:: 3:AM Asia

Japanamerica: Create & Play, Anime Avatars in the USA published 10/07/2010

jeye2Imagine Second Life with avatars that look like anime characters, giving American and other English-speaking fans a chance to cosplay, to create their own anime-inspired avatars anytime they want, rather than waiting for the next area anime convention. Amid the dissonance of declining anime DVD and manga book sales abroad and at home and the escalating numbers of overseas fans attending conventions and expos, entrepreneurs are beginning to see an opportunity: reach the fans via new networks of accessibility, and you might just survive.

By Roland Kelts.

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Japanamerica: Stray Ambassadors published 15/06/2010

jeye2Two years ago, I watched from the front row as a Japanese ambassador strolled on-stage during the opening ceremonies of a massive anime festival. He held one hand behind his back, and as he greeted the tens of thousands from the podium, he revealed and quickly donned a Doraemon mask. Doraemon, while enormously popular and immediately recognizable in Japan and many Asian nations, is a virtual unknown to most Americans, where the anime has never received a proper airing. Here he was, the magic blue cat, selected by the Japanese government as its “anime ambassador” to the world, greeting many who had probably never seen his show.

By Roland Kelts.

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Japanamerica: Why ‘Cool Japan’ is over published 17/05/2010

jeye2I’ve taken to calling this Japan’s pop culture branding gap. While cool Japan has amassed a vast audience overseas in the past decade, very few of its fans know anything about the brands behind it. Industry stalwarts such as Studio Pierrot, Madhouse, Production IG, Shogakukan and Shueisha barely register at U.S. anime conventions, where fans passionately recite and reenact their creations. You might hear the words Ghibli (usually mispronounced), Toei and Bandai batted about in conversation among older generations of American fans, but with scant enthusiasm.

By Roland Kelts.

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Japanamerica: Size Matters published 21/04/2010

jeye2The migration of manga and its cinematic cousin, anime, to the small, handheld screen is not new. Two years ago, Masakazu Kubo told me he was bullish on the medium’s future in the form of cell phone downloads, even if technology had not yet caught up. The fantasy that a new technology can save the precarious fate of publishers, let alone artists and writers, is being met with a wall of “dream on” caveats. As many media critics have noted, most of the successful recent IT-related content platforms incorporate sharing and interactivity – social networking sites, file-sharing software, et cetera. Unless publishers and creators find a way to connect their audiences with themselves and one another, as anime conventions do in the bricks-and-mortar world, the new formats will merely be new facades.

Roland Kelts on manga & anime on the iPad.

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Japanamerica: Is American prudery affecting Japanese law? published 25/03/2010

jeye2Japanese popular culture is attractive in part because it feels freer, less fettered by focus groups and financial reports. Taboos about violence, sexuality or racial imagery can be directly confronted in forms that have for decades flown under the proverbial radar. Japanese pop culture is cheap to make and distribute, and is marginal in character and by nature – more like anarchic punk music than corporate products such as Disney films. Hence the inevitable paradox: What happens when Japanese popular culture becomes truly popular beyond the borders of a tiny archipelago in the North Pacific? Can the rest of the world embrace a creative product defined in part by its provincial nature, and usually intended for local audiences only?

By Roland Kelts.

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Japanamerica: Anime must eventually transcend Japan ‘national’ brand published 03/03/2010

jeye2While most Japanese know of a new Disney or Pixar film by its brand first, learning of the title and story later, Americans and other non-Japanese fans of anime and manga, with a few diehard exceptions, generally have little to no awareness of the studio names behind the medium. Instead, they bounce from one title to the next, possibly pursuing an artist, but developing no sense of a studio’s character or identity, and thus no brand loyalty. Indeed, if there is a brand associated with anime and manga, it’s national. Japanese pop culture is branded as “Japan”: Cool Japan, J-Pop, and the former coinage, Japanimation.

By Roland Kelts.

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Japanamerica: The year Japan jumps the shark? published 24/01/2010

jeye2Be it Japanese pop culture, consumer electronics, flagship airlines or even national government, plug in the problems and you get the same result: a clear picture of a staggering Japan en route to irrelevance. Is it any wonder so many Japanese youth see their homeland as a hopeless enclave, plagued by has-been paradigms and unable to evolve? Why else would a dynamic culture relegate its younger resources to the margins, where they are withdrawing and shrinking away from engagement, while its neighbors race ahead on silver-streaked water skis?

By Roland Kelts.

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Japanamerica: Our hybrid future is here published 30/12/2009

jeye2Hybridization has been the subject of this column from its inception. Since then, the United States has elected its first biracial president, and Asian influence continues to expand in the West. Being mixed remains a mixed blessing. Never at ease in one land or the other, you live in limbo, half this and half that. But perhaps that’s the best place to be as we enter the second decade of the 21st century, where paradigms and climates are changing faster than we can process them…Neither here nor there. Get used to it.

By Roland Kelts.

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If You Want Blood (You’ve Got It): An Interview with Koji Shiraishi published 29/11/2009

I wanted to make something that was impressive, and then the producer said, “I want you to make something horribly violent, so violent that it almost can’t be shown”, as these were my orders, I embraced the challenge of making something stirring and emotional while portraying extreme violence. I wanted to portray people who withstood as much one-sided merciless violence as possible, who were unable to fight back, but who never entirely succumbed, not even in the end. I was also, as a director, interested in portraying the feelings of one who’d commit such crimes, so I didn’t want to abandon that angle. I thought merging these two things would be interesting.

By David F. Hoenigman.

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Japanamerica: Hairy-faced Americans & spindly-legged Japanese published 22/11/2009

jeye2Among the displays of early encounters between the Japanese and Americans, I focused on the graphics – numerous mangalike watercolor portraits of big-nosed, hairy-faced Americans with long legs and vast heads of wild hair wandering amid lean, spindly-legged Japanese. One sequence is particularly memorable: American soldiers laughing at a display of Japanese strength, featuring two sumo wrestlers grappling on a beach, and a subsequent portrait of a sumo wrestler flipping an American soldier over his shoulder – eliciting laughter from all on hand.

Roland Kelts on America’s first Pacific president.

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