- Kato Hidetoshi's Data Base -

Comics, Rebellion, and Ecology

Publication Date:199203
Publisher : National Institute of Multimedia Education


When Japanese university campuses exploded with protests and violence in 1968-1969, Kyoto University, where I was working, was no exception. Everyday there were demonstrations and confrontations, and in the summer of 1969, the university building where I had my office was taken over and barricaded by a group of radical students.

On the first of September of the year, the dean of the department finally decided to call the police force. The barricades were taken away and the students who had occupied the building were arrested. As soon as everything was over, I dashed to my office on the third floor to find that my office space was an absolute mess of paint, broken furniture, torn books, and left-over food. I checked my disorganized bookcase and found out that my entire collection of back issues of "Garo," was missing. I was very sad, because I had been the only person on the campus who kept that collection of comics (university professors usually do not read comics, at least in their offices), ant it was hopelessly impossible to replace the whole set, as comic magazines were extremely fugitive even in the publisher's warehouse.

Some days later, a student who had been inside the barricade but escaped arrest came to see me and said "Oh, we enjoyed your 'Garo'", he apologized for his comrades, who had taken the magazines away to show to a group of students who occupied another building. I asked, out of curiosity, why students liked the "Garo." The students answered "Kamui-den , of course!"

I must confess that I was not as attentive a reader of comic magazines as I was a collector, and I wondered why students were so fond of "Kamui-den." That question remained in my mind even after I left the campus in spring 1970, but without the original text, I was unable to study "Kamui-den" to find the answer.

In 1972, while browsing at a bookstore in Kyoto, to my surprise I found "Kamui-den"in paperbacks. Apparently, the comic strips published in the "Garo" had been compiled in book form. Without hesitation I purchased the entire 21-volume set and started to read. This essay is a tentative answer to the question inspired by those innocently violent students who occupied my office, several years ago, and to them I dedicate this research.
Honolulu, 1974


Nobuhiro Takemoto was suspected to be a leader of the organization called the Japan Red Army, whose members engaged in several hijackings, including the cruel massacre at Tel Aviv airport in 1972. When he was a graduate student at Kyoto University in the 1960s. Takemoto had been a devoted reader of the Garo, an avantgarde monthly comic magazine. In a letter to its editors in the November 1965 issue, he said "I am a graduate student in the department of economics, studying the revolutionary thoughts of Karl Marx. My hope is to revitalize Marxism, which at present is in the hands of formalistic eggheads. In this context, I feel that the comics by Mr. Sampei Shirato sharply touch my problem area, and I am reading his works most intensively. ....I am keeping all the issues so that they can be read by other people, including my son."

Three years later, the young radical Takemoto was appointed an assistant in his department. A legendary organizer, there was a warrant issued for his arrest. The "Takemoto problem" is still one of the basic issues in the student unrest.

It is sheer nonsense to hypothesize a simple cause-and-effect relationship between Mr.Takemoto's absorption in Mr. Shirato's comics and his underground operations, but it was quite probable that the images of the comic strip's heroic figures frequently crossed his mind when he was sitting with other activists discussing their strategies and tactics.

In the late 1960s, it was fashionable for student newspapers to print commentaries on the works of Mr. Shirato and to encourage their readers to learn from the comics. For instance, a student editor for Musashi University campus newspaper commented in 1966 that "... Mr. Shirato's comics are based on historical materialism, and the agrarian revolt which Mr. Shirato depicts in his works must be projected to contemporary revolutionary movements. In conclusion, Mr. Shirato's comics are lessons for our revolutionary practice." Critics of this easy learning of revolution from comic books argued that students must read Marx and Engels to have more sophisticated ideas of revolution; but the students, who also opposed elitism and snobbism, preferred to read comics. It seemed, interestingly enough, that their counter-snobbism turned out to be another new form of snobbism, accompanied by long-hair, flowers, and the cult of innocence and childishness. And the Garo might have been a part of it.

