Anime to senso (Anime and War) by the anime critic FUJITSU Ryota, published in the early spring of 2021 (Nippon Hyoron Sha), is a book that takes an in-depth look at how various Japanese animation have dealt with the subject of war, ranging from pre-war animations that promoted national prestige, to the well-known series Space Battleship Yamato (1974–1975) and Mobile Suit Gundam (1979–1980), as well as more recent works from the Heisei Era (1989–2019). ODAGIRI Hiroshi, a manga critic, is the author of Senso wa ikani ‘manga’ wo kaeru ka—Amerikan komikkusu no henbo (How War Changes Manga—The Transformation of American Comics) (NTT Publishing, 2007) (hereinafter: How War Changes Manga), which describes how American comic book artists have approached war since the terrorist attacks in 2001. From the dialogue between these two authors, we will consider the portrayal of war in fiction.

Cover of Anime to senso (Anime and War)

The historical perspective presented in Anime and War

First of all, Mr. ODAGIRI, can you tell us what you think about Mr. FUJITSU’s Anime and War?

ODAGIRI: It is a very aggressive book, and I think it is a book that Mr. FUJITSU himself is prepared to critique. My own general impression that it is a kind of historical view rather than a general history of facts.

FUJITSU: The title of the book is Anime and War, but to be precise, the content of the book can be summed up as “anime and postwar.” The book’s main thrust is an explanation of how changes in the treatment of war have affected anime in Japan over the long postwar period. About fifteen years ago, I wrote a manuscript about the transition from Space Battleship Yamato (1974–1975) to Mobile Suit Gundam (1979–1980), and my starting point for writing this new book was to see if I could extend that history both backward and forward in time.

ODAGIRI: You said postwar, but if we apply the framework proposed by the historian NARITA Ryuichi, Anime and War is actually a book about modern and contemporary history. Although modernity is a particularly important factor, Anime and War also describes the situation before the war. I thought the book was written with a great deal of consideration not only for the substance of the contents, but also for the surrounding historical framework including social conditions, industry, and technology. On the other hand, from a personal viewpoint, I was dissatisfied with the work in some respects. For example, I would have liked you to have expanded your discussion about the relationship with the toy market.

FUJITSU: In a way, this subject is representative of the 1960s boom in works documenting the circumstances of war. But if I were to go in for a more detailed exploration of that aspect, the book would no longer be just about anime. However, I can understand that reading about anime might make somebody curious about some of the adjacent areas such as toys and manga. For example, live-action movies and comic books. But on this occasion, I decided to write primarily about those things that are viewed as anime within a broader framework. Even so, I think there are some anime works that I missed.

Mr. ODAGIRI, your book How War Changes Manga was published in 2007. What frame of reference did you have in mind when you wrote it?

ODAGIRI: Regarding the framework of “manga and war,” there have been earlier works such as NATSUME Fusanosuke’s Manga to senso (Manga and War) (Kodansha, 1997) and a series of works by OTSUKA Eiji, so I felt it was necessary to present a different framework. In my case, I chose American comics, and I decided to write about them from a cross-cultural perspective.

FUJITSU: This time, after re-reading How War Changes Manga, I realized that in American comics, the consciousness of the work’s creator as a somebody who was involved in war had a direct impact on the work. On the other hand, the Japanese animation industry was not very large in the years immediately after the war, and it did not really take off as an industry until around the 1960s. In other words, there was a time lag of about fifteen years from Japan’s defeat in 1945. Due to this time lag, the creators’ sense of involvement was inevitably diminished. In the postwar era, while Japan may have played a part in wars in the course of international politics, has not been directly involved in any wars in a broad sense, and the Japanese people have lived bearing that fact in mind. I felt that as a result of this, it was undeniable that animation was produced.

ODAGIRI: I was constantly thinking about the issue of participation while I was writing How War Changes Manga. That book was written a few years after the September 11 terrorist attacks on the United States in 2001 (hereinafter 9/11). At the time, there was an assumption among Japanese people that the incident was someone else’s problem, and I wondered whether it would be better to think about the “participation” of the creators and recipients of such a historical event while it was still someone else’s problem. Later, in 2011, when the Great East Japan Earthquake and the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant accident occurred, I felt that the confusion and self-reflection among Japanese creators and fans about expressing themselves was reminiscent of what transpired in the United States at the time of 9/11.

FUJITSU: Mr. ODAGIRI, your book is really a record of what manga artists living in the U.S. “had to say” at the time of 9/11, isn’t it?

ODAGIRI: In the new book Anime and War, you have adopted a bird’s-eye view of animation and written about it in depth, while paying attention to its social position and the industrial structure behind it. To be honest, when talking about animation and manga, it is more fun to ignore those things. But if you ignore them, you can’t really talk about how a specific work came into being in the context of history.

Cover of How War Changes Manga

Can we talk about reality from contents?

From your conversation, I can feel doubt about the position that “one can talk about war by talking from contents.”

FUJITSU: If we can learn anything about war from animation, it can only be about some minor details, but to really learn about war other than through actual experience, we need to read appropriate books about war. Animation incorporates war as an element of entertainment, and as a result, even those animated series that appear to treat war seriously can be said to “consume” war. This criticism is unavoidable, and we have no choice but to deal with it as such. That is why I wrote Anime and War with the intention of saying, “We are in the happy situation of living in a society where we feel minimal guilt in consuming war.” At the root of this is the fact that when I was a child, Space Battleship Yamato and Mobile Suit Gundam were considered to be warlike. They may indeed have been warlike, but I always had a faltering feeling that there was more to it than that. When I became an adult and sorted my thinking out, I came to the conclusion that, as Mr. ODAGIRI says, “It is better not to mix fiction and reality too much.” Reality can be reflected in fiction, but it isn’t possible to extract reality from fiction.

