“It just goes to show that we really do live in a peaceful country.”
A quote from an internet user sums up the mood perfectly after Japan’s Self Defence Forces unveil a unique attack helicopter covered with manga-influenced designs and colours.
Presented as part of an air show in Chiba prefecture last weekend, the quirky new helicopter quickly stole the show, with hundreds of people taking photos and video to share on the internet.
Whether we’d ever see a helicopter like this fly into battle or not, there’s no denying that it has an awful lot of charm.
Japan’s Jieitai (“Self-Defense Force” or “JSDF” for short) was established shortly after the end of World War II, and, like many armies around the world, is comprised of ground, air and naval forces that serve to protect the country. Mention the Japanese “army” to the average Japanese citizen and you will more often than not be corrected, as have I on multiple occasions, and informed that “Japan does not have an army; only a self-defense force.”
The JSDF are sworn to become involved only in peace-keeping and defensive missions, and, due to sanctions imposed on the country after the war, cannot form a “traditional military force”.
But that doesn’t stop them being awesome.
Last weekend, as a part of Kisarazu city’s aviation festival, the JSDF presented their new AH-1S Cobra helicopter, for use in (defensive!) tank-busting operations, which soon became the star of the show thanks to its unexpected “moé style” artwork and the introduction of an original flame-haired character going by the name of Kisarazu Akane, after the city.
While the term “moé” is forever changing and tricky to define, it is most often used to describe a feeling of passion and burning- usually for something pretty like a “moékko” (a combination of moé and the word for “young girl” or “daughter”), and denoting a kind of good-looking girl that men burn with desire for.
So to see animé style designs on the side of an army Self Defence Force helicopter is a little unusual to say the least.
Diehard animé and manga fans in Japan are renowned for their “itasha” (lit. painful car) vehicles, which are decorated with character designs to the point that driving one through a busy area often results in crowds of people standing slack-jawed and snapping photos.
To the fans, these “itasha” creations are nothing short of spectacular, but to the average passerby the cars are literally painful to look at, hence the moniker they receive.
Similarly, with the JSDF’s sweet new ride finding fame just hours after its initial unveiling and with videos like the one above receiving more than 40,000 hits so far, Japanese netizens are already playfully dubbing the helicopter “ita-heli” in a nod to anime fans’ gaudy sets of wheels.
In true otaku style, the JSDF’s presentation came complete with an a cosplay model, dressed as the new character Kisarazu Akane herself, prompting a flurry of excitement as excited attendees and press alike demanded a photo opportunityas soon as the official explanation of the new helicopter had ended.
It’s hard to imagine any army in the west launching a pretty, long-haired character of their own, let alone a “cute” anti-tank helicopter- a machine whose main purpose, let’s not forget, it to blow big scary things up…
Only in Japan, right, guys?