Eagle -- The Making of an Asian American President by Kaiji Kawaguchi
Review by Sarah-Wade Smith
OK, I am not dead sure this qualifies as SF. An Alternate-History of the 2000 Presidential elections, to be sure, but is that enough to make it SF?
On the other hand, having just spent most of my Christmas "holiday" rereading the series and finding them just as enjoyable as the first time around, I have concluded that it is worthy of Parsecian attention. Therefore:
This is a translated Japanese manga and a very long one, I might add, running to five multi-hundred page volumes. You would think it would get boring by about half-way through, but it managed to avoid that. The series follows the imaginary 2000 presidential campaign of insurgent Democrat Senator Kenneth Yamaoka as he challeges incumbent Vice-President Albert Noah, Jr. (a very recognizable Al Gore clone) to become the first serious non-white contender for the presidency.
The story is shown from the viewpoint of Takashi Jo, an up and coming, but inexperienced Okinawan reporter. Takashi is the illegitimate son of a US marine and an Okinawan girl. He is totally baffled when, shortly after the tragic death of his mother who never spoke about his father, he is tapped over much more experienced reporters to get an exclusive on the Yamaoka campaign.
Takashi's bafflement only increases when, shortly after his arrival in the States, Kenneth Yamaoka reveals that he is Takashi's misterious father. If this isn't complicated enough, Takashi begins to suspect that his mother's death may not have been the accident it was ruled and that Yamaoka himself might be responsible, while at the same time, he is falling deeply in love with Yamaoka's Hispanic adopted daughter, Rachel.
At first glance, Yamaoka seems like a dream candidate: grandson of an immigrant made good, Marine combat vet, Yale law school and football team, successful high-powered Manhattan attorney with a rep for working pro bono cases, secondterm senator and married to the beautiful heiress of a patrician New England banking dynasty. But Takashi quickly learns that the most baffling question about Yamaoka is "Who is the real Kenneth Yamaoka?" The devoted husband of Patricia and adored father of Rachel? Or the callous slime who got Tomiko Jo pregnant and abandoned her 28 years ago and whose overwhelming shadow is drowning his son Alex?
Is he the straightforward no-bull idealist who doesn't hesitate to advocate gun control to Texas cowboys or call for making the United Nations into a true world police force from the Vietnam monument? Or is he the political dirty trickster who blackmails New York's mayor into backing off on a corrupt housing deal, leaks scandals to destroy his opponents, and cuts under the table deals to get the votes to win the nomination? Should Takashi help him or stop him?
For me, part of the attraction to his series was the outsider's view of the American political process and how it looks from Japan. It echos, like Kenneth himself, with a mix of idealism and cynicism and a frequent lyricism as when Takashi notes that the Japanese never worry about what it means to be a Japanese, but unlike the Japanese, Americans aren't Americans because they are born that way, but because they choose to be Americans. Again, when union boss Leonid Koslov talks to his blinded father who fled a repressive Poland in the 70s for an America that has totally baffled him: "Warsaw is the other way, Dad. You can't even read anymore with your blind eyes and if you did, it would just be the Gazeta Polska. Thirty years in this country and you never learned one word of English".
Another striking moment is the one where Kenneth asks the rival he has just defeated for the nomination to be his vice-president. "Why"' the flabbergasted man asks,"me"? After listing a few reasons, Kenneth adds "and because you're white". Then goes on to explain that no matter how multi-ethnic America may be, every president but one has been a White Anglo-Saxon Protestant and you notice how the Irish Catholic ended up. How are people going to react when the jump is from an Irish Catholic to a president with slanted eyes? Maybe he'll have more in common with Kennedy than he wants. And if that happens, he needs to be sure that the man who inherits his office also shares his dreams, that he regards power as a means to accomplish ideals rather than an end in itself. That he is someone Kenneth can trust with his dreams.
Another is where a voter considering the issue of predjudice in the campaign notices that there aren't any non-whites at his health club. Of course, the club doesn't discriminate. It just doesn't happen to have any minority members. I mean, he wouldn't have joined if it had a rep for excluding people, but then again he probably wouldn't have joined if he had showed up and seen black people hanging out there. So, what does that say about his real attitudes? Or have I mentioned the moment when Takashi finds out that Kenneth and his Afro-American campaign manager have been secretly funding right-wing hate groups that are openly calling for Kenneth's assanation?
Yeah, not what you expected at all, is it? That's the glory of it.
There are certain topics that are very difficult to discuss in American society. Race is one of them. Oh, we all know that discrimination is bad and that people shouldn't do it. I mean, our founding fathers put in our Declaration of Independence that all men are created equal. On the other hand, the man who wrote those words also owned men as slaves until his dying day. It's just considered impolite to call him a lying hypocrite for it.
And from a minority viewpoint it's really hard to discuss the racism of majority America because the majority don't want to admit that this stuff still happens or that it has anything to do with them. It's not polite to point that out.
Eagle takes you on a guided tour of many of America's contradictions and conflicts in a way few if any American graphic artist can.
There are a few false notes. For one thing, the artist frequently depicts American military personnel with goatees and in one case, a habit of going deliberatly unshaved - things which are totally against military dress regs. However mostly, it is a wild ride through the far sides of the American Dream.
And if you are lucky, it might just do more for you than entertain you. It might just make you think about what this wild and wonderful country of ours is and means. And that might be the best gift of all.
Click here to return to the SIGMA mainpage.
This page maintained by Greg Armstrong