There are many impressive aspects of and qualities I now associate Japanese people, their ways of lives and their culture with. However, what sets them apart in minds of those who have had a limited exposure to, or those who have never been there, are Anime and Manga, and to a lesser extend a mysterious Geisha.
Japanese Manga acts as a vast, all encompassing visual, graphic, emotional and storytelling mirror of all of the facets of Japanese life, from conflicts, relationships to all other social and personal issues, everything. There is manga exclusively for girls and there is manga only for boys, there is manga dealing with relationships between the girls only or only the boys, and there is Manga for everyone else. There is Manga for the kids, the teens, young adults and all of those in-between.
Thus, it is of no surprise to find the Kyoto Museum of Manga, most likely the only one such in the whole world. It has compiled a collection of Manga publications through time and history. Looking at the covers one is struck but the wide range of its topic, moods and issues. They span from kids to adult, from humorous and entertaining to reflective, exploitive, dramatic and traumatic. In other words, they represent a visual depictions and reflections of all aspects of life. Most, even the tasteless ones, to me, are impressively well drawn and designed. It’s an amazing sight to see all of the diverse representatives of Japanese society gather here to sit for hours at a time, reading their manga. This is more than just their interest or curiosity, it's a passion, commitment, way of growing up, living, it is their culture. It is this uniquely visual culture that has caught imagination of the world at large.
“Anime City” is devoted to both: Anime and Manga, and all the forms and formats of their distribution: magazines, video, games, films, merchandizing of all kinds or sorts. The entire expanse is faithful to the realm of Anime and Manga. It is about buying, selling promoting and seeding good, sexy or bad dreams. For the authors seeking a spotlight, a spur to potential fame. It’s a world, another dimension of its own, attracting thousands of people of all types, all kind and age, most of them fanatical about these arts, media and visual storytelling, totally unique to Japan.
Some regions of the Anime City act as an Adult Amusement Park. Such facets of it, rightly or not, strike me as a cartoon world of superbly drawn bordellos offering delicate and arousing dreams, young girls, boys, hopes, the twisted ones as well.
It is a sensory bombardment, it is an avalanche of imagery designed to stimulate and arouse (above and below) visitors’ imagination: for your pleasure and dream.
One moment it can be seemingly, innocently inviting, but another merchandizing.
As it is universally, in all art, design and media, there is that which is so beautiful, evocative and emotional, but there is also that which is dumb, cheap and junky.
However the above is but a simple, unsophisticated indication of human stupidity.
Issuing is dramatically and drastically more disturbing, troubling, even haunting.
I have an immense appreciation and intense reverence for human creativity and artistry. Therefor, seeing them used, or rather abused, for goals and reasons illustrative of artist’s twisted, degenerated and sick mind, hurts and infuriates me. It belittles the arts I love and have devoted my entire life to. When seeing striking artwork I anticipate being inspired, enlightened and even invigorated. I expect my breath to be taken away by its craftsmanship, ingenuity, exquisiteness, mastery and imagination that makes so powerful, impacting, meaningful artistry possible.
But what happens when one is faced by the art’s “dark side”, vividly expressive of the warped minds of their creators? What are their motivators? Is it simply profits or a spotlight at any cost” Is it fame amongst the sickest admirers? If so, how do they face their reflections in the mirror? And how does such sick art impact those who are drawn to it, ready to submit their minds to such a degenerated artworks’ influence? What does such art express about us: artists and our audience? Is it not it enough that our society is adept at devising, distributing and tolerating child pornography? Do we have to resort to using artistry, skill and talent or, worse yet, our imagination, to create and degenerate that which is otherwise so beautiful?
Thus, walking into the upper floors of the gigantic Manga distributing houses of the Anime City, I found myself stunned and then challenged by what I found and saw. Childish innocence and delicacy of some of the imagery I faced was clearly and undeniably masterly drawn. Yet now, in the covers I saw, it abruptly altered. It gained a totally different meaning. It surprised, shocked, took my breath away. It abruptly became extremely disturbing! Harmless virtues, within the frame, were being taken advantage of, demeaned, abused and violated by external, so much more powerful forces hiding out of frame, and threatening the prior from above. Thus, in such a manipulative way, the artists skillfully, intentionally insured that what we do not see generates drama, suspicion, and in the right and healthy minds, intense anger and disgust. The delicacy of line, graceful, beautiful design were so powerfully emotional that one can not resists identifying with a plight of the innocent, gentle yet threatened and sympathy eliciting subjected characters. Is this a manipulative manner the author challenges and elicits potential reader?
Having vented my fury and distaste for certain facets of humanity, I shall resolve. However one may feel about this strange world of Manga or Anime, one ought to admire the artistic beauty of their imaginative designs, the amazingly graceful line and potent emotional expression which they elicit by the ways they are brought to their drawn reality, or rather the “surreality”? Such art, whether purely sensuous, frivolous, attractive or, in the instance of the above, repulsive, vile, wretched and tragic, provoking and challenging, is alive in its graceful, breathtakingly emotional stillness, in its motion and emotion. It is just astounding, in more ways than one.
