Who is your favourite Japanese creative?
Another loaded question! If I don’t say Hayao Miyazaki, the Ghibli stormtroopers will kick down the door. If I say Mamoru Oshii, if I say Satoshi Kon… Actually, my favourite is a scriptwriter called Yosuke Kuroda who used to say absolutely outrageous things whenever anyone pointed a microphone at him. He volunteered to be the showrunner on… I think it was one of the Tenchi Muyo spin-offs, because it meant he had to attend the voice recordings, and it was “a good way to pick up girls.” He brought a much-needed sense of humour to Japanese articles about anime.
Anime has wonderful writers like Kazunori Ito and Keiko Nobumoto, and peerless composers like Yoko Kanno. It has designers, producers and… er… accountants who are often world-class. And a bunch of muppets, of course, like any other industry.
What do you love about Japanese culture?
Squiggles, plinky-plonky music, loyalty. A language that has its own words for “smelling of metal” and “secondary rainbow”. A language with 17 words for “I”, but where the simple syllable “ko” has 40 different meanings. I’ve been studying Japan and the Japanese for 20 years now and I have yet to get bored. I have a list of books I want to write that will take me another decade, and that’s just this morning.
The Schoolgirl Milky Crisis book features a collection of nearly two decades worth of articles and interviews. Over this period of time, what changes/developments have you noticed in the anime industry?
When I came into the anime world, it was a West coast American phenomenon. It still hadn’t really broken out of Japan, not in the sense that we understand today, anyway. You needed a special VCR in England just to be able to play Japanese or American tapes. Even in the US, you were talking about a fandom that had on average only 50 fans per state. Japanese speakers were even thinner on the ground than they are now, and many fans were watching the tapes uncomprehendingly and ~guessing~ what was going on.
The material was also largely SF. Anime and manga came to the English speaking world through science fiction, and so a lot of the early stuff was SF and fantasy. It’s only in the last ten years that we’ve seen this huge boom in romance, in melodrama, in horror, in slice-of-life dramas.
How much influence do you feel the Internet has had on developing international anime fandom, and what was the situation like for fan communities before the Internet?
The mainstream says, watch this bimbo talk about her hair. The mainstream says, watch these men chase a ball around a field. Watch these people run in circles on a track. Watch twelve talentless strangers bicker in a house. And if you like that, well, lucky you. If you don’t like it, then the Internet suddenly made it possible for you to find a bunch of people who felt the same way as you did.
That made a huge difference for anime fans. That connected the guy in Hawaii who could understand the audio, with the guy in Alaska who could put those words in a subtitle track, with the guy in New York who wanted to know what people were saying in Devil Devil Beast Beast. It took those 50 fans per state, and sent them all to the same hotel at once, and suddenly there were 2500 of them. They didn’t feel alone, they felt like enough people to fill a conference centre. They came back the next year with two friends each, and again, and again.
There are now anime conventions with ten thousand attendees. That’s still a niche. It’s still smaller than train enthusiasts and cigar aficionados, but that’s enough to turn a profit on a DVD release. That stops you being a kid in his basement, and turns you into part of a group. And that’s an amazing thing that the Internet has helped to foster.