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Game of Thrones: Anime Edition
Tank Girls, Sexy Sailors, and the Rising Popularity of Japan's Military

Mai Fuchigami might seem an odd choice to feature on the cover of a military magazine. She has never served in the armed forces and looks like a typical youthful Japanese girl, all smiles and peace signs. But there she is on the cover of the December issue of Mamoru, the Japanese Defense Ministry’s official magazine, which, according to Reuters, has taken to featuring popular female models and articles on dating and relationships.

Japan’s military has grown more popular over the past few years than it has been in almost all of Japan’s post-war history. “A decade ago,” Reuters reports, “around 1 in 10 candidates [for enlistment] said they wanted to be a soldier for love of country. These days it’s closer to 1 in 3….[A] government survey in 2012 found that 91.7 percent of respondents expressed a favorable opinion of the military, the highest level since the survey began in 1969.”

Much of the increasing adoration of the military is driven by pop culture. Japanese soldiers appear romantic, strong and appealing in anime shows like Girls und Panzer, in which Fuchigami voices one of the lead characters, and films like Eien no Zero (“The Eternal Zero”), which glorifies kamikaze pilots. One show featured attractive members of the Japanese navy heroically fulfilling their daily duties while viewers voted for their favorites. Girls und Panzer has proven to be particularly popular. Thanks in part to the show, a record 110,000 civilians applied for a limited number of seats to watch the military’s annual live exercises. Action figures based on the show’s characters are selling like hotcakes, and military recruitment posters feature images in the show’s signature style.

The rise in the military’s popularity coincides with some unfortunately insensitive statements by some of Japan’s leaders regarding its wartime history. Naoki Hyakuta wrote the book upon which “The Eternal Zero” is based, and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe appointed him to the board of governors of the national broadcasting company. He gave a rousing speech in support of a fringe right-wing candidate for Tokyo Governor in which he declared that the Nanjing Massacre “never happened.” “The Eternal Zero” reportedly brought Abe to tears.

Abe has been trying to gather support for his mission to change the country’s constitution to permit a more flexible and active role for the military. Despite the rising popularity of the military and all the swooning pop culture surrounding it, that mission is still uncertain. Abe faced opposition this week from his own party, with one lawmaker calling his plans “outrageous.” According to the WSJ, only 17 percent of Japanese citizens support the constitutional changes Abe is seeking.

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  • ShadrachSmith

    If you are worried about the Chinese, well, the Chinese have never beaten the Japanese. Arming Japan should be a national security goal.

  • Andrew Allison

    The interesting question raised here is whether this glorification is being engineered by the government or is a national consensus. Either way, it seems entirely appropriate for Japan as a nation to indicate to China that, unlike the West in Crimea, it won’t simply roll over.

  • Nick Bidler

    Huh. Internet says the Girls Und Panzer thingy is basically ‘tank battles as high-school sport no different from basketball.’

    The more you know, I suppose.

  • Jim__L

    Don’t forget Miyazaki’s “The Wind Rises” (Kaze Tachinu). I’d give that more weight than a girls-and-guns anime designed to sell Tamiya’s scale model tanks.

    Miyazaki is highly respected name, making movies with broad appeal whose box-office was sizable enough to convince Disney to try to adapt and distribute their work. Their usual line would be considered “progressive” here — very Green, anti-capitalist, etc etc etc, and that even makes an appearance here. Still, to have them glorifying the designer of the Mitsubishi A5M (Zero), even if the movie is big on breathtaking vistas, the excitement and desire of creativity and flight, and a starring role for someone as unwarlike as an aeronautical engineer with a slide rule, is quite a sugar-coating job.

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