Hybridization: Japan’s Presence in American Cartoons

Japanese Anime’s presence in western cartoons has been prevalent for years, exemplified in the drawing and animation style in shows such as Teen Titans and Avatar: The Last Airbender. But in recent years, a number of American-looking cartoons utilizing anime-like elements have come into the foreground of popularity. Rather than discussing anime’s influence on Western media through the anime-looking western cartoons of the early 2000’s, I will be discussing these recent “hybridized” cartoons to exhibit Japan’s influence on America.

Japanese Cartoons versus American Cartoons

Before introducing the anime influenced American cartoons, it is important to establish definitions for anime and American cartoons.

Anime, from a western perspective, is linked to aesthetically pleasing details that are not present in American cartoons, be it in music, art style, or animation. As one interviewer notes on perceived anime style, “Anime focuses a lot on the eyes,” which is seen as unique to American audiences. [1] But this attention to detail expands beyond the eyes in anime. Take the transformation sequence from Sailor Moon: The character is designed as an attractive young woman with detailed, “shiny” eyes; the animation pans over the girl’s body from various angles, with flowing animation from the hair and skirt; the cooing background music accentuates the excitement and beauty of the transformation, but does not interact with the cartoon beyond adding mood. All of these elements in music and animation are not typically present in American cartoons—possibly because the features, while attractive, do not provide any real content to the episode.

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On the other hand, American cartoons focus on simple function in exchange for detail. The function-based nature of American cartoons can be seen in The Fairly OddParents: the characters are designed in a simple—yet functional—cartoon style rather than modeled after more realistic human anatomy; animations consist of the necessities including speaking animations and animations when picking up/using objects; and the music occurs only when something relevant in the scene occurs (for instance, a flourish when a scene begins, or brief celebratory music for positive occurrences). Thus, each element has its purpose in moving the episode’s plot along.

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Put simply, anime tends to focus on aesthetically attractive details regardless of purpose, while American cartoons favor functional simplicity in exchange for detail.

The Japanese-American Hybrid Cartoon

Hybridization occurs when a cartoon—in this case, an American cartoon—is able to execute both American cartoon features (simplicity and functionality) and anime features (aesthetic detail) simultaneously. While there are a number of recent hybrid cartoons, I will use Steven Universe to exemplify hybridization.

Steven Universe, created by Rebecca Sugar, is a sci-fi mixed with slice of life cartoon starring Steve, a half-magical half-human boy, and his female alien companions Pearl, Amethyst, and Garnet. Together, these characters are known as “The Crystal Gems.” The influence in the show taken from anime is evident: the creator claims that she is a fan of many anime series and often makes references to outside anime and cartoons, but aims to use these elements to “make something really new.” [2] Sugar’s account of anime influence differs from how older creators account for the anime influence in their cartoons. For instance, the creators of Avatar: The Last Airbender explicitly reference Japan inspiration, stating that their “love for Japanese Anime… [and] Eastern philosophies led to the initial inspiration for Avatar.” [3] In this way, Steven Universe can be set apart from explicitly anime-like western creations. While Steven Universe uses anime elements, is not meant to make explicit its anime elements—rather, it is indeed a true hybrid, leaning closer toward neither anime nor American cartoon.

(left to right) Cast of Steven Universe, cast of Avatar: The Last Airbender, Sailor Moon

(left to right) Cast of Steven Universe, cast of Avatar: The Last Airbender, Sailor Moon

One of the major ways in which Steven Universe exhibits its hybrid identity is through the detail in character design. Characters are fairly diverse in general shape; character outfits each have their own individual style (delicate for Pearl, rebellious for Amethyst, etc.); and the designs incorporate certain “moe elements” usually associated with anime, such as purple or spiked hair. But despite this detail, the designs still retain a certain simplicity to them reminiscent of American-style cartoons—namely in the simplicity of the character eyes, and utilization of simple shapes to create the characters rather than modeling directly off of human anatomy.

