Of Space Nazis, Gundam Sequels and the Horribly Underrated MS Igloo – Part 1

One could easily devote an entire blog to talking about Gundam sequels and spin-offs, but that blog is not Colony Drop. The reason that blog isn’t Colony Drop, at least on my part, is because my interest in the franchise drops off substantially following 1988’s Char’s Counterattack. That’s not to say everything that Bandai has managed to squeeze out after Char’s Counterattack with the Gundam name on it was terrible (although most of it was), but really, what’s the point?

Gundam has turned into little more than the animated equivalent of the Super Sentai franchise, where each new series is wholly separate from the others, but possesses core thematic traits that help to identify it as a part of the franchise. In Super Sentai it’s multi-colored teams of people in spandex suits fighting rubber monsters with combining robots, in Gundam it’s obnoxious children fighting Char clones in prototype mobile suits with V fins.

Thankfully, the under-appreciated MS Igloo and its recent sequel MS Igloo 2 show just how interesting Gundam spin-offs can be when they’re not recycling the same ideas over and over again to sell more model kits.


But first, let’s talk about Space Nazis.

The Nazification of the Principality of Zeon
The concept of the Principality of Zeon as a reference to World War II Nazi Germany is a fairly common idea in Gundam fandom, although judging from the original Mobile Suit Gundam, it probably wasn’t quite what Tomino was intending. While MS Gundam was something of an allegory for World War II, and there is the oft-quoted line by Degwin Zabi to his son Giren about him being “Hitler’s tail,” the similarities are subtle and more a reference to Germany’s role and actions in the war, than an actual portrayal of Nazi Germany itself.

Zeon, like Nazi Germany, was a relatively small country that achieved numerous early successes through the use of new tactics and the employment of new technology (mobile suits). The Federation, like the Allied forces, were originally not prepared to handle the new threat but after catching up technologically their superior manufacturing capabilities and larger numbers allowed them to achieve victory. Aside from these similarities, Tomino certainly wasn’t pushing the One Year War as WWII.

It wasn’t until 1989’s Gundam 0080: War in the Pocket that the Nazification of Zeon really began, with a significant portion of the Zeon aesthetic redesigned to take on a distinctly World War II Germanic style. Beyond just the uniforms, the Zeon mobile suits were significantly retconned to include touches like panzerfausts and Germanic names like Jager and Kampfer.

What makes this retconning interesting is the context in which Japanese otaku culture views the World War II-era Germany aesthetic and how much it differs from the Western perception. In the West we’ve been conditioned to associate Nazi designs and style with supreme evil, and as such, in western fiction that same style is often used when trying to establish a particular character or group as evil without having to actually explain why. It works because as we automatically associate those kind of images with evil, we automatically know that the fictional characters in question are evil, saving the writer the effort of having to establish any sort of motivations or unique characteristics. Its a cop-out used throughout movies, video games and comics because no one is going to complain about people vilifying Nazis, and rightly so.

Viewed from the Western perspective, one could easily assume that that was what the design team for War in the Pocket was trying to accomplish, but that is not the case. The difference is that while the Japanese are educated about the atrocities of the Axis powers in World War II (well, German atrocities in any case), Japanese culture does not have the same kind of ingrained response to Nazi imagery that we do in the West. As such, Japanese otaku culture is free to recognize just how cool the German military aesthetic is on purely visual terms, without experiencing the same attached emotional baggage that we in the west might. Thusly, it isn’t uncommon to see people dressed in full German uniforms at otaku events in Japan, no one in their right mind (save military re-enactors and Hellsing cosplayers with no taste) would dress up similarly in the West.

Because the depressing truth is that they did have the coolest uniforms (that’s what happens when you have Hugo Boss designing your uniforms) and the coolest tanks (that’s what happens when you have Ferdinand Porsche designing your tanks) and that’s why this aesthetic is so common in Japanese anime and comics, because frankly, it looks cool. Ranging from more proper works like Oshii’s Panzer Corps series, to Kazuhisa Kondo’s Gundam 0079 manga to garage kits of moé girls in German uniforms and MG32s, it’s a common theme among otaku interests and was even more so during the late 80s when otaku culture was focused on military hardware and model kits.

