Imperialism, Translation, Gunbuster (Introduction)

Sometime circa 1985, as my father was driving us around the local business district, he kept pointing at buildings that had been bought or were possibly about to be bought by the Japanese.  He said to us: “They are going to take over the world”.  I remember thinking “Darn”.

Japan in the 1980s was at the height of its economic power. Its auto manufacturers had begun making passenger cars in America (1980) and the future looked extremely bright.  That this power was almost solely economic in nature worried no one. After all, the Soviet juggernaut was crumbling by the late eighties, proving perhaps that politico-military power itself was becoming obsolete…

It is no wonder then that Japanese sci-fi anime from this period should anticipate Japan’s impending triumph in fictional form. But one would not expect that a show with such a premise would become highly popular in rival America. And yet in 1988 it happened. Gunbuster, an original video animation consisting of six 25 to 30 minute episodes produced by Studio Gainax, was and is as popular among American anime fans as among their Japanese counterparts.

The reason is significant: most fans outside of Japan are simply unaware of the imperialistic and jingoistic framework behind Gunbuster. This is not because of a lack of attention (fans watch, rewatch, freeze, rewind, screencap, analyze and over-analyze the show) but because Gunbuster has been systematically constructed in such a way that only Japanese people will hear the message of Empire. The construction is so adept that not even good, accurate subtitling will lay it bare. In Gunbuster the elements that are conventionally carried across in film subtitling are precisely not the ones that convey this imperialism.

MY MISSION

I will publish a post series analyzing the show’s imperialist text as it crops up episode by episode (one post per episode).  I will also include screenshots so you can see precisely what I am talking about.  If I do my job right it should become clear that the imperialist text is everywhere in this anime, but it mostly crops up as “words on the screen” that tend to remain untranslated in subtitling/dubbing and are thus (paradoxically) invisible to non-Japanese readers even as they are literally right in front of our eyes. Throughout this analysis I will suggest ways in which a translator could capture this text and communicate it, the goal being to render this imperialism explicit for all, and not just the Japanese, to see. I will also pay special attention to the show’s representation of America and the Soviet Union, and how these two representations are set up and unequivocally knocked down and overthrown by the Japanese heroines.

NOTE ON THE VERSION: I have focused on the KickAssAnime release, which from what I heard mostly adopted the original, official English subtitles by U.S. Directions. I have also looked at the fansub group “digital panic” (dp) which often has quite different translations.

ANNO

Let’s talk about the director. 

Hideaki Anno is most famous for his work on Neon Genesis Evangelion (1995). The apocalyptic tale has received copious attention from Western scholars.  Several anime books have chapters wholly dedicated to the phenomenon that is Evangelion.  As is well known, the show was the product of Anno’s psychological breakdown. It was born of his dissatisfaction with the anime genre and Japanese pop culture and his explorations of psychoanalytic writings (he was undergoing therapy at the time). Anno was questioning everything, including technology and its effect on life.

Gunbuster portrays technology in a much more positive light as a projection of human (and eminently Japanese) power. Neon Genesis Evangelion‘s resonance with post-modern uncertainty accounts for most of the attention it receives from academia, although it seems profitable to focus on Anno’s earlier work to see just how much his thought shifted in the seven years between the two shows. My sense is that it was the collapse of Japan’s economy in 1991 (3 years after Gunbuster) that triggered this crisis in Anno.

U.S. Bases in Okinawa (red)

There is another issue of note in Anno’s psychology that must be touched upon: his ties to Okinawa. Anno has stated in interviews that his favorite film is Kihachi Okamoto’s Battle of Okinawa (1971). He claims to have seen the film over a hundred times and he was hired to write the sleeve notes for the laser disc version of the film. A number of character lines in his anime series have been traced back to this film’s script. Battle of Okinawa runs for two and a half hours. Although praised for its realistic portrayal of the carnage of war, the actions of both the Japanese soldiers and the Okinawan civilians are strictly in keeping with traditional conservative Japanese views of the matter: Okinawans kill themselves readily and Japanese soldiers only intervene to facilitate this goal.  [After I saw the film my first thought was that someone would have to be very twisted to rewatch it 100 times!]  By the way, Anno himself was not born in Okinawa but hails from Yamaguchi Prefecture.  Yamaguchi is a conservative bastion and the homebase of the Choshu clan which controlled the Imperial Japanese Army until its dissolution in 1945.  We should keep this in mind.

