Eagle: The Making Of An Asian-America President Volume 1
By Kaiji Kawaguchi
Publisher: Viz Comics
Genre: Political Drama
Age Rating: Teen+ (16+)
With the 2008 Election coming up, I thought it would be interesting to read Eagle: The Making of an Asian-American President and see how the Japanese view of our election system stacks up to the real thing while it’s going on. It’s turned out to be an interesting comparison with the way the Democratic side has shaken out.
Eagle follows the Senator Kenneth Yamaoka, a democrat from New York, as he decides to throw his hat into the ring before the New Hampshire Primary. Takashi Jo, our protagonist, has been asked by the Yamaoka campaign to be the Japanese correspondant, and follow the campaign. This volume follows Yamaoka from his declaration to Primary night. There is some drama involved in this as well, and I’ll get to that in a moment. What I want to do first is to look at Yamaoka as compared to the current Democratic candidates, particularly Barack Obama.
Kenneth Yamaoka and Barack Obama are both young senators of mixed heritage. Yamaoka is a Japanese-American, and Barack is an African-American. Both are very charasmtic, both in person, and with their speeches. Both emphasis uniting the American people, and helping the underprivileged. Both became lawyers. These comparisons are superficial on the surface, but it’s interesting to note, that the mangaka, Kaiji Kawaguchi would create a character with these characteristics to go up against an assumed shoe-in for the Democratic nomination, Albert Noah, the current Vice President (and veiled reference to Al Gore). Hillary Clinton was assumed to be the shoe-in candidate just a year ago, before Obama entered the race.
Kawaguchi spends a lot of time talking about the way the American political system works, specifically, how much the media plays a role in it. The first thing Takashi learns when he arrives in Washington DC, is that politicians call journalists “scorps”, short for scorpions. Make an enemy of media, and you’re sunk. Throughout this first volume, we see that over and over again. First, rumors are leaked to the press about the politician in second place in the polls, about him having an affair with a staffer. This is enough to make his poll numbers drop and give Yamaoka a chance to scoop them up. Next, an informal “discussion” and impromptu chess game with Noah gets Yamaoka’s name tied to Noah’s in a front page newspaper headlines in lieu of a debate. TV ads are made to counter Noah’s “information superhighway” issue. Finally, Yamaoka tried to steal Noah’s thunder by having a press conference about the exact same thing as Noah, but gets trumped because of the power difference between a Senator and the Vice President.
We see this same kind of usage in the present campaigns. Stories are “leaked” constantly about a candidate’s religious affiliation, the character of the people he/she surrounds themselves with, anything that might affect the poll numbers. And as we see in Eagle, we see now how easily the media goes along, not only helping, but seeming to enjoy the chaos their coverage can bring.
But there’s more to this story than just the politics. It begins with Takashi Jo, a journalist in Fukushima, Japan. His mother has just died from a gas leak in her old Okinawa home. While he is taking care arrangements for her, he receives a call from his Office that he is to go to Tokyo. He has been asked specifically by the Yamaoka campaign to come and cover the campaign, but no ones why Takashi. He doesn’t have any experience with politics, especially not American Presidential campaigns. He gets his answer when he finally meets Yamaoka. Yamaoka claims to be his father, the US Marine on a stop over to Viet Nam that stood in a picture with his mother, that she kept. Takashi’s mother never told him who his father was, promising to do so only when he got married.
This is the personal drama that runs parallel to the political drama. As Yamaoka is working to get name recognition and exposure in New Hampshire, there is also the personal conflicts of Takashi wondering if what Yamaoka said was true, and why he was choosing to tell him now, like this. Takashi immediately suspects Yamaoka is up to something and doesn’t trust him. There’s’ some real bitterness in Takashi now, as he sees the new family that Yamaoka has created, and the poor conditions his mother had to endure raising him alone.
Then there are the Hamptons, the Kenedyesque family that Yamaoka has married into. Patricia, his wife and sister to Charles, Yamaoka’s college buddy, who also wondered who Takashi was, and had him investigated. She knows Takashi’s true identity, but not Yamaoka’s motives. Their son Alex, who is always competing with this father, feeling he has to prove himself in some way, and Rachel, their adopted daughter, who believes in her father’s dream.
By the end of this volume, we have met all the players, but there are still a lot of questions left hanging. Why has Yamaoka chosen to reveal himself to Takashi in this way? Why did Takashi’s mother not tell him in the first place? Why is it so important for Yamaoka to become president, a goal he’s apparently had since his time in Viet Nam? What does Yamaoka really have in mind? With the way Kawaguchi portrays the characters, these are questions you really do want to know the answer to. They are very realistic. Patricia’s desire to protect her son over Takashi. Takashi’s bitterness toward Yamaoka. Alex’s determination to win approval from this father. The story is masterfully crafted to get the reader emotionally involved with all the drama; the personal as well as political.
At the end of the compilation volume that Viz put out and this review is based on, there is an Postscript by the editor of this title, Carl Horn. In it, he talks about the 2000 election, which was going on at the time. It didn’t relate as well then, as there was no challenger to Al Gore on the Democratic side, and the candidate was decided not long after New Hampshire. But today, as we move into April, and most of the primary’s have come and gone, there is still no definitive choice. The internet, still a sort of “wild west” was ignored by candidates in 2000. In 2008, debates are being held for Youtube viewers. And John McCain, who Horn mentions as someone people wished to beat the front runners in 2000, actually did in New Hampshire of this year and rode that wave to become the defacto Republican candidate.
It will be interesting to see how future volumes continue to hold up to the current campaigns, and if race will ever become an issue. As of this first volume, it isn’t so much about race as it is about the “haves” vs the “have nots”, a core issue for Democrats. But, the subtitle of this title is The Making of an Asian-American President, so I’m curious to see if/how that will play in. Just like now, there’s still a long road ahead to the White House. It will be interesting to see how Yamaoka continues, just as it has been to watch Obama.