Using these hybrid characters, Steven Universe is able to execute aesthetic-driven scenes without awkwardness, while also smoothly presenting more American style narratives. This utilization of both spheres is exemplified in the episode “Steven the Sword Fighter.” The episode’s beginning contains comedic American-style banter between Steven and the Crystal Gems, lacking background music and serving the purpose of introducing the topic of the episode. Subsequently, the episode features a swordfight between Pearl and “Holo-Pearl” (a clone hologram of Pearl). The battle exhibits various camera angles and complex fighting animations, backed by delicate piano and synth music to frame the mood. The battle scene would be difficult to picture with more traditional American characters such as Timmy Turner, while the comedic banter earlier in the episode would be equally peculiar with anime-style characters. But through the hybridization of the series characters, Steven Universe is able to perform both anime-style and American cartoon-style scenes and features.
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Implications of Hybrid Cartoons

Hybridizations illustrates the way an essence of J-cool has penetrated American popular culture: individuals can consume J-cool features even without direct exposure to Japanese material. An American cartoon fan cannot consume anime features watching, say, The Fairly OddParents; further, such a fan cannot consume anime features directly from watching anime, as anime would be outside of their scope of consumable material. Yet if the American cartoon fan watches a hybrid cartoon such as Steven Universe, he can indirectly consume anime features present in the show. Furthermore, the detailed anime elements such as camera angles and background music can be consumed by the fan, and subsequently perceived as regular for American cartoons.

hybrid diagram

Cartoon fans consuming anime features without watching anime, and vise versa

The normalization of J-cool aspects in American media through hybrid cartoons suggests that J-cool elements have potential to become integral aspects of American pop culture. Thus, these new cartoons provide evidence of the increasing pop culture power Japan harbors over the west.

 

Discussion Questions
1. What is the relationship between early 2000’s anime-like American cartoons and J-cool’s presence in America? Do they differ significantly from hybrid cartoons?

2. The existence of anime-looking American cartoons such as Avatar: The Last Airbender illustrate that Anime has had a presence in American animation more than decade a go. Why is the hybridization of Anime and American cartoons occurring now, rather than earlier?

3. Steven Universe is a hybrid cartoon created in America. Can hybrid cartoons be created in Japan? If so, how? In what ways would Japanese hybrid cartoons differ from American hybrid cartoons?

Sources
[1] “Bee and PuppyCat Creator Natasha Allegri Is Very…” Interview by Frederator Times. Frederator Times. N.p., 14 Nov. 2014. Web. <http://times.frederator.com/post/101804267445/bee-and-puppycat-creator-natasha-allegri-is-very>.

[2] “Our Interview With the Cast and Creator of Cartoon Network’s Steven Universe!” Interview by Susana Polo. The Mary Sue. Dan Abrams, 15 Oct. 2014. Web. <http://www.themarysue.com/steven-universe-interview/>.

[3] “AVATAR’S BRYAN KONIETZKO AND MICHAEL DANTE DIMARTINO.” Interview by EDUARDO VASCONCELLOS. ING. Ziff Davis, 6 Sept. 2007. Web. <http://www.ign.com/articles/2007/09/06/interview-avatars-bryan-konietzko-and-michael-dante-dimartino>.

4. Sugar, Rebecca. “Steven the Sword Fighter.” Steven Universe. Cartoon Network. 19 Apr. 2014. Television.

5. Hartman, Butch. “Hail to the Chief.” The Fairly OddParents. Nickelodeon. 27 Sept. 2002. Television.

6. Satou, Junichi, Kunihiko Ikuhara, and Takuya Igarashi, dirs. Sailor Moon. TV Asahi. 1992. Television.

7. DiMartino, Michael D., and Bryan Konietzko. Avatar: The Last Airbender. Nickelodeon. 2005. Television.

It’s the End of the World and We’re Okay With That: Looking at the Apocalyptic in Japanese Pop Culture

When you imagine an apocalypse, what comes to mind?  Probably images of destruction: ruined buildings, cities devoid of living people, a permeating sense of sadness and loss.  In reality, these are all things we fear.  Yet, the apocalyptic is one of the most prominent genres in Japanese pop culture.  Why is that so?

