The JL123 Crash and Manga – Recreating Iconic Images

Following on from my post about the manga Kurosagi Shitai Takuhaibin and The JL123 Crash and Manga – Unsolved Crime, this post will be discussing another manga in relation to the JL123 plane crash. The book, published in 2010, is Osutakayama-no-Atsui Natsu (御巣鷹山の暑い夏) (‘the hot summer on Mount Osutaka’). The titles reflects the popular, but inaccurate, name by which the mountain on which JL123 crashed is known, as I discuss in my book Dealing with Disaster in Japan and elsewhere.

The book is the first manga totally about JL123 came out and is also the first that was solely concerned with SDF accounts. Let me introduce some key elements of this manga and how it may have introduced the images familiar to those who followed the news in 1985 to perhaps another generation of Japanese.

As well as showing the SDF response to the crash, the manga includes key moments from the flight itself. This includes perhaps the best version of the route map I have seen, clearly demonstrating the huge fluctuations in altitude the plane experienced during its final 32 minutes from the time of the explosion on board to its crash. The manga also includes further explanation of the motions that the plane went through once it became ‘uncontrollable’ as the pilot described it. There are also recreations of the situation in the cockpit and cabin using dialogue recorded by the Cockpit Voice Recorder and the photograph taken by one of the passengers.

After that prelude, we get a two page spread of the crash site itself. This is very reminiscent of the crash site as photographed by the media on the morning after the crash. From the air all that was visible was part of one wing and the desolation to the mountainside. The rest of the plane and the passengers had seemingly vanished. The movies Climber’s High and Shizumanu Taiyō have similarly recreated this part of the crash site (as discussed in my book Dealing with Disaster in Japan and will be discussed in a forthcoming publication).

Osutakayama-no-Atsui Natsu

Manga is perhaps notorious for being graphic. It is perhaps not surprising therefore that this particular manga, with its focus on the SDF recovery of bodies from the crash site, does not hold back from using some very graphic imagery. But it is not only manga which can be graphic in Japan. The tabloid weekly magazines, shūkanshi, can be in some respects be even more sensational. Here we see images in the magazine Emma which appeared in the weeks after crash and how the manga has reproduced the scene. However, the movie Climber’s High also includes a passing reference to this image, as can be seen in the photograph here, although it only appears on screen briefly and it would be easy to miss. (I discuss these issues further in my publication ‘Visualisation of Death in Japan: The Case of the Flight JL123 Crash‘)

One of the most iconic shots of the crash site would be much more familiar to most and is also in the manga. The manga includes an image which is similar to a picture which featured in 1985 and then again in an article in the Nikkei Shimbun in 1995 discussing the top stories of the 50 years of the post war period. It was one of only seven images to be used in the article. Similar images appeared in all national and local newspapers in the days after the crash in 1985. I would suggest that it is natural, and expected, for a manga that is dealing with an historic event to include such images, which this manga also used as the basis of the cover too. So what would be more puzzling is if such images were missing.

Miraculously despite not getting to the crash site until over 15 hours after the plane came down, four survivors were found. All four were female and all of them were seated in the rear part of the plane which had broken up and slid down one side of the ridge to the gulley below. Following further delays, they were first transported to the top of the ridge where they were winched up to helicopters one-by-one. The film and photograph of the first of these survivors being taken away is another of the most well-known images associated with the crash.

So it is perhaps surprising the manga does not include the image of any of the survivors being winched away, preferring to focus on images of them being pulled from the wreckage itself. But the manga is not the only one to not use the iconic image. Whilst the NHK version of Climber’s High uses actual TV footage from 1985 to show the image, the film version, despite having recreated the crash site itself, does not show the survivor being taken away directly. Instead we just hear a reporter describing the scene – almost inaudibly due to the sound of the helicopter itself – and we see those at the site seemingly looking up at the survivor being taken away. Shizumanu Taiyō (2009) tends to focus on the dead and on the financial corruption inside the company. Although it shows a moving hand at the crash site to indicate that there are survivors being found, it goes no further, although this film too had gone to the expense of recreating the crash site. Again, this will be discussed in further detail in a forthcoming publication).

Given that there has been this manga and there are also now some other novels and movies, I wonder how long it will be until we see a full length anime about the JL123 crash.

For further details about Osutakayama-no-Atsui Natsu, see the Amazon page.

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