There is obviously Strike Witches, Sora no Woto, UC Gundam, and cases like Black Lagoon where there are refernces to a group often caricatured as generally evil. Still I think that Japan’s fascination with their old comrades in arms stems from a slight admiration and offers them a chance to take part in referring to the Second World War without having to mention their hand in the affair other than how those damned Americans used that horrible bomb on the innocent Japanese. It got me think as to how odd Japan is for being one of the few places where iconography from the Third Reich is more mainstream within broadcast media. I can’t help but feel though despite my appreciation for the German 1930s-1940s aesthetic that Japan’s affinity for the style is some what oddly misplaced. Sure they were wartime allies and shared defeat, but that is not the whole picture. I suspect that there is a greater degree of comfort for the Japan to portray Jerry in much more sympathetic tones than in the West. There is in Japan a not so subtle desire to portray themselves as the victims of atomic aggression as the only part in the Second World War, and in lieu of depicting their military actions they are more ready to discuss Germany’s role than their own. Between the Axis Powers there were the well known three, Germany, Italy, and Japan. There were others but their role is not as thoroughly discussed but Germany and Japan were the two big military players as Italy had made the mistake of betting the farm that WWII would happen in the 1930s hence most of their equipment from that era was good, but by 1940 most of their hardware was obsolete. Still even as part of the top two in the Axis Japan was not Germany’s military equal.
Japan had a much larger navy and it was for a long time on the the leading edge of naval innovation but when it came to ground forces and air power Japan lagged to the point that the Allies were able to overtake them in technical superiority over the course of the war. I think there is good reason to believe that only the West seems to really care about what happened during the holocaust as the killing of some six million Jews and other groups hardly affected those outside of the West. For a country like Japan having little real contact with God’s Chosen People they are much more prone to believe what other people tell them about the Jews hence there is a anti-semetic streak in Japan despite there being very few Jews, due to much of the informatin they got regarding Jews came from Westerners that were more or less anti-Semetic. As for the rest of Asia the Second World War occured at a time when they were colonies or under Japanese occuaption and thus they had their own issues to deal with rather than empathize with the Jews. However unlike any other great power at the time the Germans were soley focused on efficiency rather than simply being brutal the thing that really marked the holocaust as something different from any other genocide was that it was much better organized and it was intended to wipe people out where other mass killings were the result of random massed killings within warzones. Japan’s practice of mass killing was highly unorganized as it seemed to stem from casual brutality that enabled rape and sexual slavery to go hand in hand with their brutal treatment of the locals they recently brought into the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere.
Within the Japanese narrative of victim-hood they believe they probably suffered the worst after those evil Americans nuked their asses to install a Carthaginian peace on the innocent Japanese. Thusly there is a lack of connection to the Final Solution and hence it becomes a non-issue for those outside of the West who focus more on their victim status than that of others. There is still a popular misconception that the SS was the elite of Germany’s forces during the war and it helps distinguish those “bad” Germans from those “okay” Germans. The truth is that the SS was for a long time the much derided asphault troops that were used more for ceremony and parades than actual fighting. While the German Regular Army, the Heer, was doing all the leg work for the next war since 1919, the SS were the softies that got all the cast off equipment that the Heer couldn’t use. The Heer was usuaully first in line for new equipment with the SS taking what was left over. Things would change by 1943 as der Fuhrer lost faith in the Heer and the SS became his trusted troops that then got the good stuff. Still despite the somewhat inflated reputation the SS did become crack troops by 1944 after the Heer was depleted of its veterans after years of war. Nevertheless even by 1944 the Heer contained the elite Panzer Lehr and Grossdeutschland Division that were still the first recipients of new equipment. Still the SS provided the most safe group to target in popular media because they are the easiest to villify given how they were political troops.
Militarily there was a significant difference between the two Axis powers as Japan could barely hold a candle to the awesome might of the German warmachine. Japan also lagged so far in technology that the Allies claimed technical superiority by the end of the war, whereas the Germans were still light years ahead with jets, cruise missiles, and strategic missiles. The man most responsible for the might of the German military machine was one Hans von Seekct, who at the end of the First World War was confined by a truly Carthiginian peace and limited to a mere 100,000 troops for his whole army. Seekct wasn’t the kind of guy who wanted the throw in the towel even after defeat and set his sight on fighting the next war and kick France in the balls. For his 100,000 he chose only the best and brightest and put them through a punishing training regime that created the nucleus of one of the finest officer corps created. Seekct had his senior officers go over their defeat in detail and through that process came up with new ideas for weapons, tactics, command structure, and doctrine.
