Saturday, February 18, 2012

Everything I Learned About Japan, I Learned From Anime

Okay, that's not exactly true, but it certainly helped. The truth is that when my husband suggested I watch a few animes, I was skeptical. To be completely honest, I haven't had a very high opinion of genre in general. Many of the storylines that I've been exposed to (such as Akira or Ghost in the Shell) have been distinctly marketed to boys. Truthfully, I'm not interested in those kinds of stories, and frankly, they bore me.

So when my husband told me to watch InuYasha, I looked at him like he had five heads and eight arms.

After episode one, I thought I might watch more. And I did - all 167 episodes and then the subsequent Final Act series.

My nerd friends who are deeply steeped in nerd culture will roll their eyes and protest my "bad taste," recommending other animes in an effort to get me to appreciate things like Akira. Yeah, that ain't happening (outside of appreciating the art involved anyway - sorry guys).

The reason is that animes like InuYasha are marketed to women. They aren't just about blowing things up or some weird mech heads fighting each other to save some vampire-zombie sci-fi future. InuYasha has highly developed characters that have complex relationships with one another. If a person wanted to learn about romantic relationships in Japanese culture, InuYasha would be a good place to start. It clarified a piece of my own past.

That might sound bizarre, that I had some kind of existential revelation through a popular girly anime, but it's true. When I was in college, I had a big crush on this Japanese exchange student. We hung out together quite frequently. We even danced together at different parties and events. At some point, he actually asked me, point blank, "Alexis, would you like to be my girlfriend?"

I was psyched. After all, I had been crushing on him for some time. Of course, it didn't work out quite how I expected. Nothing happened. We didn't hold hands. He didn't kiss me. Nothing changed at all. Then, slowly, we stopped hanging out. It was very confusing and strange to me. With time, I forgot all about it - until I watched InuYasha.

The tension created between the characters was tremendous. The lack of release - of touch and even explicit confessions of love - was frustrating, and kept me watching the show. It was some time early in the series that I realized I had missed something with my undergrad Japanese boyfriend.

So I researched dating in Japanese culture. There are actually levels of closeness. It's a long drawn out process, each level having associated actions. The extreme self-control, and imposed denial of affectionate displays boggled my mind. It was a cultural difference I had completely missed, and frankly never expected. That period of time in college would have remained a mystery had I not been prodded into realization by a girl-centric popularly accessible anime.

I didn't just learn about Japanese dating culture from InuYasha. There were other relationship dynamics that were clarified by the show that I never would have known. These general trends seem to be supported by watching other animes (Yes, I know this is just one cultural expression and therefore limited, but we can't say there isn't some truth there.).

For the average Westerner, it seems watching a little anime is a good way to become introduced to those cultural differences of Japan. If living in California, it might even shed some light on the culture of the coast. In either case, it's worth at least one episode. But be warned - you might watch more.

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