Not once did I ever imagine that I would be so engrossed over a rescue team. When I was young, Baywatch glamorised rescues on the telly. Having lived along a typhoon belt, I knew better heroes than those lifeguards in orange. Every typhoon season, I bear witness to neighbours, friends, and families braving the torrential rain to save people. People didn’t need all the fancy boats and jet skis to save people. Courage was more than enough. As such, I often saw fictionalised rescues with great contempt. However, stories like Tokkyū!! are an exception.
Tokushu Kyūnan Tai aka Tokkyū
Written by Komori Yoichi and drawn by Kubo Mitsuro, Tokkyuu!!‘s about the Japanese Coast Guard’s Special Rescue Unit based at Haneda Airport. This unit, known for their nickname Tokkyū, is tasked to pursue dangerous rescue missions along the Japanese coast. If you see a news bit where men are rescuing ship crews via helicopters, then that rescue team are members of Tokkyū. They are one of the best rescue teams in Japan. And the manga’s protagonist, Kanbayashi Hyogo, dreams of becoming a part of Tokkyū.
Tokkyū!! begins much like every shonen story. Kanbayashi is a young and idealistic coast guard whose goal was to be a part of Tokkyū. This dream was motivated by the loss of his father who disappeared at sea when he was younger. While Kanbayashi has the physique and the passion to be a member of Tokkyū, he learns through various challenges that it took more than guts to save lives. Throughout the series, Kanbayashi learns that it takes patience, knowledge, and discipline to develop these rescue instincts. These instincts allow him to safely rescue people without compromising his life.
This insightful knowledge on the values and hardships of becoming a member of Tokkyū stems from Komori Yoichi’s knowledge and ties with the Japanese Coast Guard. In 1999, Komori had written Umizaru, a successful manga series about a local Japanese Coast Guard team. His personal interest with these heroes continued with Wa ga Na wa Umishi (2004-2008) and, of course, Tokkyū!! (2004-2008). To make Tokkyū!! as authentic as they could, Komori brought Kubo to observe many Tokyū activities. They even went to Indonesia to see a joint training between Tokkyuu and Indonesia’s Coast Guard. Kubo soaked all the things she saw like a sponge. Members of Tokkyū were just as generous in sharing their experiences and stories to Kubo and Komori. The result was a wonderful story that immersed readers in the risky yet astounding lives of Tokkyū rescuers.
One of the things I find amazing about Tokkyū!! is Komori and Kubo’s tact in seamlessly integrating information about Tokkyū’s activities without burdening the narrative. Unlike other manga that inundates us with lengthy lectures that set the context of the story, Komori and Kubo ease these facts into the story. As Kanbayashi and his colleagues saved people or participated in rescue exercises, I learned valuable technical details about being an elite coast guard in Japan. From swimming against currents to knowing how to control your rappel from a helicopter, Tokkyuu!! manages to share informative tidbits about the challenging yet exciting world of Japan’s elite rescue team. Not once did I ever felt bored in reading these details because just a panel later, the series reminds its readers why these things are valuable. All these skills, tools, and techniques were developed to save people.
A Rescuer’s Pride
What I found most compelling about Tokkyū!! was how Komori and Kubo challenged notions of heroism. Unlike most shounen heroes who would rush towards danger, members of Tokkyū were perpetually reminded that their heroism would place them at greater risk. While courage is seen as a valuable trait, its potential recklessness endangers the lives of the victims and the rescuers. When conducted with little or no foresight, heroic deeds could lead to death.
As early as the first chapter of the series, Tokkyū!! sets the overarching tone for the series: safe and efficient rescue over urgency, courage, heroism and passion. This becomes a central struggle for Kanbayashi whose actions are deeply motivated by his heart than his head. True enough, this often led him to dangerous situations.
One scene that struck home was when he rescued a young girl that drifted across the sea. This reminded me of the time when I almost drifted far from the shore and I found it difficult to get back because of the currents. Fortunately, I managed to find my way back. Unfortunately for Kanbayashi, it took three days and an ingenious idea of burning their raft before Tokkyū managed to find him and the girl he tried to rescue. Rather than rewarding Kanbayashi’s brave deeds, Komori and Kubo teach him lessons that made him reconsider his actions. While this eventually led to Kanbayashi’s growth, his bravery led him to make very difficult choices.
These poignant moments in the series made me an emotional wreck. I felt the Kanbayashi’s burden as it became increasingly difficult to choose between his life or the person he is trying to rescue. Since Komori and Kubo beautifully captured his desire and passion to save people’s lives, it was unbearable to witness Kanbayashi’s failures as a rescuer. They had no intention to glamorise his life as a member of Tokyū. Instead, Komori and Kubo showed the harsh realities of disasters, the pride of Tokyū, and the joy of saving lives.
More than admiration, Komori and Kubo wanted Kanbayashi and Tokyū to earn the respect of their readers. In showing their hardships, the series highlights their hard-earned pride as Tokyū. Kubo exceptionally illustrates this through scenes where Kanbayashi swims through raging currents or as he runs away, while holding a child, from an oncoming tsunami. As a result, these vulnerable moments show Kanbayashi’s pride as he gives his all to save these people. It’s hard not to respect that. As I hope and pray that all goes well in the end, I cannot help but respect Tokyū for all the things they tried to do. I think this respect stems from Komori and Kubo’s encounters with Tokyū rescuers who are not fragments of fiction but are heroes in real life.
All in all, Tokkyū!! is an exceptional story about heroism. Komori and Kubo’s partnership created everyday heroes who pushed themselves to the limit to save people. As I reread this series in its entirety, it has found its way as one of my favourite manga of all time. The resilience of Kanbayashi and his Tokkyū colleagues inspires me to be resilient. This manga is amazing and I wish everyone read it. I wish it had an anime. I wish it had the same support as Yuri on Ice!! because it has a great story to tell. But perhaps my love for this series is a reflection of my own desire to see the same enthusiasm and skill from our local rescuers in the Philippines. I can’t help but imagine what it’d be like if our rescuers had the same discipline, rigour, and pride as Tokkyū. Maybe, we could save more lives.