What Does Nuclear Mean to You?

The dropping of the two atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki forever changed the world as we knew it. Suddenly countries were battling in a cold war over a nuclear arms race, and widespread panic over nuclear weapons and radiation fallout spread like wildfire. What also was changed, was pop culture , and specifically for this article, comics. In America, nuclear fallout and radiation create superheros, like The Hulk and Fantastic Four. Japan, however, has a much different view of the affects of nuclear weapons, as they rightly should.


astro boy
Astro Boy
Godzilla 1954

Keiji Nakazawa was the first artist who brought post-Nuclear life into Japanese pop culture. His series “I Saw It”, “Struck by the Black Rain” and “Barefoot Gen” told the story of not only life after radiation exposure, but also of his personal experience having seen the bomb drop on Hiroshima and the bloody aftermath that came with it. These comics sparked a change in Japanese pop culture. Soon after the Lucky Dragon Incident, Inoshiro Honda made the film Godzilla in 1954, amongst outcry and fear of the nuclear bomb testing. This counter acts other nuclear rhetoric of the time that focused on a more friendly approach including comics such as Astro Boy, which is Japanese in origin.

tetsuo using powers
Tetsuo using telekinetic powers
The destruction of Tokyo in Akira

In Akira, which we have been reading in class, there are clear examples of nuclear themes through out the first volume. The story starts off by telling the readers that Tokyo has been demolished by a new type of bomb that decimated the old city, and there now sits a Neo-Tokyo, away from the drop site where a “crater sits like a wound at the heart of the reconstructed city.” The manga also contain peoples who have been affected by the fallout of the bomb who now have some sort of telekinetic power, who are being controlled and tested on by the military, which is not known to the public.

The Hulk
The Hulk Issue #1

Compared to Japan, America takes on the atom friendly narrative when it comes to the after affect of nuclear weapons and radiation. Marvel’s The Hulk was exposed to Gamma radiation as Dr. Bruce Banner. After the incident, he gained the ability to turn into a green giant when angry, giving him super strength, along with other abilities. The Hulk is associated with the superhero group The Avengers, which centers around saving the world from various threats. Dr. Manhattan, from The Watchmen, was exposed to nuclear experiments and was torn apart, only to be brought back to the world with superhero powers and control over all atoms.

Dr. Manhattan
Dr. Manhattan

While both rhetorics contain the aftermath and consequences of radiation, Japanese culture takes a much more stronger stance against the use of nuclear weapons and what happens to a people after the initial damage is done. Some stories, such as Akira, take the approach that the adults are the ones who are fighting and messing around with power they shouldn’t be, while the children are innocent, and the possible redeemers of a society wrought with destruction and chaos.

America focus on how to take something positive out of a destructive act, while Japan tries to get people to understand that “that mankind must learn from its mistakes and avoid repeating history.”


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