Towards an Unrestrained Military: Manga Narratives of the Self-Defense Forces

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Research seminar with Jeffrey J. HALL, Waseda University

Chair: Frederik Ponjaert, Université libre de Bruxelles (REPI)

Abstract: Despite a constitutional ban on maintaining war potential, Japan has possessed a de facto military since the 1950’s – the Japanese Self-Defense Forces (JSDF). For much of Japan’s postwar history, the JSDF kept a low profile, avoiding actions that could prompt negative reactions from a public that was extremely weary of militarism and war.  

In recent decades, the JSDF has increased its engagement with the Japanese public.  These efforts have included recruitment campaigns that utilize famous celebrities as well as the creation of educational comic books. These JSDF-produced works avoided politically controversial topics and tended to downplay the physically demanding and violent aspects of military life.  A similar pattern is observable in the JSDF’s collaborations with the private film industry, which were primarily limited to movies in which Japan used military force against giant kaiju monsters, rather than human beings.

The Prime Ministership of Shinzo Abe has brought about major changes for the JSDF.  In 2014, Prime Minister Abe’s cabinet approved a reinterpretation of Article 9 that greatly broadened the circumstances under which the JSDF could utilize military force.  Abe has set a goal of amending the Constitution to officially recognize the JSDF’s existence by the year 2020.  

This research seminar presentation examines popular cultural depictions of the JSDF since the 2014 reinterpretation of Article 9.  Specifically, it focuses on two works of privately-produced manga series that were later endorsed by the JSDF: Aozakura: The Story of National Defense Academy and Gate: Thus the Japanese Self-Defense Force Fought There.  Both works will be analyzed in the context of Japan’s recent domestic and international political situation.  It will be argued that these works, while not overt political propaganda, tell stories that depict a Japanese conservative/neo-nationalist ideal of the JSDF.  In the case of Gate, the JSDF is a force that aggressively and proactively wages war to protect Japan and save lives, free from the restrictions placed upon it by meddling left-wing politicians and skeptical journalists.  Aozakura, on the other hand, presents an overwhelmingly positive picture of the tough but rewarding process of becoming a military officer. Both works provide a glimpse of what the JSDF could become if the current political trends continue and it is legally transformed into a “normal” military. 

Jeffrey J. Hall is an Assistant Professor at Waseda University’s Global Asia Research Center.  He is a specialist on Japanese politics and society, and has taught at Hosei University, Meiji Gakuin, Tsukuba University, and Japan’s National Defense Academy. Prof. Hall has an M.A. and PhD in International Relations from Waseda University, and a B.A. in History from the George Washington University.   

Tuesday, March 10th 2020 - 12pm - 2pm

Online registration required via this link

Université libre de Bruxelles - IEE (Spaak room)
Building R39
Avenue Franklin Roosevelt 39
1050 Bruxelles

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