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Comic book to smooth USS Washington’s arrival

Commander Naval Forces Japan will distribute “manga” a popular Japanese comic format — about the USS George Washington aircraft carrier. About 30,000 copies have been made for distribution to Japanese families.

ALLISON BATDORFF / S&S

By ALLISON BATDORFF AND HANA KUSUMOTO | STARS AND STRIPES Published: May 9, 2008

YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — Meet USS George Washington sailor Jack Ohara — the fictitious star of a Navy-created comic book called “CVN-73.”

Ohara is a young third-class petty officer, nervous about coming to Japan on his first overseas assignment. But while Ohara doesn’t really exist, the comic’s plot line about the aircraft carrier’s summer arrival in Japan is a real, and somewhat controversial, upcoming event.

Commander U.S. Naval Forces Japan printed nearly 30,000 of the comic books to distribute to Japanese teens and young adults. They tell a positive story rooted in ship capability, the crew’s professionalism and U.S.-Japanese neighborliness, said CNFJ spokesman Cmdr. David Waterman. The George Washington is anticipated to arrive in August to replace the 47-year-old USS Kitty Hawk as the forward-deployed carrier based in Yokosuka.

Using the immensely popular format of “manga” will “expose people to learning about the George Washington in a medium that’s popular here in Japan,” Waterman said.

The 200-page books are in kanji and are aimed at a Japanese audience 10-30 years of age. The manga hasn’t hit the streets yet. CNFJ will discuss distribution with the city of Yokosuka this week, Waterman said.

The manga’s story follows Ohara, an American of Japanese descent, aboard his first aircraft carrier. While all of the information about the ship and Navy particulars are accurate, the story is “a little Hollywood” in that Ohara seems to work in all of the ship’s divisions to give a general overview of carrier life, Waterman said.

Ohara gets seasick, knocks his knees on ladders and gets into trouble for eating food stolen from the mess hall. His mentor is Petty Officer 1st Class Elly Benton, a strong female character who, Waterman hopes, will resonate with Japanese women.

While mixing in excitement and drama, the manga avoids flashpoint issues like the George Washington’s nuclear power plant or liberty incidents, Waterman said.

“We’re not trying to lie or state false facts. We’re simply putting several key aspects of the George Washington in a format that is widely accepted in Japan,” Waterman said.

The only reference to the carrier’s nuclear propulsion — an issue that has fueled safety-based opposition from citizens groups — is a reference that “the heart of the GW has a 50-year life span and doesn’t need refueling.”

Each book costs about $3 to make, Waterman said, and was funded as a Navy community relations project.

Japanese illustrators Harumi Sato and Hiroshi Kazusa were hired to create the manga after a base tour, a Navy uniform fashion show and with the help of photographs from the George Washington, Waterman said. The government of Japan had the opportunity to read and provide feedback on the books, Waterman said.

If the manga is a success, CNFJ may consider a series, Waterman said.

Yokosuka residents asked about the comic book on Wednesday said explaining the ship and the lives of the crew will make the issue easier to understand for the readers.

“If they want to inform people, I think it’s better to do so with manga,” said Yu Tsukamoto, 24. “If it’s in print, there’s more chance for people to take a look,” he said.

Tsukamoto said he is not interested in the carrier but would want to take a look at the comic.

“To put difficult things in manga is easier to understand since many people read comics,” said a woman, who identified herself only as Hiwata and said she was in her 70s. “Apart from whether one agrees or disagrees [with the deployment of USS George Washington], it will be a good source of information to have and they can form their opinion with that information.

“There’s not a way for us to understand what’s going on on U.S. military bases, so to have something explained by people who understand what’s going on can make it easier to understand.”

But some expressed concern that the information provided by the Navy may be one-sided.

“I think it might not include something that’s inconvenient for them. It might become promotional,” said Yukiko Yamaguchi, 44. “I’m concerned that it will only say the good things and be one-sided.”


Boxes of the Commander Naval Forces Japan-produced manga titled "CVN-73" are waiting for distribution toa target Japanese audience ages 10-30 to teach them more about the aircraft carrier that will be arriving this summer at Yokosuka Naval Base, Japan.
ALLISON BATDORFF / S&S