Prewar Origins: Natural Disasters, Mono no Aware and Mappō

Contrary to popular belief, Japanese culture was suffused with imaginations of the apocalyptic before postwar Japan.  That does not mean to say that the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, among other disasters, did not propagate an intense focus on the genre.  It merely asserts that the concern had already been established.

The Great Wave off Kanagawa, by Hokusai, 1820's.

The Great Wave off Kanagawa, by Hokusai, 1820’s.

To start off, Japan as a nation has had its fair share of natural disasters.  The country is located near two converging tectonic plates and is at the edge of the Pacific Ocean.  This means that Japan has constantly been subjected to a number of typhoons, volcanic eruptions, tsunamis and earthquakes over the course of its history.  In short, the destruction associated with those natural disasters had already become a part of Japanese culture over time.  A great example of this would be The Great Wave off Kanagawa by Hokusai, the image of a giant wave towering over Mt. Fuji being one of the most popular images associated with Japan today.

 

Japan Sinks, comic cover for the manga by Sakyo Komatsu

Japan Sinks, comic cover for the manga by Sakyo Komatsu

 

Another one of the earlier fundamental elements of the apocalyptic exclusive to Japanese culture is the concept of Mono no Aware.  The philosophy revolves around the awareness of impermanence.  This was developed in the Heian period, when a scholar named Motoori Norinaga wrote a critique on the famous Tale of Genji (Yoda).  His critique was the basis for the literary philosophy, which ended up being a major influence in Japanese culture.

 

Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, by Hayao Miyazaki

Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, by Hayao Miyazaki

 

The concept of Mappō is also an apocalyptic doctrine that has been present since Japan’s Kamakura Period.  As Susan Napier states, “Mappō revolves around the idea of a destroyed word being saved by a religious figure, who in this case was the Maitreyea Buddha” (252).  One of the best examples that has demonstrated this concept in Japanese popular culture was Hayao Miyazaki’s Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, where Nausicaa posed as the messianic figure that diverted the strife between humans and insects of a toxic jungle.

 

 

Postwar Origins: Unnatural Disasters and the Creation of Kaiju Eiga

Undoubtedly, Japan’s fascination with the apocalyptic grew exponentially postwar.  Japan is the only country that has ever been subjected to atomic attack, and many aspects of its pop culture were influenced by such events.

The Original Godzilla

The original Gojira, off the set

Gojira, the iconic monster that decimated Tokyo in films of the postwar era, was a creative response to the unnatural disasters that wrecked Japan in 1945 and 1954.  The Lucky Dragon incident of 1954, in which the United States’ Atomic Energy Commission set off a thermonuclear bomb near a Japanese fishing boat, brought back the fear associated with nuclear destruction (Szczepanski).

Such incidents, including elements that were present in Japanese culture before World War Two, are good reason to support why the apocalyptic genre is and continues to be a significant theme in Japanese popular culture.

Gojira’s creation led to the popularity of the monster film genre in Japan, or the kaiju eiga.  According to Gyan Prakash, kaiju eiga are a result of  “’mass trauma that exists over the use of nuclear weapons and the possibility of future nuclear wars’ while also reveling in the aesthetics of destruction….the peculiar beauties to be found in wreaking havoc, in making a mess” (107).

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With the continual presence of natural disasters in Japan and the foundations of Mono no Aware and Mappō doctrine already in place, the atomic bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, as well as the Lucky Dragon incident, set the stage for the rise of the apocalyptic genre in Japanese popular culture.

