Today is a special day for many of us. November the 11th marks the day of the final Armistice of the Great War in 1918, and has since been adopted as a day of remembrance around the world for all soldiers who have given their blood, sweat, tears and lives for the safety and security many of us now enjoy.
Thankfully as a member of one of these subsequently peaceful nations, my life has been blissfully ignorant of war. I do not come from a military family, and the closest I’ve come to war is the inches in front of my TV screen. So when I can say that I can worry more about my anime budget over the christmas sale season more than I can about being shot and killed tomorrow, I have to say I’m doing pretty good.
But we must remember that War is a real, terrible thing. People all over the globe in all ages have fought and died for many causes, many of them unjust. War is probably one of the most horrible necessary evils we have, having to fight and kill each other. But sadly the world is not a perfect one. I only wish sometimes that the words of the Immortal Vash the Stampede were true:
“The World is made of Love and Peace”
But it’s not, and it’s such a shame that the world never lives up to that ideal. It’s an ideal I’m afraid the world can never attain this side of Heaven. Conflict, and war have become an inevitable part of our world. Many of those soldiers are forced to fight for freedom and justice, life and liberty, family and friends; and it is for these causes that we happily remember our fallen heroes, Our noble veterans.
However war is not only fought by good guys, by heroes. In fact many- if not most- wars are fought on questionable pretexts, and many serve as nothing more than sponges of human blood. War is a costly thing, one where almost no one comes away unscathed, untainted. War is a bloody, unjust mess, leaving those unkilled scarred for life.
In the arts though, we like war. In everything from our earliest oral epics, to modern video games, war is used as a useful conflict, a way to have “good guys” and “bad guys”. War is a setting where struggles can be overcome, moral issues questioned, and tragedies dealt with. Even today that holds true, with every generation finding their own proxies and heroes to face these difficult themes anew.
Which brings us to today’s subject: Anime and War. I want to take today to look at a few of those brave souls from our fictional conflicts, those that in lieu of having to face the horrors of war ourselves, allow us to empathize with them.
I have not tried to be fully representative , so if I have missed anyone you feel to have been important, or due recognition, I encourage you to place their tribute here in the comments or on your own article. And to those who care, we will deal with some spoilers here.
General True, Officer of Krishna, is not an easy man to love. Hot headed, brash, he is a commander who at first glance is one of those reckless one who will end up killing his own men due to his huge ego. However he is far more than a man with a big head full of hot air, he’s a kind man with a big heart too.
See General True, even if he’s a bit abrasive to newbies (and people who get in his way) deep down is a lovable goof. He spends all his time and extra money to the orphanage, and has a blast playing with them. He’s a man that, despite the war, finds love and friendship and ideals worth pursuing. In fact war brings out probably the worst aspects of his character. I genuinely feel sorry for those children, knowing that one of their greatest heroes and champions was taken away by war.
True reveals to me the truly terrible side of what war makes people associated in it. Forcing good men and women to action, that by all rights they shouldn’t, and taking away countless people who could have done so much more good with their lives.
Sergeant Sagara, Officer of Mithril, Arm Slave combattant, and bodyguard of Kaname Chidori. He is one of the bravest, and most competent of Mithril’s Special Response Team. A brutally pragmatic man, he has seen more than his fair share of troubles in his short life. Which is probably the greatest tragedy of his life, that he didn’t just get caught up in war, but was from day one, born into it.
Sagara was born into the war torn country of Helmajistan (the anime’s equivalent to Afghanistan) with his parents killed around the age of 3. By the time he shows up at Mithril at the age of 17, he has already been trained as an assassin, and following the failure of his mission at the tender age of 8, fought as a guerilla fighter for the man he was sent to kill.
Sagara has never known what it is like to live a normal life, and it should make us sad that a boy, who knows nothing about hair salons, or sports teams, or even what a love letter is, can kill so easily. His social ineptitude is as surprising and frightening as it is funny, but it is a truly cruel handicap he has been dealt. The way he has been able to begin functioning in more normal society, as well as finding a place to use his talents to protect others is something that he should be lauded for. He has had to survive a lot of hell, to make it this far, and it’s a path that is sadly all too common in our own world. Tragically most child soldiers will never get the chance for redemption that Sagara enjoys.
The 18 year old platoon leader of the 1121st to most people is a fairly lax commander of a out of the way frontier fort. A quiet, polite girl who seems temperamentally more fit for a life of domesticity then the rigor an army post entails. However her carefree nature is shown to not be her true persona, a fact she keeps hidden most of the time.
In reality Lt. Heideman hides a great deal of pain beneath her cheery smile. As the only survivor of a previous Tank division, she is shown to even now struggle with feelings of Survivor’s guilt, and suffers from what is likely PTSD. Her hellish battlefield experience scarred her to the core, especially as a child soldier no less, in a world which has seen some truly terrible consequences of war.
Despite this fact, Lt. Heideman is an exemplary soldier, and strives as much as possible to put on a brave face for her subordinates. Her willingness to hide the deep wounds she suffers is even more heartbreaking as we learn that one of her driving motivations is to make sure the girls she is in charge of do not share in her level of suffering. a suffering that is a harsh reality for many real soldiers. Lt. Heideman actually seems to be one of the lucky ones, on the road to recovery, but even so her psychological battle is a war she is as admirable in as in her regular duties as commanding officer.
Colonel Hughes, soldier of Amestris. Hughes is one of those characters that makes grown men and women cry. An unjustified death whose loss is felt not just by his wife Gracia and 3 year old daughter Elicia, but many who watched the show as well.
But while Hughes is rightfully seen as a hero by many, we must remember he is not a clean or unstained hero. He is the citizen of a fascist state, and the combatant of at least 2 wars: the genocidal Ishvalan War of Extermination, and the Elric brother’s war of which he is the first and most tragic casualty. However it is his participation in the Ishvalan war, people usually overlook. He along with almost every military officer in FMA is by rights a war criminal, having participated in the state issued mass slaughter of an entire race of people.
Here is where I think the value of Hughes as a character shines, because Hughes shows us that even good, loving people are made to fight for unjust causes. That even on the “bad guys” side (as the Amestris military is more or less a parallel to the WWII Nazi regime) the soldiers are still human. All of them have families, parents, maybe even spouses or children. People who love them, people who care for them, people they want to protect.
Hughes is the striking image of the soldier we all love. A man who cares and loves his family so much he drives his coworkers insane with the stories of his family. A man who gave hospitality and hugs freely to all he met. A man who fought for justice in an unjust system and died for it. This same man died with the bloodstained hands of war, dying trying to fix all the wrongs he and his countrymen had committed.
Nothing I think speaks to his character more than these words he speaks to his friend Roy Mustang while in the middle of the Ishvalan War about his then girlfriend and future wife Gracia:
“When I return home, I will swallow every horrible thing I’ve done here, and I will smile when I’m with her. I swear on my life. I will make her happy.”
Thus today as we honor the brave, the fallen, and the veteran, I say we raise a salute to them along with our anime veterans. Them we honor, having allowed us to comprehend far more than we ever should hopefully face, and sees to it that we too can share the tears that those real soldiers and their families feel. Every battlefield, every nameless grave, was full of real people like these, and their sacrifices should not be forgotten.
So Rest in Peace, and Thank You good soldiers, we will not forget you. ∠(￣^￣)