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Space Admiral of Nothing

by Stéphane Dreyfus 6 days ago in humanity
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Do You Remember Living

Why would a cloud do that?

There were three cartoons I was more or less allowed to watch once I finally made it home from school. More often than not I missed at least one of them, as the trek home from San Francisco to Berkeley, as a sixth grader, alone, on public transit, was grueling and lengthy. I tended to miss G.I. Joe, and rarely minded. Jingoistic conditioning rankled me even then. And while I did enjoy the transformers, I didn't mind arriving home too late to catch more than the last few minutes of an episode. I was only ever sad when I missed the horribly abused (I didn't know it at the time) Macross series that those of us here in the U.S. had to take in as Robotech.

It was an obsession. My introduction to proper human drama in "cartoons". My introduction to mecha. The foundation of my fundamental disappointment. There are no jobs for me in this world, because all I want to do is pilot massive, overly agile robots. (Sorry Gundam, you gave up on "real physics" far too late to catch my eye.) I was there, when these core ideas were planted in the minds of U.S. children for the first time. I was inculcated completely.

In the days long before I was a janky pile of collected injuries, both physical and emotional, Japan was still quite exotic, and its strange cultural fruit had to be researched and sought out in ways the youth of today may never fully understand. The internet existed only as DARPA brainchild: you needed to be in the military or a high level college professor to use it and there was no graphical web. Need I mention the absence of portable supercomputers? So I recruited my parents to help me ransack all of 1980's Berkeley to see if we could find proper toys of Japanese provenance, as the Joes, the ponies, and the tinker toys simply weren't up to snuff anymore. With their help I found some amazing artifacts that, if I had not been a child who took joy from actually playing with his toys, would certainly be worth small fortunes to collectors now. Thanks to these toys my fascination grew. Space and the battles one could have within its dark depths dominated my imagination. I grew up alienated from the mundane, yearning to inhabit a place of prominence in my own space opera.

Time passed, life expressed itself, sometimes I suffered, sometimes I rejoiced. Eventually VHS tapes dominated home entertainment. Anime slouched tentatively into my world. There were very few titles that made it to the U.S. from Japan. No one knew what to make of these strange, very Japanese echoes of Western cartoons. One thing I remember is that, to me and the people I knew who enjoyed such things, every animated thing from Japan felt generations ahead of the repetitive dreck the U.S. had been churning out weakly for ages. If someone were to tell me now that Akira had actually been created in the 2000's or later and then launched back in time to 1988, I'd just nod and say, "Makes sense." As with toys, aside from video games (also coming to be dominated by Japan), the only entertainment I really wanted to take in was Japanese animated movies.

This hunger in my life for all things anime strongly affected the circle of friends that developed in high school and college. We shared what anime titles we could find, as there was no one place or online catalog where all titles were available for browsing and purchase. We rejoiced when someone found an anime of high quality, and stared in a combination of confusion, horniness, and disgust at some of the stranger discoveries. It was thanks to this kind sharing amongst friends that eventually a title of great interest was pulled into my orbit.

Advanced Storytelling All Around

By this time I had been educated about Robotech's unadulterated original material, and had even found a way to watch a decent amount of the Macross series. So it was with some surprise, but much joy, that I watched Macross: Do You Remember Love. The Japanese were beating us at just about everything in the realm of animation with this kind of movie. Technical quality, story quality, subtle but present cultural issues, and it was literally meta. This was a movie that was explained as being a movie that the people of the TV series Macross made about their own historical battles with aliens. A fictional story created by a fictional society! I loved this movie and, to this day, still get emotional when remembering the victories and tragedies of the people of Macross and the SDF-1.

There is one point in particular, an extraordinarily simple scene compared to the vast majority of the movie, that struck me deeply. It brought into sharp focus my feelings about the world and my place in it.

VERY LIGHT SPOILERS AHEAD.

At the end of a particularly nasty and costly space battle, Admiral Gloval, the long-time commander of the SDF-1 and the majority of Earth's space forces, sits down in his command chair on the bridge of his massive carrier/city/battleship/maybe also a giant robot thing. He doesn't just sit down: he is completely exhausted. He has witnessed so much destruction, a huge amount of it needless and cruel, and now it is finally over. He slips far, far down into his command chair. What might at any other time have seemed an undignified way for an admiral to sit, makes perfect sense. He pulls his hat down over his eyes, and for the first time in the movie, and perhaps the first time in the decades of his battle ridden life, he rests. It is a beautiful, poignant, scene. And it made me understand that I wanted to be as important in my world as Admiral Gloval was to his.

I wanted to be a main character. I wanted to be someone of renown. That others would know about, and even depend on in some way or another. I wanted to be valuable and worth something to others. A player on a stage of galactic scale. I remember, when watching this scene, being struck by the painful spear of longing and self loathing: I was none of these things, and did not believe that my current life would ever present me the opportunity to become even a fraction of any one of them.

I believe I expressed, in less distressing terms, my experience and feelings to a friend of mine who had been watching the movie with me. Fortunately most of my friends were much wiser than me. He said something I must paraphrase, for my memory is far from perfect, and the gulf between the present and that time grows vast. "You already are," or something along those lines. "You are the Admiral Gloval of your life." Such simple profundity is lost on most, and it certainly was lost on me at the time. Though it did dent–or should I say shape?–my consciousness in a way. His statement stuck with me.

It took quite some time for me to understand it. To integrate it properly. I had a great deal of self loathing to drill through, and some fascinating, sometimes shockingly serendipitous events, to experience. When I first heard the kind sermon of my friend, I could do naught but twist the meaning: I was king of nothing. A space admiral of nothing but a losing loser. A mad ruler, full of egotism. Passionate egotism, and thus well known to the self, but otherwise, in the outer universe, meaningless. I had taken the wise words of my friend and perverted them completely.

Life proceeded and I softened. Or was softened? I learned a great deal. I grew to have faith in myself. I could see how I was indeed, the hero of my own story, if I could let things be that way. Through concerted practice, and patience, my view of my world and how I fit into it shifted immensely. Eventually I was living the words of my friend. I was the Space Admiral of my entire world. I didn't need things beyond the life I was trying to live. FOMO wasn't a formalized cultural idea at the time, but because of Macross: Do You Remember Love, because of Admiral Gloval, and especially because of my friend, I stopped experiencing it entirely. I was content with my place in my world, with all of its important players; those whom I loved and who loved me. I even had my own villains. Some were defeated. Some escaped. Some disappeared. It might not be the grand space opera of my childhood, but it was my universal drama. Mine to unfold, to experience and savor. No other admiral was going to take it from me.

Or do I still just want to be Max?

Anime doesn't affect me quite as much these days. Certainly, as I suggested earlier, Akira determined the course of my entertainment life for some time once I finally saw it. But Macross helped me save myself from self-enforced mediocrity and the fear of being where I am as opposed to where others are. I consider myself lucky to have grown up in a time where anime was precious, and strived to be meaningful as well as crazily entertaining. Even as I process the changes and challenges of growing older and trying to manage a family, I find it easier to hold the world as precious, knowing that I'm the Space Admiral of something vast and amazing.

humanity

About the author

Stéphane Dreyfus

In reverse order a coder, a yoga teacher, a student of Buddhism, a member of the post production staff of The Bachelor (for seven years!), and then a person rambling through odd jobs as a youth. But before all of that, I was a writer.

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