Okinawa features prominently in Gunbuster as the training ground for the Japanese space fighting force. Given Anno’s interests, we cannot see the choice of the island as solely a statement against its American military occupation (although this is definitely one factor) but more comprehensively as an homage to the Japanese Empire and what some consider its beautiful last stand in 1945. “Gunbuster eventually transforms into an homage to Kihachi Okamoto’s live-action war film Battle of Okinawa (1971), complete with onscreen notes detailing the number of ‘ships sunk’ and a background cast of dozens of generals, each only gaining the merest moment of screentime” (Clements’ The Anime Encyclopedia p. 255).

The use of Okinawa in the series is bound to be problematic because of the island group’s undeniable distinctiveness from the rest of Japan in linguistic, cultural and historical terms. Okinawa’s separate identity has yet to disappear over a hundred years after its forcible annexation in 1872. Paradoxically, Tokyo’s continued acquiescence in American military control of the island group has fostered Okinawans’ sense of their own identity at the same time as it has provided a rallying cry for Japanese right-wing nationalists who would seek to evict the Americans, not for the sake of Okinawans, but rather in the name of an absolute “Japaneseness” symbolized by the Chrysanthemum Throne.

Episode One is next.

~ by animekritik on November 22, 2011.

44 Responses to “Imperialism, Translation, Gunbuster (Introduction)”

  1. I’m looking forward to what I’m sure will be an interesting analysis of this work. Just curious: do you plan to include any information on Gunbuster’s supposed parallels to Aim for the Ace? I’ve yet to watch Gunbuster but I plan on watching it in preparation for this series of posts.

    • I won’t go into that, no. My focus is going to be super-narrow: imperialism and nationalism in the show and how it is portrayed in ways that are really hard to subtitle or dub into other languages.

      I’t a great series and I’m sure you’ll get something out of it. I’ll be curious to see how you experience things, since the great majority of non-Japanese will see the series once or twice or more times and not really get a sense of the right-wing aspect of the show (I include myself in this group). Ideally watch all 6 episodes once before reading my series of posts on it, since there might be a few spoilers in my discussion.

  2. Gunbuster is one of those anime that I watch once a year out of pure love and admiration so it’s somewhat sad for me to read that there is so much untranslated text that point to an imperialist discourse. But I look forward with interest to reading what we non-japanese viewers are missing out on.

    • It’s a sad thing, but it’s much more interesting than sad. Consider Anno goes on to do Evangelion! Now, are Evangelion politics rightist-nationalist, neutral or leftist-liberal in some way? I’m not sure myself, but I think the man’s perception of the world certainly changed in between the two series.

      • Didn’t Anno have a nervous breakdown sometime between Nadia and Evangelion? Not saying that would necessarily change one’s political perceptions but you never know.

        • He did. There are many stories floating around. He was very upset at some aspects of the production of Nadia and broke down. I’m not clear when he started doing therapy as such, but it might have been before the breakdown, because he was already interested in psychoanalysis at the time of Gunbuster. And of course, a lot of his mental issues had to do with his father, so it all started in childhood. I think for an artist, politics is intimately related to the self, so yes, there must have been an impact. What’s interesting is that his breakdown was neatly timed around the period when Japanese power broke down, and I’m thinking the economic crash around him likely helped to deepen his depression and confirm all of his fears about himself…

          • >And of course, a lot of his mental issues had to do with his father, so it all started in childhood.

            Woah woah woah woah, source? I gather this is some japanese interview that is currently untranslated because during my 6+ years of being Eva fan I’ve never seen anything to this end. In one interview Anno laughingly even says that “it’s not like my father threw me out or anything”

            • Boy I’m glad you asked for a source. I’d read this years ago from English-language sources somewhere. After you asked, I looked it up in Japanese and came up with this:

              Between what you quoted and this quote, I think my statement above has been totally debunked. We can’t blame Anno’s father. I think it’s time to start blaming his mom instead ;)

              • it’s fine, stiff öole tjos certainly happens with Eva now and then due to vast number of wacky bs about the show out :)

                while you were searching the japanese internet for relevant quotes did you happen to see any mention if Anno’s father really has artificial leg and he had lost it when Anno was a kid or something like that (that being inspiration for toji’s lose of leg)? That’s one thing about his father I was never able to confirm before I knew no japanese and now that I know at least some I’ve never tried to search for the info as it isn’t that interesting…and it is probably hard to find anyway

                • I only found a single reference, on a thread. The writer says he remembers reading that Anno’s father was missing a leg, or had a prosthetic leg, but that maybe he didn’t read it and he’s just remembering wrong!! (pretty inconclusive huh)

  3. This is epic. I can’t contribute much except my appreciation for the enterprise.

    Those who can, do.

