Category: Anime

Darling in the Franxx and Shinto Marriage

Darling in the Franxx and Shinto Marriage

Darling in the Franxx (or Studio Trigger does Evangelion), takes its inspiration for the Franxx pilot suits from an unexpected direction–traditional Shinto wedding attire.

The eponymous Franxx robots in Darling in the Franxx are piloted by male/female pairs. The show equates the mental and physical connection between pilots necessary to operate the giant machines to sex using none too subtle innuendo and abundant flower metaphors. The emphasis on a deep connection between the pilots is reinforced by the pilot suits, which are patterned after Shinto wedding attire–a detail that is likely lost to viewers outside Japan and unfamiliar with Shinto marriage ceremonies.

In traditional Shinto weddings, as in Western ceremonies, the bride and groom wear distinctive clothes. For brides, the white ensemble is called a shiromuku and and for grooms it is montsuki. The Franxx pilot suits utilize the distinct details of the wedding kimonos. For the male pilots, the suits echo the black/grey color scheme of the montsuki. The few details on the suit accentuate the similarities with round white circles on the chest piece mirroring the white circular mon, or family crests, on the haori jacket of the montsuki. The final connection is the third circle at mid-torso below the black chestplate, which are accentuated by thin white lines that disappear under the chestplate. This detail reflects the haori-himo, the white cord and decoration that holds the haori closed in formal occasions.

The biggest connection to the shiromuku for female pilots is the color of their suits and the wataboshi, or hood.  Not all brides opt to use a shiromuku with a hood but it is a particularly distinctive look. Although the photo to the left shows a bride wearing a wataboshi, other variations are larger and closer to the size and shape of the hood worn by women in Franxx.

The gendered division of the piloting duo in Darling in the Franxx is not unusual in anime, although Studio Trigger is certainly playing up the sexual connotations. During the connection process, the girls of the piloting duo appear to merge with the Franxx mecha, leaving the boy to pilot. The girl becomes an extension of the machine and the boy controls the robot by two control handles which connect to his partner’s posterior–like an Evangelion entry plug, except far more awkward but probably just as psychologically weird. Franxx is eager to throw in sexually suggestive comments about the connection/piloting process, although they play it it off by showing the young pilots are (mostly) sexually oblivious. While Kill la Kill, an earlier work by Studio Trigger, eventually undercut the hypersexualization of the outfits worn by protagonist Ryuko Matoi, it remains to be seen where Franxx will go with its the unusual and sexualized take on mecha pilots.

The Politics of Dancing: Love Live, Population Decline and School Closures in Japan

The Politics of Dancing: Love Live, Population Decline and School Closures in Japan

The central plot element around which the storylines of Love Live: School Idol Festival and its successor Love Live Sunshine are draped is the imminent closure of the protagonists schools. In both series, the main characters rally together to become school idols in order to attract new students to enroll and in doing so save their institutions. To Western viewers, the closure of the schools might be regarded as simply a convenient plot device to add dramatic tension, urgency and legitimacy to the main characters quest for school idol stardom, a maguffin that is easily accepted in order to proceed with the story. The scenario also calls to mind the classic cinematic tradition of underdog films such as Meatballs 2, PCU, Animal House or even Major League, where the authorities are planning to shut down the summer camp/fraternity/baseball club and the plucky heroes must save their beloved institutions. However the subject of school closures in Love Live is not merely a narrative framing device but an issue that speaks to an increasingly serious problem within Japan, an issue that has resonance with Japanese audiences while being relatively opaque to Western viewers.

Umi, Honoka and Kotori react to the news their school will be closing. Umi, best girl, keeping her cool.

Japan’s population is on the decline, with the Japanese government estimating a drop from 126 million people in 2017 to approximately 88 million in 2065. The Japanese population is also aging rapidly, with projections seeing 40% of the population older than 65 by 2065. With a diminishing, older population, resources are being shifted towards providing services for the elderly while the need for schools is decreasing as there are increasingly fewer Japanese of school age. Schools are facing being closed down or combined as enrollment numbers fall.

