Tokkou no Shima 1 (The Isle of Tokkou 1)
by Syuho Sato
Houbunsa, 2006, 205 pages
The Isle of Tokkou 1 refers to Otsushima, a small
island in Tokuyama Bay in Yamaguchi Prefecture. In 1944, the Japanese Navy
established a top-secret base on Otsushima for kaiten, manned torpedoes to
carry out special attacks (tokkou in Japanese). A submarine could carry
four to six kaiten, described in the book as huge steel coffins with pilots
having a zero percent chance of returning alive after being launched. The
Isle of Tokkou 1, a historical manga book that includes episodes originally
published in Shuukan Manga Times magazine, focuses on the
relationship between Lieutenant Junior Grade Sekio Nishina and the fictional
Watanabe. This manga book, the first in a series, covers the training period prior to
first kaiten attack, which took place at Ulithi on November 20, 1944.
Lieutenant Hiroshi Kuroki and Lieutenant Junior Grade Sekio
Nishina open the story by presenting their kaiten weapon plans to a Naval Staff
Officer. The setting shifts then to the base for Fukuoka Naval Air Group, where
100 young men volunteer to train for a special weapon for which they will have
no hope of return. When the volunteers arrive at Otsushima, Commanding Officer
Itakura shows them the kaiten weapons and explains the nature of their mission. He
states that all of the volunteers within a few months will ride one of these
torpedoes and crash into an American warship.
Nishina, with long unkempt hair atypical for the Japanese Navy, visits one of
the classes for the new arrivals. He says that Kuroki, who together with him
developed the idea for the kaiten, died several weeks earlier. He tells the
young men that he will be first to go when the opportunity comes to sortie, and
he encourages them to never forget Kuroki's last wishes. After the presentation,
Yuzo Watanabe angrily approaches
Nishina to find out why he created such a weapon, but Nishina remains silent.
Soon after Watanabe accompanies Nishina on a kaiten training run but finds out
nothing more about his true feelings. Later in the day at sunset Watanabe
discusses the kaiten's many defects with his friend Sekiguchi.
When Watanabe returns to the barracks, he drifts off into a
daydream as he sketches some scenery. The dream ends with his mother asking him
what he really wants to do, and he stares at a blank page in his sketchbook as
he thinks about the question. The other men have gone to sleep, so he goes over
to the torpedo maintenance area, where he finds Nishina engrossed in his work
on a kaiten. Nishina invites Watanabe to view Lieutenant Kuroki's writings on
the inside hull of this kaiten, which had gone out of control on a training
mission and stuck at the bottom of the bay. Kuroki died before the kaiten could
Lieutenant Junior Grade
Watanabe gets assigned to a second training run with
Nishina. Inside the kaiten prior to launch, Watanabe questions Nishina several
times until he explains his true feelings toward the kaiten. Nishina tells
Watanabe that he wanted to be Lieutenant Kuroki, who totally devoted himself to
the development of the kaiten. He says that when he first read Kuroki's last
letter written at the bottom of the bay, he felt neither saddened nor impressed
but rather in despair. When Kuroki's dead body was removed from the kaiten,
Nishina saw in Kuroki's features a real calmness in the face of death. Kuroki
died as a martyr, continuing to write useful information regarding the kaiten's
failure until oxygen ran out. Nishina considers himself a mediocre person in
comparison to Kuroki, who gave his life with conviction. After telling his
story, Nishina asks about the reasons for Watanabe's conviction. Watanabe
replies that he burns with life so that he can make his life his own. The book
ends as they start their second training run together in the kaiten.
The characters in this manga book thoughtfully discuss the
reasons why they willingly plan to go to their death in a kaiten weapon.
Although the main characters appearing in the book are based on actual history,
the author Syuho Sato writes up front that some of their ideas, beliefs, and
feelings presented in the story differ from those of the historical persons.
The accuracy of the book's characters and drawings reflects the author's
thorough research, including obtaining information from a couple of books on
kaiten history and from the Kaiten Memorial Museum in Otsushima, the National
Kaiten Association, and Yasukuni Jinja Yushukan Museum. Some of the manga characters'
features are somewhat exaggerated, such as Nishina's shoulder-length hair being
longer than that shown in historical photos, but the kaiten drawings and
Otsushima scenery generally appear quite realistic.
Volume 1 ends in the middle of a kaiten training run, and this
thought-provoking manga story continues in Volume 2, published five years later.