Art, Culture and Commerce

“Hideaki Anno scoffs at the notion that otaku culture has been truly accepted by the Japanese mainstream…His words certainly seem to echo a certain sense one often gets in the Japanese media, that besuited presenters on NHK are gingerly making enthusiastic noises about weeb phenomena they despise.” Over at All the Anime, I review Mark Schilling’s new book.

In Other Words

Fandom is up in arms about the recent Netflix broadcast of Evangelion, because the all-new dub is missing several vital cues from the soundtrack. Some of them, such as background noise under an answerphone message, are liable to pass a lot of viewers buy, but the most noticeable omission is the ending theme – Bart Howard’s “Fly Me to the Moon”.

Ten months ago (NEO #181), this column reported on the slow creep of Netflix’s influence on anime theme songs. Now fandom has had its first full-on taste of what that might mean. Evangelion, the Japanese original and the original overseas release on VHS, was made in the 1990s before the advent of true binge-watching, and indeed before the days when distributors were likely to require global licences. One can imagine a bean-counter at Netflix flinching at the idea of paying the original composer and lyricist, plus multiple singers and arrangers, repeatedly, for single-use performances of a song that most Netflix viewers are liable to skip through anyway.

If you add together all the different iterations of Evangelion, the differing lengths of episodes in different formats, and the new versions dropped in for the DVD renewal, there are in fact 31 different versions of “Fly Me to the Moon” appearing in the Evangelion series, so there is no way that Netflix could have used all of them in just 26 episodes. They have, however, chosen to use exactly none of them – although the show still goes out in Japan (where rights were presumably cleared 24 years ago) with the 1954 ballad over the ending credits, Netflix in most other territories drops in a piece of orchestral music, “Hostility Restrained”, for which rights were presumably easier to clear.

I’ve been a little surprised at the intensity of the fan response to this alteration. Theme songs get switched around all the time, often without anyone noticing or caring (A “Chariots of Fire” pastiche, missing from a Gunbuster re-release was a rare exception reported in NEO #32), but this one seems to have struck a nerve, not the least with old-time fans with fond memories of the song’s gentle reverie, usually as they came down off whatever intense and visceral misery they had just seen in the episode proper. It serves as a reminder to us all that the media are never entirely fixed, and that the experience of one fan can be distanced from that of another by time, context, and even content.

Jonathan Clements is the author of Anime: A History. This article first appeared in NEO 191, 2019.

Puppets, Gods and Brands

“…a brilliant juggling act on a tightrope between anthropology and sociology, which manages to keep ideas in the air from soft power to difference feminism, nation branding and emotional labour. This could have all too easily gone very wrong, but Puppets, Gods and Brands will be welcomed by an entire generation of students trying to talk their supervisors into taking animation seriously.”

Over at All the Anime, I review Teri Silvio’s Puppets, Gods and Brands, out now from the University of Hawaii Press.

Taku Mayumura (1934-2019)

As I predicted in my entry on Taku Mayumura in the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, his 1778 Stories for My Wife is the work that much of the Japanese media chooses to remember him by.

“In 1998, when Mayumura’s wife was diagnosed with terminal cancer, he began Nichigawari Ichi-hanashi [‘A Story A Day’] (1998) in order to distract her from her condition. Purportedly writing solely for an audience of one, this project would eventually extend to ten thousand pages, and endure for several years past Mrs Mayumura’s original estimated terminal date. Tsuma ni Sasageta 1778 Hanashi [‘1778 Stories for My Wife’] contains 19 tales of varying length, written in daily three-page instalments. The story of Mayumura’s Scheherazade-like attempt to keep death at bay was subsequently adapted into the film Watashi to Tsuma no 1778 Monogatari [“1778 Stories of My Wife and I”], likely to endure as Mayumura’s own epitaph and best-known work in the modern Japanese mainstream.”

Love Means Love

I would like to be reporting on a whole generation of new fans suddenly created – an upwelling of anime love generated by the Netflix release of Neon Genesis Evangelion. Instead, for the second month in a row, fandom is enmired in complaints and arguments about the English-language version. This time it’s over the appearance of Kaworu, the “Fifth Children”, who famously tells the beleaguered hero Shinji that he loves him.

Or rather, he did, in the old ADV Films DVDs. In Dan Kanemitsu’s new translation, he says he likes him, which Kanemitsu has defended as a deliberate word-choice for ambiguity’s sake.

