Tag Archives: Japan

On anime and nuclear annihilation

A nuclear bomb exploding in downtown Tokya, as imagined in Akira

It is strange days when we see Japanese schoolchildren running for their lives in simulation of a nuclear attack from North Korea. The picture in the linked article reminds me of nothing more than Cold War evacuation drills in the US.

Selfishly, as an anime fan I wonder how all this uncertainty is going to affect the anime industry. I never thought the threat of nuclear conflict would figure into my estimation of when we could expect season 3 of Attack on Titan, but here we are.

It’s jarring to think of these things when thinking of anime, which, let’s face it, is mostly just escapist fantasy, like most mass entertainments are. I’m reminded that Jane Austen joked about being tempted to include a treatise on Napoleon in Pride and Prejudice just to counteract how light and frothy her novel was. I’m also reminded of what Slavoj Zizek said about the use of the Christian calendar, which uses the birth of Christ to mark the flow of events: he called it the irruption of the infinite into the historical. Perhaps we might call the imposition of nuclear geopolitics into the logic of anime production as the irruption of the political into the inconsequential.

Of course, this statement is both facetious and incorrect, for anime is already political. It is produced in a web of politics -government grants to aid in translating content for export, industry-wide discrimination to discourage women, a regime of austerity that encourages overwork of animators, and a capitalist ideology that demands crass commercialism – and also expresses statements of political positions – women are always emotional, Chinese and foreign characters can never beat Japanese protagonists, and Koreans don’t exist.

The surprise we feel when placing anime in the same headspace as nuclear diplomacy is a surprise that has been manufactured. Being apolitical is a political stance, and depoliticization is a political action. To divide the world and say these things are of politics and these things are not is an act of power (Michel Foucault called it power/knowledge, which is the power of defining what knowledge is).

The personal may be political, but it’s inconvenient for the powerful to let common citizen remember this fact. Politics is not merely debating tax rates and talking at town halls, which is to say it’s not only for politicians and activists, but keeping it an activity of a small elite certainly makes it easier for those elites to set the agenda. Political apathy serves those who already have power.

And so we come to anime and its role in the politics of apathy. Crudely speaking, anime is just another cog in the machinery of distraction that keeps the masses quiescent in that old Roman strategy of panem et circenses (i.e., bread and circuses). Focus on your pop culture, say the masters of the world, and leave the important things to us. This was, of course, the old politics, before the divisions in democracy were laid so starkly bare, but it was a deal that many thought worthwhile, and many still do.

But even behind this wall of willful ignorance, sometimes the world of politics would intrude, as in the current case of North Korea and its nuclear arsenal threatening the home of anime. We find that we cannot leave politics because we are already doing politics. We are reminded that we live in a political world. The personal is political, but now we see that the reverse is also true, that the political is also personal. In a liberal democracy, to not resist is to consent. Therefore if we wish not to die and to continue watching anime, we must act.

Action begins in knowledge, so I ask first that you learn what is happening around you. What circumstances led to the nuclear standoff threatening our beloved hobby? What power moved us to this impasse?

After answering these questions for yourself, then ask yourself this one: am I okay with things continuing the way they are?

If your answer is anything besides “yes”, then continue asking questions, including the big one – what should I do? The answer is simple: do anything that you can. Speech is action, so even something as minimal as talking online is still a step in the right direction.

My fellow otaku, ignorance is only a temporary condition. I challenge you to look up from your TV and computer screens. Remember that you are not only a consumer. You are also a citizen.

The Commissar’s in Town

I kind of liked Total Eclipse, once I’d gotten over the gratuitous fanservice boobery, so of course I’m checking out the prequel series Schwarzesmarken. There’s definitely something worthwhile in this alternate history story of East Germany being invaded by aliens in the 1980s. I did also like Deutschland 83, after all.

However, let me call your attention to the introductory graphic explaining the Cold War to the viewers:

Cold War map of the world showing Japan, the Philippines, and South Korea as not being in the US camp

If you’ll notice, Japan, South Korea, and the Philippines are very clearly not in the American sphere of influence on that map. Is this a stealth resurrection of the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere?

Yes, it is. In this alternate history, Japan also lost the Second World War, but it kept its imperial regime and some of its territory. Of course, such a thing is utter bullshit. If Germany was beaten so badly that it was partitioned, then there was no way Japan would have gotten a negotiated peace. I’d originally assumed Article whatever of Japan’s pacifist constitution had been repealed in light of the alien invasion, not that pigs had been flying.

The type of Japanese military geek who would write a story set in East Germany is also the type of mildly right-wing jerk-off who views the Japanese Empire with nationalistic nostalgia. I mean, it’s at least entertaining, so it’s automatically better than GATE: Thus the JSDF Fought There.

