The prolific manga artist Shotaro Ishinomori (1938-1998) spent his formative years in the Second World War and its immediate aftermath. At just 16, he published his first manga, and at 18 he became an assistant to the “God of Manga,” Osamu Tezuka, where he worked on Tetsuwan Atom (Astro Boy). He was likely influenced by Tezuka’s desire to help heal Japan after the war, with the latter’s Astro Boy personifying atomic energy’s non-destructive potential. Two years later, in 1960, he began a monthly serial for Shonen (Boy’s) magazine, writing and illustrating Flying Phantom Ship. In 1969, it was adapted into an animated film by Toei which became one of the first anime films shown in Soviet theaters. Ironically, so much has changed that it now has much to offer the West.
Following its defeat in the war, Japan underwent a process of liberalization which included ubiquitous pro-American propaganda, an experience that undoubtedly left an impression on the young Ishinomori. I can’t comment on how the manga compares to the film, but the latter encourages its young audience to think critically about who profits from war, and to a lesser extent to distrust advertisements and American products. This explains why it was embraced by the Soviets yet remained virtually unknown in English until anime fans translated it.
Saturday morning red pills
Our young hero Hayato and his father stop to help the victims of a car accident. They find an old man whom Hayato’s father recognizes as Mr. Kuroshio, a rich business magnate who owns the shipping company for which he works. Taking shelter in an abandoned house nearby, they’re stalked by the ghost of a skeletal sea captain. The specter says that ten years prior, his family was poisoned and his crew were beaten to death before his ship was intentionally sunk and made to look like an accident. The culprits are still alive, and he’s back from the dead to exact revenge. Everyone can hardly believe their eyes, but the ghost disappears as the police arrive, led by the Secretary of Defense.
The next day, Hayato predicts that his father will receive a big reward from Mr. Kuroshio, but his father admonishes him for his greed and explains that the Phantom Ship has sunk ten vessels, most of which belonged to Mr. Kuroshio’s company. Hayato is guzzling a bottle of Boa Juice, which doesn’t escape his father’s watchful eye. The boy explains there’s a promotional contest where the first person to collect one thousand bottle caps can win a trip aboard a submarine, so all the local kids are drinking as much as they can get their hands on.
The city then falls under attack by a giant robot calling itself the “Golem,” which claims to be the Phantom Ship’s messenger of death. The army fights back, but the robot’s armor seems invincible: It smashes several buildings, and Hayato’s mother and father are killed in its destructive wake. These scenes mirror the experience of many Japanese victims of the bombings during the Second World War. Before passing away, his father reveals that Hayato was adopted ten years earlier, when he washed ashore atop a plank of wood; inside his watch, there’s a photo of his birth parents.
His home reduced to rubble, Hayato is invited to stay permanently at the Kuroshio’s luxurious mansion. His wife expresses her sympathies, noting that their own son would be about Hayato’s age had he lived. Hayato is straight to the point, asking Mr. Kuroshio to help him avenge his parents’ deaths by using his connections with the Secretary of Defense. This amuses Mr. Kuroshio, who approves of his fighting spirit. He then turns on the television and they catch a news report of a new Golem attack, but it’s soon interrupted by a commercial.
It’s an ad for Boa Juice that we’ll see several times throughout the film, characterizing the way TV commercials worm their way into the mind. Contrasting sharply with the film’s anime aesthetic, it’s in the style of American cartoons, strongly implying its foreign origin. For example, the characters have four-fingered hands, a convention of American comics and animation that Japanese illustrators reject. It probably wouldn’t look out of place alongside Western brands such as Fanta that virtually invaded the Japanese mainland beginning in the mid-1950s and early ’60s.
As much as he likes Boa Juice, Hayato is annoyed that the network would air ads during a national emergency, which he knows must be affecting many other families. When the report continues, we learn that the Phantom Ship has appeared on the outskirts of the city and that the Golem is attacking it. Mr. Kuroshio receives a telephone call and excuses himself from the room. It turns out the Golem isn’t allied with the Phantom Ship after all; the latter easily wins the battle, with the defeated robot sinking into the ocean.
