Thomas Nelson is a McDaniel College graduate and writer based in Washington, DC. He can be found on Twitter at @trnels.
In G Gundam, the world exists in some mashup of Pacific Rim, Elysium and the Olympic Games. A large portion of humanity has moved off-planet, living on space stations governed by the administration of states that existed on the surface. After a prolonged conflict, the governments of the world signed a multilateral peace treaty, establishing [insert information about neo-Earth Federation here]. However, to appease what can only be explained as man’s inherent need for conflict and competition, as well as ensure that no one country establishes a hegemony, leadership is fought over every [two? Three?] years by Gundam fighters, selected as representatives of their respective neo-countries to go to Earth and duke it out in giant robots for control over the neo-Earth Federation.
No matter what direction you come at this from, the whole concept throws every theory of international relations out the window. On the one hand, liberal internationalism. Historically, Neo Earth follows the same pattern as both the United Nations and the European Union. Weary of war after a large-scale conflict, the involved parties resolve to address their grievances in a more diplomatic and humane manner. But most liberals eschew competition in favor of debate, and even though Gundam fights are governed by a set of rules that nearly all participants appear to follow, it’s still possible to put yourself on unequal footing.
Realism, predictably, finds flaw with the other half of this. Why submit to the rules of Gundam fights, and let your political position be decided by a somewhat arbitrary competition? In watching the series, most of the fighters – or at least the ones who play major roles in the plot’s development – appear to be equally matched. (Though unsurprisingly, they are still defeated by protagonist Domon.) While killing another pilot is strictly forbidden, there is no mention of other rules limiting a Gundam’s arsenal of weapons. Why would Neo America use glorified boxing gloves, and Neo Japan limit its most powerful weapon (Burning/Shining Finger) to periods of emotional distress? Victory in these competitions is critical to political power, and the teams building these Gundams and training the fighters should be giving themselves every advantage possible. International politics is no time for sportsmanship.
That’s not to say all of the fighters are intentionally selling themselves short. Later in the series, a more existential threat to Neo Earth is revealed: Dark Gundam, which is based off of a self-replicating and apparently intelligent nanotechnology known as G Cells. Fighters from Neo England, Neo Egypt and Neo India are all discovered to have “infected” themselves with these G Cells to enhance their skills and grant them regenerative capabilities. Neo England’s fighter didn’t stop their, either: he used stimulants, artificially modified the combat area to his advantage, and would notoriously ignore the ban on killing other fighters.
“Solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short” was how Hobbes described man’s natural state, and the G Gundam saga only supports that. Even the most well-designed attempts to quell international conflict, by establishing an egalitarian supranational government and still appealing to the need for competition and conflict, will come undone as someone will always attempt to seize power through whatever means necessary.