As such, I would theorize that the staff of War in the Pocket was not establishing Zeon as the bad guys by using the World War II-era German aesthetic, but establishing them as the cool guys, devoid of the more proper historical associations that we might assume. After War in the Pocket, 1991’s Gundam 0083: Stardust Memory followed this trend by further establishing more Germanisms into the Zeon aesthetic and maintaining the same look, particularly as evidenced by the Zeons in Africa which were clearly patterned after the desert troops of World War II. Kazuhisa Kondo’s Gundam side story comics also helped, by introducing aspects like Zeon motorcycle troops and mobile suits with zimmerit. By this point Zeon’s German look was well established and since then has continued on as a recognized and ubiquitous part of the Gundam mythos.

More on this later, and how it relates to MS Igloo in Part 2.

17 Comments

  1. “no one in their right mind (save military re-enactors and Hellsing cosplayers with no taste) would dress up similarly in the West.”

    Or someone who had been brought up in a bubble, utterly disconnected from the real world, and with centuries of inbreeding behind him (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/4170083.stm).

    Anyway, a couple of thoughts:

    A lot of the fetishisation of Germany that you get in anime is really of the Prussian military aesthetic that pre-dates the Nazi period, and which had a big influence on Meiji Japan as it looked to imitate what it considered the best bits of European culture — most obvious in the boys’ school uniforms (the girls’ uniform is British in origin).

    Oh, and I don’t think there will ever be such a thing as a nice looking tank. Ships and planes are functionally geared towards elegant shapes that allow them to cut smoothly through the media in which they travel, whereas tanks seem like fundamentally ugly creatures, limited by the basic necessity of scrambling through mud and dirt all day. Coco Chanel herself could have designed a tank and it would still have looked like a rhino on wheels.

  2. I was just about to say more Prussia than Germany, the wonders of GinEiDen will teach you. In general, the villianss always have the better uniforms, except I igLoo makes the Federations standad uniforms look really cool I think. Like something you’d wear everyday to work or whatever…

  3. I agree about the Nazi uniforms being dead cool haha, and I suppose it is better to appreciate the stylistic pros rather than always dwelling on the negatives.

  4. OMG, someone else who gets it! Thank you!

    (in r.e. the Nazification of Zeon)

    It, I think, goes back just a tiny bit futher to the publication of M.S, Era, a large format ‘photo essay’ of the One Year War that was published…urrrr, I’m thinking about the time of War in the Pocket/Char’s Counterattack, when Bandai was first flirting with the concept of pushing Gundam internationally (i.e. America will never understand but if we do a bunch of stuff in English we can trick everyone into thinking we have successfully sold this in the U.S.) and then retreating, only to think (with the release of F91 and 0083) that THIS time it’ll work….and it didn’t..

    And you know, even as I write the above, I find myself questioning the pub date. Maybe it came out during the ‘GxG’ push of 0083. dammit. not having the thing messes me up.

    anyway, M.S. Era was done like a glossy ‘after the event’ history book as published by Life Magazine (or Der Spiegle, maybe?) and it was rife with WWII images ‘redone’ as OYW war photography.

    Crap in a hat, I do a Yahoo Japan auction search and all I can find is a listing for MS Era 0099, a hardcover published in 2000 according to the seller. I *swear* there was a previous softcover version published earlier. dammit. altho the cover DOES say Mobile Suit Gundam 0001-0080 so…this must be a reprint and the original DID come out when I said. I think. DAMMIT.

    AHEM anyway. I think the whole ‘Nazification’ is mainly due to it being easy. It’s easier to draw an MP-40 or the MP-43 than the funky ‘space guns’of the original series because you can buy a gun model or use Tamiya 1/35 scale military figures as your base, as well as the ‘cool’ factor you mention.

    but I’m no discounting how BIG the cool factor is, no.

