Myth and Matsumoto (Part II of II)
That Japanese military power in the years leading up to the War was far inferior to America’s is no conundrum when we consider that the latter’s national income (i.e. the foundation of its power) was 17 times the former’s. Add to this the Naval Treaties which institutionally relegated Japan to a smaller size vis a vis its rivals and the Empire was only left with two choices: to accept its inferiority or to try to overcome it by something that could not be put on paper–blood and sweat and sheer will.
In the event, things did not go as well as expected and on August 15, 1945 Japan tendered its unconditional surrender. The next month, SCAP Gen. Douglas Macarthur arranged for this picture to be taken with the Emperor:
The photograph was intended to do nothing more and nothing less than impress us with the gap between the might of two nations in an immediately visible, physical form. No doubt this picture, barely six weeks after the surrender, had a huge impact on the Japanese psyche.
In the first part of this 2-post series, I brought in Lévi-Strauss’ theory of mythemes, those binary oppositions that myths and legends are designed to engage and break through. I said that this theory might be applicable to Leiji Matsumoto’s storytelling, and here I’ve already given you what I think is the core mytheme of the Leijiverse. I might as well give you the visual proof:
The way I see it, all Matsumoto wants, all he’s ever needed, is for this friendship between one small, hardworking, willful Japanese man (either Tochiroh or Tetsuroh or etc) and the tall, noble, gifted [as in, blessed from birth, though this in no way detracts from his or her abilities] foreigner (either Harlock or Emeraldas or Maetel or etc) to succeed. To demonstrate, in short, that each of the two can teach each other and value each other and work together rather than fight each other.
If I’m right, this is the secret unity between the Harlockverse and the Maetelverse right here: these two stories are actually sides of the same coin as they revolve around equivalent friendships (Harlock and Tochiroh, Maetel and Tetsuroh). And the two friends are none other than the two men the young Leiji had to face as he grew up in the postwar era: his unlucky but still plucky and motivated Yamato self of his ancestors and the proud, have-it-all foreigner bearing Disney films and Arcadian dreams…
For an excellent and devastating to the point of being irrefutable presentation of the disparity between Japan and America in the Thirties and Forties (and consequently of the sheer lunacy of Japan’s “gamble”) check out this article at the Imperial Japanese Navy Page.
I think I’ve pointed this out before somewhere, but there was one Japanese intellectual movement in the period that worshipped the concept and imagery of Defeat. They were the so-called Japanese Romantics. To say that this was a mainstream and influential group is (literally) inaccurate, but at some symbolic, subconscious level it seems the the Imperial Armed Forces were very much “infected” with this very notion.