 

Discussion Questions:

1.  Godzilla spawned the beginning of the kaiju eiga genre in Japan.  Do you think the 2014 reboot was influenced primarily by the disaster at Fukushima (addressing a grand narrative) or because we just want to see big monsters fight it out (Azuma’s database)?

2.  Do you think that the apocalyptic genre has changed over time?  For example, it is said that the genre has become more optimistic in recent years, compared to the nihilistic qualities of the apocalyptic genre in the 1970’s and 80’s.

 

Sources:

Napier, Susan Jolliffe. Anime from Akira to Howl’s Moving Castle: Experiencing Contemporary Japanese Animation. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005.

Prakash, Gyan. Noir Urbanisms: Dystopic Images of the Modern City. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010.

Szczepanski, Kallie. “Lucky Dragon Incident | Bikini Atoll Tests and Japanese Fishermen.” http://asianhistory.about.com/od/japan/p/Lucky-Dragon-Nuclear-Incident.htm.

Yoda, Tomiko. “Fractured Dialogues: Mono No Aware and Poetic Communication in The Tale of Genji.” Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies Vol. 59, no. No. 2 (1999).

Shoot ‘Em Up & Slice ‘Em Down: A Cross-Cultural Examination of Western and Samurai Cinema

Seven Samurai Poster

Seven Samurai (1954) poster

At first glance, one may look upon films such as Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo (1961) and Sergio Leone’s A Fistful of Dollars (1964) and think that the two are wholly aesthetically different, coming from two separate genres.  The samurai and western genres, however, are more correlated than one might believe.  The samurai film, and other forms of jidai-geki (period piece), is “singularly Japanese in that it draws upon the peculiarities of Japanese history and myth just as the Western [has drawn] upon those elements in America” (Nolley 232).

The similarities are various, even amongst their histories, but which ones would have helped Japan and the United States latch onto the other’s traditional genre, especially in the case of the United States?  First, it will be necessary to examine how influences have not been just a one-way street.

American Influence on Japan

Akira Kurosawa, arguably one of Japan’s most important filmmakers, may have started his career with other forms of jidai-geki and cemented his legacy with Rashomon (1950), but he is most notable for being the greatest auteur that samurai cinema has ever seen.  Films such as Seven Samurai (1954), Throne of Blood (1957), Yojimbo (1961), and Ran (1985) have received international acclaim, multiple awards, and remain some of the most influential pieces of cinema to come from Japan.  He admits, however, that the influence for his films, specifically Yojimbo, was born “out of a love for the Hollywood Western” (Frayling 122).  He points out that “Westerns have been made over and over again, and in the process a kind of grammar has evolved” and that he has “learned from this grammar of the Western” (Frayling 122).

What Kurosawa says about the western not only applies to Japan, but also to the rest of the world.  The image of man in a cowboy hat with a pistol at his hip is recognizable the world over and the “explanation for the astonishing popularity of the Western can be contained in one word: Hollywood” (Buscombe 15).  Hollywood has always been the dominant force in the global film industry, and even during its turbulent history, the Western genre always seemed to find its way into theaters or television screens.  Whether or not anyone calls themselves a fan of the genre, anyone can recognize the iconography.  The influence has been global, and the effects are certainly visible in samurai cinema.

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A Fistful of Dollars (1964) poster

Japanese Influence on the U.S.

There are certainly a fair share of westerns and filmmakers that owe their thanks to samurai cinema.  John Struges remade Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai as the western The Magnificent Seven (1960), and the ‘Man with No Name’ character popularized by Clint Eastwood was the product of Toshirô Mifune’s ‘Samurai with No Name’ from Yojimbo.  The history is present, although the influence is perhaps a little more speculative.  From 1930 to 1968, the Motion Picture Production Code, a set of strict guidelines by which filmmakers had to follow in order for the censors to approve their films, dominated Hollywood.  The originators of the Code were concerned with the effects that film might have on the moral standing of the American people, and one of their chief concerns was the depiction of violence.