I recall growing up in Easter Europe, under communist oppression, on animation that was cheap, crude, simple and yet so powerful in story, symbolism, meaning, veiled messages, rebellious spirit and frustrations. It reflected the dynamics and political situation of the country. It acted as a weapon in hands of the artists who risked creating it and used it to motivate, enlighten and inspire their audiences.
Then, upon my emigration, I arrived in the USA and discovered Disney. I was so “blown away” by its majestic beauty, mastery, glamour, artistry, glossiness, glitter and innocents gentleness with which it brought to life fairytales and fables aimed at attracting and pleasing its young audiences, while also appeasing the parents.
As I myself became intensely involved in the art of animation, reflecting back on it I realize that my objectives and styles were, and still are, impacted by both these extremes. To me ideas and message have to be potent and meaningful. The aim is to impact, inspire, rattle imagination or challenge the thinking, perspectives and awareness of the world of my audiences, impartially of whether young or mature.
Deeply immersed in the animation world, I not only practiced it but shaped my award winning career through it. I launched a few academic programs dedicated to its art and unique ability to propagate global exposure and ideas, often without any words. It is this unique forte which transforms it into a powerful messenger of global diversity, perspectives, stories, states of mind and stories and ideologies their creators wish to share with the world. In that time I also saw an independent waive of American animation. Gratifyingly, it is very diverse from that of Disney.
Having gaining a global exposure, having socialized and interacted with the many independent animation artists I was so fortunate to invite and socialize with, I can not help but compare the ideas, message and character, the depth, design, grace and meaning of this amazing art form as it is utilized by artists of dissimilar lands. And so, nowadays, considering much of animation being produced in my current homeland, I am struck by its sarcastic humor and its, so often intended, ugliness. Is it utilized to set itself a part, to act as a strange and weird form of originality?
I deem that art we create, may it be beautiful or ugly, inspiring or revolting, breath taking or chocking, no matter which, it makes a statement. I believe that all these negative, sarcastic, ugly, even vulgar and vile qualities, some employed by their authors to provoke their audience, are reflective of deeper and greater meanings than meets the surface, the ear or the eye. I feel that they reflect and mirror the world, the ideas, aspirations, values and the state of the society of their creators.
That being the case, I can not help but to reflect by asking myself, and you the readers, what does the art I hesitantly shared with you says of the Japanese society which, on one hand, is so sophisticated and, on the other, so disturbing.
What does the American animation, to which I have referred, expresses about my country, one that so many other people around the world look up to with such admiration, aspiring to it as the shiny model for the way they want to life and be? For that matter, an unavoidable follow up question, what does it say about them?
Applying the same principals to Anime, I wander what inspired it? To me, its dark side, aggressive feels and look, its sharp and fast motions, dynamics, the design, explosions, the radiating waves accompanying and accentuating so much of the imagery, its violent aspects in particular, give Anime an apocalyptic personality.
Whether rightly or wrongly, in my mind it triggers potent association with events and impact of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Please feel free to comment and correct me if I am wrong in this notion. However, if I am right, I do wander in what ways will the March 11th 2011 earthquake, following tsunami and the issuing massive, ongoing radiation, will have on the future topic and design of Manga and Anime?
I would not wish to leave you with a negative perception of Japanese Manga and the so closely related Anime. And hence, following are a few amazing characters. One can not but admire the line, grace, delicacy, the flow, the magnetism and the imagination it calls for to create such amazing designs. They are really inspiring.
And now for something lighter and more cheerful, the Takeshita dori, a shopping playground and a stage where young generation hangs out, mingles, presents, performs and projects itself. It is an insight into the future and a perception of the ways we will all encounter. Here avatars are “real” and alive, all around us, and everywhere. Many designs and fashions are inspired by anima and manga, but yet some are truly original. Either way, I deem that transforming oneself into such characters takes desire, thought, courage, imagination and tasteful design.As though in a parallel time or dimension, these walking and breathing avatars act as extensions of their creators’ secret visions and wishes. Not computer generated, drawn or synthetic, they are very much alive. They reject current reality in favor of projected and or surreal hopes, dreams and secret wishes of their makers. They might be acting as a form of escapism of their inventors, their ultimate egos, or a form of “Jekyll and Hyde”? Seeing them I could not help but to wonder what is real and what is a projection in the minds of those avatars?
I recently read “Radical Evolution” a book exploring ways Nano-technology and “singularity” are altering humanity and the way we perceive ourselves. Its author poses a few scenarios for the future. He hypostasizes that the so rapidly evolving technology and science, when fused with human competiveness, may, within the present century, lead to us abandoning our physical bodies. While it may sound futuristic and hard to imagine, walking down the Takeshita, I realized that if such visions of humanity are indeed going to become a reality, it will likely be these young Japanese, with their courage and evident power of imagination, combined with their obvious will to experiment, who shall lead the way for others to follow.