CCTP-725: Fall 2011

Week 9 Discussions

'devoid of perspective and devoid of hierarchy, all existing equally and simultaneously.' -----BT Monthly Art Magazine, Japan, Issue 5, May 2000

When I began to read manga from my fourth year in primary, no one took it as a kind of art. If my mother known what we are talking about today in art school maybe she would regret for seizing my comic books. Influenced by our five thousand years culture of which most Chinese people are proud, Chinese always are serious towards “culture” and “art”, especially the generation which had experienced Culture Revolution in Mao’s time. Even now, a lot of young Chinese can not connect a naked girl with art. I sometimes takes our long history and culture as a heavy burden more than pride, since it is this culture enforces Chinese to pursue the “real” art even some of them have no idea about what art is, and it is this culture that encourages people to hide their desire towards money and material.

What come to my mind is Murakami’s idea that Japan doesn’t have its own culture. its culture is imported from outside world. In the early age, it was mostly influenced by Chinese culture, and in the modern era, it absorbs nutrition from western world. Because of its empty, its Zen, its original superflat, Japan can freely use whatever it learned from the outside world. Without the burden of the heavy culture, people can show their respect to the material world frankly and pursue what they want freely. That’s the reason why “Sex” and “Money”, which Chinese people are always too shy to talk about, can become the key words to understand the modern culture of Japan.

Different from western culture, which is more vehement and apolaustic, Japanese modern culture that represented by Murakami and his Hiropon Factory, is more popular and more, after all, sex, drug and rock&roll can not be easily accepted as manga. I watched an interesting movie this weekend, Woody Allan’s Midnight in Paris, in which most western artist, such as Dali and Picasso, are more fascinated about Renaissance art, and take Renaissance as the golden age for art. But for pop artist, such as Andy Warhol and Neo-pop artist in Japan, such as Murakami, they take their time as the best age. Another distinguish characteristic of the superflat culture is that it focus on current world.

In stead of criticizing and looking down on commerce, neo-pop artists are taking advantage from commerce. I don’t know whether Andy Warhol was the first one that mixed the commerce and art together. Murakami, as a follower of Andy Warhol are doing a great job. Japanese culture is one of the most complex one in the world that full of conflict. For example, Japanese girls are so fascinated by the pure first love stories, but at the same time, they can do compensated dating for an Hermes Berkin. Otaku, who are deeply moved by the dreams chasing that described in the mango, are always lack of the courage to find out what their dreams are. Undoubtedly, Murakami is the person who discovered this conflict and turned the desire and dream in this conflict into art.


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"The Peanuts" and "Scooby Doo" as anime

