Anime is a very significant part of the Japanese popular culture that is now known and loved all around the world. There exists a wide variety of different kinds and directions of anime. One of them is known as mecha anime, represents one of the oldest genres in the field. The name of this type of anime originates from the English word “mechanical”.1 Apart from showing the battles of enormous and powerful robots, mecha anime also presents a back story involving political drama. The focus of this paper is to investigate the quality of the political themes explored in one of mecha anime series and evaluate their relevance to the real-life political scenarios and issues.
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The anime series selected for this paper is Gurren Lagann, originally known as Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann that is translated as “Pierce the Heavens, Gurren Lagann”. This series is light, optimistic, and slightly humorous; however, the major plot line reflects a very dramatic political scenario of total oppression of humans by the beastmen led by Lordgenome. It includes the topics of political conspiracy, discrimination, class gaps, and oppression based on culture and background, to name a few. This paper maintains that apart from humorous and playful aspects, Gurren Lagann series raises a strong and persisting discussion of dramatic political events some of which are relevant to the real world and some are unrealistic.
Mecha Anime: Genre Overview and History
Mecha is one of the most popular genres of anime. This name was chosen because the most notable features of mecha anime are the giant war machines or robots. The roots of this genre of anime date back to the times of the Second World War when Japan was brutally struck down by the advanced technologies of the West – the atomic bombs, and suffered massive devastation that lasted for decades. The events of the Second World War evoke both fear of and fascination with the new technologies in Japan and thus, mecha anime featuring giant war machines clashing with one another became popular.
The popularity of mecha anime in Japan and around the world has been growing since the genre was initiated and reached its peak in the 1980s.2 After that decade, mecha anime became one of the pillars supporting the development of the image of ‘cool Japan’, a concept designed to popularize the notion of Japan as one of the world’s most progressive, innovative, and technocratic countries in the world. It is worth mentioning that the mission was accomplished successfully, and since the 1990s, when the concept was first introduced, Japan’s popularity has increased massively, partly, due to its controversial and unique popular culture that includes anime and manga as some of its most impactful features.
Apart from the ‘cool factor’ represented by the giant robots battling one another, mecha anime also offers deep and thoughtful plot lines involving dramatic political events and phenomena. The combination of these two factors serves to comprise the ultimate captivating power of mecha anime. The question is, are the political events described in the series of this genre in any way connected to the real life or are they simply a background for all the cool robot action’?
Gurren Lagann: Series Plot Overview
There is a wide variety of anime shows that have enjoyed a warm reception from the audiences all around the world. The one selected for the analysis in this paper is titled Gurren Lagann. This show that is also known as Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann (“Pierce the heavens, Gurren Lagann”) is a mecha anime series mainly praised by the reviewers for its light mood and humorous nature combined with a lot of robot action.3 The political drama in the series is recognized as relatively mild and non-pervasive, and the robots and technologies featured – as completely implausible.4
The story revolves around two young boys from an underground village where they live and work as diggers whose duty is to expand the pit deeper. One of the main characters, the older boy, is called Kamina; he is a passionate person convinced that there is the surface above the village, while everyone else believes that the world above the ground is a myth. The second character is a timid and shy child called Simon; he is pushed forward by Kamina’s never ending search for adventures and faith in him. Both characters go through a wide range of experiences that eventually cause their evolution and development alongside their multiple friends and followers.
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Over the course of the story, the main protagonists find out that the surface that is regarded as mythical by their fellows truly exists, and get to explore the world above making many new friends and facing serious challenges. The characters learn that the humans were driven underground intentionally by their King Lordgenome, who populated the surface with beastmen – the creatures of both human and animal origins. The protagonists form Team Gurren and steal robots (gunmen) operated by beastmen to fight for the freedom of humans and overthrow the King. The last words of the defeated ruler reveal that his decision to place humans in subterranean settlements was based on a major threat coming from the Moon whose dwellers were there to control the population density on Earth with an intention to eradicate it once it reaches one million. While the threat is not taken lightly, Simon, as a leader of Team Gurren, has more important issues to resolve as the Team becomes the new government.
