Hayao Miyazaki’s The Wind Rises was an unusual capstone for the career of a filmmaker who built his reputation on family friendly films, making him an institution in Japan and anime’s greatest ambassador abroad. The story of a Japanese aircraft designer, destined to design one of the most iconic fighters of World War II, was an odd leap from Ponyo, but the subject matter speaks to a long-standing interest of Miyazaki’s rarely seen in his film work: mid-20th century warfare.
Look into Miyazaki’s work off-screen, and his fascination with this period becomes apparent. Porco Rosso had its origins in a short comic he wrote in 1990 called The Age of the Flying Boat. Throughout the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, he also penned a series of illustrated essays for Model Grafix magazine, Daydream Notes, which focused on tanks, planes and ships of the pre-war and World War II eras.
Daydream Notes was an unusual mixture of real-world military hardware and original designs of Miyazaki’s own creation, rendered on cluttered pages crammed with detailed illustrations, watercolor paintings and Miyazaki’s handwriting. In the rush to praise Miyazaki’s skill as a director, his other talents and interests are often ignored; the historical details in films like My Neighbor Totoro and Kiki’s Delivery Service suggest an artist with an interest in history, but nowhere else is his talent as a designer and illustrator combined with his historical curiosity quite like the pages of Daydream Notes.
Among the stories featured in Daydream Notes was a short comic called A Pig’s Tiger, about the pig crew of an VK 45.01 (P), a tank prototype designed by Ferdinand Porsche in 1942. The VK 45.01 (P) would eventually lose out to its competitor, the Henschel-designed VK 45.01 (H), which, once mass-produced, became the iconic Tiger I tank that served as the backbone of Germany’s tank forces in Europe and Africa during the early stages of the war. Miyazaki’s choice to feature a prototype design that never saw production suggests that Miyazaki was into some properly obscure shit, but then again, “P” stands for “pig,” right?
Miyazaki’s penchant for using pig characters should be familiar if you’ve ever seen Porco Rosso, but unlike that film, A Pig’s Tiger features exclusively snout-nosed characters without a normal human in sight. Two of those characters, including an engineer named Hans, would be brought back in The Return of Hans, a three-part story set in the war-torn villages of Europe, but this time featuring actual people and another Porsche-designed prototype tank that never saw mass production: the gigantic Panzerkampfwagen VIII Maus. “Maus” means “mouse” in German, and while the story doesn’t include any rodents, it’s hard not to wonder if Miyazaki doesn’t love throwing animal references into his World War II stories or if he just has a penchant for failed Porsche tank designs.
A porcine tank crew would also show up in the Daydream Notes story Turn of the Multi-Turret, detailing the crew and design of an original tank called the Akuyaku 1 Go, or, “Bad Guy No. 1.” That particular design was turned into a 1/72 scale model kit by Asuka back in the mid 2000s.
Miyazaki’s use of pigs isn’t dissimilar to Motofumi Kobayashi’s comic series Cat Shit One (better known in the U.S. by the clever name given to it by ADV Film’s now-defunct manga imprint, Apocalypse Meow), but it’s also reminiscent of Momotaro, Sacred Soldiers, a propaganda film from 1944 written and directed by Mitsuyo Seo (which was just recently licensed by Funimation). In it, the Japanese folk tale of Momotaro is dropped into the Pacific Theater, with Momotaro and his anthropomorphic animal companions as Japanese naval paratroopers. While Kobayashi doesn’t shy from writing comics about real military personnel featuring actual people, Miyazaki employed the tactic in yet another manga series for Model Grafix: Tigers Covered With Mud.
Unlike Porco Rosso, A Pig’s Tiger or The Return of Hans, Tigers Covered With Mud is about a very real person: German tank commander Otto Carius. Credited with anywhere between 60 and 150 tank kills, Carius served on the Eastern Front and participated in both Operation Barbarossa and the later Battle of Narva in Estonia. He survived the war, went to university, and from 1956 until 2011 ran a pharmacy called “Tiger Apotheke.” The origin of that namesake should be obvious.
Compared with the rest of his Daydream Notes work, Tigers Covered With Mud feels a more polished, with panels that are less cluttered and more detailed coloring. It’s still as much about telling Carius’ story as it is packed with data, as Miyazaki includes diagrams of maneuvers and goes into explicit detail about armored warfare on the Eastern Front. Though, granted, it’s warfare between pigs.
Tigers Covered With Mud gets its name from Carius’ memoirs, titled Tigers in the Mud, but just like that book, Miyazaki’s manga ignores the atrocities of warfare on the Eastern Front in favor for a focused look at tank warfare. That said, when Tigers Covered With Mud was collected into book in 2002, it combined the comic with a trove of information about Carius himself (plus The Return of Hans). In addition to short essays about Carius’ wartime experience, Miyazaki himself visited Estonia and the site of the Battle of Narva, as well as visiting Carius at his pharmacy. For a man that’s often portrayed as an obsessive, single-minded filmmaker, it’s insight into other things that interest Miyazaki.
There’s some obvious comparisons to be drawn between Otto Carius in Tigers Covered With Mud and The Wind Rises’ Jiro Horikoshi, namely that they were both real people who supported the territorial ambitions of countries fated to lose. The Wind Rises was criticized for ignoring the atrocities of Imperial Japan, and Tigers Covered With Mud doesn’t mention the warcrimes perpetrated on the Eastern Front, but critics of works like these rarely seem to consider if including these crimes is actually relevant to the story or simply a penance that be paid.
In both cases, Miyazaki provides an out for himself by obscuring reality with fiction; in The Wind Rises it’s the injection of a 1937 novel written by Hori Tatsuo called The Wind Has Risen, while in Tigers Covered With Mud it’s, well, anthropomorphic pigs driving tanks. This kind of stuff is fascinating, not because of a strong opinion on whether or not films (or comics) made decades after the war by a man who was four years old when it ended should be apologizing for war crimes, but because that the mere hint of controversy is so seemingly at odds with the squeaky-clean image of Miyazaki at home and abroad.
Aside from Nausicaä, it’s hard to find Miyazaki manga in English (with one big, out of print exception). Thankfully, the three main books collecting the comics I’ve discussed above are easy to find and won’t kill your wallet like most Studio Ghibli merchandise.
Crimson Pig: Age of the Flying Boat (1993)
Animerica, Vol. 1, Issues 5-7
When Animerica was first getting its start it ran The Age of the Flying Pig across three issues. Translated by Matt Thorn and accompanied by an interview with Miyazaki himself, it’s a great resource but unfortunately it’s never been reprinted. Old issues of Animerica aren’t hard to find, though.
Daydream Notes – 宮崎駿の雑想ノート (1997)
There are two versions of this book, one published in 1992 and another in 1997. Try and track down the later version because it includes The Age of the Flying Boat, which isn’t included in the first edition. For more information on the essays included in this, take a look at Nausicaa.net’s wiki page.
The Age of the Flying Boat – 飛行艇時代 (1992)
While the eponymous comic is included in this, I’d only recommend this book to big fans of Porco Rosso. Most of its 64 pages are filled up with photos of model kits and actual planes and a bit of line art from the movie. More info can be found at Nausicaa.net’s wiki.
Tigers Covered With Mud – 泥まみれの虎 (2002)
In addition to Tigers Covered With Mud and The Return of Hans, this book includes lots of photos and essays about Carius and Miyazaki’s travel through Estonia. Highly recommended. More info at Nausicaa.net’s wiki.