Examining the world of anime, manga, and the phenomenon of international post-pop coming out of Japan, I can’t help but to compare Japanese culture to American culture and try to piece together why and how Japanese cultural exports have become pervasive and popular. While America is perhaps stronger, both the U.S. and Japan are superpowers when it comes to a global influence. In fact, Japan’s exports of anime and manga have been major factors in contributing to its “Gross National Cool”, a term that emerged in 2002 from an article in Foreign Policy. This term was even adopted by the governmentto promote their culture, which has a great economic impact on the country.According to the Society for the Promotion of Japanese Animation, the anime market in the United States is valued at $4.35 billion and the U.S. market for manga was valued between $175-200 million in 2006.
So what are anime and manga exactly? Anime to Westerners is animation of Japanese origins, either computer-produced or hand-drawn, and typically done in a distinctive style. According to Anime News Network, elements of the style include exaggerated facial features such as large eyes, small mouths, thin/long limbs Anime has the ability to be pervasive because it has wide distribution channels via television, DVDs, in theaters, and online. Much anime has its roots in manga, the Japanese term for comics. Manga is considered a genre of comics in the U.S., but actually includes its own range of genres from romance to historical drama to comedy to sci-fi, allowing for a broad reach.
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One reason for the international popularity of Japanese post-pop cultural exports is due to its playful, child-like, innocent, visually-appealing characters and image. Rachel DiNitto, associate professor of Japanese studies at William & Mary, notes the “cuteness aesthetic in Japan that is very appealing to people globally.” The Japanese word “kawaii” refers to cuteness and reflects a culture that accepts and embraces “a youthfulness and playfulness” across all ages and gender. Even Japanese trains are decorated with Pokemon figures and the police department has myriad mascots. This contrasts to an American pop culture which “celebrates the cowboy, athletes and real-life drama.” DiNitto believes the kawaii permeation in culture began in the 1970s with Hello Kitty.
Hello Kitty and other characters from manga, anime, video games, and other cultural productions demonstrate the quality of mukokuseki, or being “culturally odorless.” For example, Hello Kitty’s “white cartoonish face, button eyes and absent mouth make her visage as versatile as it is enigmatic.” The cultural productions are marketed at consumers of all ages and nationalities, and can transcend boundaries because they are not markedly foreign.
Another reason behind the globalization of Japanese cultural productions is because it offers an alternative, unconventional aspect that counters the American monopoly over culture. DiNitto explains that following Japanese pop culture is a way for people “to reject or resist American popular culture they feel really isn’t speaking to them anymore.” Japanese culture is open to the offbeat and goes against American cultural norms and mores. In the U.S., most cartoons are considered low brow, fleeting, child-centric cultural productions. Japanese anime, however, dabbles in “deep, thought-provoking themes, presenting complex characters who change as the plot progresses”, according to the Society for the Promotion of Japanese Animation. In the U.S. Pixar animation, for example, may certainly be enjoyed by adults, but is not necessarily created and aimed at adult audiences like anime is in Japan. Another factor is the shift away from the masculinity that dominates American culture.
Anime and manga may not have the mass appeal that some cultural icons do, but they tend to have very loyal followers. The obsessive followers of anime and manga, or otaku, is why “anime stands at the center of Hulu’s strategy to differentiate itself from TV watched the old-fashioned way”, according to the New York Times.
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Now anime and manga is popping up in fashion, like the line of Dragon Ball Z t-shirts at hip, upscale retailer Uniqlo. This t-shirt line is an example of “fashion’s trickle-up social theory”, according to The Atlantic, whereby fashion takes cues from “dynamic cultural shifts” and social outgroups. “Otaku culture hones in on that manic passion, and comes with naturally laid connotations of closet nerd- and geek-iness.” Again, they make it cool to enjoy consuming anime and manga, perpetuating its international post-pop culture status.
--Barry Blitch

This week our topic of Japanese Post-Pop and Anime art is really new to me. In reading and learning the terms and about Murakami’s work in particular, I was struck by Jerry Saltz’s review of the show “The Meaning of the Nonsense of the Meaning”, the title of which he aptly refers to as “sophomoric.” He includes a quote in his review from Japanese art critic Midori Matsui, who says that “nothing that grows in Japan is purely native. Everything is a reaction to and modification of a received foreign culture.” This idea is to me, very striking. It is expected that the United States, a land of immigrants, be a mash of many cultures (issues of American Indians aside). But countries that have a native population, I would not necessarily expect to have such an amalgamation of foreign cultures. I am of course aware of the instantaneous presence of the Western world in the East, and the historic relationships between Japan and China, but I would not have thought that “everything” in Japan comes from somewhere else.

I also find it really interesting that Saltz refers to Murakami’s attempts to create new Pop Art as disappointing, citing that “in spite of his nod to popular culture, Murakami has fallen far behind it.” Keeping up with the cutting edge of culture should be pivotal to Pop. This idea of new pop art is intriguing. As we have discussed in class, Pop art was a conceptual movement, from the modernist and limitingly elitist idea of art, to the inclusive and commercially derived works that challenged the ideals of the art world. We can see that bright colors, serial imagery, machine like perfection, and changes in scale are all characteristics of the Pop Art movement of the 1960s, but do they define Pop Art? Is a piece “Pop” if it has these qualities, but not the ideas behind them? To make something commercially derived, bright and shiny in a Post-Pop world does not speak to social norms or standards of art the way that it might have in the 1960s. Given that my knowledge of Japanese culture (let alone Japanese art) leaves much to be desired, I am left wondering how radical is it to incorporate manga or anime into commercial art, create the DOB character, and put the pieces in gallery spaces? If we can wrap our minds around the issues of the Western art world in the 1960s with its closed doors and stagnant measuring sticks, can we say that Murakami’s work justifiably elicits the same caliber of thought and change? Or is his work just repeating Warhol’s work and ideas that were radical 40 years ago, but have since been resolved into the our social framework?


