Monday, July 31

Discovering Japan: Anime and Learning Japanese Culture

Annie Manion
A Master’s Thesis Submitted to East Asian Studies Center
University of Southern California

I recently took a course in anthropology called “Japanese Popular Culture”.

Knowing from my research that there are many students at USC interested in anime, Japanese film, videogames and manga, I expected the class to be full of otaku . I was surprised to find the class was comprised mostly of people who knew very little about Japan, but for some reason were attracted to some aspect of Japanese pop culture, whether it was fashion, music, or as was most often the case, anime. They were not there to learn more about something they already had a passion for, as the otaku I expected to see in the class, but rather to learn more about something they knew hardly anything about.

Since the success of the animated series Pokemon in the late nineties, Japanese animation has been enjoying greater popularity and recognition in America. Known increasingly by the Japanese term “anime”, Japanese animation is gaining recognition as a medium that appeals to children and young people. Anime has had an undeniable effect on American popular culture.

For example, many children’s cartoons, such as The Powerpuff Girls and Kim Possible have begun to use an anime copycat style, “anime looks [were] leaping from the screen” at last fall’s fashion runways , and Hollywood blockbusters either use animated scenes directly (Kill Bill Vol. 1) or borrow imagery from anime (The Matrix Trilogy).

Though the effect anime is having on the visual style of American entertainment and fashion is easy to see, the implication of anime’s growing popularity for its country of origin, Japan, are much less clear. In the following discussion, I will report my findings on the basis of a poll, and take a closer look at the role anime plays in stimulating interest in Japan, and the ways in which interest in anime and Japanese popular culture are closely related to an interest in Japan.

It is in fact difficult to tease the two apart from each other, since it is impossible to participate in anime fan culture, except at the very shallowest level, and not be exposed to other forms of Japanese popular culture and traditional Japanese culture, and thereby be encouraged to explore them further. Anime and its relationship to interest in Japan are useful to consider in the context of teaching and learning about Japan. At the very least, one would think that a medium as easy

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Ready to Explode: Exploring the Cyberculture and Cyberfear of Japan in Anime

by Joseph Babcock

“It's the age of destruction,
In a world of corruption

It's the age of destruction
And they hand us oblivion.”1

-Billy Idol, Neuromancer

“The end of the world was only the beginning.”2

-Akira, 2001 Poster

Introduction: Society, Cyberpunk, and Akira

Japan, circa 1984: the Murai Jun group at the Tokyo Institute of Technology establishes the Japan University Network (JUNET), a computer system linking the mainframes of several universities.3 Japanese society witnessed many such advances in information technology during the 1980s, innovations which promised to greatly accelerate the flow of data and to replace manual labor with automated production.4 One scholar at the time predicted that “the impact of informisation [sic] on society as a whole will be as extensive as that of the industrial revolution.”5

Similar technological developments occurred worldwide during the eighties, as the foundations of the Internet sprang into being. In response, the science-fiction community began to examine the impact that this “computerization” might have on society, creating the Cyberpunk genre. Ironically, the establishment of JUNET coincided with the American publication of William Gibson's seminal Cyberpunk novel Neuromancer (1984), a brooding vision of an “informatized” society. In Japan, the themes explored by Gibson were echoed in many animated pictures, such as Katsuhiro Otomo's 1988 epic Akira. Set in the dark world of 2019 Neo-Tokyo, the film depicts a near-future cyberculture.

In most aspects Akira is far from subtle; boasting vivid imagery and an evocative musical score, it is a dramatic sensory experience. It is through symbolism and metaphor, however, that the themes of the film are articulated. These subtle elements reveal the anxieties surrounding the evolution of information networks in 1980s Japan, fears which are the focus of this paper. In this analysis, I will address two primary themes. One is the importance of information freedom, which is reflected in the conflict between Neo-Tokyo's corrupt government and a rebel opposition group. The second is the threat of information technology to the human form, which is represented by physical transformation in Akira.

While the portrayal of information technology in Akira demonstrates historical trends in public opinion, it also highlights the development of such sentiments over time. Like the computer industry, the Japanese Cyberpunk genre is a changing entity. A secondary purpose of this essay is to address thematic developments in the genre, as reflected in more recent films such as Mamoru Oshii's Ghost in the Shell (1996).

