(Important notice: This post contains spoilers for the end of Zeta Gundam.)
Imagine if Luke Skywalker lost his mind at the end of Star Wars. That would be really strange, right? Because that’s what happened at the end of Japan’s so-called Star Wars, Zeta Gundam (1986).
Kamille Bidan, the main character, defeats Paptimus Scirocco, the series villain, by driving the sharp end of his mobile suit straight through Scirocco’s cockpit and into his stomach.
The impaled Scirocco should be dead by this point, any normal person would be, but he refuses to “die alone” and throws all of his remaining strength into a psychic attack aimed straight at Kamille, and whatever happens next, it works, because while Kamille survives, he loses his mind. The series concludes mournfully, with the hero trying to eject himself into space, minus a spacesuit.
This is an ending I’ll never forget because of how painful was (and it still is.) It speaks of director Yoshiyuki Tomino‘s bitterness and ultimate refusal to glamorise war. He knows that we want to see a happy ending for Kamille, but by snatching that away with barely a minute left to run, everything is lost to an overriding sense of emptiness. It’s hard to take, but, also, so evocative and memorable.
20 years later, then, Tomino creates Love is the Pulse of the Stars, the final movie in his trilogy of Zeta Gundam compilations, in which Kamille, again, destroys Scirocco’s mobile suit, but this time, survives unscathed. Am I wrong to lament how disappointing I find that?!
Apparently, 20 years is the difference between pessimism and optimism. Directors like Tomino probably feel a responsibility to impart to their fans a sense of optimism, and I’m sure it’s a responsibility that weighs only heavier as time takes its toll. Does Tomino want to be remembered for breaking the hopes and dreams of a generation? Or for inspiring people to believe in a better tomorrow? It’s the difference between telling the truth, no matter how harsh, or a white lie.
Quite frankly, good intentions or not, I’m sick of being lied to. That’s why I loved the original conclusion to Zeta Gundam. It felt like someone had finally snapped and decided to tell the truth, and at first, I was shocked, but, also, inspired to consider what it was trying to say, which brings me to Neon Genesis Evangelion.
Evangelion is, at it’s best, just as bitter as Zeta Gundam, with a main character in Shinji Ikari whose realistic weaknesses many find hard to take. Hidden within the fantastical vibrancy of its presentation, the likes of Shinji, Misato and Asuka are inflicted with heavy psychological issues and insecurities that refuse to go away. It’s heart-wrenching and frustrating to see characters so fallible, but also to director Anno‘s credit that he refuses to provide them with easy answers. The series is delicately crafted not to appear as anti-escapist as it is, and it works. People complain so much about Shinji’s lack of bravery, but from Anno’s perspective, real people aren’t usually as brave as Kamina and Simon.
Recently, then, just like with Zeta Gundam, the creator of Evangelion, Hideaki Anno, has begun remaking his masterpiece, to make it “(more) accessible to non-fans.” Whether or not Anno (now married and living a seemingly happier life,) again chooses to side with the harsh truth, or goes with a white lie instead, will be interesting. You know what I’m hoping for, but, sadly, it’s also not what I expect.