After reading Siyang’s post about her Chinese heritage and the social norms that constrict art making/consumption, I started to think about Murakami’s Louis Vuitton work. The flattening of commercial and art worlds that occurs with his LV pieces is instantaneous and perhaps even more fully realized that Warhol’s work ever was. As always, understanding of an artist comes from understanding the structure of his/her process, and I am not sure that even after this unit I understand it enough to judge it.

Serene Al-Kawas

Over the course of this semester, we have spoken at length of the idea of “hybridity,” different existing parts coming together to make a new whole. Last year I saw a film called Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. My initial impression was not the best. I found the film to be a strange concoction of reality and fantasy; it was part true young love drama and part the underdog finding superpowers to eventually become the hero. It was not until somebody told me the movie is based on a comic series that I looked farther into it and realized there is more to the film than meets the eye and that it is a wonderful example of a hybrid work.

The Scott Pilgrim series was created by Bryan Lee O’Malley and released between 2004 and 2010. The graphic novel series is about a 23-year-old slacker/musician living in Toronto named Scott Pilgrim. He lives in a tiny apartment with his gay roommate, Wallace Wells and plays bass guitar in a band called Sex Bob-omb. None of the characters seem to have any sense of direction in their lives and live day to day hanging out, playing music, and having a series of quirky conversations. Scott falls in love with a delivery girl named Ramona Flowers, but it turns out she has a messy dating history. In order to date the girl of his dreams, Scott must defeat her seven evil exes to win her heart.

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Bryan Lee O’Malley has stated that he wanted to create a work that received inspiration from both American and Japanese comics; he “wanted to reach towards the Japanese comics from [his] own starting point.” He has also stated that he does not consider Scott Pilgrim to be a manga, he says that it is “manga-influenced.” The influence of Japanese comics on O’Malley’s own creation can easily be seen, most clearly in his depiction of characters. His characters possess many of the same facial and bodily characteristics we saw in various manga examples this week: very large eyes, disproportioned bodies, child-like features, and very exaggerated expressions. The American influence on O’Malley is seen in his embrace the hero persona. Scott is the “good” guy fighting off the “bad” guys to win the girl. Scott is an easy character for anyone to identify with, which makes the series all the more appealing. There is something appealing about the slacker finally achieving a goal after trying his very hardest.

The film adaptation of the comic series stays true to the plotline of O’Malley’s graphic novel. It is a great example of genres mixing together on the big screen—Hollywood influenced by a Japanese/American comic book.

external image 417dQL3GAxL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA300_SH20_OU01_.jpgThis week, I want to point to the scholarship of Dr. Ian Condry, professor of Foreign Languages and Letters at MIT's Comparative Media Studies program, whose work focuses on Japanese pop and youth culture. His book Hip-Hop Japan: Rap and the Paths of Cultural Globalization has gained wide acclaim, and he is the founder of the Cool Japan Project, a collaboration between Harvard and MIT that focuses on media, culture and technology approaches to Japanese pop culture. Condry's forthcoming book The Soul of Anime: Collaborative Creativity and Japan’s Media Success Story is based on ethnography at anime production studios. The view of anime he will present in this book presents an academic departure from Murakami's concept of the "Superflat."

I became more familiar with Condry and his work through a panel event at Waseda University in Tokyo in November 2010. I wrote a report of the event for my blog here. I was fascinated by the hybrid cultural forms the scholars presented, which had both elements of a "Superflat" mindset, as well as subversion. For example, Prof. Toko Tanaka of Waseda University suggested that cosplay (costume play) could be viewed as a subversive subcultural activity from a feminist perspective, even though it seems to reaffirm the gendered stereotypes and distortions of loli con noted by Murakami in Superflat. Similarly, one might argue that the otaku "escape" into the superflat world of manga, anime, or video games is actually a conscious withdrawal from a business as usual career path of life-long corporate employment (evidenced by the situationists, the "freeter" movement, or collectives like shiroto no ran).

