“Mech Cadet Yu” begins its next arc by asking tough questions in the aftermath of the Cadets’ insubordination and the failed Sharg invasion.
Written by Greg Pak
Illustrated by Takeshi Miyazawa
Colored by Triona Farrell
Lettered by Simon Bowland
After the Sharg’s violent return, the Sky Corps Central Command scrambles to deal with the crisis but not before grounding Stanford, Park, and the others. The cadets continue to train under Skip in secret but it’s not long before the Sharg strike again—this time, in a form mankind has never seen before.
“Mech Cadet Yu” begins its second arc by looking at the fallout from the prior issue. The series manages to strike an Avatar-like tonality in its ability to tell a coming-of-age adventure story without flinching away from larger ethical questions that underpin the very type of story it is telling. The Sharg invasion is on hold, for now, and the Cadets played the part of hero by defying orders, but what does it really mean to be a hero?
The return of Ma Yu, aka Sergeant Dolly Yu of the Janitor Corps, is an excellent moment on two fronts. First, the reveal itself is a well-timed moment of comedic dread, delivered through the expression Takeshi Miyazawa draws on Stanford’s face. Overall, this issue is well-paced but on a page-by-page basis, Greg Pak and Miyazawa make it fulfilling. Second, it allows the series to further its class discourse, this time by showing how the role of ‘class’ can be used as a repressive state apparatus when you consider Sky Corps Academy in Los Robos, AZ as its own ideological polity.
Repressive State Apparatus(RSA) along with Ideological State Apparatus(ISA) where the twin pillars Marxist philosopher Louis Althusser used when theorizing the function and reproduction of hegemonic ideologies. in ‘Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses(Notes towards an Investigation).’ These two pillars were positioned in public and private parts of societies operating with hard and soft power meant to induce and cement the ruling class’ power. Stanford’s mother being revealed as Sergeant Dolly Yu helps to explain her demeanor at her job as her son chaffed against it. She is part of the system. And that system doesn’t like “heroes,” or at least heroes that don’t follow orders and make easy propaganda.
Part of ideological reproduction for Althusser is by interpolating a subject into the structure through hails. By recognizing and hailing a subject they are brought into the structure. At the end of the page, Dolly hails the Cadets (off panel) by telling them to “suit up” and ordering them to wear their new janitor uniforms. That panel and Dolly’s presentation in general crack against the fourth wall. Miyazawa draws her staring at subjects off screen, which creates the effect of her staring at the reader. In the panel with her order to suit up, Miyazawa has her staring at janitor’s uniform, but the overall presentation of the order is one directed also at the reader. And by the next page, “we’re all janitors now” she says.
How this action constitutes class as a repressive apparatus is obvious, the cadets are being publicly demoted. Literally grounded for acting against orders during the Sharg attack. Through this temporary demotion, they hope to obtain their obedience. Interestingly the only one it seems to have the intended effect of humbling on is Park. For Standford this is literally old hat. Olivetti is well Olivetti, when is he not freaking out over something. Sanchez is her normal relaxed self. By either her family or ability, Park was always ensconced within the upper military class and the various privileges it brought. If anyone feels the sudden lack it was her. She’s the one who responds to her classmate’s jeers, shown to be slouching in attempt to hide (and reprimanded for slouching), and bristles at not being able to fly while being forced to hoof it like the common folk. Miyazawa’s art captures this lack and the overall aloof quality her character displays as she begins to deal with the systems she formally enjoyed.
Recognizing and trying to work out the various systems that underpin Sky Corps is not an attempt to paint it as an already/inherently corrupt body. Although, that is a pretty standard trope in this kind of fiction, they did modify Hero Force with Park’s knowledge, and anything in relation to power is worth a skeptical gaze. It is a recognition that Sky Corps is a body with its own interests, and that the drama of this series only works in the recognition of the tensions created when the interests of that body and those of other characters diverge.Continued below
For his part, writer Greg Pak has yet to play into such a Manichean view of systems and people. He doesn’t use this as the moment to fully turn the military complex heel, and instead uses it for a sequence of reflection that questions the ethics of the supposedly “heroic” action of the cadets from the previous issue. While cleaning up the debris field one of the Cadets wonders “who made this mess?” Only for one of the janitors to respond with “you,” in another panel of near fourth wall breaking address. “The sky kids never think of this part. Someone’s gotta clean up the mess they make.”
It’s a surprisingly frank address, as a society we’re trained not to consider the clean up or the janitors. That address calls into question the efficacy of their actions in issue #4, sure they did save the day, but they also created a mess. This line of questioning also doesn’t feel needless, it makes sense coming from the Sky Corps point of view which is all about chain of command, where class is a subsystem meant to police the populace. This ethical quandary also helps to build the space for the reader to question actions, even when the text isn’t explicitly doing so.
The question of just action hangs over Skip Tanaka and his after-school lessons. Miyazawa’s character design is Cable-esque and the character certainly plays the role of the stern teacher, but his words and actions appear contradictory like the art. Miyazawa’s art in this sequence does its best to only ever emphasize Tanaka as a battle-scarred veteran, not a full person, by focusing on his scars or otherwise obscuring his full body to make him monstrous. At the same time his use of dynamic angles, action lines, and expressions give the exercise a palpable sense of fun.
These lessons are supposed to instill team work and cooperation within the Cadets, but that’s not how it plays out. Instead you have Park using Yu as a meat shield to “win” the exercise. While preaching teamwork he praises individualism and Park’s vicious use of her team. “You think the Sharg are gonna follow rules?” he replies as Yu questions her actions under the rules. This and Park’s smirking retort about military history vs the gov-prop cartoons, raise some interesting ethical questions to track as the series goes through its second arc and further illuminate how Sky Corps girds itself from scrutiny.
Having a miniseries transition to an ongoing at Boom! isn’t all that remarkable, never the less I’m glad Greg Pak and Takeshi Miyazawa are continuing with “Mech Cadet Yu.” The first series offered up a fun class conscious mecha adventure and this new arc appears to be upping the ante on tough questions while still having a fun time of things. Thematic interests aside, “Mech Cadet Yu” #5 is as well-made comic, the writing and pacing of the art make scenes feel fulfilling in ways most single issues don’t.
Final Verdict: 8.0 – “Mech Cadet Yu” begins its second arc on strong footing with clear and strong thematic questions that provide a little extra something for an already good young adult adventure.