Political Issues in Gurren Lagann
Gurenn Lagann is a series that includes 27 episodes, a very rich and eventful story with one major plot line and several additional ones; it has no episode formula and presents a multitude of very diverse situations and problems. The political issues of different kinds can be found in multiple episodes right from the very beginning of the show. All of the political problems faced by the main protagonists are the reflections of those that happened in real life at some points of history; however, some of them are driven to absurd in order to maintain the dramatic plot of the series.
The very first political drama that unravels in the series revolves around the idea of a massive conspiracy – the existence of the world above ground. Kamina is the only person in the entire village to believe that there exists the surface. The other villagers see his ideas as unrealistic nonsense. This situation can be compared to the real world dynamics. Today, there are multiple political conspiracies supported and believed in many countries. They are based on the fact that many times in the human history the governments and rulers have proved to lead secret activities for different political purposes.5 Some of the examples of such activities include secret scientific research and experiments whose results become revealed decades after they had been conducted and the use of secret intelligence and services to spy on the rival states. The presence of such facts in history eventually provoked a massive public response in the form of fear, obsessions, and curiosity about the conspiracies that could exist in the past and are in place today.6 Some of the modern conspiracy theories close to Kamina’s ideas about the surface are the theories of hollow Earth and flat Earth based on the belief that the governments of the world disguise some very important truths from the population to ensure better control.
One more conspiracy in the series revolves around the existence of the King. To be more precise, the human population in the show seems to be completely unaware of the existence of some kind of political power above the chiefs of their villages. In fact, the settlements do now know they have neighbors. This political issue seems rather unrealistic since the settlements have a very lengthy history (about a thousand years) of living underground without finding one another, advancing their cultures, growing, or developing more complex hierarchies and structures.
Use of Religion to Control People
Another political issue mentioned in Gurren Lagann is that of the use of religion as a tool to manage the population. The researchers point out that religion is recognized as the primary choice of an individual for self-identification.7 In that way the simultaneous existence of politics and religion in a state makes the two concepts intertwine and impact one another. As a result, religion is often employed as a tool helping the political leaders manage and control the population. This phenomenon can be seen in the episode where trio of main protagonists stumble upon another underground village worshiping what the call “facegod” and what in reality is an old gunmen buried underground. The extreme scarcity of the village’s resources and the need to maintain its population limit are addressed with the help of the faith in the will of facegod and the holy book whose contents are made up by the leader because no one in the village (including himself) can read.
Dissatisfaction of the Citizens with the Government
At the point when Team Gurren manages to defeat the King and free the humans from the lengthy period of oppression, there appear new challenges for the main protagonists. To be more precise, the series jumps seven years forward showing the members of the Team as matured political leaders struggling with the citizens’ dissatisfaction. The problem is that the people who had been freed from their underground pits just several years ago and provided with homes and opportunities have developed new needs and demands. This situation depicts the challenging work of the political leaders dealing with very diverse societies comprised of multiple individuals whose needs constantly evolve and are never fully satisfied.
Further, as a new threat from the Moon appears, the population of the Earth begins to blame their leaders for it. The new government faces another challenging political situation having to handle the bigger picture (finding ways to save the humanity from the eradication and fight back against the aggressors) while the population is dissatisfied with the smaller problems such as their disrupted daily routines. In that way, the new leaders find themselves torn between the unrest among the population and the approaching threat from the Moon.
At this point, the series places the audience as an observed or the inside dynamics of the government filled with secrets and activities of which the general public is not and will never be informed. This situation can be linked back to the section where the phenomenon of conspiracy theories was discussed. In that way, the series demonstrates that the government is simply unable to inform the population about everything that the state is facing and wait for the response. As a result, conspiracy theories and public dissatisfaction with the leaders’ actions are inevitable even when the most dedicated and righteous government is at power.
Breakdown of the Government
In addition, under the growing pressure inflicted by the developing needs of the rapidly increasing population and the emerging threats from the outside world, the government begins to fragment and divide into smaller groups. In real life scenarios, such groups are called coalitions; they compete for power and influence, just like Simon and his first advisor Rossiu do as each of them believes that he has the only suitable solution to the threat of eradication. Attempting to battle the enemies and protect the city, Simon, the Supreme Commander, makes a rash decision and exposes the citizens to a disaster causing destruction of one of the districts. For this mistake, he is captured by Rossiu and sentenced to death; the citizens seem satisfied with the fact that the blame was placed on the former leader and a new person is in charge.