The Information Society: A Corporate Vision of Utopia

Beginning in the 1960s, Japanese policymakers predicted that computer-based technologies would revolutionize the nation's existing economic and social structures.6 This future Japan, in which information would be freely transmitted through a digital network, was described as an “information society” by Professor Hayashi Yujiro of the Tokyo Institute of Technology7. In Beyond Computopia (1988), Tessa Morris-Suzuki argues that this “informatised [sic]” society represents a “technocrats' Utopia, a public justification for the policies desired by economically powerful groups.”8 At the time, these groups were the zaibatsu, vertical hierarchies comprised of multiple corporations - mega-corporations of a sort - which rose to dominate the Japanese economy in the wake of World War II.9

Many Japanese citizens worried that the zaibatsu would become further empowered by this new society. Anti-establishment groups claimed that an “information society” would in actuality be a “controlled society”10 dominated by large corporations.11 The primary fear regarding this system, according to Morris-Suzuki, was that an increased freedom of information would allow these corporations to compile detailed “dossiers” 12 about their potential customers - with or without the knowledge of Japan's citizens. The “information society” was seen as a means to control knowledge, not liberate it. The flow of data would move in one direction, towards the zaibatsu. Indeed, Morris-Suzuki argues that the information society was but a “vast mechanism for converting the knowledge created by society into a source of corporate profits.”13 The control of information through technology became a form of power, a notion which, as I will argue, appears in Akira.

Given the massive influence of several Japanese corporations in the 1980s international market, such as the Nintendo company14, it seems small wonder that foreigners also imagined a future of information-brokering Japanese zaibatsu. This impact is clear in the opening to Neuromancer, which Gibson sets in the “Night City”15 underground of urban Chiba. The tensions surrounding the “computerization” of Japanese society in the eighties are mirrored in the work of Gibson and other Cyberpunk authors. Like Japan's citizens, the protagonists of the Cyberpunk world desire freedom and security of information, information which has been exploited by corrupt conglomerates. While Japan was not the only society undergoing “computerization” during the eighties, it held an important position at the head of this technological evolution.

The rest of article is here.

Extremely fascinating article for anime sci fi lovers.


March 6, 2003

Inspired by a team of two-dimensional heroes, at least one sector of the Japanese economy is booming. The legendary Astro Boy, Pokemon, Mazinger Z, Gundam, Sailor Moon, and Martian Successor Nadesico are just some of the names that have become familiar around the globe as Japanese cartoons, or anime, have cemented their place as the world's favorite form of animated entertainment. Now the national and some local governments are working with the anime industry to ensure that tomorrow's top animators receive the training and support they need to maintain this success.

Growing Mainstream Recognition
About 60% of all cartoons watched by people around the world today originate in Japan. Collectively dubbed "Japanimation," Japanese cartoons incorporate the broadest range of themes, from action heroes and space operas to martial arts, monster battles, school life, and fantasy worlds - with a cast of colorful characters to match.

The full-fledged export of anime titles began in the 1970s. Astro Boy gained popularity in Asia and the United States, while Mazinger Z was a hit in Europe. Non-Japanese have always been a part of the hard core of anime fans. However, it was Pikachu and his fellow monsters that really pushed Japanese animation into the mainstream of global entertainment. Pocket Monsters (Pokemon) was anime's first major commercial success outside Japan. Pokemon: The First Movie, which was released at the end of 1999, was a number-one box office smash in the United States, and the Pokemon TV series was eventually broadcast in more than 60 countries. In monetary terms, some ¥1.2 billion (US$10 million at 120 yen to the dollar) worth of card games were shipped to every corner of the world, and the franchise generated merchandising sales of ¥1 trillion ($8.3 billion) in Japan and another ¥2 trillion ($16.7 billion) abroad.

Anime has been a major component of entertainment in Japan since World War II. Members of the "first anime generation," born in the late 1950s and 1960s, absorbed television anime as children and, now in their thirties and forties, are passing on their enthusiasm to their own children. Roughly 60 anime programs are broadcast on Japanese TV every week, not all of them aimed at children; many of them are made for adult audiences. The value of the domestic market for anime products, including films, videos, and character merchandise, has been estimated at ¥3 trillion ($25.0 billion), with foreign sales boosting the figure closer to ¥10 trillion ($83.3 billion) by some estimates.

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