On the other side of the coin, a diminishing pool of available students means competition is now becoming intense between schools. Unlike American public schools where placement is usually a geographical matter, schools in Japan have entrance examinations which a student must pass to earn a place–a common element in school related anime. Where schools could once afford to be extremely selective, now even prestigious institutions must consider allowing admission to students with lower scores in order to maintain their student body size and ensure their future. Arguably, the new need to attract students is threatening to lead to a decline in entrance standards, which in turn threatens to erode not only the reputation of Japan’s premier institutions but also the quality of their graduates. Schools hurting for students now must weigh their survival versus maintaining a certain standard. How low do you go? Certain high schools in Japan have connected universities and guarantee admission to students who successfully graduate–successful meaning passing, even if barely. It is a lack of new students opting to apply to Love Live’s Otonokizaka Academy that puts the school on the knife’s edge of closure. Private schools in particular are dependent on attracting students to stay open. For parents and students this means they now hold the whip hand.

Aquors reacts to the news that Uranohoshi Girls’ Academy is scheduled to be closed. P.S. Yoshiko, Love Live Sunshine best girl.

Consider the situation of Otonokizaka Academy, the primary setting of Love Live School Idol Festival. After protagonists Umi, Kotori and Honoka learn their school is going to close, the three attempt to figure out what about their school can be attractive to new students.  A sweet location somewhere near Akihabara and Kanda shrine notwithstanding, the trio come up empty handed except for vague allusions to the school’s rich past. The schools clubs and achievements, they notice with some chagrin, are lackluster. It is this lack of any other distinguishing characteristic that motivates the three schoolgirls to form an idol group after Honoka notices the reputation of UTX, a flashy new school, is bolstered by the presence of the popular school idol group A-RISE. Although the series focuses on the impact of A-RISE on enrollment, it should also be noted that UTX has elements which Otonokizaka and the girls cannot easily compensate for. After the tour of the traditional Otonokizaka with unimpressive results, the brief glimpse of UTX is one of an ultramodern school. The takeaway for viewers is that UTX is a more technologically advanced school, with amenities and impressive facilities not found in Otonokizaka. A second season episode shows UTX has a coffee house and cafeteria with flat screen televisions and students in sleek white modern uniforms. Compare that to Uranohoshi Girls’ Academy in Love Live Sunshine, where Dia ruefully notes that the classrooms do not even have air conditioning as the Aqours girls languish in the summer heat. Which school would a student rather attend, if given the choice?

The UDX building in Akihabara, the real world inspiration for UTX.

In a sense, μ’s had it easier than Aqours in trying to save their school. As a rural school, Uranohoshi Girls’ Academy faces the double whammy of decreasing enrollment and the tendency for young adults to move towards major population centers. Even today, concern is rising that students are eschewing quality regional universities in favor of schools in the major cities. The Japanese government is considering imposing restrictions on student enrollment in Tokyo to prevent even greater flight of youth from rural areas to the urban centers. Ultimately, the efforts of μ’s and Aqours to save their schools come to very different conclusions. μ’s is victorious in Love Live and is able to gain enough new applicants to keep Otonokizaka Academy open. Although they come close, Aqours, despite also winning Love Live, are unable to save their school and prevent its closure.

Perversely, the population pressure on schools comes as the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT} is reassessing the current decades old yutori educational philosophy (ゆとり教育). Yutori education or “relaxed education” sought to end the strict, pressure-cooker Japanese educational environment and did away with compulsory Saturday classes. However, rising sentiment is of the opinion yutori education has weakened the abilities of a generation of Japanese students and stricter school standards need to be reintroduced. How the two concepts will reconcile is a question that is looming over the Japanese educational system. It is worth noting μ’s and Aqours both spend a great deal of time practicing to be school idols while apparently doing just fine in classes.

School idols aside, the differences between UTX and Otonokizaka Academy reflects to some degree the more consumer-driven emphasis in modern American education. What can Japanese schools offer a student is now the imperative, rather than the other way around. The situation is mirrored to a different degree in American universities. Facing budget crunches, many U.S. universities are opting to improve the undergraduate experience in order to draw in more students, as undergrads increasingly bear the costs incurred by schools. New dorms, lazy rivers, and enhanced football facilities often come at the cost of funding the academic side of universities.

Personally though, I would prefer some school idols.


