Hey there everyone, sorry for the recent lack of articles. My class fell behind on the syllabus, and we just got done reorganizing ourselves and getting back on track. Anyways, Lancen here with another article on anime and its reflection of Japanese culture. This time, I’ll be talking about anime/manga and its relationship to violence.
In my latest class on anime, we were assigned to watch the film Momotaro’s Divine Sea Warriors. For those who don’t know, this movie is one of several in a series that were produced during World War II. The movie features cute animals, reminiscent of Disney characters, going off to battle to fight against the devils in the West. Just like in the original Japanese fairy tale. Except the ones heading off to battle are dressed in Japanese military uniforms, parachuting out of planes, using WWII-era guns, rushing tanks to stab the drivers with their bayonets, and ultimately forcing the devils to surrender.
Just from this description, one can see that this movie was a propaganda piece made to motivate the Japanese to join the army and fight for Japan’s victory in the war. However, there’s more to this than just having a story of victory for Momotaro, Japan’s hero.
The film’s animation demonstrates incredible attention to detail. Whether it’s the facial expressions of the characters, or the weapons they use, the detail put into them is very realistic, especially with the animation technology they had at that time.
Why go through such incredible effort for the sake of a “children’s” movie? This is where the term “hyper-realism” comes in. Hyper-realism is when the simulation — anime in this case — feels more real than actual reality. The attention to detail draws the viewer in and makes them “feel” the reality. In the case of Momotaro, making the “victory” as real as possible was one way to instill nationalism in its viewers and stoke the fires of the wartime spirit.
Even after the Japanese defeat in WWII, this use of violence in animation to stoke the audience’s spirit did not wane after the war. It just turned in a different direction. Instead of war, violence is used to promote peace.
How is violence supposed to bring about peace? Once again, hyper-realism plays a key role. An example of this was our assigned reading of volume 1 of Barefoot Gen. Barefoot Gen is an autobiographical manga created by the late Keiji Nakazawa, one of manga’s most influential creators and a survivor of the A-bomb strike on Hiroshima. In this manga, there are gruesome depictions of wartime Japan: starving children, the atrocities the Japanese military inflicted on the Chinese and Koreans, and of course the terrifying effects of the atomic bomb, both from the initial blast and the effects on the survivors.
If you look at the images from the manga and your stomach turns, then Nakagawa’s manga is affecting you in the way it was intended to. His use of graphic violence and gore makes it all feel very real, despite being a manga aimed at young children.
The realism of the terrible effects of war makes people want to avoid it as much as possible. The reader is drawn into the hell that Nakagawa saw that day, and it sends a powerful message.
In America, it is the norm to avoid showing children violent programs or materials until we deem them old enough to handle/understand it. However, Japan’s incredibly strong stance on peace and pacifism encourages exposing the horrors of violence and war to children at a young age. According to my professor, Barefoot Gen is required reading in many Japanese primary schools. Instead of “the children aren’t ready for this,” it’s “This is what happens when you wage war. This is why we have to promote peace.”
A quick aside from Jason: First off, hi, remember me? I’m still around! Just been busy with some unexpected things, that’s all. Anyway, I just wanted to let you all know that if you want to read more about Barefoot Gen, you can take a look at this reflection that I posted back in 2015, or the related Manga Movable Feast archive, or even the Google Books archive of the profile I wrote in The Rough Guide to Manga. OK, back to you, Lancen.
Have you ever noticed that in many anime, especially more popular ones, killing another person is usually a last resort? This reflects the changed mentality of the Japanese.
A good example is Vash the Stampede from the famous anime, Trigun. Despite being one of the best gunslingers in the world, he never shoots to kill, even if that would get him out of a sticky situation much more quickly and effectively. When he is forced to kill, it shakes him down to his very core, and there is an entire episode dedicated to him trying to cope with it.
After the Allied victory in World War II, the American occupation pushed for the Japanese government to restructure itself, changing from an imperial system to a democratic one.
Included in this change was the ratification of Article 9 in the new Japanese Constitution. This article declared that Japan would give up the right to wage war and have a standing military. This would result in the Japanese pro-peace mentality that we see today. They dislike having military bases in their country, as they see it as them being accessories to war in Asia.
This feeling was especially strong during the Korean and Vietnam wars, where protests broke out against the establishment of U.S. bases. The U.S. keeps its bases there to deter its rival in the East with a show of strength. However, Japan’s policy of peace speaks the opposite. If you have no need for weapons, then neither does your enemy. Instead of countries fighting one another, let’s work together towards peace.
What do you think, especially in light of recent events? Would the Japanese approach to peace work in the West? Is it too idealistic?