Tag Archives: politics

Bill 156: Eyes Wide Shut

Now that some time has passed, it only made sense to bring the issue over to these pages to more or less find some middle ground.

Several days ago, the revised version of Tokyo’s Office of Youth Affairs and Public Safety’s proposed Bill 156 passed, and has engendered panic from some sectors of the anime/manga community, as well as forced the hand of publishers and production companies to take up arms. As previously mentioned by current english language champions of the fight at hand, Dan Kanemitsu and Yomiuri’s own Roland Kelts, the “Non-Existent Youth” series of laws turn visual works of the drawn & animated into a bigger evil than that of possibly very real threats upon the young, even when some of these works do not perpetrate any specified red zones.

So what we are looking at are laws that prohibit the ability for creators to express concepts and ideas regarding the depiction of inter-generational, or even homoerotic sexual ideas. This isn’t so much a ban, as it is a means to curb certain types of stories to be made readily available to the public of Tokyo. The problem with this is that the very nature of 156 is that it is worded so vaguely, and across the board, that it may in effect limit the sale/rental of scores of titles that might even have a hint of “risque” themes and images. Which in retrospect threatens many classic titles, as well as many popular current games, anime & manga. In fact, this makes it hard to even imagine certain classics of the medium to even have fluorished had this come about decades ago, times when the industry was a more vital force in the Japanese marketplace. (Can one imagine Nagai, Takahashi, or even Tatsumi surviving such decisions outside of the underground in a time with no internet?)

What’s worse, is that it doesn’t seem to be made in the name of protecting any real children. In a nation where it is perfectly legal to own very real child pornography, a bill like this surfaces, creating all kinds of mixed signals. The lines are 20/60 at best, and this can only create further debate down the line as long as artists, and media keep up the fight to inform the public who are often bombarded by press club controlled “news”. The truth in Japanese news is often distorted to one degree or another due to a mostly tabloid, one lens approach to local happenings, which makes the need for other arts to do their part in circumventing the information barrier to get clarity out. If one could believe it, this was what anime was capable of in its heyday. Much like some kind of warped daily news on hallucinogens, anime had functioned as part marketing, part stealth id pressure valve for many folks with a need for something to say about their cultural time. Art has always served this purpose when put to its best use. Even Hollywood has a great reputation for jabbing at the current zeitgeist, while still attracting unsuspecting crowds.

The part that really burns many in the industry is that while the bill took months to develop, before heading back to the drawing board for a revision, publishers and studios were kept completely out of the loop until an impossibly last moment. Leaving no room for input from those making the material is nothing less than a power move, designed to bully out what they deem a “troubling influence”. This is only the beginning of where this all runs suspect, and requires further investigation by the Japanese public. According to Roland Kelts in his amazing post, already a number of noted publishers & studios are actively boycotting next year’s Tokyo Anime Fair, which may lead to ending future events indefinitely. Not to mention a growing number of events taking a stance against this decision.

Which all leads to what we as global admirers of the medium can do.

Not too much really, except to spread the word back to Japanese friends & colleagues. But the real question is how not only will the industry continue to tackle this as a place once well known as a hotbed of left-leaning student protesters and progressive minded authors. It can be argued that anime itself has almost always been an entity borne from a need to break free from cultural norms that post-War Japan had engendered. (Go Nagai practially owes an entire career to this rebellious spirit.) To see that it has shifted from a volatile creature with its own ideas, and free will to that of a reactionary, fetishistic one, perhaps something like this can be seen as a godsend to some. But much like our own homegrown movements against the powers that be, it is imperative that more than merely anime/manga creators and studios take up the fight to artistically mutate one of Japan more curious imports into something clever again, and perhaps more importantly, improve how the money actually flows.  Because in the end, this is perhaps where eyes must be poised instead of merely the end result.

It’s often interesting to see what tends to be missed amongst all the sturm and drang.  But it can be argued that we are in this volatile spot, largely due to problems stemming from an anime/manga infrastructure, unwilling to reinvent itself, and comfortable with dying of internal bleeding.

