Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Friday, December 20, 2013

Travel and Fear -- my latest column for Paper Sky magazine

At the start of July, I called my sister in New York from Tokyo.  She was driving north in a rented car with her new puppy to visit our father, who was alone for the weekend in Boston while our mother took a brief vacation tour of Northeastern Canada. 

Our father had undergone open heart surgery in the spring of 2012.  At the end of 2012, he had reconstructive surgery on one of his knees.  Earlier this year, a doctor removed a cataract from his right eye via surgery.

Surgery equals risk, but he seemed okay until June, when he was hospitalized for two weeks with a bacterial infection.  He continued antibiotic treatments at home.  He seemed okay again.

But I called my sister at the start of July because I couldn’t call my father – or, rather, I called him, alone at home, and no one answered.  She called, too.  Nothing.  Even our parents’ answering machine was absent.  The disembodied digital voice was disengaged.

My sister called the police, the police broke into the house and found our father slumped on a sofa.  He was mumbling incoherently.  It was a hot day, but he hadn’t turned on the air conditioner.  He had a fever of 41 degrees C/106 F.

He was rushed to a nearby hospital where my sister found him that evening.  In gentle language, the nurse told my sister that he had nearly died.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Latest on manga's big year abroad for The Japan Times

Banner year for manga

One week before Thanksgiving on Nov. 28, readers of  The New York Times were greeted by a spiky-haired, wild-eyed manga character named Monkey D. Luffy, his fists clenched and chest bare, charging forward as if the newsprint could barely contain him. Behind him in massive text screamed the words: “Hey world, this is the manga!!” above a smaller query, “Are there real adventures in this country?”

Most NYT readers over the age of 40 probably had no idea who he was or why he was bringing it on. But millions of others do — 345 million worldwide, to be specific, according to Japanese publisher Shueisha, and U.S. distributor Viz Media — making Luffy the wily and mischievous pirate hero of what is now the most popular manga series in the world: Eiichiro Oda’s “One Piece.”

Monday, December 02, 2013

The Chernin Group buys into anime (via Crunchyroll)

LOS ANGELES, CA – December 2, 2013 – The Chernin Group (“TCG”), which manages and invests in businesses in the media, entertainment and technology sectors globally, today announced it has acquired a majority stake in Crunchyroll, Inc., the leading global video streaming service for anime content.  The Company’s senior management will maintain a significant stake in the Company along with existing investor TV TOKYO. Financial terms of the transaction were not disclosed.

Founded in 2007 and based in San Francisco, CA, with an office in Tokyo, Japan, Crunchyroll has built the world’s premier over-the-top video service for Japanese anime content and one of the leading OTT and SVOD platforms online.  Crunchyroll features both a free, ad-supported online video offering as well as a subscription online video service to a targeted and passionate fan base in more than 160 countries.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Pikachu thanks you

Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, NYC, 2013

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Japan takes Salem @ The Peabody Essex Museum

"Manga Nation" at The Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, MA.
My thanks to Kirun Kapur & Dawne Shand of The Tannery Series, Jennifer Evans and her team at PEM, and Robin Brenner.

The audience in the East India Marine Hall, est. 1825.

Book-signing w/Robin Brenner. 
(photos by Brigid Alverson)

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Off to Boston to talk Manga Nation at PEM, 11/21

Dig out your Astoboy and put on your Pokemon ears.

It's time to join the Tannery Series for a discussion of manga and anime, the Japanese cultural imports that have taken America by storm. You know? Soulful robots, gender-bending plot lines, punk-haired heroines and heroes with stars in their eyes?

But “Manga Nation: Japanese Design and American Pop Culture” will go beyond the usual notions of cartoon and costume, fantasy and reality, to explore ideas about public and private selves and what the popularity of manga in the United States reveals about the changes in American identity.

