Earth in My Window

Essay by Pop Art artist Takashi Murakami on Japanese society and on WWII infantilizing Japanese culture as revealed by media, anime, and otaku.
anime, NGE, criticism, sociology, Little-Boy, SF
by: Takashi Murakami, Linda Hoaglund 2012-03-042021-01-29 finished certainty: log importance: 2

“Earth In My Win­dow” is a long es­say by pop artist med­i­tat­ing on post-WWII con­sumerist Japan­ese so­ci­ety and on WWII in­fan­tiliz­ing Japan­ese pop cul­ture as re­vealed by its in­flu­ences on me­dia, ani­me, and the otaku sub­cul­ture.

This tran­script has been pre­pared from a PDF scan of pg 98–149 of Lit­tle Boy: The Arts of Japan’s Ex­plod­ing Sub­cul­ture, ed. Mu­rakami, pub­lished 2005-05-15, ISBN 0300102852. (See also the tran­script of a dis­cus­sion mod­er­ated by Mu­rakami, .)

“Earth in My Window”


trans­lated by Linda Hoaglund

Little Boy


The scent of sum­mer is a kamikaze [di­vine wind]
A van­ished fu­ture dreams of to­mor­row
Gleam­ing wings, a ter­ri­fied pro­file
Feign­ing bliss­ful ig­no­rance when we all know

An his­toric first, a mid­sum­mer mem­ory
Don’t ever for­get, proudly beam­ing
Strut­ting like a star, can you soar through the big sum­mer sky?

That you may never have a sec­ond chance
We re­ally hope, we’re all pray­ing

Don’t ever for­get, by the way, we’re
Japan­ese, too, for bet­ter or worse
Swing it from your hands, proudly un­der the big sum­mer sky

Farewell to arms, un­der the mid­sum­mer sky
Let’s smile in a cor­ner of the room
Who’s that star­ing, who’s that hid­ing there?
With the face of a new­born
Who are you? What are you? Who are you?

(ki­cell, “Enola Gay”, 2004; lyrics and mu­sic by Take­fumi Tsu­jimu­ra)

cap­tion right top: Fig­ure 1a.1 Howl and So­phie, from 2004 An­i­mated film; di­rec­tor: Hayao Miyazaki
cap­tion right bot­tom: Fig­ure 1a.2;


Cap­tion left top: Fig­ure 1a.3 George Or­well 1984 (cov­er) 1949 Book (pub­lish­er: Signet Clas­sic, 1990)

On Au­gust 6, 1945, for the first time in ac­tual war­fare, an atomic bomb, nick­named “”, ex­ploded over the city of Hi­roshima (pl. 6). Three days lat­er, on Au­gust 9, a sec­ond atomic bomb, nick­named “”, hit Na­gasa­ki. To­geth­er, the two bombs killed more than 210 thou­sand peo­ple; when sur­vivors afflicted by the after-effects of the bombs are in­clud­ed, the fig­ure rises to some 370 thou­sand. After the tragic ex­plo­sive-de­struc­tive-White­out! of the bombs, only burned-out rub­ble re­mained: waste­land upon waste­land, ut­terly va­cant land. After the blind­ing white light, a con­fla­gra­tion of or­ange… and then, in­stan­ta­neous­ly, a tor­rent of pitch-black rub­ble and man­gled body parts ac­tu­ally rained on the peo­ple on the ground.

Shortly there­after, Japan sur­ren­dered un­con­di­tion­al­ly, bring­ing the fifteen-year Pa­cific War to an end.

2005. Sixty years after the war. Con­tem­po­rary Japan is at peace.

But every­one who lives in Japan knows—­some­thing is wrong. Still, it’s not worth a sec­ond thought. Young girls butchered; piles of cash do­na­tions, scat­tered reck­lessly on for­eign soil; the quest for cathar­sis through vol­un­teerism; a brazen me­dia pre­pared to swal­low press re­stric­tions in sup­port of eco­nomic growth. The door­ways of pass­ably com­fort­able one-room apart­ments, adorned mean­ing­lessly with amulet stick­ers from , a pri­vate se­cu­rity com­pa­ny. Safe and sound, hys­te­ria.

Japan may be the fu­ture of the world. And now, Japan is .

From so­cial mores to art and cul­ture, every­thing is su­per two-di­men­sion­al.

Kawaii (cute) cul­ture has be­come a liv­ing en­tity that per­vades every­thing. With a pop­u­la­tion heed­less of the cost of em­brac­ing im­ma­tu­ri­ty, the na­tion is in the throes of a dilem­ma: a pre­oc­cu­pa­tion with an­ti-ag­ing may con­quer not only the hu­man heart, but also the body.

It is a utopian so­ci­ety as fully reg­u­lated as the sci­ence-fic­tion world George Or­well en­vi­sioned in 1984: com­fort­able, hap­py, fash­ion­able—a world nearly de­void of dis­crim­i­na­tory im­puls­es. A place for peo­ple un­able to com­pre­hend the moral co­or­di­nates of right and wrong as any­thing other than a for “I feel good.”


