Speciesism, Part I: Translating Races into Animals in Wartime Animation
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Speciesism, Part I:
Translating Races into Animals in Wartime Animation

To scores of millions of participants, John Dower reminds us, World War II was a race war.1 Among the many patterns of racial prejudice explored in his book War without Mercy, Dower discusses how the American media depicted the Japanese as animals: “A characteristic feature of this level of anti-Japanese sentiment was the resort to nonhuman or subhuman representation, in which the Japanese were perceived as animals, reptiles, or insects (monkeys, baboons, gorillas, dogs, mice and rats, vipers and rattlesnakes, cockroaches, vermin, or more indirectly, ‘the Japanese herd’ and the like).” 2 And yet, “without question . . . the most common caricature of the Japanese by Westerners, writers and cartoonists alike, was the monkey or ape.”3

In the American animalization or bestialization of the Japanese enemy, Dower detects a general strategy of dehumanization. Behind this strategy is the idea that to depict someone as an animal is to strip away their very humanness, their humanity. In effect, both human animals and nonhuman animals are degraded through these dehumanizing, bestializing depictions. The racial imaginary, however, is not limited to the application of negative animal qualities to humans (bestialization). Friendly or positive animal images may imply strategies of racialization, too. For instance, when Dower [End Page 75] considers the American postwar transformation of the image of the Japanese from a horrifying ape or gorilla into a friendly pet chimp, he remarks, “that vicious racial stereotypes were transformed, however, does not mean that they were dispelled.” 4 In other words, although he does not speak to it as such, Dower points to the persistence of this racial consciousness and racial typology whenever human animals are depicted as nonhuman animals.5 This is what I call “speciesism.”

Speciesism is a displacement of race and racism (relations between humans as imagined in racial terms) onto relations between humans and animals. The term speciesism was coined and is often used to indicate discrimination against nonhuman animals.6 On the one hand, speciesism is a matter of blatant discrimination against animals, which comes of attributing “bestial,” that is, negative characteristics to nonhuman animals and extending these negative attributes to humans. On the other hand, speciesism entails the displacement of problems associated with race relations onto species relations, and vice versa.7 Speciesism thus comprises violence to nonhuman animals and to those designated as racial others. In this essay, it is the latter inflection of speciesism that concerns me primarily, the translation of racial differences into animal differences, in the context of Japanese animation. Moreover, the prevalence of speciesism in prewar and postwar Japanese animation implies important continuity between the prewar and postwar racial imaginary. My intent is not to declare a simple continuity between prewar and postwar Japanese thinking about race. Not only are there different inflections of speciesism in wartime animation, but also postwar animation responds to wartime speciesism in a variety of ways: unwitting replication, celebration, fascination, ambivalence, disavowal. There are unthinking responses and critical responses.

Japanese wartime speciesism presents a contrast with American wartime speciesism. Dower reminds us that Japanese war media, in contrast to the American, did not tend to bestialize the American enemy. Dower is quick to remind us that this does not mean that Japanese propaganda was not dehumanizing: “No side had a monopoly on attributing ‘beastliness’ to the other, although the Westerners possessed a more intricate web of metaphors with which to convey this.” 8 Dower stresses how Japanese tended to depict the American enemy as failed humans, as demons, ogres, or fiends. Crucial to his assessment is the representation of English and American enemies in Seo [End Page 76] Mitsuyo’s 1945 animated film Momotarō: Umi no shinpei (Momotarō’s divine army).9 In this film, Japan’s English-speaking enemies appear in human form but with horns on their head, reflecting their degraded and demonic stature, and suggesting that Japan’s spiritual youthful purity and vigor, embodied in Momotarō, will dispel them (Figure 1).

Figure 1. The English commander, sporting a horn on his head, nervously addresses Momotarō (flanked by his companion animals) in English to the effect that “you’re placing us in a difficult situation,” which is translated into Japanese in the accompanying title.
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Figure 1.

The English commander, sporting a horn on his head, nervously addresses Momotarō (flanked by his companion animals) in English to the...