.Kaiji Kawaguchi article published in Animerica Extra Vol. 4, No. 8, July 2001
This article was written by and is copyrighted to Patricia Duffield and may not be reproduced in part or whole without permission.

Kaiji Kawaguchi secured his standing as a top seinen manga artist with his controversial military thriller Chinmoku no Kantai (Silent Service). This politically-charged series caught the attention of readers around the world, but it is his most recent series, Eagle, which has finally garnered Kawaguchi critical acclaim from the U.S. comic industry. His first manga to be translated into English, this tangled tale of an Asian-American running for president has made Kawaguchi the first Japanese artist to be nominated for the coveted Best Writer/Artist Eisner Award. Not even manga greats Osamu Tezuka (Adolf, Black Jack) or Rumiko Takahashi (Ranma ½, Inu Yasha) have managed such a feat. Also, Eagle has been nominated as Best New Series and Best Continuing Series --both firsts for a manga series-- as well as Best U.S. Edition of Foreign Material. In tune with such elevated attention, it's time to shine a spotlight on this remarkable creator.

Silent Service begins with a bang -literally! A Japanese sub collides with a Russian sub. The Japanese sub quickly sinks and implodes. Commander* Kaieda and his crew are presumed dead. In the hubbub that follows, Japanese submarine commander Fukamachi questions that his comrade Kaieda would allow his ship to sink so easily. Fukamachi's revealing private investigation into the matter is quickly halted by his superiors, who let him in on a major secret: Kaieda and his crew are going to man a new nuclear sub built in a secret Japanese-U.S. effort to be part of the United States 7th Fleet! Considering Japan's anti-nuclear stance, a covertly built nuclear sub and a dramatic scheme to cover-up that the crew is alive is enough to cause a major domestic scandal. That's just the tip of the iceberg. Commander Kaieda soon turns rogue, evading and outdoing the very fleet he was supposed to be a part of. Even more startling, he declares his sub to be an independent nation! Bearing the nationalistically potent name of Yamato, Kaieda's sub becomes a political, military and ideological catalyst, straining Japanese- U.S. relations and drawing the startled attention of the world.

Japan's constitution was, for all intents and purposes, written by the U.S. during the occupation years following WWII. That constitution stipulates that Japan shall never again create an offensive military force. There have always been militarists who feel Japan should have more than the SDF (Self Defense Force). With the vast economic and political changes of the past 50 years, as well as some of the unforgivable acts recently committed by U.S. military personnel in Japan, the issue of Japan's dependance on the U.S. military for national security has come to the foreground along with reemerging Japanese nationalism. Kawaguchi plays off these themes with an idealistic twist. Using the threat of the Yamato's nuclear-capable torpedoes, Kaieda's goal is to convince the world to agree to complete nuclear disarmament and world peace. Kawaguchi made sure to give his hero the technology and tactical savvy to make those goals a reality, but Kaieda's success depends on the complex reactions of the world's nations.

At 32 volumes, Silent Service is Kawaguchi's longest, most successful series to date and the only one to have been animated. The first 100-minute video* has been released in English by Central Park Media and follows the comics fairly closely, with one significant exception --the video deals only with the Japanese and U.S. militaries; the Soviet military doesn't even enter the picture after the opening sequence. The manga series began in 1989, while the Cold War was still a global issue. Since the video was released in 1995 --well after the end of the Cold War-- the change in focus was a natural choice for director Ryosuke Takahashi (Gundam 0083: Stardust Memory, The Cockpit*). There have since been two other Silent Service videos released in Japan.

Kawaguchi's latest title focuses on the intricacies and drama of U.S. politics. Eagle follows the presidential bid of Asian-American Senator Kenneth Yamaoka through the eyes of Takashi Jo, an inexperienced young Japanese reporter. After the accidental death of his hard- working single mother, Jo is unexpectedly assigned to his paper's Washington D.C. bureau by the request of Yamaoka's staff. Jo is dazzled by Yamaoka's charisma and soon overwhelmed not only by the whirlwind of U.S. politics in action but by the powerful personal secret Yamaoka shares with him. Eagle weaves an engrossing, fast paced tale with threads as fine as intense private dilemmas and as sweeping as broad political ideologies. If Eagle can't make a reader interested in politics, nothing will.