    Those who can’t, whine about the high school hijinks.

  4. I’m looking forward to reading more. I’ve loved it for years, but I wasn’t aware of this aspect of the show until very recently (I bought a Gunbuster jacket that was emblazoned with “Earth Imperial Space Force” on it which got me to dig a little bit more into the setting’s political background). I wonder why they chose to be subtle with Gunbuster’s jingoism when Yamato pretty much wore it on its sleeve?

    It’s interesting how people everywhere assumed that Japan’s bubble would never stop expanding and how many stories used it. My favorite being Miura Kentarou’s “Japan” manga, which fully falls into the unintionally hillarious territory.

    I gave away my US Renditions VHS tapes years ago, so it’ll be interesting to see those subs compared to the recent Honneamise release of the series. At least in terms of editing, they weren’t that great (the most famous example being using “Sidekick Wave” for “Psychic Wave” in an episode of Dangaio).

    • I love your testimony!! The term “Earth Imperial Space Force” is precisely one of the things I’m going to be looking at. Plus Yamato will definitely enter the discussion as well.

      One possible answer to your question is that by 1988 Japanese animators were aware that the world was watching. They were confident but careful with their views. In 1974 animators were already confident in Japan’s rising power, but they weren’t aware that the rest of the world was watching. So they just went for it! I have no idea if this is right, but it might be…

      I haven’t been able to find solid information on any variations between the U.S. Renditions subs and the KAA subs, only vague comments to the effect that KAA adopted the older subs and only stylized them, or changed only a few things. I’ve also looked around for a transcript of the original subs but to no avail. Anyway, it’s not important. I’ve seen a few of the subtitles for the series and all run into the same problems I will be describing here again and again.

  5. Woah, awesome that you’re doing this. I don’t think many fans in the west outside hardcore eva fan circles are all that aware of Anno’s pretty ridiculous nationalism and its fingerprints over his works in a way that is either “oh Anno you silly old rascal” if dismissed or alternatively somewhat disturbing. I recently got a translation of Anno/Okamoto of interview/discussion made on Eva fanboard and suffice to say it was pretty interesting read.

    Gunbuster is fantastic anime but I must admit I find its glorification of Imperial Japan and typical “otaku nationalist” power fantasy not exactly to my liking. Still, it’s light years better and less disturbing than Itano’s Angel Cop, hahaha

    Sometimes I feel like it’s nigh-impossible to find major creators and directors from original otaku generation that haven’t been affected by “otaku nationalism” of said generation in some way. Ikuni seems to be quite free of this (“failure to revolutionize the world” in 60s leaving a strong impression on him but there’s no explicit nationalism or the like in his works that I’ve seen) and then there’s as a definitive major exception Shoji Kawamori who is enough of a liberal hippie treehugger to not be into idea of “nations” at all…. (which really shows up in some of the subtext present in Macross Frontier though it’s not like I’ve seen anyone ever comment much on that either)

    At any rate I’m going to follow these posts with great interest! :)

    • I’ve always thought that there are two underground currents that meet very often: nationalism and anime otakuism. A lot of Japanese anime otaku are nationalistic (i.e. the anti-Korean anti-Chinese rants and debates on 2ch). This meeting of two currents is not new at all. Leiji Matsumoto himself, who lived in a 4 1/2 tatami mat room while trying to make it big as a manga writer in Tokyo, was and is obsessed with military ideals and Japanese and German war machinery.

      Left-leaning artists in Japan go into music I guess. And since Kawamori is so into music that kinda goes a bit of the way to explain stuff maybe…

      Thanks for your support on the series!

  6. >I’ve always thought that there are two underground currents that meet very often: nationalism and anime otakuism. A lot of Japanese anime otaku are nationalistic (i.e. the anti-Korean anti-Chinese rants and debates on 2ch). This meeting of two currents is not new at all. Leiji Matsumoto himself, who lived in a 4 1/2 tatami mat room while trying to make it big as a manga writer in Tokyo, was and is obsessed with military ideals and Japanese and German war machinery.

