Turn-A Gundam – Status and Power

The scene where Dianna (in the persona of Kihel) visits the Heim family grave is a blunt recapitulation of what the character-switch means; both sides are seeing the difficulties and tragedies that the enemy must deal with first-hand.

The scene where Dianna (in the persona of Kihel) visits the Heim family grave is a blunt recapitulation of what the character-switch means; both sides are seeing the difficulties and tragedies that the enemy must deal with first-hand.

The central plot conceit of much of Turn-A Gundam is that two central characters – the victim of war Kihel Heim and the leader of the invading Moonrace Dianna Soriel – switch places, taking advantage of their similarity of appearance to experience life from another perspective. The lonely queen of the moon initially sees this as a joke stemming from an emerging friendship with a confidante of the leader of earth forces, but as the events of the war develop – and Moonrace and Earth Militia forces both escalate the conflict ignorant of attempts at peace – the switch becomes a much more significant thing as Kihel, a civilian, ends up having to do more than look like her counterpart but also fulfil Dianna’s role as a military leader.

Yet this plot device epitomises a central theme throughout Turn-A’s opening section; that it is a conflict based around people blindly obeying and disobeying orders. What matters in any of the conflicts within the first 11 episodes more than anything – more than giving consideration to the consequences of actions – is the authority or perceived authority of the person giving the orders. Kihel-as-Dianna is powerless not because she is an imposter but because Dianna is powerless herself. Loran, the protagonist, becomes authoritative because he has expertise in piloting the Mobile Suits that the conflict hinges around yet he is not always listened to because he is an outsider and lower-class at that. As a result of this continued reliance on deference to authority, and peoples’ authority not necessarily coming from the appropriate skills for the job but from some other basis (usually social class or force of will), the conflict is not the expected steamrolling of a technologically backward human society by advanced invaders but a chaotic affair in which those who can grab some power try to make the best of it. It is a frequent criticism of Yoshiyuki Tomino’s animé that this kind of anarchic war – of everyone ignoring orders and acting selfishly – grates, and becomes ridiculous. It features heavily in series like Heavy Metal L-Gaim, Zeta Gundam and Brain Powerd, which all have major plot points reliant on the fallibility of people with power and the times when self-interest trumps common sense.

This is claimed to fail in much of Tomino’s animé because it is generally set in a clearly-defined futuristic society, within a concrete military framework which is then undermined with convenient inefficiences. Zeta Gundam has the AEUG, its heroes’ organisation, be simultaneously a comedic group of buffoons in space, bumbling about the Argama and getting into pointless fights with each other, and also a great threat to the enemy fleet led by heroes of the settings’ past wars like Char Aznable. On the enemy side, the Titans are a complex knot of backstabbing, selfish officers (epitomised by their eventual leader Scirocco) with an edge for cruelty. The result of this is that Zeta Gundam feels like anything but a piece of military science-fiction for most of it; it is melodramatic, compelling and often ridiculous because of this jarring tone inconsistency.

In Turn-A, however, the setting is one where disobeying orders because they come from the “wrong” person makes sense; it is an Edwardian-era society loosely based on the American South. There are established master-servant hierachies, rich idiots in command of private armies and implications of societal racism (Loran, being poor, an outsider, and coloured, ends up becoming a chauffeur and manservant at first until he proves himself useful elsewhere – while his comrades from the Moonrace end up as a journalist and a baker respectively). Rather than an organised, well-armed force as the AEUG or even a more ad hoc group like Brain Powerd‘s Novis Noah being the main source of armed resistance to the enemy, it is a group of locals unsuitably armed, frequently drunk and overconfident in the face of a vastly superior foe. On the opposite side, the Moonrace are an organised force who over time lose trust in their leader, Dianna; she wants a peaceful solution to the land dispute the Moonrace have identified, while the soldiers on the ground are more interested in putting down the militia by force and flexing their muscle. The implication in this opening arc is increasingly – made clearer when Kihel-as-Dianna is on board the Moonrace flagship – that a planned peaceful settlement is being actively undermined by agitators back on the moon. By sending incompetents and warmongers like the supposed Moonrace aces Corin Nander and Phil Ackman, and leaving the peace talks in closed rooms, situations that Dianna and her bodyguard Harry Ord try to defuse spiral out of control, fuelling further attacks from the Militia.