Among many other stipulations, the Code essentially told filmmakers not to depict violence in a graphic or excessive manner.  As long as the violence was central to the plot, it was deemed acceptable.  By 1960, however, the American public became more liberalized and the Code’s authority began to crumble.  Filmmakers, such as Sam Peckinpah and Sergio Leone, were slowly able to get away with more brutal depictions of violence.  With American – although perhaps Western, because of Leone’s identity as an Italian – directors finding influence from samurai cinema, it is entirely possible that depictions of violence from Japan, whose film were not affected by the Code, inspired them to push the bloody boundaries of what could and could not be shown.

As previously stated, numerous aesthetics of samurai cinema were an influence on the western genre, but which aspects do these two share that Americans would have been able to identify with most?

Ties to the Landscape

Although potentially a less obvious reason for an American embracing of samurai cinema, the presentation of the Japanese landscape in these jidai-geki bears a few similarities to other depictions of the landscape in the western.  Admittedly, however, not very many samurai films “present the wide open spaces of the old-style Western.  The Japanese setting has always tended to close in on the swordsman” (Anderson 9).  Some westerns may do the same with the right intimate setting, but ultimately the territory remains too important a piece of iconography to ignore.

As J.L. Anderson points out, for the most part, the “expansive natural landscapes with the body of a Western film contrast with the closer views of blossoming flowers, pools of reflecting water, butterflies soaring in the wind, and solitary naked bushes of the conventional jidai-geki” (10).  What this quote from Anderson points out, however, is a similarity in the romanticizing of the landscape that the samurai film presents.  The iconography and how it is depicted may differ, but the presentation from both reveals nostalgia for images of nations of old, and could instill as sense of national pride in the viewers.  American viewers may have embraced the samurai film as a means of Orientalizing Japan, but there is no denying the similarities between the western and the samurai film and the influence it had.

There is, however, a more obvious reason for an American embracing of the samurai film, and it lies with the protagonist.

All a Man Needs is a Weapon and His Morals

Whether the hero uses a sword or a pistol, American audiences embraced samurai cinema because of its traditional depictions of powerfully masculine protagonists resembling the loner heroes of the western.  Kenneth S. Nolley accurately states that films from both genres “are about how a group of people with a great deal of expertise (as fighters) employ their expertise in the defense of a group of people weaker than they” and these groups of people are mostly, if not always, strong men (233).  These men have been used to exploit graphic violence in both sorts of cinema, and their use has reinforced traditional ideas of masculinity, in terms of physicality.

For both sorts of films, however, honor and the inner battle between duty and morals have been essential narrative qualities, even in the seemingly lawless Wild West.  Just as the samurai have the code of bushido – at least, in those that do not attempt at being revisionist – and the inner struggle between giri (duty) and ninjo (personal morality), the West and its characters, mostly, abide by an unspoken code of honor and experience the same struggles.  For instance, to attack a person from behind “is to violate, if not the code of the real West, then the code of the Western movie” (14).  Some outlaws, such as Billy the Kid, may break this rule, but for the most part protagonists in westerns uphold whatever honor they have.  Additionally, some western protagonists, such as Pat Garrett, experience the same inner struggle as those in samurai films, as he struggles with having to kill longtime friend and outlaw Billy the Kid.

Discussion Questions:

1. Western and samurai films have been one of the most successful and popular genres for each respective country’s film industries, but have equally turbulent histories experiencing rapid booms and steady declines.  They may not be as popular anymore, but can we still call them culturally relevant?  Is there any chance for a resurgence in popularity in contemporary cinema?

2. One of the reasons that makes western and samurai films so unique is that each is immediately recognizable based upon the iconography that has been instilled in the minds of viewers for decades.  If there is any chance to save both genres from falling into obscurity, does the iconography need to be updated to modern times?  Has the traditional setting for each been so engrained in cinema that audiences need these familiarities to recognize a film as belonging to either genre?

