Imperialism, Translation, Gunbuster (Episode Two – NSFW)

RUSSIA AND THE IMAGE

Noriko and Kazumi join the crew of the Exelion, the new Imperial Space Army battleship which replaced the Luxion after being wrecked by an alien attack against captain Admiral Takaya’s fleet. Around minute 5:25 we see a hall where all the newcomers are being welcomed and the lone Japanese flag is conspicuous [see 04]. The identification of the Imperial Space Army with Japan is almost complete.

04

And it is aboard the Exelion that Noriko and Kazumi meet what will be their major human rival in the show: Soviet ace pilot Jung-Freud.

When Gunbuster was released, the Soviet Union was barely three years away from its dissolution. As doomed as the Soviet experiment might seem to many today, the U.S.S.R. and its predecessor the Russian Empire were certainly viewed inside Japan as the largest threats to Japanese power throughout the twentieth century. Russia and Japan fought a major war in 1904-5 which Japan won, and there were bloody clashes between the Soviets and the Japanese in 1939 and again in 1945 both of which favored the former. The Imperial Japanese Army, which had been divided into an “attack Russia” faction and an “attack America” faction in the 1930s finally focused all of its planning on the second option as a result of its crushing defeat at the hands of the Soviets on the Mongolian border in 1939.

In her article “Intellectuals, Cartoons, and Nationalism During the Russo-Japanese War”, Yulia Mikhailova notes the instrumentality of the 1904-5 Russo-Japanese War in the development of Japanese political cartoons (ancestors of anime). She states:

“In the Japanese case political cartoons were essential for defining ‘us’ against ‘them’ and constructing a sense of Japaneseness. They visually identified the foreign ‘other’ against which the Japanese defined themselves, Japanese nationhood, and nationalism by the end of Meiji […] They were instrumental in two important ways. First, they incited passion among their readers, effectively antagonizing them against Russia. Second, they peddled a self-serving positive image of Japan, successfully instilling in Japanese a powerful sense of national pride as citizens (kokumin) of the new nation-state.”

Admiral Togo, hero of the Russo-Japanese War and today a Shinto god

Mikhailova thus links the generally accepted notion that the confrontation with Russia was a formative experience for Japan with an indication of the important role played by cartoons in this process. The establishment of the Soviet Union only deepened the perceived abyss between the two states in the Japanese mind, with Communism seen as the antithesis of the Chrysanthemum Throne. The character of Jung-Freud in Gunbuster is heir to this traditional perception. As her name implies, however, she is the locus of more allusions than just the Russian/Soviet one.

The impossible name of Jung-Freud is a reference to psychoanalysis and its two superstars: the Austrian Freud and his Swedish disciple Jung.  Hideaki Anno has been interested in psychoanalysis for a long time but I think we would not be amiss in seeing in this composite name a reference to Western European culture in general as well as psychoanalysis in particular. With her bright red hair and green eyes with matching green earrings, her nationality and her name, Jung-Freud invites us to consider her as a quintessential Other to Japan [see 05](Noriko’s hair is dark brown and Kazumi’s is dark blue.)

05

Jung-Freud challenges Kazumi to a duel with their RX-7 robots and they fight (minutes 7:00 to 9:30). During the fight sequence they drift into an area under construction and we see the following sign (min. 8:49) [see 06]:

06

安全第一

SAFETY FIRST

日本重化学工業共同体

The English line is in the original and is the standard translation of the first line, seen in construction signs around Japan. The third line is not translated and the subtitlers have not opted to render it for us. A literal translation would be “Japan Heavy Chemical Industry Consortium”. In short, the impression that the non-Japanese readers receive of a battle among equals between a Japanese and a Soviet space pilot in this scene is belied (unbeknownst to them) by the fact that once again it is Japan that is behind the building of the presumably international spacecraft. The presence of the English words “SAFETY FIRST” written very prominently in the center of the sign could even induce Anglophone fans into believing they are getting all of the information provided by the sign, when in fact this is far from being the case.

