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Monthly Vignette: Comfort in Cartoons

By Alex Wallace.

This month, our vignette is from the 36th vignette challenge, which had as its theme: “Anime.” This was the winning entry from Alex Wallace, who also has a few words to say about it, which I’ll append in an Afterword.


Fair warning: This vignette covers the issue of Comfort Women, an historical verity, but I feel it necessary to advise that it requires such a warning.


The current monthly vignette challenge is on the subject of Occult, and can be found here.







The movies and the show and the pictures in the newspapers simply did not do the capital of the Empire justice. Its skyscrapers grazed the heavens, and its lights gleamed like an aurora. So much of the world was beholden to the Heavenly Emperor who lived in this megalopolis on a bay. It was the largest city on the planet; Berlin could not match it, nor could Shanghai or New York.


So thought Maria as her plane landed at Haneda. She was used to Manila; it was a big city for that archipelago, but it was nothing compared to what was perhaps the most powerful city in the world. All the nations of the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere were governed here, under his Imperial Majesty.


She was here for two intertwined reasons: to finally get to work in the medium she loved, and to send money back to her aging grandmother. Her parents had died in a boating accident (as sometimes happens in an archipelagic country), and so her grandmother, Teresa, had raised her.




She had already moved into her tiny apartment when she strolled through the doorway of Tora Tora Tora Productions in Shinjuku. Here it was. This is where the magic happened. This is where cels and ink became living, breathing stories.


She loved these cartoons with all her heart. They were just about all she had as her grandmother worked well into the night to ensure that she could grow up in something other than abject squalor.


The studio director, Mr Kudo, welcomed her in, briefed her, and brought her to the room where her first assignment would be.


She was not an animator but a writer. She had studied literature in school in Manila, reading the Filipino classics that the Co-Prosperity Sphere allowed, then the Japanese greats, then the greats of the other nations of the Sphere.


She took her seat at the big conference table where much of the magic happened. She couldn’t help but notice that she was the only woman in the room, and one of the few non-Japanese. From what she could glean from the conversations, there was a Korean and a Chinese. Nobody from points south, other than her.


Mr Akamine, one of the higher-up writers in the company, took the floor. “We have chosen you to work on a new series. You all are well aware of the current trend of war stories; as such, we are beginning our first foray into that particular genre.”


“Which war are we thinking about?” asked Maria. She vividly remembered watching the cartoons about the war in Burma, or the war in China, or the wars in Russia.


“I’ve been thinking the Philippines! The historical war genre hasn’t gone to that yet beyond a few one-off episodes in the recent series.”


Maria could feel all the men looking in her direction. It was not an unusual sensation, living in Tokyo and entering areas where the subject races lived.


“Perhaps not the actual war against the Americans?” she proposed. “I think there is probably more to be gained in the years after the liberation; far more stuff you can do with gangs and crime and that sort of thing. It could set us apart.”


“Brilliant!” exclaimed Mr Akamine. “You’re doing a very good job, Maria! I expect great things from you in future, if this is what you come up with!”


The meeting moved forward, and the basics of this new series were ever more slowly fleshed out. Within a few hours, this series looked like it could be something.


Then came the side characters. They knew that the audience of such a show would be mostly male. Not all, as Maria could attest (she had watched several), but most. “Our main character needs a love interest. The men away on occupation duty in the Urals love it. Ideally, they need several.”


“A harem?”


“Of course. Every young man wants to be adored by women. And it works historically! There were plenty of liaisons between our men and Filipina women during that period.”


They all looked towards Maria, again. She simply nodded. She accepted it as genre convention.




Months passed. A year passed. At some point, Subic Soldier Boy began to be recorded and animated, and the advertisements began to go up in certain parts of Tokyo.


One day, Maria walked into the studio for another day of work. The entrance to the building had been blocked by a crowd of angry people, mostly women, mostly darker skinned than most Japanese.


It took her a moment to realise that they were Filipino. They waved signs in both Tagalog and Japanese. One of the read:




One of them yelled at her: “What is your name?”




There was a brief silence. Maria didn’t know what to say, or what she had said.


“TRAITOR!” they screamed. Before they could do anything else, she ran into the studio.




It had been far too long since she had been to the Philippines, almost a year in fact. How time flew! Subic Soldier Boy was preparing for its premier on the Japanese state broadcaster; she saw its posters even in Manila. But that would be after she went back to Tokyo.


The apartment she lived in with her grandmother was small and more than a little cramped, but it was intimate, and for that purpose is was more than enough.


The two of them sat at the table eating a dinner of homemade pancit. “So, what are you working on at the studio?” asked her grandmother.


“A new series set during the liberation of the Philippines! I’m seeing posters for it everywhere!” Maria looked expectantly at her grandmother’s eyes.


Her grandmother did not speak for several seconds.


The conversation that followed was long and hard. Her grandmother told Maria what really had happened to her during the war. She had always been quiet about what had happened during the liberation; now she let the dam burst.


Maria didn’t even bother returning to Tokyo.






For those of you who don’t know, I am a Filipino-American. I was raised on stories about what the Japanese did to my mother’s family and homeland. This piece is, in some ways, a diatribe against Japanese war crimes denialism, in the Philippines and in the other nations of the ‘Co-Prosperity Sphere’.


In other ways, it is a reckoning with my own troubled relationship with Japan as a country; in the past year or so I’ve been deliberately trying to consume more media from there so that my mental image of them isn’t universally negative. I have most certainly gained a better appreciation of what the Japanese have given to the world in that time.


But, on the other hand, I cannot help but remember the story of the fifteen-year-old girl in my extended family who was married off to a Filipino man in his forties so that the IJA wouldn’t take her. The fact that such a course of action was the better option is something that speaks volumes.




Discuss this vignette Here.



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