(Warning: this post contains spoilers for Attack on Titan beyond the anime and discussion of war atrocities.) The popular manga Attack on Titan tells of how war is awful all around and how secrets skew perceptions, so how can its author support Japan’s war crimes in World War II and consider imperialism something beneficial?
Hajime Isayama, the 27 year old author of Attack on Titan, supposedly expressed these beliefs in June on his private Twitter account @migiteorerno, but this rumor has only recently been circulating the Internet. June was also when South Koreans (some fans of the manga and anime, some not?) discovered a post on Isayama’s official blog from 2010 where he said the character Dot Pixis was based on historical figure Yoshifuru Akiyama, who Isayama called frugal and respectable. Because Akiyama was a general of the Imperial Japanese Army who contributed to the colonization of Korea and the commander of the army stationed in Korea under Japanese occupation, Koreans commented on the post in disgust and anger that Isayama would admire someone considered a war criminal, going as far as death treats.
This outrage should come as no surprise knowing the history between Japan and Korea, but that is exactly what people may not be aware of. Korea was occupied by Japan from 1910 to 1945, only one of the East Asian nations colonized by Japan as part of its growing imperial presence. During that time, the Japanese army enforced changing Korean names to Japanese style, destroyed and stole Korean cultural artifacts and locations, murdered the Korean empress, forced Korean men into hazardous war efforts, forced Korean women into sexual slavery for Japanese soldiers, and tortured and massacred and experimented on innocent Koreans. However, history textbooks and classes in Japan have glossed over if not outright ignored these events. More focus is on before the 20th century in school, but even outside school there are civilians as well as politicians who deny the war crimes and respect war criminals. If @migiteorerno is indeed Hajime Isayama, he would seem to be one of these people.
The @migiteorerno account is private, but some tweets are visible on the site Favstar that organizes tweets by number of times favorited and retweeted. One that has been spread across South Korean news articles to various blog posts apparently reads “I believe that categorizing the Japanese soldiers who were in Korea before Korea was a country(??) as ‘Nazis’ is quite crude. Also, I do not believe that the people whose populations were increased twofold by Japan’s unification(??) of the country can be compared to people who experienced the Holocaust. This type of miscategorization is the source of misunderstanding and discrimination.” @migiteorerno dismisses how Japan’s imperialist war atrocities are often considered the East Asia equivalent to the Holocaust, instead giving credit for Korean’s modernization to Japan’s colonization. The blogger behind Ask a Korean acknowledges the complications of Holocaust comparisons in this post and Korea’s resulting modernization in this post, in both explaining better than I could how it does not excuse Japan’s past actions and present avoidance.
This tweet was made in June, the same time of the backlash about Akiyama this year, so appears to be referring to comments left about the war crimes. By “misunderstanding and discrimination” @migiteorerno seems to mean Koreans do not give credit to Japan like he does and instead hate Japanese people. The tweet is directed to @xxxifxxx (who also favorited it). According to this post, @xxxifxxx (now @xifxxx) first tweeted “A comment, ‘likely from a Korean’, concerning the fact that Shingeki no Kyojin’s author based the characters on the Japanese army, surfaced on a matome site – it’s obvious that using designs based on the Nazis in a positive light would be problematic to the world. Not to mention that Japan also carried out a similar kind of warfare.” @migiteorerno then made the infamous reply, to which @xifxxx responded “I apologize for becoming too emotional. I lost my cool and over-exaggerated Japan’s war participation. I’ll keep in mind that disorderly categorizations are the root of misunderstandings and discrimination” and also favorited @migiteorerno’s tweet. @xifxxx was actually agreeing with the comments on Isayama’s blog post that alluding to Akiyama was offensive for Japan’s war atrocities, but backed down about bringing up the atrocities when confronted by @migiteorerno’s nationalism.
The two accounts that have favorited the tweet are @xifxxx and @karota318, both who seem to be Japanese. @karota318 only favorited it recently (judging by how I have seen screencaps of the tweet from days ago without them there) and is not a follower of the private @migiteorerno, so must have favorited it through Favstar. @karota318 seems to be a fan of Attack on Titan and while searching who they follow I saw Japanese right wing Twitter users such as @right_wing5656, so they must be agreeing with the nationalist content of the tweet. Of the five accounts that have retweeted @migiteorerno’s tweet, four have profiles in Korean and one is completely empty. Retweeting anything by @migiteorerno should be impossible because it is private and the two public retweet accounts do not follow him, so like @kaota318’s favorite this appears to have been done through Favstar. Perhaps they “retweeted” it to bump the tweet to the top of @migiteorerno’s Favstar page to make it easier to find for evidence?
Attack on Titan fans have found connections between @migiteorerno and Hajime Isayama that point to it being his private Twitter account, such as @migiteorerno mentioning seeing movies right before Isayama’s official blog did, Japanese fans on 2ch treating @migiteorerno’s tweet about the official Attack on Titan video game as Isayama’s words, and @migiteorerno communicating with and following Isayama’s professional associates. In addition, how @migiteorerno’s tweet ignores Japan’s war atrocities to instead focus on South Korea’s modernization parallels how Isayama ignored Akiyama’s war crimes to instead focus on his life as a countryside school principal after the army. The latest Attack on Titan official guidebook Outside Kou has also confirmed that heroine Mikasa Ackerman was named after the Japanese battleship Mikasa, a flagship of the Russo-Japanese War over control of Korea.
With all this evidence, it is possible that @migiteorerno is in fact Isayama. However, something that makes this unlikely is also what I find the most disturbing if true: Attack on Titan contradicts Isayama’s apparent nationalism regarding imperialism, not unlike the dissonance between Orson Scott Card and Ender’s Game (as well as other creators and works). The plot of Attack on Titan is that remnants of humankind live within a series of walls to protect themselves from man-eating humanoid giants (“titans”) that dominate the earth, but titans have broken through the outermost wall and militarized humans of the wall population are fighting back to reclaim the land and uncover the mysteries of the titans. Initially protagonist Eren Yeager idolizes the military, especially the survey corps that journey outside the walls and get the most titan action, but after enlisting discovers how hopelessly difficult as well as complicated and secretive the situation is.
In Attack on Titan war is not heroic: the military is corrupt in structure, the government is keeping secrets, soldiers die gruesomely or are traumatized, and there is little hope for victory. The efforts against titans are muddled early on by how Eren discovers he can transform into one. These complications increase as the manga goes on with revealing that some of Eren’s own comrades can also shift between human and titan form to fight against humankind, introducing a wall-worshipping religion with government connections whose pastor knows the walls are actually made of titans, and hinting at some link between all humans and titans. Overall the titans are uncovered as more than the Other to be simply defeated in combat.
The evidence that @migiteorerno is Isayama is so strong that it unsettles me to think that Japanese nationalism obscures applying his own work’s themes to Japan-Korea relations. Would not Hange be just as disgusted with Japanese politicians denying war crimes and textbooks hiding history as with the wall cult and government that keeps secrets about the titans from the public? Or does Attack on Titan need to be reexamined through a pro-military lens? Are the moments of civilians insulting the downtrodden survey corps more about how military effort is above criticism than I first thought? As someone who likes Attack on Titan for what I see as a deconstruction of war narratives, I would like to hope not, but more to the manga and @migiteorerno may unfold. (Click the following link to read my 10/31/13 follow up post Death of the Author and More)