I’m late to Attack on Titan; I have a baby and the show was on my back burner forever because it didn’t appeal to me (and morbidly it still doesn’t, I watch out of a mix of spite and outsider intrigue primarily but I am way invested and I hate myself for it lol) so obviously I am utterly devastated I am also late to all the drama. That entire General Dot Pixis thing? It is all so interesting!
In case you didn’t know AoT creator Hajime Isayama bases his series in a highly militarized world and for the character of Dot Pixis a big-wig general he modeled the bald mustached man after a real life Imperial Japanese general named Yoshifuru Akiyama - which created an extreme uproar online among fans in Asia.
North Americans and Europeans are likely to be aware that the Japanese have a history of not owning up to their war crimes by hiding under a blanket of willful ignorance. Japanese text books leave out Japanese war crimes; Japanese war crimes are thus not often acknowledged or even known by a bulk of the Japanese public; the Japanese government does not want other countries to bring up or acknowledge past crimes and gets really pissy when they do; The Japanese government has yet to release a formal apology for crimes committed during any wars the Japanese have partaken in that the people of surrounding countries have accepted; Japan is not the popular kid in Asia.
Lets step back so as to get a bigger view of how real and problematic this issue truly is.
I’m gonna talk about a guy real quick, a Japanese colonel - not Akiyama Yoshifuru, we’ll get back to him later - but a dude from World War II named Tsuji Masanobu.
This guy was a sick, gross, sadistic, misogynistic, dickcheese. If you can think of a WWII Japanese war crime he was probably behind the scenes of it. Massacres in Singapore; The Bataan death march; the Manila massacre; Guadalcanal’s last bloody stand and the suicide fox holes; the kill all prisoners initiative. The icing on the cake is that this motherfucker was documented by his own press corps to have eaten the liver of an allied fighter pilot. Tsuji Masanobu cannibalized and allowed the cannibalization of allied prisoners under his steward. Wow, he was probably executed or died in prison right?
By 1952 Tsuji Masanobu was elected by the people of Ishikawa prefecture to serve in the house of representatives AND had two national best selling books. Only seven years after Japanese surrender and a war criminal as heinous as Tsuji Masanobu is directly helping shape the new political landscape of the Asian-Pacific.
Now pretend you’re the rest of Asia, hell pretend you are Singapore. You’re lookin’ over at this new democracy taking shape and - wait! - who is that staring back at you? Tsuji fuckin’ Masanobu. ‘Cause a bunch of people voted for him. And he remained in Japanese politics into the 1960s.
Super fucked up, right?
That is why foreign relations between Japan and it’s neighbors is massively shitty because pathological brutal pigjizz who organized and executed massacres, encouraged suicide, personally beat prisoners, and ate other human beings get statues in their home towns dedicated to them.
But don’t get on your high horse America and Europe - oh no. Stay firmly planted on the ground because the milieu of willful forgetting and the rehabilitation of war criminals in the Japanese public consciousness, going from war criminals to openly being regarded as victims, was encouraged by allied forces.
Why? Well, it is actually really simple as most super horrible things are:
The immense suffering, loss of life, and horrible acts of atrocious inhumane brutality perpetrated against China and Korea during WWII was purposefully swept under the rug because they were “going Communist”. An invisible hand (wink-wink nudge-nudge) directed Allied attention almost exclusively towards the holocaust. The European Theater was intentionally made the focus of victory and bravery and the location of the greatest of all war crimes because treating (potential) communist as people was not, evidently, an option. The proof of the degree of discouragement pushed by ally forces is in how this is possibly the first time you’ve even heard of Tsuji Masanobu - and yet not. You probably do kind of know him in an albeit fucked up way in of itself.
Most European and North American folks are probably aware of that super racist Japanese caricature, you know the one; glasses, bald, buck teeth, big ears? That is Tsuji Masanobu. Wellll, he was one of the basis for the image of anti-Japanese allied propaganda anyway. Sure the officers Tsuji Masanobu had constantly chastised for being not brutal enough, soft, and ineffective were executed for their crimes by the allied trials but Masanobu, literally the face effective in fueling and demonizing an entire people so as to motivate ally soldiers, was pardoned and allowed to run for political office in an ally influenced election. So guess who isn’t that popular with the rest of Asia either?
Right. So, now that the wound is sore lets go back to Yoshifuru Akiyama.
Yoshifuru Akiyama was a Japanese general during the first Sino-Japanese war, a war fought between China and Japan over who controlled Korea. He is the older brother of general Saneyuki Akiyama who was the massive strategic force behind the battle of Port Arthur and by extension the Port Arthur Massacre during the first Sino-Japanese War. Yoshifuru and his Calvary were instrumental in capturing the port.
It is not relevant that Yoshifuru Akiyama did not have a direct hand in War Crimes other than being on the side of an invading force; among neighboring countries and Attack on Titian fans the war Yoshifuru served in continues to be a reminder of a difficult and oppressive time period in history. A lot of the anger bubbling up from learning about how a brash, strategic, and honorable character like Dot Pixis is “based on” a real general doesn’t necessarily stem from (just) the actions of Yoshifuru and his role in shared war and history - but rather from the perspective of if Dot Pixis is taken from Yoshifuru then who are the titians?
It isn’t surprising that the titans are up for grabs for what it is they represent since they’ve yet to be given a solid metaphorical attachment, and it isn’t surprising that some people take offense at what they perceive them to be.