Last Friday, after ramming through Bill 156âthe so-called ânon-existent youth billâ targeting manga and anime imagery while exempting live action photography and video, not to mention live human beings who actually possess child pornographyâTokyo governor Shintaro Ishihara, the former taboo-busting novelist turned moralist politico, claimed in his monthly press conference that Japan had become âtoo uninhibitedâ compared with âWestern societies,â and added that readers of offending manga had âwarped DNA.â
The subsequent decision by ten top manga publishers to boycott next yearâs Tokyo International Anime Fair (TAF), slated for March 24-27, amounts to an unusual act of corporate protest in normally conflict-shy Japan, prompting Japanâs otherwise reticent Prime Minister, Naoto Kan, to post his first message under his own name, pleading for both sides to find a resolution.
No wonder: reports out of this yearâs TAF were dominated by the arrival of several Chinese anime producers on the scene.Â Next year, they may have the floor all to themselves.
Given such dire prognostications, it may be better, or at least more fun, to look back at a few of 2010âs gift-worthy Japanese pop culture publications.
The folks at Kodansha International help us decode two of the most ubiquitous icons of Japanese pop imageryâschoolgirls and ninjaâvis-Ã -vis two authoritative husband-and-wife teams. Wired magazine contributing editor Brian Ashcraft and his wife Shoko Ueda, based in Osaka, bring us Japanese Schoolgirl Confidential, a surprisingly capacious work that covers every permutation of the uniformed femmes in manga, anime and flesh and blood live action, fatale or not, even recording the history of the Sailor Moon-style uniform itself, imported from the US by a fast-militarizing Japan at the turn of the century.
Another conjugal pair, Matt Alt and Hiroko Yoda, having already enlightened us about Japanese ghosts (Yokai Attack!) and everyday cartoon characters (Hello, Please!), turn their lucid lenses to the myths and realities behind Japanâs irresistible secret agents, spies and assassins in Ninja Attack!. Revealing what true ninja actually wore (not the sleek black uniforms and masks of popular rendering, of course, because they tried to blend into their surroundingsâduh), ate, brandished and so on, the book admirably balances the seductions of ninja fiction with the astonishments of historical truth.Â (Did you know, for example, that Matsuo Basho, Japanâs most renowned haiku master, may have served time amid his nomadic wanderings as a spy for the shogunate?)
Both books are tidy, lightweight and colorfully designed paperbacks with ample illustrations and photographs that wonât alienate or bore manga and anime enthusiasts keen for visual aids. Concise sidebar definitions, diagrams and cartoon bubbles keep the layout fresh and inventive, enabling readers to dip in and be edified at random.
At the other end of the scale is the substantial hardcover photography collection, Cosplay in America, by Ejen Chuang, featuring a plethora of schoolgirls, ninja, Super Marios and just about any other manga, anime and video game character imaginableâor at least a bunch of Americans dressed up to look like them.Â If youâve never attended one of the hundreds of manga and anime festivals and conventions held nearly every weekend across the United States, this voluminous bilingual (English and Japanese) tome offers a sneak peek at the variety and dedication of Japanese pop cultureâs overseas fans, whose elaborate costumes are usually at least partly homemade, if not entirely stitched by the cosplayers themselves.
Perhaps someone should send a copy to Ishihara so he can see firsthand what those âWestern societiesâ are really up to these days.