Momotaro: The Characterization and its Wartime Ideology

The animated version of Momotaro, is a propaganda anime in wartime Japan, which transformed from Momotaro folklore, effectively dramatized a system of national ideology for young viewers in three ways; appearance of characters, relationships of characters, and implications within the movies.

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The cuteness of characters

First of all, the appearance of characters has a significant impact on young viewers because they not only bring out the theme of Momotaro folklore, but also expressed the national idea of good and evil. The good side of Momotaro folklore contains Momotaro, which is equivalent to a general or emperor in the animated version; dogs, monkeys, and eagles serve a purpose of soldiers or manpower in both original and animated version of Momotaro. Bunnies are new characters in animated version and they resemble the general citizens of Japan, which they contribute to the country during wartime. Moreover, the evil side of Momotaro folklore contains many ogres, which is equivalent to a big American soldier in the animated version. Thus, the appearance of characters is almost perfectly synchronized with Momotaro folklore, and they all have one similar point, which is the cuteness regardless of good or evil. Although the American soldier represents evil, his actions and attitudes throughout the movie reflected cuteness as well. Therefore, the animated version uses cuteness to capture young viewers, spreads the propaganda and dramatized a system of national ideology.

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Momotaro debriefing missions to his fellow monkeys

Secondly, there are many differences between both versions, especially the relationships of characters. The animated version of character Momotaro is much more serious and strict than the folklore version due to his courage, intelligence, and leadership resembles the emperor of Japan. This characterization indirectly presents the dignified status of emperor which all Japanese citizens have to show respect to him. Due to the change of characterization, other relationships also changes, such as soldiers (dogs, monkeys, and eagles) are subordinates rather than friends with Momotaro, as they are portrayed in folklore version. Furthermore, the appearance of new character, bunny, also inferred that a social stratum is formed during the wartime Japan, which the society is divided into leaders, soldiers, and general people. As a result, although the cuteness and characters are related to the original Momotaro, the character relationship exposed a new social stratum that everyone has to bear.

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The evil side in animated Momotaro

Third, there are countless implications in the animated version of Momotaro to dramatize the system. The most significant one I believe is the depiction of evil force. In the Momotaro folklore, the evil force is depicted as many soldier-like ogres in addition to an ogre leader. However, there is only one evil soldier appears in the animated version regardless of there are numbers of enemy ships. The implication here is to create a nationalized courage to young viewers that shows the expression of “they are not many enemies that dare to fight us, join us so we can crush them all”. This simple demonstration not only displays the national ideology of war-winning, but also exposes the ambition and manipulation of Japanese government. As a matter of fact, the implications in the animation significantly impacted the national ideology by exaggerating certain scenes to fulfill the national propaganda within the system. 

During Japan’s long struggle in wartime, the government created lots of propagandas to young viewers in order to recruit them and spread the national ideologies. The animated version of Momotaro is a perfect example of Japanese propaganda and made a huge impact on young viewers through the change of character appearances, relationships, and implications compare to Momotaro folklore.

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