The U.S.-Japan strategic alliance... manga style
For years, foreigners have tittered over the Japan Self-Defense Forces' cuddly mascot character, Prince Pickles. But now the United States military has upped the ante by producing an entire manga-style comic book celebrating the strategic relationship between the two nations. Could this be the beginning of a new era of "mutually assured cuteness?"
Entitled "Our Alliance; A Lasting Partnership” and available for free download from the U.S. Forces Japan website, it casts the politically charged relationship as a metaphor in which a cuter-than-cute little boy named Usa (get it?) visits the home of his equally cuter-than-cute Japanese friend Arai Anzu (say it aloud: "alliance.")
Illustrated by popular manga artist Yukio Hirai, the concept isn't as insane as it might first sound. For one thing, the strategic alliance is desperately in need of some good PR here in Japan; a scandal over the fate of Futenma Base in Okinawa forced former Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama out of office last June. And for another, distilling the complex and often tension-fraught relationship into the form of cute characters is a canny form of outreach for a nation where everything from governmental agencies to waste-treatment facilities and even entire prefectures boast their own cuddly mascot characters.
"Our Alliance" skirts any discussion of protests or criticism, casting the relationship in an almost blindingly positive light. Helpful little Usa scoots around Arai's home stomping on cockroaches and extolling the "efficiency" of Japan's work alongside the more powerful United States. The only question is, if this is all a metaphor, who or what precisely do those cockroaches represent? Perhaps that will be answered in the follow-up issues, which are due to come out over the course of 2010.