  • Japan’s population projected to plunge to 88 million by 2065 –
  • Student count, knowledge sliding –
  • Universities Struggle to Cope with Shrinking Population and Globalization –
  • Japan considers limits to enrollment in Tokyo colleges to promote regional school –
  • Japanese school reforms fail to make grade –
Liberty Leading the People

Liberty Leading the People


Liberty Leading the People is a painting by noted Romantic artist Eugène Delacroix. The painting celebrates the July Revolution of 1830, which saw the end of the rule of King Charles X, the younger brother of King Louis XVII, the monarch famously beheaded during the French Revolution. The July Revolution installed a constitutional monarchy under the “Citizen King” Louis-Phillippe, so named since the revolution established that as king he drew his power from the will of the people. Louis-Phillippe himself would be deposed less than two decades later in the Revolution of 1848. (Europe had a lot of revolutions in the late 18th century stretching into the mid-19th century,)

Liberty Leading the People by Eugène Delacroix

As an iconic image of violent revolution, with easily adaptable imagery and a snappy title to boot, Delacroix’s painting has become embedded in popular culture. From the fluttering tricolor and the weapons in the hands of a distinct array of figures, to the bodies sprawled on the ground and the personification of Liberty in the center, all the elements are in place to depict the scene with a variety of characters from other media, often superimposing wildly differing meanings upon the piece.

Adding to the malleable nature of the painting in popular culture is the indeterminate origins of the moment depicted to most observers. Delacroix’s painting does not commemorate an actual event during the July Revolution, but rather a Romantic rendition of the revolution as a whole, just as the female figure in the center represents the concept of liberty driving the people forward rather than a real person. Given that to most non-French the July Revolution of 1830, much like the 1832 June Rebellion in Les Misérables, is not very well known and often conflated into a single broad concept of a “French Revolution,” the image is able to speak to a wide range of concepts to a viewer, both real and imagined, historical and fictional. It is untethered from a moment in history, and thus freed from the expectations and preconceptions a painting depicting a real event with real people brings with it, as occurs with other renditions of works such as Luetze’s Washington Crossing the Delaware. As such, variations on Liberty Leading the People are often seen in fanart and in popular media.

Mercy Leading the People – Overwatch fan art by Arqa
From the 2015 anime series Shimoneta

The personification of Liberty remains an enduring figure in Western civilization, Originating from the Roman goddess Libertas, the image of a female embodiment of liberty has graced various American coins, while more recent incarnations include the Goddess of Democracy statue raised during the 1989 Tiananmen Square demonstrations and perhaps the most well-known modern example, the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor. Marianne, a female personification of Liberty, is the symbol of the French Republic and appears on government seals and currency. The Liberty depicted in Delacroix’s painting is a precursor to the more official version of Marianne used today.

The original painting now hangs in the Louvre; its many imitators can be found on Pixiv, Tumblr, or a meme generator near you.

Further Readings

High School Fleet: Musashi and the Harekaze

High School Fleet: Musashi and the Harekaze

As befits an anime entitled High School Fleet, warships take center stage. Two ships dominate the series, the battleship Musashi and the destroyer Harekaze.

Musashi is modeled both in name and appearance after the Japanese World War II era battleship Musashi. The Musashi and her sister ship Yamato were the largest battleships ever constructed, the result of a shipbuilding philosophy that viewed battleships as the key to naval superiority. Like the more famous Yamato, Musashi was named for an old Japanese province that once encompassed modern day Tokyo. The Musashi was designed to be capable of engaging multiple targets at once and be more than the equal of any other battleship in existence. This battleship philosophy would be proven wrong during the war as the aircraft carrier emerged as the most powerful ship on the seas. The Musashi was never involved in the kind of decisive battleship versus battleship combat envisioned by Japanese war planners and was sunk by American aircraft during the Battle of Leyte Gulf.

Musashi steaming in formation in episode 01 of High School Fleet

Figuring prominently in shots of the Musashi is the golden disc set into the bow. The crest is a variation of the Imperial Seal of Japan (菊の御紋 kikunogomon), the emblem of the Japanese Emperor and Imperial Family. Historically only the largest ships in the old Imperial Navy were allowed to carry the Imperial crest. Similar to the placement of the Imperial seal on army equipment, the Imperial Crest served both as a point of pride and as a reminder that the ship was the direct property of the Emperor and the crew were to conduct themselves accordingly.

As the Musashi and her sister ship Yamato were the only two vessels of their class, it is likely the battleship with the blue color scheme seen in the opening minutes of the first episode is the analogue for the Yamato. However, the Musashi and Yamato have a little known third sister ship: the Shinano (信濃). Historically, the Shinano was refitted into an aircraft carrier after Japan’s devastating losses at the Battle of Midway and sunk shortly into her maiden voyage. In Haifuri, a throwaway line indicates the Shinano is operational as a Yamato class battleship.

