Sunday, August 08, 2004

Books, Tanks, Anime and ... umm, more tanks

A while back someone asked ask to name the single best wargames purchase I'd made. I thought of my 15mm Polybian Romans, which have seen valiant service in multiple battles (losing most of them time, ah well), but today I realised there's another contender.

It's an old tattered book called "Tanks of World War 2" which I bought in 1983 - specifically, the 14th of December, a Wednesday. I know all this because it's written in large round letters on the inside cover, along with my address. I count myself very lucky that my mom always let me buy as many books as I wanted, despite the fact that we didn't have all that much money. It was one of many inspired decisions she made as a parent (sending me to Bethesda kindergarten was one, and the other was letting me decide whether I wanted to go into the GEP - when most parents would have insisted). I still remember buying this book - it was really expensive ($20? $30?) and I hesitated a bit. I really wanted it though, so my mom let me buy it, despite it having no obvious educational value (I think of all these hot-housing parents who put their kids through a strictly regulated reading diet, when I was allowed to read almost anything). I remember holding it on the bus, trying not to read it until we got back home. It's been read to pieces since, and remains my primary reference material for painting tanks, despite the internet and all.

Which brings me to the issue of Japanese model kits and the insidious late-war bias. I'm about to start work on a Panther tank, a Hasegawa kit. One of the things one notices about Japanese kits for WW2 tanks is how they focus heavily on late-war vehicles - the "biggest" and "best", the most "advanced". I bought the Hasegawa Panther kit on a whim (lunch-time shopping on a workday - sometimes you just have to buy yourself a tank) not realising that it was for a Panther Ausf F, a variant of the tank so late in the war it didn't even see combat. Now, for the collector and builder, this might be a gem of a kit, I'm sure - but for the wargamer, it's almost useless. Thank goodness the kit also contains enough parts to make an Ausf G - I think. The problem is that assembly instructions only cover the Ausf F. (here's where the old reference book comes in, by the way - hours spent poring over illustrations to figure out which parts to use)

I have a theory about how the Japanese world-view is skewed by their experiences from WW2. Consider how Anime has an obsession with technology, expressed in terms of Giant Robots (Evangelion), Giant Spacecraft (Star Blazers), Giant Monsters (yes, I know this ignores the other significant branches of Anime - Pet Monsters, Schoolboy/Schoolgirl Anime, Team/Sports Animes etc, but elements of this techno-bias express themselves in these as well, not just in Giant Fighting Robot Animes). My inner pop-psychologist theorizes that being the only nation to have been nuked (and twice at that - with Nagasaki being almost a "There - told you we were serious" afterthought nuking) has made its mark on their collective pysche. At the end of that war, centuries of warrior code, emphasising courage and honour, were nothing in the face of scientific prowess. Labcoats beat Samurai.

Apocalyptic themes recur again and again - aliens with superior technology invade and threaten to destroy the world, demons from another realm invade and threaten to destroy the world, other humans from another planet invade and (predictably) threaten to destroy the world - or Tokyo. It's interesting how most of the time, Tokyo = the World, that the vision of apocalypse doesn't extend much beyond Japan, that how destruction of Tokyo is treated as equivalent to destroying the world (why do these aliens always invade Tokyo first, and sometimes only?)

The key to defeating the enemy is (in these types of anime anyway) almost always a Secret Weapon, built around some Highly Advanced technology - think the Wave Motion Gun in Star Blazers, or Evangelion. Even in non tech-based anime, where the combat is magical/spiritual, there often is a trump card, a mega-weapon, that confers victory to the possessor - easy to surmise how these all are re-imaginings of the nuclear bomb.

Another thing I've noticed is how much Anime depends on the young - most heroes are school-children, and most children are gifted with some talent or ability that let's them do things that adults can't. A rejection of the patriachal Imperial government that led them into WW2? Turning towards the future, as represented by children, for hope? There's a sense that only the young, innocent and untainted by the traditions of their elders, can hope to manage this new and powerful technology, whether it be piloting a mecha, or wielding some magical power. (while still attending school in most cases - typically Asian ... = )

Which brings me back to the Hasegawa kit, which we can now boldly theorize as an expression of a nation's collective angst, transfered onto the other losing nation of WW2. The Panther Ausf F was the latest and best, but it simply came too late to save the Germans - but on collectors shelves, it probably enjoys a larger production run than it ever did in real life, thanks to Hasegawa. As for me, I'm going to try and assemble the kit as an earlier, more primitive version, but one which did see combat - right after I finish scratch-building some 19th century anti-kite-bomber devices for our Victorian Science Fiction game.

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