I wrote a good bit about my thoughts on Gundam Thunderbolt in a previous post. I said that while I had enjoyed the show, its oppressive bleakness and lack of faith in humanity’s potential kept it from being emotionally resonant. The show was far too dark for it to one of my favorite Gundam anime, let alone one of my favorite anime overall. It’s fortunate then that I recently finished Turn A Gundam which avoids all the major issues of Thunderbolt and delivers the satisfyingly positive, pro-human, and anti-war Gundam anime I was looking for, with fantastic visuals, sound, and execution as well.
It isn’t a well hidden secret that Turn A takes place long after all of the other Gundam series. All Gundam series flow into Turn A, and while the mechanics of how this happened aren’t made clear, the implications of it are. We are lead to believe that in all previous Gundam shows, and presumably all those made in the future, humanity failed to end its destructive warring, and for this eventually faced the annihilation of civilization through the Turn A Gundam’s Moonlight Butterfly attack, an attack which turns virtually all technology into sand.
We aren’t told how many times humanity’s warring has plunged it into the Dark History, only for the Moonlight Butterfly to reset everything, but it doesn’t really matter. What’s clear is that unless humanity is able to evolve beyond its impulses for destruction, and truly create a society in which all can live as equals without fighting, then civilization will once again be destroyed by the devastating power of the Moonlight Butterfly.
With such a dark backstory, and such a pessimistic view of how humanity developed in previous Gundam stories, it’s a wonder that the series is as positive, and ultimately optimistic, as it truly is.
Turn A’s protagonist, Loran Cehack, could be said to represent the viewpoint Tomino was intending to convey with the show. Loran wants peace between his original home, the Moon, and his new home, the Earth. He’s not unwilling to fight where necessary, but while some of Tomino’s more peace loving protagonists will still go for killing as the prime means of defeating the enemy, Loran always tries to force the enemy to disengage. He uses the absurd power of the Turn A Gundam and his own natural gifts as a pilot to ensure that as few dies as possible. By my count he killed a mere two people by the end of the show, and both times were in order to save the lives of others, with attempts to disengage beforehand. Loran could be said to embody the entire idea of the Universal Century and perhaps Gundam as a whole, the idea that humans can struggle for a world free of fighting and oppression, and in doing so ascend to a plane of true understanding and complete empathy.
To go even further, I would make the argument that, even if he shows no signs of being a Newtype in the commonly understood sense, Loran embodies the concept of the true Newtype preached by Zeon Zum Deikun better than any Newtype seen in the Universal Century. Loran believes that if the time is put in to do so, that he and all humans are capable of understanding one another. And while ordinarily it’s hard to believe that every single person is capable of achieving total empathy, Loran makes it believable. Even when fighting those setting out to kill him, Loran attempts to communicate with them and call a ceasefire. His willingness to use the Gundam in order to help people in need further shows his empathy. That’s not to say he’s a perfect person. He’s willing to use underhanded tactics in order to achieve his ends, but those ends are those of peace, and any tactics he uses are always done in order to cause the least damage possible. Loran may not have psychic abilities, but he is the clearest example of a true Newtype that I’ve ever seen.
While almost all of the characters are good, two more are key to the series’ themes. Kihel Heim, the daughter of an Earth aristocrat, and Dianna Soriel, queen of the moon, likewise represent one of Gundam’s major themes. Kihel and Dianna are of two different worlds, one Earthnoid and the other Spacenoid, and yet they are the exact same. They share the same appearance, and there is little separating them in terms of personality. If they had experienced different situations in their lives, it’s likely that there would be no difference between the two at all. Conflict between Earthnoids and Spacenoids is rampant in Gundam, especially in the famous Zeon conflicts of the Universal Century. Kihel and Dianna show that not only are the two groups the same species, they’re even to some extent interchangeable people. This demonstrates even further the previous theme, that with discussion and empathy conflicting groups are capable of coming to mutually beneficial positions. Dianna’s troops killed Kihel’s father, but because they were able to understand each other and their true feelings, they were able to get past this and work together in order to bring peace between Earth and the Moon.
