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The Giant Influence of Japanese Pop Culture

Anime, Manga, J-pop/rock and more

Keifer Lobo Jun 20, 2019

Display of Japanese-style comic books Photo: John Ewing

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Japanese culture functions as an umbrella term for the ensemble of television (Anime), comics (Manga), and music (J-pop, J-hop, J-rock and more). Each realm began carving niches within established categories until they had woven themselves into hundreds of inter-connected rabbit holes; endless ones baited with dissolving lines between good and evil and metamorphic character identities.

Anime has the ethos of a smiling elderly man offering you a piece of candy. Wariness precedes a familiarity with energetic atmospheres and eclectic characters, and is subverted with trust in the unusually bright colored stranger. As you begin humming the odd Japanese theme song and singing a few mispronounced words, you will begin to notice the medium permeating your personal space. The televised world of anime, with its exaggerated facial expressions and zany characters, poses uncomfortable questions and stimulates conversation about the gray areas of morality. Watching anime is becoming accustomed to the plethora of fantasy worlds pointing out the dubious side of society — sights that had previously skipped your attention. Anime like the dark fantasy offering Tokyo Ghoul portray the possibility of empathy for criminals while the supernatural thriller Deathnote challenges the prevalent ideas of justice and identity.

The difference between anime and cartoons will be passionately illustrated by fans of this world. Besides the superficial difference between the two animation styles, anime has a deliberately built elaborate construction of depth around its characters and plots. It is a medium through which even a time-traveling-alien-robot could be used to depict humanity and the freedom, love, loss and hate that cripples and props us up.  

Manga can be best described as the Japanese comic with the specialty of living longer than most household pets — the storyline of these comics lasts decades! The cinematic illustrations of these comics narrate the lives of the protagonists from childhood up to real time. One Piece is a popular on-going adventure manga and anime series that has existed for 22 years. Naruto has been around for twenty years while the comical Haguregumo has been in circulation for over 46 years.

The characters of Japanese pop culture are a stark and refreshing foil when compared to characters in western comics who are depicted as black and white heroes and villains supernaturally raised to deity-like standards. They almost universally share a duality of human ridiculousness and spiritual strength, gaining their uniqueness from within themselves, borne from cultivation through toil and blood, instead of luck and chance.

In Japan, anime is like a cult. Celebrated (almost) as invigoratingly as Bollywood is in India. Each genre has a universe of a fan following and each anime or manga within the genre has its own world of support and dedication. The large anime and manga fandom is split into different genres that specifically target separate demographics.

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Kodomo is a type of anime aimed at all children, regardless of gender. Shōnen is a type of manga meant for boys aged 12-18. Shōjo (translates to “girl”) is mainly used to describe a young female demographic for anime and manga between the ages of 7-19. Shōnenmanga are Japanese comics for young men. It is primarily aimed at men older than those of high-school age. Josei (translates to “women”) is a genre of anime and manga intended for women older than those of high-school age.

The significance of East Asian influence over the Indian consciousness has only grown stronger over the last two decades, as evident by the recall value of the Pokémon theme song for generation Z and the millennials. Bathroom mirrors are witnesses to countless children imitating Goku from the action epic Dragon Ball series. Popular anime like Naruto, Pokéemon and Dragon Ball Z, that aired on Indian channels like Cartoon Network and Animax, struck a chord with the younger Indian audience in the country, creating an unprecedented and unsatiated new taste which formed the basis of the demand for Japanese culture in India. As this audience grew older, their craving led them to a brand of anime which specifically targeted Japanese audiences who were similar to them in age. In other words, they were looking for the shōnen genre of manga and anime which caters to young men. Anime like Death Note, Fullmetal Alchemist, and Tokyo Ghoul began gaining traction. These anime have a darker color pallet in terms of cinematic elements as well as the content. They engage with viewers’ opinions on criminality, justice, morality, and loss. These plotlines and characters are more emotionally demanding than their kodomo (a type of anime for children) counterparts. However, they still incorporate the comparatively strange myth and behavior that has become synonymous with anime and manga.

Writers of anime and manga, who write for older age groups, do not let the stereotypes associated with animation undermine their quality of writing. For example, Fullmetal Alchemist is a dark science fantasy manga series written and illustrated by manga artist Hiromu Arakawa, whose writing and illustrations reflect society as well as the individuality of the reader.

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A peek underneath the surface of popular youth culture in India will reveal the fabulous underground shrine to Japanese culture that has risen due to this phenomenon. It’s a blossoming area that boasts a kinship cemented by elaborate cosplay and our very own interactive gathering of Japanese culture in Animecon India.

“This here is our real treasure,” exclaims Ritu, the librarian at the book cafe Leaping Windows as she points to their collection of Manga. The penetration of Japanese culture into India then becomes evident as she introduces us to members of a Mumbai-based anime fan-club (MAC). “Anime and Manga are channels of connection we have to Japan,” says Samantha who is one of the members of MAC, “It’s prompted many of us to try and learn Japanese.”

Artistic and cultural influences follow musicians to the stage. Rock and roll has its leather jackets, country has its cowboy boots and metal has its make-up. J-pop, on the other hand, is driven by its Kawaii image or the culture of cuteness. This is the genre of music that was influenced by western popular rock of the 80s and 90s, drawing influences from bands like The Beach Boys and The Beatles.

Actor and Singer Masaki Suda attends the GQ Men Of The Year Awards 2016 in Tokyo. Photo: Jun Sato/ WireImage/ Getty Images

The Beatles’ performance at Tokyo’s indoor arena Budokan is said to have taught Japanese youth to let their hair down to “rock n roll,” wear flashy clothes, be wild, and express themselves. It led imitative college bands called ‘Group Sounds’ to originate all over Japan which was closely followed by more sophisticated versions of the ‘rock sound’ and message adapted by bands like the Japanese electronic outfit Yellow Magic Orchestra and folk rockers The Happy End. J-rock and J-pop didn’t withdraw from their rise in Japanese culture and have since gained popularity all over Asia, seeping into Indian playlists. ClariS is a popular and iconic J-pop/rock duo that hit the no.1 spot on the Apple music J-pop charts in India while the singer and guitarist Suda Masaki and the pop/rock hip-hop boy band Tokio have also been gaining rapid attention. 

Each of these mediums and the stories they contain are portals into completely bizarre worlds which bear a surprising resemblance to that of our own. They pull characters from the vast board of fiction and show how similar they are to us, destroying the pretexts and prejudices behind our preconceived notions of the universe. Are you still looking for a reason to jump into the fascinating world of Japanese pop culture?


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