Anime and Philosophy
Japanese animation (henceforth, anime) is something I am quite fond of. I was inspired to illustrate and doodle by this particular art form practised by the Japanese (my pathetic attempts can be seen all over this website too). As I grew older, I have begun to look at anime with different perspectives based on what I understand about various philosophies and ideologies (and sometimes theological perspectives). A good example would be my fascination of the ability of the anime industry to relate the life styles and social impact of their hikikomori population (for example, N.H.K ni Yokoso).
I have often talked about Reconstructivism (Wiki summary and Chris Sunami’s influential essay) as a way to analyse art, to analyse the creative process, and to engage audiences. In fact, a lot of my research is oriented towards human engagement in arts as opposed to the tired path of historical regurgitation. However, what are some ways to reap the benefits that the ideals of Reconstructivism can provide? Allow me to present one fine example.
Reconstructing History in Kantai Collection (Kancolle)
I do have a fondness for history pertaining to the second World War where tanks and naval ships have always been the key focus of my interests in that particular aspect of human history. However, cut-and-dried history is something I cannot grasp fully… I don’t exactly have a photographic memory of names and dates – the stories behind the individual points of conflict were what kept me fascinated.
I chanced upon a game called Kantai Collection, which is developed by Kadokawa Shoten and DMM.com. The premise of this web browser game is the idea of ships being anthropomorphised into cute (usually) anime girls (henceforth, kanmusu) sporting naval armaments, who are then sent on various sorties to fulfil quests or whatever the developers have in mind. I was hooked, it had everything I was interested in… WWII, naval ships and anime.
The Japanese are very good at this.
– T Tsuruta, Japanese artist (referring to anthropomorphisation)
Allow me to indulge here and perhaps you will understand.
This is Myoko. She is a heavy cruiser from the Imperial Japanese Navy (henceforth, IJN) during the second World War. When I first saw her design, the camouflage design reminded me of how a lot of the coastal batteries in Singapore were painted (or influenced by).
When the Kancolle Summer Event 2016 rolled out, the event map was a representation of the maritime waters around Singapore.
One of the Summer Event bosses is called the Harbour Summer Princess, who is identified as Singapore.
Look! The developers anthromopohised Singapore into a cool anime girl with a brolly and leg-things that seems to hint towards our cultural icon, the Merlion (not to mention the coconuts).
Over here, you can see Ushio (an IJN destroyer) with Myoko and another destroyer (hidden) called Kasumi.
If you are half as crazy as I am, you begin to wonder why anime girl ships in a game and how does that relate to Reconstruction and history?
Following the Reconstructivism framework that I written about (based on Sunami’s work), it follows the structure of familiar game mechanics (classic structure), the kanmusu designs (visual symbols), the kanmusu backstories that are identifiable and attached to them (context), and community reflections (emotive-reflective significance).
The kanmusu are re-birthed (as the backstory goes) from the souls of the brave naval crew and the actual ships themselves… manifesting in a way where the kanmusu experience existence in this fantasy world. However, the kanmusu and game mechanics can be considered as symbols or semiotics. The context of the entire game experience (the basis of Reconstructivism) would be the meanings and stories behind each particular kanmusu.
When I see Myoko, I am reminded of the historical fact that she was left at the Seletar harbour when the IJN decided that they did not have the resources to repair her towards the end of the war. It was just that smidgen of military history that I have, but when Myoko (the anime kanmusu) appeared as a visual character… it appeared to me as a symbol of something far more complex and of significant context.
Myoko was berthed in Singapore’s Seletar harbour after she was hit by torpedoes from USS Bergall (SS-320) on 13 December 1944. Prior to being hit, she (and Ushio) was escorting a convoy of naval auxiliaries (convoy HI-82) heading back to Japan. After the encounter with USS Bergall, Myoko was towed back to Singapore by Kasumi and Hatsushimo for repairs. After evaluation, Myoko was deemed to be unrepairable (due to lack of resources) and she was left at Singapore with another crippled heavy cruiser, Takao. Both were moored at the Seletar harbour to act as anti-aircraft platforms due to their incapacitated status instead (which the British later found that both cruisers were stocked with anti-aircraft ammunition instead of ammunition for their main naval guns).
Towards July 1945, Myoko and Takao became the targets of Operation Struggle as their main naval guns was thought to pose a threat to maritime activities of the Allied forces. However, the operation (involving submarines from the British Navy) were not particularly successful in sinking both ships.
After the surrender of Japanese occupation forces in Singapore, Myoko was towed and scuttled (accompanied by IJN submarines I-501 and I-502) in the Straits of Malaya, off the now Port Klang, Malaysia.
Now… this game really means something else now, eh? Following the game mechanics, presentation style and stories of actual naval ships, the concept of Reconstructivism is alive and well in Kancolle – and it is simply amazing. However, I have left out a significant portion of the Reconstructivism framework – emotive-reflective significance.
The Kancolle community boasts a large number of players who are working professionals, military historians, manga artists, musicians, story writers and other professions. Due to their interests, they are happily involved in creating derivative fan works based on the history of the ships while utilising the characterisation given by the game itself. The community then shares these derivatives on platforms such as Pixiv, NicoNico and Youtube – as well as a large number of manga artists who would produce derivative comic shorts/books and make them available for sale in Japan (Melonbooks is one such publishing platform utilised by such artists). Do note that the Kancolle community is not just limited to the Japanese audience, but world-wide as well.
The story of the IJN destroyer Shigure is one of the many IJN naval ships that has captured the hearts and minds of the Kancolle community. Fan-made music videos ( Tom キネマ106’s まっくろな雨 is one fine example) and manga (due to the fan community’s propensity to orientate towards questionable content, I am unable to share links on these) revolves about her character’s suggested PTSD issues (as originally suggested from her voice lines within the game and canonical information from the developers) stemming from the historical fact that she was the sole survivor of the Battle of Surigao Strait (which saw the loss of IJN battleships Fuso and Yamashiro, heavy cruiser Mogami, destroyers Michishio, Asagumo, and Yamagumo – as part of the Southern Force, commanded by Vice Admiral Shoji Nishimura during Operation Sho-Go).
Due to her backstory and the community reactions towards her, Shigure is one of the most popular characters as it definitely resonates with how the community see her as an exemplary icon of being a loyal protector of her friends.
While it can be argued that only people who are marginally interested in history and naval battles would be motivated enough (by this game) to explore further and research on the actual histories of such kanmusu… the question now is how can we actually utilise what we have learnt from Kancolle’s example to further engage audiences in various genres of topics.
I actually have an idea using an iconic national artwork as a case study
towards this concept of Reconstructivism and audience engagement.
But I can’t write about it… because reasons.
I’ll write about how Reconstructivism, education and audience engagement can be presented (sort of) in another column.
Further Fun Reading
Some WWII ships which survived the war – IJN Yukikaze (post-war service in Taiwan), IJN Hibki (known as Верный during her post-war service in the Soviet Union’s navy), and USS Iowa (conferred as a museum ship in 2012).