The duel ends when the girls run into a dead space alien. Even though there is no victor, Jung-Freud seemingly accepts Kazumi’s superiority. At the very least from now on she will behave in a genuinely friendly fashion toward the two Japanese pilots and will never challenge Kazumi again. She will go on to challenge Noriko in Episode Four, which I view as a tacit avowal of her own inferiority to the more senior Kazumi.

Jung-Freud’s about-face is depicted in a sequence extending from minutes 12:00 to 14:00. The sequence is well known as a standard example of fan-service. It basically involves Noriko, Kazumi and Jung-Freud chatting while fully nude in a public bath. The Anime Enyclopedia defines fan-service as “a temporary suspension of the concerns of the story in order to amuse or entertain the audience – usually images and moments in which the female characters lose their clothes or pose provocatively”. As banal as a straightforward description of the sequence may sound, it is pivotal to our understanding of Gunbuster‘s imperialism. The power differentials are very clearly set out and the scene as a whole marks the conquest of the Other (which Jung-Freud symbolizes) by Japan.

The sequence begins with Noriko and Kazumi in the bath. Kazumi remains in the water and thus is mostly covered from our gaze, throughout the two minutes [see 07]. Noriko goes out and then in again, and is significantly more exposed, although there is never a full frontal view [see 08]. Forty seconds into the sequence Jung-Freud opens the door to the bath and comes in, shot in full frontal view [see 09]. She sits by the bath and crosses her legs provocatively. Her reason for coming is to apologize to Kazumi for her behavior earlier, and she invites both Japanese girls to her birthday party. She then reveals she has a crush on Kazumi’s and Noriko’s Japanese coach (Ota) and asks Kazumi when his birthday is. She replies it was the day before yesterday. Since we have received hints before that Kazumi and her coach have a certain romantic bond with each other, we know Jung-Freud’s second challenge is doomed as well.

07

08

09

The exploitation and domestication of Jung-Freud is blatantly palpable. Most fans will probably be shocked to find that the Soviet pilot is interested in burying the hatchet rather than challenging Kazumi again. Also, no reason is given as to why she should fall for the Japanese coach, unless we are meant to believe that Japanese manhood is irresistible.

That said, most of the imperialism is communicated here through the image. There is a clear inverse correlation between power and nudity: Jung-Freud as the more exposed is the most vulnerable; the Japanese are in control with Kazumi taking the lead. Furthermore, Jung-Freud, already sporting a number of foreign traits, becomes overloaded in this sequence. So far we have seen her in an Army uniform and her spacesuit, but now that she is nude we find that she wears a large Christian cross. We will see this cross again in later episodes. The coup de grace takes place literally in the background. Throughout the sequence the Japanese girls are shown with the public bath wall in the background. This bath is exactly like a traditional Japanese sento bath, reinforcing the two girls’ Japaneseness. Jung-Freud’s background, on the other hand is as far removed from a Russian or Soviet environment as could be: it is a big painting of the American landing on the Moon, complete with an American flag and the words “United States” written in all-caps below it.

10

The image that we see right around minute 13:20 gives us this overloaded symbol of the Other in perfect detail: a Soviet woman with bright red hair, large-breasted and fully nude, with a European name allusive of psychoanalysis (as the culmination of Western thought), wearing a Christian cross, sits against the backdrop of a representation of America’s finest hour [see 10]. Note that the American Moon landings were an integral part of the nation’s struggle against Soviet Union and a bitter time for the latter country. Note also the fact that it would have been difficult for a Soviet officer to carry such a large Christian cross around. The text humiliates and subjugates Jung-Freud / the Other, as she apologizes to Japan in girlish, non-threatening Japanese and then confesses her desire for a Japanese male, a desire which we know as viewers is already doomed.

My friend iskra has pointed out to me that Gunbuster uses a 5-second refrain from the Soviet anthem as a motif for Jung-Freud (e.g. when she comes to the rescue in minute 16:29 of this episode). The pitch of the melody has been cut off at the end and looped, almost as if the melody is not allowed to run its course before it is forced to start up again. This appropriation of the foreign continues in full force in the next episode.

[In the interests of full disclosure, I should add that I have contributed my part to the continued exploitation of Jung-Freud.  See here (NSFW)]

~ by animekritik on November 27, 2011.