This, naturally may sound nigh to impossible to most folks in the industry, but one takes a long range view of the whole, some alarmingly obvious red flags appear. Had the industry’s monetary system been retrofitted to something akin to Union rules, and away from almost always toxic deals with advertisers, and television networks, perhaps the desperate dive into rote eternal youth fantasies could have been curbed. After the anime bubble burst in the middle of the last decade, the flimsily constructed foundation upon which anime/manga stood upon for decades suddenly became a sinkhole, leaving investors with little to have faith in but 14 years old girls, a defensive posture, and an endless silent scream of denial.

When “Cool Japan” can only depend on a neurotic minority, the system may be broken beyond repair. [ This PR program alone may be the very thing that helped spur this along in the first place. Whoopsee. Backpedal, backpedal.]

And then for Ishihara to go on record as calling out certain creators of questionable material possessing “warped DNA”, only exacerbates matters. [full translation from Kanemitsu’s wonderful new post is HERE.] As much as I have trouble with an art community catering to merely one facet of a larger diversity of story, this is full-on panic mode rather than any kind of practical, creative solution to a problem of sameness. (If there’s any real problem at all, outside of a rampant room full of clones. A real Room of Gauf in culture.)

The reasons for making the last several seasons so identical is based on an antiquated system’s inability to stem the tide of technological evolution. Even as so-called “moe” shows are on the way out, the period of time that perhaps led to this era of sameness is largely a result of giving in to the way of things, and taking in the only clientele left available to them. Commerce trumped art, and as thus, is at the mercy of a not as reliable niche as say a kind of public that used to watch shows by the millions in the 1980s.  [re:TOUCH] Anime has fallen into an inert state that is every bit a shadow version of itself. And now it looks as if certain interests, focused only on controlling the morality of others, are taking full advantage of an industry’s fearful navel gazing in order to undo ideals once previously embraced. [ie- Ishihara was once good friends with legendary poet/actor Yukio Mishima, and also won the Akutagawa award for writing the at the time “scandalous” story ” Taiyou No Kisetsu” (aka Season Of The Sun-which has been made into a film, and an anime special!) , which pitted two young brothers in love with the same girl.]

Ishihara’s reputation prior to assuming the role of Governor, and LDP champion has had quite a reputation as a film writer, essayist, and at times vehemently nationalistic spokesperson. In his infamous series of essays “The Japan That Can Say No”, Ishihara illustrates both a bright-eyed idealism for a prouder, more unified Japan, but also harboring a seething bias against American influence. Granted these were written as the Bubble days of Japan were in full-swing, and in the full shadow of a fearful US, but the fervor is still clearly present. Which leads this writer to wonder if his fears of American influence have in his mind bled into the nation, creating some kind of violent illness that renders citizens unable to resist committing serious offenses after reading a book, or watching TV. Is it a fear that US influence has helped create a morally weakened environment? Recent interviews seem to suggest this. Whatever it is, it’s clearly based on reasoning that is questionable at best. Which is why it is important for those not used to being active in the public arena to take heed, and make efforts to get through via real communication as opposed to faceless strongarming. To turn inward now with culture (think VOCALOID, and Comipo!) is a dangerous prospect.

Ishihara, as much as I do not agree with his sentiments or ideas at this point, deserves some credit for at least lighting a fire under the seats of many in a world that has perhaps been hanging around high school far too long after graduation. Much like the protests that arose when Tipper Gore and the PMRC came to be the scourge of the music recording world in the late 1980s, anime needs its own Jello Biafra & 2 Live Crew. Irrepressible, and vital upstarts to get the debate to expand, and to at least pave the way for a new era in Japanese visual culture. On that same token, Japan cannot continue to afford to deny certain other nations ability to support artistic professionals if they ever wish their cultural exports to survive. And lawmakers must be ready to tackle a more transparent approach toward protecting the youth in a more realistic and respectful fashion. Art is freedom. And as thus, it is meant to explore. But that means to keep moving. Animation by definition.