It turns out that there is a faction within fandom who demands that this not be ambiguous at all. Many have fond memories of Kaworu’s declaration as a moment of LGBT clarity, a “we’re here, we’re queer” invasion of mainstream anime to be celebrated, and now being suppressed. Others are armchair translators who remember the former version and don’t like the change.

Kanemitsu is working with a bunch of factors behind the scenes, starting with his own undeniable talent (he didn’t win this gig in a lottery) and unknown stipulations by Studio Khara, whose own staff are keener on the “like” side. Add to that the delicious tangle that he cannot even lean on precedent, because Evangelion’s creator Hideaki Anno limited himself to the equally ambiguous comment that Kaworu “could” be a potential same-sex partner. Meanwhile, ADV’s own original translation of Evangelion had “like” in its 1990s VHS subtitles, and switched it to “love” when the DVD came out.

The fact is that suki can mean like or love depending on context. There are hundreds of ways to say “I love you” in Japanese, but the Japanese hardly ever employ any of them, regarding a direct declaration as rather gauche, blunt or well, foreign. Kaworu’s line is already a step away from the norm, a nudge beyond flirtation – a comment sure to unsettle and discombobulate.

So I’m with many others in the translation field when I say that I, personally, would have gone with “love” for this line, not only for its possibly disquieting force, but because Judaeo-Christian tradition, on which Evangelion leans so conspicuously, has multiple interpretations of the term – including philia (brotherly love), agape (charity) and eros (erotic love). Just because you unpack the term into a single English word, doesn’t mean that the arguments over interpretation are over.

But I would have done so in search of the same ambiguity as Kanemitsu. I find it in scripture and the assumption of an audience with a Christian cultural background, which is frankly, a presumption on my part not necessarily shared by the audience Kanemitsu is playing to. “Context” is not merely the dramatic situation of the line, but the abilities and expectations of one’s presumed audience. So both lines are right, depending on who is reading them.

Jonathan Clements is the author of Anime: A History. This article first appeared in NEO 192, 2019.

Tezuka in Tampere

Running until January in the Tampere Art Museum, Finland, Osamu Tezuka: The God of Manga is a comprehensive introduction to Japan’s most famous comics artist. It is shown in conjunction with Manga Mania, a more general display of Japanese comics, seemingly commissioned in celebration of the centenary of Finno-Japanese relations. Assembled with the cooperation of the Kyoto International Manga Museum, the silent partner in many manga exhibitions overseas, it is presents a concise but informative introduction to what manga is, with clear definitions and bilingual English-Finnish signage.

All three floors of the Tampere Art Museum are given over to Japanese comics, although one might need to be in search of the toilets on the way out in order to notice Manga Mania sprawling across the basement (not, as the museum website claims, the ground floor). In a sweetly whimsical touch, the security staff are all identifiable by berets in homage to the one that Tezuka himself sported.

As in the Kyoto International Manga Museum itself, the venue struggles with the contrary formats of a foreign-language right-to-left medium that is designed to be appreciated privately and slowly, and an exhibition space that demands public installations to stare at. We have KIMM’s Keiko Takemiya to thank for many of the blow-ups, 3D representations and off-the-peg explanations that make exhibitions like this one possible in the first place.

Tezuka is both an obvious choice and an odd one – he is certainly a pivotal figure in the field, but he died thirty years ago, long before most Tampere visitors were born. He is also blessed with a studio, Tezuka Pro, that has expertly and intelligently managed his literary estate, so that Tezuka’s creations remain the most accessible artefacts for foreign curators. Putting together an exhibition of everybody else from the 1950s and 1960s in manga is a substantially tougher process, and likely to bring diminishing returns from a public that will not necessarily appreciate it. Visitors, as the Tampere exhibition recognises, need to be educated as to what manga is before they can return to appreciate the achievements of its unsung heroes (or heroines). Despite cavils from dissenters like Go Ito, whose Tezuka is Dead is a crucial book for understanding the politics of manga museology, Tezuka seems to be the most frequent point of agreement between the kind of people who hold the kind of meetings that make events like this happen. I would even suggest, on the basis of my interactions with numerous consuls, vice-consuls and policy wonks over the years, that Tezuka is a point of common familiarity for the Japanese, particularly those in diplomatic positions who blush to admit they are not manga readers themselves, who are obliged to play along when foreign delegations turn up demanding material for something related to popular culture.

A small section on costuming includes a stunning Bride’s Story dress, as well as a Sailor Uranus outfit, misidentified in signage as Sailor Moon. “Is cosplay also a form of manga?” asks a sign, hopefully.

No. No, it isn’t.