Condry's latest panel at MIT focused on Miku, "a crowd-sourced, virtual, singing pop star. Miku emerges from music synthesizer software called Vocaloid, which enables fan-producers to create music as well as Miku's lyrics and singing voice too. Since 2007, Miku has become a global phenomenon, and her projected image has even performed with a live bands in Tokyo and Los Angeles."(event invitation email, 10/14/11)

Like the work of Murakami himself, Miku seems to work through the world of the superflat to arrive at something collaborative and entirely new. In the case of Murakami, his 2001 Superflat exhibition at the MOCA was a collaborative effort. Murakami's brand name, developed through consumer products like ODA, was lent to the effort as lead artist and curatorial force. The cutesy (kawaii), colorful images marketed by Murakami become a bridge into further distortions of the superflat world. Some, such as the Zero, Type 52 bomber have inherently dark political overtones. Further, playing with loli con images is a dangerous challenge to both Western sexual mores and the eroticization of girls in Japan. Like Murakami, Miku represents a pop culture idol (or アイドル [idoru], the term for Japanese pop stars who are usually versatile performers as singers, dancers, TV personalities and comedians) taken to the extreme. She is both a depersonalized vocal synthesizer, as well as an animated character who comes to life during performace as a 3D projection. She challenges notions of the pop star as a human phenomenon, instead drawing attention to the programmed code used in electronic pop music production, and becomes a superhuman computerized megastar plaything. Anyone can program her to sing what they want or dance how they want, and thus her fans create her popularity through crowd-sourcing. In this regard, as well as in live performace, she is integrated with human musicians who provide the creative input for her voice. Figures like Miku, and the manga and anime industries more generally, are subversive partially because they represent a cultural production industry that rivals American cinema or video games. Though Miku may not have achieved the global superflat fan-base of Mickey Mouse, she has the power to render him obsolete. As Condry notes, media is no longer something we consume, listen to, watch or see - it's something we do.

Ben King

When I was in college, one day in the intercultural communication class, the professor asked, “What is pop culture?” An old man seated at the very back of the classroom said, “Hello Kitty!” The class laughed and I knew that our world have already become flat.

Takashi Murakami As A Representative of New Generation of East Asian Artists
Takashi Murakami is a typical new generation Asian artist. He notices the huge difference between the western contemporary art and the eastern art. He identifies the most significant issue for the new generation artists as how could these artists jump out the inherent culture system and create totally new things. For Pan-Asian artists, the issue is shown as how to abandon their cultural burdens and nationality titles. After the World War II, many Asian people became over serious with their cultural identifications. At that time, some Asian artists were affected by western art. Their works were identified as ‘counterfeits’ and a loss of their own culture. When Takashi Murakami made his Mr. DOB, many Japanese critics argued that Japanese artwork should have a Japanese name. They thought Takashi Murakami used English abbreviation to name his art was very silly. Then culture has become a burden of many artists. They began to use typical cultural elements to create art works. They think culture is the way to make their art works have a depth and be unique in the western world. New generation artists, like Takashi Murakami, has begun to abandon their nationality titles. They do not lose their identification but do not reject ideas from western world (Like Mr. DOB). They focus on their inner world and look at the world from an egoistic angel. The want to make their art simple and globalized, like Takashi Murakami’s ‘Superflat’. They are trying to jump out the traditional cultural frame.

About Takashi Murakami’s ‘Superflat’, Pop Art & Globalization
Many western art critics identified Takashi Murakami as a ‘Japanese Andy Warhol’. What is the common of Takashi Mrakami’s ‘Superflat’ and Andy Warhol’s ‘Pop art’? Both of them are cheap and easy-to-understand. Pop art as the named implied, is popular. Takashi Mrakami’s art is popular because they are easy to understand. Many people love his art no matter they are young or old because they can understand his art easily.

