Continuing from the first part of this series, perhaps fifty years from now Usamaru Furuya will be remembered as the David Bowie of the manga industry. David Bowie had experimented with many artistic personas (Ziggy Stardust, Aladdin Sane, the Thin White Duke etc), and likewise Usamaru Furuya – having devoted his early works to mystical visions, alchemical Great Work and soul searching – made a 180 degree turn with the launch of Teiichi no Kuni [帝一の國] (2010-2016), a political thriller set in a high school that is metaphorically a microcosm of power struggles in Japan’s arena of realpolitik.
The Third Phase of Usamaru Furuya and Teiichi no Kuni
The eponymous hero Teiichi Akaba is a high school student who has his mind set on becoming the future prime minister of Japan. His enormous ambition is matched with his brains, prestigious background and family wealth. His dream is to make Japan the greatest country on earth.
He attends Kaitei High School, an elite establishment which has a tradition of producing prime ministers among its previous student council presidents. Tradition also has it that you would not stand much chance of becoming prime minister unless you had been a student council president at this school. Naturally, this school is also attended by the scions of political cliques in Japan whose brain power, pedigree and family wealth are no less than Teiichi’s. The competition for the seat of student council president is fierce.
Elections rules at Kaitei High School is a bit like Iran’s. Whereas the Supreme Leader of Iran is elected by the Assembly of Experts which has 88 members, the student council president Kaitei High School is elected by members of the student assembly, a group of 56 students who represent different classes from senior, sophomore and freshmen years as well as different student clubs.
The election occurs towards the end of your sophomore year. To stand as a candidate (only three candidates are allowed each year), first you have to gain permission from the existing student council president, a senior who will be graduating soon. However, in order to gain his support, first you have to have supported his campaign to become student council president while he was a sophomore to begin with. Effectively, this means that your political begins in your freshman year, when you place your bets on the most likely winner and become his follower.
Things do not get easier once you become a sophomore with permission to stand for election. You and your other two competitors will have to compete in securing support from the freshmen underclassmen. So the cycle of trading political favours goes on. You manage up (with your upperclassmen) and manage down (with your underclassmen).
The story follows Teiichi as he clears many hurdles on his fight to be elected as student council president. However, the rules of election are changing – and this is due to a character who is perhaps the real star of this story. He is Teiichi’s upperclassman by one year, Okuto Morizono.
While Teiichi – a bright young man though he is – only thinks of gaming the system to his own advantage, Okuto is the only one in the story who has the imagination and determination to challenge tradition and re-write the rules of the system. Okuto starts off in the story as a quiet, chess-playing sort of young man whom no one saw as a serious contender to the seat of student council president. The liberal Okuto, too, has a dream – for better or worse, he wants to reform the system into a true democracy where every student gets a vote on who should become student council president.
The story chronicles the transition of politics from being in the control of a group of select young men to being what one might call an election circus. Bright young men are a plenty at Kaitei High School – the ingenious scholarship student Dan Ootaka for one is not only Teiichi’s rival in politics but also in love. Add to that you also have an assortment of student characters who seem to embody elements in Japanese politics in the real world. To name but one – Hiruzen Takamagahara, the son of the founder of a religious cult, commands substantial votes among his followers. This character may well be a sly reference to Komeito, a political party founded by the new religious group (some say ‘cult’) Soka Gakkai.
The religious cult as it appears in the story is a hotbed of right-wing neo-Fascists, complete with their own insignia, uniform and political platform of creating a theocracy. They beat people up and they are well-versed in brainwashing techniques.
This story is, as I said, a microcosm – it offers profound insights into the nature of personal power, electioneering and politics. Fund-raising, kick-backs, smear campaigns, espionage and sabotage, the use of violence and blackmail – you have it all. Add to that, you also have adults hedging their bets on different student factions within the school for their own self-interests. To complicate things even more, you have homoerotic overtures among the these elite young men.
Teiichi no Kuni, which marks the third phase of Usamaru Furuya’s artistic career, is a mature work with a plot so enticing that I personally read all 14 volumes of it in more or less one sitting. I promise you that every chapter is unpredictable.
It has already been adapted into musical plays and is also scheduled to be adapted into a live action film (I expect these to be watered-down, family-friendly versions of the manga).