Speciesism in Mobile Suit Gundam

Blue Cosmos logo from Mobile Suit Gundam SEED

THIS POST CONTAINS THEMATIC DISCUSSION OF SEVERAL GUNDAM SERIES.  I DO NOT SPOIL ANY MAJOR PLOT POINTS, BUT I DO DISCUSS CHARACTER DESCRIPTIONS AND MOTIVATIONS.

Many of the conflicts in the Mobile Suit Gundam metaverse, global, interpersonal and inner, have speciesism as their catalyst.  The Universal Century (UC) contains the Oldtype/Newtype divide, while the Cosmic Era (CE) plays host to the dispute between Naturals and Coordinators.  The speciesism in Gundam is often a human prejudice directed towards the more-human-than-hue-man (guitar riff) folks, but human beings are also the object of prejudice by the group considered to be an advanced species.

I am currently watching Gundam SEED for the first time, and I am struck by the speciesism, specifically how different it is from that exhibited in the UC, which SEED is meant to be re-imagining.  In this post, I will contrast the strain of speciesism exhibited in the Oldtype-versus-Newtype relationship with that of the Natural-versus-Coordinator relationship.  I want to touch on how each is integrated into its respective story, the roots of the feelings/beliefs associated with each, and the psychologies of the participants in the previously-mentioned relationships.

Suggested Soundtrack for Reading – Kenna “War in Me”

Kamille Bidan and Four Murasama from Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam

In the UC, the initial use of the word “Newtype” is just as a theoretical concept, one which many spacenoids hope will someday be actualized.  The concept, however, takes root in the consciousness of citizens of both the Federation and Zeon.  Once people discover the capabilities of pilots such as Amuro Ray, the heretofore nebulous term “Newtype” is applied to these seemingly unexplainable phenomena.  And, it sticks.  Clearly, a growing number of individuals in the UC are exhibiting abilities beyond the supposed limits of human being’s.  During the One Year War, most people are wrestling with understanding just what Newtypes are.  Outright speciesism against them isn’t shown until the Gryps Conflct depicted in Zeta Gundam, and, even there, it isn’t really shouted from the rooftops so much as injected through a needle.  The UC’s flames of war are not initially sparked by speciesism.  Other disputes territorial, ideological and personal fuel the Federation-versus-Zeon and AEUG-versus-Titans conflicts in First and Zeta Gundam.  Though there certainly is crass exploitation of Newtypes during the Gryps Conflict, on the whole any bias an Oldtype has against a Newtype proves a lesser concern than how to defeat the Titans/AEUG.

While the speciesism of Zeta Gundam is a facet of the war, in Gundam SEED speciesism is synonymous with the war.  There are, of course, players in the conflict that hold no personal prejudice against Naturals/Coordinators, but these characters are exceptions.  People in power within both OMNI and ZAFT are openly speciesist and have no trouble rallying their respective citizens with speciesist propaganda.  One character states that the Bloody Valentine War will be complete when the genocide of the Naturals is also complete.  So, in SEED, prejudice is out there on Front Street.  Finding a remedy to the speciesism between Naturals and Coordinators is effectively finding a magic key that could stop the war.  Bigotry is the driving force of the conflict of the CE, and, therefore, the driving force of Gundam SEED as a series.  Speciesism is integrated into the story of Zeta Gundam; it is the story of Gundam SEED.

Kira Yamato enraged, from Mobile Suit Gundam SEED

These two strains of speciesism manifest themselves differently because the beliefs and feelings concerning the “other species” are unique to their respective species-relationship.  Newtypes are meant to be the next stage of human evolution.  Mankind will change both mentally and morally in order to adapt to its new life in space.  Oldtypes are told that Newtypes, as the next step, are an advanced species, one better than human beings.  Because of their psychic abilities, high-level Newtypes are usually able to best high-level Oldtypes in mobile suit combat.  The power of the Newtype, along with the ideology about them that had been constructed, fills Oldtypes (those of whom are inclined to speciesism) with fear and suspicion.  When one does not understand something, it is easy to put emotional distance between it and oneself.  Though Newtypes are purported to be “beyond” human beings, they are treated, at times, by Oldtypes as if they were sub-human.  Such treatment is administered coldly or matter-of-factly, as a scientist might treat a lab rat.  I suppose if you fall outside of the sphere of humanity, whether you are below it or above it, you are not afforded human rights.