What is ‘Superflat’? Superflat is to break down the boundaries of ages. Superflat is to break down the boundaries of western culture and eastern culture. Superflat is to break down the boundaries of high culture and low culture. Like Takashi Murakami’s Mr. Dob
. Is that from Mickey Mouse? Is that from Doraemon? Or Hello Kitty? How about its eyes? They are typical big Japanese anime eyes! Is that Mr. DOB an icon of Japanese culture? I don’t think so! I think it is just an icon of Takashi Mrakami himself.mr_dob_and_the_rainbow.jpghellokittylogo3_depoezenshop.jpg

(Doraemon created by Fujiko F. Fujio)

About Japanese Manga and Anime—Everything Start With A Dream
The most famous Kong Fu novelist in China, Jing Yong have said that I created so many characters in my novels because they could achieve my dreams that I couldn’t achieve in the real life. Familiar with this argument, Japanese manga and anime are outcomes of imaginations and dreams. When I was a child, I began to watch Japanese anime, and I thought those characters in the anime are the combination of beauty and power. They usually have very long hair, big eyes that take 2/3 of their face, fantastic clothes and super power. Afterwards, I begin to think that if there is a day that I a persmoonon like that walking on the street, I would feel horrible because this kind of look can only exist in a dream. In Japanese manga and anime, people can see everything in their dream. Japanese people imagine how they make a perfect robot with an angel face and super powers, how they get a generation of talented soccer players and finally won the FIFA World Cup (//Captain Tsubasa//), as well as how a robot cat (//Doraemon//) uses his super power to let a self-contemptuous boy become confident in front of his classmates that jeered him. To own a superpower, a robot or have a good look are common dreams of human beings. Therefore, Japanese manga and animations becomes so popular around East Asian as well as all over the world because they can strike a chord on everyone.

Nowadays, Japanese manga and anime have become the sources of innovations and motivations in variety of industries in Japan. The Japanese manga, Captain Tsubasatells a story of how a group of Japanese children kickers get famous in the Japanese Primary School Soccer League and this generation of kickers finally wins the FIFA World Cup for Japan. Encouraged by this manga, many Japanese kids began to play soccer and dreamed they could be a soccer that won FIFA World Cup. Now, as we can see, the truth is Japanese soccer is on the way of becoming stronger and stronger. Another example is Actroid, a type of robot with a visually similar look with human beings. They can smile, shake head and act as real human beings. They also have different occupations, for example, nurse. This idea is originally from Japan manga. In many Japan manga, they create robots that have the human-likeness look and even have emotions.

---Xindi Guo

Characters and Us

As we are confronted by super heroes and more than a few Black Swan costumes this Halloween, it seems easy to dismiss the usual holiday charade as a symbolic display of mass cultural consumerism. Upon closer examination, however, silent threads of resistance to these national and, sometimes international, mass (re)produced characters and images become visible. For instance, is a male Black Swan attempting to make a specific statement on culture, gender, and performitivity; in a similar way, perhaps, the overabundance of Superwoman costumes call light to a now archaic female superhero trope almost completely absent from today’s pop culture media?

While Halloween costumes recontextualize a rather “flat” reality of consumer culture, one could argue super flat artists similarly use a two-dimensional reality to bring to focus otherwise silent concerns of national culture. On a page he titles “What is Kaikai Kiki?” Takashi Murakami might as well be asking, “What is Art?”( Murakami laments on the importance of reception in the art world – first through a post-war Japanese art scene where art “existed only as a shallow appropriation of Western trends, or an artificial construction of self-contained hierarchies” and through the international boundaries of high/low or, what he labels, “non-art” status. Merging the high and low of art, super flat artists flatten a layered reality to recontextualize in a truly pop art sense. In this same way, we spoke of street art and its ability to help re-see and re-connect audiences to a super-saturated culture of consumer images. As with Murakami’s Little Boy Exhibit, “pop culture provides an especially direct view of the repressed unconscious of creator, consumer and society alike” (


A Superflat Reality
In one review, Murakami is said to argue the superflat “create(s) an escape from the pressures and expectations of everyday life…because it is decidedly unlike our normal reality” ( In Understanding Comics, Scott McCloud argues for a stronger connection/universal identification with simplified drawings, “the reader easily identifies with the characters,(as they are similar to one's idea of self), whilst being immersed into a world, that's three-dimensional and textured” ( For an exploration of McCloud’s “Big Triangle” Theory:
Compared to the voyageristic/hyper-real media typically produced in pop-culture (whether “realistic” or not), I would not normally think of cartoon images or anime as an effective for escaping “normal reality”. Perhaps for this same reason, we typically dismiss simplified images as low art and contribute to Murakami’s concerns. Described through McCloud’s and Murakami’s theories, however, Japanese pop art and the superflat become even more effective in connecting audience while simultaneously projecting meaning or experience. By replacing ourselves within a “superflat” reality, the simple becomes an affective art form for portraying the realities typically buried under the dimensions of the everyday.

