I try to avoid politics in this column, but recently I find myself confronting issues of nationalism in my own field of manga, and thought I would share some thoughts with you.
A very public intersection of manga and nationalism occurred last year, when Motomiya Hiroshi's manga, "Kuni ga Moeru" ("The Nation is Burning"), was abruptly removed from the pages of Shueisha Publishing's magazine, Young Jump. "The Nation is Burning" became a target of fierce attacks from Japan's right wing for it's vivid portrayal of the Rape of Nanjing. Shueisha eventually caved in to this pressure, and cancelled the series. This incident is representative of the ongoing campaign of nationalists in Japan to rewrite history, and to silence opposing views through intimidation, and sometimes violence.
The result is a generation of young people who know very little about their own history, and hear only the lies of the right wing: "There was no Rape of Nanjing," "The comfort women of Asia are lying whores," "Japan waged a war of liberation, not invasion." Sadly, the most effective proponent of these lies is the talented cartoonist Kobayashi Yoshinori, whose manga, "Gomanism Sengen", ("Declaration of Arrogance-ism") enjoys a broad readership. One of my own students recently told me that Arrogance-ism changed him into a patriot.
When I look at my own cartooning students, who every day pour their dreams and fears out onto paper, I feel I am peeking into the collective conscious of a generation of young Japanese. Most of my male students seem compelled to portray violence in their own manga. Most of the violence is rather innocent, but some is extreme and brutal. I often wonder what drives them to portray such violence. Most of my female students, while they avoid portrayals of cruel violence, tend to draw male characters who are determined, self-assured and ambitious. Some of my female students also seem to have a fetish for military uniforms. These students often complain that there are no men like this in the real world they live in.
I wonder if the kind of "petit nationalism" we see growing among Japanese youth is less about politics, and more about frustration with a Japanese society today in which only a few men (usually from rich families) are allowed to become "alpha males," and the rest are humiliated on a daily basis, year after year, in both school and the workplace. Many young men today look in the mirror and see a cowed, hunched character with dead eyes. Many young women today find very few men with whom they would truly want to build a family (which is no doubt a major factor in the declining birthrate). It's easy, I think, to see why the youth of today, both male and female, would be drawn to the romantic image, so common in these nationalist manga, of the young, clean-shaven man, standing straight as a rod in his pristine uniform, a sword on his hip and a glint in his eye.