The spark of true youth can never be fully extinguished, and its time the nation truly embraced this in all its blistered, battered glory with eyes wide open.

Special Thanks to Dan Kanemitsu, Roland Kelts, and Geoff Tebbetts for keeping the information flowing!

Stephanie Sheh on the anime industry

Stephanie Sheh is a voice actress whose works include the English versions of Lucky Star, Gundam Unicorn, Naruto, Bleach, Gurren Lagann, and Eureka Seven. She describes herself as an “actress, director, photographer, shortie.”

Following a dispute Sheh had with fansubber deviryuu over the motives, means, and impact of fansubbing, I contacted her to discuss the state of the American animation industry. The conversation was eye-opening, both in terms of what industry insiders think and in terms of the sociological factors that predispose them to think in certain ways.

For example, a commonly-touted argument now is that the industry depends on purchases, so by purchasing, a consumer is contributing to future anime, and by not purchasing, a consumer makes it less likely that anime will be produced in years to come. Implicit in that argument is the idea that a downloader cares about anime production in the future. While the idea that one cares enough to spend money holds true for serious anime fans, it is an assumption that probably should not be made when it comes to the broader audience of downloaders. It is, in short, the sort of argument an emotionally invested fan would think up, and Sheh’s assertion that American industry insiders were fans first serves to drive that home. (Being emotionally invested in what you produce is good – but inability to see past that one perspective when formulating policy could be disastrous.)
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USA commissions manga

It is, if anything, the reverse of “Cool Japan.” Rather than spread Japanese culture and influence to the world, a new manga titled Our Alliance – A Lasting Partnership has been published by the US Military in a bid to win the hearts of local Japanese citizens.

The manga presents America as a blond, rabbit-eared boy named Usa-kun, who enthusiastically explains the facts of geopolitical necessity to a Japanese girl named Arai Anzu – which sounds like a Wasai-Eigo pronunciation of “alliance.” (In Japanese, the prefix “Usa-” (兎) indicates things which are rabbitlike; thus Usa-kun has “usamimi,” 兎耳 or rabbit ears.)

“I am on your side,” Usa-kun tells Arai. “We are important friends.”

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Legend of Legendary Heroes 1 and 2 – more than what it looks

Ooh, plots, intrigue, funny characters (though admittedly, a little bit one-dimenional), interesting though rather shallow and easily constructed backstory and world view,  this one is gaining my favor so far.

Am I the only one that think Sion looks WAY TOO MUCH like Testarossa from Full Metal Panic, especially with the uniform? Watching the PV, I honestly thought he was a girl until he spoke. Also –

HOW DARE THEM KILL THE DOG! GODAMMIT, don’t kill the dog! I want to form a lynch mob for that poor creature! After all, there are animal police in NYC and yet if you get robbed or stabbed, you’re less likely to get justice. Eh. GET THOSE DOG KILLERS!

Right now, the show’s having a little trouble trying to decide to be serious or funny. The danger of going into a possibly long back story is that the story of the present day will be severely shortened (see Berserk and Tenjo Tenne). We’ll see. So far, the comedy has won me over but everything else is a little flat. Like the characters and the humor, but as for the rest…I take the first paragraph back, the plots are OK so far. I want to see how it pans out over the next few episodes.

This has the potential in funniness ala Slayers, plot depth ala Scrapped Princess and back story depth ala Berserk. But we won’t know until 4 more episodes in, I reckon.

P.S. Have been skimming through both episodes on Saturday, 11:28 AM PST. The contrast of episode 1 and 2 don’t seem that jarring after all and the story is more interesting than I firsst though. Hmm…

Strike Witches 2 – The Pantsless Dream

“You must be the change you wish to see in the world.”

