Don’t get mad at your Japanese cartoon because it’s made in Japan, man

Ok, guys, listen. There’s these people out there, ok? These people operate under an assumption that Bakemonogatari–OTAKU HIPSTER show of the year–is difficult to understand. Further more, these people. You know, these people? They think the people who like this TV anime get a smug sense of satisfaction out of understanding it. I don’t know about you guys, but Bakemonogatari doesn’t strike me as something difficult to understand. In fact, I can understand the show near perfectly without even needing subtitles. What I imagine the issue is, and why these poor souls are finding the show so difficult to understand, is that, quite bluntly, Bakemonogatari is Japanese As Fuck. You know that right from the title which is a mixture of 化け物 (bakemono, monster/ghost) and 物語 (monogatari, story.)

This is also the case with a whole host of other fine animated programs from the great nation of Japan. I mean, it shouldn’t be surprising. These shows aren’t made for you–they’re made for Japanese people. As such, shows just may be steeped in varying degrees of cultural quirks you may not understand! When Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei makes a joke about the Chuo Line being late again, that’s funny. Oh, but not to you. You haven’t ever taken Chuo Line, have you? When the first arc of Bakemonogatari revolves around the fact that omoi can be read as both  重い (heavy) or 思い (feelings), that’s easy to understand, and a bit clever. Oh, but you don’t get it–you’ve never studied Japanese. But you know, it’s ok.

The issue here is that people are scared of what they don’t understand. Even offended. This isn’t the show’s fault–it’s yours. No, it’s not your fault for not being Japanese. I’m not feeling that unreasonable today. It’s your fault for being close minded. It’s your fault for expecting a foreign piece of media–made for Japanese people–to be something you can totally and completely digest. It’s your fault for not opening your mind to a culture that’s different from your own. All of the jokes in Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei are hilarious, but they’re not written for you. Every story, as well as all the dialogue in Bakemonogatari is very straightforward, you just need to be Japanese to fully get it. Imagine you’re a Japanese person watching Seinfeld. Or Monty Python. It’s more or less the same kind of thing. But you know, I’ve actually spoken to Japanese people who love Monty Python, though they admit it takes some effort to get sometimes.

I should note that this issue shouldn’t be something to hold you back. Isn’t part of the draw of anime its Japanese roots? Don’t we enjoy scenes of  characters airing out their futon, or talking about kanji radicals? Isn’t it new, exciting and different from the life you’re living now? Anime requires an open mind, especially if you’re not Japanese. And it’s not because all Japanese cartoons are Choujin Densetsu Urotsukidouji. It’s because–as I keep stressing like fuck in this post–this stuff comes from a culture alien to your own. When you watch anime–even anime like Cowboy Bebop or Baccano–you’re getting a Japanese perspective of the world. You’re peering into their culture. Don’t get mad at things you find difficult to understand. Embrace them. Think about why Sleggar Law is a cocky asshole, don’t get offended by it.

I can’t say this is the only reason, but I suspect this is one of the reasons why certain shows can attract a lot of vitriol (especially from the under-educated masses of 4chan) from people, especially when they’re popular. It’s simply a product of lack of understanding on a very basic level. I’m not saying shows can’t be bad–oh, they can be–but often times when I read criticisms of shows like Bakemonogatari, Zetsubou Sensei, K-ON!, Lucky Star, Pani Poni Dash and the like, what it often boils down to is “I don’t get it, and I’m mad because I don’t get it.” And you know, its ok that you don’t get it. You can choose to open your mind or keep it closed–whatever, I don’t give a fuck–but you not getting the show isn’t the show’s fault. It’s all yours, man.

And bringing this all back to Bakemonogatari, its visual style is what Shinbo has been putting out since Yu Yu Hakusho. If you’re just noticing that he likes crazy colours and close ups on eyes now, you sure haven’t been watching anime from the past 20 years, have you?

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59 Responses to Don’t get mad at your Japanese cartoon because it’s made in Japan, man

  1. serial says:

    >> WAH, you’ve shaken loose a lot of trolls out of the woodwork. I’m torn between facepalming and congratulating you.

