Partizipative Projekte aus dem Bereich der Japanologie

9. January 2023 von Marco Marcel Hamr

Manga and anime – The Japanese Self-Defence Forces set their sights on Japan’s youth

The JSDF commercials - A "cool" military?

For more than fifteen years, the Japanese Self-Defence Forces have been using elements of popular culture (manga and anime) for information and recruitment purposes. As such they specifically target children and adolescents. In addition to an annually released manga, a short anime series also exists. Its content relies heavily on the usual cuteness factor (kawaii) associated with manga and anime to explain military content and to depict possible threats to Japan and Japanese society. This type of media is evidently well-received by youngsters and serves its intended purpose.

National defence as child’s play

Japan is in many ways a special case when it comes to military matters. On the one hand, there is a clear commitment to pacifism and a deep rejection of militaristic tendencies. Officially, no armed forces are maintained, and protests against the establishment or maintenance of foreign (as well as Japanese) military bases are both numerous and strong in their expression. On the other hand, Japanese popular culture is full of military depictions. Schoolgirls fighting tank battles in a funny manner in the anime Girls und Panzer (German: Girls und tanks; Japanese: Gāruzu ando Pantsā ガールズ&パンツァー), or young soldiers protecting Japan from medieval dragons with modern weapons. What do the two have in common? They use strong military themes, they are representatives of Japanese popular culture – and they are both popular.

Many of us have seen them before: cute characters with colorful hairstyles, big eyes, and an amicable demeanor. The drawing styles used in Japanese comics (manga) and animatic videos (anime) are famous the world over. Whether in Austria or Japan itself, many young children and adolescents enjoy the pop-culture media coming out of Japan.

It is precisely that popularity that’s exploited by the authorities. Be it warning signs in underground stations, instructions for the use of appliances, or public mailings from government agencies – manga and anime are by no means just meant for children in Japan. The Japanese military (JSDF, Japanese Self-Defense Forces) has been utilizing the popularity of comics for decades as a means of self-expression and presenting themselves to the Japanese youth. It does so armed with a wide arsenal of content – in addition to the annually published manga (manga de yomu bōeihakushō), the Ministry of Defense has also produced an animated short film. In keeping with the target audience, the roles and tasks of the JSDF are communicated in child-friendly, simple language by the spherical bird-robot “Boemon”. But more serious issues are addressed as well. Making the threat of cybercrime and cyber-attacks subject of discussion, it is intended to encourage even younger children to be mindful of sharing their personal data on the internet. Alongside the informative aspects, there is, of course, also the intention to promote recruitment.

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