– Mahatma Gandhi

We live, as the Chinese would have it, in interesting times. No, let us be more frank than that. We live in absurd times. As the BP oil spill continues, as North Korea makes warlike noises despite warnings from nearly every other civilized country with an interest in the matter, as the men from Union Carbide get off with 2 years in jail for the deaths of over 10,000, it is evident that lunacy is the order of the day.

What better time than now to release an absurd show? And how much more absurd does it get than Strike Witches, a show about pantsless magical schoolgirls who put on robot parts and nekomimi to fight for their countries?

Accepting absurdity is not easy.  Some people may complain that, for instance, a blacksmith should wear some pants. But this is the old way of thinking. These standards of believability have already been dealt a mortal blow! In fact, anime has already visited the topic of magical blacksmithing in great detail, and not only is it OK to smith without pants, it is OK to do so without hammer, anvil, quenching liquid, or even fire!  Magic has supplanted all of these. The Strike Witches already engage in life-and-death combat without pants; compared to that, why should the entirely controllable rigor of blacksmithing compel them to don pants?

Do not hesitate: he who hesitates is lost. Do not fear: we have nothing to fear but fear itself, and recursion is utterly passe. Stride forth boldly, and embrace the future!  Dare to dream of a pants-free world!

Of course, it’s possible – just possible – that I’m biased in my assessment. I mean, I’m not wearing any pants.

American politician says nuke Japan

Sometimes, people hate what they don’t understand. Sometimes, politicians go so far as to demonstrate this hatred on the public record.

State Representative Nickolas Levasseur (D-NH), pictured to the right above, posted to Facebook:

Anime is a prime example of why two nukes just wasn’t enough.

Leaving aside whether or not the Representative personally enjoys anime, this is an elected official joking about deploying atomic weapons on a civilian population simply because he dislikes their TV shows.

Red Hampshire broke the story immediately on the 24th, which is unsurprising given that such an irresponsible statement ought to be no less than political suicide. Major news media followed suit.
Continue reading American politician says nuke Japan

Anti-manga official seeks to deny libraries funding

An article in today’s Del Marva Now describes Wicomico, Maryland County Councilman Joe Holloway as disturbed by the humorous sexual content in Dragonball Z books available at local school libraries.

“The drawings and story lines are disgusting,” Holloway said of the book.

Official image courtesy of Wicomico County Council.

While on the surface this would appear to be a classic tale – a public official finds something against public morality, and squelches it – looking a little deeper raises questions about the purity of Mr. Holloway’s outrage.

Continue reading Anti-manga official seeks to deny libraries funding

Japan’s LDP annihilated

In what can only be described as a landslide election, the Liberal Democratic Party of Japan lost approximately 300 of 480 Diet seats.

Yabei desu~

Taro “Rozen” Aso was quoted by Associated Press as saying, “There has been a deep dissatisfaction with our party.”  Visitors to the official website of the LDP were greeted with the promise, “We will change what should be changed, and begin anew.”

Anime Diet previously reported on the economic woes that have plagued Japan in recent years, and Prime Minister Aso‘s unique association with the manga and anime industry.  His “Japan Cool” campaign attempted to leverage the popularity of anime and manga as Japan’s “Soft Power,” but the numbers didn’t seem to add up.

Does this turn of events herald a dark era for animation?

Clinton and Obama Reconciled by Becoming Chibi, Caramelldansen

Now that the Democratic primary process is over and there is a clear winner, the divided party needs to get back together. And, as we know, the solution has always been becoming anime characters and dancing to a bright, chirpy, techno J-pop-sounding song. They even somehow got Clinton to wear a skirt rather than a pantsuit, which must have been some magic indeed. After this dance, we know the party will be united as one in peace-u, love-u and great justice.

Of course, if you really want a change in Washington, you need to vote for me! Obama may offer “change we can believe in,” but Ikari “Mike” Gendo offers change you will believe in–or else.

HT: Alafista. For actual anime examples of Caramelldansen, see Gundam 00, Clannad, Haruhi, and Code Geass. No actual political endorsement is implied. Except for me, of course.