It’s always struck me extremely unfortunate that Japanese cartoons and comics (anime/manga) possess a second-class-citizen status here in America. Sure, there are definite fandoms. And I’ve met many Americans who are super-passionate about the genre. But I’ve also met many who are unfamiliar with the genre and think of anime and manga as “weird” and “perverse.” I’ve met both men and women, especially women, who hold the genre in extraordinarily low esteem– they’ve either never watched or read anime/manga and/or the little they have, they’ve only seen lewdly drawn art that blatantly objectifies women; and/or they’ve only read storylines that verge on pure male prepubescent fantasy– Eg. A number of female high school students pursuing an entirely unremarkable male protagonist; whatever the gender opposite of the “Mary Sue” trope would be (and the fact that this is even a genre –called “harem”– is alone troubling to many.)
Anime and manga have another challenge in American culture in that cartoons, almost overwhelmingly, Americans think of as a children’s medium. Obviously, there are Disney and Pixar– but even when you visit slightly “more mature” fare like content from Dream Works, Blue Sky, Sony Animation, or WB Animation, it’s still virtually entirely family-friendly. There may be some “inside jokes” thrown in for the parents that get a laugh or chuckle. But it’s all still material that children enjoy. A safe weekend, family outing enjoyable for all ages.
In Japan, things are just different.
The one time I visited Japan, many years ago, I was sitting on the metro next to an old man, old enough to be my father. And he was happily reading manga. Right there, in public, on the train, out in the open. He wasn’t a homeless, disheveled weirdo either. If you’d taken away the manga in his hands, with his grey hair, wireframe glasses, and business suit, he could’ve totally passed for a serious-looking company executive. In contrast, I’d lived in Manhattan for several years many moons ago and, for a while, rode the subway nearly every day– in all that time I never once saw anything like this. In Tokyo though, I saw it regularly whenever I was on the metro, assuming it wasn’t rush hour.
To be fair, anime and manga don’t exactly do themselves many favors in 2019 America. The pendulum for sensitivity has swung crazy far in the US. And much of anime and manga does objectify women– especially young women– ie. high school-age or occasionally even younger, like middle school aged. A simple random Google image search will yield tons of ammunition for haters. And I’m not just talking about anime and manga produced in the “olden days.” I’m talking about stuff now that’s being mass-produced in 2019 in Japan.By 2019-America standards, it’s little wonder that shows with gratuitous “beach” or “pool episodes” with camera angles of the female figure –scantily clad– straight from male adolescent fantasy (in the parlance, they call this “fan service”); or themes that celebrate the exact opposite of “female empowerment” have not gained much traction with mainstream American audiences. In much of anime and manga, the female characters are often competing to win the affection of a single lone male protagonist– typically unremarkable and even a social outcast or “loser.” Again, it’s an entire genre. And hell, even outside of the “harem genre,” this is also occasionally the case.
So why this long rant? I guess, I’ve just been reflecting on my own recent foray into the genre. For many years, I too held extreme prejudice towards the genre. But several years ago, my sister (an absolute Japan-super-fan) suggested some titles to me and ever since, I’ve been hooked. Watching and reading anime and manga, I have found myself feeling emotions and contemplating conflicts that no single America book or movie I’ve ever consumed has done for me. I am significantly old and the “fan service” actually detracts from the medium for me, but despite it, I’ve continue to watch and read the material. Storylines in anime and manga are simultaneously hyperbolic, fantastical, childish, and wondrous. There’s simply nothing like it in American fiction, either on page or on screen. Anime and manga are largely character driven –which you wouldn’t think possible when these are characters are wholesale cut straight from Archetypes and Trope Central Casting– and excel at putting the characters in impossible situations. Does the male protagonist fall in love with the childhood friend who’s been there for him since the beginning, through thick and thin? Or does he follow his heart to his creative soulmate who complements his passions? Loyalty or admiration? Honor or love? What is the role of duty? All in the high school setting, nonetheless.
