Thursday, August 31, 2006

Voltes V after 29 years

It is said that Philippine President Ferdinand E Marcos axed Voltes V off the air in late 1979 after that Zul planning -a -coup –against- Prince Zardoz episode was aired. In that episode, the Boazanian adviser and general Zul planned to use Dr Ned Armstrong (the father of three of Voltes V’s pilots) to build a replacement Voltes (after trying to deceive Armstrong that Voltes was destroyed by a beast fighter). Armstrong saw through the deception and so did Zandra ( Zardoz’s assistant who harboured a love interest). In the end, Zul’s plan was exposed and he was executed.

Now Voltes V is almost 30 years old. It is perhaps the only anime that may have catalyzed the political maturity of a whole generation of children. Much has been written about how this generation led the 1986 EDSA people power revolt. But when Voltes V was aired and sponsored by a Filipino hotdog manufacturer, the establishment thought that it was just any cartoon show, mere fantasy.

Cartoon shows beforehand were American and these shows never delved into politics (although the Looney Tunes may have some reference to American electoral politics). But the Japanese anime had. While the anime ”Robot” shows as they were called then celebrated Japanese values (filial piety, loyalty, resilience and all the bushido values and the ability to borrow from Foreigners and make them their own), these values would have been in jibe with what the Marcos New Society ideology required, the subtext for these values was political.

Not only there was a factionalist subtext with the Boazanians, but also with the Earth. Curiously, there is reference to Japan and but no reference to the United States. The USA was referred to as the country where Mark’s family immigrated. Now Voltes V was produced at the height of the Cold War when Japan was completely allied to the US. Japan was the “unsinkable aircraft carrier” off Russia and China. Japan couldn’t have a standing army and thus had to call its army “Self Defence Forces”. Japan couldn’t make nuclear weapons. Japan in its General Macarthur decreed constitution forever renounced war as an instrument of policy.

So when the planet was attacked by aliens, Japan would be the logical place to have Camp Big Falcon without any need for the United States. Well Camp Big Falcon is an example of a Japanese trait, and that is borrowing from foreigners, in this case Boazanians, and making it their own. Even in this anime show, there is an effort to separate what is innately Japanese with that borrowed from the West. Nothing is as obvious when the central characters in Voltes V practiced their Budo or martial arts.

The leaders of the defence of the Earth, I presume had PhDs! After all why would they be addressed as “sensei” in the Japanese version and “Doctor” in the Philippine English and “Professor” in the European versions. But unlike your usual academics, these PhDs had some sort of military training and probably got their degrees from a National Defence Academy. This should gladden the hearts of the pro-ROTC fans at the university.

That academe is enlisted in the service of the military has happened in World War II, in Japan, Germany and the US. As the two former countries were defeated it was only in the USA that the ties between academe and military were maintained. And we see this in fiction in all the 1970s robot anime made in Japan.

I doubt it that the Marcos regime saw it this way. The worst thing they did is when they axed the shows and the result was a whole generation of kids about to become young adults were left wondering who really piloted that mechanical eagle!

Such enduring questions have caused the downfall of a regime. The question is whether an anime show can cause the downfall of a government once more?

I doubt it. I was in Japan two years ago as a professor from the state university and I watched the anime in order to practice my rusting Japanese. Japan after more than a decade economic slump is a different place than that of my high school days. (I was a cultural exchange kid then). The anime had become more angst ridden. And in this post-modern milieu, respect for innately Japanese values I’d say, has changed. But this is Japan, what has changed may not be so. I was just a Gaijin who can speak some Japanese.

There are still things that haven’t changed. The Emperor is still held in respect. But there is a problem on how the succession will be in the future. No male has been born to the ruling family in 31 years. Only males can succeed to the throne.

Societies change. The past is another country. And that is Voltes V after 29 years.

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