ODAGIRI: There is a sense of discomfort with the attitude of immanence that attempts to draw reality out of contents, isn’t there? I think it would be bad if we didn’t adopt the premise that war can only be talked about in terms of the correlation between content and reality.

FUJITSU: I really agree with you there. There was a postwar Japan where people were happy to enjoy war as a fictional event, and the otaku, who were the children of the consumer society, were among these people.

ODAGIRI: In the modern world, in a sense, society itself has become like a war zone. And since 9/11, modern warfare has become a battle against terrorism. If we consider diversity as approximately equal to a conflict of values, then perhaps the BLM, Stop Asian Hate, and MeToo movements could also be called wars. These days, conflicts are becoming more and more apparent in society. Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, the system has been built in a way that differs from the traditional framework of the nation state, so without looking at the global social and cultural exchange relationships since the 1990s, it is impossible to talk about the local history of things such as of animation and manga. So, I think what we’re talking about is the need for a meta-perspective.

FUJITSU: I was at a loss when I was writing the book. I think it would be better to have had the sensitivity to think about things that are happening in the world as if they were my own concern, but on the other hand, it is only natural to feel that these things are simply too far removed from our own sense of living. At least for most of us in Japan, there are only a limited number of situations in which we must risk our lives on our way to and from work or school, and I think it is too idealistic to expect people to think of the world as their own problem. You can see clearly from the contents of the book that, for better or worse, the continuation of the postwar period gave rise to this sort of feeling.

The importance of “playing at war”

Based on the recognition of the current situation as described above, can you tell me your thoughts on how manga and animation contents have changed since the beginning of the twenty-first century, starting with 9/11?

FUJITSU: There may be a tendency for us to create the structure of the world itself, rather than starting with the world and cutting a structure out of it. From the mid-2000s, we witnessed the appearance of the “Moe Military” series, which are often referred to as “Moe Miri.” While some of these manga deal directly with history, those that deal with war as a hobby also stand out. And as a precursor to this, I think we can draw a sketch of the 1990s boom in fictional accounts of war.

ODAGIRI: However, “Moe Miri” are also greatly influenced by games, aren’t they? Of course, it is becoming more and more difficult to talk about works in one specific genre exclusively. For instance, in the Mobile Suit Gundam series (hereinafter the Gundam series), the subseries of novel Senko no Hathaway (Hathaway) (Kadokawa Shoten, 1989–1990) was adapted into a movie in 2021. And if we want to discuss American comics, it has become necessary to talk about them together with visual media such as movies and dramas.

FUJITSU: In the Gundam series, the direction of consumption has been shifting away from what the creators of these works initially intended. This is one of the interesting aspects of the series, including the process of turning Gunpla (Gundam plastic models), which are toys related to the series, into independent contents. That is why in writing Anime and War, I put a lot of effort into describing how this became possible. As I was writing, I was thinking that “playing at war” has existed as a form of play since time immemorial. Basically, it means playing at fighting. Animation and manga used to use real war as subject matter, but in Japan’s case, this was inevitably an awkward subject to handle, and there was a sense of guilt. The Gundam series has changed that, and that is what makes it so enjoyable.

ODAGIRI: The original Mobile Suit Gundam was also a critique of the international political situation at the time as well as of World War II, and postwar democracy. The criticism that was intended at the time is gradually becoming incomprehensible, right?

FUJITSU: The fact that they didn’t bring in proper nouns from actual history was a wise move for the Gundam series in many ways. This is the “space age,” not historical reality. That’s why the series is still being made without any feelings of guilt as entertainment.

“Playing at war” seems to be an important key phrase in thinking about fiction and war, isn’t it?

ODAGIRI: When you make use of a real-life catastrophe as a subject for fiction, the question becomes one how to deal with it and how to digest it. That’s why I think these works should be regarded as “playing at war,” and I think both the creators and the audience should refer to them as “playing at war.” You state that clearly in Anime and War.

FUJITSU: The word gokko (“play”) in senso gokko (“playing at war”) is not a derogatory term; it simply means that the war it is “not real.” If real war means that everyone becomes a party to it, regardless of whether they are working on the home front or fighting on the front lines, then we should be prepared from the outset by recognizing that all other entertainment is basically “play.” I think we should call it “play” so that we don’t feel as if we have understood something from fiction. I think this may be the same thing Mr. ODAGIRI wrote about in How War Changes Manga.

ODAGIRI: For example, I think we have to read the arguments made in KOBAYASHI Yoshinori’s Shin Gomanism Sengen Supesharu – Senso Ron (Neo Gomanism Manifesto Special – On War) (Gentosha, 1998), while bearing in mind that they actually refer to playing at war. There is a danger in understanding the concepts discussed in this content, such as loyalty to the state and international relations, as universal structures that are either contiguous with reality or else abstracted from it. Svetlana ALEXIEVICH’s non-fiction book Senso wa josei no kao wo shiteinai (The Unwomanly Face of War: An Oral History of Women in World War II) (originally published: 1985) also became an example of “playing at war” when the comic edition [volume 1] (KADOKAWA, 2020; supervised by HAYAMI Rasenjin; illustrated by KOUME Keito) turned the women whose stories were being told into characters. Knowledge about war can only be gained through the study of history. I don’t subscribe to the view that “if we treat realistic things as the subject matter, we can get close to reality” and I think it is perverse to think that we can learn everything from fiction. We cannot talk about specific works unless we also talk about how and when they were received. Artists and writers are also members of society.

Anime to senso (Anime and War)
Author: FUJITSU Ryota
Publisher: Nippon Hyoron Sha Co., Ltd.
Year of publication: 2021

*URL link was confirmed on August 4, 2021.