The program is slated for 6:30 to 9:30 p.m., Thursday, Nov. 21 at the Peabody Essex Museum, which has become something of a home away from home for the series, which was founded by Port residents Kirun Kapur and Dawne Shand three years ago and, naturally, got its start at the Tannery. The Peabody Essex brought the series into the PEM fold this year, saying the series represented cool cutting-edge programming that will offer guests interesting ways of engaging with the world and their own creativity.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Is Anime over in America? My latest for The Japan Times

Fan base: This year's New York Comic Con drew some 133,000 attendees, yet only 9 percent of its content was devoted to anime and manga. | NEW YORK COMIC CON / REEDPOP

Has anime lost its cachet in America?
NOV 12, 2013

I had been invited to host a Q&A with renowned “Gundam” creator and sci-fi novelist Yoshiyuki Tomino at The New York Anime Festival. But when my handler and I arrived at the designated room, we found it empty and dark. “Over here,” a staffer called from across the hall. “Too many people.”

The auditorium we entered was cavernous — the largest room in the city’s biggest convention venue, the Jacob K. Javits Center — and its seats were filled from front to back, with a string of fans and photographers lining the perimeter. My handler escorted me backstage to greet Tomino, who was squinting through the curtains as he scanned the room. He turned to me and said: “I am very surprised.”

Live in Boston/Salem Mass, for The Peabody Essex Museum, 11/21

Think Astroboy, Speed Racer, and Pokemon

Soulful Robots
Japanese Street Culture Invades Salem
November 21, get ready for gender-bending plotlines, punk-haired heroines and heroes with stars in their eyes! Two Manga and Anime experts will explain what your kids are reading and what you'll be reading next.

The Tannery Series returns to PEM with Roland Kelts (Japanamerica) and Robin Brenner (Understanding Manga and Anime).  They'll take us beyond the usual notions of cartoon and costume, fantasy and reality, to explore ideas about public and private selves and what the popularity of Manga in the United States reveals about the changes in American identity.

As always, the wonderfully warm and unconventional PEM/PM evening will include music (VJ Beyonder Domela), craft (Manga drawing lessons), and an opportunity to visit PEM’s latest exhibit, “Future Beauty: Avant-Garde Japanese Fashion,” which showcases the work of designers such as Issey Miyake, Rei Kawakubo and Yohji Yamamoto, who reshaped the world of fashion in the 1980s.

Friday, November 08, 2013

Last night in NYC -- Astro on the scene

Photographer and friend Stuart Freeman found that Astro Boy/Tetsuwan Atomu was keeping a close eye on me as I talked about his creator, Osamu Tezuka, last night at The Japan Society in New York City.  I was and remain humbled by their presence.

Sunday, November 03, 2013

Talkin' Osamu Tezuka at The Japan Society of New York this Thursday, 11/7

Join me and NYC-based comic artist Katie Skelly for "The Life & Works of Osamu Tezuka" this Thursday, Nov. 7, at The Japan Society of New York.  Next year marks the 25th Anniversary of Tezuka's death. Learn why he is still the consecrated "God of manga and anime."

Wine and Japanese hors d'oeuvres will be served. Copies of my dear friend Helen McCarthy's The Art of Osamu Tezuka, Ryan Holmberg's The Mysterious Underground Men (by Tezuka), Skelly's Nurse Nurse, and Japanamerica will be raffled off.  Copies of Japanamerica will also be on sale, and a book-signing will follow.

Koji & Junichi-- the 2013 Boston Red Sox

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Japan's right-wing backlash against Hayao Miyazaki for The Japan Times

Backlash against Miyazaki is generational

OCT, 2013

If you haven’t lived in Japan, it’s hard to appreciate just how beloved are anime maestro Hayao Miyazaki and his creative hub, Studio Ghibli.

Annual surveys of Japanese consumers often find that Ghibli is their favorite domestic brand, ahead of stalwarts such as Toyota and Sony. Miyazaki’s animated epics regularly top the domestic theatrical market. “Kaze Tachinu” (“The Wind Rises”), his latest film — loosely based on the life of engineer Jiro Horikoshi, designer of Japan’s wartime Zero fighter plane — soared above its box office rivals for seven consecutive weeks after its July release. Meanwhile, his Oscar-winning “Spirited Away” (2001) remains the top-grossing film in Japanese history, knocking aside Hollywood live-action contenders such as “Titanic” and the “Harry Potter” films.