Setting that aside, since this is an anime about East Germany fighting aliens in the 80’s. I of course had to make a fanvideo scored to Der Kommissar. What else was I going to do? I had to stick the video behind a password-protected Vimeo thing because of the zealousness of copyright protectors. It’s released under the auspices of that anime podcast I’m in.

Anyway, this music video is dedicated to those unsung heroes of the alien war – the Stasi. Password is “bundeswehr”.

Show those greedy capitalists what we think of their copyright regime, kameraden!

True romance

I recently watched the first episode of the anime Actually, I Am, which revolves around a love confession. It wasn’t my thing, but while watching I had to ask: do Japanese kids actually do this kind of thing?

Haru confessing his feelings to Shizuku: I think I like you. In a sexual way!
It’s from My Little Monster.

See, the classic love confession from anime and manga goes like this: a school-aged character approaches in private their secret crush (normally a classmate and one who they may not have even spoken with before) and tells them, “I like you, please go out with me”.

I’d never really thought about it, as this cliche is very common in anime and manga, but I realize now that this is a pretty damn awkward situation to be in. When approached by a near-total stranger – who you may only have spoken a few words in passing to before – and asked for a date out of the blue, the normal reaction is to tell them no. With this in mind, isn’t the classic love confession approach basically a recipe for rejection?

Considering it further, the love confession strategy seems like something a socially awkward person would do. They know they want to go out with someone but they don’t really know how to approach them so they go all in. They skip the getting-to-know-you part and go straight for the asking out part.

Really, a more reasonable approach, and one more conducive to success, would probably be for the besotted party to befriend and hang out with the object of their romantic interest first without immediately going for the metaphorical jugular.

It’s such an obvious stratagem that I have to wonder whether Japanese kids actually do the love confession thing at all. Is this basically just a cliche that mostly exists in the minds of anime and manga writers? One wonders.

Shakespeare in the original Klingon

This is a weird thing I just came across, but I discovered a trailer for Legend of Korra in the original Japanese.

I jest, of course. But something seems off about the voices.  I assume the top voice talent wasn’t used to dub a foreign cartoon show.

Some research into Korra and Avatar‘s reception in Japan reveals that it was seen as too American, which I can understand because the show basically has American kids dressing up in East Asian costumes.

To continue with the weirdness, here’s a trailer for Book 2 of Avatar:

I don’t think they got Azula’s voice down. But I think Katara’s voice wasn’t bad in the opening. And here’s a peek of how the typical episode plays out.

Strange, right? It’s like looking through a portal into a parallel universe.

Japan circa 2013

Currently catching up with a whole lot of blogs, so I just read this retrospective on 2013 in Japan.

It may surprise some to hear that anime is a fringe interest in the country, but the blog mentions that Attack on Titan was – surprisingly enough – a mainstream hit. In fact, it’s mentioned that the sappiness and sexism of modern anime, which turns off many in the international audience, also does its bit in alienating the domestic audience

There are further hints that the impenetrable wall of the otaku cultural industry is cracking. Other subcultures seem to be disappearing and it may be that the Japanese Internet is soon to be taken over by normal people, instead of dominated by that misogynistic right wing cesspool known as 2ch (a message board which is essentially the 4chan of Japan – in fact, 4chan was modelled directly off 2chan).

Of course, who knows what the future will bring? Still, you heard it here first, gentle readers. Unless you also read Néojaponisme, then you heard it here second. But yeah, otaku – an endangered species? Stay tuned.

On violence, on anime, and on violent anime

Most giant robot anime, and most anime in general, seem to be anti-war or anti-violence (barring the relentlessly capitalist shows like Mazinger-Z and Voltron which say nothing beyond “explosions are cool” and “buy our toys”). The shows that luxuriate in violence, like Black Lagoon, make clear that the characters are psychologically damaged in some way. The shounen fight series are either about making friends (like One Piece), are comedic (like Ranma 1/2), or have a stick up their ass and continually remind the viewer that the hero is only fighting reluctantly (like Bleach). I suppose the atomic bombings and the enforced postwar pacifism are ever present in the Japanese consciousness.

Though two series that glory in war and violence are the right wing wankathons Total Eclipse and High School of the Dead. One of the characters from the latter show even remarks, as he’s using a baseball bat to bust open a cash register, “You know, this is pretty awesome”. And he’s right, it would be goddamn sweet to be running wild in a zombie apocalypse with a Humvee full of guns and big-tittied girls in high school uniforms. Or being encased in a mechanical womb and using swords, cannons, and other phallic objects to unleash death and figurative semen on hordes of invading aliens.

Of course, there’s no such thing as zombies or alien invaders, which is to say that there are no faceless Others one can morally slaughter; thus, in anime, the depiction of violence simultaneously demands an apology for its use. But it seems that it takes a right-wing dickwad to not give a shit about such distinctions.