But what is our policy on Godzilla?

But what is our policy on Godzilla?

It’s election season here in Japan, and this morning the full listing of competing parties fell through my mailbox. This multi-page, newspaper-style document lists the major parties and their main candidates, along with a very brief statement of their agenda. It’s a useful summary of the state of policy debate in Japan, I suppose, though it can make depressing reading if, like me, you think that the future of Japan depends, at least medium term, on nuclear power – aside from a few fruit loops who want nuclear weapons, almost every party is committed to Nuclear Zero. Even the Communist Party, though at least they have the decency to propose an alternative energy policy. I scanned this set of policy agendas to see if any party had any policies on immigration or foreigners, but I didn’t get very far because I got distracted by a glossy brochure from the Happiness Realization Party, which I think should rename itself the Giant Robot Party (ジャイアントロボット党). This glossy brochure is as disturbing as it is cute: the front page demands that a rock star who made landing on the Senkaku Islands be made governor of Tokyo, presumably not as a token of goodwill in international relations. The back page also makes the nationalistic path to happiness clear, with its number one demand being action to protect Japan from China.

But the middle of the pamphlet is the two-page spread reproduced above, showing the Happiness Realization Party’s vision of a future Tokyo. For those who aren’t familiar with Japanese, some of the more notable features include:

  • Making Haneda Airport operate 24 hours a day (far left of the image)
  • Heliports! (on reclaimed land: next to the lobster- and crab-tower)
  • Fish farms in buildings (below the heliplane-y thing with the crate: the actual phrase means “become able to catch fish inside buildings!”)
  • Maglev trains! (These are the big loops running around the outside of the city)
  • All motorways underground
  • Underground safety shelters (I guess this is necessary if you’re going to go for nuclear armaments)
  • Giant robots!!!

The party is also, apparently, in favour of lower taxes. So how they’re going to get to this future Tokyo isn’t entirely clear. I think the way they envisaged it is obvious though: the Tokyo in that picture is basically the city depicted in the Appleseed comics, though the robot’s a little bit bigger than anything in Appleseed. I’d like to point out, though, that the future world of those comics is not exactly a smoothly functioning democracy …

The Happiness Realization Party is also, apparently, pro-foreigner and denies the Nanking massacre, in a classic example of the weirdness of Japanese conservative politics: this party is a low-taxing, pro-foreigner, nationalist and militarist religious party. Based on this weird-looking cult, apparently, which means the health policy will be fascinating: on their website this religious group claim you can heal yourself of cancer. It’s space exploration policy should be interesting too: apparently the religious group’s leader discovered a speed faster than light 30 years ago.

As a foreigner living in Japan I don’t feel it my right to offer advice to Japanese people about how to vote, but on this occasion I think we can all agree that it is my duty to demand all good citizens vote for the Happiness Realization Party: the sooner we can move to a Bladerunner-esque, nuclear-armed Japanese state guarded by giant robots, the sooner we will all achieve full happiness.

Postmodernism and Panties

After a work- and laziness-induced hiatus, I’ve returned to reading this series, about the detective/university student, Yakumo, and his friend Haruka. Yakumo can see ghosts, and works as a private detective in the ghost world; Haruka (pictured, in a rage) is his friend, and a university student as well, who becomes embroiled in his cases after initially inviting his help with a friend. At the end of Part 2, the pair – along with a rough and bullying private investigator called Gotoh – thought they had cracked the case of a child murderer, who had died in a car crash but managed to take possession of a by-stander in the moments before his death.

In this episode, we meet Yakumo’s uncle, a Buddhist priest, who helps them to deceive the ghost of the child murderer and trick it into possessing the body of a rat, thus freeing the girl it had possessed and dooming it to a life of cheese and over-sized testicles. Unfortunately, they were wrong about the culprit for the murders – a fourth victim is discovered just hours after they consign the supposed murderer to a life of medical experiments. There must have been two murderers, and they have only caught one. So, they are back on the hunt for the murderer and, as might be expected, through the development of sympathy with a related character and the decision to act kindly towards someone else, Haruka becomes the potential fifth victim. Yakumo, Goto and Goto’s long-suffering side-kick Ishii arrive just in time to save her from a horrible death, and the identity of the real criminal, as well as his twisted motives, are revealed. As seems to be typical of many putatively evil people in manga, we come to understand and sympathize with his motives, and someone is able to forgive him (though he still goes to prison, which is going to mean the death penalty).

This episode is reasonably light on investigative stuff and is primarily focussed on revealing more about our heroes. Haruka is forced to confront the ghosts of her past (having literally done so in the previous episode), and has a long and difficult conversation with her mother about her feelings of guilt over the death of her sister. This is quite a sweetly done conversation, and in fact much of this episode seems to be about deepening our understanding and appreciation of Haruka. Haruka is a very kind, very considerate and genuinely nice person but she’s also very feisty, open-minded, and quite tough when it comes to expressing her feelings or acting on something she thinks is right. This combination of traits seems to be very dangerous when you’re part of Yakumo’s world. In fact, I would go so far as to say that although this series is titled Psychic Detective Yakumo, the central character is really Haruka and it should be renamed Haruka’s Adventures with Ghosts and a Cold-hearted Bastard (would that be 冷たいあいつと幽霊を出会う春香の冒険?), because although we are learning to understand his history and motives, Yakumo really isn’t very nice to Haruka. He teases her and is always cold and rough.

