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Vietnam War Fantastic

I got the idea to write this post from watching Ken Burn’s latest documentary The Vietnam War. In the past, for reasons unknown, I never had any interest in the Vietnam War even though I have some vague memories of its aftereffects (the war ended in 1975, I was born in 1984) thanks to the pop culture of the ’80s and early ’90s. I also remember as a child seeing legless Vietnamese/Cambodian men in wheelchairs due to left over land mines from that war.

But until Burns’ series, I never had any interest in the Vietnam War. Maybe because it was too long (it lasted from 1955-1975, 20 years total), too bloody and too divisive, so divisive in the US (and Vietnam of course) that you could say the ’60s was the second Civil War. To this very day, the war still is still a sensitive subject – just ask any baby boomer.

And maybe its controversial nature is why authors tend to shy away from the Vietnam War as a setting for works of SF, fantasy and horror. But there are exceptions. Eleven of them to be exact, and they range from short stories to an award-winning classic novel. So pop in your favorite ’60s/’70s rock album (I suggest The Best of the Guess Who because of course I do) and peruse this list of fantastical works set during a war that changed America (and Vietnam) forever.

Short Stories

“Fellow Americans” by Eileen Gunn (From the anthology Alternate Presidents)

Lyndon B. Johnson – commonly known as LBJ – loses the 1964 election to Barry Goldwater, who, as president, drops nuclear weapons on Vietnam, thus winning the war. Goldwater wins a second term in 1968 and serves as POTUS until 1973. Oh and Richard Nixon quit politics and became a talk show host.

“Suppose They Gave a Peace” by Susan Shwartz (also from Alternate Presidents and The Way It Wasn’t)

George McGovern is elected in 1972 and attempts an immediate withdrawal from the war, but that doesn’t stop the North Vietnamese from advancing towards Saigon.

“Murdering Uncle Ho” by Chris Bunch (from the anthology Alternate Generals III)

JFK survived his assassination, and draws the US deeper into the Vietnam conflict after the Gulf of Tonkin Incident which leads to a North Vietnamese invasion in 1965.

Comics

Watchmen – Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons (1986-87)

This graphic novel needs no introduction. Ask any comic book nerd about it and they’ll speak in reverential tones about how this series changed the comic book industry for better and for worse. Thanks to the intervention of superheroes – the living weapon Dr. Manhattan in particular (and the Comedian – though he was more of a combatant) – the US won the Vietnam War. But for every action, there’s a reaction…

Spider-‘Nam

This is more of a case of What Could Have Been. James Stokoe wrote and drew a couple of (unpublished) pages imagining Spider-Man as a combatant in the Vietnam War. He learns that the catch-phrase “with great power, comes great responsibility” takes on a whole new meaning during wartime. It appears that this comic wont be published any time soon but if it is, it’ll be the first Spider-Man comic I’d be interested in reading. You can look at the pages here.

Video Games

Shellshock 2: Blood Trails

A 2009 first-person shooter that tells the story of G.I. Private Nate Walker, who is sent to Vietnam in 1969 and learns, to his horror, that a scientist has unleashed a contagion that turns humans into zombie creatures (because zombies and war go together like peanut butter and jelly) which includes his older brother Cal. Your mission is to find Cal in the jungles of Southeast Asia, fight zombies and the Viet Cong, who’d like to get their hands on that virus.

(you will not love the smell of naplam in the morning)

Role-Playing Games

Weird Wars: Tour of Darkness

I’m not good at describing RPGs because I’ve never played them, but I think TV Tropes does a better job summarizing the Weird Wars franchise:

Pinnacle Games published a Weird Wars line of d20 games taking place in Real Life past and future wars with supernatural additions. For example, Weird War II had the PCs playing Allied soldiers during World War II, but the Nazis had mutant soldiers, characters could use haunted vehicles and cast spells, and there were monsters. Lots of monsters. The updated re-release of the game line for Savage Worlds so far includes World War I (“Weird War I”), World War II (“Weird War II”), The Vietnam War (“Tour Of Darkness”), and the Roman Empire and its campaigns of conquest (“Weird Wars Rome”).

And Amazon provides more details:

Our first follow-up to our smash hit Weird Wars in the new Savage Worlds system takes us to the jungles of Vietnam. Your grunt has 365 days and a wake-up to learn what really lurks in the jungle. Surviving is tough enough, but if your GI is really on the ball, he just might get drafted into the super-secret Phoenix Program and discover far more than he ever wanted about the Plain of Jars and the secret cults of the high mountains. Tour of Darkness features new Sanity rules and how to deal with mind-numbing horror, a ton of Edges & Hindrances, new horrors, and an awesome Adventure Generator and Plot Points to tell the most savage of tales!