Sources:

Anderson, J. L. “Japanese Swordfighters And American Gunfighters.” Cinema Journal 12.2 (1973): 1-21. Film & Television Literature Index with Full Text. Web. 5 Apr. 2015.

Nolley, Kenneth S. “The Western As Jidai-Geki.” Western American Literature 11.3 (1976): 231-238. America: History & Life. Web. 5 Apr. 2015.

Frayling, Christopher. Sergio Leone: Something to Do with Death. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2012. Print.

Buscombe, Edward, ed. The BFI Companion to the Western. New York: Atheneum, 1988. Print.

Links:

Samurai Cinema 101 – http://www.midnighteye.com/features/samurai-cinema-101/

The Motion Picture Production Code of 1930 – http://www.und.edu/instruct/cjacobs/ProductionCode.htm

“How the Western Was Lost (and Why it Matters)” by Michael Agresta – http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2013/07/how-the-western-was-lost-and-why-it-matters/278057/

Cosplay Culture: A Study in Transculturation Gone Wrong?

By Victoria Mikolaski

Cosplay is a word that is becoming more well-known everyday with the exponentially increasing interest in everything that has to do with popular entertainment nowadays. The emergence of Marvel films and popular books and TV shows, and countless other franchises, has amassed fans from all over to each respective fandom. One thing that seems to link these fandoms is cosplay.

What is Cosplay?

The word “Cosplay” is an abbreviation for the phrase “costume play”, and is defined as a performance art in which participants dress up in a specific costume with accessories to represent a character or idea from their preferred TV show, book series, comic, anime and/or manga, movie, video games, or any other form of entertainment. This also includes music groups like Visual Kei rock bands, the most popular choice among cosplayers in Japan. Cosplayers buy, or make from scratch, their costumes and props, basing their character’s look on reference pictures taken directly from the source for greater accuracy in color schemes and costume design. All this effort is solely for the purpose of expressing their affections for existing narratives, an effort in reworking these stories through various media. A “fannish subculture”, cosplay culture is also closely linked to other groups set on achieving the same goals: fanfiction, fanart, and fan videos to name a few. Cosplay motivates fans to interpret existing works, and not only perform them but extend them with their own narratives and ideas. It is a way for fans to actualize fiction in everyday life, and in doing so subvert reality for a while.

History: Cosplay’s Origin Story

Forrest J. Ackerman showing off his futuristic costume at the 1st Sci-Fi WorldCon in 1939

Forrest J. Ackerman showing off his futuristic costume at the 1st Sci-Fi WorldCon in 1939

Curiously enough, the origin story of cosplay is still debated among cosplayers today. Based on photographic evidence, I will tell the version most likely to be true. Cosplay is agreed to have been around since conventions began. It is said to have started as early as 1939 in the U.S. with Forrest J. Ackerman when he attended the first World Science Fiction Convention in New York wearing a futuristic costume (made by his girlfriend Myrtle R. Douglas). That led to the ever-increasing interest in costume-wearing at conventions in the 1960s and 1970s, namely shown by dressing up not only as characters from the popular sci-fi TV shows Star Trek and Star Wars, but also characters from the classics like DC comics Batman. Soon after this hobby swept the nation, Nobuyuki Takahashi (founder of Studio Hard) traveled to the U.S. and attended the 1984 Los Angeles Sci-Fi World Convention and encountered costuming practices there. He promptly returned to Japan and wrote an article about his experiences at the convention, encouraging his readers to try the hobby and incorporate it Into Japanese anime and manga conventions. It was he who coined the term “cosplay”. The first appearance of cosplay in Japan was in 1978 at a fan event, so either Japanese fans had the same idea around the time American fans were increasing their practice of cosplay in the 1970s, or the Japanese fans heard about it from America earlier and the encouragement from one of their own celebrities around a decade later got cosplay enough traction to become a major practice in Japanese fan culture. Nevertheless, Japanese fans gained interest in making costumes for their anime and manga conventions and the craze spread from there, finally returning full circle to the U.S. with a distinctly Japanese vibe attached to it.