    Certainly. I think it’s kind of telling about the guy Anno’s favourite films are Battle of Okinawa and Okamoto’s film about Japan’s surrender (name escapes me and I haven’t seen this one yet) while his favourite anime is Space Battleship Yamato. With such background it really can’t be helped I guess :P

    Azuma Hiroki’s short writing on “otaku nationalism” here is pretty nice: http://ha.shiftweb.net/en/texts/superflat_en1.html

    >Left-leaning artists in Japan go into music I guess. And since Kawamori is so into music that kinda goes a bit of the way to explain stuff maybe…

    Kawamori is interesting, spiritual fellow. There are strong touches of mysticism and spiritual ideals running through many of his works, often with a somewhat Zen slant (though he isn’t Buddhist proper AFAIK). I’ve personally got very fond of him over the time more of his works I’ve seen and more I’ve read his interviews. What separates him from Tomino and Anno (as far as big mecha franchise creators go) is that he really seems to be a positive, “nice guy” who I can’t imagine depressed. It kinda shows if one would go and compare Gundam-Eva-Macross trio :D

    If one views “Angels” and other judeochristian haberdashery in Eva as something that really is there just for sake of coolness and a arbitrary pick my production team I find Vajra in MacrossF an interesting inversion. In a sense here we have anime creator again mining in inherently religious terminology but this time around its actually meaningful and important choice: but the subtext is so intentionally buried your average viewer can finish the series without never thinking about or even noticing it at all while the crosses etc. in Eva jump at the viewer and are unignorable.

    Anyway, after finishing SDF Macross and DYRL in early 80s Kawamori pretty much spent a decade travelling across the globe, visiting spiritual places in Nepal and India etc. and I think the effect of these journeys more than anything accounts for his “hippynes”. I’m not sure how “left wing” he is though, probably not moreso than Miyazaki is (who is ex-communist but anyway…)

    I guess being left wing radical rebel just doesn’t fit very well in the otaku image and the hyperconsumerist culture it is, which would partly explain the “conservatism” of otaku as far as gen 1ners. Today’s modern otaku just don’t give a fuck about politics in general

    • I have read Azuma’s article before. Short and sweet~

      Interesting about the Vajra..but don’t spoil the series for me!!

      I didn’t know that about Kawamori. Matsumoto did a similar thing in the late 70s IIRC. He went out all over the world, Africa, the Americas etc. He wrote somewhere about his experiences with African lions etc. But it didn’t turn him into a hippie, I don’t think!

      It’ll be interesting to see if, whatever happens to the otaku community, the otaku creators (mangaka, animators) will truly relinquish their nationalism in future generations. I was shocked to see how much nationalism there is in something as new as High School of the Dead (the manga, in particular). But the writer was born in 1964, which is still pretty much Anno’s generation..

      • heh, I use the “hippie” tag with affection, kinda like calling Anno a troll if I do it. He’s not all THAT much hippie but when you add together this somewhat spiritual worldview, POWER OF LOVE as central theme again and again, environmentalism and a degree of anti-militarism/consumerism/capitalism it’s hard to avoid the tag. :D

        by the way, I know you intend to watch MacrossF for now out of Macross titles but please see DYRL before you reach the final episodes! Otherwise you can’t fully appreciate what is probably my personal favourite moment of dramatic irony in anime history! (not saying more)

        and no worries, I’m not going to spoil anything. I was just noting (through Vajra) that there’s quite bit of thematic subtext to be found from MacF if one is willing to search for it, a lot more than I assumed for a long long time, but what I really like about series is that it’s really something that never gets in the way of the story and being entertaining space opera blockbuster. One can ignore it entirely and enjoy the show for the obvious things: amazing fights, terrific j-pop, characters etc. and there’s nothing wrong with that. :)

        In contrast I didn’t know that about Matsumoto! Cool.

        There are supposedly big generation gaps between otaku gens if one believes the inside commentators and otakus like Toshio Okada. Certainly the modern Akiba and otaku culture really runs on eros rather than grand SF narratives and resurrections of great Japan and the related ideals in animated fantasies. But if works mainly offering the walk on the borderline between fluffy romantic fantasies and masturbation fodder are inherently better or worse than SF stories of naive technological empowerement and outlet for impotent-in-reality nationalist feelings I cannot say. What is certain is that the modern anime watcher is less stereotyped than the otaku of the old and youngsters of today care for politics less than the preceding generations in general anyway.