When the editors of the magazine conducted a readership survey, they discovered that the average age of the readers was 21, and 70 percent of them were students, mostly males with urban backgrounds. Also, many of the readers were found to be serious intellectuals (or would-be intellectuals) who were attentive to sophisticated intellectual magazines as well as Garo. When the editors asked "What would you like to do now?", the most frequent answer was "traveling," followed by "revolution" and "student movements." There were also such unique responses as "to destroy the parliament building by dynamite," "fighting," "to kill people with a rifle," and " confrontation with police with the Garo in my pocket." It is difficult to generalize the ideological orientations of readers from a simple survey such as this, but as will be discussed later, they appeared to be anarchistic rather than communistic, utopian rather than revolutionary, and as symbolized by the case of Takemoto, it was probable that the readers of the Garo were at odds not only with the police force but also with communist party members, who were much more organized and theoretically oriented. (When Takemoto talked about "formalistic eggheads" he meant members of the main sustenance, of the ultra-leftist activities on university campuses in the late 1960s, whether or not Mr. Shirato intended that effect. But there are reasons to believe that Mr. Shirato fully intended to propagate his revolutionary ideas through comics. As we shall see later, he made many explicit comments on the socio-economic contradictions of our age as he developed his stories.

Mr. Shirato was born in 1925 in Tokyo, the son of Mr. Karaki Okamoto, who had been a left-wing artist since the pre-war period. Because of war, poverty, and his father's distrust of school education, Mr. Shirato did not finish his higher education. He started his career as an illustrator for Kamishibai, an original entertainment medium for younger children in Japan since the middle of the nineteenth century. Kamishibai, literally meaning "pictorial theater," was a street show where a narrator told various stories to children with the aid of a series of still pictures, and in order to attract the audience, the narrators needed new and exciting stories and pictures all the time. Mr. Shirato, being a son of an artist and an artist himself, could create these pictures easily. When he joined left-wing cultural movements in the 1950s, he was pleased at the opportunity to experiment with Kamishibai as a means of education and propaganda.

Kamishibai, however, became outdated when television came onto the scene. Japanese children, for obvious reasons, ceased to go out to see Kamishibai, preferring to stay at home with its electronic version. Mr. Shirato thus lost his job, and tried to make a shift from Kamishibai illustrator to comic strip artist. But he was not satisfied. In 1963, his pictorial story of Ernest Seton's "Wild Animals I Have Known" won the Children's Comics Award and since then, he has been producing long, serious comics known as Gekiga.

Gekiga, or "dramatic comics,"is a new genre which emerged in Japanese popular culture during the middle 1960s. It is a kind of comics, but is not necessarily funny. It is very often a serious illustrated story, though the media which carry Gekiga are usually comic magazines. Mr. Shirato has been one of the leading Gekiga producer-writers, and many of his works are classics of the genre.

While Mr.Takemoto was writing his letter to the editors (mentioned earlier), Mr. Shirato was energetically producing new monthly segments of his everlasting serial "Kamui-den" in the Garo. Indeed, "Kamui-den,"which was started in December 1964, took some 100 pages of a periodical whose total paged were little over 200; it is safe to say that the magazine's major attraction was "Kamui-den,"and that the work which impressed Takemoto so much was this particular serial. The readership survey also showed that more than 50 percent of the readers nominated Mr. Shirato as their favorite contributor to the magazine. Among Mr. Shirato's major works, therefore, "Kamui-den" is a good subject for a case study of the dynamics of comics and university radicals and of the role of serious comics in youth culture at large.

The Story

"Kamui-den" ("The Legend of Kamui") is a voluminous epic in comics form, produced and drawn by Sampei Shirato. Serial publication in the Garo began in 1964 and has continued ever since. In 1971, the stories published to that date were compiled into 21 volumes of paperbacks of 300 pages each--some 50,000 frames of pictures altogether--and the author stated in his postscript to volume 21 that it was merely the end of Part I of "Kamui-den," which eventually would consist of three parts. One might expect, therefore, another 40 volumes of the continuing story of "Kamui-den" in the years to come. This, of course, is one of the longest stories in the history of comic books; as Toshio Kagawa, a playwright, commented, it is comparable with Wagner's "Der Ring des Nibelungen" or Tolstoy's War and Peace. More than 50 major characters have appeared in the story, and the social relationships among the characters are extremely complex. The story goes on continually depicting power and suppression, joy and agony, hopes and discouragement, and above all, the life and death of the characters. It's a long story, but never boring.

The setting of the story is in eighteenth century Japan, when feudal lords dominated the peasant society; "Kamui-den" is essentially a story of feudal exploitation and of agrarian revolt against it. It is a story about a violent revolution and many of the heroes die in the process of the glorious struggle. In this sense, "Kamui-den" is revolutionary literature, and this is the precise reason that activists were attracted by the story.

