Zeta Gundam and Gender


Ach ja, my relationship with the mainline Gundam series is… strained. Conceptually, I’m really down for most of the things that happen in Gundam story-wise, but actually watching it can be insanely dry, boring and making all the little weird details stick out like a sore thumb. While I could probably still pull another rant about how Newtypes are a seemingly dumb idea in an otherwise grounded and real setting, as they aren’t incorporated in a thematically nuanced way, I would rather slander Zeta Gundam and its honestly questionable ways it comments on gender instead.

Now, I get that Zeta Gundam is a show from the 80s and quite a lot of things from that time haven’t aged that well from a more progressive viewpoint. However, simply having a reason is no justification and it is not like there hasn’t been good material from the time treading such ground with a better understanding. My main gripe with Zetas portrayal is its framing of general ideas about both being a man and a woman through the lense of a war setting, one that itself doesn’t discriminate between any gender in itself, but is still an expansion of societal norms and as such gives the viewer an insight into how the series views gender more broadly.

The first victim/perpetrator is none other than the main character, Kamille Bidan, himself. Kamille, at least in the beginning of the series, is obsessed with constantly proving his masculinity to the people around him. While it does make for some good character growth, as he becomes more confident in his own identity later down the series, the way his journey and progression is framed lands somewhere between weird and bad. One of the inciting incidents of Zeta Gundam comes in the form of Kamille’s name being perceived as that of a girl’s. Ones name is part of your identity, but Zeta Gundam doesn’t really explore this angle in any healthy way (I would have loved for Kamille to choose his own name) and instead simply resorts to violence… quite literally: Kamille punches the soldier that made the offhand remark and continues to attack some other soldiers, before eventually being put in detention. After a Mobile Suit crashes the building, he flees the base, steals a car, runs over a control post, ditches the car on a bridge while driving who knows how fast, stops for one second to question just what he has done, before infiltrating the base again, stealing the new Gundam, going on a power trip against the MP he was in detention with and eventually helping the AEUG fight against the Titans and secure a second Gundam… the things that happen when skipping school.

In all fairness, Jerid, him being more traditionally masculine compared to Kamille, thinking “Kamille” is a girls name was less the sole motivation and more the straw that broke the camel’s back, but it still stands that Kamille tried to “prove” his masculinity through an immature outburst of violence after being confronted in his masculinity in the most harmless and accidental way possible… and no one, specifically the anime itself, leads to belief that he acted wrong in any way whatsoever. In fact, for as anti-war as Gundam tends to be, it also displays the belief that physical violence is an inherent part of resolving conflict, rather than one of the many means of doing so and the value as a soldier being directly linked to ones potential to cause harm. One of the best examples are the numerous times of Kamille getting slapped or straight up punched in the face, the series even refers to the euphemism of “correction”, by friendly allies, if he refuses or otherwise brings his “duty” as a soldier in jeopardy. While characters comment on the fact that this happens, no one seems to actively dismiss the way Kamille gets reprimanded as wrong or unjust.

This all comes back for when we consider Kamille’s identity as a soldier, how it is linked to his masculinity, as well as the idea of a soldier viewed by society en large. While the soldiers in Gundam are neither separated, nor limited by gender, it still has the idea of a soldier being inherently linked to being a man, or rather of the attributes associated or expected of a man going hand in hand with being a soldier. In this way, the refusal to fight is seen as cowardice and nothing breaks a fragile male ego more than being called a coward. Meanwhile, practicing violence asserts this masculinity. Again, if this were any other series, one would expect this behavior to be criticized, but in Zeta Gundam, the AEUG, aka the de facto least blatantly evil organization, especially contrasted with the Titans, and our point of view for the whole conflict, is perfectly fine with Kamille and Katz, both of them teenagers, participating in the war and with Katz even joining pretty much voluntarily and against better judgement from his adoptive mother… who survived the first war in the original Gundam and knows very well how bad war is for those fighting it, considering how badly Amuro was traumatized by “being a man”.

While I don’t think it is fair to read Zeta Gundam’s commentary of masculinity in a way that encourages masculinity to be directly linked to violence, the writing is kind of on the wall on this one and with the lack of a decent male character at least not directly associated with combat (and Char being his own can of worms), most conflict can be seen as dick size comparisons between the pilots showing off their new toys, which is… maybe not the best thing I can say about a series that brought up this issue itself.

The next big thing is how most of the female characters are utilized. Now, not everything is necessarily bad. For as boring as Emma is, she is allowed to stand next to Kamille and Quattro Bajeena as a capable pilot and while Fa gets sidelined into a more domestic role, she is not completely reduced to such. However, most other female characters don’t get such kind treatment.

Zeta, by accident I assume, shows a good representation of the “glass ceiling” that prevent many women from achieving higher status in institutions like the military, while idiots like Jerid essentially stumble from one promotion to another. The other reason might simply be that the female characters on the Titan’s side die before getting the possibility. With the exception of Sarah, every female character of the Titan’s feels like a plot device for another man’s character development. It frames its female characters sole purposes as to get romantically involved with a man and anchor them emotionally, without any ambitions on their own. This gets even more frustrating with the introduction of Scirocco, who, at the end of the anime, manipulates a hattrick of women into doing his bidding. One of these woman is more interesting in her own right, as she herself comments on her interpretation of gender dynamics quite explicitly.

Reccoa Londe is… certainly something. Initially joining the AEUG for a sense of conviction and justice, she eventually starts reducing herself from an active actor in the grander narrative to her idea of what being a woman entails. What is her idea of a woman, you may ask? Well… not sure if I understood it myself, but it comes down to being actively perceived as a woman or, in less ambiguous wording, getting attention from men. Attention she didn’t receive from Quattro Bajeena, but from Scirocco, hence her rather controversial betrayal of the AEUG.

Now, there are several issues with this. Obviously, there is the continuing trend of feminity existing solely for the purpose of other male characters, instead for the female characters themselves. Secondly, it is an utter non-descriptor, as she is simply projecting her own personal issues on her own feminity and contrasts it with masculinity, in which she seeks comfort. Couple it with her insistence on dividing everyone into either male or female to make sense of her own experiences and it is easy to see how this may rub a lot of people the wrong way, even beyond the ramification it has for the course of the story. Maybe I am just too “links-grün versifft”, but wanting to be loved is not an inherent feminine quality and men are not obligated to accept every possible advance solely on the fact that it comes from a woman.

Also, ignoring everything thematically connected to Reccoa’s views on gender, somebody should have just told her, that Quattro Bajeena would later literally cause a second space nazi uprising and threaten to destroy earth with an asteroid, just so he could continue his petty rivalry with Amuro. With all due respect, she never had a chance with him to begin with.

In general, it feels like Zeta Gundam simply runs with its assumption that there is a fundamental difference between men and women, without actually deconstructing these views in a meaningful manner and ends up enforcing old stereotypes that neither ring true today, nor 35 years ago. Remember, war is not actually fought by men due to chivalry towards women.

TL;DR: I just really like this meme :D

Zeta Meme

local_offer Gundam
folder Anime
calendar_today 2022