mobile suit gundam, earth protector

08Oct09

Tokyo may have failed in its bid to host the 2016 Olympic Games, but at least it has an 18-meter Gundam statue to show for it.  According to the Japan Times, the “35-ton fiberglass and steel monolith is the centerpiece of the Green Tokyo Gundam Project intended to raise environmental awareness.”  While there are certainly far more appropriate and effective methods of raising environmental awareness, there’s no doubt that the Gundam statue is impressive.  Located on Odaiba, an artificial island in the middle of Tokyo Bay, the mobile suit stands tall among a host of futuristic wonders, not the least of which is the headquarters of Fuji Television, designed by Kenzo Tange (one of the main figures in charge of designing that apotheosis of futurism, the 1970 World Expo in Osaka).

The Gundam statue is so well built that it doesn’t at any level feel like a fake, an important aspect of its ability to convince at an aesthetic level that the future has put its foot down in the here and now.  To view the life-sized Gundam is to literally know what a particular future would look like were it made manifest; and that knowing, which is deeper than and different than a simple act of imaginative visualization, has the potential to leave an experience-rupturing imprint — the feeling that we’re already traveling along a vector toward one particular type of futurity.  The robot may not walk yet (though the head does move and the eyes do blink), but seeing a full scale mock-up suddenly makes the potential existence of Tokyo mobile units  all the more real.

While all of this futurism is deeply impressive at the level of style and technological execution, it does beg the question of what it’s all good for in the long run.  It’s not enough for the future to appear to us in the technologically magnificent frame of an 18-meter mobile suit, or of a space-grid world headquarters with a floating metal onion for an observation dome.  These futuristic objects may have an aesthetic force that propels us to believe in technological progress, but technological progress is nothing without a genuine attention to both human needs and the health of the ecosystem that sustains those needs.  In fact, it could be argued that this style of futurism is just another consumable, just another commodity within the very same system of over-consumption that has led us where we are in the first place.   The real future, not the future of mobile-suit imaginings, is going to demand energy conservation, clean water, technology that reduces greenhouses gases, new forms of power generation, alternate and far less consumptive lifestyles — in short, an incredibly boring and unglamorous new infrastructure of being that will have almost nothing to do with giant robots and the fully automated transit systems that bring the crowds of fascinated spectators out to visit them.

This isn’t to say that the Gundam statue and the Fuji Television building are somehow worthless and excessive.  They’re absolutely delightful and a valuable part of the built environment of pleasure that’s a necessary correlate to human existence.  In this sense they’re a lot like the strange pink rabbit-elf mascot that was running around Odaiba while we were there — objects that are fun and delightful precisely because of the surprising alternative modes of affective enjoyment they can offer us, whether elf or robot.   The mistake is to allow monuments like the Gundam statue and the Fuji Television building represent the idea of technological progress, when in fact there’s very little that’s technologically new about them at all.  The Gundam statue and the Fuji Television building are, in effect, purely symbolic ideas of the future rather than concrete steps in the production of the actual future that’s necessarily going to come into being as human society slowly transforms itself to meet the planetary challenges that are appearing all too rapidly on the horizon.



2 Responses to “mobile suit gundam, earth protector”

  1. 1 Aren Downie

    Only in Japan!!!

  2. 2 Trane DeVore

    Aren — It would indeed be surprising to see a giant Gundam parked outside of San Francisco or New York. If the Transformers movies keep being as popular as they have been, however, maybe a giant promotional Optimus Prime will appear in L.A. one of these days . . .


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