The term "Kamui" carries a somewhat intricate connotation. The word originated with the Ainu, an aboriginal ethnic group of Japan whose descendants survive as a minority group in Hokkaido; "Kamui" means "god," or something "sacred." Kamui is the name of the hero of the story, but at the same time it is used to mean any heroic figure or event. It may be safe to say that the word "Kamui" is what Wagner would define as the "Leitmotif" of the story. Because the Ainu are a neglected and suppressed minority, the title "Kamui" is symbolic of the contents of the epic. Mr. Shirato is very sophisticated in his approach to the theme and, in spite of the realism of his style, he has been quite successful in leaving a certain ambiguity so that a reader could identify contemporary counterparts out of this historical drama. As a matter of fact, Mr. Shirato commented in the first volume of the series, "If your righteous demands as a human being are ignored and suppressed, you will surely be indignant and frustrated! Today, in spite of developments of human societies permitting life to be full of joy, the real facts are quite contrary. This is the story of those people who tried hard to make progress in seventeenth century Japan."

The story begins in a poor farming village in a feudal territory fictitiously called "Heki territory." The feudal lord governing the territory is sadistically cruel and ignorant, and he exploits the farmers with heavier taxation every year.

Like many other rulers, his policy is "divide and rule," and in this case, he divides the people of his territory by status and discrimination. The top social class, of course, is the Samurai or warriors, headed by the lord of the territory. Then come the farmers, but they were divided into two classes, Hyakusho (independent farmers) and Genin (serf). Below Genin is a caste called Hinin, who are engaged in such dirty jobs as the processing of the dead bodies of animals, and their community is segregated from that of the farmers. Even the mountain passes and river banks that the Hinin can use are segregated from those of farmers. Farmers, Hyakusho and Genin together, look down on the Hinin as if they were not human beings. Another special assignment for Hinin is the execution of criminals. The leaders of agrarian revolt, for instance, are executed at the hands of Hinin. The tension between farmers and Hinin is thus reinforced, and mutual hatreds and hostilities are created and perpetuated.

Because of heavy taxation, the farmers revolt periodically against the tyranny of the lord, but the revolts are always unsuccessful, and every time the leading figures are arrested and killed. It is in this context that Shosuke, a hero of the story, comes on the scene. Shosuke belongs to Genin, but his ideas are liberal and he sees no reason why Hinin should be segregated and discriminated against. He devotes his efforts to combining the powers of farmers and Hinin. He himself falls in love with a Hinin girl and gets married.

The younger brother of the girl Shosuke marries is another heroic figure, Kamui. He, naturally, belongs to the Hinin class, but he chooses to live as a lone-wolf, a solitary fighter rather than a member of an organized movement. Through mysterious training in the mountains, Kamui acquires super-human abilities and helps Shosuke and others.

There is a sympathizer of Shosuke among the young Samurai, too. Tatsunoshin, a son of a very important family, joins with the farmers after unfortunate experiences in the factional struggle and complications within the Samurai class. He comes to believe that the government must be overthrown. Through a series of accidents, he lives with Hinin and learns the realities of the life of the lower class people.

Another important figure in the story is Shichibei, an ambitious merchant who looks for free trade and big profit. He is opposed to the feudal lord, whose economic policy is very restrictive, and he acts as the financier for innovative farmers such as Shosuke. He can be an ally of the suppressed in the sense that the lord is their common enemy. Here again is a classic formula--the temporary solidarity between bourgeois and farmers--and as the formula of Marxism predicts, this solidarity is broken as soon as Shichibei gains economic hegemony in the territory.

The difficulties and unrest in the territory are reported by a special group of spies to the shogunate, or the central government of the day, which looks for any justification to confiscate the territory from the lord. At last, the lord is killed by a terrorist, and the territory is confiscated by the central government. Tatsunoshin, because of his popularity with the farmers, is appointed as the local governor, and he tries very hard to abolish discrimination and to make the people happy. This "Weimar" period, however, does not last; since Tatsunoshin is too liberal and too nice to the people, the central government replaces him. The agony and suffering of the farmers begins anew, and in the process all of the heroes die.

This is the end of part one of the story. There are many other important side stories which cannot be described here in detail, but in the following pages, three major heroes, namely Kamui, Shosuke, and Tatsunoshin will be studied in close-ups.

