Thursday, September 16, 2004

The second volume of Apocalypse Meow was in at the Comic Swap yesterday. (Damn, I wish ADV had retained the original type "Cat Shit One"; I understand that it's literally impossible to market a title with an obscenity centrally featured, but "Apocalypse Meow" is so goddamned lame.) Reading that second volume through, I finally recognized what weirds me out so much about this anthropomorphic war-comic. It's entirely from the American point of view. This was less obvious in the first volume, but after the author introduces a scaldingly incompetent Japanese ranger into the story, the issue came into focus. The comic was written and illustrated by a Japanese mangaka - one Motofumi Kobayashi. But it reads like the product of a particularly red-state army-clan type. If it actually was from the pen of said red-state army-clan American, I'd call it borderline racist.

The decision to portray the Japanese as ugly monkeys is particularly off-putting. I can deal with the French portrayed as foul, disgusting pigs - I'm naturally biased against the French. The portrayal of the various Vietnamese factions - the corrupt ARVN, the stoic Montagnards, the fanatic NVA and Viet Cong - is by-and-large sympathetic, if somewhat superior. It's hard to relate to Russian bears and Chinese pandas with anything but amusement; but the monkeys are a real poser. The Japanese idea of the monkey is somewhat different from the Western notion, I think. It probably has something to do with the commonality of non-chimpanzee or great ape-type monkeys in Japan. When we think of monkeys, we think exotic, intelligent chimpanzees. The Japanese are more likely to picture dim little thieving primates, like less cute raccoons. The Japanese notion of the monkey is a stupid, bumbling figure of chaos. That stereotype is definitely on display in this volume of Apocalypse Meow.

In truth, I have to wonder how much in the mainstream of Japanese manga Kobayashi actually *is*. Even the art feels more like American alternative comics than any of the standard schools of manga. That might just be the time-period - I associate alternative comics with an aesthetic that is strongly tinged with the look and feel of the Sixties. But it bugs me. If there wasn't a Japanese name on this comic, I'd assume it was an American Army brat who'd spent some time on Okinawa or one of the other bases.

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