Hyper Japan: Adventure in Anime
Trotting up the concrete stairs in the wet stairwell, it was hard to imagine a Japanese “Pop Party” lurking around the corner. Visions of cosplayers in fluorescent wigs and coloured contact lenses, robots handing out sushi, kimonos draped on every surface with a bit more sushi for good measure. However, when I stepped in, it was just a large Japanese themed market, complete with a stage (I was hoping for some karaoke) and a large projection screen for anime screeenings.
I cruised around, searching for anything resembling a Japanese cinema, although granted, I wasn’t sure what I was looking for. I swam through the crowd, dodging hair pieces, soy sauce, comic books, knee high socks, sweets, before making my way to the Toei Animation Centre.
I was just in time for a bit of animated horror, The Thriller Restaurant so I walked into what looked like a giant box. Less centre, more corner. I sat down near the back of the small, dark space, and attempted to look through the rather tall gentleman’s head that was positioned in front of my face. But, unlike Ren Ichimoku, a Japanese superhero, I cannot see through walls. Nor people.
I adjusted myself to peer between the space between the guy and his girlfriend, hoping they wouldn’t be canoodling for the next hour, otherwise I could find myself being distracted.
They didn’t, praise be; anime horror isn’t the most romantic of genres. Chances are, I wouldn’t have been distracted anyway. The short films were weird enough to keep me occupied. Anime isn’t all cute girls in frilly dresses, head tilted coyly and making the peace sign. Oh no. Rather, anime can be dark, concerning itself with the paranormal and the supernatural and the artwork that illustrates it is men-tal. Think spirit monsters (a bit dead but a bit not) with incurable diseases, creepy kids and walking eyeball. Hello, Hakaba Kitaro, you freaky thing. Watch it if you’re ready; it’s trippy.
The Thriller Restaurant was a challenge for the eyes as well. A strangely structured horror anime divided into “the appetizer, the main course and the desert”, introduced by the bow-tie clad “ghost garcon”. He may smile a lot but he’s less like the friendly Casper and more like the creepy ghost who would make the lights go out and pinch your bum.
I emerged from the animation tomb with the images of haunted puppets and possessed school girls pasted onto my eyeballs like a bit of dry seaweed. Surely, I’m too old to be getting weirded out by cartoons? But, unlike with Disney, you don’t feel like Peter Pan if you watch anime; you are grown up, dammit! So even a mature and sophisticated lay-dee like moi can enjoy them as well as children. But, there are some types of anime that children should probably not be exposed to at such a tender age.
Take hentai. Direct translation: “metamorphosis” or “abnormal”. In English: sexually perverted. Gosh, don’t the English have such a way with words? But whilst fetishes are subjective (whipping isn’t everyones cup of tea after all), hentai anime is pretty out there. At it’s most basic, it’s cartoon porn. At the extreme scale think full bladders and tentacles. I’ll leave it at that.
With an anime stimulated brain, my mind needed a mental camomile tea. But the place had picked up since I had been away and in every crowd of visitors in casual attire, a less conventionally dressed person emerged. No one batted an eyelid. Oh there’s a girl in a white wetsuit-bellytop, complete with mask and board. Yeah, I’m thirsty; sake?
I walk past a fairly normal looking girl who gives me a flyer for a Cosplay Ball. I then notice she has purple eyes. Not so normal. But she seemed nice and wasn’t carrying an oversized hammer so I felt safe in asking her a bit about the art of Cosplay.
For the wordsmiths out there, cosplay is “costume play”. Nice. It’s basically a form of dress up that anime and manga fans like to take part in. And Amanda tells me she’s well into it. It’s always the normal ones you gotta watch. I blame her brother for getting her into it. Aparently he used to play Japanese computer games in front of a younger, more innocent Amanda, driving her to don an anime costume from time to time. Well, it could have been worse. Super Mario would have been a lot more unattractive.
What I liked is the way I didn’t see any two cosplayers dressed the same, unlike the half a dozen Captain Jack Sparrows who rock up at every party. Amanda’s main looks were Gothic Lolita (a kind of morbid doll) and visual kei (described as “visual rock” and inspired by Japanese punk) but she’d also done Haruhi Suzamiya, a thrill seeking schoolgirl and leader of the SOS Brigade (a bit like the Famous Five except they search for aliens and time travellers).
But whilst anime and manga may be intrinsic to Japan, there is not doubt it has had a significant impact on Western culture, commercially to say the least. 1980’s Astro Boy was based on manga by Osamu Tezuka, and cartoons such as The Powerpuff Girls and Teen Titan have definite anime influence.
Of course, it’s easy to see elements of anime in other animated series, but have you ever regarded The Matrix in such a light? It’s been described as a live-action anime, with the Wachowski brothers showing a clip of the first Ghost in the Shell film (anime directed by Mamoru Oshii) in the pitch for The Matrix to Warner Brothers. Plus, because of anime, more people are learning Japanese.
And trust Westerners to put their own spin on things. Whilst the mega-cool Japanese see otaku or obsessive superfans as a bad thing (understandable), the American cosplayers have reclaimed the word, removing all negative connotations. Instead it is a label to be proud of. A sparkly, light-up, be-jewelled badge of honour; I AM A SUPERFAN it would sing like an out of tune musical greeting card.
But could these anime characters be their alter egos?
Whilst anime may have an extreme fan base all over the world, it is not compulsory to dress up, brandish an oversized weapon, spouting lines from anime films. You can be a fan because of its sheer amazingness. The imagination, the art, the humour, anime is an oh so magical creation. And it’s no coincidence why anime has such a strong following; it is non specific in that anyone can engage with it, and due to it’s eccentricity, offers any self-proclaimed oddball (which we all are) something to connect with and be a part of. So, next time you’re feeling that the world is a cruel, cruel place and that no one understands you,whack on a bright wig and some platform shoes and get yourself out there to meet other anime fans. Just steer clear of Soho.