Sign wa V! (The V Sign!, by Mochizuki Akira, is among the most popular volleyball manga ever. Debuting the same year as Attack No.1 (the volleyball manga in terms of notoriety) in 1968, both of these titles capitalized on the success of the volleyball boom that had began in 1964 when the Japanese national women’s team won the gold at the Tokyo Olympics. Sign wa V! even received over the years not one but two live-action television dramas. Like Attack No.1, Sign wa V! is a “sports guts” story, where intense training and passion are the keys to victory. At one point, the main character tries to smash her hand with a rock because playing volleyball might mean ruining her mom’s life but she just can’t because she loves volleyball that much.
The main reason I’m writing this post, however, is not to review or promote Sign wa V! (but you can read it online here), but to talk about a particular character and her possible influence on anime and manga. A few volumes into the series, Sign wa V! introduces a new character, Jun Sanders (pictured above). Half-black, half-Japanese, she’s characterized by an intense desire to compete in volleyball, and sensitivity over her skin color. Her name is a mix of Japanese and English, though Jun sounds similar to “June,” and Sanders is not her real last name but taken from the orphanage where she was raised. When Jun first appears, she has an intense rivalry with the main character. Curiously, in the 1969 drama she was played by an actress of Taiwanese descent.
The first sign that Jun Sanders may have had some impact on Japanese media, at least as far as I can find, is the 1974 anime and manga Great Mazinger. A sequel to the seminal giant robot series Mazinger Z, this follow-up focuses on a new hero, a new demonic threat, and a more powerful robot to fight them. In this series, the protagonist has a female assistant (pictured above) who aids him in battle using her own giant robot, Venus A. Her name is Honoo Jun (written surname first), and she’s half-black, half-Japanese, with a strong and fiery personality. Though perhaps merely a coincidence, her default outfit looks similar to one worn by Jun Sanders.
Fast forward to 1999 and the release of the video game Gate Keepers, which also received an anime and a manga. I have no experience with Gate Keepers myself, but according to plot summaries it’s about an alternate-universe post-WWII Japan with alien invaders.This series features an American character named Jun Thunders (pictured below) who, just like Jun Sanders and Honoo Jun, has relatively dark skin and long, dark hair. What makes Jun Thunders even more clearly a reference to Sign wa V! is that “Thunders” and “Sanders” are written the same way in Japanese (サンダーズ). Moreover, Gate Keepers takes place in 1969, the same time in which Sign wa V! is set (which was the “present” at the time). Also, the Gate Keepers Jun might also be a reference to the Great Mazinger Jun because honoo means “flame,” so there’s a thunder-flame elemental connection.
There might be more characters in the Jun Sanders lineage, but these are the only ones I can find at this point. If anyone has any more information or knows other characters influenced by Jun, feel free to leave a comment.