Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Japanamerica on ANN's Chicks on Anime ...

At the start of this relatively long month of Japanamerica-related events, I had the pleasure of being interviewed by Bamboo and Sara of Anime News Network's "Chicks on Anime" column. Not surprisingly, given the excellence of the host site, their questions were both knowledgeable and fresh, betraying a deep awareness of the topic at hand and a keen sensitivity to the needs of the column's readers.

During the interview, I was in New York, while Bamboo and Sara were in California. But a couple of days before the interview went 'live,' I, too, was in California, and had the additional honor of meeting Bamboo in person at my talk at the Pacific Asia Museum in Pasadena (see photo below).

The interview touched upon several ideas I began to explore in the updated paperback edition of Japanamerica, but they clearly deserve more time in the light, as the follow-up reader comments amply prove. For now, here's our exchange, with a continuing link to the original post:

is the managing editor for ANN, and writes the column Shelf Life. Sara is an animator who's also released her own independent short film.

Our guest this week is writer and lecturer Roland Kelts, author of the acclaimed book Japanamerica: How Japanese Pop Culture has Invaded the US. Kelts also lectures around the country; to stay up to date, you can check out his blog, which also posts columns he writes for The Daily Yomiuri, and a variety of other fascinating tidbits. Recently, he also contributed to NPR's Studio 360, as they visited Japan.

For anime and media fans who are interested in a more academic approach to the artform and its history, they can also check out some of the Anime Masterpieces programs around the country, of which Kelts is also part. Their contributors feature an impressive lineup of noted academics, writers, and industry veterans like Susan Napier, John Dower, Frederik Schodt, Charles Solomon, and others.

Mr. Kelts sat down with us to talk a bit about the differences between Japanese and American fan culture, and the realm in between. We'd like to thank him again for the wonderful discussion, and we hope you, the readers, will enjoy it too!

Bamboo: Your book, Japanamerica, mentions how Japanese pop culture has really rooted itself in the US. Can I ask—exactly what is "Japanamerica?" It seems like you refer to it as a place.

Roland: Yes, I've begun to refer to it as a place recently, or at least a frame of mind. When I started the book, the title stood for what I describe as a "mobius strip" of trans-cultural exchange, going back to Osamu Tezuka's love of Walt Disney and Max Fleischer, and running all the way up to today, when everyone at Pixar/Disney treats Hayao Miyazaki as a god.

But more recently it has become reified, so to speak. When I visit anime conventions in the US, or see American otaku trekking around Akihabara in Tokyo, I realize that the zone they inhabit is neither purely 'Japan” nor conclusively “America.” For example: cosplayers gathering at Katsucon a couple weekends ago were all meticulously outfitted as their favorite anime/manga characters. But their behavior—outgoing, noisy, joyous—was hardly "Japanese." Japanese cosplayers have no such event or atmospheres. It's Japanamerica, more than it is Japan or America. I celebrate that limbo zone.

Bamboo: It's interesting you mention that their behavior was "hardly 'Japanese'". I believe you said in your book, and in subsequent interviews, that because Japan, as a society, is so group-minded, and the social etiquette is so restrictive, that people turned to the Internet or pop culture as a release valve. Did I interpret your message right?

Roland: You mean Japanese people, correct? Yes, that's one reading I was trying to explore, that the release is that much more intense because of the restrictions and rules of etiquette.

Sara: If American cosplayers are noisy and joyous, what are their Japanese counterparts like? Is there a mirror of "Japanamericanism" in Japanese culture?

Roland: Japanese cosplayers tend to be semi-professionals with exquisite costumes—who spend most of their time quietly posting for otaku with huge cameras. It's much less a communal celebration, as it is in the US, and more of a carefully calibrated theatrical display.

Bamboo: Let me ask you, then—does anime serve a different purpose in the US, other than as an escape valve? It seems to me that the fan subculture here is a place where nonconformity is celebrated. I mean, as I recall, anime conventions as they exist in the US don't really exist in Japan ... [read more here]

Pasadena, CA, March 2009
(photo courtesy of Julian)


Milo said...

What a fantastic interview, thanks for sharing!

I must confess that I can't remember the series of events that brought me to this blog (was I Google image-searching Naoki Urasawa?), but I'm mighty happy that I did. Japanamerica is now added to my "to-read" list, and I've added this blog to my RSS reader.

Roland Kelts said...

Vast thanks, Milo. Really glad you liked the conversation. I give full credit to Bamboo and Sara of ANN for the sterling questions and insights.

Urasawa's amazing, ain't he?

Milo said...

That he is, I'm very happy that 20th Century Boys and Pluto have been licensed in the US.

It's also been amazingly fun to go back through this blog's archives, looking up your older articles and such. I've been interested in this subject matter for a while, but it's wonderful to finally hear an informed perspective!