On the other hand the main ship of the series, the destroyer Harekaze (晴風, Clear Wind?), has no direct historical analogue. The official web site for the series describes the ship as a Kagero class destroyer, a class that served in the Japanese navy during World War II. Nineteen Kagero class ships were produced, with only one surviving the war. As seen in the first episode the Harekaze is equipped with torpedo launchers. Torpedo salvos from extreme range was a common tactic of the Imperial Navy during the war, particularly given the technical sophistication and range of the Japanese Class 93 Long Lance torpedo.

As befits the main ship of a series, there is more than meets the eye in the Harekaze. The official website makes mention of special test equipment installed on the ship and at one point in the first episode Torpedo Officer Mei Irizaki notes the Harekaze is a “high pressure” ship. This is a comment on the steam boilers that power the ship but perhaps also a reference to the three experimental high pressure boilers installed on the Shimakaze. The Shimakaze was the fastest destroyer of the war. Although terrifically fast, clocking a top speed of 40 knots, the ship proved too technically difficult to mass produce and thus remained the only vessel of her class. The Harekaze is listed as having a top speed of 37 knots, faster than the historical Kagero class but a little short of Shimakaze’s top speed. Mei further echoes the similarities by continuing on to state the Harekaze has speed but also faults.

Harekaze steaming towards a rendezvous.

By way of comparison, the Musashi displaced 72,800 tons and was over 860 feet long. A Kagero class destroyer was 2500 tons and 388 feet long.

It is worth noting both the Harekaze, Musashi and other vessels crewed by students are obviously World War II era designs, while the ships crewed by instructors follow more modern design sensibilities. The purely fictional Sarushima appears to combine the lines of modern Zumbalt class destroyers with the rear deck of a helicopter carrier or amphibious landing ship. The Toumai High instructors in episode 5 appear to be onboard modern Japanese navy Kongo or Atago class destroyers.


  • Battleship Musashi: The Making and Sinking of the World’s Biggest Battleship by Yoshimura Akira.
  • Warships of the Imperial Japanese Navy, 1869–1945 by Hansgeorg Jentschura, Dieter Jung and Peter Mickel.
The Tycoon of Japan: The Japanese Origins of the Word Tycoon

The Tycoon of Japan: The Japanese Origins of the Word Tycoon

The word tycoon conjures up images of wealthy industrialists–or at the very least Rich Uncle Pennybags from Monopoly. It may not summon the image of a Japanese warlord, yet that is the original meaning of the word. Tycoon is derived from the Japanese word taikun (大君, Great Prince), a term used to refer to the Shogun. The story how it entered the English language is one of a crisis of communication and the fancy of an American Secretary of State.

When Commodore Matthew Perry arrived off the shores of Japan in 1853, his mission was to open the country to American trade. Japan had been a closed country where foreigners were not allowed since the early 1600s under a policy of seclusion, or sankoku (鎖国). The policy was not absolute but had prevented the United States and other countries from attempting to open trade.

Upon his arrival near Edo (modern day Tokyo), Japanese officials attempted to order Perry to leave for Nagasaki, the only port that foreigners could enter. Perry refused and demanded he be allowed to deliver a letter from President Millard Fillmore to the Emperor of Japan. Japanese officials were at a loss as to how to reply to his demand as American intelligence on Japan was flawed. Although there was an Emperor, it was the Shogun who held real power in Japan. Perry however, was not to be dissuaded. He insisted his letter be accepted by emissaries of the Emperor or he would resort to violence. The Commodore had taken to heart the advice of Captain James Glynn, who had led an earlier attempt to open contact with Japan. Glynn recommended any future negotiations be backed up with a show of force. It was partly for that reason that Perry arrived with what is now modern day Tokyo Bay with four ships, two of them steam powered and belching black smoke into the skies. The black painted hulls of the squadron and black smoke gave the ships their enduring Japanese name: the kurofune (黒船), the Black Ships.

In advance of the expedition, Perry had new Paixhan guns installed on two of his ships, each one capable of lobbing explosive shells deep into Edo from his position offshore. Fire was the greatest threat the city of wood and paper faced and an assault by the American ships would devastate Edo. Japanese officials, fully aware of the damage Perry’s fleet could inflict, were at a diplomatic quandary. The Shogun was technically only a military commander, as a direct translation of the word shogun (将軍) indicated, hardly the rank Perry demanded to contact. In order to impress upon the Commodore the high rank of the Shogun, the term taikun, or Great Prince, was used. Taikun had been used before in diplomatic exchanges between the Shogun and other nations. Perry accepted the emissaries of the Great Prince and handed over his letter. He returned the next year and with the signing of the Convention of Kanagawa, Japan opened to American trade.