The Imperial Japanese Army on the otherhand was plotting conquest instead of going over tactics as their experince from the First World War was as a victor and played but one major role at the Siege of Tsingtao where it took them much longer to break the Germans than any one expected with a huge numerical advantage with naval and artillery superemacy. It took the Japanese and the small British contingent much longer than one would expect to overcome the Germans, but at the time victory was victory even if that vicotry was attained with less than stellar tactics. Still in the end there wasn’t a mad drive to go over lessons learned in Japan as happened in Germany after 1919. When it came to the live fire exercise the Germans played second fiddle to the Italians during the Spanish Civil War while Japan invaded China and made excursions into Soviet controlled territory. China was fairly easy going at first but while dicking around in the Soviet Sphere of influence the Japanese ran right into some dude who they rarely mention, a Russian by the name of Georgi Zhukov. Zhukov being one of the few tank otaku that Stalin did not kill off kicked the shit out the Japanese Imperial Army that was starting some shit. It was a BIG FIGHT and such was the ass kicking that Zhukov gave them the IJA decided that it would not be possible to beat the Soviets and pretty much glossed over how some nobody had put his boot up so far up their ass they could still taste it.
The Spanish Civil War was a much more grueling affair as the Republicans were not pushovers and had the support of the Soviets who were well paid for their services. Nationalist Spain counted on the support of Italy and Germany, but early Italian attempts to take Madrid and do things on their own resulted in defeat and stalemate. While the Italians were getting mauled the Germans were taking more notes and working out the bugs in their new way of war that would enter the popular imagination as Blitzkrieg. The Germans really got to know how fragile mechanized forces were without a good logistical tail and maintenece crews and had to come up with new ways to defeat the Soviet designed tanks which were at the time superior to anything they had. Japan had a much easier time against the Chinese, but Hans after his retirement was doing some odd jobs for Chiang Kai Shek at the time so things did not always go to plan. Under German tutelage a few Chinese brigades had been trained on the German method of waging war and it was these brigades that held Shanghai for three months when the Japanese expected for the affair to take three days. Even during Hans’ days as head of the Reichswehr he worked with the Soviets in creating tactics for the use of massed armor and sent officers to the United States to train in artillery. The Soviets and Americans took some notes on what the Germans were thinking, the Soviets came up with a doctrine broadly similar to what the Geramns would later use and the Yanks took their notes and one upped the Germans with the fire direction center concept that assured American Artillery supremacy over the Axis.
In essence the Germans, militarily, were everything the Japanese weren’t. When it came to waging war the Germans were much more technical while the Japanese were much more esoteric and less concerned with the details. I suspect that the narrative of a defeated Germany rising from the ashes of defeat and the humiliating Treaty of Versailles would speak to the people living in the post colonial world in former colonies. No doubt defeat is hard to swallow but that meteoric rise from defeat to coming onto the precipice of total victory over those that defeated them in the space of three decades has never been as successfully repeated. There is a fondness for the narrative since the killing of six million Jews plus others hardly effected any one in Asia, save for the Middle Eastern folk who had a very real legacy of the holocaust in 1948 right on their door step. It is this remoteness or general callousness towards the holocaust that I think makes the Third Reich more accessible. Germany was humiliated just like many former colonies feel that they were humiliated, doubly so for Japan who had come so close winning an empire and got instead two atomic bombs and occupation headed by Douglas MacArthur. Sure almost everyone says the holocaust was bad but it hasn’t and never will affect those outside the West in quite the same way.
It’s easy for Japan to have a not so subtle love for their old wartime allies and despite the love I find it rather funny that when Germany needed a second front on the Soviets Japan blew them off while Germany declared war on the US as a gesture of good faith. I don’t think much of Japan’s affection for their former allies, it comes up in weird ways in anime, but it does allow them to draw upon a world changing event without referencing how they failed so mightily and how faithless an ally they were when Germany bore the brunt of Soviet fury. I am pretty sure the Germans would have been pretty miffed at the time if they knew Japan was putting out peace feelers to the Soviets after the Germans were defeated. Doubly so since even those damned British kept faith with the countries that the Germans had steam rolled, even as defeat seemed inevitably for old blighty. For a former warrior culture supposedly steeped in samurai tradition I wonder how biting it must feel for some in Japan’s far right and the more right leaning otaku to know that their military legacy of that era is one of incompetence, wanton vice, political back biting, sloppiness, and dramatic failure compared to the allies they failed and were ready to sell out if it meant keeping what remained of their empire.
The writings of the Germans are still being used in war colleges and officer academies and their exploits are still openly discussed and acknowledged as great military feats. As much as there is that admiration and co-opting of style it is somewhat ironic that the Germans were also the ones who disseminated their military lore to forces that would cause Japan defeats, but at the time the Japanese drew few if any lessons from Germans. The Japanese affection for old German military trappings is somewhat odd while they were wartime allies they never really conducted any joint operations near the scale of the Americans and the Brits and in a way both screwed eachother over. German did it long before the formation of the Axis by teaching their ways to those who were willing to listen, while Japan royally screwed Germany over by refusing to decalre war on the Soviet Union even as the Soviets were stretched to almost a breaking point.