Hayato goes looking for Mr. Kuroshio to inform him the Golem was beaten, only to find an empty room. He soon discovers a secret passage and goes down the rabbit hole, an experience he compares to a rollercoaster ride – something I’m sure many dissidents will be familiar with. It leads to an underground factory where tanks and missiles are being mass produced. Some are already loaded into shipping containers to be exported to foreign markets. Further down the assembly line, he’s shocked to find the Golem entering the facility to be repaired. Beyond it, he eavesdrops on a roundtable meeting where Mr. Kuroshio, the Secretary of Defense, and various other suits are discussing events.
Mr. Kuroshio notes that the Golem’s attacks can no longer be attributed to the Phantom Ship. He suggests the Secretary of Defense was responsible for the failed plan, and worries the government’s soldiers might realize something is amiss. Others say more tanks and missiles should have been deployed to generate more profits. When was the last time an American cartoon informed children that war is a profitable enterprise, or that soldiers are duped by their superiors? Then, a computer decides the Secretary of Defense’s fate: After calculating for a moment, he’s whisked away, and, while Hayato ponders these revelations, he spots the man’s military hat floating ominously in the water below.
Then, Mr. Kuroshio delivers new orders. He wants to spin the news cycle for maximum political effect and profit. Now Japanese children are learning that they can’t blindly trust the media. He also tells one of the agents to draw up Kuroshio Building Development plans to replace what was destroyed by the Golem (perhaps Japanese construction firms were viewed with suspicion after the war because they made out like bandits?). Others complain that the Boa Army’s Golem folded too easily, and say they’re getting a raw deal selling its Boa Juice soda. When someone asks if it’s true that Kuroshio knew the Phantom Ship’s Captain, he admits that he had him assassinated when he got in the way, but the plan must’ve failed. Now Hayato doesn’t know who he can trust, but he’s determined to expose them for the traitors they are. This, of course, means leaving behind a life of riches with the Kuroshios.
When Hayato reports his findings to the local police station, the officer doesn’t believe him. Plus, they have their hands full with a growing number of mysterious disappearances. The officer downs some Boa Juice, causing another to mock him: Isn’t that his eighth bottle that day? He admits he can’t seem to quit drinking the stuff. Hayato leaves and tries to convince normies in the streets, but they just laugh in his face. Dejected, he decides he’ll have to return to the secret base and take some photographs to prove his story. He absentmindedly buys a bottle of Boa Juice from a vending machine, but as he pops it open he sees something astonishing.
A man has fallen down in the streets, choking on his Boa Juice. Then, right before Hayato’s eyes, the man melts into a bubbling puddle of carbonated liquid! It turns out that Boa Juice is actually a chemical weapon of the Boa Army, and that’s what’s causing the disappearances. Shocked by the sight of several people falling victim to this nefarious ploy, and recalling that all his peers are addicted to it, Hayato throws down his bottle in abject horror. Thus, Flying Phantom Ship’s young audience is warned against smoking, sugary beverages, and cleverly-advertised products – especially foreign ones. I guess Americans weren’t uniquely racist for opposing the reverse phenomenon, the “Asian invasion” of the automobile and electronics markets in the 1980s.
Hayato is then thrown into a car by some of Mr. Kuroshio’s goons and taken to a Kuroshio TV studio that’s broadcasting live. Shoving him into the spotlight, they expect him to play the celebrity who saved Mr. Kuroshio’s life and stood bravely against the Captain of the Phantom Ship. Hayato will not trade his principles for fame, and uses this opportunity to announce to the world that Mr. Kuroshio is the one behind the Golem. He informs everyone of the secret base under his mansion, and that he’s secretly working for the Boa Army. Now, this is a role model for dissidents! If everyone followed Hayato’s lead, our predicament would soon be over.