Cosplay Today: Not What it Once Was

Presently in the U.S., cosplay is restricted to limited and specific settings: conventions and other similar get-togethers separate from the rest of the community. The cultural practices attached to cosplay are intentionally separated from everyday life and the professional atmosphere. In Japan, cosplay is more intertwined with the public domain. For example, participants often gather in public parks of Akihabara and Harajuku districts. Cosplay is also a large part of consumption culture: shops sell wigs and full costumes, and costume restaurants attract fan customers. That cosplay is a professional practice shows that it has a more prominent role in Japanese society than that of the West. Such emphasis in the professional world also indicates that cosplay is a selling point for Japan’s economy nationally and internationally. There is an integration through advertising in which the Advertising industry now uses cosplay models, “Cosplay Idols”, to show off costumes for anime, manga, and video game companies. They are viewed as fictional characters in the flesh, thus encouraging the younger generation’s interest in whatever they are advertising and keeping that interest, as opposed to an inanimate object or character that inevitably falls under the category of fiction and ‘not real’ in its 2D-ness. In recent years these promotional models have been requested for other areas of commercial goods, such as food and beverage commerce as well as fashion stores, clubs, restaurants, and other franchises.

Cosplay/idol group Steam Girls cosplaying Yuki Jirushi Coffee’s café au lait Finalist Mascot Costumes (2013)

Cosplay/idol group ‘Steam Girls’ cosplaying Yuki Jirushi Coffee’s café au lait Finalist Mascot Costumes (2013)

Americans now associate cosplay with Japan. Anime and manga are immediately linked to cosplay, but not original material such as Star Trek or Star Wars. The two types of material have been essentially separated into two different categories despite coming from the same beginnings and engaging in the same cultural practices. U.S. and Japanese goods are even being sold side-by-side at conventions, and still cosplay is considered the “other” and inherently different from the U.S. cultural and national identity. Transculturation in this case complicates the notions of national and cultural identity. Is cosplay now inherently Japanese even through the concept seems to have originated in the U.S. and still practices the same things? I would argue that the West is relabeling this cultural practice as Japanese because it fits into what is considered to be “otherness”. Dressing up as a fictional character and role-playing could be stereotypical of Japanese “weirdness” and “quirkiness” (and often cult-esque behavior). The U.S. would then be Orientalizing Japan to distance itself from its own cultural “weirdness”. Japan is then taking advantage of this “otherness” and capitalizing on the brand nationalism that cosplay provides. This however, leaves the secondary category of cosplay in an odd position. It is not inherently Japanese, but it does follow the same practices.

Two sides of the cosplay coin. Is Deadpool destined to be the only character who can cross this barrier?

Two sides of the cosplay coin. Is Deadpool destined to be the only character who can cross this barrier?

By definition cosplay should be culturally neutral and odorless, because the way it operates is the same wherever cosplay culture occurs. Cosplayers go to the conventions, attend panels, participate in the Masquerade, and buy goods produced by the fandom and the original works’ producers. Cosplayers mirror typical fans in that they serve as consumers and producers simultaneously.  Western and Japanese-based cosplay practices occur in the same space at conventions, so why are they perceived as different? What’s more is that gender, class, age, and identity do not seem to have any bearing on who participates in this culture. All fandoms are welcome, so the range of interests includes all genders and age groups. Because all that is required is attendance and engaging in the fun, class also has no bearing on participation. Identity as a consumer or producer varies, a small but not insignificant portion of the attendees at conventions self-identify as both consumer and producer in the commercial context of selling their wares, which are mainly hand-crafted. Often larger conventions are national and international events. This means that there is no reason for there to be a distinction between U.S. cosplay and Japanese cosplay, as the participants are diverse enough to make the culture nation-less and culturally odorless. Ultimately, it is up to the cosplayers and fanbase in general to decide whether the origins matter.