        • DRYL you mean a series or a film? I certainly don’t have time for a series in between…

          On eros vs. grand nationalist narrative, I think definitely one era stresses one over the other, but often both are there in some measure in both eras.

          • DYRL is the film: http://www.animenewsnetwork.com/buried-treasure/2009-05-07/macross-dyrl

            >On eros vs. grand nationalist narrative, I think definitely one era stresses one over the other, but often both are there in some measure in both eras.

            well yeah, of course. It was a slightly hyperbolized statement after all. Still, rather than the anime works themselves I was thinking of my last spring trip to Japan and the considerable amount of time I spent at Akihabara which really drove home the points about what exactly drives the marketing of otaku products etc. (and as anime is business what and how they hope to sell stuff is important for understanding the evolution and development of the medium)

            Excl. toranoana’s fujoshi building and the like it is very uniform in style: trying to differentiate between the shades of fanservice, pornographic, moe or simply the bishoujo aesthetics in general would’ve been really difficult and unrewarding so I put all these elements under the eros umbrella which I think is entirely justified. Then we have magazines like Nyantype where all upcoming and recent anime get their marketing pages which in practise means fanservicey and alluring pictures of female cast to some extent of fetishization. At most blatant the schitzophrenia is felt with shows that never really engage in such like last season’s Croisee. But take a look at Nyantype or Megami from the time and we get poor Yune stuffed in nekomimi maid outfits and the like!

            It’s like if Hollywood marketed all of its blockbuster films like, say, The Dark Knight with sensual, slightly questionable photographs of its lead actresses instead of Batman himself. Walking through Akihabara leaves impression that only thing about any anime ever comes down to cute girls. Maybe some mecha too in Trader’s “Gundam corner” but that’s it…

            Of course there’s the old and true adage about sex selling and all but the modern otaku culture really is something different and on entirely another level compared to worlds of films and pop music. Eroge, porn games, and the like are major parts of otaku culture and treated within it as entirely normal and “respectable” aspect these days. it’s a strange, in many ways hypersexualized subculture and as long time anime watcher its inherent uniqueness is easy to forget.

            Sometimes I find myself thinking these days it’s largerly about offering “virtual love” for the consumers that is the key for character merchandize sales as the industry makes most of its profits these days through such media mix approach.

            I’m not making a value judgement about modern anime or claim that there’s nothing else to it, of course, but looking at on what exactly lies the primacy from the production and marketing pov the eros rules to extent (for both genders though I’ve restricted myself here mostly to the male side of things which I guess is what I notice given my gender lol) that IMO goes beyond the universal “sex sells” marketing. On the other hand I’m less turned off in principle by alluring female casts catering every possible taste and fetish of the audience than old school militaristic jingoism so perhaps the development is positive in some sense (while still being quite disturbing of course)

            The japanese idol culture and modern otaku culture are rather similar, I think.

            • Yeah, I remember going down to Akihabara in female company long, long ago, and feeling embarrassed by the questionable marketing left, right at center. You’re totally right on how otaku culture takes eros to another level. On Akihabara, it’s definitely the sort of place every visitor to Japan should head to at least once, though. Along with Harajuku, Shinjuku, Shibuya etc.

              • Yeah, I did love Akihabara and want to visit the place again but the feeling I always got there was downright surreal: I found myself muttering that the place is heaven and hell simultaneously for a person with my interests. :D

                yikes at going there with female company! I found the experience awkward on my own…

                You wouldn’t happen to live in Japan? I guess not but your command of language and knowledge of the culture is impressive :)

                • I lived in Japan for 4 years around the turn of the century, but I’ve studied the language for forever :/

  7. You kind of have to wonder about Anno, as otaku in general seem fairly apolitical individuals. He definitely has a huge fascination with WW2 and Imperial Japan but how much of this is simply pure fetishism, ie, obsession with the hardware and aesthetics and how much of it is politically motivated?

    I am quite fond of Battle of Okinawa as a film myself and can see why Hideaki Anno likes it. If he watched it 100 times, perhaps that helps explain his depression? While the film does whitewash some of the less savory aspects of Japan’s involvement, it was after all made by Toho which is a very conservative company founded right before WW2, it does not completely unscathe the Japanese army either. Japan’s Longest Day is the name of Okamoto’s other war film and it is more humanistic, it depicts the militarists desperate to continue the war even after the atomic bombings as lunatics clinging to a now dead value system. My point is that while Anno definitely is fascinated by this value system, how much does he and his work personally endorse it and how much is just empty fetishism?