The Trinity of Heroes

Shosuke: Organizer, Educator, and Innovator

When he was a child, Shosuke asked his father why people discriminate against Hinin. Father answered "It's a matter of birth. They are different." Shosuke retorted, "Then, are we Genin different from Hyakusho by birth? Are we?" His father just could not answer. After this incident, Shosuke did not hesitate to play with the kids of Hinin class, in spite of the adults' warnings. He also learned why his father hated Hinin so much. The father confessed one day about the tragedy of Shosuke's mother. She was born Hinin and did not tell her husband about her birth till Shosuke was born. The aggrieved husband suddenly regretted his marriage, and out of anger, he kicked his wife. The desperate woman left the house and committed suicide.

Shosuke's life became more sad and tragic when his elder sister (who once was in love with Tatsunoshin, another hero) was killed by a brutal Samurai. Being a boy of the Genin class, he could do nothing about his misery and misfortune.

However, his ambition was never discouraged. First of all, he wanted to learn to read. There was, of course, no school, and he had to educate himself. Soon he was able to read the documents of the village chief, the local representative of power, and he learned that the village chief had been dishonest in tax allocation. Shosuke accused him of this injustice. Shosuke was arrested and almost executed, but being a smart boy, he had given a copy of the document to Kamui so that the injustice would be reported to higher officials if he were executed. Shosuke had not intended blackmail. but in effect, the village chief proposed that he would give Shosuke the status of Hyakusho (an independent farmer with a small parcel of land) in exchange for a copy of the document. Shosuke accepted this offer.

He became a hardworking, independent farmer,and he thought that perhaps a cash crop other than rice would bring more profit for the farmers. He visited neighboring communities and learned that growing cotton could be a good business. He made an experimental pilot farm where he got good yield of cotton.

The farmers, especially the younger ones, admired Shosuke as the new leader of the village and helped him. He later introduced silk production, and saw an opportunity to sell both cotton and silk to the merchants on the free market. He went to the big urban centers to check the current price of cotton and silk, lest he be cheated by the merchants. The products of the village were sold on bids, and Shichibei came onto the scene. He encouraged Shosuke to produce more and financed his projects, including a large-scale irrigation construction.

The agriculture financed by commercial capital required more organized labor, and for that purpose, too, the discrimination and segregation of Hinin from farmers had to be abolished. Therefore, in the village, the two classes of the people worked together, sharing the joy of communal projects. The lord of the territory felt a threat in Shosuke's activities because he saw them as a menace to the existing power structure, and the antagonism between the lord and farmers was intensified. Finally, a military confrontation took place. The farmers, armed with farming tools, fought against the lord's army in vain. Shosuke, a pacifist, could not stop the violence, but he was arrested as the suspected leader. The farmers, as well as Hinin, however, testified in court that Shosuke was not participating in the riot, and he was released.

Throughout his life, Shosuke was a legalist. He discouraged the use of violence, and suggested rather a Gandhi-like non-violent resistance. He believed in law and justice, and every time he was arrested, he insisted that he would talk about anything, but only in the court where he could see responsible officers;he was never defeated by sadistic tortures.

He also believed in collective action for farmers. He said that the power of an individual was weak, but a well-organized group of individuals could be the strongest power in the world, even stronger than a lord's army. He encouraged communal life. For instance, he organized villagers to collectively purchase the daily necessities so that farmers could bargain on the price. Indeed, Shosuke was a fictional pioneer in consumer cooperative movement. He organized such community organizations as youth clubs and children's clubs so that young people could exchange ideas. Young girls who had been educated by Shosuke grew up to be teachers in the community school. A nursery school also was built so that parents could leave their small children while working in the farm. With the permission of the lord's office, which always looked for more taxes from more land, Shosuke undertook a new project to convert wilderness into new farmland, so that more independent farmers could migrate and settle.

Shosuke can be defined as an innovator of early capitalism, comparable with Benjamin Franklin and, like him, an inventor. He invented many new agricultural tools to save energy and to intensify agricultural production. He was, as seen before, a liberal-minded person who dared to marry a girl who belonged to the Hinin class. The villagers, who had been prejudiced against Hinin, celebrated their marriage, and solidarity between farmers and Hinin grew.