28 Responses to “Imperialism, Translation, Gunbuster (Episode Two – NSFW)”

  1. Ahh, now this is the stuff right here! Lovely job and makes me want to rewatch Gunbuster, it’s well over a year from last time. I used to wonder about the “random moon landing background” in the past (and subsequently forgot it) but you really connected the dots here well. The scene makes perfect sense seen in this light and while some elements like the degree of exposure going along with position of power (and we do get full frontal of Noriko rising up in the end, though it’s easy to miss) do veer close enough to overanalysis so that I wouldn’t make them with complete confidence the case as a whole is very strong: particularly the moon landing imagery and Jung’s Christian cross.

    Anno has gone on record about “disliking” western civilization:

    Omori: However, [Ryu] Mitsuse-san is more governed by something like an Eastern sense of the transience of things, but the world of Evangelion is more along the lines of Western civilization……
    Anno: I dislike Western civilization. I don’t place much trust in Western civilization.
    Omori: That is, [you consider it] as something one must repudiate? Not positive-
    Anno: No, it’s something like, because I don’t care that much about it, I can make use of it. If I were a Christian believer I couldn’t have inserted Christian elements [into Eva] in that way. I would have been scared to.

    http://forum.evageeks.org/post/491215/Why-does-NGE-have-so-many-references-to-the-Bible/#491215

    • Wow, what a quote! That’s so wrong in so many ways I can’t even begin to wrap my mind around it. I hope he’s joking and he doesn’t think for a second that his own mindset and activities are NOT deeply steeped in Western civilization (whether he likes it or not).

      The interesting thing is that many Japanese animators have no problem with using Eastern religious imagery in their shows (Shinto, Buddhist, you name it)…. I wonder what Anno would say to that.

      • >Wow, what a quote! That’s so wrong in so many ways I can’t even begin to wrap my mind around it. I hope he’s joking and he doesn’t think for a second that his own mindset and activities are NOT deeply steeped in Western civilization (whether he likes it or not).

        yeah, I know. It gets very near the top of my “stupid things brilliant directors I admire have said” list. Remembering his rambling and angsting about modern Japan he’s much more than conscious of the western influence on him, Japan and the industry but that doesn’t negate the possibility (fact I’d infer from the material I’m familiar with) of Anno holding the culture of “real Japan” that was genuinely independent and glorious in crucial sense purer, better etc. and free of western delusions in thought and behaviour. Which I find at the same time hilarious and sad as the beautiful Nippon of his fantasies is such artificial creation of Meiji era…

        >The interesting thing is that many Japanese animators have no problem with using Eastern religious imagery in their shows (Shinto, Buddhist, you name it)…. I wonder what Anno would say to that.

        There are genuinely meaningful eastern spiritual concepts in Eva, esp. in relation to all things Rei. Take the shot of full moon reflected on water’s surface during Rei’s Poem which is easy for your average western anime watcher to miss but which is as obviously Zen aesthetically as you can get in eyes of japanese audience.

        I remember Hiroyuki Yamaga saying once something about him being happy that Anno chose Christian symbolism and religious tradition to employ in Eva because choosing, say, Buddhist aesthetics instead would’ve caused unavoidable, very controversial and almost certianly censored association with Aum Shinrikyo

        • Oh, I’d forgotten about the Zen thing and Rei. And I wrote a post about that very subject : “Spiritual Progress of Faye Valentine”..

          For a while there, there were so many cooky sects in Japan that I can understand how they would try to go as far away as possible for their religious imagery.

          But consider Leiji Matsumoto. When the new Capt. Harlock OVA was well underway it almost collapsed because Leiji found out the animators wanted to put Stars of Davids as part of the villains’ images. He said they shouldn’t toy with religion and threatened to leave the project altogether because of it.

      • > The interesting thing is that many Japanese animators have no problem with using Eastern religious imagery in their shows (Shinto, Buddhist, you name it)…. I wonder what Anno would say to that.

        Whether he realizes it or not, he’s already been using them. The ‘108’ dummy corporations, anyone?