    Then, how about doing *both*? I propose the invention of “Congratupalming”, the world’s greatest ironic gesture.

    >> Can taste and culture truly be extracted from one another?

    Yes. But I’m not telling. Trade secret.

    ——————

    There’s one more thing I want to mention about the two shows mentioned by wah:

    First, Koji Kumeta, author of Zetsubou Sensei, is an absurdist satirist. That means he makes satire, which makes fun of many aspects of japanese culture and life itself; however, the humour is vibrant and, frankly, hard to understand even for many japanese, thanks to its absurdist twist. His mind works different from normal people, which is one of the required elements of absurd works. He’s made it because he’s managed to combines both absurd and satire in a single body of work (Something that is really damn hard, let me assure you). The Anime is just an extension of that work, brought to new life by Shinbo X SHAFT.

    And Bakemonogatari was made by NISIOISIN. Have you ever read NISIOISIN’s works? I have, what little has been translated into English. The guy’s writing style is brilliant, and in his original works (Works not derived from Death Note or xXxHolic), you can tell that he’s a very playful author too: He plays with events, with character names, with words, and even with preconceptions and stereotypes. Bakemonogatari is just a series of games, of words, of preconceptions, of stereotypes, and, of course, stories. Half of these games contain strong Japanese Pop culture elements, which would be hard to understand for the average foreign anime viewer. Unless you’ve had some relatively extensive experience with Japanese pop culture, and Japanese culture in general, I can see why this Anime would be hard. Oh, and there’s also the fact that it’s very “novelistic”, in the sense that it’s structured with a strong literary feeling. It’s easy to see it came from a novel.

    All in all, these two works are hard to get, regardless of whether you’re Japanese or American. They’re complex creatures: One, in its juxtaposition of absurd and satire; the other, in its literary storytelling. If you don’t get it, that’s okay. Many people won’t get it. But those of us who do? We’ll be having a party over here. We’re not missing you.

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  4. ruukasa says:

    I was wondering if you would do a post about this. I think the main problem with alot of people is that they don’t realize that when a Japanese media company makes a show it’s generally meant for a Japanese audience not for the rest of the world to steal, sub and mass distribute so obviously the content, jokes and references are meant for Japanese people who understand. And to anon, if you don’t like Wah’s point of view dot come to his site and read his posts. And one more thing on the note of pearl harbour. when pearl harbour was attacked so were quite a few other harbours owned by America, pearl harbour just happened to be the most publicized (only a few hundred people died there and most of the boats were salvaged).
    I’m canadian so I get a less slanted version of history than America.(;

  5. The_Third_One says:

    Then why do I like the show when I’m not Japanese? I don’t think this show is hard to understand; I’m pretty sure this is in my top 5 shows ever. Right up there with House M.D. and 30 Rock. Yes, I also enjoy my television in English.

  6. sarahvait says:

    Huh, this sort of reminds me of when I first watched Excel Saga fansubbed. I laughed my ass off at that show back then. Then I saw it again when ADV released it and turned on those little in-show notes, and I was liked, “Oh, yeah. Wow, there was a lot of jokes I missed.” But it didn’t change the fact that I still laughed the first time through without those notes.

    Granted, I haven’t seen Bakemonogatari yet, so I can’t be sure if WAH is right in that some fans aren’t enjoying because they feel too split off from the show because of the cultural differences, or because there actually is something wrong with the show itself.

    For the most part, I’d rather have animes I don’t quite get because I’m too american than show creators trying to pander to me when their show should be made for Japanese audiences first and foremost. It’s like when some of those JRPG creators started saying they wanted to make games that would appeal more to Western gamers. And I’m over here on the other side of the ocean banging my head against my desk going, “NO, NO, NO, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, NO.”

  7. WAHa.06x36 says:

    Incidentally, I’ve always held that the idea that shows that are “random” are funny originates from people who watched Excel Saga, and didn’t get the jokes, but laughed anyway. This was then rationalized by thinking that “random” must equal “funny”.

  8. sarahvait says:

    WAHa- I don’t know, I think random humor existed way before Excel Saga came on the scene. I mean, look at Monty Python. And I have yet to see any parody show that isn’t random at least half of the time.

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