The happiness did not, however, continue. The village was attacked by a dreadful flood;the lord had cut most of the trees on the mountainside to get quick cash, and the rains ran off quickly and swelled the river. The farmers decided, again, to revolt against the lord. Shosuke persuaded them not to, and with the help of Shichibei,the merchant, he took the whole population of the village to another territory where also there was a cruel lord, and many migrant farmers lost their lives.

The lord of Shosuke's village, meanwhile, was accused by the central government of injustice and misconduct, and as soon as the news reached the migrant farmers, they decided to return home. They learned when they arrived that Tatsunoshin, who once had spent part of his life with the farmers, was the new governor of the village. The alliance of Shosuke and Tatsunoshin created a kind of Utopia. But the Tatsunoshin Era was a very short one, and another exploitative governor soon took office. The new governor was as bad as the former lord, and Shosuke could no longer be patient. The only action he could take was to report to the central government himself. He went to Kyoto, then to Edo, was put in jail and tortured.

In spite of his firm belief in law and justice, his mission was unsuccessful. He went back home, almost half-dead(his tongue was cut by torture), and the villagers who had insisted on violent revolt did not support Shosuke any more. Mr. Shirato, the author, says simply "....after that he disappeared, nobody saw him."

Shosuke was a model of democracy, a textbook by himself. But the textbook could not change the society, except for temporary reforms and short-lived innovations.

Kamui: An Underground Lone-Wolf

Kamui was a fearless, militant, and isolated hero. He belonged to the Hinin class, and he knew that he could not rise above it. But instead of being exploited and suppressed by both farmers and Samurai, he chose to engage himself in a special assignment. The ruling class, the Samurai, was clever enough to give a special mission to selected Hinin: Espionage. The Samurai needed secret information about farmers who were potential subversives of their power. Hinin, who were discriminated against and often treated as non-human by the farmers, could take a sado-masochistic pleasure in these espionage missions. The selected Hinin also could enjoy more freedom and less labor, in comparison with most of the people belonging to this class, who had to butcher dead animals. Kamui chose to be one of the spies, or to take an intellectually dirty job rather than a physically dirty one.

In order to be a spy, one had to be strong and swift. Kamui, wearing an animal hide and a sword, trained himself in the mountains. He was a "nature boy" so to speak, and he learned quick and smooth bodily actions from the wild animals he observed. He could jump from tree to tree like a monkey, and swim in the water like a trout.

And like a wild animal, he was prepared to fight against any danger he faced. He knew that nobody would help him, and he saw the world as a place where the strongest takes all. He had no friend. Even when a boy came to ask his if he could give him certain training, Kamui answered calmly, "You should take care of yourself! Nobody will help you."

Espionage, however, was not as simple as it seemed. Even though the activities of spies were directed by the Samurai, it was very difficult for a man like Kamui to feel he was a part of the power structure;he knew that the real enemy was the Samurai class and not farmers. Especially in view of the fact that his elder sister Nana was married to Shosuke, Kamui tended to give support to the farmers under the disguise of a spy dispatched by Samurai. He, in a sense, was a double agent, like "The Spy Who Came in From the Cold." Indeed, Kamui was a tragic figure, and like most spies, especially double agents, he was perpetually in danger. Above all. his job being what it was, he could not tell who were his "enemies" and who were his "friends." Only by quick judgment and action could he keep himself alive. He killed people with a stroke of the sword as if he were chopping carrots.

Because of his extraordinary skill, he was selected as a member of a spy organization of higher ranking where training in Ninjutsu, or the mysterious martial arts, was given. The rules and regulations of the organization were so strict and absolute that anyone who betrayed them, or tried to escape from the organization had to be killed by his colleagues. No member could trust any other member. Kamui was ordered by the top boss of the organization to kill his teacher, who had become skeptical and was planning to drop out of the group. However, during this desperate clash, Kamui also became skeptical about the meaning of his life as an "organization man" who had always to follow the orders of his superiors;eventually, he decided to escape from the organization.

Naturally, his escape might mean his death. He became one of the deviants who was chased by killers like himself. The socio-psychological setting of Kamui was not as simple as that of Shosuke. Kamui, first of all, was a member of the alienated class, Hinin, and then decided to alienate himself even from other Hinin by becoming a member of the spy organization, but that was not all. He then alienated himself from the organization to which he belonged, at his own serious risk. The life he was living was, in a word, a perpetual process of alienation. He had no friend, except for animals. He asked his questions to himself and he had to answer the questions. Indeed, Kamui was a militant existential philosopher, and one may even see a variation of Andre Malraux in the monologues of Kamui.

