Blog Archives

Reflections on 2016: For Japan, the Postwar Extends Forever



“Postwar extends forever.” This is one of the most memorable lines to come out of Shin Godzilla, Hideaki Anno’s ambitious reboot of the Godzilla franchise. In context, it’s a powerful moment. Our protagonist Yaguchi looks around at the world disrupted by Godzilla’s existence and voices something that he has always felt – that the problems which Godzilla laid bare were always there, and that this is the burden Japan must bear into the future.

Read the rest of this entry

Frederik L. Schodt’s “Dreamland Japan” – Twenty Years On




















Frederik L. Schodt is a household name in the English-speaking manga world. A close friend of the late Osamu Tezuka, Schodt translated several of Tezuka’s major works into English, including Astro Boy and Phoenix. He’s also the author of The Astro Boy Essays and the translator of the upcoming manga biography The Osamu Tezuka Story.

For all his important work in the Tezuka department, Schodt is perhaps most notable for pioneering the study of manga in English. In 1983, he published Manga! Manga!which remains something of a cult classic among hardcore manga aficionados today. It was more journalistic than academic in its treatment of the subject, but it had a level of prescience that so many subsequent manga-themed publications would lack. For one thing, it predated the manga boom in the West for years, and for another, Schodt never limited to his focus to the mainstream and popular. His writing has aged well because he was able to observe things that people less immersed in the medium would have overlooked.

Schodt’s interest in the off-beat and obscure manga would carry over to Dreamland Japan, which was first published in 1996 as a spiritual sequel of sorts to Manga! Manga! It was written during the height of the manga boom in Japan, which was also the same time the fledgling market was starting to take off in the United States. As a result, Dreamland Japan has some interesting historical value twenty years later. As Schodt noted himself in the preface of the 2011 collector’s edition, Dreamland Japan is “a snapshot of a cultural and artistic phenomenon that is unlikely to be repeated again anywhere, in the same way.”

Even Schodt’s 2011 afterword was produced during an historical moment in the manga world. The manga bubble had recently burst in the States, leading to a very uncertain and turbulent period for the English manga industry. The industry has since recovered from the fallout, but Schodt’s observations remain very pertinent today.

In this post, I’ll examine the manga magazines, artists and works Schodt highlighted in the original Dreamland Japan. How easily can they be accessed in English? We might have thousands of titles available in English now (whether through legal or illegal means), but how much access into the world of manga do English speakers really have?

Read the rest of this entry

Government-sponsored Propaganda Anime: Megumi

Last month I discussed the Gate anime, a series which many commentators on both sides of the Pacific have described as propaganda. If we regard propaganda as “information, especially of a biased or misleading nature, used to promote a political cause or point of view”, then one could certainly apply this descriptor to Gate, along with many other works of media. However, I have found no evidence so far to support Matthew Brummer’s claim in The Diplomat Magazine that the Gate anime was “produced, designed, and funded in coordination with the JSDF”. It seems more likely that the JSDF jumped onto the Gate bandwagon after it became popular.

Today, I’d like to discuss a work of propaganda that actually was funded by an arm of the Japanese government. Megumi is a 25-minute documentary anime about the abduction of a Japanese schoolgirl by the North Korean government. It can be watched for free in multiple languages on the official website of the Government of Japan’s Headquarters for the Abduction Issue.

Here’s a video of the English dub:

Read the rest of this entry

Japanese Reactions to the Gate Anime

TPbaOGate: Thus the JSDF Fought There was bound to be controversial anime. Not only is the author of the original Gate web novel, Takumi Yanai, a former member of the JSDF, the JSDF uses Gate characters on their recruitment posters. It is no surprise that from its very first episode, Gate has attracted criticism for its right-wing and nationalistic overtones. Even The Diplomat Magazine weighed in on the issue, describing Gate as one of many recent “military moe” series to use cute girls to sell JSDF propaganda. [1]

I found it surprising that Gate’s politics would garner so much debate on places like Reddit. It’s nice to see that so many Western anime fans are familiar with the debates around Japan’s wartime atrocities. On the other hand, Japanese perspectives on the anime are being ignored here, which is ironic considering that the whole point of these discussions is to shed light on the Japanese cultural and political context.

I wrote this post in an attempt to address the imbalance somewhat. This isn’t a rigorous study or anything, nor should you consider the excerpts I’ve translated a representative sample, but it should give you an idea of how some online commentators have been approaching the issues. I also decided to include some Korean perspectives as well, simply because a good deal of the Japanese commentary on Gate has been in reaction to what foreigners (mainly Koreans) have said. However, bear in mind that I can’t read Korean, so I am really just reporting on the Korean reactions that have been translated into Japanese.

tldr; 2ch users angrily insist that Gate is “just an anime” and that Koreans and leftists should stop being offended. Blog reactions have been more varied and nuanced.

Read the rest of this entry