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.