It’s So Japanese

More musing on HanaIro before I “clear my palate” for Anohana.

The loose coalition of anime fans, or maybe better put, otaku, west of the Pacific, is a diverse group of people. It’s probably many more times diverse than Japan’s domestic crop of late-night anime watchers, pundits, NEETs and hikkis, academics and industry. Just in the Americas alone we have people coming from just about every background you can think of. We have people who may be Japanese transplants, jamming away at Saint Seiya like as if it was 1995 in Brazil, or a bunch of mid-western, white American girls still longing for their teenage years, fawning over Sailor Moon. Well, wait, those people wouldn’t be watching these late night anime in the first place, right? (Wrong?) Ok, in that respect maybe things aren’t so different.

But once we remove that anime context, we are as different as left is from right, conservative as is from liberal, rich from poor, empowered from disenfranchised, homogeneous versus diverse. Or better put: Japanese, or not Japanese. It’s stating the obvious: the world is a diverse place, especially outside of Japan.

I think this is one of the underlying power of anime as a cultural export–its ability to set its own rules, its own context, it’s own instance of Oraclethat cultural database. With it we can unite. Contrast to, say, food culture, it’s difficult to find that sort of a bridge between different people groups since that is something not foreign at all to, well, all of us. Anime is foreign to all of us. Probably even to many Japanese! Well, that kind of anime anyways.

Hanasaku Iroha is a simple example of where this cracks down. It’s like forcing people to watch Japanese TV dramas. Admittedly, what happens in Hanairo is more of an extreme example, but even as I say extreme, it really isn’t really extreme to many people. Being slapped by your grandmother is always an extreme thing, but the difference of it happening within an Indian or Chinese household versus in a typical American, white, urban household is probably better summed up better by American comedians exploiting immigrant families with localizing children interacting with their new neighbors and classmates. [I have a skit in mind for this but I just can’t find the link for you at the moment. Hey look at this.]

Just how seriously should this group of Gen-Y/Millennials take corpeal punishment? Especially when Minko isn’t even related to Ze Grand Baba? Will any of them even think of it as a sign of affection and endearment? How about Ohana’s triple-decker? Surprise me, guys!

I mean, that’s just the beginning. Those who studied Japanese culture or have some exposure via first or third party narratives probably would know about the whole Senpai-Kouhai thing, so that shouldn’t be a shock. The rape thing I mentioned last post is, while somewhat misleading, has a place in this context. It’s like how one can make an argument for the the whole prostitution subtext in Spirited Away. We’re not really diverging from the formula here in HanaIro, if you think about it.

It’s so Japanese! It borderline offends my Chinese sensibilities (ok, not really), let alone my American ones (I think, I’m not sure). Thankfully the western anime-blog-otaku-fandom-sphere-thing is doing all the outrage better than I could ever, and that is probably annoying me more than what sewn-together pieces of the thematic puzzle that we have at episode 2 can possibly ever could. Because at worst, HanaIro can’t be any worse than Summer Wars (and its Yoko Ono reference). Well, I suppose they could make Nako into someone with some kind of hidden talent that saves the day, but that would actually make the show better. Don’t you prefer a tall, athletic, and graceful high school girl from the countryside over a shota bait? Aki Toyosaki not withstanding?

And don’t get me started on the “oh bad mom abandoning your kawaii daughter” thing. This is what makes HanaIro already 10 times better than Summer Wars.

No Responses to “It’s So Japanese”

  • TheBigN

    I think it’s a good thing that I haven’t been reading much of what other blogs have been saying about Ohana’s treatment then, I guess. :P

  • ojisan

    That’s an unfocused yet reeealy interesting post – I gather that there’s been a kerfuffle over the slap? Can’t imagine why.

    And any prostitution subtext in Spirited Away would be equally/more appropriate in HanaIro. They’re both about the (unfair) working world, were slavery and prostitution is a matter of degree not kind, and where you have to draw your own lines between what you’ll accept and what you won’t.

    Even though you say ‘not really’ I want to know – what borderline-offends your Chinese sensibilities, if they can be separated from your American ones?

  • ojisan

    @ toastcrust – Russell Peters rocks!

  • omo

    Thanks, that’s it.

    Don’t fret it, you just keep trucking.

