlightenment, I think the individual, his rights, and his liberty have been over-stressed. Maybe those philosophers thought of anarchy as the solution to the strong and invasive central government, which started to develop in the Renaissance. But, there is something about absolute freedom which draws people towards absolute tyranny. I think that’s why some people still have a lingering affection for communism: it pretends to solve the problems of isolation and alienation often found in democratic, free market states with great individual liberty. However, communism solves the problem of lost souls by crushing the life out of souls; and so, it’s not a real solution.

      The only real solution is found in an organic society and culture. I think that we’d agree that a person begins as a child by learning to conform to a specific culture and undergoing enculturation. It’s only after a person leaves childhood that one can properly cultivate an individual identity, and this individuality finds its meaning in being able to serve the group. In rare occasions, serving the collective might involve rebellion, but only when the collective is severely corrupted and one’s goal is to reform the group. But, one can only reform the group by knowing how it has strayed from its original form and trying to return it to that form.

      For some reason, I did not enjoy Rahxephon too much; though, I remember the animation being gorgeous, and the sound track was brilliant. I might have to give it a second try. If Rahxephon is all the mecha you’ve seen, may I recommend Escaflowne for your next mecha anime? It’s one of those mecha shows which really stand out from the crowd, and I think that it has elements you’d really enjoy.

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