Reality is Stranger than Fiction
By Jake Forbes
Last month, the American identity changed- we became the losers. Our
national identity, the way we portray our country in fact and fiction, has
always been as the conquering hero. Whether or not we find out who was
behind the attacks, and even if we "smoke 'em out of their holes" and "get
'em", on September 11, they won. Japan has lived with the identity of a
conquered country for over 50 years, and it certainly shows in their art,
their movies, and anime in particular. Perhaps now, the fatalistic, depressing themes
found in much of anime won't seem so foreign any more.
American film critics have debated whether or not it's possible to make an
anti-war film that features combat, as whenever you put a character into a
tough battle, you're rooting for them to overcome all odds and win. Even
if the character doesn't make it, ala Tom Hanks in Saving Private Ryan, you
still think of them as heroes. Well, Japan produced two of the most
powerful anti-war films of all time, both animated: Barefoot Gen and Grave of
the Fireflies. These films are both so anti-American in style - there is no
happy ending, no silver lining. The fact that the protagonists are kids
only enhances the fact that victory is not possible. With so many World War
II films in development and production (after a string of titles from
Private Ryan to Pearl Harbor), I wonder if Hollywood will reanalyze the
American concept of victory, perhaps leading to a more somber portrayal of
the "last great war."
Science fiction is another genre where American optimism has also been at
odds with Japanese fatalism. Anime fans have been drawn to the brutal
realities depicted in children's animation like Gundam and Robotech. I know
that as a long time Robotech fan, I found the fact that characters die to be
"cool" and "real" compared to shows like GI Joe. Many of us otaku fooled
ourselves into thinking that Robotech, Gundam and other shonen
military-oriented series were for older audiences because of these deaths.
The fact of the matter is, in Japan, the idea of senseless death is
acknowledged by the generations after Hiroshima, while in the US, we do our
best to convince our children that there is justice and logic to the world.
Many shows that we think of as being for adults are really just kids shows
meant for less naive kids.
Perhaps our own arts will change to reflect the very real possibility that our
lives could be at the mercy of the enemy. I hope that fear and isolation
are not long term effects of last month's attacks. I hope we don't lose our
optimism. If anything, I hope we come away from this with a better ability
to empathize with other countries who, at various times over the past century,
have been at our mercy or lived under fear of our bombs or the bombs of
other foreign powers.