The Militia themselves actively want a war despite standing no chance of winning, since their leaders are not the reasoned figures like Loran or the shrewd negotiators like Guin Lineford – instead they defer to the aggression of figureheads like Sochie Heim and fight incoherently. A telling moment of how this initial arc is setting up inevitable escalation comes when two scenes are juxtaposed of both sides talking about what they would do if there was peace. Sochie and the Militia say that even if the war ended they would still need more Mobile Suits for security, while the Moonrace feel peace can only come if they increase their military presence. This is entirely framed by the Kihel-as-Dianna plot – as each side encounters the difficulties faced by their “enemy” (firstly Dianna seeing the effects of a war she cannot stop, and secondly Kihel seeing how powerless the Queen of the Moon actually is) the reasons behind the utter chaos being seen become ever-clearer.

Turn-A Gundam thus begins not with a simple, easily-understood war; it begins with a territorial dispute which neither side wants to actually resolve despite the efforts of rational leaders. Loran has influence within the Militia because he knows how Moonrace technology works – but he is nevertheless one of the “enemy”, and too soft on them to be properly listened to over the revenge-hungry Sochie. Dianna is the de facto leader of her people but consistently undermined by soldiers with personal vendettas and what seems to be the beginning of a wider conspiracy. That this is all set within a world where often good ideas are secondary to the uniform or status of the person giving bad ones makes the usual self-destructive anarchy of a Tomino war story seem all too credible, rather than the melodramatic black comedy of something like Zeta Gundam. 

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8 comments

  1. megaroad1

    Tomino’s idea of military discipline is rather comical isn’t it? From Amuro Ray burying the Gundam in the sand onwards, the way some of the characters just go off on their own really makes one facepalm more often than not. I don’t even want to start on the motivations for people changing sides (Reccoa Londe I’m looking at you). Kihel Heim and Diana Soriel as you say is actually one of the most accomplished examples of people changing sides in Tomino’s work.

  2. TheSubtleDoctor

    Nice to see a post on one of my all-time favorite shows.

    Excellent observation about how Tomino’s preferred mechanics of warfare are done a huge favor by the setting and culture of the Earth in Turn A. A militia-led smash-and-grab versus an invading army with little political capital back home? Chaos works here.

    However, I do not recall any jarring tonal shifts in Zeta. Perhaps you are blending it with its sequel? For me, Zeta was stone serious throughout, racheting up the intensity as it went along. Now, were certain characters and their actions annoying and maybe irrational? Yes. But, this did not make Zeta feel like a comedy to me, nor does Tomino seem to intend it as such (though this is no reason, by itself, to declare Zeta not a comedy).

    • r042

      I personally felt the characters in Zeta went a little beyond believable irrationality and at times simply seemed childish and unbelievable as a result – that’s the tonal shifts I meant. Characters like Reccoa, Jerid and arguably even Kamille himself I personally felt were parodic at times.

      Of course compared to something like L Gaim (which is more tongue in cheek as a whole) or as you say ZZ, it’s a lot more serious.

      • TheSubtleDoctor

        With Reccoa specifically, are you referring to her “heel turn?” I suppose this could be considered an action beyond the bounds of believability (though, I’d like to poll a few ladies before ultimately deciding); however, I kind of give this a pass because I think we are getting a look into the mind of YT and what he thinks women are like. I find that sort of thing so fascinating that I am willing to shoehorn Reccoa’s turn into the class of rational actions, angry-Picard-face-inducing though it may be.

        • r042

          I was thinking of her changing sides, yes. I do actually see where you’re coming from here – I think the amount a viewer will see Zeta as a “serious” show for all that entails is a personal thing, at the end of the day.

          You raise a good point about Reccoa reflecting Tomino on women – there’s also Quincy Issa and the Novis Noah’s captain whose name escapes me in Brain Powered, and Karala in Ideon as an interesting set of comparisons about perceived instability. You could also consider Adette in King Gainer as a side-changing woman who’s more sympathetic.

          • TheSubtleDoctor

            I need to watch more non-Gundam YT shows to comment fully. Karla, from Ideon, is a neat character to contrast with Reccoa. She defects, but the viewer is meant to be sympathetic to her, whereas we are all meant to hate Miss Londe for her action.

  3. Pingback: Mailbag, The First: Hidden Gems and Other Old Things | rayout

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