What made his situation worse was that he finally discovered the secret of the central government. The discovery, which Kamui made by an energetic search of the old secret documents, was something fantastic:according to the secret papers, the Tokugawa family, the dominant power of Japan at that time, actually came from the Hinin class, and all the sophisticated genealogies of the family had been a fake. This, of course, was a serious matter. If the secret was leaked, the whole power structure based on a rigid status system would have lost its justification. The central government, who knew that Kamui had learned the secret, started their own hunt for him, mobilizing their whole police force and secret service. Kamui became a most desperate fugitive, but he survived underground by his own skill and strength as a superhuman hero.

Unlike Shosuke, Kamui did not have any belief in, or even a sense of, justice. He did not have any political ambition. He just wanted to live his own life as a free human being. His ideological orientation was anarchy combined with wild naturalism. He was usually cynical about most human affairs, yet he came onto the scene where two other major heroes, namely Shosuke and Tatsunoshin, were in danger, and he helped them. He avoided, however, any emotional involvement with them. He was a cool boy, and at the end of the story, a reader would wonder if he was still alive. It seems that even Mr. Shirato does not know where Kamui has gone.

Tatsunoshin: The Limits of Understanding Elites

The early training of Tatsunoshin was quite a contrast to that of the other two heroes. Born to one of the key families of the ruling class, he was given the best education as a future elite. He was taught by his teacher that martial arts such as fencing were required if the Samurai class, whose number was small, was to rule the majority, the farmers.

His father was the highest ranking official in the lord's castle. He was a capable secretary of the territorial government, and his brilliance could compensate, partially, for the ignorance and mischief of the lord. However, the lord liked him less than another, evil-minded official, and by a series of conspiracies, had him killed. Moreover, the lord ordered that every single person among Tatsunoshin's family and relatives be eliminated. Miraculously, however, Tatsunoshin was able to escape; he hid himself in the deep mountains, and there he met an old man.. The old man was a famous retired swordsman, and Tatsunoshin was given extraordinarily hard training. In his mind, there was one absolute goal: revenge. His former lord reigned as the object of his hate and vendetta, and he could barely wait for his chance.

One day, when the lord was hunting, Tatsunoshin carelessly tried to attack him. He found that it was he who was actually being attacked, and he could have been killed by the lord's troops if it were not for Kamui's adventurous help. Tatsunoshin was too naive to fight a strategic war.

After the incident, of course, the search for Tatsunoshin was intensified and he could not escape into the mountains. Once again assisted by Kamui, he decided to hide himself in an isolated Hinin hamlet where the Samurai would not dare to inspect. He even cut his hair so that he would look like a Hinin. The situation was that living conditions in the Hinin community were extremely bad.

Especially for a person like Tatsunoshin, who had been brought up in an upper class family, the life of the Hinin class was intolerable, even with his wild experience in the mountains. As a member of the community, he had to work with other members, whose job was to dispose of the dead bodies of animals. He was instructed by the leader of the community to take off the skin of a dead cow. The rotten body of the animal made him retch, and he, as a man still belonging to the Samurai class, almost decided to kill himself rather than to take such a dirty job. He also refused to eat the food he was served, which stank.

He was touched and ashamed, however, when he learned that the food was prepared from left-overs which young Hinin children had begged from the farmers' kitchens and brought back that he might eat. The most underprivileged people in the society, Tatsunoshin found out, were also human beings who were trying to help their own miserable people, Hinin and farmers inclusive, which was a far more important task for him than seeking revenge, which was, after all, a personal matter. He became aware that assassinating the lord would not mean anything;there would always be another equally bad Samurai who would succeed to the lord's castle. Thus, he concluded that elimination of the individual lord was not enough, and that the whole Samurai class had to be eliminated. Because Tatsunoshin himself was a member of Samurai class, his conclusion meant self-denial.