Perry’s mission was an immediate sensation in the United States. In recognition of his command, Congress awarded him $20000, worth $500000 in 2016 dollars. Perry spent the final years of his life writing a three volume report of the expedition entitled Narrative of the Expedition of an American Squadron to the China Seas and Japan. He died shortly afterwards in 1858. Excerpts of the report were published in American newspapers and the word tycoon was regularly used to refer to the leader of Japan.

Secretary of State John Hay was particularly taken with the term, as it bore with it connotations of power and the stereotypical concept of a mysterious and distant Asia. As such, he used it to refer to President Lincoln, calling him the Tycoon. From Hay’s penchant to call Lincoln the Tycoon and the repeated use of tycoon in the American press, the word entered popular culture. After the Meiji Restoration in 1868, the word Emperor was used for Japan’s leader. Tycoon remained in the vernacular, keeping the connotation of an important person. However, it was not until after World War I that the word came to specifically mean a business magnate.

As for Perry, his role in Japan’s opening and eventual transformation has not been forgotten. He appears occasionally in anime, such as Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei where he is portrayed as being unable to stop opening things.


  • The History Of How A Shogun’s Boast Made Lincoln A ‘Tycoon’ –
  • John Hay and John Nicolay in the White House –
  • The Capital of the Tycoon: Three Years Residence in Japan by Sir Rutherford Alcock.
Joker Game: The International Settlement and Indian Soldiers in Shanghai

Joker Game: The International Settlement and Indian Soldiers in Shanghai

As a work of historical fiction, Joker Game draws upon the reality of pre-war East Asia to frame its tale of espionage in a world on brink of war. The investigation of a bombing at the beginning of episode 4 shows the complex state of affairs that existed in 1937 Shanghai, a mirror of the international entanglements that would draw the entire world into conflict.

The site of the bombing is located in the Shanghai International Settlement. The International Settlement was a segregated section in Shanghai where many foreign citizens resided and a version of this area can be seen in the Spielberg film Empire of the Sun. In the late 1930s China was nominally an independent country, yet not completely in total control of all of its own territory. Although not a colonized nation, nor under the full dominion of an imperial power, a series of unequal treaties and concessions to foreign governments gave foreigners extraordinary rights and privileges. After Shanghai had been ceded as an open treaty port in the aftermath of China’s defeat in the First Opium War, Britain, the United States and France established settlements in the city. Forcing the defeated Qing government of China to agree to special terms, these settlements were ruled outside of Chinese jurisdiction. The British and American settlements eventually merged and other nations including Japan eventually joined what became known as the International Settlement. The international element of the settlement is evidenced by the number of flags in the center of the banner of the Shanghai Municipal Council, the Settlement’s ruling body.

An old quip about the kind of people who go to China labels them as missionaries, misfits and mercenaries. Although nations had fought the Opium War, most of the residents in China were businessmen and clergymen, with vested interests that did not always coincide with those of their governments. To avoid undue interference, the International Settlement quickly moved to set up its own government early in its existence. By 1937 it was a self governing enclave apart from China with its own military and police force, the majority of which were provided by the British government. The arrangement was not problematic, as it gave each side something out of the deal. The nature of the Settlement’s governance and status as a ceded territory explains why the bombing was being investigated by a British Inspector with Indian policemen.

With East Asia in turmoil, this international state of affairs was not to last. Japan entered into a state of war with China in 1937  Japanese forces attacked and captured Shanghai in August of that year.  It is somewhat unclear as to the date in episode 4 but given the relatively upbeat mood of the city, it is likely before the the Japanese invasion. However, dialogue does mention Nationalist Chinese bombings, so it is probably after the war began in July 1937. As tensions mounted between Japan and other powers in the region, the British withdrew the bulk of their forces in 1940. The end of the International Settlement came after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Knowing that a state of war between Japan and the US as well as other nations was imminent, Japanese solders entered the International Settlement and took control. Foreigners were sent to the Lunghua Civilian Assembly Center to be interned for the duration of the war. (Author’s note: I spent some time at the former site of the Lunghua Center. It is now a high school campus. Very little evidence of the original internment center survives, as the old blockhouses have been demolished and the few articles about the era that once existed have been removed from the school’s museum.)

