Critics said “Maruta Shiga” was a reference to human experimentation during World War II, but some see the same problem in his new name.
Last week My Hero Academia, one of the most successful and internationally popular currently ongoing anime/manga franchises, was the center of a major controversy when it was revealed that a villainous scientist character’s true name was Maruta Shiga. Maruta, the Japanese word for “log,” was also the term used by the Imperial Japanese Army’s Unit 731 for the test subjects it rounded up for human experimentation projects in China prior to and during World War II, and the Maruta Shiga character is also involved in human experimentation.
Both My Hero Academia manga publisher Shueisha and series creator Kohei Horikoshi issued apologies for any offense the name had caused, with Horikoshi insisting that the similarity had been purely coincidental. His intent, he said, was to give the character (a short, portly man) a name that evoked an image of rotundness, and also for his name to contain an element borrowed from “Shigaraki,” another My Hero Academia villain the scientist idolizes.
Shueisha and Horikoshi promised a name change, and less than a week later, the change has already been implemented in digital versions of the manga. The character’s name is now Kyudai Garaki, and My Hero Academia’s English translator Caleb Cook tweeted some pretty sound logic behind Horikoshi and/or Shueisha’s decision.
However, it looks like once again the name leaves the door open to interpretation that it’s a reference to World War II-era Japan’s dark medical science legacy.
As pointed out by Japanese Twitter user @lTfC8qI4PATLiaC, Kyudai’s name is pronounced just like “Kyudai,” the commonly used abbreviation for Kyushu Daigaku, known in English as Kyushu University. Located in the city of Fukuoka, Kyushu University is one of Japan’s oldest universities and has a reputation for excellence in the field of medicine, but it was also the site of what are known in Japanese as the Kyushu University Live Dissection Incidents (Kyushu Daigaku Seitai Kaihou Jiken), which took place in 1945.
On may 5, 1945, a U.S. B-29 Superfortress aircraft was returning from a bombing run on an airfield near Fukuoka when it was rammed by an Imperial Japanese fighter plane. Of the 12 B-29 crew members, nine were captured, with eight being sent as P.O.W.s to the medical department of Kyushu University (then known as Kyushu Imperial University) to be used as test subjects.
None of the eight airmen held at the university would survive the experiments, which, according to testimony, included:
● Injecting the subjects with seawater to see if it could be used as a substitute for sterile saline solution
● Removing part of subjects’ livers to see if they could survive
● Removing an entire lung from one subject
● Drilling through the skull of a live prisoner to remove part of his brain and see if it would influence epilepsy
Neither Shueisha nor Horikoshi have commented on the linguistic connection that could be drawn between the My Hero Academia character’s new name and yet another case of real-world human experimentation by actual Japanese scientists. It’s entirely possible that it’s a coincidence, but as with “Maruta,” it’s probably not helping that “Kyudai” isn’t a common real-world name for a person. Should this all prompt yet another rename, Shueisha and Hotikoshi are no doubt going to be looking long and hard for any possible negative interpretations of whatever they decide to go with.