Novels

The Forever War Joe Haldeman (1975)

Joe Haldeman served in Vietnam as a combat engineer. He expressed his experiences (the terror of combat, the indifference of government bureaucracy, the futility of the war and the sense of coming back to an unrecognizable world) in the military sci-fi award-winning novel The Forever War which tells the story of William Mandella, a UNEF soldier who is drafted into the war between Earth and the Taurans. Fighting an endless war is tough enough but for Mandella and his fellow soldiers, the tougher part is going home…

Television

“In Praise of Pip” – The Twilight Zone, Season 5, Episode 1 (Broadcast date: 9/27/63)

This episode is noted for addressing the Vietnam War long before the anti-war movement came to prominence. A corrupt bookie (Jack Klugman) is shot by one of his clients. He learns before hand that his son was wounded in South Vietnam and prays that God would take his life in exchange for his son’s. But before he dies, he gets one last chance to be a good father…

twilight-zone-season-5-1-in-praise-of-pip-episode-121-jack-klugman-bill-mundy-review-guide-list

A later season 5 episode makes an eerie side reference to Vietnam. “I Am the Night – Color Me Black” tells the story of an innocent man who will be hanged for murder at sunrise. But the sun never rises and the sky stays dark. After the execution, a reverend tells the public that the sky will get blacker and blacker as long as hate persists. But the little town isn’t the only place covered in darkness. Just see for yourself:

Manga

Apocalypse Meow by Motofumi Kobayashi

In Japan this manga goes by a very different title that can’t be repeated here. So in the US its retitled Apocalypse Meow as a play on the famous film Apocalypse Now.

All soldiers are represented as animals – Americans are rabbits, Vietnamese are cats, etc. Three American soldiers – Bota, Perky and Rats – go about their daily activities as members of a reconnaissance group in Vietnam. Click here for more details.

So what do you think, readers? Did I miss something? Should there be more works set during the Vietnam War or should we let sleeping dogs lie? Say your thing, man.

 

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Whitewashing Anime

I know some anime fans and some people of Asian descent will hate me for saying this but, I really don’t get all the fuss over Scarlet Johansson’s casting as Major in Ghost in the Shell.

Before I go any further, let me explain that I am a non-Asian American who agrees that Hollywood has really given Asians and Asian-Americans a bum rap. In movies, people of Asian descent are either non-existent, relegated to background characters, made fun of or killed off. And their cultures and traditions are stolen and reused for other ethnic groups. I find it so laughable how celebrity after celebrity keeps calling out the current president for being racist yet fail to see the racism of the industry they work in (quick, when was the last time you saw a Hollywood film where a person of Middle Eastern descent wasn’t a terrorist? No, Aladdin doesn’t count.) If you want to learn more about racism against Asians in Hollywood, here’s some articles by Jana Monji over at rogerebert.com (although I don’t agree with everything she says).

Another thing I’d like to add before I move on is that I’m not an anime or manga fan. I’m not familiar with the Ghost in the Shell franchise so I wont go into details about the setting and characters, just what I’ve learned through Wikipedia.

But back to my original statementWhy do I have less issues with the live action Ghost in the Shell than, say, the mostly white voice cast of Kubo and the Two Strings?

Because Scarlet looks like Major.

scarlett-johanson-ghost-in-the-shell

In America whenever a cartoon gets a live action adaptation, audiences expect the actors chosen to bear a resemblance to the cartoon character they’re playing. My biggest issue with the recent Beauty and the Beast remake is that Emma Watson, Dan Stevens and Luke Evans looked nothing liked the characters of the beloved animated film I grew up with. They weren’t even attractive enough to play Belle, Adam and Gaston convincingly (Emmy Rossum would’ve made a better Belle. At least she looks like her and can sing). By contrast, Emile Hirsch and Christina Ricci looked like Speed Racer and Trixie respectively and nobody complained of “whitewashing” when the live action Speed Racer was released in 2008. So why are people now complaining when a white woman takes a role of a white-looking character created by Japanese men?

Rei Kashino from the romance manga Mars (right) and the actor who plays him in the film (left).

Notice the keyword I used: white-looking. This is an aspect of anime that always struck me as odd. Despite being an art-form created by the Japanese, the characters of anime always have the same European features: white skin, various hair colors ranging from blonde to purple and big, round or square eyes of different colors.  Even their clothing at times will be European in origin. This isn’t limited to anime and manga. Video Games made in Japan will also depict their characters this way (Devil May Cry, Resident Evil, even Final Fantasy and Kingdom Hearts) and again, I ask: “why?” Do the Japanese hate the way they look? Do these features appeal to them? I decided the smart thing to do was to ask a fan and so I turned to my anime loving brother for information. He told me that most of today’s anime is influenced by Osamu Tezuka and Astro Boy, a franchise that introduced the anime aesthetic. Tezuka designed the characters as a homage to American artists like Walt Disney and Max Fleischer and the the style has been that way ever since. Perhaps its time for the Japanese animation industry to break the mold and start drawing their characters to resemble the people of Japan so that if and when Hollywood (or any other studio) makes another live-action anime adaptation, they’ll (hopefully) give the roles to Asian actors.

Update: it appears Mamoru Oshii, the director of the 1995 animated film, agrees with me.

Do you agree? Should the part of Major been played by an Asian actress? Is anime fine the way it is or should it change? Sound off in the comments!

 

 

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