In 1937 Britain had not yet descended into the twilight of empire, although there were visible and irreparable strains at the seams of imperial control. London still presided over a colonial empire over which many had famously claimed the sun never set. India had been under the direct control of the crown since the Indian Rebellion of 1857. As part of the British Empire, Indians were inducted into service in the British Indian Army. Due to its proximity to East Asia, India provided a means to deploy large numbers of troops rapidly to areas far from the metropole of Britain. Indian soldiers were used in China during the Boxer Uprising and in various theaters in both World War I and World War II. As the majority of foreign troops in Shanghai were provided by the British military, Indians formed a large part of the International Settlement’s Municipal Police and the Shanghai Defense Force.

The style of turbans worn by the Indians soldiers in the scene identify them as Sikh. After the Indian Rebellion of 1857, the British turned to primarily recruit soldiers from what they deemed to be the “martial races.” This race-based ideology stated that people of “martial races” were well suited to be soldiers due to innate bravery and fighting ability. Sikhs were among the groups the British considered “martial races” and were thus recruited heavily.

After World War II, the British hold on India was untenable as internal and external pressures mounted. In India pro-independence sentiments could no longer be contained. At home, Britain lacked the will to continue to hold on to its empire and had begun to turn inwards towards the development of the Welfare State The days of the Raj–the name for the British rule of India–were numbered. Britain quickly began the process of relinquishing control and in 1947 the old British Raj became the new nations of India and Pakistan.


  • The British Indian Army 1860–1914 by Peter Duckers
  • Empire Made Me: An Englishman Adrift in Shanghai by Robert Bickers
  • “‘Punjabization’ in the British Indian Army 1857 – 1947 and the Advent of Military Rule in Pakistan” by Syed Hussain Shaheed Soherwordi
  • Turbans of the Indian Army –
  • “Origin and Development of the Political System in the Shanghai International Settlement” by J.H. Haan
Joker Game: Duty, Death and the Imperial Rescript to Soldiers and Sailors

Joker Game: Duty, Death and the Imperial Rescript to Soldiers and Sailors

The beginning of episode 2 of Joker Game opens with a voiceover as scenes of children playing at war segue into images of adult soldiers. The opening narration is lifted from the Imperial Rescript to Soldiers and Sailors (軍人勅諭), a document issued by the Meiji Emperor in 1882. The Rescript was a set of rules which formed the basis of the military code of ethics and conduct. It is often cited as instrumental in the development of the mentality and ideals that guided the creation and operation of the Japanese military. The Rescript was studied daily by soldiers while a shortened version consisting of “The Five Principles of the Soldier” had to be memorized. Troops were expected to be able to repeat the “Five Principles” verbatim, word for word, upon command. As depicted in the episode, the entire Rescript was also read aloud by soldiers on certain occasions, making the Rescript a constant and ubiquitous element of military life.

The phrase “Duty is heavier than a mountain, death is lighter than a feather,” highlights one of the most profound messages of the Rescript. The Rescript stressed loyalty and obedience as the prime characteristics of a soldier and that death was preferable to moral failings and dishonor. Military conditioning furthered the notion that death was a viable alternative when confronted with a dilemma that threatened the honor and standing of an soldier, something that comes into play during the search of suspected spy John Gordon’s home.

As noted by Historian Edward Drea, the values of Japanese society in 1937 were built on the acceptance of a hierarchy, aversions to public humiliation, a belief in the uniqueness of the Japanese people, and a series of allegiances that connected citizens to the Emperor. To create a soldier willing to live and die for his beliefs, military training only had to impose itself upon the social order, to overlay structure and discipline on top of existing values. Drea cites the intense nature of Imperial Army training in what he deems the “hothouse” environment of pre-war Japan as an important element in the making of a Japanese soldier. Love of family and love of country was increasingly conflated with strength of arms and loyalty to the Emperor, effectively making the Empire and military an extension of familial ties. The hierarchy of the military was a series of “little loyalties” which built all the way up to the Emperor. This was a major function of the Rescript, connecting the individual soldier to a greater extended “family” in the form of the nation and ultimately to the Emperor himself.

