From manga to politics – Book and Film Globe
Writer Ken Akamatsu’s election victory offers insight into Japanese artistic discourse
On July 26, the famous manga author Ken Akamatsu will take his place in the House of Councilors of the Liberal Democratic Party of Japan. In a country known for its apathy towards politics, Akamatsu is an exceptionally popular figure. He received 528,029 votes, the most of any individual candidate on the national list, securing his victory as Japan’s first manga author-turned-legislator. His platform? The artistic freedom of comics.
Whether you think this sounds like a sincere desire for free speech or a bigoted dog whistle may depend on whether you’ve ever heard of an American cultural movement called Comicsgate. All you really need to know is that yes it was similar to Gamergate and yes it was extremely dumb as well. Where Gamergate has turned the idea of ethics in gaming journalism into a nonsensical troll of concern, Comicsgate, for some sectors of popular culture, has had the same effect on the idea of aesthetics trumping politics in comic writing.
In Japan, the pop culture landscape is no different, with hardcore comic book fans unsurprisingly having much stronger opinions of their existing artistic merit than people who would like to change them. Enter Akamatsu.
His seminal work, Love Hina, revolutionized harem-style comedy somewhat paradoxically by doing away with the high-concept sci-fi and overarching narratives common to such works to present the story of an ordinary guy living with a group of girls in a dorm as they get ready. to take employment exams. As it happens, Love Hina was popular purely based on characterization and fan service. But the fan service was inevitably racy, given that almost all of the characters were teenagers.
Harem comedies are mostly out of fashion now. Ideally, this would mark Japanese society as a whole turning against fan service and sexualizing teenagers. The reality is simply that aesthetic trends have changed. The market these days is all about Isekai stories, in which a real-world person is transported to an alternate fantasy universe.
Which brings us back to Akamatsu’s rise to Japan’s House of Councilors. While Akamatsu’s work as an author is more important historically than in current pop culture, this story is about a Japanese political system that underwent massive economic changes in the 1990s. made it much more difficult for men to find partners and start a family. Manga and anime have played an increasingly important role for these young men. (Life in the United States is undergoing almost exactly the same pop culture shift as we speak.)
Given that the LDP was directly responsible for many of these societal changes and stood by these political decisions, Akamatsu running on its roster might seem a bit strange. But that’s only if you look at his career in political terms. Akamatsu considers himself and his fellow manga authors to be artists. Therefore, Akamatsu considers almost all political developments of the past decade to be relevant only insofar as they threaten art.
Akamatsu fought against the LDP as a reasonably known author when the LDP considered legislation that risked harming artists. The proposals involved expanding the definitions of copyright and pornography, which meant that artists working on the fringes (that is, most of them) couldn’t really work without risking harm. ‘break the law. The Japanese manga industry isn’t a free market, but it has a long history of turning a blind eye to copyright infringement and is open enough about its pornographic elements that, for the most part, authors stay where they are sure to be wanted instead of trying to sell boredom or smut to people who won’t appreciate it. Akamatsu joined the LDP in part to get a first look at such legislation to preemptively protect other writers in his field.
Akamatsu is unique among famous politicians in that he doesn’t shy away from his past career, or claims he uses his platform to fight for everyone else because it’s the right thing to do. He simply promises to protect the artistic sanctity of comics from what he calls an outside influence. Translation: international standards that would be disastrous for Japan’s indie comic-focused subculture.
Much of the work of Akamatsu champions could reasonably be described as borderline child pornography. Yet it is also true that the Byzantine production structure that creates Japanese comics is essential to its success. Manga and anime are household names around the world, in part because the industry is so competitive. Big distributors don’t have the power to crush the competition like they do in the United States, and it’s no coincidence that for decades Japanese comics have outsold American comics, even in the United States, even though they now have blockbuster films running as advertisements. for them.
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Akamatsu is, in this vein, the amateur candidate. The fact that Akamatsu joined the LDP instead of just trying to start his own political party is remarkable, as Japan’s parliamentary elections meant there was a decent chance he could have won on his own platform. . But Akamatsu doesn’t want to overhaul the system like most small parties in Japan are doing. He just wants people to be able to indulge in their leisure time in peace.
Akamatsu’s promises may seem ridiculous, but for a certain segment of the population they are both a big deal and probably all they can reasonably hope to achieve. A few days after confirming its election victory, Akamatsu promised legislation to confirm the playability of retro video games. It may not seem like much, but it’s a huge problem for enthusiasts within these communities. For very old video and computer games dating back to the 80s and beyond, few copies exist, and collectors often hoard those that do and refuse to dump the data, risking losing them forever. Akamatsu supports treating games as safe for digital libraries.
It’s a small gesture, but it does save the childhoods of people more used to seeing them as destroyed. Fandoms in Japan and elsewhere have come to regard these pop culture institutions as guardians of their collective identity. We can’t rely on our families, we can’t rely on our jobs, we can’t rely on the government, but at least we can rely on the comics.
Akamatsu helps restore trust in society by at least forcing the government to take comics seriously. As absurd as that sounds, it’s also surprisingly commonplace. There is no real culture war opposition to his program in Japan like there is in the United States. Of course, Made In Abyss made some questionable creative choices regarding its child characters. But it’s highly unlikely that anyone outside of his core fan base will notice or care.
There is a realism in understanding the limits of pop culture discourse. Akamatsu walked to that line and now he’s just standing on it, surprisingly causing little controversy. There’s no plotting on his part to try to boost his career or brainwash the kids. Akamatsu is the most annoying celebrity contestant we’ve ever seen – and really, that’s for the best.