- Jess Steele

While doing this week’s reading and thinking about Murakami and his artwork’s relationship to manga, I immediately thought of the Japanese film director, Hayao Miyazaki, and his recent film Ponyo, a reinterpretation of the Disney classic, The Little Mermaid. It is essentially a remix of a remix, since The Little Mermaid was based on the Hans Christen Anderson fairytale. Miyazaki, while using the same plot as the original film, makes the film not simply about a love between a boy and a girl, but a statement about our relationship with nature and the need to protect and nurture environment. There is an innocence that emerges, unlike Murakami’s blatant overt sexuality, the film becomes better suited for a children based audience. Ariel’s barbie-like figure and teenage drama is replaced in the character of Ponyo with a round, cute little girl who behaves appropriately to her age. In this remix, the film actually becomes more reflective and I believe more interesting to its audience.

Similar to Murakami, Miyazaki’s films have evidence of western influence as well as inherently Japanese. For example, the style of the animation is reminiscent to the early days of Walt Disney’s hand drawn fairy tales yet the stylization and the “flatness” clearly is influenced by ukiyo-e wood blockprints. In addition, the film is set in Japan and makes cultural references to this, such as the children eating ramen noodles for dinner. Miyazaki’s films are important because they continue to imbue us with a sense of wonder and a new perspective. Littlemermaid.jpg ponyo.jpg

Katy Schwager

Yizhou Zhang
First of all, as a big fan of Japanese culture (both traditional and popular), I’m really excited about this week’s topic. Perhaps for most Westerners, Japanese pop culture only means interesting manga and anime, but for me and my generation in China, it covers almost all aspects of our lives: from the cartoon characters which accompanied us since childhood, to today’s fashion trends and popular vocabularies in everyday life. It’s undeniable that Japanese pop culture has subtly influenced the whole generation in East Asia. Although born and grown up in Nanjing, which used to be the capital of the Republic of China and suffered a massacre by the Japanese during the war 70 years ago, my love for Japanese culture has never been diminished by all kinds of patriotic education. And I don’t agree with the idea that the triumph of any foreign cultural product or phenomenon is “cultural aggression” or “cultural hegemony”, whether it is Hollywood film or Japanese manga. By participating a Japan study tour program in college, I got the chance to know the country and people better, and tried to understand its culture more deeply by asking myself: what does Japanese culture attract me most and what makes it so unique and irreplaceable?
Among the many works of Japanese cultural studies, The Chrysanthemum and the Sword is undoubtedly a classic. From the perspective of a Westerner, Benedict’s observation and summary of the Japanese national character provide a comprehensive explanation of the dual nature of Japanese culture. Beauty and violence; love and death; gentle and cruel - these contradictions form the unique Japanese aesthetics behind all the complicated cultural phenomenon. In fact, Japanese culture has always been a remix or appropriation from the moment it generated. In ancient times, Japan was eager to learn from Chinese culture and art (language, clothing, architecture, music, etc.), especially the Tang Dynasty of China. After the Meiji Restoration, Japan experienced the rapid Westernization; after the World War II, Japan absorbed the US popular culture and life style. With economic recovery and growth, once suppressed traditional culture became active again, and was successfully integrated with western culture to form a unique “postmodern” Japanese pop culture.
Take manga and anime as the example, remix and hybrid of traditional/modern and eastern/western elements can be seen everywhere from the images and names of characters to the background and theme of story. Today, the hugeness of Japan’s manga and anime industry is perhaps beyond one’s imagination. In terms of subject and topic, it meets both mainstream and non-mainstream demands from different audiences, and creates derivative products as well as sub-cultures through the participatory consumption and reproduction. The success of the industry chain is one of the common characters of all types of Japanese pop culture, including the commercial art by Takashi Murakami.

