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Media : Japan's 'Manga' Fantasies: Military Bolts Into 'Comic' Action : Cartoon books, funny pages and animated films reveal the mood of the country. One weekly sheds light on the debate about foreign policy and defense.

October 23, 1990|KARL SCHOENBERGER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

"I don't think our present foreign policy truly reflects how Japanese feel," Kawaguchi said. "Kaifu isn't articulating his own vision or putting up $4 billion to realize Japan's goals in the Middle East, he's only acting under U.S. orders. You can't even call that a foreign policy."

Parallels to Shintaro Ishihara, the neo-nationalistic member of Kaifu's Liberal Democratic Party in Parliament, are hard to resist. Ishihara gained international notoriety last year for his best-selling book, "The Japan That Can Say No," in which he mocks American arrogance and advocates greater independence for Japan. Ishihara, a former novelist, reviewed Kawaguchi's manga series for the conservative newspaper Sankei.

"To say the least, for me this is an exceedingly sweet and dangerous manga ," Ishihara wrote, "but one that I cannot keep my eyes off."

Yasuyuki Shin, Kawaguchi's editor at Comic Morning, said the publisher was prepared for protests. But so far, he added, the response has been overwhelmingly positive from all quarters. "It seems everybody is interpreting the story in their own way," Shin said.

Kaieda, the renegade submarine commander, may have a hidden agenda for superpower disarmament, but he has become a folk hero for the downtrodden and demoralized members of Japan's forgotten military.

"I think these people are happy that their world is being illuminated a little bit after being left in the dark for so long," Kawaguchi said. "Japanese are only now starting to think about what kind of military they have."

Prime Minister Kaifu would send Self-Defense Forces personnel to the Middle East and other future trouble spots where peacekeeping forces are deployed under U.N. sanctions, but it's still not clear whether they would be allowed to wear their uniforms, or carry side arms, or remain in their commands.

Legislation creating Kaifu's proposed U.N. Peace Cooperation Corps must clear the upper house of Parliament, where the opposition holds a majority of seats, before it becomes law. The prognosis is not necessarily good.

Also, nearly half the respondents in an opinion poll conducted by the newspaper Nihon Keizai were opposed to sending troops abroad, and only 23% expressed approval for Kaifu's plan.

Meanwhile, cartoonist Kawaguchi plans to wrap up his submarine series sometime next year, and he is not saying how it will end.

Taking a cue from Ishihara, who complained that a bootleg English translation of his book circulated in the United States, talks have already begun on a possible English translation. Several inquiries have been made on television and movie rights. Commander Kaieda may be Japan's answer to Rambo.

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