Podcast on Cool Japan

Cool Japan

W. David Marx (aka Marxy)
and internationally-fêted writer / Otaku USA editor-in-chief Patrick Macias discuss the future of “Cool Japan” over chain teishoku in Akasaka. Topics include: Nakagawa “Shoko-tan” Shoko’s otaku cred, the importation of “kawaii” culture to the U.S., the growing creativity drought in Japan, the irrelevance of chasing Japanese fads, and predictions for the future. Will Japan’s pop culture and economy implode to the point of verdant youth rebellion?

For reference, Patrick has the nice, bold voice, while Marxy has the high-pitched nasal voice and talks while he eats.

(The photo in the graphic above was taken in a Nara gift shop last year.)

Download: Néojaponisme Podcast on Cool Japan
General Néojaponisme Podcast RSS Feed: .rss

W. David MARX
October 28, 2008

W. David Marx (Marxy) — Tokyo-based writer and musician — is the founder and chief editor of Néojaponisme.

16 Responses

  1. ezineaerticles » Blog Archive » Podcast on Cool Japan Says:

    [...] Original nj@neojaponisme.com [...]

  2. wildarmsheero Says:

    I’m getting a 404.

  3. W. David MARX Says:

    Fixed. Sorry about that.

  4. Ratiocinational Says:

    I listened to a bit of the podcast on my lunch break at work and enjoyed what I heard of it. I’m going to listen to the rest when I get home and comment further but…

    Shoko-tan is like my biggest crush of all time when it comes down to it. For me personally I was introduced to a love for japanese culture via videogames. Mainly japanese RPGs, actually, and eventually I went on to a lot of journalism about them, becoming Editor-In-Chief of http://www.allrpg.com for a few years, and contributing to Escapist magazine. While I was writing on the subject Shoko-tan kept popping up in the gaming media because she was this cute girl who was genuinely into videogames. When I was first reading about her she wasn’t portrayed as idoru, but really as a celebrity who was really in to games. When she was signed by Bandai to promote the Super Robot Wars (スーパーロボット大戦) series it really sealed the deal for me. Not only was she into games, but she was into the most obscure strategy RPGs and a series of games that I particularly loved.

  5. wildarmsheero Says:

    Very interesting discussion– you guys touched upon a lot of things I was simply unaware of, since I don’t follow the JP music scene, nor do I follow fashion. I’m of the opinion that something will come as a result of all this boredom. I don’t know /what/ exactly, but something.

    I mean, this fall season’s anime have been pretty good. Maybe that’s a start?

  6. Aceface Says:

    I blame keitai and internet for all this cultural vacuum we have.I don’t want to start bitching about “youngsters nowadays”,but they have become more culturally passive than ever.

  7. W. David MARX Says:

    I can’t see this just being about new communications. Kids have less money and if the whole “culture game” was about spending money, they can’t do culture.

  8. W. David MARX Says:

    Speak of the devil, big cover story in today’s Nikkei Marketing Journal about how an increasing number of 20 year-olds find dating the opposite sex “a pain in the ass” (面倒くさい).

  9. Aceface Says:

    But isn’t “discommunication with surrounding” a must ingredient for the future iconoclast?
    With all the keitai/blog/2ch who needs to find shelter in the world of inner-self?
    Being introspective at early age is necesary for the culture,me think.

  10. Ratiocinational Says:

    Dating IS a pain in the ass! I would imagine it’s only gotten to be a bigger pain in the ass with keitai culture. It’s bad enough to most guys I know in the states when their girlfriend is calling or texting them incessantly. I can’t imagine what it’s like there where it’s that much more ingrained. I can’t speak with any authority on the subject though, so I’d leave that up to you who are there, but I can only imagine how it is.

