“You know, my father often accuses me of being a poor clone of Adolf Hitler, but it’s not true. I know what I’m doing. Most people are by nature stupid and weak. They need to fall as far as they can before they can be saved. If Zeon Zum Deikun’s prophecy of a new human enlightenment is anything more than a dream, then I’m going to be the one to make it possible. I swing the ax. Those with true Newtype potential will avoid it. Those without it, won’t. It’s that simple.”
(Tomino, Yoshiyuuki. [i]Mobile Suit Gundam[/i]. Frederik L. Schodt, trans. Introduction by Mark Simmons. Berkeley, CA, Stone Bridge Press, 2004, pp. 405-406.)
This bit of dialogue from Giren Zabi in the Gundam three-part novel summarizes the man and his thought quite nicely and makes a good jumping-off point for an essay about him. .Giren is probably the most compelling antagonist in the Gundam universe, but interpretations of him tend to be a simplistic, “He’s Zeon’s version of Hitler.” While there are similarities, my purpose here is not to compare and contrast but to analyze Giren on his own terms. He’d certainly want it that way.
My primary observations about him are the following. Giren is a philosopher first and foremost, and a much more successful one than his mentor, Zeon Zum Deikun. Deikun was only able to put his philosophy into action with Zabi backing. Even so, in the long run he was shown to have been naively wrong. Next, Giren is a populist. Far from being a loathed dictator, he knows to present himself as a man of the people, and the people buy it wholeheartedly, even though he’s son of a monarch, extremely rich, and gifted with a staggering intellect. Giren’s main power lies in his use of speech, and his downfall is related to his failure to realize that the old adage about fooling some of the people all of the time means that you always have someone who knows you’re shining them on.
In this essay I make use of the animation as much as possible, but refer to the novel for supplemental material when needed.
Giren Zabi was born on Side 3 in 0044. His mother’s name is unknown, but the novel indicates that his younger brother Saslo was his only full sibling. Although we don’t know how many years were between him and Saslo, it is clear that his father Degin took his next wife, Nalisse, rapidly after Giren’s and Saslo’s mother left the scene. There are only 7 years between Giren and his first half-sibling, Dozel. We don’t know if the first Madame Zabi died or was divorced, but the speed at which she was replaced makes it very possible that this was the first source of tension between Giren and his father.
Giren’s sense of superiority probably comes from the fact that he allegedly has an IQ of 240. If this is true, it is easy to imagine how isolated he was, especially at a time when the family was undergoing upheaval. Giren doesn’t strike me as the sort who would blame himself for his own isolation, so he most likely attributed it to his own superiority. For all that, he seems to have become a friendly enough person in his own way.
When Degin Zabi started backing the revolutionary Zeon Deikun, Giren became Deikun’s head of security. His actions as such alienated him from both Deikun and Degin because he responded to threats against Deikun’s political party with amazing brutality. The novel says that in one year, he eliminated 200,000 members of “the anti-Deikun faction” (p. 329). Eventually he was reconciled with his family, and when Deikun died in 0068, he rose to power along with his father.
In 0069, Side 3 became the Sovereignty (or Principality, Archduchy, Kingdom, take your pick) of Zeon. This change has Giren’s fingerprints on it. Monarchy comes with the baggage of divine right, superiority by virtue of mere birth, and a family who symbolizes the nation. Giren would make use of this baggage during the One Year War, and his sister Kishiria would support him in doing so. The creation of this new monarchy would be commemorated as Foundation Day every August 15 until the end of the war, and perhaps even afterwards by Zeon monarchist holdouts.
Giren’s nation-building arose directly out of his philosophy. Zeon Deikun taught that it was necessary for humanity to move out into space, and that when they did, they would see the emergence of New Types. To Deikun, New Types would be people capable of direct mental contact, which would lead to a new era of mutual understanding and peace.
Giren was willing to go along with that up to the “direct mental contact” part. New Types would arise, but Giren would be the one to define what a New Type was. In a nice bit of circular reasoning, New Types would show themselves when Giren had culled out all but the New Types. Giren believed himself to be one, which his father Degin hotly disputed, causing yet more animosity between father and son.
