Horror, Ghost Stories, and Mischievous Spirits – Tales of The Strange and Anomalous in Anime


This post was partly influenced by comments I have seen on forums, and twitter in the past criticising horror anime for its inability to scare the viewers, alongside problems with writing and characters. Horror in Japanese culture can be both terrifying, but also seem somewhat benign – it deals with a variety of different themes, but the most important, and arguably the most used is that of spirits and the effect they have on the human world. Having said that, I also believe that the term ‘horror’ when it comes to describing Japanese ghost stories is somewhat misleading, and feeds a series of assumptions about the stories content and whether or not it might be scary. Read more of this post

School centric anime and their importance in current day Japan


As Goodman (2011) points out, the Japanese education system provided a clear connection for both male and female workers between success in education and the quality of the jobs they could secure (Goodman, 2011; 52). Generally speaking Japanese school children are made aware from an early age of the direct correlation between the size of a potential employer and the job security, salary, and status that employer would be able to offer. From the early Post-War period onwards, top employers would choose their new workers from top universities, which in turn chose their intake based on high school hierarchies, that in turn took students based on scores of the high school entrance exam that everyone sits when they are 15. The entire education system of Japan is based on a meritocratic structure that engenders high competition amongst students, and produces what Ronald Dore (1976) describes as a ‘very expensive intelligence testing system with some educational spin-off, rather than the other way around’ (Dore, 1976; 48-49). Read more of this post

Does anime promote an orientalist view of Japan: or, a case of ‘lost in cultural translation’? – Part 1


When viewing anime, it is possible to see how it, as a cultural medium, promotes an orientalist view of Japan with its astonishing visuals, along with the numerous exotic and strange creatures and creations. Anime as a Japanese cultural commodity incorporates elements of the country’s history, society, and culture into its myriad stories and settings that range from the historical through to contemporary scenarios, and near future, along with fantasy settings that take their influence from a mix of traditional Japanese culture, dystopian and cyberpunk settings. It is therefore a very broad medium, and one that has become increasingly popular in the west, with films like Akira and Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi (spirited Away) garnering significant critical acclaim (Ebert, 2002; Maslin, 1990; Mitchell, 2002; Horwitz, 2002; Turan, 2002). It has been argued that Japanese culture is ‘odourless’ (Douglas, 2002; Koichi, 2002), one without cultural or social roots, a form of ‘soft power’ that can change its form or shape depending on where it is. Koichi (2002) argues that anime doesn’t look Japanese, describing this aspect of Japanese culture as ‘mukokuseki’ (something or someone lacking any nationality), thus implying that anime lacks racial or ethnic charactertics and therefore cannot be culturally embedded (Koichi, 2002; 317). If the characters within anime are a part of mukokuseki, then there is a necessity to add something else that embeds anime within its culture and society. The use of historical events (in the case of Akira), or cultural artefacts (in the case of Sen to Chihiro) can be viewed as an attempt to ground these films in a very specific time and place. Sato (2004) suggests that, according to Japanese intellectuals, Japanese traditional beauty, which ‘resides in subtle layers of mysterious darkness is being wiped out by the flood of bright electronic lights of western technology’ (Sato, 2004; 343). This attempt to regain the ‘harmony of Japanese culture’, and a unique Japaneseness further reinforces animes’ promotion of an orientalist view of Japan by highlighting the essence of the orient in western imagination (Sato, 2004; 341). Anime emphasis Japan as a place of romance, exotic beings, and haunting memories and landscape, while also further stressing the distinction between Japanese culture and that of the west (Said, 1978; 1). Read more of this post

Does anime promote an orientalist view of Japan: or, a case of ‘lost in cultural translation’? – Part 2


Cultural Imperialism:

Sterling (1990) argues that Japanese ethnicity happens to embody no element of historicity or locality in the American eye, and that the cyberpunk films such as Akira are effectively a part of a globalised, and arguably Americanised culture (Sterling, 1990; 72). This argument is therefore suggesting that Japanese anime lack historical imperatives and are no longer grounded in local culture, they are instead a product of a globalised, and arguably, Americanised culture. In this respect the exoticism and ‘otherness’ of anime has been integrated into a broader Americanised culture as a form of cultural imperialism, thus allowing Japanese cultural products to be viewed as something weird and wonderful, while also maintaining a sense of familiarity (Said, 1994; 200). The use of ‘new’ and ‘traditional in anime like Akira and Sen to Chihiro helps to differentiate between one culture and another, creating a boundary between globalised and Americanised culture and the traditional overtly ‘Japanese’ culture. The ‘new’ technology demarcates a modern, consumerist Japan that is obsessed with gadgets and neon; this cultural imagery of technology has, as McKay (1997) argues, ‘come to dominate our iconography of (American) modernity’ (McKay, 1997; 16). Read more of this post

Horror in Anime – Fairytales, Urban Myths and Strong Women


With the recent airing of the horror anime Another I started thinking about the role of horror in anime, and more specifically the lack of it. Within the last decade I can possibly a very small number of series that have strong horror themes. And, while we have had recent series such as Shiki, Blood-C and in some ways Mirai Nikki, most people, when asked about a horror anime often suggest Higurashi no Naku Koro ni, a show that has had 2 full length series (two seasons each), not to mention 9 OVA episodes and no less than 25 specials accompanying various DVD and other box sets. While there are a small number of proper horror anime, there are also a significant number that use elements of the horror genre in their story telling, often taking the more psychological aspects of horror. Mirai Nikki is a good example of this, with supernatural parts, but also important aspects of the horror genre in Japan, namely a strong, but also dangerous female lead. It is also important to note that horror is not always scary, many horror stories originate from older folk tales and myths, and while they may involve spirits, were not necessarily meant to be entirely scary. Read more of this post