Andrew Osmond finds Emperor Hirohito in Fam, the Silver Wing.
The second half of Last Exile: Fam the Silver Wing sees the war intensify while our young heroines – Fam, Giselle and the exiled Princess Millia – have their ideals and innocence tested. When we looked at the show’s first half, we noted that its Verne-ish vision of fabulous flying machines, racing or battling in the clouds, came from the 1980s Miyazaki movie Laputa Castle in Sky. More broadly, it came from “steampunk” fantasy – see here for more on steampunk, anime and Jules Verne. But Fam’s second half crashes its Miyazaki-esque youngsters into a world closer to Code Geass. It’s full of long games, about-turns and agonising choices, where even the people you love can be on opposite sides of the conflict. Expect crafty strategies, shadowy plottings and some Death Star level weaponry. More than one scene in the battle-heavy show seems to be about one-upping George Lucas.
One character who becomes central to the plot is a girl even younger than Fam or Millia – namely Sara Augusta, the child empress of the Federation. In Japanese, she’s voiced by Kanae Ito, whose other childlike roles include Yui in Sword Art Online and Elysisa in The World God Only Knows. She’s the daughter of the previous Empress, a peacemaker whose assassination was shown in the flashback episode of the previous disc. Now the Federation is bent on brutal warfare, to Sara’s increasing distress. Eventually we get rival Fed factions, bent on either stopping or continuing the conquests, both claiming to be acting in Sara’s name. Ultimately, the innocent Empress becomes even more pivotal to the conflict… but you’ll have to watch the show.
This resonates with Japanese history. One of the most controversial figures of the twentieth century remains Emperor Hirohito (1901-1989), officially Japan’s supreme ruler during its invasions of Asia and its entry into World War II. Whole books have been written arguing about whether Hirohito was responsible for Japan’s actions, especially as he was excluded from any trial or prosecution by the Allies after the country fell. Moreover, he stayed Emperor of Japan for four more decades. Hirohito’s Wikipedia page outlines the debate, noting anecdotes which suggest that Hirohito opposed Japan’s entry into World War II. But it also notes Hirohito’s support of, for example, the ghastly Unit 731 of the Japanese Army, which carried out unimaginably cruel “experiments” on civilians and POWs.
The Sara storyline in Fam the Silver Wing seems to echo a view – many would say a myth – of Hirohito, encouraged not just by the Japanese but also by the victorious Americans when they rebuilt the country. Namely, it was the story that Hirohito was a helpless figurehead, at the mercy of his warmongering government. Even decades after the war, it took a brave (or foolhardy) soul to challenge this orthodoxy in Japan. In 1988, when Hirohito’s health was declining, the mayor of Nagasaki – a city which reaped the worst consequences of Japan’s entry into war – commented, “I think the Emperor has war responsibility.” The mayor faced many death threats, and was shot and wounded by an ultranationalist in 1990.
There’s as much anger on other sides. In Britain, Hirohito’s death was greeted with a typically measured Sun headline, “Hell’s Waiting for this Truly Evil Emperor.” The paper regretted that Hirohito “died unpunished for some of the foulest crimes of this violent century.” When the Duke of Edinburgh attended Hirohito’s funeral – ironically, one of the chap’s more defensible acts of world diplomacy! – a number of British soldiers who’d suffered in Japan’s brutal POW camps returned their medals in protest. The same anger lingered when Hirohito’s son, the current Emperor Akihito, visited London in 1998. War veterans and their supporters, campaigning for compensation and an apology, stood at the road awaiting his carriage. They turned their backs as it passed and whistled “Colonel Bogey,” better known as “Hitler Has Only Got One Ball.”
Yet this shows how blurred the controversy gets. Akihito was all of eleven years old when World War II ended, so no-one could argue he was responsible for the carnage. Rather, he was attacked as his country’s symbol and figurehead – precisely what Hirohito was too, say his apologists. Even if Hirohito bore some responsibility for his country’s crimes, his influence may still have been negligible next to Japan’s government hawks, army officials and even its “common” soldiers. It’s interesting that more than one character in Fam is a self-made scapegoat; someone who deliberately focuses the world’s hatred onto him or herself. (There are similar anime figures in Code Geass and Eden of the East.) Then again, the “scapegoats” in Fam are a lot less innocent than little Sara!
Fam is fantasy, set in an imaginary world with imaginary nations. None of them is presented as inherently “evil,” and if the show has a moral, it’s that making peace is worth far more than beating an enemy. No-one will, or should, take offence at Fam the Silver Wing, but it’s worth noting the controversies underlying its story. Expect them to break out with a vengeance when another anime arrives in Britain: Hayao Miyazaki’s film The Wind Rises…
FAM THE SILVER WING, part 2 is released on UK DVD and Blu-ray from Manga Entertainment.