    • If by “empty fetishism” you mean the idea Anno likes this stuff and indulges in it at a theoretical-artistic level but is not actually determined to act it out at a political-practical level, then I think chances of that are high indeed.

      I believe most hardcore otaku are right-of-center politically speaking, though they’re definitely not politically active as such (unless you count commenting on 2ch as being politically active!).

      • 2chan doesn’t count I don’t think, if they’re anything like their English equivalent 4chan, some of what they say is just to be offensive and cruel in a self aware way for the sheer sake of doing it.

        Interesting, my impression of most otaku is that they are far more interested in collecting anime toys than thinking about politics in any way and with most military otaku it is simply another obsession, though admittedly, they probably are more right wing than their anime loving counterparts. Maybe I’m thinking too much in American terms, but the otaku lifestyle is anything is fairly socially subversive whereas conservatism is about keeping status quo or social repression.

        • Well, I don’t have any statistics so take what I say with a grain of salt :)

          Hardcore Otaku lifestyle is socially subversive, absolutely true. They resist the corporate world, they resist the family structure and marriage, etc. You can’t get any more subversive in Japan than that. Now, one would think that this would make them leftists or even communists, but it doesn’t. Quite the contrary, they turn to the past and glorify nationalism and imperial Japan. They blame America for their woes, they blame Korea and China. They blame present Japanese weakness. Psychologically this is of course very telling, since to the rest of Japanese society they are the weak ones, and quite frankly if imperial Japan made a comeback the otaku would have trouble (to put it mildly) surviving in it..

          • “quite frankly if imperial Japan made a comeback the otaku would have trouble (to put it mildly) surviving in it”
            That’s the joke isn’t it?

            That’s why I wonder if Hideaki Anno is really such a right wing nationalist, since he seems like a very intelligent man with a decent knowledge of man’s dark side from his work. Like I said, there’s a huge difference between being fascinated with the mechanics of WW2 like Anno and Leiji Matsumoto are vs. being like Shintaro Ishihara, though he himself had much involvement with the entertainment industry and even apparently co-wrote the recent animated Uchu Senkan Yamato movie.

            • I hadn’t heard that about Ishihara!! Interesting.

              It’s hard to gauge an artist’s mind, isn’t it. I do believe that Anno has deepened his thought since Gunbuster and is a much more complicated person… Old age will do that to you!

              I actually read Ishihara’ autobiography 10 years ago. He has a whole chapter on Yukio Mishima. His last word on the man is something like: “While Mishima was a great artist and a profound thinker, his politics were a joke.”

              The irony is that today many would say Ishihara’s politics are a total joke.

              Leiji is caught (trapped?) between nostalgia for the past and hope for the future. Aren’t we all, though.

  8. A few more thoughts, if we wanted to dissect Nadia politically we could say it’s very liberal. It has an African heroine, has an interracial romance and Gargoyle’s Neo Atlantis definitely bears some similarities to Imperial Japan and the Nazis.

    Also Battle of Okinawa was co-written by Kaneto Shindo (Onibaba) who is apparently a Marxist and co-wrote Kinji Fukasaku (a director whose work is very anti-authoritarian)’s Under the Flag of the Rising Sun, one of few Japanese films to directly and boldly criticize Hirohito himself for his role in the war. I wonder if Toho themselves insisted Okamoto and the writers stick to the government’s official view of things for Battle of Okinawa? They are notorious for being very controlling.

    Also Anno himself stars in friend Tomoo Haraguchi’s Death Kappa playing the leader of a right wing terrorist group. If he was so fervently right wing would he be willing to make fun of it? Many Japanese right wingers take themselves incredibly seriously to the point of threatening anyone who disagrees with them with violence.

    There are plenty of people, myself included, who have huge fascinations with WW2 and even the Axis but are otherwise very liberal people. My point is that are the references to Imperial Japan in stuff like Yamato and Gunbuster more window dressing or a political agenda? I think the former myself.

    • Interesting stuff. I’d say the empire in Gunbuster is neither window dressing nor part of a political agenda. It’s a dream, or a paean, or wishful thinking if you like.