By contrast with Haruka’s story, in this episode we mainly find out functional details about Yakumo, and particularly we discover that he has some kind of nemesis who has the same powers as him and was involved in setting the murderer onto Haruka. They have some historical connection, and he’s obviously going to be the chief enemy of future episodes because in the final scene, when Haruka is enjoying the cherry blossoms with Yakumo, they are given a note by a child that simply says “See you again soon.” This is an ominous sign for their future: cherry blossoms are a sign of the passing of things, and if they get this note while they’re walking through falling cherry blossoms then it probably means the end of their happy life so far (if being coolly treated by someone you clearly have a crush on and nearly murdered twice counts as a “happy life,” but Haruka doesn’t seem to be complaining). The fourth episode looms …

A brief aside concerning panties, and styles of representation

In the above frame, Haruka has just finished her conversation with her mother, and her mother asks her “Haruka, your readers could see your panties, you know …” And in fact we could. For the first time in 3 episodes, and only at this moment when Haruka is opening up to her mother about her feelings of guilt, we get several quite direct views of Haruka’s panties. This is interesting because there are lots of other times – going up railway station stairs, sitting on chairs, exploring mysterious houses – where we could have been accidentally exposed to this most hideous of sights; and of course the writer has complete control of the field of view, and Haruka isn’t exactly excessive in her use of leg-covering material, so we could regularly witness this sight, but we never have up until now. It could be fan service, but I don’t think so. I think that it is intended to emphasize her emotional vulnerability in this conversation – unlike when she is being beaten, drowned, tied up and about to die, at which points we never see her undies. So I’m wondering if actually the “panty-shot” so maligned by western critics of anime is actually a representational ploy to show someone’s naivete, childlike position, or vulnerability. I’ll be exploring this and other aspects of representational styles in manga in a future post.

Conclusion

This episode of Psychic Detective Yakumo gave us a complex and challenging crime, some more details of the workings of the ghostworld and its interactions with the human, and a deeper insight into Haruka, who is developing as a stand-out character. It has also set us up for a plot involving some dark nemesis, which promises to be a lot of fun but threatens to turn silly. The story is a page-turner and the characters, though still a little stereotypical – especially Gotoh san – and with sometimes somewhat too archetypical relationships (Haruka and Yakumo’s friendship/unrecognized love affair is as old as Japanese drama, I think), are sympathetic and generally enjoyable to read about. I’ve got another book to attend to now, but I’ll be getting back to number four soon. The series is certainly popular here, and is definitely good enough to hold one’s interest. Stay tuned for more adventures in ghost-detection, manga-style.

Curiosity killed the...

In part 2 of this manga series, Yakumo and Haruka have to investigate the strange possession of a young woman by the ghost of a man, against the backdrop of a serial murderer in their town. The serial murder has been abducting schoolgirls, holding them for a few days and then killing them, but this isn’t Yakumo’s case; he has been approached to deal with a young woman who has been rendered catatonic by possession, and in investigating her situation he finds she has been possessed by a man.

In this episode we find out more about Yakumo’s friend Gotou san, who is a private investigator assisting the police with the serial murderer case and is central to the plot, because it turns out that the possessed girl and the serial killer are intimately linked. We also find out a little more about Yakumo’s family background, and Haruka reveals she too may have a talent for seeing ghosts, probably because her older sister – for whose childhood death Haruka blames herself – hangs around her spiritually, and is guiding her to certain scenes and situations.

There’s an interesting contrast in this story between Yakumo’s self-imposed isolation from a society that has always scorned him, and Haruka’s connectedness, both of which are directly related to their ability to see the supernatural world. We see increasing hints of a possible relationship between them, and it seems likely that Haruka is going to draw Yakumo back to the mundane concerns of the world (and out of his “movie research club” at university, that is really just a front for skipping class and sleeping). The development of their relationship is going to be slow, however, and no doubt form the central plot tension of the series.

Part 2 of the series doesn’t involve any high-risk situations or combat, it’s pure investigative work, and as usual the final resolution has to wait until the start of part 3, but it looks like it’s going to be a high risk play that may go pear-shaped. As an investigative story, part 2 was interesting, and although we work out early on who the serial killer is, the task of unravelling his motives and his connection to the possessed girl held my attention well; it was also more than a little disturbing. It’s worth the effort to read, which is just as well because Part 2 was a lot harder to read than part 1, involving a lot more casual and slang Japanese, and more unusual words. Nonetheless, my mad scramble from Tokyo wasn’t so crazy that I couldn’t chug my way through to the end of this book by Shin-Osaka, so not tooooo hard.

This series is holding my attention and the ghost stories so far have been interesting and well done. I’m seeing the development of an internal logic to the supernatural world, which is going to make future stories more predictable but also more believable; and I like both the main characters, as well as their slightly antagonistic relationship. They both have past problems whose resolution we may see in the future, and lots of scope for development and exploration. So, I continue to recommend Psychic Detective Yakumo.