A manga cartoon, titled “Kubo Ibuki (Aircraft carrier Ibuki),” is the talk of the town. It’s a near-future story that depicts Self-Defense Forces officials onboard a state-of-the-art aircraft carrier engaged in combat operations (now appearing serially in “Big Comic” magazine published by Shogakukan Inc., eight volumes already in stores). The product recently won the 63rd Shogakukan Manga Award. It’s been also decided that a live-action movie will be produced. The manga author, Kaiji Kawaguchi, 69, has produced many cartoons featuring military scenes. Kawaguchi says he tried to pursue realities backed by scrupulous fact-findings and his interviews with SDF personnel.
In 20XX, tensions are growing high between Japan and China over the Senkaku Islands. Japan commissioned a de facto aircraft carrier, codenamed “Ibuki,” with Ryuta Akitsu, an ace pilot of the Air Self-Defense Force, commanding the flattop as its captain. The following year, China suddenly occupied Japan’s outlying islands, including Yonagunijima, in Okinawa Prefecture, demanding that Japan acknowledge the Senkaku Islands as part of China’s territory. In response, Japan carries out operations in order to recapture the occupied islands with the Ibuki as the flagship.
In the past, Kawaguchi has produced a number of long works that featured the SDF. One of them was “Chinmoku no Kantai” (“The Silent Service”) (published by Kodansha Ltd.), in which an SDF nuclear-powered submarine declares it to be an independent state. Another is “Jipangu” (“Zipang”) (published by Kodansha Ltd.), a story about an SDF Aegis destroyer that slipped back in time to when the Pacific War was being fought. “In those two works, I imagined something close to fantasies,” Kawaguchi said. “But in the ‘Ibuki,’ I wanted to depict the way the SDF is and what if it actually happens,” he added.
Why does Kawaguchi continue producing works focusing on the military? Kawaguchi answered: “I fear a war, Basically, I’m full of fear, so I want to overcome that fear. I fear, that’s why I can’t ignore.”
Although the “Ibuki” is an imaginary story of the future, the government’s responses, diplomatic negotiations, military intelligence and combat scenes are vividly depicted. Kawaguchi chose the Senkakus for his work, explaining: “That’s the key point of Japan’s defense of isolated islands, which I thought could make the story more realistic.” Kawaguchi says that military journalist Osamu Eya played a significant role in making Kawaguchi’s expression more attractive to readers. Eya is Kawaguchi’s childhood friend. A massive amount of knowledge and information that Eya has accumulated over many decades give a convincing touch to the story.
Commander Akitsu is the main character, but he is a man of few words, which makes it difficult to discern what he is really thinking. Kawaguchi said, “I imagine the actual commanding officer of an aircraft carrier would be like him.” Although Akitsu does not speak much, his facial expression tells more. Kawaguchi skillfully depicts what Akitsu has in mind after a combat operation.
In stories that features an organization, there’s always someone standing in the way of others within that organization. In this story, however, there are no such backstabbers. Instead, Kawaguchi depicts SDF men struggling to achieve the goal. “I like a story in which all display their abilities and advance toward a common goal,” said Kawaguchi. “This is a story about what would happen to Japan, rather than human relations. Both the SDF and the government are desperately fighting, which I think is the most realistic point and interesting.”