Cap­tion right top: Fig­ure 1a.4 1954 Film; di­rec­tor:

These mo­not­o­nous ru­ins of a na­tion-s­tate, which ar­rived on the heels of an Amer­i­can pup­pet gov­ern­ment, have been per­fectly re­al­ized in the name of cap­i­tal­ism. Those who in­habit this va­cant cru­cible spin in end­less, inar­tic­u­late cir­cles. In or­der to solve the puz­zle of Japan­ese cul­ture to­day, let us view it through in­di­vid­ual win­dows, whether im­ages, songs, or some ex­pres­sion or be­hav­ior, as though screen­ing them on a com­put­er. Guided by the frag­ment of a soul vis­i­ble at the in­stant those win­dows co­a­lesce as one, we will draw the fu­ture a lit­tle clos­er.

When kawaii, het­are (loser), and yu­rui (loose or lethar­gic) char­ac­ters smile wanly or stare va­cant­ly, peo­ple around the world should rec­og­nize a grad­u­ally fus­ing, happy heart. It should be pos­si­ble to find the ker­nels of our fu­ture by ex­am­in­ing how in­dige­nous Japan­ese im­agery and aes­thet­ics changed and ac­cel­er­ated after the war, so­lid­i­fy­ing into their cur­rent forms.

We Japan­ese still em­body “Lit­tle Boy”, nick­named, like the atomic bomb it­self, after a nasty child­hood taunt.

Japanese Film in the 60 Years After the War

Akira Kuro­sawa’s undis­puted mas­ter­piece, The Seven Samu­rai (1954), a lengthy en­ter­tain­ment run­ning three hours and twen­ty-seven min­utes, was re­leased nine years after the war, and be­came a record-break­ing hit in Japan. Upon its re­lease, long lines snaked out­side the­aters in Japan, and the film rapidly achieved in­ter­na­tional pop­u­lar­i­ty; it won the Sil­ver Lion in the same year. Re­made abroad, it has gained count­less Japan­ese and in­ter­na­tional fans.


Cap­tion left top: Howl and So­phie fly­ing, from Howl’s Mov­ing Cas­tle 2004 An­i­mated film; di­rec­tor: Hayao Miyazaki

With its re­lent­less pur­suit of re­al­ism, the film broke new ground among samu­rai films, deal­ing with such themes as hu­man re­silience, pover­ty, hunger, pride, loy­al­ty, the fu­til­ity of Japan’s feu­dal hi­er­ar­chy (war­riors/­peas­ants/ar­ti­san­s/mer­chants), and the folly of strife. The world may be a com­plex place where hap­pi­ness eludes many, yet hu­mans sur­vive. The Seven Samu­rai was a hymn to the tri­umphant right of the peas­ant or the com­mon man to live.

Al­though the Japan­ese had achieved a mirac­u­lous post­war re­vival and no longer scram­bled for food, hunger was still an in­deli­ble mem­o­ry, tinged with nos­tal­gia. As they searched for self­-re­spect while ac­knowl­edg­ing de­feat, The Seven Samu­rai was no mere cos­tume dra­ma: it was their own strug­gle. The film de­fined the Japan­ese peo­ple.

With the chang­ing for­tunes of the years, the co­or­di­nates of en­ter­tain­ment also shift­ed.

Now it’s 2005. What film de­fines the Japan­ese to­day? With­out ques­tion, it is Howl’s Mov­ing Cas­tle, re­leased in Japan in late 2004.

Hayao Miyaza­ki, a na­tion­ally beloved di­rec­tor whose new works are ea­gerly an­tic­i­pat­ed, achieved an un­prece­dented feat with his pre­vi­ous film, , the high­est-gross­ing film in Japan­ese screen his­to­ry.


Cap­tion right top: · Fig­ure 1a.6 · Howl mon­ster­ized, from Howl’s Mov­ing Cas­tle · 2004 · An­i­mated film; di­rec­tor: Hayao Miyazaki · Cap­tion right mid­dle: · Fig­ure 1a.7 · So­phie trav­el­ing back in time to Howl’s child­hood, from Howl’s Mov­ing Cas­tle · 2004 · An­i­mated film; di­rec­tor: Hayao Miyazaki

His lat­est film, Howl’s Mov­ing Cas­tle (in cur­rent re­lease), is over­whelm­ingly pop­u­lar. This film should pro­vide a snap­shot of what Japan­ese peo­ple want to­day. Let us an­a­lyze sev­eral of its key com­po­nents.

The young pro­tag­o­nist, So­phie, is eigh­teen years old. It is the dawn of the twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry, an era of un­sur­passed na­tion­al­ism, some­where in a faintly Al­sa­t­ian cor­ner of the world. Sol­diers of the realm head out to bat­tle. One day, So­phie en­coun­ters a beau­ti­ful young wiz­ard, Howl. Flee­ing from an un­known pur­suer, the young man flies up into the sky car­ry­ing So­phie, who promptly falls in love with him.

