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?
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).]
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.
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?