Friday, March 16, 2007

YouTubeocalypse III: Americanization/Japanization

Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you the original Gatchaman opening:

(This is what the tsuma was watching while growing up in southeastern Japan.)

Now sharpen your powers of observation and check this out from Battle of the Planets (aka G-Force):

(This is what I was watching while growing up in central NY. Not to be confused with Star Blazers, which my dad often got up at 6 am to watch with my brother and me. More on that later)

Those who think globalization only means Americanization should consider the implications of their comparisons of these clips alone. But those who think it means pure transnationalism should do the same, for national cultures have always been good at assimilating foreign influences (it's kind of what they do).

[Update 3/22/07: You. Must. See. This.]

Case in point: Legend of the Galactic Heroes. When you get a free hour-and-a-half, watch the first four episodes and let me know if you're not hooked. Here's the first to get you started (if you're the impatient type, skip from it to episode 3):

Once you get past the terrible quality of the subtitles (there's never been an official U.S. release--and as long as neoconservatives and neoliberals have such a disproportionate influence on American political culture, there never will), you'll no doubt notice its obvious influences, from dashes of Robert Heinlein, Joe Haldeman, and Orson Scott Card to truckloads of E.E. "Doc" Smith, Isaac Asimov, and Star Wars. (SF purists no doubt will condemn me for adding amazing fantasy writer Guy Gavriel Kay to the list, while historians will point out that my claim of influence needs documentation. To the former, I say, "whatever"; to the latter, I say, "yeah, yeah--wanna do it for me?")

And yet, Legend of the Galactic Heroes is much more than the sum of its American influences or interesting only for its resonances with transnational SF traditions. Whether you read it for its implicit commentary on World War II and the Cold War, or its proleptic applicability to the War on Terra (did I mention episode 3? yes? well, check episode 4, too!), it's exactly the kind of historical anime I wrote about when this blog was young and innocent and fresh that represents and enacts a working through of Japanese history. Through its playing with the "space opera" tradition and term--yes, there is opera in the soundtrack, it deals with many themes from German Romanticism, and its Reich Empire borrows freely from 19th C Prussia and mid-20th C Germany--it gets you critical of the leaders of both sides and of the war itself within the first few episodes. Plus it has an international interplanetary Jewish conspiracy in its mysterious, officially neutral third party planet that looks like a parody of the Foundation series to me. It's even possible it influenced Dan Simmons as he was working on his Hyperion and Endymion series and George Lucas as he was gathering ideas for his Star Wars prequels. But as I haven't even gotten to the end of the sixth episode yet, I'll throw these out as teasers rather than definitive claims.

Watch the whole thing (all 110 episodes) yourself, as we've been known to say in blogoramaville once or twice....


acwo said...

Interesting blog, I like it :)
keep it up!

Bill Benzon said...

Consider Spielberg/Kubrick's AI. In it robots are often refered to as mecha, which is a Japanese usage. We know the film is indebted to Pinocchio. But did P get there from Disney/Collodi, or from Tezuka's Astroboy -- where the origin story is obviously based on Pinocchio? Note that when Kubrick was prepping for 2001 he approached Tezuka about art-directing the film, but Tezuka declined. So, Kubrick knew of Tezka's work and most likely of Astroboy, as that was the best-known. Further, the theme of a robot trying to be human is deeply embedded in manga and anime but has been relatively peripheral to SF in the West.

So I'm saying that AI is indebted to Japan.

The Constructivist said...

Bill, you've almost made me finally want to rent AI. I think the fact that Philip K. Dick got Japanized in Blade Runner supports your argument. But doesn't the artificial intelligence thing in the U.S. go back to Asimov's I Robot series, if not earlier? I don't see how you can say that's been peripheral in the U.S., what with Gibson, Simmons, Piercy and others picking up on it in the '80s and '90s....

Bill Benzon said...

There's plenty of AI and robots in Western SF. But Spielberg's movie is about a robot who's lost its mother and who wants to be human. That's what's Japanese. In Tezuka's early manga, Metropolis, Michy is an "artificial being" in search of mother and father, wondering whether or not he/she is human or artificial.

The Constructivist said...

Seen Metropolis, haven't seen AI, which is probably why I misread your specific point about Spielberg/Tezuka as being a general point about robots/AI in American sf (although come to think of it I'm sure Simmons and Piercy and I believe Asimov dealt with the robots/AI wanting to become human theme). Have you seen any of the Ghost in the Shell franchise, which is in part about cyborgs wanting to be human and in part wondering what humanity is? Full Metal Alchemist picks up on that theme in a fantasy context, too.

Bill Benzon said...

The movie version of Metropolis is quite different from the manga. Tima is very different from Michy. Tima is female and passive until the end. Michy is both male and female and is moved to activity earlier in the story.

Yes, I'm quite familiar with Ghost in the Shell. My impression is that the Japanese are interested in robots in a different way.

The Constructivist said...

Bill, has the manga been translated into English?

Bill Benzon said...

Yes, it's availble from Dark Horse, though they flipped the pages so it reads left-to-right.