I recently caught up with an early 90s OAV that I had been meaning to watch for some time, Green Legend Ran. Director Satoshi Saga (of Armitage III “fame”) would likely not enjoy hearing that I had seen GLR in a bargain bin three or four months ago and passed on it for Garzey’s Wing. Ah, the lure of the terribad. Though I think GLR suffers from problems that plague many 90s OAVs, I also think that it is a worthwhile watch for most anyone, which is not something I can say for Garzey’s.
GLR is especially interesting when it serves as a companion piece to Mobile Suit Gundam 0080: War in the Pocket, an OAV three years its senior. Both shows delve into the nature of violence for the ordinary person and also the effects on such persons of the knowledge of violence, though GLR shifts its thematic focus from these ideas a bit after its first episode. The messages of the two are just different enough in their scope of application (not to mention GLR‘s thematic shift) to make them complimentary of one another rather than retreads.
In this post, I examine the character arcs of Alfred Izuruha and Ran to illustrate that there is more than one mode of knowledge.
Suggested Soundtrack for Reading – The Clash “Spanish Bombs”
Senses of Knowledge
While modern English has one version of the verb “to know,” the ancient Greeks had more than one sense of the word. Aristotle was the first to distinguish the word “techne” as a form of knowledge existing separate and distinct from the notion of “episteme.” The latter is the scientific sense of “to know.” I can have episteme of the distance of the moon from Earth, the capital of Uzbekistan and what two plus two equals just by applying my mental faculties and memorizing these facts. For Aristotle, techne, which is translated as “craft,” refers to a different sort of knowledge, one in which the subject can give an account of the object of knowledge. Here is a question that might further illustrate the difference: Is the criteria for knowing how to ride a bike the same as knowing the distance between the moon and Earth? While we can read about both in books, one cannot truly know the former (in the way we mean “know” when we talk about riding a bike) without the experience of actually practicing it. I wouldn’t say that someone knows how to build a house (again, in the ay we talk about this stuff) if they have only read about how to do so, whereas memorizing the capital of Uzbekistan is sufficient for knowing the capital of Uzbekistan.
It is just this difference between knowledge of facts or statements and knowledge from experience that lies at the heart of War in the Pocket.
War in the Pocket
Al, the show’s protagonist, is a fairly typical middle class, pre-teen boy. He’s got his group of friends; he doesn’t have any interest in school; he plays violent video games when he should be sleeping. His home nation (inasmuch as a space colony is a nation) finds itself pulled into war, which, sadly, is a also not atypical. Being influenced by news reports and the talk of adults, Al and his friends take to “playing war” and acquiring treasures like shell casings and military badges.
From Al’s knowledge of the facts of the One Year War, he forms certain beliefs about war in general. War is glamorous. War is exciting. The life of a soldier is far better than his own dull day-to-day. These beliefs, however, are like flies crushed on the windshield of the oncoming sedan that is the teche Al gains. Drawn into the conflict through his friendship with a Zeon solider, Bernie, Al experiences war, and this experience produces an entirely different effect within him than does his previous episteme about the war. He sees significant places in his life leveled by battles. And, up close, he sees people he cares about deeply get seriously injured and he also sees them die.
Of course, this new knowledge changes Al’s intellectual and emotional relationship to war. War is fucking horrible. By experiencing war, gaining such knowledge that he could give an account of war, he is awakened to how awful it truly is in a way that he could never be by only obtaining relevant episteme. This is not merely due to the fact that his ideas of war are colored by his childish naivete; such techne would similarly effect any one of us.
Green Legend Ran
While Al grows up in the midst of a war, Ran, the titular hero of Green Legend Ran, is a child of the side who lost the war. Humanity has been conquered and Earth reduced to desert wastelands by a race of aliens known as the Rodo. Most of the few remaining resources are funneled to these foreign rulers, while human beings are left to live in poverty. Like too many children in similar situations, Ran is an orphan. He’s one among a passel of them being looked after by an elderly man (who may or may not be Ran’s grandfather). Naturally, with ojiisan’s attention split among his own work and several children (not to mention lower energy levels due to his age), he can’t supervise Ran the way a normal parent might. As a result, by the time the audience meets him, Ran has become something of a habitual lawbreaker who harbors strong anti-authority sentiments–a thief with a heart of gold.
Yet, still a child’s heart. A small a resistance group called Hazard was formed to overthrow the Rodo, and Ran has grown up idolizing the Hazard, romanticizing the guerrillas’ violent defiance. These sorts of beliefs are formed when Ran’s episteme of Hazard’s battles, discussion about Hazard among townspeople and his own anger and sadness at losing his parents all stir and blend together in his mind.
In the OAV’s first episode, Ran leaves his adopted home to join the resistance. It isn’t like he imagined. People are brutally killed right in front of him, and some of the “good guys” turn out to be fairly shitty people. As techne grows alongside his already-existent episteme, Ran’s excitement for fighting tyranny as well as his beliefs concerning revolution begin to change. The former matures into resolve, and the latter becomes something similar to what War in the Pocket’s Al experiences.
I don’t think, though, that Ran feels just exactly as Al does. Al understands that war proper is an avoidable tragedy. Ran, on the other hand, likely still believes in the justice of the end he struggles to attain, despite his fluid views on the means used to attain it. Truth be told, I am not entirely sure because in episodes two and three Ran’s journey becomes one of self-discovery and personal connection that focuses much more on his relationships than his political beliefs. As often happens in anime, the hero’s reason for fighting, based on an internal commitment, becomes relativized to his own individual person, rather than stemming from a universal proposition.
My analysis should not be taken as disparaging episteme. That would be silly of me. On the contrary, I consider it a legitimate and important mode of knowing. I mean, how else is knowledge of mathematics possible? This post is meant to support the thesis that there are different senses of knowledge and not all instances of knowing can be classified the same way. Also, the type of knowledge one possesses can have a profound influence on one’s beliefs about the object of knowledge. Before Al and Ran experience battle, they can (truly) be said to know about war and revolution, but their knowledge is knowledge in a specific sense that (along with their childhood naivete) shapes their beliefs. It’s not that they don’t really know about war and revolution, it’s that they have episteme of these, and techne radically changes one’s view of such things.