This scenario complies with the perspective of social contract maintained by John Locke. The philosopher argued that the leader who presented a threat to the people ought to be overthrown by them; in fact, to prevent that person from being a leader was a moral obligation of the citizens.8 In the real life events, this idea serves as the basis for every political revolution in the history of the humanity. It also applies to the major plotline of the major part of Gurren Lagann series where a group of young revolutionists rises up driven by the intention to free their societies from the dangerous and destructive influence of the dictator. Ironically, in just seven years after his victory over the King, Simon takes his place as the source of everyone’s dissatisfaction. This situation can be observed in most of the revolutionary scenarios of the real world. One of the examples of a similar scenario is that of the Ukrainian revolution that took place just a few years ago. The public uprising overthrowing the old leader resulted in the establishment of the new government that is just as corrupt and despised by the population as the previous one. 9
Population Size Issue
Finally, one of the most prominent political issues that keep emerging in the series is that of the population size. Practically, the major threat to the humankind emerges due to the fact that the population of the planet had reached one million people. It is possible to connect this situation to a persisting issue of overpopulation that had been (and in some cases still remains) a challenge for some of the states. In particular, the problem of overpopulation is often associated with the countries of Asia such as India and China whose population is steadily growing out of proportion; moreover, Korea and Japan have faced this problem in the past attempting to manage the scarce resources and the increasing number of citizens.10 In that way, this political issue is also relevant to the real life events and history. However, the population size management with the help of eradication of an entire race can hardly be compared to the real life events of the modern days; at the same time, it fits perfectly into some of the conspiracy theories.
To sum up, Gurren Lagann is a mecha amine TV series that offers an entertaining plotline with a lot of humorous and romantic moments, captivating giant robot action, and an interesting story. The series depicts a number of dramatic political events and issues many of which are very relevant to the contemporary political scenarios or those that occurred at some point in history. However, some of the problems are exaggerated to an extent where they seem unrealistic. This is done for a purpose to increase the dramatic effect of the storyline and make it more captivating for the viewers. All in all, it is possible to conclude that regardless of a rather implausible plot, light and humorous nature, and fictional machines powered by the fighting spirit of their operators, Gurren Lagann discusses many very realistic political problems that apply both to the universe of the series and to the real world.
Allen, Christopher. “Ukraine: New government, same corruption.” 2016, Web.
Bale, Jeffrey M. “Political paranoia v. political realism: on distinguishing between bogus conspiracy theories and genuine conspiratorial politics.” Patterns of Prejudice, 41(2007): 45-60.
Brown, Richard. “Anime Review: Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann.” 2016. Web.
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“Classical Theory of Government and the Social Contract; Democracy.” 2016. Web.
Horniak, Tim. “Giant robots officially fly the flag for cool Japan.” 2016. Web.
Islam, Iftakharul and Kaniz Marzia. “Abuse of the Religious Sentiment to Gain Political Purpose in Bangladesh.” IOSR Journal of Humanities and Social Science, 8(2013): 15-21.
Sabbagh, Michael. “The videogame that helped popularize Japanese mecha in the West.” 2016. Web.
Timmer, Michael. “Overpopulation in Asia.” 2016. Web.
- Michael Sabbagh, “The videogame that helped popularize Japanese mecha in the West,” Web.
- Tim Horniak, “Giant robots officially fly the flag for cool Japan,” Web.
- Richard Brown, “Anime Review: Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann,” Web.
- Jeffrey M. Bale, “Political paranoia v. political realism: on distinguishing between bogus conspiracy theories and genuine conspiratorial politics,” Patterns of Prejudice, 41(2007): 45.
- Iftakharul Islam and Kaniz Marzia, “Abuse of the Religious Sentiment to Gain Political Purpose in Bangladesh,” IOSR Journal Of Humanities and Social Science, 8(2013): 15.
- “Classical Theory of Government and the Social Contract; Democracy,” Web.
- Christopher Allen, “Ukraine: New government, same corruption,” Web.
- Michael Timmer, “Overpopulation in Asia,” Web.