Deconstructing Gunbuster

Don’t worry, this won’t be nearly as painful as you think…


What is Gunbuster about, really?  The bravery and camaraderie of two girls (and their coach) save humanity.  So they can continue being ruled by the worldwide and soon to be intergalactic Japanese Empire.  Yikes!

See, initially I thought this was an international, United Nations or, in Star Trek terms, Federation-type effort.  The story happened to be focused on Japan, the heroes Japanese, simply because this is anime, which is Japanese.  Fine, I thought.  And Jung-Freud fades off rather quickly, but still, you know, this is not some nationalistic enterprise at all, right?

The deconstruction-friendly sequence take place in Episode Five.  We are taken to the Imperial Capital of Tokyo for a meeting of the Ministry of Earth Defense.  We can still think at this point that the Japanese Empire is simply holding a rotational post for a fixed period, like the Presidency of the European Union goes around the different member states.  It’s not really kosher to speak of Tokyo as an Imperial City these days, even though, technically, it is and will continue to be as long as the Emperor resides there…

But anyway, we may conclude that Japan is the premier nation of the world at this point.  If I were a Belgian animator I’d probably put Belgium as the cool superpower too.  It’s my show, right?

the crux

the crux

But it turns out I spoke too quickly.  The translation “Ministry of Earth Defense” is inaccurate.  And it’s the key to everything.

When Japan lost the War (I’m talking of the real world now), it was forced into surrendering the use of aggressive force in its new Constitution.  A lot of renaming took place along with the restructuring.  The Armed Forces became the Self-Defense Forces.  Several post titles were changed around.  When the Ministries were drawn up, it was decided that the Ministry of War should become “of Defense”.  America did this too, by the way, as it sounds more politically correct to our modern, peace-loving ears (!).  But more importantly in Japan, it was decided that defense affairs should be downgraded from Ministry status to Agency status, signifying to the world Japan’s new peaceful orientation.

The Japanese character for Ministry is 省 (sho), the one for Agency is  庁 (cho).  So, for example, Foreign Affairs Ministry is 外務省 and Finance Ministry is 大蔵省, but the Defense Agency is 防衛庁.  This is of course a situation peculiar to Japan, and the Japanese would never dream of calling other people’s military ministries “agencies”.  [Starting in 2007, BTW, Japan has upgraded the Defense Agency to a Ministry.  So now we do have for the first time ever a 防衛省 (nuclear weapons to follow).]

Don't leave it to the politicians!

Don't leave it to the politicians!

And what is the actual name for the Ministry of Earth Defense in Gunbuster?  地球防衛庁!!!  Literally “Earth Defense Agency”.  I called this a deconstruction because deconstruction (as Derrida envisioned it) consisted of following a text extremely closely and finding the contradictions or problems that would blow it to smithereens.  In my opinion, the single character 庁 does just that.

We are left with the choice between believing 1) that in a future world government threatened by a vast alien horde, military affairs are not considered important enough to warrant a ministry-level entity to deal with them, or 2) that the show’s creators were so rapidly and lovingly building up their patriotic (or jingoistic) wet dream that they forgot to rename their country’s military organ to reflect this very success they longed for.  The end result is a hodgepodge, because the titles of the people participating in the meeting are actually pre-war Imperial…

Anyway, it’s all in the family, or kazoku, I should say.  Smith Toren and Jung-Freud are more token than Token in South Park, if you know what I mean.  There is a contradiction here between the will of the show’s creators to do a universal, heroic story and a desire for wish-fulfillment of the crassest sort.  This contradiction cannot be bridged.  Text explodes.

Yes, now we're talking.

Yes, now we're talking.

The future in Gunbuster is not the United Nations.  It’s not even a Japan-led world.  It is Japan.    Hakko Ichiu.

P.S.  If I were giving out homework, I’d ask you to compare this with Neon Genesis Evangelion, and then with Code Geass.  Is there a trend here?  If there is, does it reflect any trends in RL Japan?

~ by Haloed Bane on May 24, 2009.

13 Responses to “Deconstructing Gunbuster”

  1. Fun post this! I lack any qualification to analyse the language, but I find your idea that Gunbuster presents Japan as The World is absolutely convincing. With Gunbuser’s inspirations in mind, I’d say that the habit of presenting the future of the human race in national terms is very much present in American fiction too. Japan playing at being America-as-the-world?

    And, to take up the Evangelion assignment, Gunbuster’s world order implies a natural/democratic transition to Japan as locus of world power. Evangelion shows Japanese scientists initially serving Seele, but eventually seizing destiny for themselves. Gunbuster is benevolent pride, it works hard to get picked first for the baseball team. Evangelion is neurotic self-assertion, it fucks the coach’s wife.