  2. This is on a totally irrelevant note, but as I’ve already made my contribution to this post, I hope you’ll excuse me :D At least it has something to do with Anno – I knew it was coming, but look how cute Asuka is (just found it):
    http://www.pixiv.net/member_illust.php?mode=medium&illust_id=21439567

  3. This is brilliant work.

    It’s a thorough rape, what Gunbuster did to this character. Nothing really much to add to your thorough analysis.

    Save perhaps for this:

    The utter doom that Jungfreud faces in all the triangles (Anno is a Macross veteran and knows his geometry):

    The Ota love triangle,
    The friendship with Noriko triangle,
    The buster machine pilot triangle…

    …in addition to the symbolic violence inflicted upon her by the text, makes her in my eyes one of the most moe characters ever made.

    You see, there is nothing about her that says she doesn’t deserve success or happiness. She’s a good person, and earns everything she gets with hard work and guts. We can only blame her lack of success from the misfortune of her birth.

    Oh by the way, you will find this very interesting:

    http://www.gwern.net/docs/2011-house

    • So that’d be a meta-moe, insofar as what you want to protect her from is at heart not any character in the series but her actual creators beyond it.

      Interesting interview. The man sounds so jaded, but I guess it comes with the territory. This quote, on why they went with “First Children” instead of “First Child” is sadly something that happens all the time:

      “As with many other such things, Anno took it into his head that he wanted to describe a given thing with a given term, because it struck his fancy, and which was aimed at other Japanese, not foreign, audiences. Again, I
      can’t pick on Gainax specifically, because my anecdotal observation to-date suggests that much of what Japanese do is intended for the benefit of impressing other Japanese, with little or no regard for how such things may appear to non-Japanese.”

    • gosh wasn’t he a bitter fellow. Interesting read nonetheless.

      Jung-Freud isn’t moe to me, she’s too damn hot for that. Speaking of which, I’m not admitting anything but I clicked on the NSFW link in the end and I hypothetically found the contents present there most do wantable. Of course as said this was just a scenario that played out in one of those pesky possible worlds, philosophically speaking… ^___^’

      Regarding the origin of her name Anno took some beginning courses in psychology in university back in 80s and was kinda interested by it. Her name derives from that, at that point Anno wasn’t yet really too deep into psychology and I wouldn’t load too much value (like psychoanalysis as “(as the culmination of Western thought” in his eyes) in Gunbuster.

      • I didn’t mean that for Anno “psychoanalysis was the culmination of Western thought”. That was a personal assessment of mine to spice things up :) But yeah, it’s not clear at all.

        I’m surprised there aren’t more Gunbuster doujin around…

      • I don’t mean Jungfreud to be moe in the boring sense of the word, but in a way that is similar to how Kallen Statdfeldt/Kozuki got treated in Code Geass. She was always finding herself naked in front of people, for our benefit. She’s this tough, awesome hero and defender of Zero, and yet…

  4. Wow, this was a fantastic and fascinating read. Thanks for the insight! I just recently watched Gunbuster (and subsequently Diebuster) for the first time and loved them both. I can’t wait to go back and take a look at them with a more critical eye. Looks like I need a rewatch! ^ ^

  5. > Also, no reason is given as to why she should fall for the Japanese coach, unless we are meant to believe that Japanese manhood is irresistible.

    Sad to say, this is probably the reason – ethnocentrism is a common affliction. I’ve been cataloguing biracial anime/manga characters ( http://www.gwern.net/hafu ), and there are simply far too many with Japanese fathers.

    • Whereas in reality and as you so well chronicle in your article, the overwhelming majority of half-Japanese half-non-Asian children have a Japanese mother..

      • Lynn Minmay presumably has a Chinese Father, though her parents are in Yokohama.

        Nakajima Megumi, the seiyuu for Ranka Lee, has a Filipina mother.

        • Yokohama has an old Chinese community, so it’s very possible that the Chinese father is second, third or even fourth generation Japanese, but as always the case in Japan, he’s still considered NOT Japanese and won’t even get Japanese citizenship without going through a painful process.

          Takayasu, an up and coming sumo wrestler, has a Filipina mother as well.

