Like all the boys and girls of my generation – the mighty and shiny 80s in Italy – I grew up with massive doses of bread&Nutella plus Japanese cartoons in winter afternoon (my wife is the only I know who didn’t use to spend time in this way). Those cartoons have done the fortune of many local Italian broadcasters earlier, and swallowing-all-of-them Mr. Berlusconi later (to buy this cartoon was cheap; commercials within them profitable…). Many have been the cartoons I really loved: Tiger Mask (L’Uomo Tigre), Mila & Shiro, Sanpei (Gianmichele Baroni casting as the sparing fisherman), Holly & Benji, Ken Shiro, Lamu, many many others… and… ROBOTECH.
The problem with Robotech is that it didn’t have a theme song to be sung by children. For this reason, I think, I forgot totally that name, but definitely not its general plot and its basic features. It really impressed my imagination. For years I believed that Earth was rounded (come on!), but I genuinely believed that Japan was outside of it. Japan in my mind was in a Mother Ship floating in the deep space, shipping us from time to time cool technology in change of – who knows – fresh fruit? The reason why my hometown, Florence, had always a plenty of Japanese people was not explained by my theory, if not by saying: “Yes, ok, they are Japanese, but they are here for tourism. In fact, they look at the sky all the time because they don’t have one in their space shuttles”.
This cartoon, whose story should have told about 1999, is well worth a post here as I think it may go a little further the typical nostalgia feeling (Zarocalcare also uses this vibe). Robotech is – in my very amateur vision on the issue –, more than other Japanese manga, a sort of rejection of psychological and political elaboration of WWII. It looks that from some points of view they never lost it, or that a Third War could have been/be a revenge of what happened in the 40s.
It is not only the Little Planet Earth (Japan, outside the metaphor) being invaded by 10 times taller aliens (US people, outside metaphor); it is not only the supremacy of technology Humans (again, the Japanese people) can copy and then overcome in comparison to aliens (US one). It is not only the idea of Nuclear War and life extinction. It is not the usual eternal battle between graceful-Good versus ugly-Devil in a oversimplified Manichaeism. It is not just the usual chivalric idea of going to die dreaming a lady who perhaps loves you and is waiting for you in a safe place. It is not just a more sophisticated version of the Shintoist connection between humans, their tight roles never to be overpowered, and technology. it is not the transposition of perfect brilliant career in army to be reproduced (of course failing) in a Japanese company. It is not only the idea that in war the Enemy is worse and worse than you think as it is dis-human (sure, never thought to teach children that Enemies may think exactly the same?!). It is also the idea of everlasting battle for one’s survival. The triumph of the idea that before surrender you may also destroy everything: your loved habitat and your civilians included. It has also a SS nazi-style jet pilot mentoring the main character, what a privilege.
When we hear that Japan is eager in getting again its army and weapons to tackle bold contemporary China in order – also – to boost one’s poorly performing economy, and when we will hear something more about Trump’s concrete proposal to make Japan pay for its defence, well, let’s think that culture is very resilient and that Japan is extremely refined and cultivated yes, but also champion in never say “I surrender”. But Japan is also the Third Hand of Nazi-Fascism. It is the Country that indicated to civilians to commit suicide instead of surrender to Americans telling false news about their possible treatment as prisoners. I don’t think, watching again this series, that to have a Japanese army is a good idea.
I am one who believe in the credo “history repeats always itself”, but I eschew the following automatic sentence about “drama, tragedy & farce”. I believe it repeats itself under different forms you may also not recognize at the beginning (this is a point for a different post in the deep future when Mars will be populated by Italians making pizza space-spicy mushrooms & smoked warthog).
I liked this aggressive cartoon. It is clever, it has some plot. I cherish it and it was so great to watch it again after 30 years over Youtube, the book of memories actually. But for the sake of human being, I don’t envisage any Japanese army any more. “We must win” (it’s a theme of the cartoon, sung by the loved lady of the main character, of course!) and we shall win if we don’t make any further war. We shall win if we go to the space to dwell other planets, hopefully because we are not destroying the first we have lived for so few millennia by now.