    Can’t wait to read your take on MS Igloo. I’m liking this blog 🙂

  5. This all sounds plausible to me, though I don’t know enough about the history of Gundam production and fandom in Japan to judge. I suspect 0083‘s North African Zeon troops might partly be a more serious take on ZZ‘s sleeper cell North African Zeon remnants (with a leader named Rommel, no less) but I’d agree that 0083‘s much more thorough and deliberate. The idea that 0080‘s designs pick up on that aesthetic for coolness’s sake dovetails neatly with its interest in how children like Al (and, uh, me) find Mobile Suits cool, too.

    The gap between the mechanical designers thinking ‘let’s make this cool’ and (Western fans) thinking ‘ooh atrocities’ is interesting. I guess there’s a chronological flattening for relative newcomers like me — the first time around, I watched 0080 in a few days between the original MSG and Zeta.

    Though if I remember Warlord right, children, in Britain at least, used to be allowed to enjoy German military hardware provided it wasn’t being used by SS troops, and was being used against Russians. Warlord wasn’t a very sensitive publication. (But it had tanks and planes.)

    I look forward to reading part two.

  6. > dotdash
    I hadn’t really thought of the Prussian influence, but I think you’re right.

    And I didn’t say nice looking, I said cool looking! There’s a difference!

    > Steve Harrison
    From what I knew M.S. Era was produced around the same time as 0080 and was done by the production staff of that OAV, so I think it and 0080 are fairly interchangeable in this case. In any case, I used art from it for this post for that specific reason.

    And you’re right, there have been at least a few reprints. I was in Mandarake today and they had both the soft cover (older, I think) and hardcover versions.

    > IKnight
    I’ll admit to not having seen ZZ Gundam, so I had no idea about North African Zeon remnants in that series.

  7. “There’s a difference!”

    I did spot that, which is why I was careful with how I worded my comment. Gundam is a good example of the difference; the Zakus are uglier than the Gundams but far cooler looking.

    I’ve been watching Zeta Gundam recently and this post gave me an idea for a related one on my own site that I’ll have to get on with writing when I have time.

  8. It’s funny then that the Titans in Zeta always struck me visually and stylistically as the Stasi, a repressive secret police with a paramilitary arm given more or less completely free reign to hunt down and exterminate dissident threats to the GDR and the Soviet Union.

    It’s pretty disappointing that Tomino never pursued the Federation-as-Soviet-Union angle past Zeta. You could argue the depravity was all the Titans, but, at least early on, regular Federation forces were joining them in attacks against the AEUG with little complaint.

  9. Yeah, you can draw parallels between the Titans and a lot of things, I think. There’s a good case to be made for them as a reference to McCarthyism, as well as an American Civil War angle with the way they at first reject spacenoid recruits and are then forced to go back on this as the situation gets more serious. The relationship between the Titans and the regular Federation forces also closely mirrors the relationship between the SS and the Wehrmacht. It’s to Tomino’s credit that the political world of the early Gundams has echoes in so many real cultures throughout history.

  10. ZZ Gundam’s African forces, despite being lead by a guy named Rommel, didn’t seem to be very much a reference to the Germans in Africa, or at least not much of one. Rather, it felt like in the context of ZZ that the few Zeon remnants that had survived and never given up the fight were a lot more spirited, talented and dangerous than the actual Neo Zeon troops were. Up until this point in ZZ Gundam, there really hadn’t been any serious military challenge from Neo Zeon (who acted more like Scooby Doo villains to the Gundam Team’s meddling kids), and suddenly the Gundams start having trouble not from fancy new mobile suits, but ancient desert-modified Zakus and whatever junk they were able to beg for and crib together over the years.

    Basically, the African remnants are kind of there to help transition from Neo Zeon being the most inept army ever to something that could credibly scare the Federation, while also hitting viewers over the head with the idea that a good pilot in a Zaku II is still very much a threat.