The pervasive national sense of duty coupled with the brutal methods of training and discipline found in the Imperial Army was aimed towards instilling unquestioning obedience.This operated in combination with what Drea refers to as a “deep fatalism” inherent in Japanese society, perhaps best exemplified by the common phrase shikata ja nai (仕方が無い) or “it can’t be helped.” Shikata ga nai is arguably a reflection of a social tendency to accept whatever comes but also not to rock the boat and rail against arbitrary or nonsensical orders and rules. Even in Emperor Hirohito’s speech announcing Japan’s surrender he asked the Japanese people to, “endure the unendurable and suffer what is not sufferable.” Although it has been noted that there were several different and powerful reasons behind the Japanese tendency to choose death rather than surrender during the war, the impact of this conditioning should not be understated. (For more on the other factors, read my previous article Bakuon!! The Siberian Internment and the Social Stigma of Surrender in WWII Japan)

The first few minutes of Joker Game effectively shows the impact of a nationalist ideology based on duty and the inherent glory of war and the military on children. The usage of the Imperial Rescript to Soldiers and Sailors is integral to the episodes thematic development and to Sakuma’s transition from solider to spy. When Lt. Colonel Yuuki states choosing death is often the worst thing a spy could do, it stands in contrast to the precepts espoused by the military which offers death as a solution to an unavoidable situation–not as a problem. It is important to Sakuma’s development, as overcoming his ingrained instincts are not only overcoming personal beliefs but the weight of the intertwined expectations of both society and the military command. The act of touching the Imperial Portrait by Miyoshi during the search of Gordon’s house shows the ability of the spies to act outside of the normal rules of society, to adapt and respond to any situation. Yet this ability comes at a cost. The spies of Joker Game are not just free thinkers unbound by the strict rules of society –they are men permanently apart from their people. Lt. Col. Yuuki states the ultimate fate of the spies is a life of eternal solitude. More than any other factor it is their position as outsiders that dooms them, unable to share in the binding values of the society they serve.

References and recommended readings

  • In the Service of the Emperor: Essays on the Imperial Japanese Army by Edward Drea
  • Selections from the Imperial Rescript for Soldiers and Sailors
Bakuon!! The Siberian Internment and the Social Stigma of Surrender in WWII Japan

Bakuon!! The Siberian Internment and the Social Stigma of Surrender in WWII Japan

Bakuon!! is a lighthearted anime about the peculiar members of a motorcycle club at an all girls high school. The majority of the first two episodes have been concerned with main protagonist Hane Sakura’s quest to obtain a license and the conflict between Onsa and Rin over the merits of Suzuki bikes. With the introduction of Hijiri Minowa and her butler Hayakawa, things take a interesting historical turn.

Hijiri reveals she is not old enough to have a motorcycle license, so until her sixteenth birthday she will be having Hayakawa drive her in a Ducati 750 Imola Replica with sidecar. After her explanation, Hayakawa replies hasn’t had a sidecar since the Siberia internment. By referencing the Siberia internment, Hayakawa is packing a great deal of often-controversial history, difficult war memory and character backstory into a single sentence.

World War II ended with Japan’s surrender to the Allies in August 1945. This left millions of Japanese soldiers across Asia and the Pacific to work out the means of their own surrender to the Allies. For Japanese troops stationed in northern China, in what was the former puppet state of Manchukuo, the main Allied forces in the area were the Soviets sweeping in from the north. Japanese soldiers who surrendered to the Soviets were shipped off to the already extant system of labor camps in Siberia. This network of prisons, called the gulag archipelago by Russian political prisoner Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, had served to neutralize enemies of the Soviet state since the 1930s. Conditions were brutal and the Siberian winter remains infamously bitter. Prisoners in the gulags were used as laborers and workers, all the while being subjected to reeducation on the merits of communism. In all, approximately 500000 to 750000 Japanese soldiers were interned in labor camps by the Soviets at the end of the war. Of these, 50000 to 60000 died. The exact numbers of both interned soldiers and of deaths remains a point of contention. As the Soviet Union found cheap labor useful, many Japanese soldiers were not repatriated to Japan for many years.