For those who are interested in manga and anime fandom, a latest survey released by Yano Research Institute shows that one out of five Japanese say they are otaku, which indicates a large market with great potential. Also, besides Otaku, there are a lot more wonderful examples of sub-culture or fan culture: Lolicon - an attraction to underage girls or an individual with such an attraction; lolicon manga or anime is a genre wherein childlike female characters are often depicted in an erotic manner); Fujoshi - female fans of Yaoi (also called Boys' Love, BL), a genre of male-male romance narratives aimed at a female audience (most are teenage girls and young women).

Di Lu

My generation in China is super influenced, directly or indirectly, by Japan’s Anime and Manga culture. Children of my age are quite familiar with popular Japanese cartoon images, which appear in various media representations including TV and Internet. Besides these, this cultural impact also exists in merchandise, governmental publicity, and many fields you could never expect. For example, new hot words in daily life are frequently created out of Japanese pop culture. One of the examples is Moe (“” in Chinese and “もえ” in Japanese ). The word, which was originally used to depict the infancy of plants, was first borrowed by anime fans and otaku to appreciate adorable (usually female) characters, and then the usage of words extends to description of everything, real or virtual, live or inanimate, that is lovely and visually pleasant. For the young generation today in China, this is the complete replacement of traditional words of similar meanings in recent years. Fujoshi (female fans who enjoy fantasy of boys’ love), cosplay, just to name a few, those words have been widely recognized and accepted by the public and even official media agencies use them as formal representations. Moreover, because the image of numerous anime characters have taken root in people’s mind, they are found in daily routines and items of daily use, such as children’s lunchbox. I heard that in Japan one of the standards to evaluate a housewife is to take a look at the lunchbox her children take to school. Kids will be so proud if their mothers are able to prepare a good-looking lunch box based on a popular cartoon or comic. And the pursuit of association with pop culture also exists in the creation of other kinds of food, such as bakery and coffee.
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The impact of Japanese pop culture has been so tremendous that it influences not only its neighbors such as China and Korea, but even storms the U.S and Europe. I think one of the reasons is that it raises empathy among audience by embedding international cultures in manga and anime that are sold to the world. It’s interesting for me to reflect that some of my impression of cultures and histories in both western countries and even my home country actually come from my Japanese cartoon watching experience. Many of the settings in Japanese anime and manga resemble the environment and style of countries other than Japan, and it’s more than natural to smell an international taste in the looking and outfit of characters in Japanese comics. Some of the “global” works include Howl's Moving Castle by Miyazaki Hayao, which is adapted from a children’s literature work in UK and Fullmental Alchemist where all the characters are named in a typical western way.

Yu-wei Wang

93083994le6.jpg“The Japanese don’t really have a difference or hierarchy between high and low” said by Takashi Murakami and noted by Jeff Howe in his The Two Faces of Takashi Murakami. I was surprised by this utterance, since under my perception Japan is a country that has distinct hierarchy in school, work place and society as well. The hierarchy can be seen in the usage of honorific in Japanese language, the indigenous etiquette performed in their daily life, and the distinct classes of noble and plan people in Japan’s social system. Bearing these historical heritages and constraining by these intrinsic social structure, Japan inevitably evolves various types of so called “subculture”, the kind of culture that usually be viewed as vulgar or low-class in the eye of mainstream culture. “Otaku” and “Cosplay” are two of the most recognizable subculture in Japan that formed from the proliferation of Manga and Anime.

