The First President of Japan Review
By Charles On 25 Sep, 2010 At 01:45 PM | Categorized As Reviews | With 2 Comments

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First President of Japan

Volume 1

Given the nature of much of the manga that we see in shops, it would be tempting to think that the only things that interest the Japanese are love stories, period pieces, monsters and overpowered children. Much like the American comics theater is dominated by heroes in flashy costumes, much of what we see of Japanese manga is rooted in super-everything, with characters embedding themselves in cross-genre story-lines. This sells, but it is not the only manga coming out of Japan.

In 2003, the now-defunct Raijin Comics brand released a short series entitled “The First President of Japan,” a sort of alternate history piece centered around sweeping political reforms in the Japanese government. Distaste for the Parliamentary system mounting, the Japanese people moved to elect their first ever people-chosen Prime Minister to a position strengthened with added executive powers and rights, very similar to the United States office of President. This new leader would be responsible for fixing the crumbling Japanese economy and facing rising tensions within the Eastern Sphere caused by a surging China, a militarizing North Korea and a United States that no longer cared about the US-Japan Security Treaty, an institution that had been in place since the end of the Second World War.

The man elected to this post was the young, idealistic politician Sakuragi Kenichiro, a product of an international education, global culture and savvy found only through dealing with the world arena, skills lacking among the strictly internalized system of Japanese bureaucracy. Though his election was the will of the people, the fading powers of the Japanese Liberal Democratic Party immediately seek his discrediting and removal from an office he barely tasted, focused on keeping influence even in the face of mounting upheaval and real danger to Japanese both at home and abroad. And as the situation builds, and Japan nears it’s breaking point, Sakuragi must move on his own to save his people from total collapse.

The “First President of Japan” is unique among a lot of the manga available in the country- first it is a political thriller, not too different from the works of Tom Clancy. Politicking, influence peddling and idealism are all main themes within the story, which spans out over 4 volumes. Sakuragi Kenichiro is a representative of both the everyman of Japan and the idealism many youths embrace when first entering the adult world. Confrontation of the existing system and resistance to change play a large part in the story progression, but so does hope and will. Second, it is rooted in issues and themes that were (and most would say, still are) prevalent in Asia- Chinese expansion, Korean tensions, reliance on the United States for protection and Russian influences all shape the world that Sakuragi and his virgin cabinet face. His one ally Stateside, Presidential Aide Jefferson Spider, is an old friend and classmate from his university days who is his sole link outside of Japan and de facto advocate to the world theater in the first chapters. His rival, likewise, is the old leading class of the Liberal Democratic Party, lead by outgoing Prime Minister Ohashi Takahiro, a career politician facing the loss of his life’s work. Thirdly, the book illuminates for a US audience many of the intricacies and subtleties of both the Japanese political system and style of government. Coming from the system we are familiar with, with elected officers and representative democracy balanced between three branches of government, the Japanese Parliamentary system is alien to us, and much of Japan’s history of relying on the US for it’s own balance since the war are issues rarely, if ever, discussed outside of specific collegiate classes. “The First President of Japan” manages to integrate these concepts into a powerful story, full of tension and suspense that begs to be read. Educational without being preachy, powerful without relying on cliches or “typical” plot elements.

Keeping in line with being realistic, the art and character designs are very grounded, simple and down to earth. The models look like real people, the settings are accurate recreations of real world locales (if not photographs outright), and everything is crisp and clean. Artist Tsugihara Ryuji has a knack for depicting tension without being unnecessary, and he imbues his characters with emotions and lifelike poses. To those familiar with more “typical” manga styles, this book will be a departure and might take some time getting used to.

Fortunately, the top-notch story will only aid in keeping this book firmly held in the hands of readers. While the story is over a decade old (it was originally published in Japan in 1999), many of the core elements of the plot are still issues of international concern. Though history has dis proven a lot of writer Hidaka Yoshiki’s “predictions” for the future of Asia, the alternate history shown here was a very real possibility at one point, and for anybody’s guess could still be. The authors spent a good deal of time researching the world they lived in before crafting the story, and the end result is a short, but very compelling account of a world in flux, with an essentially untested young man suddenly responsible for a scared nation, and his attempts to protect and strengthen it.

While it would be tempting to say only a small portion of the manga reading crowd would find this title interesting, to pass it up would be a disservice. While it may lack the supernatural elements of other suspense manga, or the insane, over-the-top action of shonen titles, “The First President of Japan” is a gem of a book that can easily hold its own among the more popular series. It offers a look inside the political world of a country on the other side of the planet, but whose impact is a part of our own daily lives.

About - Charles has written for ROG since 2010. An anthropologist and culture lecturer, he has previously been a featured panelist at Anime Boston and Otakon, the first educational guest at Anime USA, and frequently speaks at cons up and down the East Coast. He received his MA in cultural anthropology in 2011, and currently writes on convention culture, sacred culture in media, otaku identity and mythology.

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  1. […] Charles takes a trip in the way-back manga machine to review The First President of Japan, a political thriller published by the now-defunct Raijin Comics. [The Real Otaku Gamer] […]

  2. […] Charles takes a trip in the way-back manga machine to review The First President of Japan, a political thriller published by the now-defunct Raijin Comics. [The Real Otaku Gamer] […]

  3. […] from novels written by a Tom Clancy or Nelson Demille. I wrote a review of one such title for my first ever article on this site back in 2010. But after finishing “NonNonBa,” I finally feel like I’ve taken a step into a […]

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