Anyway, so cutting to the point: After thinking about this for the past few days, I’ve decided I want to contribute to try making anime and manga more palatable to American audiences. It’s my hope that Americans can look past the “fan service” material that may offend them and instead connect with some of these stories that I promise will stay with you long after the credits have rolled. It’s no crime to possess a nuanced positions about things. You can dislike, or even detest, elements of something while simultaneously loving other parts of the whole. In fact, I’d go even further and call this a sophisticated mode of analysis and thought– not everything needs to be black and white, which seems to be default mode whenever I read the news nowadays. Additionally, the fandoms for some of these anime and manga works are out-of-this world. Endless Reddit threads and dissertation length forum posts arguing over “shipping” and “best girl.” These are heated debates/arguments online about who the main, unremarkable male character should choose for a relationship as well as which of the multiple female characters “is the best.” I know, even just writing that sentence makes me cringe. And yet, when you’re actually involved, it’s… comforting. You feel like you’re on a team— that you believe in something.
For NaNoWriMo this year, I want to try adapting an anime into a Americanized version. I’ve never written fan fiction before and the last time I attempted NaNoWriMo was 2011. And while my life and career choices has taken me far away from my writing dreams of yesteryear, I figured this year would be a nice, last hurrah. For me, life is about to move on, explicitly beginning a new chapter. The Significant Other (who detests the medium) is currently out of the country and I have just a bit more freedom before she returns. But before I put away and box up these interests and hobbies, I want to attempt one last go. Anyone who wishes to join me on this ride is welcome. : )
Adapting for an American audience means several things:
- First, it means raising the stakes. America is Michael Bay country. I was born and raised in this great nation and American Exceptionalism is absolutely a hill I will die on any of the week. A high school setting is just never going to fly. Americans like big. Our cars are big. Our fries are super-sized. Hell, even our coffee is messed up. A macchiato at Starbucks in America is not an macchiato in Italy. We are the land of cultural appropriation– we take the names and then make things huge.
- All of the fan service stuff needs to go. No beach episodes or pool scenes here. It’s just not American. Americans, comparatively are very prudish and compensate with excessive violence. This is why whenever I’m on a plane watching something on my laptop, I’d rather watch some action flick where Arnold blows the head off some zombie and blood and brains splatter everywhere rather than watch anime and have some “pool scene” pop on screen. Doesn’t even matter if I’m sitting next to seven-year-olds; chances are their parents are watching some other cinematic bloodbath beside them featuring ambiguous-looking Eastern European thugs being mowed down by machine guns.
- Coupled with Number 1, the overall worldbuilding needs to be larger. Also, this may just be a consequence of the written medium over a 22-minute anime episode. More characters, more plot, more backstory is needed.
- The dialogue needs to be Americanized. We will look to American television shows like The West Wing, Gilmore Girls, and early GoT here for inspiration.
- I don’t know– there are probably more points. I’ll figure it out as I go.
That said, it’s important to me that even Americanized, any anime fanfiction adaptation would still need to stay true to its Japanese roots and culture. As always, it’s tight rope act a thousand feet in the air without the safety netting. The eternal challenge is walking the line. This means:
- It’s cringe-inducing and bad, but in a good way. Like, it can’t be outright bad. I don’t know how to explain this to non-anime/manga people. But the closest American parallel I can call to mind is the campy B-movies of the 80s or something in that vein. Basically, as a human being, you look at this stuff and you know you shouldn’t be watching it, let alone enjoying it. But you do. Basically, it’s not nutritious in any way, shape, of form. But yet… you still can’t turn away?
- Big robots?
Alrighty, without further ado– Chapter One. (As for which anime I’m adapting, I’ll leave that open to guessing, though I imagine it’ll be pretty obvious. Also, other anime characters/stories/influences may bleed in– can’t be helped, I think.) Enjoy!