Newtypes as an Unaccountable Elite

One of the recurring themes across the Gundam franchise is that of the Newtype or its equivalent (sometimes under less subtle names like Co-ordinator or Innovator); a kind of superhuman who is inherently better suited to leadership and life in the future and must in time replace the fallible “ordinary” human. In its original form, the concept was that life in space allowed for mankind to evolve psychic ability – telekinesis and telepathy. All humans had the potential to achieve this by moving into space and effectively becoming more open-minded and crucially the Newtype was an agent of peace.

The most straightforward demonstration of this is the Lalah Sune arc of Mobile Suit Gundam, which takes the traditional device of humanising the enemy in a war story and then makes those involved telepaths. It undeniably shows the human cost of war and if anything lays down the anti-war premise of Gundam – what matters is empathy and consideration. The route to peace is through mediation and understanding and this preoccupation is considered in later series entries (with Char’s Counterattack turning it on its head as the antagonist tries to destroy Earth to force mankind’s emigration into space thus accelerating their becoming Newtypes) as a question of free will. If Newtypes are the next evolutionary step, and are inherently better – and the divide between them and non-evolved humans causes war and exploitation – should people be allowed to reject this progress? In the setting, this is compounded by the almost unique capacity for Newtypes to use the most powerful weapons – telekinetically controlled drones which offer almost uncounterable and bloodless military force.

The role of the combat drone in Gundam is thus interesting from a modern perspective – the Newtype concept posits that the proper use of bloodless mechanical soldiers should be limited to only those who are undeniably the superior elite, best at war and the genetic supermen who will supercede humanity as it is. The way in which this is appropriated by the fallible humans in a series like Zeta Gundam (where characters like Four Murasame are shown to be superior yet exploited by those who do not truly understand them) addresses the inherent tension; Newtypes are a commodity, a force multiplier to enable the use of and defense from remote weapons like some tech tree in a strategy game. In Mobile Suit Gundam the war becomes focused on the Federation’s Newtype, Amuro, versus his counterparts Char and Lalah – while the militaries see them only in terms of weapons and new technologies, their personal combats reveal the truth of the Newtype phenomenon. That is the attendant empathy through telepathy and it is this – not the capacity to use weapons of mass destruction – that is shown to be why Newtypes are born leaders. Indeed, the preoccupation with weapons (using Newtypes to win wars) is shown to be humanity’s failing. Newtypes should be preventing war with their greater capacity for care.

Thus the inherent paradox becomes clear – those who are most suited to waging war by their access to powerful weapons are also those who have least motivation to fight wars since they are more attuned to suffering. Thus the Newtype elite are presented as frustrated by a retrograde world; they fight to eradicate war and force others to understand. Throughout the Gundam timeline those wars waged by Newtypes are focused on making others Newtypes, or at least sympathetic to them. Char tries to crash the meteor Axis into Earth to fragment human society and force co-operation or emigration. In Victory Gundam the Newtype super weapon Angel Halo suppresses aggression by telepathy – it weaponises pacifism. Ultimately these are the unsympathetic sides of the empowered elite – a desire for conformity rather than genuine empathy. What this does is address the natural shortcoming of an evolved elite – how they will address those who do not want to join them. Characters like Amuro and Kamille use their power selflessly, understanding that sympathy is vital and by improving relations between Newtypes and humans peace can occur. They fight those who misunderstand the route to peace and see their inherent superiority as justification for unaccountability.

To conclude, the concept of the Newtype, in its almost “definitive” state in the Universal Century timeline, is founded on an interesting dichotomy; fundamentally it focuses on how an enlightened and powerful minority interacts with an ignorant majority. The cynical view suggests that minority acts like Char is depicted, using their power to force compliance and here perhaps the drone warfare allusions are apt; modern thinking about remote weaponry is increasingly negative for fear it will be misused by a powerful and unaccountable force. Gundam tempers this with optimism – the idea that such power can be used responsibly, and a preoccupation with a Newtype arms race is missing their true value. Ultimately the positive view of Newtypes takes the drones and beautiful, elegant, weapons like the Nu Gundam and rejects them; what matters more are the pilots and their capacity to properly disdain war.

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12 comments

  1. TheSubtleDoctor

    Great read, this.