Cosplay the anime figure-- 初音ミク

The rising of Manga and Anime in 80s in Japan and their proliferating among nations all over the world in 90s, bring them as the recognizable icons of modern Japanese Pop culture. However, even receiving its popularity internationally, Manga and Anime still are not been considered as “Art.” I have the same experience as Siyang that in primary school, if I was caught reading Manga in school, even in the break time between classes, I would be penalized, since Manga does not considered a “book” in value but a vulgar entertainment. Although even in Japan Manga and Anime are not be viewed as high-class art, the consumption of the products of Manga and Anime in Japan is huge. The influences of Manga and Anime are deeply rooted in Japan’s consumer and modern culture. Murakami, as many of the Pop artists, fuses high art and low art, pulling imagery of mass produced public culture into the production of remixing artworks. He proposes the main concept of his works-- “Superflat”, a term that refers to not only the two-dimensionality of Japanese graphic art and animation, but to the shallow emptiness of its consumer culture as well. Manga, as Sharon Kinsella mentions and noted by Michael Darling in his Plumbing the Depths of Superflatness, is regarded as a progressive social medium which flout repressive social taboos in the eyes of some intellectuals. In Murakami’s works, we can see the exaggerated sexual characteristics in his Hiropon and the underlying meaning of the shadows of World War Two in his bright colorful mushrooms. These are the sensitive issues under the table of the public sphere, while Murakami uses his works to express the issues.

Left: Hiropon by Takashi Murakami
Right: Supernova by Takashi Murakami

One of the famous quotations from Andy Warhol, “If you want to know all about Andy Warhol, just look at the surface of my paintings and films and me, and there I am. There’s nothing behind it.” Warhol expresses his values, attitudes and his life style through his artworks. Like Warhol, Murakami express his notion in his “Superflatness” surface, a surface that carries both the traditional Ukiyo-e (うきよえ) style and the modern Manga style of flatness, as well as the compression of the effects of post WWⅡtoward Japanese society and the emptiness feeling of the material-oriented society in Japanese. These features make his works more than “Superflatness”, but its depth disguised under the surface. Referring back to the first point that confused me, I think what Murakami stated about no difference or hierarchy between high and low in Japanese indicates the hybrid of old and new, fine and vulgar of the culture in existing social reality that eliminates their difference, and turns into the concept of “Superflat.”

DOB with the remixing of Hokusai-like waves by Takashi Murakami

Pic sources:

Ashley Wei

Non-Japanese have often wondered at why Japanese manga and anime is full of European-looking characters. Certainly, there is no reason that Japanese animation has to be limited to only Japanese characters. But what is more puzzling is that characters who are supposed to be East Asian are often given unrealistic, “European” hair and eye colors. Some examples include Ranma, the red-headed Japanese girl of Ranma 1/2, Kenshin, the red-haired, violet-eyed Japanese swordsman of Samurai X (Rurouni Kenshin), and the blond Japanese schoolboy Jinpachi from Please Save My Earth.

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To explain this phenomenon we take a look at the history of Japanese anime. Osamu Tezuka, the “God of Manga”, taught an entire generation of artists to draw kinetically. His greatest impact was his characters. Based on pre-war Disney cartoons like Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck, Tezuka drew animals and humans with huge, expressive eyes, and round heads. Although the features seemed simple and cartoonish, they allowed diverse emotions from love to seething hatred. Later manga and anime artists adapted Tezuka's flexible characters, leading to simplified facial features and frisbee-sized eyes. Sailor Moon, Speed Racer, and even Ash Ketchum owe their looks to Tezuka. Tezuka's great success in manga directly impacted post-war anime.

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Anyone with even a very superficial exposure to anime has noticed such ‘racially-inaccurate’ characters. I believe that the fascination with European/American features and color reflects a ‘wannabe-white’ attitude among Japanese – keep in mind of the impact of WWII and the atomic bomb attack. After WWII many Japanese believe that Western influences would be important and good for Japan, and as Japan developed rapidly in economy, they gradually have a prejudice against other nations in Asia (e.g. China, Korea) and think Japan is, although genetically closer to other Asian nations, economically and politically it is more like a developed Western country. This very complex attitude of “self-hatred or Asians” results in a Eurocentric standard of beauty.

However, it is not fair to say that Japanese manga artists are just represent their characters with European appearance. In fact, the over-sized eyes, unrealistic hair color (e.g. green and purple) are not belong to European neither, they are just fantasy. And what fascinates me most about Japanese manga and anime is, that the fantastic synthetic world it creates, the perfect remix or Western and Eastern culture, and the story focus on self-recognition, growing, and friendship (which is very different from the stories of super hero in American cartoons).