For the record, neither is rounding up local kids and getting them to draw a comic in an activity area – a fact made inadvertently clear by a small library stocked with How to Draw Manga books, many written by people who plainly cannot do it themselves. This, too, is something of a mis-step, since there are plenty of publications by people, even non-Japanese, who can really walk the walk when it comes to Japanese stylistics. I’m not objecting to having fun activities for the kids that foster youthful comic art. I just don’t like being told how to do it by someone who can’t draw. Not all How to Draw Manga books are worth the cover price.

Tampere Art Museum wrestles with issues common to manga exhibitions worldwide – the need to incorporate anime (running constantly in several video rooms, here), the need to indulge interactivity, and the inconvenient truth that comics pages have to form an integrated whole, otherwise they are just scattered illustrations. I am invited to sit down and watch Black Jack, or to sit down and read it, which are both activities I can perform without leaving my house, so one must assume that the implied visitor is someone almost entirely new to Japanese comics, who will appreciate a broad introduction and the chance for a haptic encounter, fondling the magazines and browsing the books, and close-up appreciation of the artistry. In some performative sense, the achievement of exhibitions like this lies in legitimation and the performance of value – manga artwork is put in a frame and placed on a wall in an art gallery, and hence urges the casual passer-by to reconsider it.

If that’s the case, the gift shop needs to up its game, since it offers little material that might truly extend a visitor’s experience once they get home. There was, for example, no sign of Helen McCarthy’s lavishly illustrated Art of Osamu Tezuka, nor of the British Museum manga exhibition catalogue, which the Tampere Art Museum could have easily left in a stack by the door and claimed as its own – it is, after all, a very good book, that does in paper form what the Tampere exhibition is trying to do in three dimensions. And, really, no Schodt? All those examples, of course, would be of little use to a hypothetical Finnish matron unsure of her English – as so often happens in Finnish cultural events, curators expect a local population that largely speaks English, but have a duty of care to visitors who only speak Finnish, for whom there is little to offer but a few local translations.

A few signs acknowledge the short but meteoric history of manga in Finland, from the first translation in 1985 to the present day, which sees over 80 titles a year in Finnish. Smartly, they allude to the peculiarities of Finnish manga and anime reception – Silver Fang, almost unknown in English, is one of the biggest titles in Finland thanks to a 1989 TV broadcast, whereas the 49-episode Katri the Milkmaid, a World Masterpiece Theatre series based on a novel by Auni Nuolivaara, has never been seen in the country in which it is set (I suggest why in the Anime Encyclopedia, but wouldn’t this have been the perfect time to tell the Finns all about it?). I would have liked to see more along such lines, since Finland does make occasional, quirky appearances in anime and manga history, not the least the involvement of Tezuka’s former studio, Mushi Pro, in the creation of the iconic Moomins anime series, greater coverage of which would have surely filled an entire gallery with a subject that truly united Finnish and Japanese tastes.

Jonathan Clements is the author of Anime: A History. Osamu Tezuka: The God of Manga and Manga Mania are running at the Tampere Art Museum until 5th January 2020. The Tezuka exhibits will switch over on 12th November, presenting an entirely different side of the artist – visitors are offered a discount ticket allowing them to visit twice to see both sets.

Jury Service

Over at the All the Anime podcast, I appear in my role as the jury chairman for the Golden Partridge award in the tenth Scotland Loves Anime film festival. Tune in to hear judges Freya Allan, Michael Doig, Jack Liang, and India Swift defending their decision not to confer the prize on the festival favourite, Weathering with You, but on Masaaki Yuasa’s outside contender Ride Your Wave.

  • 00:00:00 – Jeremy’s intro before the intro
  • 00:02:18 – Show begins proper, introductions, etc
  • 00:07:13 – Ride Your Wave discussion
  • 00:17:57 – Children of the Sea discussion
  • 00:34:10 – Talk with Andrew Partridge on how the festival has been
  • 00:58:33 – Birthday Wonderland discussion
    01:15:00 – Weathering with You discussion
  • 01:36:33 – How the judges voted
  • 01:44:15 – Experiences of being a judge
  • 01:52:47 – outro, plugs for projects, etc
  • 01:54:14 – Jeremy’s outro after the outro.
  • 01:55:15 [END]

For those interesting in examining the process in earlier years, you can find several previous jury deliberations at the website, including the bunfight over Penguin Highway in 2018, pre-festival discussions in 2017, and the post-festival deliberations in 2017, Your Name versus Silent Voice in 2016, and adventures in filth in 2015. A couple of earlier festival-related podcasts were recorded under the auspices of Manga Entertainment, and no longer seem to be online.