Released in English in February 2000 (an election year, of course!), Eagle was chosen to be the first Viz comic published in an experimental 100-pages a month format, offering readers roughly triple the page count of other comics for about twice the price. With such a complex, thought-intensive plot, the large volume format is beneficial to readers, not only for the value but to help keep up with the story. Eagle soon gained critical acclaim, with recommendations from sources as varied as Rolling Stone Magazine and U.S. News and World Report. Noted comics writer and columnist Tony Isabella gave Eagle his "highest recommendation" and posed a poignant question. "Given the importance of the United States presidential elections, to our nation and to the entire world, why were there no American comics creators, me included, moved to tell a story like this?" Eagle's most recent accolades have been four Eisner Award nominations, the most ever for a manga title.

The Silent Service video and Eagle comics are the only Kawaguchi stories currently available in English, but they are by no means his only series. Kawaguchi has written eighteen* different titles for a remarkable eight different publishers. With so many titles and publishers, it's understandable that Kawaguchi's work is not exclusively concerned with contemporary politics, but it does tend to focus on engaging social and political themes. Kawaguchi enjoys using issues which offer the greatest potential for angst and action in the settings he works with.

Actor, one of his earliest titles, revolves around Kirara, an onnagata* actor. The theater is a naturally dramatic setting, and young Kirara's invitation to play the lead in a high-budget motion picture draws the reader in. Kawaguchi offers complications with the yakuza (Japanese mafia) to further ensnare both the lead character and the reader.

Set during a period which Kawaguchi himself lived through, Medusa begins in the middle of a student protest during the peak of the turbulent Vietnam War years. Tatsuo is a straight-laced Tokyo College student, the adopted son of a liberal statesman. Tatsuo's sister Yoko (first o long), having inherited her father's fierce spirit, is a revolutionary. She plans to change Japan through protest; he plans to change it through politics. Although they love each other, their chosen paths to achieve similar goals keep them apart. As they grow older, the story's violence and intensity escalate, expanding to an international scope.

Even stories for which Kawaguchi is only the artist have a distinctive quality of tension and passion. Yellow, which was written by Shinji Miyazaki, is set during the occupation years and focuses on cops, the yakuza, and the Chinese mafia in Japan. Within this action-filled setting, the story still manages to touch on politically significant issues and how they effect the characters personally. The oppression of Chinese in Japan is mirrored ironically by the peripheral presence of the U.S. occupation forces.

The gripping, gritty quality of Silent Service gained it mention in the Los Angeles Times, where Kawaguchi's work was compared to Tom Clancy's (The Hunt for Red October, Clear and Present Danger). The comparison is clear to see. Both authors work with realistic, if occasionally radical, political possibilities and the well-researched, plausible application of current technology to weave their best-selling tales. Whether preventing terrorists from causing a meltdown at a nuclear power plant or outwitting a presidential candidate in the primaries, Kawaguchi's stories are packed with action and intrigue. His sophisticated, complex characters demand an audience's respect, and even if you don't agree with their political views, they also demand your attention. This skillfully crafted combination of politically charged stories and strong-willed characters has gained him fans around the world, including such lofty dignitaries as Taiwanese legislator, Cho Jung-tai. Kawaguchi's work has also gained him two Kodansha Manga Awards --one for Actor in 1987, and another for Silent Service in 1990. Perhaps it can gain him an Eisner, as well.

NOTES:
The series says Fukamachi and Kaieda were the same rank, and Fukamachi is a "nitokaisa" which is supposedly equivalent to Commander in the U.S. Navy. So I assume, despite his ‘posthumous' promotion to (Rear) Admiralship, Kaieda is also a Commander, rank-wise. But they are both captains (title, not rank) of their subs. I wasn't sure how to deal with this, so feel free to change their ranks/titles as you like.

According to Animage Pocket Data 2000 (and earlier ones) there was no theatrical release of Silent Service, but Viz' Anime Interviews for Takahashi lists it as a film.

Feel free to use different series for Takahashi.

18 is the number I came up with. There may be more than 2 post ‘96 titles I couldn't get out of the web, so please check to see if anyone knows of any others besides Eagle and Araragi Tokyu. I didn't include Kawaguchi Kaiji no Sekai in my count since I'm not 100% sure it isn't an art book or rerelease or something. In case you want to include it (maybe it'll make for a nice, round 20 along with some other title you can find), it would up the publishers to 9, since it was published by Matsubunkan, not one of the other 8.

SIDEBAR
In traditional Japanese theater, all roles are played by men. An onnagata actor is an actor who specializes in playing the roles of women.


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