    This dichotomy of the Newtype exists IRL for truly gifted/genius individuals. Their gifts, their “power” is neutral in and of itself and can be used for the great benefit or the great harm of others. It’s a bit sobering, at least for me, to ponder that certain individuals who influenced the course of history might have done so in a different manner. What if, I dunno, Hitler had been raised differently or born someplace else? What if Martin Luther King Jr. -was- an advocate for violence to bring forth change? You spoke about the question of the free will of the majority, and my above thoughts are getting me thinking about how big a role do circumstances and the environment play in the formation of the elites. But, I suppose that is veering too far away from questions about Newtypes/geniuses into more general sorts of questions.

    • r042

      Something that came to me after writing this is how you can see Amuro as how the powerful minority want to see themselves (standing up for the Right Things like Lalah’s memory, not dropping rocks on Earth, fighting just wars and expecting no recompense) but Char as how they actually are (assuming they are born to lead and accepting no dissent).

      It’s almost naive nowadays to think you can have a selfless powerful minority.

      • TheSubtleDoctor

        Depending on the political structure in place, it will likely be difficult for any minority to act selflessly once they gain power. Perhaps there are a handful of specific situation in which it wold be possible for that to occur. Then, if we factor in your considerations about flawed human nature, the possibility looks even less likely.

        • r042

          That’s if anything where Gundam’s internal politics collapses; it suggests idealistic and selfless heroes like Amuro, Usso and Loran can exist (by being “superior” in some way) but also relies on a kind of intrinsic misanthropy where everyone is either compromised or one step away from it.

          I think that’s where the emphasis on children comes in – the idea that it takes the naive optimism of youth to break that cycle (although then 0080 is a conspicuous exception).

          • TheSubtleDoctor

            That is well put, sir!

            Youthful energy + idealism + not being ingratiated in some “camp” or other = breaking the cycle.

            Do you suspect that these internal politics are also a sort of message to Japanese youth, to break some kind of societal cycle?

          • r042

            If so it is probably a better handling of it than Gargantia tries!

            It’s neat actually considering Eureka 7’s Renton alongside Gundam heroes; he begins thinking himself to be the idealistic hero but doesn’t have an ideology to fight for – as he matures he has to first learn the importance of knowing why to fight.

          • TheSubtleDoctor

            Renton’s personal journey is an excellent example of the existentialist-ish anime hero trajectory that so often occurs in mecha shows. It’s all about the rejection of the inherited grand narrative and making a leap of faith type of commitment to some reason or other. It doesn’t matter much if your reason is “correct” (from the show’s point of view, we can’t really know that). What is important is that you are sincerely embracing it.

            All this is fairly rote in anime and embedded in our everyday psychology that we tend to see it as “just the way things are.”

            What reason does Amuro choose, if he does so at all?

          • r042

            Now there is a good one; Amuro being a recurring character the way he’s written is quite inconsistent.

            I’m reading Gundam the Origin at the moment and it’s reminding me of how 0079 Amuro is not just the war-hating kid we remember but actually a pretty small-minded chauvinist; what gets him to fight is the need to “stop” Fraw Bow or Sayla from entering the man’s world of war – or the need to one-up Char.

            Come CCA he has apparently matured and undergone the complete shift in worldview you talk about – but at the end of the day he’s still obsessing about Lalah, the girl he couldn’t protect (and so’s Char.)

          • TheSubtleDoctor

            You know, I touch on the possibility of that rationale in my post about “The Slap.” However, I wasn’t certain about his motivation, and I wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt. It’s a bit sad to hear that the manga gives definitive evidence of his smallness, though it probably rings truer than ascribing Amuro with more altruistic motivations.

  2. piratekingray

    I think that’s the point of scirocco and haman karn. Good new types want to encourage by example; do good deeds set an example act as icons to encourage people to do it until eventually everyone becomes a new type. People like scirocco and haman just want power and domination and that humans need to be ruled for their own good. Amuro does grow more selfless overall, Judau directly tells haman that her misanthropy is full of shit. scirocco is a mind rapist.

  3. piratekingray

    Another problem is that in the show Amuro was never sexist. He had no problem fighting with Sayla as a copilot, when he learned that Sayla was temporarily piloting in hand to hand combat he accepts it gracefully and he doesn’t make comments about miss hamon being unfit for war

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