Oh, you’ll miss him when he’s gone! It was the beleaguered Taro Aso, back when he was Foreign Minister, who stood up to the French presidential candidate Segolene Royal when she suggested that manga was responsible for Japan’s social ills. During the same period, it was Aso who pushed for “contents” (films, games, anime, manga) to be acknowledged as one of Japan’s most virulent exports. When he became Prime Minister, he wooed the otaku vote by proclaiming his love for manga. It was Aso who supported the controversial National Media Arts Center, lauded by some industry figures as a saviour of anime, although many others (myself included) regard it as a likely disaster: a “national manga café.” And, behind the scenes, I am sure that his influence must be at least partly responsible for the new animated political adverts on Japanese telly ahead of the national election.
In the latest, a man bearing a striking resemblance to Aso’s nemesis, Democratic Party of Japan leader Yukio Hatoyama, welcomes a well-dressed young lady into his restaurant, where he proceeds to cook up a bowl of Manifesto Noodles designed to please everyone. As the Hatoyama lookalike rushes to meet contradictory expectations, he creates a grotesque, inedible monstrosity. The message is clear, even if you don’t speak Japanese. The medium, for anime-loving audiences, might well be the last sign of Aso’s influence on Japanese politics before his party is trounced.
Then again, if Hatoyama wins the election on 30th August, Japan will get someone a lot like Aso, a Christian man from a patrician family with a long history in 20th century politics. Hatoyama took over his father’s seat in the House of Representatives. His grandfather, Ichiro, was the Japanese prime minister for three brief terms spanning 1952-6, ousting Taro Aso’s future father-in-law Shigeru Yoshida. Hatoyama has a PhD in Engineering from Stanford, and so presumably not only speaks English, but knows how to fix your fridge. The DPJ website lists his hobbies as a depressingly beige selection of: “touch football, tennis, watching baseball games, listening to music, karaoke, computing.” But does he like manga…?