Turning the World into a Sanctuary for Disaffected Youth, the Manga Way
Cultural and Generational Wars Exist Amidst Criminal and Political Intrigue in a Brilliant Manga
Nearly 20 years have passed since I first read the first few volumes of the epic-length manga series Sanctuary written by Sho Fumimura and illustrated by Ryoichi Ikegami. Viz originally released the full 12 volumes of the series in English language form in the mid-1990s. At the time, manga was relatively new and growing in popularity as best it could, given the high price of trade paperbacks.
Volume One sets the epic work events in motion as we are introduced to the characters of Akira and Chiaki, two childhood friends who share a strong bond even though their paths in life are dramatically different. Chiaki seeks to become the youngest member of the Diet, and Akira wishes to rise to the top of organized crime.
For two paths that are supposed to be different, the underworld and the political world intertwine repeatedly.
Can The Sanctuary Of A New World Be Born Out Of Changing The Old One?
Sanctuary was the second manga I read, with the first being the equally excellent Appleseed. Unlike the strange, futuristic sci-fi world of Appleseed, Sanctuary exists in the authentic world. Consider this ironic since the title refers to the character's search for their own private Idaho where they can escape from the world to their special place.
Escaping from the world is not their only goal. They wish to change it and do so in a big way.
Sanctuary does strike of cord with younger readers, thanks mainly to its overarching theme in the first volume. The theme is the variant on the generational gap between the young and the old.
The narrative focuses on the younger generation taking over the Japanese Diet (Japan's version of the Congress) and the Yakuza. The manga also goes to great lengths to blur the lines between organized crime and the underworld, enhancing the distrust present between the youth and the old.
The comic's action-adventure component is combined with a strong sense of preachy melodrama, and the two disparate sides of storytelling do blend well together. Regardless of whether the action is moving or a character is acting somewhat preachy, the themes that Japan (and the world) would be a much better place if the young took charge.
How can the will of the people be reflected when the average age of a politician (and a Yakuza leader) is 68?
All of this makes sense.....if you are a 22 year old reader who thinks all you have to do to make the world a better place is to hand out lollipops.
Youthful Themes And Comic Book Folly
Youth brings with it a lot of energy, optimism, and enthusiasm. What it lacks is the logic that comes with experience. Often, the young think can improve the world are impractical at best, unrealistic at most.
Sanctuary does reflect the bright optimism of the youth combined with a sub-textual contempt for those in the older generation who are self-serving. The truth is a few dozen 30-year-olds cannot run a nation like Japan, or any other country for that matter.
Empirical logic is not what drives the interest and popularity in Sanctuary.
Youth and the Archetype of the Put Upon
A recurring theme in comic books coming from both the United States and Japanese publishers is the underdog's fight to overcome oppressive powers. The theme make sense when you considered the nebbish audience for works of sequential art. Nerds are picked on. A lot. The bullies who make life miserable for social outcasts are morphed into the villains in graphic novels.
The problem with this approach is when there is no subtlety. Hitting the audience over the head with complaints about the world, not seeing things your way - or bending to accommodate your lack of social skills - ruins the narrative.
For the younger males who comprise the target audience Sanctuary, only the work's themes matter. The world should be one for the young and, if only given the opportunity, things can change for the better. In many ways, these themes certainly strike a chord with a 20-something buried in a tedious entry-level job wishing he could be given more opportunities and responsibilities in the company he works for.
After all, he knows how to run things.
The Irony Of The Old Vs. The Young
Akira and Chiaki may be dreamers at heart, but they are also serious and focused. Never once are we left with the impression they are unwilling to do whatever it takes to achieve their goals.
Not so is the case with the political figures. In volume one, one of the older Diet members is blackmailed after being caught having an affair. Despite his aged and supposed aged wisdom, he acts like a teenager and suffers the price of his foolish indiscretion.
For a Diet member to act in such a manner reflects the lack of seriousness found in his character. The implication here is the immature politician has gone on autopilot and no longer takes his duties seriously. A politician on autopilot means the nation of Japan must exist on autopilot with no real reforms instituted to solve economic and social concerns.
Further irony emerges when the blackmailing of the politician opens the door for Chiaki to enter the political world. The irony is that, to bring a sense of maturity to the political world, a man in his late 20's must be brought in to replace someone in his 1960s.
Equally interesting is that while politicians are portrayed as petulant and immature, the yakuza chiefs are shown to be level-headed, sage, and deliberate in their actions.
The gangsters of the underworld are anti-heroic in their presentation. The politicians are displayed as pure clowns.
The work's theme stresses both entities would benefit from younger, fresher, more vibrant members in the fold.
Setting the Stage for Volume Two
There is a heavy-handed amount of melodrama in Sanctuary, but the themes remain subtle enough that the narrative does not become jarringly preachy.
There is a nice mix of action that helps keep the pace of the story moving. The characters may have their preachy moments, but the characters are action-oriented. The work's narrative is propelled forward based on the actions of these primary characters, characters who do become more multi-dimensional in future volumes.
Manga comics have not been turned into major motion pictures in Hollywood to the same degree as homegrown graphic novels. The Ring and Ghosts in the Shell are getting a U.S. remake. Will there be an American Sanctuary film in the future? We hope, but the odds a political/gangster melodrama appeals to Hollywood producers is not something likely in the current entertainment landscape.