    Lately I’ve found a lot in the music scene that I enjoy, it’s just not stuff that will ever gain mainstream appeal in japan as the whole music scene there seems so industry engineered. Perhaps it’s a “new to me” phenomena and not an “actually new” thing, but Tujiko Noriko, Piana, Worlds End Girlfriend, and the “albeit late to the dance rock scene compared to the west” bands like 8otto and OGRE YOU ASSHOLE are all music that is good as well as easily exportable. Some of the problem seems to be that anymore everyone has already heard it as soon as it’s released. You can forget your band taking the world by storm when they’ve heard you as soon as the storm starts brewing. It’s a symptom of ALL indie music since the turn of the millenia–people are looking for it now and it’s being discovered and listened to and discarded before it gets a chance to become the next big thing.

    I live in Philadelphia, so on the fashion front I may be somewhat spoiled, but it seems that from my very very poor understanding of what fashions are popular in japan now that we already have items in a similar vein. Urban Outfitters and Anthropology are headquartered in my hometown, and they’ve been doing the slightly kitchy real clothes thing for years now. My brother is studying fashion marketing, actually, so I’m sort of repeating the knowledge that he’s passed on to me, but you can’t export fashion trends that are already being used in the places you’d export it to.

    I can’t remember clearly but I think you were proposing that a troubled economic climate would spur creativity? It’s exactly the opposite for me. I’m more worried about paying the bills and keeping my job and have no time for that creativity stuff.

  11. Megan Says:

    Really interesting conversation! While I’m into Japanese culture, I haven’t really known about what’s actually going on over there right now. It made me wonder how that culture compares to American youth culture, and how it effects those here who are into Japanese culture.
    I think that not having any money can spur creativity in that you can’t as easily just go out and buy your art fix, you have to make due with what you have, or make something new.
    I didn’t know about Domo being in Target until Patrick (I think it was him) mentioned it. Then I picked up a Target ad from Sunday, and there was Domo-kun!
    Great conversation, and I look forward to others in the future.

  12. Tissuekins Says:

    I think that japan, epsecially anime is stagnating. Like you guys have been saying, someone needs to rattle the cages. The problem is, no one wants to, because their satisfied. This is why I’m disgusted with modern anime. I think the solution would be to have the system destroy itself and start again. Get rid of what’s stagnating and let new blood flow again so to speak. I think we should also kind of get rid of that modern otaku, and go back to the sci-fi literary roots of 70s and eighties anime.

  13. M-Bone Says:

    What exactly is “modern” anime? Were the 1980s not modern?

    “go back to the sci-fi literary roots of 70s and eighties anime.”

    Like, say, Oshii going back to his roots (Patlabor, an 80s highlight) with “Sky Crawlers” or Miyazaki going back to his 1960s roots with “Ponyo”? Are Kon Satoshi and Shinkai Makoto’s recent stuff also not to your liking?

    If you pick a year like 1978 – sure GE999, etc. were great but – but one of the reasons why we think that that age was golden is because all of the garbage from back then has been purged – not available on DVD and forgotten.

    There have also been some recent anime – Mushishi and Akagi, for example – that are far more mature and well produced than many of the 70s and 80s classics (especially older Robot shows that hold up better in memory than reality).

    This stagnation of Japan idea also depends on what media you choose – anime may be stagnating but not manga; a “cool Japan” area like pop music may be stagnating but in the uncool Japan where I live, mass market pop history books are streaking.

    One could also argue that pop culture for little kids is going strong as well. A video game reviewer made the point recently that America may be making the Halos and the Grand Theft Autos but if it were not for Japan, nobody would be making little Bobby or Taro’s first game. Miyazaki has also made a good point relating to “Ponyo” – are recent American kids movies, with their jokes about drag queens and the stock market to keep parents from falling asleep, really for kids at all? “Ponyo” was purposely made as a visual storybook to be suitable as a child’s “first movie”. Japanese picture books are also in the middle of a boom, come to think of it.

    Of course, nothing that I mentioned is likely to sustain a “cool Japan” image internationally.