The use of the term “internment” by Hayakawa is critical to both his character and to the beliefs of Japanese soldiers who were interned at the end of the war. Few Japanese soldiers surrendered during the war, due to the extraordinarily rigid codes of behavior imposed on them by both society and during their tough military training. Surrendering and not dying bravely in battle was indeed considered dishonorable, a system of thought reinforced by the military leadership as well as the conditions faced by Japanese soldiers. A section of the Japanese army’s Field Service Code manual issued to all troops read, “Do not live in shame as a prisoner. Die, and leave no ignominious crime behind you.” Another section in the 1882 Imperial Rescript to Soldiers and Sailors read, “duty is heavier than a mountain; death is lighter than a feather.” However, it should also be noted that American forces were unforgiving in battle and the war in the Pacific carried very difficult racial connotations. In War Without Mercy: Race and Power in the Pacific War historian John Dower characterizes the war as one built on racial hatred and fear. There was also the underlying fear by Japanese soldiers that the Allies would torture or kill a surrendering soldier outright, a fear exacerbated by government propaganda. In the uncertainty and terror of war, kill or be killed was likely seen as the only option open to soldiers on both sides.

When the war ended Japanese troops who laid down their arms in accordance with orders from their government found it important to make the distinction between their situation and the plight of those Japanese soldiers who had surrendered of their own will during the war. The term “internment” became the preferred term by these soldiers to refer to their imprisonment, rather than prisoner of war which indicates surrendering or being captured during active hostilities. The distinction was vital, as Japanese who had surrendered in the earlier Russo-Japanese faced ostracism upon their return. Even as Japanese society was reordered by the American occupation after the war, there was still a sense of shame and dishonor over being taken as a prisoner for surviving Japanese soldiers and their families. The Japanese military command was well aware of the issue. In order to prevent holdouts, minimize any resistance to the surrender and to ease the concerns of soldiers, a statement issued by the military declared that any Japanese soldier who surrendered after the end of the war was not considered a prisoner of war.

With Hayakawa’s offhand comment. he establishes his ability as a soldier, as a survivor, and as a honorable loyalist who will fight until the very end. The line also brings in to focus the increasing re-examination of Japan’s war history in anime, as war veterans are still a relatively rare element. With the concurrent airing of Joker Game, Japan’s difficult relationship with the legacy of the war is being addressed by a new generation.

Suggested reading

  • War Without Mercy: Race and Power in the Pacific War and Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II by John W. Dower
  • The Anguish of Surrender, Japanese POWs of World War II by Ulrich Straus
Dancing around Digital Architecture: Denno Coil and an Augmented Future

Dancing around Digital Architecture: Denno Coil and an Augmented Future

The highly underrated 2007 anime Denno Coil postulated a future where a pervasive digital world intersects with the physical world through the use of augmented reality glasses. More recent anime depictions of the digital world such as Sword Art Online(2012) and Log Horizon (2013)  have opted for an immersive virtual world rather than augmenting the physical. With the advent of technologies such as Google Glass and the Oculus Rift both visions of the future are now available to consumers. The question is now which vision can emerge as blueprint for everyday life in the digital 21st century.

This goes beyond a competition of formats such as Bluray/HD DVD and or Betamax/VHS. Fundamentally each technology posits a different way to interact with the digital world and how the human body relates to digital space. Sword Art Online’s (SAO) and Log Horizon’s immersive virtual reality are passive,  cutting a user off from the physical world in favor of an all encompassing digital space. As intriguing as this vision for the creation of new worlds and the exploration of old, say a VR tour of London’s Crystal Palace or Edo Castle, its applications tend towards the idea of a separate and distinct digital space.  Physiological issues aside (I personally get motion sick after a few hours of Halo) SAO and Log Horizon push a conceptualization of compartmentalized digital space that is eroding in the face of a pervasive and always on internet.

The everyday applications of an augmented world are likelier to gain traction among the general population as movement towards merging digital and physical spaces continues. Consider our instagrammed, Tweeted, Facebooked world where we are able to constantly project an image of ourselves into digital space. Allowing the digital to intersect the physical is less of a radical idea than it world seem and one that most internet users would find more comfortable and less strange than strapping on headgear to wander the digital wilds. (Despite the modern love affair with technology, the often heard exhortation to go outside and play speaks to a current cultural inability to completely equate a digital space with a physical one. The debate over E-sports is another example.)

The ability to add onto the existing world, such as personalized bus signage or a digital rendition of a building over the current construction site is an attractive one for business as well as a way for consumers to customize their environments. (Functionally, consider Doctor Who’s virtual clothing in the episode Time of the Doctor, Denno Coil’s use of augmentation to clean up distressed areas of the city and the pet owl in Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner.) An immersive AR environment can allow for a replication of otherwise unobtainable assets and enhance the current physical world with the digital, a proposition that both carries weight with an ordinary consumer while continuing a trend of integration rather than segregation of spaces.