34681_gintamaEditor’s Note: This article was written by former ADV author Mikaella Darum.

The plot is familiar. A Japanese character and his team want to prove their skills to the world. With the exhibition of dexterous and sometimes, out-of-this-world moves, it is impossible for the watcher not to get swayed and root for this team. The one who should win is the Japanese team, precisely because they are the protagonists. Japan is number one. Such plots have been recurrent in sports-oriented series such as Slam Dunk, the Prince of Tennis, Hajime no Ippo, Kuroko no Basuke, and many more. In this case, anime and manga are not exceptions to the mentality or trait for which Japan has been known for: nationalism. 

Kohn defines nationalism as a “deep feeling of attachment to a homeland and absolute loyalty to it…a sense of shared destiny of a people due to their common ethnicity or race.” With emphasis on the italicized terms, we can conclude that nationalism transcends the territorial and political boundaries of a state. It is a mentality and an ideology which holds a people together, no matter where they are in the world. Japan has exhibited such trait when it adopted the isolationist policy of “sakoku” in 1663. A militaristic Japan then decided to wage a war against its neighboring countries to pursue a completely “Asian” regional organization during the Second World War. Pilots called “kamikaze” were prepared to commit suicide attacks all for the name of their country. The most notable facet of course, is the Japanese’s unwavering loyalty to their Emperor, or “tennou” as they call him.

Anime and manga: A brief outlook

The cultural aspect is no exception from these elements of nationalism, particularly in the contemporary era. Japan has been successful in the promotion of its culture with its music, dramas, movies, and its signature media: manga and anime. Hit popular series such as Akira Toriyama’s Dragonball, Fujiko Fujio’s Doraemon, Eiichiro Oda’s One Piece, and Masashi Kishimoto’s Naruto, all have amassed billions of dollars for Japan’s entertainment industry due to their worldwide popularity. With a multitude of genres that appeal to a plethora of audiences and stunning graphics, it is no surprise that anime and manga have become Japan’s leading forms of entertainment. Yet again, these two are no exception to the aforementioned facets of nationalism, as presented by the following cases.

Cases in point: Code Geass and Gintama

A sci-fi anime written by Goro Taniguchi and Ichirou Oukouchi, Code Geass shows Japan as a country that has been stripped off of its name after being defeated by the Brittanian Empire. The Japanese people were renamed as “Elevens” after their country’s new name: Area 11. Such events ring reminiscent of history when Japan was forced to bow in surrender after being defeated by the Allied Powers, which might have been represented by Brittania. Suffering from injustice and inhumane treatments, the strong sense of militaristic nationalism is best exemplified by the Black Knights, the rebel group created by the protagonist, Lelouch. One notable character who epitomized such spirit is Kallen Stadtfeld, who, despite being half-Britannian, identifies herself as a Japanese. The Black Knights then vow to free their country from Brittania and restore the prestige of the nation by the name of “Japan”.

Hideaki Sorachi’s Gintama exhibits nationalism in a more subtle way. Once known as the Land of Samurais, Edo becomes a city invaded by aliens called Amantos. The shogunate becomes a puppet government ran by these aliens and people were forbidden to hold swords in the possession. This caused many samurais to lose their status, forcing them to wander as “rounins” (masterless samurais). Fans of the anime have posited that the Amantos may be metaphors for the foreigners who arrived in Japan in 1853 as depicted by the arrival of Admiral Perry’s black ships. The prohibition of swords also did happen under the Tokugawa Shogunate. The story then finds conviction in the person of Sakata Gintoki, a former rebel who keeps the samurai spirit by protecting those who are in need. The anime can then be interpreted as a struggle of the Japanese against foreign intervention, with the samurai spirit representing Japanese nationalism.

With these factors at play, we can conclude that anime and media are not mere forms of entertainment. They have proven to be effective venues of nationalism for the Japanese. More importantly, they signify how the dynamics of Japanese nationalism have changed.

From militarism to media

Employing the neo-Marxist theory of Althusser, we can say that anime and manga are ideological state apparatuses (ISAs) which have been utilized by Japan so as to make itself once again accepted by the global community after the war. While the repressive state apparatus (RSA) of militarism inculcates fear, forms of media such as anime and manga utilize influence. With this, Japan was able to promote its culture and its heritage with success. It was able to initiate interest, and to a greater extent, a passion to learn more about its country of origin. Fans of anime and manga all dream of going to Japan, learn its culture, and even master its national language, Nippongo. Countries like the United States and the Philippines franchise popular series and even dub them in native language to reach a wider variety of audience. Events such as bazaars and cosplay events further boost such popularity. Anime and manga, therefore, are cultural ISAs which have helped Japan to be accepted once again by the world despite its strained history.

Anime and manga have been effective venues of expressing the sentiments of the Japanese people towards their history as encompassed by their sense of nationalism. Using Althusser’s ISA, we can see that these forms of media have served to be an effective tool of boosting Japan’s popularity. Anime and manga, therefore, represent Japan’s struggle in establishing a culturally-rich image of a nation in the minds of the world rather than a country which has been once known as an aggressor.

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