A Slant in the Cockpit and a Tiger on the Rhine
I’m going to lay out a mini-analysis of the slant in Leiji Matsumoto’s The Cockpit series here that will confirm the comments I’ve made before. One thing I’ve mentioned is that most of these war stories tend to take place toward the end of the war. So far I’ve read the first two volumes of a five-volume (bunko) edition by Shogakukan, and out of the 21 chapters there are seven with specific months and years stated. Let’s examine these seven.
Granted, seven chapters is a tiny sample, but it will serve to show the way the wind blows here. These are the dates given:
Japan entered the War in December 1941 and left it in August 1945 (corresponding figures for Germany are September 1939 and May 1945). You can see from the dates above how the stories crowd toward the very end. Not a single one of these stories takes place in the period of Axis ascendancy, which I would argue ended in mid-1942.
When we look at the POV of each story, we find that altogether 4 stories are told from the Japanese point of view, and 3 from the German point of view. If all 7 were Japanese we could simply argue that the writer was Japanese and therefore etc etc. As it stands, however, the overall motif of these stories seems to be the tragic struggle of the Axis powers (with Italy notably absent) to endure against overwhelming military odds toward the end of the War. This motif is there in pretty much every one of those 21 stories, actually, so this sample is quite good even though it’s small. And the stories in The Cockpit were written by Matsumoto over many years and are not placed in the volumes in chronological order, so later volumes should have no surprises for us on this front.
There is another motif that Matsumoto loves to indulge in: the so-called superweapons developed by both Germany and Japan toward the end of the war. The story goes that if only these countries had been able to develop these weapons earlier the tide of the war would have changed. One of the stories in The Cockpit involves the Nakajima Ki-84 fighter plane (Hayate/Frank), which only came into heavy use during the Battle of Leyte in 1944. The Type-4 Chi-To tank, which never even saw combat, appears in another story. German super-tanks from the end of the war also turn up, including the Elephant and the King Tiger, another 1944 entry.
Characters in these stories comment again and again on what a pity it is that these great machines were built too late and there is no fuel, or adequate pilots, with which to employ them properly.
Chapter 17 in Volume 2, Tiger on the Rhine, is very typical. I’ll give a summary of this 1974 story here.
Horst Heimmann belongs to a Panzer division fighting at the Battle of Remangen in March 1945. Heimmann’s King Tiger tank hammers the American M4 tanks mercilessly but the number of enemy tanks is too huge and defeat is only a matter of time. As German forces retreat behind the Rhine over the famous Ludendorff Bridge, the officer in charge receives orders to leave a single tank across the Rhine. The idea is for this tank to gather intelligence on the Allied advance, making this of course a suicide mission. Heimmann volunteers to do the job with his King Tiger.
Heimmann has an ulterior motive. His family home, now deserted, is in the vicinity. He drives there and uncovers an unfinished canvas. The soldier was a painter before the War, and this particular painting of a beautiful woman remains unfinished.
The model behind the painter sneaks up on him. Her name is Hélène, and though they’ve known each other from childhood their lives have taken radically different turns. Heimmann is a German Army soldier, whereas Hélène fights for the French resistance [I might be totally wrong here, but it looks like Leiji has confused his history and geography here; he seems to think that Remagen was at the Franco-German border, whereas in fact it was and is deep within German territory, though it was certainly part of the Rhineland demilitarized zone in the interwar period].
The Frenchwoman pleads with Heimmann to join the resistance against Germany but he refuses. She leaves and soon after an Army comrade of Heimmann’s comes bearing the news that the Americans are coming, apparently aware of the King Tiger’s location. Heimmann immediately thinks Hélène has betrayed him, but soon she shows up to warn him of the American advance and dies as she does so. Heimmann mounts the King Tiger, destroys a number of M4 tanks, and dies in a blaze when the Americans concentrate all their firepower on his family estate. The tank and the unfinished painting succumb to the flames as well.
This is a classic Matsumoto war story, focusing as it does on German nobility and sensibility. Harlock would not be ashamed to have Heimmann as a relative. Now compare the tone of this apocalyptic tragedy to the one in this clip from a 1942 Japanese propaganda film:
Compare and discuss. Papers due on Friday~