Rural Japan in Anime – Beautiful, Powerful, and the Root of Japanese Identity


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One aspect of anime that I find particularly interesting is the depiction, and use of the countryside. There are a number of series such as Durarara that focus exclusively on the big city, looking at under classes, dark dealings, and the more shadowy elements of society. But when a series is set in, or uses the countryside, we are often presented with a very different vision of Japan, especially if the series also focuses on school children (which a significant number of them do). Read more of this post

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


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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


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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