Mr. Kuroshio is visibly displeased and the broadcast cuts to the ad for Boa Juice, which is played on repeat. As the goons carry him away, Hayato warns the live audience that Boa Juice will kill them. Before they can rush him off stage, a giant enemy crab and lobster burst into the station and others begin to invade the city! The mechanical crab announces that Boa has no further use for Kuroshio now that the truth is out. It spews the bubbly Boa Juice all over him, melting him to death. Hayato then realizes that his countrymen, even if they were traitors, were coerced by the Boa Army. This is an important distinction, in that there will always be morally bankrupt people – but they’re made much worse when doing the bidding of hostile foreigners.
The Phantom Ship arrives and Hayato is lifted aboard in its tractor beam. The Captain caught the live broadcast and compliments him on his bravery. He’s surprised to learn Hayato is the boy from the mansion, and explains that he wears a skull mask to hide the scars he received when Kuroshio’s men sank his ship. Hayato asks why he’s destroying the ships, and he replies that while it’s unpleasant, they were exporting weapons and had to be stopped. Disrupting the military-industrial complex may cost lives, but not doing so will result in far more death. The Captain reveals that the Boa are creatures that live in a deep-sea base who are after world domination: They have a global network of people like Mr. Kuroshio who carry out their bidding. I wonder who they might be?
Hayato suggests they blow up Boa’s central base, but the Captain admits they can’t approach it due to its powerful defenses. He then shows Hayato the ship’s various functions, but the latter begins to choke and spasm. It’s Boa Juice withdrawal, explains the ship’s doctor, who gives him an injection. When Hayato wakes up, he learns the ship was attacked and damaged because he accidentally turned off the radar absorption system during his episode. The Captain has been injured, and now that his mask is off, Hayato recognizes him as his biological father from the watch photo. Hayato is verifiably the heir to the man of the people in mind, body, and spirit. It’s worth noting that, while clichéd, the story predates the original Star Wars trilogy.
As the Captain recovers, the ship’s young nurse suggests that the two of them pilot the ship themselves and take out the Boa’s underwater base in a kamikaze attack. Hayato is hesitant, as this won’t destroy the people who created the Boa. However, upon reflection, he realizes that the Boa’s power came from all the people buying their products. Hence, Flying Phantom Ship tells us to vote with our wallets, and to avoid inadvertently supporting our enemies (e.g., boycott Amazon).
Before the ship can make its final attack, the base aims its cannons and blasts the ship almost to pieces! The ship barely makes it through the line of fire intact, and then the Captain reappears on the bridge. He tells them not to commit suicide, and to fire the escape pod. They rocket to the surface while the Phantom Ship detonates inside the Boa’s base, destroying it. Back on the surface, the Captain bids them farewell. Personifying the next generation, Hayato and the girl then chart their own course aboard a ship of their own.
The film’s simple story stresses that war is a racket, the media is complicit, and that addictive products are harmful. These were clearly important messages for Ishinomori to convey to Japanese children, whose fathers – they’re taught – fought on the wrong side of history. Since both the comic and film are aimed at young boys, its messages are delivered quite blatantly.
In post-war Japan, there must have been an atmosphere of fear in which people silently agreed to keep their heads down. This is similar to the situation white people are in today, in which few dare speak out against the globalist agenda being foisted upon us by our hostile elite. Even thinly-veiled tales like Flying Phantom Ship can get around social taboos, in part because they aren’t taken seriously. Presumably, Ishinomori was confident that government censors weren’t paying close attention to comic books. This is referenced in the film, when the Phantom Ship is attacked by missiles. In response, the Captain activates the “radar absorption system” and confidently reassures Hayato that, “They won’t catch the tiniest blip from this ship . . . It’s a must-have device for any Phantom Ship!” Creatives should follow his lead and encode works that moralize our people.
Cramming these pearls of wisdom into its short running time, Flying Phantom Ship entertained and informed its young audience, but probably won’t impress a modern one. However, fans of anime may want to watch it purely for the giant robot destruction scenes drawn by Hayao Miyazaki, which reflect his talent even at an early stage in his career. It rewards the curious viewer as a time capsule containing the sentiments of a young artist shaped by the post-war period who would go on to become a respected creator in his own right. It’s too bad that no English dub is available, because younger children will have difficulty following its subtitles – even though this would be a great cartoon to show them.