Putting the “Hero” in Hirohito: Anime and Japanese History
by Max Vader
Assuming your diet doesn’t primarily consist of Pocky, Sake and Oda Nobunaga’s dick, you are most likely aware that Japan is not exactly the greatest country in the world, nor has it ever been. Nobody is more aware of this fact than the Japanese themselves. They have a significant amount of metaphorical penis envy towards many countries of the world, which have enjoyed bigger military successes, more power, riches, scientific progress or historical relevance than them. This usually manifests itself in seething hatred (China), borderline fanboyish admiration (Germany and especially the Nazis) or some sort of weird, ambivalent mix (America). Their way of coping with whatever real or perceived inferiorities Japan has via the medium of Anime is twofold. The first approach is having your series – or at least an arc of it – primarily focus on a foreign country (America is especially popular for this purpose) that is in whatever way better than them, and then taking them down a few notches via “witty” and biting” satire that shows how much this country actually sucks when compared to glorious Nippon.
Little-known fact: George W. Bush actually started his career as a chauffeur for a man with over 100 different cancers over his body.
The other way to deal with things that are inconvenient to Japanese patriotism and ego is to simply rewrite or ignore them. Since Anime was rarely known for its subtlety, this usually ends in a complete suspension of reality with portrayals of Japan that seem like the head writer for the show was Bizarro. Katanas go from complete pieces of garbage that only existed due to the poor quality of the ore in Japan to magic unbreakable swords that can slice though wood, metal, tanks and lasers with the greatest of ease. Oda Nobunaga suddenly ceases to be an incredibly brutal man consumed with unrealistic ambitions and not enough sense to realize that guns are better than swords. Instead he becomes an honorable, wise man and impeccable strategist who single-handedly united Japan, cured cancer and gave fantastic blowjobs. The Japanese military is no longer a laughing stock on par with France, but becomes a perfect engine of honor and destruction. Japan itself is of course not a borderline irrelevant country from a global perspective but the leading player in politics, economics, science and everything else under the (glorious Japanese) sun. How could Japan suddenly be a giant factor in the world economy when it’s natural resources amount to fuck and all, you ask? Well, as it turns out, Japan is the biggest/only source of whatever magic fictional substance is critical for the plot of 99% of all Animes ever.
Seriously Code Geass? You’re better than this. No wait, I watched the ending. You’re not.
And of course, there are the Samurai. The perfect warriors who only draw their swords when necessary – but when they do, only the lowest forms of treachery could possibly best them in combat. With the amazing Katana as their weapon of choice, they practice their craft to perfection while writing Haikus. Their honor, cunning and wisdom are without peer.
In fact, the only thing greater than the Samurai is the amount of bullshit contained in the last paragraph. You almost can’t blame Japan for lying their nuts off about them though, because the West also loves the katana-swinging dorks. I will freely admit that fictional Samurai can be pretty damn cool – just look at Zoro in One Piece or Simon Blackquill (who also doubles as a british Weeaboo) in Phoenix Wright for confirmation.
However, no matter how much you like Samurai, the fact of the matter is that they were far from being noble warriors. For one, not every Samurai swung a Katana around. Spears were actually very common and offered superior odds against Katanas, especially when on horseback. Their arsenal also contained longbows and – this is one feather that shouldn’t be removed from Nobunaga’s cap – matchlock guns. Another thing you rarely hear about is the relationships between Samurai and their apprentices, probably due to the fact that they were often and expressly pedophilic in nature. And most important of all, one shouldn’t forget that the Samurai aren’t magical creatures of perfection but fallible people. The idea that they were honorable and so on largely arose out of idealism and wishful thinking. While there were indeed people who followed these ideals, there were also many Samurai no better than glorified thugs and butchers – just look at the practice of Tsujigiri, also known as crossroads killing.
Yep, Night Slash is called Tsujigiri in Japanese. Still wonder why the Dark Type is called “Evil” over there?
I’m not even going to get into all the ways Japan has a selective memory when it comes to the second World War, as even with the episodes we already had on the subject, it could easily fill an entire article on its own. The point is simply that Japan has a very noticeable tendency to overcompensate when it comes to its own portrayal in Anime. Especially in shows that are already horrifically bad due to other reasons – see also Strike Witches – it easily comes off as badly written self-insert fanfiction, which it pretty much is. Just stop it, okay Japan? All the masturbatory anime shows in the world won’t make you any more awesome. Besides, don’t you already have a legion of drooling Western fanboys who think that Japan is the greatest thing ever? You may have lost the war, but just take one look at Fred Gallagher and you’ll see you’ve won the battle for publicity. Well, at least in the minds of the Megatokyo fanbase. And aren’t they the ones that truly matter in the end?