By Kanta Ishida / Yomiuri Shimbun Senior Specialist
The manga this week
Shippu no Hayato (Hayato, the gale)
Hideki Owada (Kodansha)
In his book “Trump: How to Get Rich,” Donald Trump writes: “I am the creator of my own comic book, and I love living in it.” With an intensely powerful personality, the current U.S. president seems far more adaptable to comic form than his former presidential rival Hillary Clinton or former President Barack Obama.
Having said so, manga that portrays real-life politicians heroically should be read with caution and taken with a pinch of salt. Manga essentially appeals strongly to emotion rather than logic and reason. The protagonists are usually illustrated handsomely, whereas the antagonists are depicted unattractively. History has proven that cartoon caricatures often tend to be used as a tool for political propaganda.
The protagonist of this week’s manga, “Shippu no Hayato” (Hayato, the gale) by Hideki Owada, is Hayato Ikeda (1899-1965), who became prime minister of Japan in 1960. He is known for leading the nation toward rapid economic growth with his famous “National Income-Doubling Plan.”
There is another epic political manga depicting the same era. “Gekiga: Shosetsu Yoshida Gakko” (Gekiga: Yoshida school novel) was created nearly 30 years ago by Takao Saito and was illustrated in a plain documentary style. Compared to Saito’s manga, this week’s tale leaves a completely different impression.
In “Shippu no Hayato,” the protagonist and other young politicians such as Eisaku Sato, Masayoshi Ohira and Kaku-ei Tanaka, who all later served as prime ministers, are depicted as handsome young men, which was far from the reality. On the other hand, those working for the GHQ, including Gen. Douglas MacArthur, all have villainous looks. Hayato boldly rattles on in Hiroshima dialect, and the political and diplomatic exchanges are rough and violent, akin to gang warfare. Sure enough, this manga is far more exciting and thrilling than Saito’s epic, but it makes me rather uneasy because it is so easy to understand. How can post-WWII history be simplified to a morality tale that rewards the good and punishes the bad — with Japan on the “good” side?
Owada’s “Mudazumo naki Kaikaku” (The Legend of Koizumi) was a big-hit gekiga graphic novel about mahjong. It is a ridiculously heated and action-packed gag comedy masterpiece with a protagonist modeled after former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi. He risks his life to play mahjong with various world leaders, and even with a dictator who flies in from the moon. Once you’ve read this, it seems quite possible that a political history of the era following WWII could be made into popular entertainment in the hands of Owada. Let’s just call it a victory of planning, perhaps.
So, I admit that I do enjoy reading this week’s manga very much. I remind myself, though, that I must never regard manga with politicians depicted as cool characters too lightly — I should always approach them with a sense of caution in the back of my mind. And thus, I prepare myself for the time when someone creates a manga about “Donald, the Gale.”
Ishida is a Yomiuri Shimbun senior specialist whose areas of expertise include manga and anime.