          Edit: I missed a big “NOT” earlier. Right, such Chinese are not considered Japanese. Same happens with the many Koreans who have lived for generations in Japan. Thankfully their old countries give them passports and stuff.

        • Not clear which of Minmay’s maternal grandparents were Japanese or Chinese, but I’m going to add her anyway. (For the purposes of the list, it doesn’t matter how many generations her ‘Chinese’ father may’ve been in Yokohama. The producers and consumers will still interpret him as Chinese, as animekritik points out.)

  6. This was a very interesting read and I applaud your efforts in looking at this stuff critically.

    The scene with the girls in the very Japanese style bath’ (which I believe would be a complete no no in space) is something that I had noticed before as being rather tendentious. My reading of it was not so much from the perspective of imperialism or power differentials, but rather of Japanese perceptions of beauty and sexuality. Kazumi is quite simply the Yamato Nadeshiko and as such we never see her naked. Noriko represents a certain adolescent purity and her nakedness is almost non-sexual. Her physique and her posture are non- threatening, they are not meant to arouse you at all. She’s just a healthy ideal Japanese girl. And then there is Jung, completely naked and seemingly ‘open for business’ who represents Western lack of modesty and licentiousness. I can think of a couple of other Gainax works (This Ugly yet Beautiful World) were the foreign woman
    (in this case an american) was of course large breasted exhibitionist and a drunk to boot.
    I don’t know how much they were thinking in this regard with Jung having to wear a cross. Are they trying to point out the hypocrisy of Christians when it comes to their sexual values vis a vis the importance of chastity and fidelity in Christian doctrine? Or was it just a convenient stage prop? In any case, seeing an elite Soviet era pilot wearing a large cross in public was quite a surprising choice.

    Reading the material some of the others have kindly shared with us, I do find Anno’s stance on Western civilization slightly baffling. I don’t know if he’s aware of how much of its baggage is apparent in his work.

    • I agree with everything you say about the bath scene. And I think that one can take it a step further and see how chastity in a woman is traditionally considered a strength/power, and thus Kazumi comes out as the most powerful and Jung the weakest. So we’re back to power differentials.

      For me the cross just screams “Look, I’m Western!” (and I realize Christianity is a worldwide religion and came from the Middle East etc etc but in Japanese eyes this is a Western thing, meaning Europe + America).

  7. Ok, so my plan to watch this along with your posts failed miserably, you’re too fast! I’ll catch up eventually.

    But that bath scene was really strange. They certainly aren’t aiming for subtlety here. Jung-Freud didn’t even really lose the fight before she completely gave in and started sucking up to her “betters”.

    I kind of like how they don’t try to hide it though. There are hardly any anime that aren’t afraid to deal with WWII or with Japanese politics in the 20th century in general. They seem to want to keep it bottled up and forget about the whole period, like with the Yasukuni shrine visits and the cover up of the Okinawan ordered suicides. Gunbuster is kind of refreshing because we get to face the beast head-on. Other anime are full of nationalism as well (the currently airing Majikoi is a prime example) but it’s better camouflaged (ok, well not Majikoi). Have you seen Gasaraki or Gigantic Formula? Those are two of the more obvious ones that come to mind, which are also pretty good watches.

    Anyway, it’s instructive, and simultaneously comforting and depressing, to be exposed to the other side of the coin and realize that petty tribalism and self-superiority are not exclusively American inventions. Thanks once again for a fascinating post! I’ll admit that I looked up the worship of Admiral Togo. :)

    • The way Jung-Freud apologizes is almost robotic, as if she had just been brainwashed.

      I haven’t seen any of the anime you mention :(

      I’ll say this about America. One can find a million faults with the American Empire, but when you consider the alternatives I’d say the world is lucky. I could think of so many other potential empires that would NOT be nearly as benevolent.

      More influential culturally than Admiral Togo is General Nogi, another deified hero of the Russo-Japanese War. His bio is pretty amazing:

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/General_Nogi

  8. [...] are only satisfied with nudity.  For those hard to please “readers”, I offer [this] and [this] and [this] and [this] and [this], oh, and let’s throw in a little bit of [this] [...]

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