      Yukio Mishima acted yakuza roles in a number of silly films, scoffed at his own nationalism on a NHK interview (he said people like himself kept talking about dying nobly and yet always ended up dying from old age) and yet months later committed ritual suicide after attempting a coup. But Anno is certainly no Mishima :)

      Hmm… I get your analogy about liberal people fascinated with WWII, but I’m not sure it works in a Japanese context. I don’t know of left-leaning Japanese people who are obsessed with Imperial Japan. The ones I’ve met totally repudiate it and want nothing to do with it. And the guys who are into Imperial history and hobbies are always, though not necessarily fascists, definitely right-of-center conservatives.

      I think that there’s a certain resistance from many fans the notion that Anno and other anime creators might have right-wing sympathies. I really don’t get why, though. There a trillion Heideggerians in France and they don’t seem to be bothered by the man’s Nazi membership!

  9. As someone who has lived in Japan and studied Japanese and has had close contact with their culture, what is your opinion of how Japan has not faced up to its legacy of past WW2 aggression? I think it is mostly rooted in how McArthur occupied and rebuilt the country? He handled them very differently to the West Germans. He kept as much of the old bureaucracy intact as he could and gave the Imperial family (including Prince Asaka who is responsible for some of Japan’s worst war crimes) full immunity. Instead he took away Japan’s army and ability to wage war as a check. This kept the Japanese from rebelling against America’s occupation but has very much kept the Imperial legacy alive, though I do not think they will ever fight again, or if they do it will be decades or centuries.

    On the other hand, I think Anno is right when he says that Japan was largely emasculated by its defeat in WW2 and the US Occupation. Japanese men are generally seen as being very effeminate and non-masculine now, there are a lot of articles written about how Japanese young people are no longer even interested in sex anymore. There was a time when the thought of a group of Japanese men on the march sent shivers down their enemies’ spines.

    • I agree with the idea that Japan’s views of WW2 are partly due to the way America handled the occupation. IIRC even one of the big biochemical warfare specialists became a great pharmacy operator in postwar Japan!!

      There are other reasons too. One of them is Japan didn’t have a Hitler. For the Germans it’s easy to blame everything on Hitler, deny him and his influence, and move on with their lives. Japanese leadership was much more diffuse. Tojo was no Hitler, and what’s more important, Tojo was expelled from power in 1944 and not at the war’s end, so Japan cannot equate Tojo = evil Japanese wartime activity. If Tojo were responsible for everything, then why did Japan fight on? etc.

      There’s the colonial issue as well. Germany invaded independent countries, period. It’s hard to justify this. However, Japanese aggression was mostly directed at colonies, so the Japanese can (and will) claim that they were a liberating force. [China would be the huge glaring exception here, of course, though the Japanese would claim that China was de facto colonized by Westerners anyway.]

      My theory on emasculation has always been that the Japanese were “broken” by the American occupation. During wartime, Japanese propaganda was that the Americans were cruel savages that would torture, rape and murder every Japanese if they had a chance. The Japanese steeled themselves to resist and die till the end. When the Americans instead came and treated the Japanese quite well (offering chocolates and smiles and so forth) that just broke something inside the heart of the Japanese.

      • Yes, Ryoichi Naito, I know a Chinese director who made a movie on 731.

        I agree that the Japanese were ‘broken’. I think another problem is that to the Germans, Hitler was just another politician though a very beloved and influential one. MacArthur kind of said through his infamous to the Japanese “12 year old boy” quote that the Germans were much easier to deal with because they were Westerners and after all most white Americans have German roots.

        Hirohito was like Hitler and Jesus Christ all rolled into one, so when the Japanese Empire was toppled the Japanese suffered a severe case of mental whiplash that still continues to this day. In 1945 everything they culturally cherished was burned to the ground: the Yamato was sunk, the army was forced out of all the places “they liberated”, their cities were bombed to smithereens and their living deity renounced his divinity. So that shock I don’t think has ever left the Japanese and I can’t totally blame them for not being able to accept what took place. I still have difficulty accepting that these polite, gentle natured and very creative people could have done things like that, but such is the nature of human beings I suppose and there are a lot of subtle clues, like the fact that a lot of the more perverse hentai very much resembles some of what they did to the Chinese.

        • 731, yup.