    I’m not sure, like I said. Put it in other words, there are some things in HanaIro that is pretty contrived. The only places worse that I can think off top of my head is in K-dramas. Or, perhaps more appropriately, Chinese dramas from the Mainland (except era pieces).

  • jpmeyer

    Man, it’s soooooooooo Japanese. We make fun of it so much afterwards.

    “So let’s see, what themes that you see in every dorama ever showed up this week?

    1) Disproval of wasted efforts
    2) Sweeping things under the rug to avoid disrupting social harmony
    3) Accidentally shaming another person
    4) Learning to depend on group dynamics
    5) Lying to prevent shame from fall upon one’s senpai
    6) Making sure to preserve outward facades”

    And so on.

    I joked about how you could make this show in America. You use the same story of teenager-leaves-the-city-to-move-in-with-gramma-in-the-country, but instead of her learning valuable lessons about being sufficiently filial and gaman-ing it up or whatever, she learns about loving guns, the baby Jesus, and deep fried Coke on a stick.

  • mt-i

    Aren’t you overstating the “foreignness” of HanaIro a tad? I don’t know about America, but the particular brand of authoritarian conservatism that is represented there is something quite familiar here in France, especially in the more rural and backwards part of the country. It’s certainly comprehensible to me (probably more so than the Tea Party right is).

    But comprehensible as it is, I don’t feel very compelled to get behind a show that embraces it (at least to the extent it does now).

    The politics of Summer Wars were way less unsavory, afaic.

  • omo

    I’m not sure if you are representing yourself or someone else (ie., French viewers generally). I’m pretty sure many Americans get it just as much. But many also do not, especially if they are younger.

    I’m not so sure if HanaIro is about authoritarian conservatism, although at this point of the show, they are walking down that formulaic path. We will see.

    Sounds more like Omoide Poroporo. In a way that is a much more…subversive presentation.

  • vendredi

    Yeah, Hanasaku seems to draw a lot more from Asian drama in general. I think it’s mistaken though to suggest that it doesn’t draw from it’s own “culture” – it’s just in this case, it draws from the culture of Asian live-action TV dramas, not Japanese animation as a whole.

    Like mt-i stated, I think the whole stereotype of the “authoritarian/abusive parental figure” hasn’t yet faded. And yes, you noted that this may be an incorrect read of Ohana’s grandmother – perhaps the fact that she is willing to use corporal punishment points to how closely she values these girls. HanaIro is only two episodes in though – it’s completely possible that this sort of mis-judgement of the grandmother’s character is intended – something that the show can then break down in future episodes. Like you said, it’s a pretty artificial sort of construct, but it’s a staple of Asian drama.
    In short, the entire framing of that scene is meant to provoke outrage. Even if we do mentally understand some of the complexity below the surface depths, the direction of the cuts maximize the viscerality of the impact. We are shown the entire physical strike to Minko in quite brutal detail, and the angles that show the Grandmother’s unchanging expression is shown in emphasize her callousness and cruelty.

    Finally even if younger viewers have some elements lost in translation, does it really matter a great deal? I certainly couldn’t understand even half of Evangelion the first time I watched it.

  • omo

    I’m not too sure what you are saying, but I think the problem(?) with HanaIro is that it draws a lot from from mainstream Japanese culture :) The TV stuff is not even the best way I’d put it; I’m not sure. I guess it is a short hand (which is kind of what I said).

    Is it a huge deal if younger people don’t get it? I think so, given how some people reacted to episode 3.

  • vendredi

    I probably could have phrased that more elegantly, my apologies.

    My essential point is that Asian dramas use cliche setups to try and provoke extreme reactions from the audience.
    In the case of Hanasaku, in the scene where Minchi gets slapped, we have a shot of the Grandmother, completely normally. Then suddenly, out of nowhere, a brutal slap – the crunch is audible.
    I contend that even if you fully understand the implications of what might be going on, the fact remains that the scene is presented in a way that’s supposed to make you feel sympathy and a bit of unfairness. In that sense, it’s not super important to get everything.

    That being said, I haven’t yet seen episode 3, so perhaps my thoughts will change after that…

  • omo

    It’s probably not your fault, more likely that I just presented my points in a way that is confusing.

    Basically I agree with all of that you just said. It’s misdirection/setup/etc.

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