Tokyo Shinobi Squad 001-003 – Manga Review
Synopsis: In a future lawless Tokyo, retribution is delivered by shinobi! (Official Shonen Jump Synopsis.)
Warning: Spoilers to Follow:
Tokyo Shinobi Squad looks problematic right out of the gate. The manga opens with a young boy being chased by thugs, all while our main character, Jin, watches from high above and makes an awkward comment about globalization. After some stellar visuals (I think the art Kento Matsuura offers really is quite solid) we get an exposition/narration dump. This is where Tokyo Shinobi Squad really tests your political comfort. The world of Tokyo Shinobi is propped up on the fear of Others. I’ve seen comments noting that it’s like a “Nazi’s wet dream” or “Something the KKK would love.” Those comments are a tiny bit off base, as the real issue isn’t so much that the manga is pandering to Nazi and KKK fearmongering (It is sort of though) but because it’s using the same underlying theme hate groups operate with to construct its world: Xenophobia.
Side Bar! Japanese Culture and Xenophobia!
Xenophobia, for those not in the know, is simply the fear or hate of others. People who are Xenophobic aren’t exclusively Nazi’s, or the KKK, or the like. Sometimes Xenophobia manifests in a much less violent and hateful way. Japan, as a society, is fairly xenophobic (the less volatile kind), due in part to its homogeneous nature. It’s a complex topic, one that I imagine inspires confusion since Japanese culture shows great fascination with White people and American Culture, who would obviously count as others. But the gist of it is that they appreciate other cultures at a far, and the fear comes from those other cultures gradually merging with their own. You don’t have to look much farther than Japan’s own worker crisis, where Japan is having trouble filling the labor market. The solution (put simply) to this is to bring in more immigrants to help field those empty jobs, but the average Japanese citizen isn’t too thrilled with the prospect. Their Xenophobia is hardly malicious like the KKK or Nazi’s is, but based on the same disinterest/fear of associating with the other. In some cases it’s straight subconscious behavior for people and I actually kind of wonder if that’s the case for the author. Anyway, back to manga.
End Side Bar!
What with the Xenophobic set up it can be difficult to see much of worth beneath that element, particularly if you’re someone who’s been confronted by Xenophobic individuals. The gist of the story though is Japan opens its borders via hyperloop tunnels across the globe, allowing all the countries to become connected. (Why the U.S., China, and Russia would all agree to this, I don’t know. I get the impression the author isn’t actually all that politically savvy.) Later events in this very first chapter don’t make it any easier. After the exposition dump we get to know Jin, an all around good guy/perfect Shonen hero. He’s not in it for the money, but rather to help the people in need. His befriending and willingness to help the young child Thai immigrant, En, helps to offset the early Xenophobic-based concept. (Though this can also be seen as En is “one of the good ones”, another Xenophobic idea.)
From there the two end up visiting Jin’s partner, Papillon, a sexy girl who’s more than just her looks (Yet none of the woman are allowed to do any actual fighting in this fighting manga, except maybe minor bad gal Sina, so…. that’s not exactly very progressive.) But let’s back up a bit. Because after Jin and En leave to meet Papillon, but before they knock on her door, we snap to our starter villains and the reason why I’m not willing to say that Tokyo Shinobi Squad’s Xenophobic premise is actually challenging those ideas, as some commentors across the web have suggested. We learn that the Red Light District has been taken over by Southeast Asian mafia groups (specifically) and there in lies our villain for Chapter 1: Issen “Shuriken” Hachiya, who is mentioned as being half Japanese, half Hungarian. (Though Jin doesn’t care about that, making him a stand up guy!) During this sequence an attractive female prostitute approaches Issen, offering to have a good time with him. It’s not long before he literally skewers her with his Shinobi Arts tail attack (Later described as the Iron Fork Technique.) This sudden and shocking violence against women moment is edgy. But it also speaks to a typical xenophobic tendency running through Japan: Fear of others interacting with the native women. Japanese Brothels (or such), to my best understanding, typically turn away foreign clients, because they fear how these men might interact with the girls. This scene really visuals that fear, and is only subdued by what I imagine are slight editorial edits (Like making Issen half Japanese, rather than a full blown outsider.)
Moving on, what follows is typically shonen stuff. Jin gets to go toe to toe with our starter bads, makes Issen look like a joke, and showcases the artist’s fantastic visual ability. As the series moves into its second and third chapters, we pull back on the Xenophobic set up (which gradually shifts more to gigantic evil corporations taking control of Japan, a much more palatable idea.) We focus on two more one off baddies, both of Japanese decent rather than foreign influence (The manga even makes doubly sure we KNOW they are from Japan.) and introduce a new teammate with a quirky personality (Dude is a sucker for chocolate.)
Perhaps what’s most interesting about Tokyo Shinobi Squad is how much its overarching story doesn’t seem to require the Xenophobic backdrop at all. Chapter 3 introduces the series’ overarching mission, to collect the Five Top Shinobi Arts Scrolls, each instilled with power that could change the world. That very idea, along with the shift toward evil corporations, really says to me that the Xenophobic backdrop might have just been a ‘cool’ idea the writer, Yuki Tanaka, had.
As we wrap up I want to ask the question: Is the writer of Tokyo Shinobi Squad actually Xenophobic? I’m going to say no, not overtly anyway. I get the impression that a lawless Tokyo was something that Yuki Tanaka thought was just awesomely cool, but couldn’t figure out how to get there. Seeing violence in other countries across the globe, and not understanding the intricacies of how or why that violence exists, made for an easy way to get to where he wanted to be. Hyperloops have been discussed of recent too, and the fact that these ideas are mentioned in passing, and abruptly absent from Chapters 2 and 3, makes me think it’s nothing more than a fledgling author trying to find new ways to craft the world he wanted: Lawless Tokyo.
Perhaps frustratingly there isn’t much to say about Tokyo Shinobi Squad outside of its controversy. Jin is a fairly staple Shonen Protagonist, with little to set him apart. The art is fantastic, but the writing is a bit bog standard, and it doesn’t use its female characters all that well. Tokyo Shinobi Squad has a lot to do in order to prove itself as a worthy addition to the line up, and it’ll be interesting to see how much attention it really retains once readers calm down over its shocking first chapter.
That’s it for today. Please let me know your thoughts on Tokyo Shinobi Squad in the comments below!
Tokyo Shinobi Squad is published as part of Shonen Jump.