          It’s a testament to how Japanized my thinking has become on these issues that I didn’t even think of the emperor when discussing this stuff. You’re not supposed to, he’s supposed to exist in some other realm. The decision not to topple him is of course absolutely key, and I think if I had been in MacArthur’s entourage at the time I would have supported the decision to keep that institution and assuage the Japanese. Others would disagree..

          Sexual perversion in Japan has a long history, but I can’t help but agree with you: postwar stuff (especially S&M) reeks of psychological influence from the legacy of war and defeat.

          • Have you heard of the guro manga which become popular as a meme on 4chan called Mai-chan’s Daily Life? Regarding, the most infamous bit of that, the freaky thing is that there are actual records that a few Japanese soldiers here and there actually committed that exact act. So I wonder if there’s a subconscious residue that all that has left behind on the Japanese.

            The choice to not prosecute and execute the Emperor was probably the right choice for the time. There would have been mass suicides and Japanese people suicide bombing the American GIs in crowded townsquares just like in Iraq and Afghanistan. MacArthur knew that the Empire would rise again with the Emperor so instead he took away their army, but that decision of course had its side effects.

            • No, I don’t know about that one, but it doesn’t surprise me. Then again we have to be clear that even the grotesque art motif has been around in Japan for centuries… It’s all a rich tapestry, no doubt..

              I do believe that Japan should have a more normal army today, and at the very least a public policy of “potential nuclear armament in the immediate future if the situation ever requires it”. It’s really pure insanity not to when you look at the countries that surround it (none of which harbor particularly good feelings toward it)..

              • Forgot to mention, Gainax also made an early live action short called “Patriotic Task Force Dai NIppon” which I think is an interesting addition to this discourse:

                I personally think its just as much a parody of Japanese Nationalism and the Russo-Japanese war ala Team America more than a glorification of it, but Trey Parker and Matt Stone themselves are fairly conservative politically though they despise the Republicans just as much as liberals and socialism.

                I am also Facebook friends with Gainax-co founder and Anno’s best friend Shinji Higuchi who directed Lorelei which everyone accused of being a right wing fantasy but he personally doesn’t seem excessively right wing. He seems fairly apolitical (his political views as listed “anarchist”) and seldom posts anything to his page that glorifies Imperial Japan save for the occasional picture of Japanese mecha and aircraft carriers, which like I said, think the Gainax crew are just into the aesthetics and not the ideology.

                I am fervently anti-war in general think every country should have an army for self defense and nothing more, so I think the JSDF should say the way it is though right wing politicians want the army back. I am neutral as far as the China vs. Japan conflict goes, Japan certainly did what it but the Chinese, who have an oppressive authoritarian regime that tortures and executes civilians on a frequent basis, are huge hypocrites and the last people to the point the finger. Koreans are also infamously nationalism, more so the Japanese in fact and a lot of South Koreans actually don’t mind the North. They are much more hostile to foreigners than the Japanese, who are generally friendly to and have a favorable opinion of Westerners as long as they don’t try to assimilate themselves into their culture too much.

                • Haha, that’s certainly satirical~

                  The Lorelei project is firmly in the conservative camp, at least, that seems to be the original author’s intention:

                  http://www.nytimes.com/2005/07/09/international/asia/09fukui.html?pagewanted=all

                  Of course, these political questions are so loaded in Japan that it’s hard to define people. What in other countries would sound like common sense (strong defense, non-reliance on a foreign power) can be seen as ultra-nationalistic in countries like Japan and Germany.

                  Ultimately, the way I would define the political spectrum in Japan would be by asking the question: “Was Japan justified in World War II?”

                  If a Japanese person answers 100% yes, that person is right-wing.
                  If a Japanese person answers mostly yes, that person is right-leaning.
                  If a Japanese person answers mostly no, that person is left-leaning.
                  If a Japanese person answers 100% no, that person is left-wing.
                  If a Japanese person answers “I don’t know”, that person is in the (modern and apathetic) center.

                  I don’t know how Anno would answer today, and I don’t know how he would have answered in 1988. If I knew, this could all be clarified!!

                  I sympathize with your views on self-defense, but the Japanese constitution (or its interpretation) doesn’t even allow for a proper self-defense at times. When I lived in Japan a North Korean armed vessel sailed into national waters, and when the MSDF scrambled they could only fire warning shots and not even touch or board the vessel to figure out what they were doing there… It was a silly spectacle.

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