  2. wwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww

    Well, what did we expect? Juxtaposing (in a non-fixed binary opposition) (US)American media with the subject shows in this post, there is striking similarity in the wish-fulfillment aspect.

    Consider disaster stories/invasions like Independence Day, the aliens destroyed international landmarks and capitals, but they are quite token scenes — merely a device to show an international effect. For all intents and purposes the world is the USA.

    This was when the USA was enjoying lone superpower status in the late 90s (or at least that’s how it wished to depict itself).

    More interestingly, look at the latest Star Trek movie. The construction of the SS Enterprise was in Indiana, in the mid-western American heartland. If it were a true Earth Federation (in this very utopian future), it would have been more efficient to build it in Korea or China.

    Utopia = one Earth under the United States of America… wwwwwww

    Cultural hegemony is hegemonic, and deconstruction has been a favorite tool of mine making post-colonial readings of international (Western texts).

    Sartre once said that man is distinct as a creature because his project is to become god. I read this as a desire to become self-determining, and I see this in the wishes in the subject shows here; whether subversion or rebellion (NERV and the 11s), or ‘leadership’ of utopian federations (as with Ministry of Earth Defense).

  3. ฺBoth of you raise a great point. America is a master at this. I think it’s more striking to me when Japan does it simply because it’s more “Fictional”, that is, Japan as world overlord sounds to us today (2009) as a farther-fetched (is this even a word?) proposition than America in the same position.

    I think Code Geass is interesting because it manages to focus on Japan (as we expect of anime) while really portraying the Japanese as pawns in the great game of the Britannian Lelouch.

    Sartre’s comment sounds problematic to me. I mean, I could make an infinite series of similar comments, eg: Man is distinct as a creature because he creates fast-food restaurants. Man is distinct as a creature because he likes to put on neckties. All of these separate men from other animals, why single out one?

    (I better read some Sartre at some point..)

  4. Man is distinct as a creature because he thinks he should read Sartre?


  6. @coburn

    wwwwwwwwww and a lot of other French dudes. It’s almost like how the Roland Garros Tennis tournament doesn’t use the Hawkeye replays for officiating. They think it’s sexy. But well, Paris in the spring makes people forgive… I think.

    @ animekritik

    I don’t think that he meant it as the only distinction, though he wrote a fair deal about ‘the project.’ I’d recommend “Being and Nothingness” only that I failed to finish reading it myself. “Existentialism is a Humanism” is a far more accessible work.

    Also, existential Sartre is early Sartre. When he discovers Marx I found him as a person more interesting, but his philosophy far more boring. He really got obsessed with his class guilt (being petit-bourgeois) not to say that his writings are less significant in this period.

    A favorite moment: On his deathbed (or at least near enough) he recants his atheism in a spectacularly narcissistic manner:

    …refuse to believe that I am a mere speck of dust in the cosmos… some divine hand must have written me into this script…

    …Or something to that effect, to the shock and surprise of all his followers including Simone de Beuvoir. WWWWWWWWW

  7. @coburn

    the other animals probably pity man, then, as they all know one should read the german thinkers and not the french.


    Point taken! The Japanese are even cooler than we thought.


    So Sartre recanted, huh. He’ll burn in Hell then 😉 If I ever see a decently-priced Sartre, I’ll get it. Check that, it’d have to be a bargain sale Sartre.

  8. “More interestingly, look at the latest Star Trek movie. The construction of the SS Enterprise was in Indiana, in the mid-western American heartland. If it were a true Earth Federation (in this very utopian future), it would have been more efficient to build it in Korea or China.”

    The state is Iowa, and it was used in homage to the original series (Riverside, Iowa was Kirk’s birthplace until the alt timeline changed it). It’s an easter egg for the older fans. If they wanted to be realistic, they would’ve had it built it in space.


    Right. Space is better.

  10. Hey thats cool you followed up and shed more light on this since I reviewed it last week. Great news as well, I have added a blogroll on my new layout and have added your blog, I am sure my readers would dig a premier source of anime from you. Great work!

  11. Iowa…ten times more heartland than Indiana, in my totally subjective opinion (never been to either)…


    Thanks. I added you to my blogroll as well.

  12. […] So one comes off the story with the feeling that the international team was unnecessary from beginning to end.  Indeed, this feeling is perfectly analogous to the one I had after watching Gunbuster, which came out just one year later in 1988.  For more on Japanese nationalism in that show see my post Deconstructing Gunbuster. […]

  13. […] Deconstructing Gunbuster […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: