Current discussion of entertainment media is filled with questions as to what messages, intentional or otherwise, are conveyed to audiences. Does a work promote racism or sexism through its characters actions? Does a series portray as heroic characters whose values are misanthropic? In this time, one work to look back on is the science fiction anime Martian Successor Nadesico, which highlights the idea that creative works are ultimately subject to personal interpretation, but that those subjective outlooks can have real consequences.
In Nadesico, many of the characters are fans of an old giant robot anime called Gekigangar 3. Cut from the same mold as 70s-era anime such as Getter Robo and Voltes V, it’s a simple story about heroes of Earth defending against alien invaders through the power of friendship and passion. At first, this series within a series acts mainly as a fun retro contrast to the setting and aesthetics of Nadesico itself. This all changes, however, when it’s revealed that the enemy forces are also fans of Gekigangar 3. In fact, they’re not just fans—they’ve based their entire civilization on Gekigangar.
Jovian men dress like the male heroes of Gekigangar 3. The women pattern themselves after the sole female character, Nanako. Even the robots they use to fight the Earth forces are made to look like the titular Gekiganger III. This mutual love of the same series between the space battleship Nadesico’s crew and the Jovians opens up the opportunity for peace. After all, Gekigangar 3 is all about friendship and passion, right?
One character, Jovian Vice-Admiral Kusakabe Haruki, does not see it that way, and he acts as the main antagonist at the finale of the TV series. When asked how he could defy the principles of Gekigangar, Kusakabe argues that his actions are completely in accordance with the show that forms the basis of Jovian society because Gekigangar 3 is about victory for the righteous against evil.
The same action scenes that the main crew of the Nadesico viewed as the bridge to peace also acts as the pretense for war and violence. While it’s possible to argue that Kusakabe’s interpretation was misguided and a too-narrow reading of Gekigangar 3, the reality is that it fuels his actions, and that even if the work had the best of intentions, the work does not exist in a vacuum and is subject to both social and personal perspectives.
The final joke about Gekigangar 3 is that the ending is pretty bad and hokey. Negating the noble sacrifice of one of the characters, Joe (whose design and narrative purpose is a mix of Hayato and Musashi from Getter Robo) conveniently comes back from the dead for a last-second save reminiscent of the finale of Mazinger Z when Great Mazinger shows up. The main hero of Nadesico, Tenkawa Akito, talks about how he held off on watching the last episode of Gekigangar 3 for a long time, only to find out that it’s nothing special. In a way, everyone who worshipped Gekigangar 3 put it on a pedestal that far exceeded its actual content, but at the same time the way it inspired people to strive for their best and to live with passion in their hearts is seen as a net-positive. “Remember this anime at its best” is the takeaway for the crew, but it requires an already-held belief of wanting to take a positive and humanity-affirming spin on any media consumed, which won’t always be the case for everyone.
Even works with the best of intentions, like Fight Club, are infamous for being misread. Entertainment meant to portray something in a negative light might accidentally be seen in pop culture as supporting those ideas. So for those shows and films like Gekigangar 3 that aren’t necessarily meant to be deep or extremely thoughtful, the opportunity for both loving and hateful interpretations is even greater. Ultimately, it’s the responsibility of those watching to give their takes on a work, even if it’s not 100% intended by the original creators, so that a work’s interactions with the cultural and social symbols that live and grow among us can be discussed and debated upon.
Yamato was the object of lampooning in Nadesico. By the same token as you described in this post, we can interpret the lessons detailed in its story and apply to a more timeless lens.