Ultimately, Giren Zabi wanted what was good for Zeon and the rest of humanity—and what was good for Giren was good for Zeon.
Still, Giren managed to use his powers of communication to keep the Zeon people in his back pocket. Besides his abilities as a public speaker, his refusal to allow nepotism any role in his government no doubt helped him seem sympathetic. Furthermore, he seems to enjoy a good time. Consequently, populism seems to have come quite easily to him.
The novels again describe his willingness to take on associates for their strengths, not their social position. Pages 102 and 103 say that he was always careful to appoint people not related to the Zabis for positions of power. They also describe rather delicately his fondness for the shadier side of Zum City life and for wild parties. Although presumably he wouldn’t have time to party by 0079, and probably not for some years before, his liking for parties would prove to the Zeon population that he was more than just an egghead who liked to read books. He also has a lover, Cecilia, whom he loves and respects, one of the few truly sympathetic points about the man.
Ultimately though, his popular hold on the Zeon people came from his gifts as a speaker. The most famous example of this was of course the funeral of his brother Garma. This speech demonstrated not only his speaking ability but his keen interest in showing the population that he was one of them. Millions of other families had already lost parents, siblings, and spouses; now the royal family had as well. Given the enthusiastic response to the speech, this identification of the Zabis with millions of other grieving Zeon families seems to have worked.
Fortunately for Giren, no one saw him arguing with his family about the funeral. I doubt the Zeon people would have been quite so enthusiastic had they seen Giren going against his father’s simple wishes for a quiet private funeral. Still, these scenes show that Giren knows exactly what a royal family symbolizes: a group of people who represent the entire nation, and around whom the nation can rally. As such, his insistence on a public funeral for Garma is appropriate, and his sister Kishiria agrees with him. Ultimately, Giren did succeed in rallying the Zeon armed forces and people around the figure of the martyred Garma although in the final analysis, the tensions within the royal household would prove too much for even this triumph of propaganda to alleviate.
Even though Giren and his father did not overtly practice nepotism, the fact remains that the Zabis were all in key positions of power. Working together towards a common goal was impossible since they all had different visions of the best way to win the war. Giren was not only unshakably certain how to win it, but of how to rule Zeon afterwards. While Dozel aimed to use large numbers of troops and mobile suits, and Kishiria to deploy New Types and weapons only New Types had the psychic abilities to use, Giren relied upon what I think of as Really Big Weapons.
I am not going to speculate as to Giren’s fascination with size, but every weapon he backs involves it. The Solar Ray is an entire colony turned into a laser, the [i]Dolos[/i]-class ship the largest ever built, and the Byg-Zam a mobile armour large enough to provide the firepower of an entire team of mobile suits. It may be because Giren, despite the uniform and title, is a civilian. His sister Kishiria understands more of how the battles of Solomon and A Bao A Qu are going.
Kishiria is Giren’s great failure. It is clear that Giren and Dozel don’t see eye to eye on much, but at first Kishiria seems to have some understanding and appreciation for what Giren is doing. His mistake is believing that she will follow him as almost all Zeons do; obediently and trustingly, even in the face of patricide. He doesn’t hide from her that Degin was in the way of the Solar Ray laser, but is completely taken by surprise when she puts the muzzle of her sidearm to his head, and doesn’t believe she will pull the trigger until the beam is going through his cranium.
Giren Zabi really could have been Zeon’s greatest leader if he had only spoken less and listened more. He was surrounded by a talented family, all of whom wanted to see Zeon win the war and prosper, preferably through empire. He had a population that almost worshipped him, and we have seen the fanatical devotion given to him by such officers as Aiguille Delaz and Anavel Gato who probably only knew him from afar. Things went wrong because with all this ability and knowledge available to him, Giren could not bring himself to rely on any strengths than his own. It’s not surprising that he fell, but it is also not surprising that his legacy would live on for years to torment the Earth Federation.