Anime as Utopian Escape
Japan's national trauma of its nuclear experience during the Pacific War has been converted in the contemporary era into creative energy by making utopian worlds of anime and manga to bestow optimism to its country. Surprisingly giving more than hope to the nation, it set a rich basis for Japanese pop culture, where they were able to seek for a free and just society. These utopian aspirations remarkably shaped a culture that marked its historical significance in Japanese anime and otaku culture, notably for those artists born during 1960s-70s; whom deliberately contemplated on the banal and transient nature of Japanese domestic life. Gundam, a Japanese anime of 1979, moreover a powerhouse with new global authority in contemporary culture was noted as one of the most influential forms in defining Japanese contemporary culture, holding monumental exhibition of Gundam-Generation Futures in 2005. Several artists including Aida Makoto paid tribute by dedicating their loyalty to their childhood hero, creating ZAKU-(War Picture Returns-Side B) (Lot 1036) offered in our Evening sale. Through this iconic anime, successions of clever analogies are offered to instigate discussions about the relationships of science and technology, battle of the social classes, and reflection on World War II.
Aida's typically impulsive ideas were delicately tamed into an amply symbolic event, displaying the philosophical and political principles on the purpose of war, humanity and its consequences. By correlating Gudam War and the Pacific War, Aida paints Zaku, the soldiers of Principality of Zeon- a largely authoritarian state, noting its regular reference to Nazi, Germany of World War II; and Gundam, Earth Federation as United Nations, summing it in his own version of history. The cosmic landscape of his newly inspired world announces a romanticized war between Japanese and Americans, making direct references to the Japanese imperialism and its defeat during the Pacific War. Aida's choice of this particular scene from the animation is shrewdly instructive as the scene is universally recognized. The story unfolds with Zeon War of Independence, otherwise known as the 'One Year War'; with the Principality of Zeon declaring their independence from Earth, shortly with a mission to destruct Earth's population; the Battle of Loum took place, resulting in the death of 2.5 billion civilians and 500 million soldiers. The war concluded with an ironic twist of a 'Colony drop' eliminating half of the population, mimicking the same military history of the casualties affected by the Hiroshima bomb. What Aida attempts to bring into light is to convey the evolutionary circle, sublime yet oblique vision of the past and future all at once. A mere technical armory, the mobile suits are controlled by humans, where the main protagonists Amuro Ray and Char Aznable precisely epitomizes the criticism that consequences of war is one that is instigated by the complexity of human beings. Here, the sadism of the war starts with a patriotic duty but later driven by personal resentment of each other when both their love, Lalah Sune, dies in midst of a battle between the two, resulting in a discharge of uncontrollable bloodshed battle between the two colonies. Love, hatred, rage, regret and guilt, spectrum of emotions as such are found in the beginning, in, and the end of the war, demonstrating the irrepressible complexity of human psyche and emotions. Intrigued by the violent passion of humans 'disrupts the balance of one's reasonable perception of the word', Aida begins the painting at a bird's eye view, unraveling a crusade against the panorama that assumes an aura of Armageddon with swarming soldiers stacked on, within, under each other in brutal confinement; tightly captivated under the burning heat of conflict and drenched in theatrical emotionalism with Aida's canny structural arrangement of a widespread detail, it demands for the general atmosphere to be observed first and consideration to details as second.
The symphony of figures exude painterly impression with dynamic heat of sweltering orange, yellow and brown smoldering the canvas in darkness. The effective expression of Aida's dramatized palette and composition revolutionizes violence as beautiful. Using the violating luminosity of the bombs as his singular source of lighting to the otherwise dim setting, he generates a surprising sense of divine warmth despite the cruelty of the scene. Majestic in its illustration, it depicts an aura of opulence parallel to Liberty Leading People by Eugene Delacroix (Fig. 1) , manipulating the degree of light and shadow to reverberate the dense atmosphere and chaos stimulated by the battle. Aida further elicits a visual chaos through the sprawling energetic figuration of combatants in the same uniform, ordering us to struggle among the depth of his canvas for a hopeful find. Aida playfully tenses our vision but never disappoints by placing a familiar backside of Gundam RX 78-2, flying over an explosion, still bold and indestructible, despite Char's Zaku standing eagerly authoritative on top of the rolling hills of his army. Perhaps to symbolize the conquering power of Char, Aida overtones the scene in rich, red strategic impersonation of Char's 'Red Comet' mobile suit. The resulting referential combination of traditional, technological, contemporary, cultural, political and societal returns us to his core, where he dwells on the issues by fetishizing the logic of war as a cultural commodity while concurrently condemning it. As his concern in humanism and apocalypse surfaces within the canvas the spectators come to empathize his persistence in conserving and valuing entities and principles from the past.
Committed to conserve the past of Japanese war artist, Tsuguharu Foujita's Last stand at Attu, Aida strives to bring a battle to its realist form as the Gundam War was considered more true to him than actual war. The contextual connection between the two paintings is not without irony, as Aida's playful parody adopts the structural arrangement of Tsuguharu Foujita's composition but exaggerated into anime movements of flying Zakus, pierced through with burning explosives. Filling the painting with allegory of revolution with a romanticized animation, he blends the flatness of his acrylics typically exemplified in manga, with undulating ornamentation of figures in Foujita's classical painting to advocate a nationalistic conscience in various levels that is exclusively Japanese. Frugally exploiting the power of parody and commemoration by processing it into his own artistic language, he reminds us again of his earlier work Monument for Nothing (Fig. 2) by articulating the same denunciation for normativity and authority in ZAKU (War Picture Returns-Side B). But here, he created a painterly version of a monument, successfully narrating an annihilation of humanity by utilizing a hierarchical structure of a bodily hill; staging a heroic will of these fearless warriors by adopting the typical characteristic of war painting.
Both these epic works mentioned above construct an edifice to honor nothing of the projected scenario as instead Aida strive to prompt deeper societal and political issues by questioning the meaning of war in both his fantasy world of Gundam and Tsugaru's factual portrayal of the past war. The technologically advanced world's indestructible Zaku and their constant production of armed forces in his paintings narrate an ominous battle of extinction. In reverse, simultaneously emitting a unexpected sense of purity by foretelling a new beginning to come after annihilation, hence, verifying his painting as one that embraces the process learning from mistakes from the past but with his frank remark that history repeats itself.
'I want to paintK the biggest cause of the cultural degeneration today. That cause was the Pacific War. The true theme of his series, therefore is not the past that was the war, but the present age in which I live.' - Aida Makoto