Written by Kidaka Yoshiki
Art by Tsugihara Ryuji
176 pages, black and white
Published by Gutsoon Entertainment
Reading The First President of Japan, it’s hard to believe that this was originally published in Japan five years ago. With a story involving troop movements within North Korea, political unrest between Japan and the United States, and a series of actions that threatens to ignite an all-out war within a small region of the country, the number of events here that mirror what’s happened in the world since then is a little shocking. Then again, if you asked the creators of The First President of Japan what they thought about it, they’d probably just smile knowingly. They certainly did their research in creating this series, and it shows—in a good way.
Japan has just elected a Prime Minister by popular vote for the first time. In addition, this new Prime Minister will have powers equal to that of the United States’s President, making him what some are calling the “First President of Japan”. The incoming Prime Minister, Sakuragi Kenichiro, is hardly in the best of positions as a politician. The outgoing Prime Minister wants to do everything in his power to keep Kenichiro’s ascension to power a pleasant one, and rumblings on the Korean peninsula threaten to plunge all of Asia into war. The one thing that no one counted on, though… was Kenichiro.
At a casual glance, there’s a lot about Kidaka Yoshiki’s story in The First President of Japan that might remind people of Kaiji Kawaguchi’s Eagle: The Making of an Asian-American President. Both of them feature overly dramatic theatrics in the forms of speeches and actions by the protagonist. Both of them involve big “first time ever” events involving Japanese men and seats of power. And, most importantly, both are as engrossing as any political thriller in prose or on the screen. Kenichiro is the sort of President that people dream of—he’s decisive, smart, and charismatic. He’s not afraid of taking actions that may cause a big ripple, because he knows that they’re going to benefit his country. And in a time when war is looming, he’s ready to step to the front and take full responsibility for what he’s about to do. At the same time, Yoshiki remembers to keep his character human; he’s got his flaws, and his doubts that he hides from the public. In the end, it just makes him all the more likable.
Tsugihara Ryuji’s art is just what The First President of Japan needs. It’s a solid, straight-forward style that’s more suited to groups of men in suits debating than it ever would be to exploding monsters and energy blasts. Instead, the big dramatic splash pages usually consist of people sitting in limousines or pounding their fist in frustration. Ryuji’s art looks almost to be storyboards for a television show or movie, with lots of careful shots of people’s faces to show their reactions. This may be a very simple style, but it works perfectly for the book.
If this was a television show, it would be the Japanese equivalent of The West Wing, able to make politics interesting to a wide audience though characters and situations that draw its viewers in. One of the consistently best serials in the Raijin Comics anthology, The First President of Japan is one of those series that I think almost anyone who likes “real world” stories would appreciate.