World War II and Japanese Cartoon and Animation Art

Ho Lin, Brown University '92, and George P. Landow, Professor of English and Art History

Both Japan's interest in science and technology and its first-hand experience of their devastating effects at the end of World War II has influenced the tone and attitude of anime. A notable effect of Japan's disastrous defeat appears in the gloom and melancholy that hangs over many films and series and separates them from the sunnier, more optimistic tone of American animation.

Perhaps the most well-known recent anime movie with cyberpunk undertones is Akira, which depicts a futuristic, sprawling Neo-Tokyo on the point of collapse, with scientists and the military jockeying over a super-human with exceptional tele-kinetic powers while biker gangs and violence runs rampant on the streets. Certainly the dystopia that is presented to the viewer is reminiscent of those we see in books such as Gibson's Neuromancer, and the conclusion of the film is an effects extravaganza that rivals 2001: A Space Odyssey, but there is little preoccupation with the effects of technology or an entrance into a realm of virtual reality where the line between human and machine becomes blurred.

A second influence of Japan's experience of WW II appears in anime's frequent fascination, even obsession, with extraordinary weaponry, combat robots, and other military prostheses that amplify the powers of diminutive and often feminine or feminized characters. From one vantage point the female heroines of Bubble Gum Crisis redefine our understanding of gender and gender roles by consistently making the prosthetically enhanced young women succeed when macho police fail. From another, these young women, the Knight Sabers, appear coded as Japan, whose new technological superiority permits it to surpass larger, more physically powerful rivals.