Thursday, October 03, 2013

Meet 281_Anti Nuke, Japan's street artist of dissent, for The New Yorker

AntiNuke-580.jpgThe stickers went up a few months after Japan’s triple disaster in 2011—an earthquake and tsunami that took twenty thousand lives, and an ongoing nuclear crisis that threatens more. They first appeared along the shabby backstreets of Shibuya, in downtown Tokyo, a place that offers some of the very few canvasses for graffiti in a city not given to celebrating street art. The British expat photographer and filmmaker Adrian Storey couldn’t ignore them. “Being a foreigner, there was a sort of brief period after 3/11 when there was this sense of community in Tokyo that I haven’t felt before,” Storey says. “Then it kind of went away, and people just went back to shopping. I was drawn to the stickers because I realized it was a Japanese person behind them, and they actually cared about what was happening. I started photographing every sticker I found.”

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Hello, Toronto!

York University, 9-9-2013

The Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre, 9-10-2013

The Japan Foundation, 9-11-2013

Hockley Valley, Ontario, 9-12-2013

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Thank you, Brooklyn! (and Haruki Murakami)

With author, scholar and Haruki Murakami translator Jay Rubin, and author, scholar and Haruki Murakami collaborator Motoyuki Shibata -- @BookCourt in Brooklyn. 

Missed us? Video is here, courtesy of Lawrence Brenner.

[photo by Susan McCormac Hamaker]

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

"Studio 360" Japan redux on NPR this weekend

"This is Their Youth," my story on Japanese youth culture and pathologies for "Studio 360:"

"Nerd's Paradise," my story on Akihabara, virtual worlds, and mass murder, w/Kurt Andersen:

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

@ Japan Expo USA this Sunday, August 25, 2 p.m.

Japan Expo FB Cover Photo
Roland Kelts is speaking on behalf of the Japan Society of Northern California thanks to a generous grant from The Japan Foundation Center for Global Partnership. His lecture will be held at 2:00PM on Sunday, August 25th at the Hall Stage.


Roland Kelts, author of “Japanamerica: How Japanese Pop Culture Has Invaded the U.S.,” talks about modern Anime, its influences on Hollywood, and vice-versa. An in-depth examination of how Japanese and American entertainment businesses are influencing each other in an infinite loop. Just as Japanese artists like Osamu Tezuka, Hayao Miyazaki and Katsuhiro Otomo were fascinated by classic and sci-fi American movies, George Lucas, The Wachowskis, Guillermo del Toro and other directors were influenced by Japanese anime classics like Gatchaman, Speed Racer, Spirited Away, Akira and Ghost in the Shell.

Friday, August 16, 2013

On 20 years of Otakon for my latest Japan Times column

Otakon celebrates 20 years of anime fandom in the U.S.

The American anime convention, Otakon (“Otaku Convention”), begins with a costume parade before it officially opens. Last week I had a bird’s-eye view of the spectacle from my 14th-floor hotel room in Baltimore, Maryland. An endless army of imaginary characters trudged across the elevated concourse and down adjacent sidewalks to the Baltimore Convention Center to register and obtain entry badges. Most were instantly recognizable from anime series old and new, brandishing swords or other weaponry fashioned out of homemade materials, or wearing massive multicolored wigs, capes or sewn-on tails — or very little at all.

For three days the colorful mob overtook Baltimore’s downtown and Inner Harbor neighborhoods, and until they returned to their hometowns in 42 different states, you couldn’t walk 20 meters without bumping into, overhearing and/or following them.

Roughly 35,000 fans of Japanese pop culture attended the event, according to Otakon’s director of press and publicity, Victor Albisharat. They skewed 53 percent female; 75 percent aged 19-34, and organizers say they keep getting younger.

“People go to Otakon for different things,” says Lance Heiskell, director of corporate strategy for Funimation Entertainment, one of the largest distributors of anime in the United States. “This year they had (Japanese anime soundtrack composer) Yoko Kanno. Some people came for the J-Pop of T.M. Revolution. Others just want to dress up and get together. And some people just come to dance at the nightly raves because, you know, they’re safe.”

This year also saw the celebration of Otakon’s 20th anniversary, a milestone for any kind of convention, let alone one devoted to a popular culture in a foreign language from a country thousands of miles away. Otakon retains a special place among fans and industry guests from both sides of the Pacific, artists, performers, panelists — and even its own mostly volunteer staff.