Tank-commanding cartoon girls capture fans for Japan's military

Fri Mar 14, 2014 5:58am EDT
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By Tim Kelly and Nobuhiro Kubo

TOKYO (Reuters) - Being a soldier in Japan after World War Two was seen as a job for failed police recruits and unemployed youth from depressed rural towns. But as tension with China chips away at Japan's post-war pacifism, the military is regaining its prestige - helped by a blitz of television dramas, movies and cartoons.

Patriotic zeal is now a more compelling reason to enlist. A decade ago, around one in 10 candidates said they wanted to be a soldier for love of country. These days it's closer to one in three, according to recruitment data obtained by Reuters.

Film directors, animators and TV producers have delivered a bumper crop of military-themed content, much of it with help from the Ministry of Defense.

Hit shows include "Girls und Panzer", a cartoon about schoolgirls fighting tank battles, and "Eternal Zero", a movie about a kamikaze pilot that its director made in part to counter an image of Japanese soldiers as fanatics.

The military's attempt to emerge from decades in the shadows is in line with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's more nationalistic tone and a less apologetic diplomacy.

Making the military cool is important for Abe's drive to increase defense spending after years of cuts. But even a soft-power approach to boosting defense risks inflaming tensions with neighbors who still have strong memories of Japan's aggression.

"It's our job to explain to the Japanese people why we have to raise the Self-Defense Force budget," said Hirokazu Mihara, the head of public relations at the Defense Ministry. "We need to have as close a relationship with them as possible."

That relationship is getting tighter.   Continued...