  11. Whilst I agree to an extent with some of this article, one aspect has perhaps been overlooked – as the Zeon have been increasingly portrayed as the “cool” guys, the Federation have equally been portrayed as not just the “uncool” guys, but also the aggressors and instigators. Its particularly bad in Gundam 0083, where the Federation develop the “evil” nuclear-armed GP02, and asides from the crew of the Albion, are portrayed as a bunch of arrogant morons, and it can also be seen in Gundam SEED, where ZAFT are soft of the good guys and its the Federation that commits the act that starts the war…

  12. I really agree with was has been sad here. The nazifiaction of the Zeon was more of a “for style” addition than anything else. Although they potray some characters as Nazi wannabes. The vast majority of Zeon is shown in a more heroic light than the Earth Federation. Really besides the Zabi Family the Zeon had the right idea. Fighting for Spacenod independance aganst the Corrupt Federation
    and acting in a more just way than the Federation during the War

  13. I see a lot of horse shit here. Look the whole ‘Nazis are bad’ thing is not just a West thing. Whenever Japan fans are told Japan thinks differently, this is what happens: America is the West, Japan represents all the East. Japan is a morally isolated country, inherently racist and xenophobic and they go BATSHIT CRAZY WHEN YOU QUESTION THEIR DIETARY HABITS OF EATING WHALES. In fact, Japanese go batshit crazy whenever anyone disagrees with any part of their culture that the universe revolves around.
    Look, I am a huge Gundam fan and all that crap, but honestly Japan is one of those few countries that sees Hitler as a great leader rather than evil incarnate. I’m sure it’s safe to say that interpretation of history wise, Japan is a bubble. The rest of the East sees Nazis as evil. Russia, China, India, all view the evil of the Axis powers.

  14. Hey, I would appreciate it if you would ask permission before publicly posting links to others’ work, especially if you plan on depicting them in a negative light. If you want to sodomize anyone for Nazi-fying Zeon, then it would be my friend, who does his best to wear something Nazi-esque and pawn it off as “Zeon.” and even claims that Bandai is ripping off his ideas for how to be a Zeek.

    in Actuality, about 80-95% of influences, even in MS IgLoo, are purely Imperial Germany of WWI. I’ve done lots of research in my decade of Gundam fandom. Herbert Von Kuspen is wearing a near exact replica of a general’s type of Model 1915 Feldbluse ( http://www.hessenantique.com/PhotoGallery.asp?ProductCode=1111103 ) and riding trousers, with little modification. the insignia is very gaudy, heavy braided bullion embroidered directly onto the jaket itself, and the epaulets are very similar to WWI Imperial German Generals’ epaulets, ( http://www.socsci.uci.edu/~rdalton/germany/ch1/bismarck.jpg ) and they even stick out at that odd, flaring angle.

    Don’t worry. I’m not going to drop a colony on anyone here; this happens quite often and I don’t mind xD people still call the zeeks ‘inglorious basterds’ cosplays at conventions and shout “sieg heil!” but they’re about fifty years off in their accusations.

    Thanks and have an excellent day!
    ~Hail Zeon!

    P.S. the author of Hellsing is an extreme otaku of Mobile Suit Gundam and has a lot references in the Hellsing manga itself, including a characicature of himself as a Zakrello, another charicature of Alucard as the RX-78 and Integra as Char(lol), a tribute to Garma’s death, and “moonlight butterfly” from Turn-A Gundam. He’s also a Haman Karn Fanboy ;D

  15. RE:Dotslash

    That’s the SS and the Heer*, not the Wehrmacht. Wehrmacht is the term that includes all branches (Kriegsmarine, Heer, Luftwaffe) of the German Military during WWII.

    Funny how silly war games(any WWII shooter) can propagate such errors.

  16. I think Gundam 0080 was trying to tell us that even though Bernie was a Zeon soldier he was a good person. The same thing can be said about most of the Germans in WW2. Bernies did not hate his enemy he was just drafted as the Zeon were losing the war. The Cyclops team are also bad ass guys but Steiner and the rest of the guys were soldiers and also for the most part good people. I really got hit when Bernies makes the video and tells Al not to hate the Federations because they are like him just with different ideals.

    We look at the Nazis and Germans and say they are “evil” but they were just human being with very different values and ideals than us(LOL the USSR was doing the same thing the Nazis did to people, even when we were hanging Nazis after the war USSR had Gulag death camps in Siberia give me a break)

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