Usa-kun and Arai Anzu take on ゴキブリ！
This week the U.S. military released a Japanese-langauge children's manga entitled Our Alliance — A Lasting Partnership, the first of a four-book series available in print and online. A spokesperson for the U.S. forces' Japan public affairs office told the BBC that the manga is a "light-hearted approach to telling the story of the alliance through the eyes of two young people who are learning why the U.S. military are in Japan."
The U.S. military community news site Stars and Stripes summarizes the story:
"It weaves the metaphorical story line of the American boy and Japanese girl with panels explaining Japan’s pacifist constitution, its self-defense forces and the 50-year-old Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security, which essentially allows the U.S. military to operate in Japan in exchange for defending the island nation."
In the story, the blonde-haired, blue-eyed Mr. USA (Usa-kun in the book) kills a cockroach for Alliance (Arai Anzu), a Japanese girl who is hosting the boy during his stay in Japan.
"Next time, we will get rid of cockroaches together!" Mr. USA says.
Alliance refuses, then adds: "But I’m happy that there is a friend with me so that I can feel safe."The message is simple and straightforward (though the symbologist in me can't help wonder what the cockroach represents), and the release is timely. In addition to commemorating the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security, the publication bookends recently contentious (and ongoing) debate surrounding Futenma and America's first appearance at Japan's annual Hiroshima memorial.
This isn't the first time the U.S. armed forces have used manga to educate the Japanese public. In 2008 the navy published a 200-page fictionalized story introducing adults to the first American nuclear-powered naval vessel based in Japan. But to my knowledge, Alliance is the first time the U.S. has used a children's medium to explain 21st century politics.
The release is telling of the American government's belief in the power of Japan's soft power. I also wonder, if successful, would this sort of resource benefit American children? Growing up in the barely metropolitan Midwest (a.k.a. Topikachu), the Japan I was exposed to as a young person consisted mainly of Godzilla, "Mr. Roboto" and a few sections in the WWII chapters of my history books. I wouldn't learn of the intricacies of Japanese culture and the depth of the U.S.-Japan relationship until I came to work at Japan Society.
Perhaps Alliance is overly simple. Perhaps even one-sided (certainly neither pacifists nor Japanese militarists will be pleased with it.) But it does attmept to address complicated issues in ways that weren't available when I was a child.
There are still gaps in the system for teaching about Japan in the U.S. (something Japan Society's Education Program fills with school visits, lesson plans and teacher workshops). Whatever its reception, Alliance aligns possibilities of teaching Japan in the U.S. with Japanese tools. We know manga and anime can be used in the classroom. Is manga geared specifically towards the classroom far off for American schools? Manga Math anyone?