Thursday, April 24, 2008

Super Sentai And His Children

Animé has a history of color coded teams. Voltron. Sailor Moon. Rayearth. Some may immediatly recognize the origins as "Super Sentai Series."

Short definition: Power Rangers.

Long Definition:
Super Sentai was a series of tokusatsu shows. Tokusatsu, meaning "special effects" applies to the genre of Japanese films including the monster movies like Godzilla and the hero movies such as Kamen Rider and Ultraman. Scale models, pyrotechnics, outrageous costumes, and transformation sequences all constitute the genre. Super Sentai is the "team" type series that we are most familiar with through Bandai/Saban's Power Rangers. Approximately five recurring characters, each assigned a color, and sometimes also an element, a specific type of power or prowess, and of course, a part of a Zord. I mean, giant robot mech. Silly me.

I want to talk about the appeal of Sentai genre. Primarily: market brilliance. I'm going to use Sailor Moon as my case study because I know more about it than Voltron.

In a single-hero story, your hero has a hair color, body type, and disposition. Often a characteristic that makes him a hero: often physical strength, possibly for some kind of magic, perhaps an important destiny. What if you had a choice?

Thats what Sentai gives you. Sailor Moon is the kindhearted klutz. If the show was just about a kindhearted klutz that fights for love and justice... yeah, that would be great, and its certainly been done. But instead, you get five heroines. A klutz, a brain, a toughie, an idol, and a priestess. Two long-haired blondes, a short and long brunette, and a long black haired one. A Pisces, a Leo, a Virgo... the point is that now there are numerous routes of sympathization. I happened to be an Aquarian questioning my sexuality and my gender role. Woh, so was Sailor Uranus.

"That character is just like me," she says. More types, more options, more chances to find a story about you.

The "team" theme is much more diluted now, but its fair to say its an animé staple. Fushigi Yuugi is an example of a team that isn't so Sentai. No colors or robots, but distinct roles and personalities. Consider harem anime/game: will you choose the girl next store, the lolita, the kemonomimi, the glasses-type, or your sister? Oi.

My current work references Animé openings that flash a sequence of characters or personas on screen, as in the beginning of New Cutey Honey, or later in Neon Genesis Evangelion (skip to 1:11), and especially in Sailor Moon (2nd R opening here, try skipping to 34 seconds in.)

Sigh. If I may, I remember being excited that in Sailor Moon S Series, there were two opening theme animations. The first not including Sailor Uranus and Neptune because they hadn't been identified in teh series yet, and then they appeared in the seconds version of the opening once they were introduced. Neat.

Originally the piece was focused more on The Cutey Honey/Transformation Pen aspect: you can have lots of costumes and skills. But I'd be lying if this work isn't a little about Super Sentai.

I wonder if I should or should not mention Bokutachi Wa Yami Ja Nai here, but an ongoing side project with the fine folks at Neko-Jin Designs is an attempt to force as many animé character stereotypes into a BL type comic of that title. It has three main characters that eventually allude to a group of five, represented by each element. So there you go. Its an on-again, off again project, not on the front burner right now, but shows up once and a while (like in the last post.)

See my "Animé opening" animation here. (Links to a MOV file.)

Animé Style and the Disgruntled Affected

An associate of mine recently blogged about how much she hated being told that she drew "manga" or "animé." She's much like me in that she is an American and that her illustrations are highly influenced by Japanese animation and comic book styles.

This got me thinking on it means when they say: "You draw animé."

Knowing the Japanese etymology of "animé" myself, saying that someone draws "animé" doesn't make any sense. "Animé" is just a shortened version of "Animation" (in Japan pron. Ahn-EE-may-shun), which, as you can probably tell, is an appropriated English word. In Japan, "Animé" refers to any animation, regardless of national origin.

But I think it's safe to say that the word "animé" has not just a different connotation, but an entirely different definition in English. Animé, as an English term, refers to any illustrated work with visible influence by the culturally Japanese animation style.

And before I get the "But Japanese comics come in LOTS of styles, look at XXX, or XXX!" I'd like to point out that this assertion is valid because the style is distinguishable. Even in those of us who try to make art "not look like animé anymore." Non-animé fans can look at a drawing and tell it was influenced by animé, even if the artist is both American and highly respected, IE Tech Jacket by E.J. Su or anything and eveything by Adam Warren.

Young, naïve Americans have created "portflios" of copied batman drawings just as they copy Japanese manga drawings today. The reason all manga influenced styles are lumped together is becuase most Americans do not have a cultural connect to it, therefore, don't know how to access it except as one style type.

