Thursday, July 30, 2009

Pac Man Invasion - Part One

Photos from the just passed Comicon remind me of a piece I wrote in ASIFA International Magazine a few years back.

This is the first part. It's longer than I remember. Come back tomorrow for part II. The second part is better.

The PacMan Invasion

Two things about anime I know. One: Totoro goes around in a giant cat bus. Two: the girl who does Bulbasaur's voice is a real sweetheart. I know even less about Secaucus, NJ. Had "Return of the Secaucus Seven" anything to do with The Garden State I might have some insight into the town. My friend, cartoonist and writer Abby Denson, much closer to an expert, was invited to speak at AnimeNext, a modest anime convention in the local hotel. We planned to take the (non-cat) bus from Port Authority to the Crown Plaza Meadowlands fro the afternoon then back to New York for an R. Crumb opening in Chelsea. A few bus rides, a few hours in a hotel with costumed teens, and an evening in a crowded Manhattan art gallery.

Four others waited at Port Authority. A Haitian nurse, a geriatric in a hat, and George -16 or so and fastened to his mobile phone -with his lithe 5'9 girlfriend. The last two were also heading to the convention. George called in sick to work morning, his boss was insisting on a doctor's note the next day.

George's girlfriend wore a one-piece yellow mini and three and a half inch heels (under the natural 5'9). Arriving at the hotel she pulled homemade nunchucku from her bag -in one simple step her go-go outfit transformed into a kung-fu heroine. She may not have turned a head on Seventh Avenue, but in downtown Secaucus she'd cause a heck of a stir. Here, in the Crowne Plaza, she was amongst her own -pink haired fairies, blue haired fairies, women warriers. Anime, or more precisely the otaku fan culture, is happy Halloween.

It's coincidence that the rise of anime in America has mirrored the demise of trick-or-treating. Otaku are Halloween's lost generation. John Carpenter and fear of razor blades scared parents into keeping kids at home every October 31st. After decades of make up and mom's tailoring, dressing up became peripheral to the holiday; Halloween's real attraction was the candy -a microcosmic manifestion of conspicuous consumption. For many anime fans, the films are the candy. The main attraction is the look.

Anime's attraction amongst teens is part of a bigger trend. The United States is riding the crest of a wave of cultural infulitration on par with the British Invasion of the 1960s. The Japanese Invasion began in the 1980s, Pac Man was its Paul McCartney. Power Rangers, Pokemon, and Nintendo have had as much impact on youth culture of the early 21st Century as the mods and rockers from Liverpool had on the "Summer of Love". The economics of the Japanese Invasion dwarf all the skiffle records and Carnaby Street suits sold in the last fifty years.

Manga and anime were born during the American occupation of Japan after the Second World War. The tell tale big eyes are far from intrinsic to Japanese art. The traditional style is still found on the walls of sushi restuarants, eggplant shaped heads and slits for eyes. The current style reflects American popular art preceding the War -Felix the Cat and Mickey Mouse. Anime is the cinematic cousin of the Toyota. It's an Asian interpretation of American innovation.

"Astroboy" is the Adam of contemporary Japanese culture, born to Osamu Tezuka as "Tetsuwan Atom" in a 1951 manga (Japanese for "comic book"). His birth name, tellingly, literally translates as "Atom Boy". Atom Boy -the mid-century grandson of Fat Man, Little Boy and Betty Boop. Tezuka's hero is a prophet, preaching the love of life and the suspicious against science. In Astroboy's mythology he is a robot created by a doctor so obsessed with the creation of life he allows his own child to be killed. Astroboy is his mechanical replacement. Japanese animation will replay these themes for the rest of the millenium. American animation continues to focus on star crossed lovers and teaming up motley crews to fight the bad guys. Anime reflects on a child's alienation from life, especially adults, in a mechanical society.


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