Yamato/Nadesico and Geek Fascism
by Travis Hedge Coke
Tatsuo Sato and Kia Asamiya’s Martian Successor Nadesico is civilians huddling in bomb shelters and fascists on pretentious ships bombing the shelters.
It may seem odd, but in the late 1990s anime was having a bit of a pro-fascism boom. Anglophone translators were spreading VHS copies of the antisemitic Angel Cop, the nostalgically fascist Sakura Wars and Virgin Fleet, and a plethora of why we need police abuse programs.
There were anime responding to fascistic religious and self-help terrorism in the 1990s, anime dealing with hate crimes, cyber bullying, and even Sailor Moon had to tackle outright misogyny more than once.
However, Imperial Japan and the earlier half of the 20th century, in terms of Japanese history, was often culturally out of bounds, especially as it did not reflect the positivity or the justified sense of the growing Otaku and hikikomori cultures. Not to demonize either kind of person or their circles, but a market fed what it believed to be the audience to their taste and people bought.
Much is made over similarities between Nadesico and Neon Genesis Evangelion, a television show and juggernaut franchise which began airing near to the same time as Nadescio, and while Evangelion had been in preproduction, in some form or other, for a long time, it seems more a case of the makers of each program having similar concerns about contemporary Japan.
In Nadesico, the heroes and the villains are, it is eventually revealed, anime fans. They are cartoon fanatics, they are model-builders, role-players, convention enthusiasts. While the goodies seem to have taken the good, healthy lessons out of their fandom, and the baddies have taken the fascism, the good is shown as considerably damaging, as well, only that the damage it causes is socially acceptable to the goodies the same way the fascism is socially acceptable to the villains.
Anime nostalgia may be younger, newer, than the nostalgia for traditional women and real men in a cultural, even national sense, for Japan, but nostalgia knows no real age or outdatedness.
Good lessons from this culture and fandom include that attention from women directed at men is a signal of sexual availability, the glory of heroic death to the point of pursuing a heroic suicide, and a belief in moral causality so strong that bad luck, alone, can cause a nervous breakdown.
More than one character in Nadesico suffers from what we now call, “main character syndrome,” and the main character of many programs, regardless of culture, of era or genre, entitles the protagonist to more than they would be permitted, by causality or society, in real life. For instance, in the American television show, Frasier, the protagonist could treat women terribly, be an enormous egotist and bore, and the women would remain fascinated and interested in him sexually. This is intended as a source of humor for the viewer, and taking it to its limits was a game for the writers of the show. Many Chinese television shows in the past fifteen years, have explored homoeroticism under the guise of misunderstandings and jeopardizing situations which, if committed to in life, could be cruel or even criminal offenses.
Martian Successor Nadesico opens as a broad parody of anime and science fiction tropes, quite clearly putting a cast together, not a crew, for their ship which bears a parodic name. While earlier, classic anime had the Space Battleship Yamato, named for – and built from – the World War Two vessel, the Yamato, Nadesico has the Nadesico, implying the phrase, “yamato nadeshiko.”
“Yamato nadeshiko,” is a phrase for the personification of an ideal Japanese woman. It is a sexist ideal, impossible to achieve or hold, and hence one used almost exclusively as a projected goal or to refer to a nostalgic past. All nostalgic pasts never did exist.
The captain of the Nadesico is in many ways both a classically traditional young woman and an outmoded 1980s girl. A cute klutz. An eager romantic. A confident hothead with deep-seated humility and delicateness. Traits which inspire romantic feelings in some characters, but also disdain and distrust in many. Conflicting drives to protect her and possess her and to dismiss and excise her belie, temporarily and temporally, that she is a person not a collection of tropes and social graces.
The Nadesico, the ship, is an impossible, nostalgic aspiration. It is the embodiment of the marketable ethos we see in Sakura Wars and similar, with Sakura Wars’ principle Japanese representative, even amongst Japanese representatives, portraying and often praised as in moments exemplifying yamato nadeshiko, Shinguji Sakura (whose lookalike in recent Sakura Wars product is named, Nadeshiko Sakura). It is the softness of Evangelion’s Ayanami Rei, until we watch enough of that program to understand this is not health and humility but deep psychological damage.
The captain of the Nadesico feels if she role-plays yamato nadeshiko she can avoid consequence, that she can do as she pleases, and of course this fails. Those locked by a decorum may play along, but the world is broader than that. And, the act, itself, takes a toll on her.
When Captain Misumaru dresses up and asks formally, cheerfully, for the Earth governments to lower their defenses protecting them from attacks outside the Earth, she waits no time after their rejection of her proposal to threaten them, smile, and close off communications.
In Nadesico, we are shown an anime which influenced two worlds more than either can grapple with, and in this anime, female characters who exude their male writers and directors’ idealization of yamato nadeshiko. Mostly, at the end of their usefulness to nearby men, they die.
It is inherent to the concerns of Nadesico that we, as well as the main characters, come to accept that our entertainment and culture has taught us to expect women to be support systems for men. Placentas whom with sex can be had.
One of the most tragic episodes focuses on one of a trio of battle-hardened, verge of suicide, traumatized pilots, and the older man she befriends, as they both have an interest in model-making. He has young children, he is married, a colleague in a different field, serving on the same ship in outer space. And, it takes him less than one episode to assume that means she is sexually available to him, that a sexual encounter is implicit in their spending any time together.
If you think this would not ruin their friendship and the fun they have building models together, maybe reconsider your own approach to things. I don’t know what to tell you. It does, and of course it would. Defenses of social awkwardness, personal immaturity, a lack of experience are easy to put forth, frequently are heard as apologia, but he is a married, older man. He has had an entire life. He knows what he is doing. A man half his age would know what they were doing.
The consequences he know may follow are minor, for him, and catastrophic for her.
While the Jovians have taken the lessons of carrying a ceremonial sword with you, traditionalism, militant asceticism, and conquest at all costs, the humans of Earth, it seems, have simply continued to be optimistic sexists, nervous egomaniacs, and patient mother figures trying not to stab themselves in the eyes to end it all. And, both sides built giant robots simply to fight each others’ giant robots.
So, every anime club you ever joined and most of the debate teams.
These are lessons for us. We can enjoy science fiction. We can enjoy action. Drama. Romance. Cartoons, movies, models, posters, role-play, any of these forms of entertainment are expressions of something that can be positive, can be good. Once we notice the toxic elements, we cannot continue to nostalgize uncritically. We have to remain on guard and to correct course. To correct our course is principle.
Martian Successor Nadesico cannot do all the work for us, and it does not do even as much as it might for the time and place in which is was produced. It is a lesson, not a curative. Not a panacea. Nadesico provides us critical prompts and a toolbox to work with (and an opening credit sequence that times up with the Neon Genesis Evangelion theme song real well).
Yamato/Nadesico and Geek Fascism
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