In a sense, even the series’ trademark anti-establishment rhetoric—usually in the form of rebellion by the younger generation against the adults in control of society—makes its appearance here. Loran, much like other Universal Century protagonists, is fed up with the decisions made on high by the adults who don’t have to fight themselves. This is especially clear near the end of the series, when Guin Rhineford and Gym Ghingham fight to dominate the Earth. Loran’s bravery and willingness to fight while attempting to maintain peace communicates a strong message that youth are those capable of fighting for a better world. All of the real heroes in the end; Loran, Kihel, Dianna, Sochie, Miashei, etc. are all youthful, in appearance if not in age. Turn A clearly believes that people should not simply follow their orders, but should fight for what they value as right, as seen when Loran abandons Guin after his traitorous vie for power.
So, how do all of these commonly seen themes of Gundam relate to the Moonlight Butterfly? Well as I began to touch on earlier, the Moonlight Butterfly destroys civilization in order to serve humanity a grim reminder of what their fighting will lead to, while at the same time giving people another chance at creating a just world. To understand why this is, it’s important to look at where the Moonlight Butterfly system comes from.
The Turn A is implied to be built from the Turn X, which is implied to have been found by those in the Earth sphere after floating through space. It’s equipped with a Psycommu unit, indicating it was built by a civilization of Newtypes. It could be assumed that it was a weapon of war for Newtypes, but I prefer the idea that it was instead sent by Newtypes who had escaped the Earth sphere intentionally, in order to spur on humanity and force them to become Newtypes quicker. Essentially, these Newtypes would have wanted to force Earth’s humans to either evolve or die, similar to Char’s plan in Char’s Counterattack. Instead the humans of Earth saw the Turn X as prove that humans far beyond their view had unfathomably powerful Mobile Suits, which could easily destroy them. For this they built the Turn A Gundam from the Turn X, and both were equipped with the all powerful Moonlight Butterfly.
Evidently, those Newtypes who wanted those in the Earth Sphere to free their souls from gravity did not get their wish, as the wars continued and in all series the Turn A Gundam eventually wiped out technology in order to prevent the destruction of all humanity. The Moonlight Butterfly is a system built with the explicit purpose of forcing humanity to stop warring, through destruction of all civilization if necessary. Seen through that lens, the Moonlight Butterfly takes on a purpose very similar to Char’s plan of dropping Axis. It is an attempt to force an end to war through mass destruction and almost certainly mass murder. It’s a noble attempt to force humanity to evolve faster than possible, but ultimately such a violent and devastating method won’t be capable of bringing peace to humanity.
The only thing that can bring peace to humanity is communication. True Newtypes come about not through being forced to fight or die. They come about through an attempt to understand one another. Loran, Kihel, Dianna, and others demonstrate this evolution in humanity, and they manage to bring in relative peace by the end of the series. As I said, the Moonlight Butterfly is noble, but it is also terrifying and horrendous, and it was never capable of ending war. Only humanity’s organic evolution, the birth of true Newtypes, can lead to war ending. And that’s why the Moonlight Butterfly systems seal away the Turns in the end. They recognize that finally, after so many attempts humanity has reached the point where true Newtypes are coming into being, people who are capable of empathizing with all of humanity, and that these people will be capable of leading humanity into a new era of peace.
Turn A is the ultimate Gundam series, not in terms of being the best, but because it explores every theme the series is meant to offer. It is the culmination of everything Gundam has been or can be while remaining what it is. Turn A represents the highest point that the Gundam franchise can reach, even if it isn’t the best series that the franchise has produced. No other Gundam could touch it in terms of thematic completeness. By showing the birth of true Newtypes and the the endpoint of all conflict, Turn A both guarantees a grim future for every other Gundam series, while still giving humanity itself a bright future worth striving for. As its name implies, Turn A Gundam means for all Gundam. Turn A is the conclusion for all of Gundam, and no matter what is made after it, the show will always display humanity’s true potential for evolution.