Naturals feel a bit differently towards Coordinators, I think, than speciesist Oldtypes do towards Newtypes.  One simple factor makes a drastic difference in the relationships dynamic:  Naturals created Coordinators.  At some point prior to SEED, Naturals created stronger, more intelligent versions of themselves by altering the genetics of human embryos, a process that Coordinators would eventually take over when they formed independent territories.  Due to this genetic fiddling, Coordinators have bodies immune to disease and learn so quickly that they develop their own technology.   Envy of Coordinators grows within the Natural population, and a political backlash against genetic manipulation creates vocal anti-Coordinator groups like Blue Cosmos.  In addition to sharing the fear and suspicion that speciesist Oldtypes have towards Newtypes, thoughtful Naturals will surely experience some self-loathing.  They created these monsters, so it is their responsibility to end them, for the sake of future generations of Naturals.  There is a feeling of carrying a burden, of correcting a mistake, that the Natural may experience when acting on her speciesism.  One might say that it almost adds a moral dimension to the Naturals’ acts of aggression.   This is certainly different from the defensive fearfulness that characterizes Oldtype prejudice.

azrael1 char1 lacus1

So, are all the characters either genocidal speciesists or moral crusaders preaching species-oneness?  Actually, many of the main players of Zeta have more nuanced views, and even most characters in SEED find themselves a bit tornWe can form a kind of speciesism continuum with Azrael Muruta at one extreme and Lacus Clyne at the other.  The former is an open speciesist who wants to wipe the Coordinators out of existence, while the latter heads a pirate media campaign claiming that Naturals and Coordinators aren’t actually different species and should peacefully coexist.  What is more interesting than the ends of the continuum are the cases that fall somewhere in the middle, the people whose relationship to the “other” group is complicated.

The first character who springs to mind is Char Aznable, whose locus on our continuum changes throughout the course of his adult life.  He s certainly of the opinion that Newtpes are a species distinct from what has come before, and, if pressed, he’d probably concede that he believes that they are fundamentally better than Oldtype humans (I suppose this is part of the package).  Yet, this belief does not always manifest itself in aggressive acts.  In Zeta Gundam, Char pushes for a peaceful separation, while Char’s Counterattack finds him playing the role of a Muruta-ian speciesist.  Now, it is admittedly a bit difficult to suss out Char’s actual beliefs from positions he takes to further an agenda, so his actions at any point may not accurately reflect his true place on the continuum.

Athrun Zala, the foil to Kira Yamato in Gundam SEED, is a Coordinator and a speciesist.  Yet, while he believes that Coordinators are a superior species, he never advocates genocide.  Thus, he is not at the Muruta-ian end of the continuum, though he is closer to it than Char is during the Gryps Conflict.  Most Coordinators, Kira being the exception, seem to be speciesist to some degree, due to the openly hostile stance of many vocal Natural sects.  Surprisingly, the Newtype who could almost be justified in being speciesist, Four Murasame, seems to make no judgements or form any generalizations about Oldtypes.  She is an artificial Newtype whose brain has been modified in order to gain Newtype abilities (almost like a Coordinator engineered after birth), and this process has dangerous side effects to Four’s memories and her psyche in general.  Given all of that, perhaps it should not be surprising that she is not abstracting the behavior of her individual abusers into essential properties of their species.  It is possible that she doesn’t even consider herself a different species, since she is not a natural Newtype.  If that is the case, then, ironically, she would fall closer to the Clyne-ian end of the continuum than Char.

Mobile Suit Gundam contains speciesisms of varying types and degrees. It usually does a good job of exploring the reasons that individuals have for holding the beliefs they do, while still emphasizing (sometimes clumsily and ham-fistedly) that prejudice is morally wrong.

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Speciesism in Mobile Suit Gundam

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