Alan Smithee

SLCC 2014 – Anime and Manga: A Cultural Perspective

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Osamu Tezuka was the father of modern anime and manga.

Osamu Tezuka was the father of modern anime and manga.

The topic for Anime and Manga: A Cultural Perspective was supposed to be our thoughts on why anime and manga have done so well in America and what differences Japan has over America when it comes to our cultures.

Luckily for me, one of the panelists that joined me on stage had spent some time in Japan as an English teacher, so she could easily toss out funny stories about how things are drastically different over there…yet eerily similar in other ways.

First up, you have the Japanese necessity towards ‘saving face’ meaning that you should never go out of your way to offend or bother someone. If you do find yourself on the giving end of the disparity, you must go out of your way to make it better.

Second, Japan’s inability to be direct towards others. If you ask someone to go with you to some place, or if they wanted something you’re offering, you’d have either one of two things happen…and it’s not what you’d think. You’d either get a very gratifying yes (regardless of whether they want to) or you’d get a slightly nervous and drawn out list of excuses as to why they shouldn’t. It is extemely rare to get a NO.

Finally, there’s the differences between our love for technology in America and the lack of gadget-want in Japan. Digital distributed books are a great industry in this nation but in Japan it’s still viewed as a novelty. Everywhere you look, printed materials are everywhere. Manga come in phonebook sized volumes that are read and discarded as if they were the Sunday comics.

Perhaps the most oddball thing I was asked wasn’t ON the panel itself, but afterwards as I was getting my notes together to leave. I was asked by a fan in the crowd who said they were too meek to ask in front of the crowd, but she wanted to know what I thought of the Japanese’s portrayal of Native Americans in anime and manga. I had never thought much of it, but I asked for a clarification and she wanted to know specifically about the stereotypes that permeate the culture.

This was a rather easy answer because in Japan, there are Nihonjin (lit. Japanese people) and then there are gaijin (lit. outside people). You’re either Japanese or not. Anyone not Japanese is fair game for caricature and parody. One only needs to see how the Japanese portrayed black people in some media to understand their no-kid-gloves way of doing things.

It was a great panel, and the last one I did for Comic Con, but certainly not the last panel ever. I will return at another convention and kick ass and chew bubble gum again. Count on it.

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