My first blog lasted exactly one post. It was about stupid TV ads and the lack of logic therein. I thought it would be fun. I was wrong.
This blog has now lasted, as of this, one hundred posts. Thank you, thank you, thank you. No need to applaud. Just throw money.
I thought for a couple days what I wanted this post to be. I wanted it to be special; I mean, it’s the century mark. So I thought I would make it a little more personal and less analytic than the thing I usually do.
If you don’t give a crap about me and how I think, no problemo. You can stop reading now.
I’ve mentioned a couple times how I was sort of barely peripherally interested in anime (and not interested at all in manga) until I had a chat with my friend Anna. At the time I knew Pokemon (and liked it), and Dragonball (and didn’t like it), and Cardcaptor Sakura (and really didn’t like it), but I had spotted something weird on Adult Swim.
I asked her about it. She couldn’t tell from my pitiably sparse description, but it was Lupin the Third. But she did suggest I might like Cowboy Bebop, and that, my friends was the end.
Loved Black Lagoon.
Loved Full Metal Panic. Well, actually I liked it 🙂
There was a lot of stuff I didn’t love but I had opened up the mine, and the gold was pouring out of it. Anime is a fast and deep body of content, and if you swim in it for even a short period of time you can find something to love.
Loved Magical Shopping Arcade Abenobashi.
Somewhere along the line I got interested in the Japanese language and culture. This is not a coincidence: cultural values and mores underlie the meaning of any medium. If you want to “get” it, you need to understand the culture that produced it.
I have told you before that I am a university professor, so I don’t mind bringing it up again. At one point in my career I used to teach a class called Cartoons and Culture. The idea was that when you look at cartoons, they reveal the values and assumptions of the culture that created them. The cartoons are set in the culture; the culture that creates them defines their meaning, and so reveals itself. This is especially true in cartoons because they have only seven minutes to tell their stories; they don’t have time to explain. In that class 1990’s kids had to figure out 1940’s culture and how it worked, or at least that was the excuse I gave to justify watching cartoons in class.
Bugs Bunny is a great example. He gnaws on a carrot. He looks at the camera. He says, “What’s the hubbub, bub?” It’s funny and it makes NO SENSE WHATSOEVER unless you understand the language and culture of the US in the 1940’s.
To better “get” anime and manga I have started to learn Japanese.
That’s kind of strange for me. Foreign languages and I do not mix, since I do not hear well and can’t distinguish certain sounds. On top of that, Japanese has FOUR different written languages – kanji, hiragana, katakana, and romanji – and to my nearsighted eyes three of them are gibberish. The shapes just don’t relate to my experience.
At the same time, it’s starting – slowly, and by a lot of repetition – to sink in. I can count to ninety-nine, if you’re willing to wait a month. I can tell the time, although it usually takes me a minute so the time I tell you is always slow. I know what ohayou and gomennasai and kudamono mean (Good morning, I’m sorry, food), and I’m starting to be able to pick certain words out of the sound tracks of sub-titled anime. Oh, yeah. Itadakimasu. (Let’s eat).
It was fun listening to Girls Last Tour. Because Chi and Yuu are kids, they talk kid talk. When Yuu says something dumb Chi says, “Nani.” (“What?”) When Chi chews her out for overeating, Yuu says, “Gomen.” (“Sorry.”) I didn’t understand 10% of what they were saying, but I did catch about 5%.
And sometimes I can figure out what’s going on, things that make no sense in literal translation. That was, after all, the point of the exercise.
I like The Ancient Magus’ Bride. I think Chise and Elias have a great dynamic between them, and they each have something important to say about humanity. I like the pace and the heart of their series, and I like the general good nature that underlies it.
Chise (left) and Elias. That’s Chise HaTORI, baby.
And the thing about studying Japanese is that it lets you in on some of the jokes.
Here in the manga Elias reminds Chise, “Your name contains the word ‘bird.’” (It’s a reminder because, of course, Chise is Japanese (nihonjin). What’s interesting is that Elias knows it.
Chise, Elias speaking to her.
But … huh?
Seriously, huh? Her name is Chise Hatori, Hatori Chise organized with the family name first as in Japan. Do you see a bird in there? I don’t see no “B-I-R-D” in there. I don’t see falcon or wren or budgie or parrot or albatross or … you get the idea. I see “rich.” I see “Hat” and “is,” and a “tor” is some kind of hill. But the English manga is in English, and in English her name does not contain the word “bird.”
Well, no one bothered to translate the joke. In Japanese “tori” means “bird.”
It’s a pun.
Oh, and hato means pigeon or dove. That’s a word I haven’t learned yet (Google translate spit it out when I typed in “Hatori”), but it’s sort of a double pun now that I know it.
I didn’t get this joke until I studied Japanese (nihongo), but once I got it, a whole bunch of things snapped into place. They compare her to a bird ALL THE TIME, and her nickname is Lady Robin (she’s a bird and she has red hair; the color of her breast remains forever hidden, although does wear that reddish-brown sweater all the time). The story reads without the pun: Chise is, in a lot of ways, not unlike a songbird in a cage, protected from the larger world around her.
But Elias meant it literally. In Japanese her name contains the word for bird!
All the bird jokes are puns and now I get them!
That’s what interest in a foreign medium can do for you. You know there are ideas in there and you know you aren’t getting them, and you know the only way to get them is to go there or do that or learn that language, experience that culture.
You see this in a lot of places. In the Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid spinoff manga Kanna’s Daily Life Kanna gets to experience her first Doll Day. We don’t have that here.
Making chocolates for your sweetie on Valentine’s Day…who in the US would MAKE chocolate? Give them, yes, but store bought.
The idea that the school year would start in April? Unheard of. My life has run on a September-August intellectual fiscal year for longer than most of you have been alive.
In at least two sources … Kanna’s Daily Life and Magical Shopping Arcade Abenobashi … I have run into gags based on sweet potatoes giving the eater *ahem* gas (shall we say). I like sweet potatoes, and I probably eat them more than the average American, but never have I encountered that particular phenomenon.
Cicadas. Am I right?
This stuff only makes sense in context, and to understand the context you have to understand the culture. Since you can’t understand a culture just by thinking about it wishfully, you have to actually buckle down and learn something
And so anime and manga have the ability to expand your mind, if only you are willing.
I love it.
Thanks for reading. Maybe I have another hundred posts in me, maybe not. Time will tell.
By the way, right now gozennijihandesu (It is 2:30 AM) 🙂 ) Yeah, I stayed up late to write this. (But I didn’t post it until my usual posting day, so it came up at midnight.)
Or oyasuminasai, if you prefer.
I always look at comments and feedback, and I’m sure I’m not the first to see what I’ve seen, so have at it. Just keep it clean and keep it on target…no personal attacks, okay? Thanks.