Media can say a lot about the current state of one’s society. After War World II everything from Japan’s movies, books, and shows were dusted in anti-war themes. Over half a decade later Japan is considered a pacifist country on the brink of military changes. Its media is starting to reflect that with bits of pro-military sentiments start to slip into the main stream. Here is brief look at the how Japan’s military is changing, what shows like GATE mean, and the overall relationship between politics, media, and military power.
What Is GATE?
One of these pieces appears in the form of GATE, one of the most promising shows of this summer’s anime run. It features beautifully clean animation, a colorful fantasy world and lots of action. The anime centers on an Otaku member of the Japanese Self Defense Force who journeys with the military over into a fantasy world that has suddenly connected itself to our own through a mysterious Gate.
From the start, it is almost impossible to ignore the highly pro-military stance embedded into the heart of the anime. The Japanese Self Defense Force are highlighted as heroes as they defend their country from the other worldly invaders and easily move to occupy the new world. Their actions are depicted as always being just, and their fire power has no rival either in the Gate World or outside of it. As far as expectations go, this anime puts the JSDF on a very high pedestal. Imperialism, Nationalism, Occupation and the development of warfare are key ideals portrayed throughout GATE as the anime tries to sell viewers on the JSDF.
Creator of the original light novels, Takumi Yanai, was a member for the JSDF himself. While some things regarding military power are clearly fabricated, reality is shown in the smaller aspects of JSDF life. How the military functions as a whole, the bureaucracy behind military decisions and the squadron personalities. The crew for the anime worked alongside members of the Japanese military to study uniforms and bring realism to the show. Current JSDF members have praised it for be realistic as far of highlighting actual weapons and operations.
From Pacifists Country to Military Power:
Yes, it’s over the top nationalism to a degree but in the case of GATE it is a fascinating thing to watch, considering Japan’s media has been strictly anti-war for almost fifty years. Starting with the King of Manga himself Osamu Tezuka and his introduction to antiwar themes in Atom Boy (1952) and Hi no Tori (1956) and stretching to Ishiro Honda’s directorial debut of Godzilla (1954.) It is said, Honda made Godzilla thinking of the monster as an embodiment of war itself as he destroys cities and battles with his nuclear based powers.
Anti-War sentiment defined an entire generation of Japanese and filled their media for years. Not surprising when you consider the devastation World War II brought to the country. Only days after the atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki the Japanese signed the surrender and were practically stripped of military rights. A pacifist life-style was engrained into the country and its constitution after that. This is why, instead of an Army or Air Force Japan simply has a Defense Force. The JSDF is well equipped with modern day armaments and listed as 9th one the top military powers in the world according to Global Fire Power.com– the problem is that they simply can’t use it and must rely heavily on American allies.
All that may change though with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s promilitary stance. Abe, leader of the Liberal Democratic Party with conservative views, has been pushing for a more powerful military presence in Japan since he was elected in office back in 2012. At the forefront is Abe’s desire is to see the restrictions on the Japanese military lifted from the constitution.
This September Japan made one the biggest military decision it has faced in the past decades. Early morning on September 19 the Diet approved two bills; one amends 10 existing security-related laws that restrict the Japanese Self Defense Force (JSDF). This includes Article 9 which states, “the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes.” The other change creates a new permanent law that allows Japan to deploy the SDF overseas to provide logistic support for authorized United Nations missions.
These new allowances will hopefully create exactly the same type of military seen in GATE. A JSDF to be reckoned with and that moves into unknown territory for defensive efforts, one that can stand toe to toe with countries such as Russia, China, and even the US. Watching the military presented in GATE is almost laughable when compared to reality, but it’s understandable why this type of media is peeking its head out for the first time.
In the past few years China has done nothing but expand its military presence in the Pacific. Lying claims on the Senkaku Islands and building bases in the Sprately Islands. This poses a big threat, not just to Japan but to other countries as well. Meanwhile North Korea has nuclear capabilities that can reach both Japan and Hawaii. Japan has found itself in a vacuum of military power with limited defenses.
So it’s no wonder why the Japanese government would be making the push to build up its military presence. However, years of antiwar sentiment still rings in the mind of many Japanese. Roughly 54% of the population opposes Abe’s push to amend the constitution. Unlike America, a country that has a firm culture of honoring military status, Japanese citizens don’t think much of the JSDF. The pacifist mindset still rings true to many and those that go against it are considered outliers. In a way, GATE shows these ideas of the old fighting with the new, as politicians try to paint the members of the JSDF as monsters unable to keep the peace. It’s a way the anime touches on the real-life protests going on in the face of Japan’s military change. Touches it, but never really bends to the idea. In the end the JSDF comes out as the heroes (as always) and continue their operations beyond the Gate. Making the viewer wonder if military operations are an inevitable part of Japan’s future.
Promilitary Anime and What it Means
Most shows, no matter what country you’re in, are guilty of self-propaganda. Think of all the Hollywood movies where Americans are the heroes, but America has one of the best militaries in the world and we, as a militaristic culture, have pro-military media stemming back since the beginning of Hollywood. GATE is different because the reality of the JSDF is starkly different than what we see in the show and it isn’t often that we see modern Japan featured as a strong military force. In this way GATE is unique but it isn’t the only anime that highlights military might as a necessity.
One of the most successful manga titles at the moment, Attack on Titan also holds strong militaristic themes that speak of nationalism and defense in the same light as GATE. Since its debut in 2009 Attack on Titan has crawled up the rankings of popular manga titles. In 2013 it dethroned Naruto in sales and came just short of One Piece. Much of its popularity just peaked in the past couple years, roughly 2012-2013 when an anime adaption was green-light. Around the same time Abe was elected Prime Minister and talk of military build-up began.
On the outside, Attack on Titan may appear to be just another post-apocalyptic story about humanity’s struggle to survive, but at the core of this story is the military that our protagonists are a part of. Eren, Misaka, and Armin are all members of a particular branch of this futuristic military, the Scout Regiment, whose jobs it is to take out Titans. In the eyes of the viewers the Survey Branch are the real heroes, they protect humanity from the terror of the Titans and suffer the greatest loses because of it. Bravery and the pride they have in their jobs is a core theme throughout Attack on Titan. Even Jean, a character who wanted nothing more than to have the more cushioned job in the Military Police Branch, eventually finds honor in his position in the Scout Regiment.
Attack on Titan shows its militaristic pride in a more dramatic “Doom and Gloom” way then GATE, but both highlight the role a strong military presence has in a society. In Attack on Titan humanity would be doomed if not for the Survey Branch, and in GATE Tokyo would have been invaded if not for the quick thinking Japanese Self Dense Force.
I’m not using this to say Japan should build up a military force to compete with its nearby rivals, but am just trying to point out a recent trend emerging in media where it once didn’t have a place. While the government may be pushing for this change in the Diet they can’t make the same bids in media. Movies, books, and manga are ideas that express the thoughts and opinions of the people and the fact that we are seeing nationalism and militaristic ideas emerging may hint to the beginning of a changing culture.
People don’t like the idea of war or military buildup, I get that. It’s a scary thought, but while we analyze texts for their more peaceful messages it is also important that we look at the opposite in a thoughtful and critical way. Despite what some stories may say the military isn’t always the bad guy, it isn’t always the good guy either, nonetheless militaristic presence in any form of media can spread important messages about a country’s past, present and future.
Pacificist Media 1
Senshi Study is where Cara Averna looks at anime, fanculture, and movies with squinty eyes and tries to gleam the deeper meaning. These articles are her own opinions based of self-research.