Friday, January 30, 2009

Run, Rabbit

Vita Brevis

It came to me the other day:
Were I to die, no one would say,
“Oh, what a shame! So young, so full
Of promise — depths unplumbable!”

Instead, a shrug and tearless eyes
Will greet my overdue demise;
The wide response will be, I know,
“I thought he died a while ago.”

For life’s a shabby subterfuge,
And death is real, and dark, and huge.
The shock of it will register
Nowhere but where it will occur.


Thursday, January 29, 2009

Sophia students in Akiba with gaijin GOKU

I am to the right of Goku's flaming head, laughing helplessly.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Friday, January 16, 2009

"Afro Samurai" anime and game follow 'soft power' Obama

(above: me [left] and Afro creator Takashi 'Bob' Okazaki at GDH in Tokyo)

From my latest column for the Daily Yomiuri--my first in 09--about the launch of anime AFRO SAMURAI's second season ("Resurrection") and first game release next week:

SOFT POWER HARD TRUTHS / Soft power meets 'Afro Samurai'

Roland Kelts / Special to The Daily Yomiuri

Harvard University Prof. Joseph Nye, who coined the term "soft power," a concept upon which this column is partly based, is being talked about as the possible next U.S. ambassador to Japan. As of this writing, it is unclear whether Nye will be the envoy in Tokyo after President-elect Barack Obama's inauguration, but his soft-power concept raises provocative questions about the Japan-U.S. relationship.

Can cultural attraction (soft power) really survive the strength of pure hard power? Don't the strong always beat the weak, as we are seeing in the Gaza Strip right now? And if culture is so powerful--who really controls it?

Answers are hard to find, as the roots of transcultural expressions can be absurdly tangled.

For instance, Japanese manga artist Takashi Okazaki, who grew up loving the 1970s American TV show Soul Train, the resilient American comic hero Batman and archetypal Japanese samurai films, turned his fascinations into a most unlikely manga series. He fashioned a black hip-hop samurai hero into an even more transcultural phenomenon two years ago, when his syncretic imagination went mainstream via Hollywood and Spike TV--with none other than Samuel L. Jackson in the starring voice role.

Now, as America prepares to inaugurate its first multiracial president on Jan. 20, Afro Samurai, an anime made by Japanese about African-American heroes and hip-hop culture, is set to launch its second TV season in the United States just days later. Afro Samurai: Resurrection will appear as a two-hour feature film on American television next Friday, and on Jan. 27, the Afro Samurai video game will be released for Xbox and PlayStation ... [read more here]

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Monday, January 12, 2009

Japanamerica & Hollywood ... in Malaysia?

Tinseltown remakes


Hollywood has a new respect for anime sources, and is planning on turning many into potential blockbusters.

IN March last year, I had dinner in Los Angeles with two producers from US animation studios making American versions of anime originals. One, a Chinese-American, was from Imagi, the company working on this year’s computer-graphic Astro Boy. The other, a Filipino-American, was with Gonzo Digimation Holdings, the company that produces Afro Samurai, an original manga turned international anime series featuring Samuel L. Jackson’s voice.

Both producers were jovial, if anxious about the ongoing decline in US anime DVD sales. But they were also quite keen to share their experiences of working with their counterparts in Japan. “We showed a preview to some focus groups in Tokyo,” said the Imagi producer of Astro Boy, “and the results were disastrous. Our Astro Boy was too snarky, too mature. They wanted to reclaim the original character’s innocence.” (read more here)

Anime fan site goes licensed and legal

From my final 2008 column for the Daily Yomiuri:

SOFT POWER HARD TRUTHS / Will fan site save anime in 2009?

As the new year fast approaches, the news across the anime industry looks persistently bleak: downward-spiraling overseas DVD sales coupled with decreasing profits at home, a shrinking domestic labor force combined with an ever-expanding menu of file-share freebies--and, of course, an anemic global economy for all.

But there is a silver lining on the horizon, and you can test its brightness and durability beginning exactly one week from today.

Next Friday, Jan. 2, California-based, one of the largest and most popular of the so-called "fan sites," or Internet portals for free anime uploaded exclusively by and for fans, is going legit: legal and fully licensed for producer profit.

If you follow this column, this is not the first you've heard of Crunchyroll's foray into unchartered bandwidth. In September, I conducted a phone interview with Vu Nguyen, the site's cofounder and vice president of business, development and strategy. Nguyen recounted for me his team's trips to Japan at the start of 2008 to obtain digital strategies directly from the front offices of Japan's anime producers.

The result? They had none ... [read more here]

Friday, January 09, 2009

Kennedy Center Honors - Bettye LaVette - Love Reign O'er Me

Bettye Lavette's tribute to Pete Townshend, Roger Daltrey and the music of The Who at the Kennedy Center Honors in DC last month.

Trans-cultural exchange comes full circle.