While living in the village, he became acquainted with Shosuke and learned from him. One day he had a philosophical dialogue with Shosuke, who said, pointing to a big old tree, "Look at that tree. If you want to cut down the tree, you should have tools, such as an ax and saw. Unless you have these tools, you can't do anything about the tree. I think the tools that we have now are the results of human struggle which has continued for centuries." Tatsunoshin asked him, "Then, how many years do you think it takes for our generation to change the society?" Shosuke answered, "I don't know. We can cut down a tree easily, but in order to cut down a castle, we need another, stronger tool." Tatsunoshin put his next question: "What do you mean by 'a stronger tool'?" Shosuke answered, "Power. The power of the people working and producing. The power of hundreds of farmers. Pick up a hair. It's hopelessly weak. But if you make a rope out of thousands of hairs, even a sword can't cut it." Tatsunoshin was happy to be a part of Shosuke's organization.

However, he could not totally agree with Shosuke's non-violent resistance. After seeing many farmers killed by the tyranny of the lord, Tatsunoshin separated himself from the pacifism of Shosuke and organized a guerrilla troop with other Samurai drop-outs. It was a Robin Hood-style militia--helping farmers and harassing the lord's army. Naturally, Tatsunoshin's militia was the strongest component in a series of agrarian riots.

The guerrilla activities continued successfully, although with the sacrifice of hundreds of farmers' lives, until the lord was discharged by the central government. In order to quiet the excited farmers, the central government awarded the position of the governor of the territory to Tatsunoshin. He, of course, was a qualified person as he was the son of an important family, and with his past experience with the farmers, he was an ideal governor for getting along with the people. On the day he took office, he came to the village to see Shosuke, and shook his hand.

Since he had such an experience with the underprivileged people, he understood his territory in detail. He was an enlightened ruler, and encouraged democratic action among the people. It was, as was suggested before, a kind of "Weimar Republic." He, however, found out that he had a new enemy, the central government. The central government was worried by his enlightened policy and gave him instructions that the status system had to be reinstated. Tatsunoshin refused such instruction and warnings until at last he was discharged. When his successor arrived, Tatsunoshin went to see him and insisted on justice. The new governor drew his sword and killed him.

Tatsunoshin was an understanding member of the elite;but because he was too understanding, his life ended in tragedy.

Marx, Darwin, or . . . ?

As we have seen briefly, "Kamui-den" is essentially a revolutionary comic, yet it is hard to define this work as propaganda literature. The author, Mr. Shirato, seems to present diversified patterns of revolutionary action rather than a single orthodox approach. The three young heroes represent three "ideal types" of rebels in an authoritarian social structure, and as was hinted elsewhere, Mr. Shirato made both implicit and explicit the implications of these heroes for contemporary society--an amazingly sophisticated style. Shosuke, for instance, is an innovator who feels that farmers could be happier even in a feudal society, if law and justice were practiced. He is a success-minded person, and has no qualms about making a deal with the village chief, who promotes him by special arrangements to Hyakusho status from the Genin class. He is pleased to accept a promotion which he cannot share with his fellow Genin, even with his father. In spite of his democratic ideals and cooperative ventures, it seems that Shosuke is essentially the hero of a success story, a model for other ambitious young men. He teaches the hopeful lesson that a lower class serf can be an independent farmer if he is diligent and confident. The young people of today might project the life style and philosophy of Shosuke to the opposition parties in contemporary parliamentary democracy. The parties are very active and critical of the government's policies. They demand, for instance, a larger social welfare budget, less military expenditure, etc. They encourage consumers' cooperatives and labor unions. They appeal to the people to unite and to establish solidarity. These are very nice ideas, and the opposition parties may be able to succeed in gradually changing the government's policies. But gradualism is not a revolutionary idea. By definition, militant radicals would not put much hope in parliamentary democracy, and for that season, they would not accept Shosuke as their hero.

