The latest chapter of Toshihiko Fujinami’s Manga de Yomu Jinbutsu-den (A Biograph in Manga) is stirring controversy over its depiction of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
The manga runs in the children’s educational magazine Shougaku 8 Nensei and paints an unflattering, but factual, picture of Abe. It begins by showing Abe’s childhood as a member of a family of politicians. Abe’s unpopularity during his first term, resignation in 2007, and re-election in 2012 are highlighted.
However, critics are decrying the inclusion of Abe’s political scandals, including giving favors to two school operators that have personal links to him. Some commentators think it’s also inappropriate to mention his continuing falling poll numbers on the eve of an election year. To add salt to the wound, a caricatured version of President Donald Trump shows up to taunt Abe for having lower approval ratings than he does. Both politicians have sub-30% approval ratings.
Critics, who are being described as net uyoku (right-wing nationalists who are outspoken on the internet), are claiming the manga is anti-Japanese. Commentators argue that the mangaka shouldn’t push their political stand on children because they are impressionable. Abe’s depiction is also being called inappropriate because next year is an election year.
Other online commentators approve of the depiction.
Shougaku 8 Nensei normally doesn’t garner attention from adult readers, but Fujinami’s manga has proven divisive. While not a perfect metric, Amazon user ratings show 32 one-star reviews versus 10 five-star reviews. Listings of older issues have no user reviews.
Fujinami’s use of political satire is common in Western countries, but it’s not as prevalent in Japan, where those views can be seen as personal attacks on Abe’s character. Satire in Japan tends to be jokey and aimed at abstract ideas or against politicians as a group. Fujinami’s individual style has been seen as inappropriate ever since he launched his Manga de Yomu Jinbutsu-den lampooning Trump.