 

Discussion Questions:

Transculturation is the process of globalization in which an asymmetrical encounter of various cultures result in the transformation of an existing artifact and the creation of a new style. As the products get circulated globally they become by default less marked, more culturally odorless, thus the origins become less important.

  1. By this definition, why has cosplay culture been re-marked as Japanese rather than become culturally and nationally odorless after being circulated globally from the U.S.?
  2. How should the Western category of cosplay be labeled now that the subculture overall has been culturally and nationally marked as Japanese?
  3. Is cosplay capable of transcending nationality and becoming culturally odorless?
  4. Can you think of another product that has undergone a similar transformation? If yes, what allowed it to happen?

 

Sources

Ackerman, Forrest J. “Through Time and Space with Forry Ackerman (Part 1)”. Mimosa 16: 4-6. (1994) Web. 20 Mar 2015. <http://www.jophan.org/mimosa/m16/ackerman.htm>

Baseel, Casey. “Coffee mascot event with cosplaying idols proves to be too much for some fans to handle”. Rocket News 24. (2013) Web. 26 Mar 2015. < http://en.rocketnews24.com/2013/08/09/coffee-mascot-event-with-cosplaying-idols-proves-to-be-too-much-for-some-fans-to-handle/>

Frankenhoff, Brent. 2011, “It All Began…. “. Beautiful Balloons CBG #1677. (May 2011). Web. 21 Mar 2015. <http://www.cbgxtra.com/blogs/beautiful-balloons/it-all-began-%E2%80%A6-beautiful-balloons-cbg-1677-may-2011>

Napier, Susan Jolliffe. From Impressionism to Anime: Japan as Fantasy and Fan Cult in the Mind of the West. First edition. Palgrave Macmillan, 2007.

Winge, Theresa. 2006, “Costuming the Imagination: Origins of Anime and Manga Cosplay”. Mechademia Vol. 1: 65-76. (2006) doi: 10.1353/mec.0.0084

Coming to America: J-Horror

by Mary Grob

Film critics and fans alike agree that the American horror genre entered into a slump during the 1990’s that it has yet to recover from. Gone are the days of psychological thrillers like Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, and even the slasher film, an American horror stable since the 1970’s, has lost its appeal. Horror fans have been left wanting something new to chill their blood [1]. In the late 1990’s, a new wave of films known as J-Horror began to develop a cult following in the US. Soon after, Hollywood began to take notice of these foreign films, and the answer to America’s horror slump appeared to have been found within Japan. [Read more…]

Spirited Away and Anime in the American Cinema Market

Far more Americans saw the clips from Spirited Away shown just before its Academy Award was announced than will ever see the movie. Despite anime’s extreme popularity in certain US markets, anime films have almost universally underwhelmed at US box offices and receive little general exposure in the states. What did it take for Spirited Away to attain its relative prominence in the American market and, if any, what effect has its story tell us about the possibilities for wide scale US distribution of anime films in the States? [Read more…]

Sasuke Mania

Sasuke Mania

In class we have discussed the Otaku culture in Japan, and how it is perceived by through the media, and within certain social frames.  While there are similar social phenomena in the United States within certain communities (gaming, comic book, etc), I would argue that the otaku lifestyle seems to be a uniquely Japanese occurrence.  I find this to be true because unlike American geek communities Otaku have a stronger influence on greater Japanese culture and lifestyle, which is evident through the existance of locations like Akihabara (certain similar American communities have not yet reached a level of influence that they have entire neigborhoods).  Generally an otaku is an individual whose life is governed by their obsessions, that generally relate to gaming, anime, manga, dame, and other virtual experiences. [Read more…]