When asked what was the biggest anime event of the year 1988, most people would surely answer Akira. Ghibli fans may note Grave of the Fireflies or My Neighbour Totoro. Only few people would mention one of the most ambitious entries in the Gundam franchise: Char’s Counterattack. Yoshiyuki Tomino’s third feature film project, and the first non-recap one, put an end to a story that had been going on for almost 10 years, the so-called “early Universal Century”. It was a turning point, not just for the Gundam series, but for anime as a whole - though this is rarely known or framed as such, since the movie is mostly only accessible to already experienced Gundam watchers. The goal of this article is to correct this state of affairs.
A common narrative of Japanese social history and anime history holds that, starting from the 1980’s, the Japanese population has gotten increasingly distant from politics. The rise of apolitical otaku circles and their own ironical, derivative aesthetic seems to confirm this tendency. But in the very same period, and at the exact moment when otaku communities as we know them were forming, a controversy shook the anime industry and revealed that political debate and action were very much on the agenda for some creators. It all happened around a single movie that came out in November 1982: Future War 198X. Not only did the film spark discussions within the anime industry and community proper, it also caused nation-wide movements from actors outside of the anime world, such as Parent-Teachers Associations of the Japanese Communist Party. The stakes were Japan’s domestic and foreign policies, but also the very purpose of the animated medium.