If Shosuke falls into the category of "innovation" in Robert Merton's schema of anomie and deviant behavior, Tatsunoshin is fundamentally a conformist, in spite of his seemingly rebellious life. Of course, he is an exceptional Samurai who understands the facts of life in the poor peasants' village. But his adventurous life, after all, seems to be another version of the "beggar prince" story. Tatsunoshin has a wonderful and strange experience with the farmers, but it is an accidental and temporary event. The lessons he learns from the farmers are simply his "reference materials" as a member of the ruling class. Sometimes, he feels that he should deny his class and himself, but he cannot escape the Samurai consciousness. His Robin Hood-style guerilla warfare may please and excite the radical students on the contemporary university campus, who are not quite satisfied by parliamentary democracy, but his groovy guerilla warfare might well be viewed as what Lenin has labeled "leftist adventurism." He is a brave swordsman, and he feels that the farmers must revolt, unknowing that the time is not mature. Above all, this Robin Hood does not stay with the farmers. He accepts the governorship of the territory when the position is offered. He is the best governor the farmers could hope for, and he has good justifications and reasons for accepting the appointment. Nobody can blame him. But the important quality of Tatsunoshin is that he is an elite throughout his life. He is destined to stay inside the elite class. He may feel that he is one of the common people, but such a feeling is self-deceiving. He is an exceptional Samurai, but he remains a Samurai no matter how exceptional he is. Tatsunoshin is like a young radical student who propagates populism but takes a job as a promising young executive in a big company upon his graduation. His deviance is incidental and accidental; in the long run, he is a conformist. Tatsunoshin is conscientious enough to work for the people, and he never betrays them. As a result, he had to be executed. But he dies an honorable Samurai death.

Kamui is a contrast to both Shosuke and Tatsunoshin in the sense that the world he lives in is different. He is cynical, not impressed by the glorious social justice toward which other heroes strive, and he tries to live his life as an unrestricted, free individual. He also seems to be rebellious as far as his fighting with and killing of the Samurai are concerned, but he would fall into the category of "retreatism" of Merton's scheme. Merton said, "People who adapt in this fashion are, strictly speaking, in the society but not of it. Sociologically, these constitute the true aliens. Not sharing the common frame of values, they can be included as members of the society (in distinction from the population) only in a fictional sense." Further, he stated, "It is, moreover, a privatized rather than a collective mode of adaptation. Although people exhibiting this deviant behavior may gravitate toward centers where they come into contact with other deviants, and although they may come to share in the subculture of these deviant groups, their adaptations are largely private and isolated rather than unified under the aegis of a new cultural goal."

Indeed, Kamui is an isolated, alienated hero. He is desperately tired of all the complications of human society, and he retreats. To where?

As we have seen, Mr. Shirato's career as a comic artist began with the illustrated story of Seton's books on wild animals. He, according to his biographical notes, was keenly interested in animal life, and that was why he chose Seton for his debut. As a matter of fact, his pictures of animals are often much more vivid than those of human beings. The theme of "nature," therefore, is an indispensable component of his works, and "Kamui-den" is no exception.

The first page of volume one of "Kamui-den," for instance, begins with a scene of animals in the mountains, accompanied by this narration: "This year, in this area, was a rich year, both for animals and for human beings."In the following ten pages, the lives of animals are introduced. The basic principle which governs the lives of animals is that of the ecological cycle. A tree's leaves are eaten by the deer, who in turn are attacked by a group of wolves. It is a Darwinian world, and a story of these animals precedes the story about human beings. Mr. Shirato even gives lectures on ecology in these passages.

In a side story about a group of wolves, Mr. Shirato creates a lone wolf. The wolf, who happens to have white fur, is segregated from other wolves and is not permitted to join the group. The wolf has to go hunting alone to get food for himself. The author gives the name of "Kamui" to this lone wolf, and that wolf becomes the antecedent for the hero Kamui who appears several pages later;the parallel development of two Kamui--human and animal--is combined in a style reminiscent of a counterpoint in musical composition. The word "Kamui," therefore, is used quite ambiguously from the beginning, though in most of the cases, it is used as the name of the human hero.

The parallel description of two Kamuis gives the impression that the basic view of Mr. Shirato is that of the naturalist who regards human beings as a species whose position on the earth is equal with that of other species. Like hunting wolves, human beings are also cruel, and like deer, they are surrounded by dangers all the time. The world of animals, including the human animal, in "Kamui-den" is a Leviathan one. And in this comic, humans are animals, contrary to the Wait Disney approach where animals are humans.

The role of Kamui, the hero, in this context, functions to mediate and combine human society with that of other creatures. The word "Kamui" itself is ambiguous and mysterious, probably even for Mr. Shirato himself. One may suspect that "Kamui" could mean "elan vital" in the sense of Jean Jacques Rousseau's treatise. "Kamui" in itself is a Weltanschaung.

From the "Kamui" viewpoint, therefore, all the human efforts, including revolution, are negligible variations on the wider theme of natural history. The final picture of volume 21 is of a dark, stormy sea. Mr. Shirato comments:

"People are born in different places, coming together in a sea called life.

The sea is rough and never pacified, endlessly."

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