If animé was accepted in American culture as a proper, intelligent discourse, in which we distingush the Japanese "animé" and the english "animé", this "You draw animé" thing would be invalid as saying "You draw Marvel." Am I wrong?

The problem, beyond the cultural disconnect to the style, is the iconography. Among the "Animé art" community, theres a pervasiveness of use of Japanese symbols and words. The "sweat drops", "tension knots", "bleeding noses" and "sigh clouds" are symbols that are completely recognizable in Japan and to American animé fans, but not part of the American iconography. As such, they are dead giveaways of the animé style influence. See Blue Monday by Chynna Clugston-Major. She's also guilty of slipping a few Japanese words in there, such as "baka," which will confuse the hell out of any American who doesn't know the otaku lexicon. These references speak only to the American otaku audience, not to the rest. So there you are.

Well, this article has spiraled out of control. But the point is, I think animé is on the verge of becoming a valid member of american culture. The Comics Journal articles mention animé on a regular basis, because it pervades in comic culture. Also a part of fine art culture now, and possible the rest to follow, will we have to worry about who draws "animé art" anymore? Or will we finally have to consider who draws "good animé art" and "bad animé art" instead?

I think Space Coyote understands. And the world understands Space Coyote. Actually identified as Nina Matsumoto, illustrator, she created the internet phenomenon at the top of this article, the "Simpsonzu." If anyone can be accused of making "Animé art" AND being damned successful at it, it is her. Check her out at

Top: "Simpsonzu" by Nina Matsumoto. How animé style is commercially successful in America when the connotations are fully comprehended.
Right: Illustration for "Bokutachi wa Yami Ja Nai" by Kori Michele Handwerker. Yes, they have nostrils, but don't I know its animé styled? I sure do.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

(C)Murakami: I'm a little scared

So I'm chomping at the bit here, anxiously awaiting the moment I'm free enough from this graduating thing to go to Brooklyn to see (c) Murakami. While in New England these four years, I've only been privileged to see one of his works, a Vuitton x Murakami wallpaper-painting that was, in fact, exquisite and poignent. Naturally, I'm obsessed with his work because it speaks to "Otaku" as a cultural asset and defining force of Japanese culture. I also think that hes very important to American art because he showing us the force that Otaku culture holds, as well as the threat it implies.

But as his work and his exhibitions develop, I'm getting a wave of dread... something I'm not confident to confirm or deny until I've seen the exhibition. The Louis Vuitton shop in the middle of the show? Are you trying to validate, or elevate Otaku Phenomenon? If that attempt doesn't crash into failure, should we be worried? Could it be that this phenomenon is actually going to amount to vengeance for the atomic bomb atrocities? Gah, what does it mean!?

I'm only scribbling now in between writing papers, so please excuse the speculations. But backing down now...

I hope My Lonesome Cowboy (see right) will be there, but I fear not since the Museum page only lists Hiropon. I can't wait to see the big red DOB too. But My Lonesome Cowboy is pure genius, and I think the most important piece he's ever done. It speaks to the idea that the animé we know now is about Japan reasserting it's strength (read: manhood) in the face of demilitarization by America.

(c) Murakami will be running April 5–July 13, 2008 at the Brooklyn Museum of Art in Morris A. and Meyer Schapiro Wing and Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Gallery, 4th and 5th Floors.

I suggest art students interested in the show take a look at the great slideshow of installation shots on the Museum Website:

Essays on Animé

While my blogging hiatus grows on account of my preparation for graduation, I've been doing a little reading in between the writing, photgraphing, and installing. Japanese Visual Culture: Explorations in the World of Manga and Animé is a collection of essays about the relation of animé to culture. Its a good read, and convenient when you have little precious moments to keep a book on your lap.

Heres a couple of sentences from "Opening the Closed World of Shoujo Manga" by Mizuki Takahashi about what "shoujo" means. It was shocking to me but makes the genre so much more sensical:

"Usually glossed with the English word "girl," the term shoujo specifically indicates a young woman who is not allows to express her sexuality. While a shoujo may be sexually mature physically, she is socially considered sexually immature and is therefore identifiable as neither male nor female."

That shoujo refers to a sexually immature condition, rather than an age or gender, makes a lot of sense.

The history that follows this passage is amazing and quite scary. I reccommend anyone interested in the history of the genre read this essay.

An exciting exhibition came and went in the past couple of years called Shoujo Manga: Girl Power! That is worth investigating if you're interested in the art related to the genre.

Another week or so and I'll be back in action. Thanks for reading!