  14. Tissuekins Says:

    I don’t really consider oshii, and kon, and those other guys to be “anime” artists but animators who make awesome cartoons. Sure they do it in “anime” style, but their stuff i unviersal, and artists go forwards, not backwards. So those guys are a ok. I’m talking about the anime that’s being mass produced and made for certain niches, that’s what’s stagnating. There’s nothing cool or unique in the mass markets anymore. Also I think manga is stagnating here because no one’s taking risks on the original stuff. What I wanna see is a surge of unique and cool stuff in mass media. But what I;m seeing right now is either boring, repetitive, or fetishistic.

  15. M-Bone Says:

    Tissuekins – I see where you are coming from. However, aren’t you basically saying that if you throw out all of the best original stuff from auteurs, that anime is crap? Wouldn’t that have been true of any era? What would the 1975-1985 period look like without Matsumoto / Rintaro and Miyazaki, for example?

    By that measure, you could also say that without Kubrick, Scorsese, Coppola, and Altman, 70s American film was pretty average. Or that you can’t count HBO as great American TV (of course, it is not TV, it is HBO).

    By “what you are seeing right now”, do you mean this year? If you consider the last few years, I would put the pair of Ghost in the Shell series, Mushishi, Paranoia Agent, and Full Metal Alchemist (probably the most original thing done with Shonen since Cyborg 009) up against many of the past greats. There are a bunch of other series that represent interesting departures as well – Akagi and Kaiji (that I mentioned before) and Denno Coil, for example. Bokurano is also getting rave reviews (have not seen it).

    I disagree on the point that manga is stagnating. Perhaps Shonen manga is stagnant, but that has been true since 1990 in my opinion. Despite this fact, however, the best, original Shonen title since Dragon Ball set the pattern is Full Metal Alchemist and that is pretty much still in its prime.

    As for Seinen manga, is there a period that has been as strong as the last decade? You could argue that the Devilman, Blackjack, Kaze Hikaru, and Lone Wolf and Cub days of the early 70s were stronger. However, at present there are many titles that represent interesting and original contributions in the medium – Gantz (fallen off a bit lately but the volumes between 10 and 20 are a fine meditation on aimless youth and the dark appeals of violence and militarism), Mushishi (over now, but you have to had it to a period manga with no fights and without a single sword), Vagabond (simply excellent art, combines the battles with a lengthy consideration of achievement and identity), Saikyo Densetsu Kurosawa (surreal look at middle aged makegumi), Maiwai (if Ponyo was a movie storybook for kids, this is a nostalgic storybook trip for pop culture saturated adults), Ikigami (don’t bother with the film, but something has to be said for a work that shows a Japanese bureaucrat on his way to tell a young man that he only has 20 hours to live take a few minutes out to return some overdue videos, the series is chock full of banality of evil images), Helpman (okay, you probably don’t read “Evening” but you can’t get much more of a departure than this – all about the struggles of home helpers – deals with themes like elderly abuse, discrimination against foreign helpers, and sex after 80 – a sure cure for that fetishistic manga that you mentioned), Caesare (the tour through the poor areas of the city was shockingly great), Vinland Saga and Historie are both excellent historicals. Has there ever been anything quite like like Shigurui before? Say whatever you want about Detroit Metal City, nobody had seen anything like that either.

    Also, if you want really radically different stuff, you have to get a hardcore manga specialty shop. There are lots of clever works being produced for any taste (think Maruo Suehiro’s stuff) that are usually not sold in more mainstream outlets. My advice would be to get the heck away from Jump and Rival and all of that and start looking for some of the strong, original stuff that IS being published.

    On the financial front, there is also the matter of audiences abroad being “trained” to eat up those “boring and fetishistic titles”.

    Witness this -
    http://www.animenewsnetwork.com/review/aria-the-animation/sub.dvd-season-1

    This anime is faux pastoral hiding a pointless, derivative girly fantasy for 13 year old Japanese boys but this review is talking about it like it is Walt Whitman. Sheesh. But, hey, as long as anime creators are training foreign audiences to like this stuff, they should still be able to find markets (where downloading hasn’t killed them, that is).

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