That night, the Witch of the Waste casts a spell on So­phie, trans­form­ing her into a nine­ty-year-old woman. Home­less, So­phie wan­ders into Howl’s dreaded mov­ing castle, where she takes up res­i­dence as an aged house­keep­er, dis­guis­ing her true iden­ti­ty. As So­phie em­braces her strange new life in the cas­tle with Howl, his ap­pren­tice Markl, and Cal­cifer (a fire de­mon who keeps the cas­tle in mo­tion), she opens her heart to them, ac­knowl­edg­ing their mu­tual bonds, and re­al­izes that she is hap­py. Mean­while, Howl, who has al­ways pur­sued a soli­tary ex­is­tence, evad­ing his wiz­ardly oblig­a­tions to en­gage in war, also changes. Even as he grows hag­gard from nightly ex­po­sure to the fires of war, he has found some­one he must pro­tect. By falling in love with So­phie, Howl dis­cov­ers one cause for which it is worth sac­ri­fic­ing him­self to the rav­ages of war. But the fires of war mer­ci­lessly con­sume even Howl’s hum­ble re­solve, and he is quickly re­duced to an evil fight­ing ma­chine.

Sur­mis­ing that Howl’s con­di­tion stems from a youth­ful ob­ses­sion with sor­cery, So­phie leaps across space and time back to Howl’s child­hood, where she must win his heart. She ful­fills her goal, the war ends, and So­phie and Howl live hap­pily in the cas­tle.

In the sto­ry, So­phie bounces back and forth be­tween eigh­teen and nine­ty, ag­ing when she is in­de­ci­sive and re­gain­ing her youth­ful ap­pear­ance when­ever she makes a choice; she con­stantly meta­mor­phoses, heed­less of the de­mands of any lin­ear nar­ra­tive. In the happy fi­nal sce­nes, So­phie is a girl again, yet she re­tains a shock of white hair.

The film is based on a by . Al­though the film re­mains true to the ba­sic out­line of the book, the orig­i­nal plot has been re­lent­lessly al­tered. Miyaza­k­i’s adap­ta­tion is rooted in the [pg104] pro­tag­o­nist’s quest for the mean­ing of life, which mir­rors the same quest of con­tem­po­rary Japan­ese. It also in­cor­po­rates Miyaza­k­i’s cor­ro­sive yet gen­uine strug­gle through per­sonal trau­mas dur­ing the Pa­cific War. Grad­u­al­ly, Miyazaki has trans­formed Wynne Jones’s story into a self­-dep­re­cat­ing por­trait of him­self, con­clud­ing that if he must live in a land of com­plete de­feat, which has cho­sen apo­lit­i­cal in­volve­ment in war, he has no choice but to keep mak­ing movies.

A Hol­ly­wood pro­ducer read­ing the screen­play in ad­vance might well have had mis­giv­ings about fi­nanc­ing Howl’s mam­moth pro­duc­tion costs. But Miyazaki has cre­ated the ul­ti­mate en­ter­tain­ment for pre­sen­t-day Japan, with a pow­er­fully cu­mu­la­tive struc­ture, se­quences of in­tense pas­sion, vivid ren­der­ings of a con­tem­po­rary Japan­ese ethos, and a vo­ra­cious ap­petite for re­lent­less vol­leys of “mes­sages”. Miyazaki knows bet­ter than any­one that the Japan­ese au­di­ence hungers for a nar­ra­tive struc­ture alien to the logic of Amer­i­can films.

The film has three ma­jor themes. First, war is un­ten­able, and no mat­ter how right­eous its cause, breaks down the hu­man spir­it; the fact that war be­gins and ends at the capri­cious whim of a hand­ful of peo­ple is cause for de­spair. In other words, war is ul­ti­mately mean­ing­less. Sec­ond, no one can live alone. The film stresses our es­sen­tial need for com­mu­ni­ty, even if it is only a pseudo-fam­i­ly. Third, re­al­ity lies some­where be­tween “ag­ing” and “an­ti-ag­ing”. The film offers a pre­scrip­tion for the hu­man heart by ac­knowl­edg­ing the process of mat­u­ra­tion and ag­ing in­her­ent to the span of hu­man life.

All of the prob­lems con­fronted by the Japan­ese to­day are present in Howl’s Mov­ing Cas­tle. Take war, which by all rights should con­cern us. Even the most ob­tuse Japan­ese rec­og­nize that we sup­port the war in Iraq. Yet the av­er­age per­son can­not afford to get in­volved. We feel help­less to change the sit­u­a­tion and guilty for liv­ing in safe­ty, yet no one takes any ac­tion. Then there are the string of re­cent nat­ural dis­as­ters, the mur­ders of young girls and other out­ra­geous crimes, the nor­mal­iza­tion of young “”, and the mean­ing­less con­ti­nu­ity of fam­i­ly; fi­nal­ly, our head­long rush to­ward an ag­ing so­ci­ety, filled with anx­i­ety.

This para­dox of an old woman and young girl who oc­cupy one body, this por­trayal of the con­comi­tant [pg105] co­or­di­nates of age, is about to un­fold in the real world. The su­per­im­po­si­tion of Miyazaki him­self, now a white-maned me­dia star, onto this im­age al­lows the au­di­ence im­me­di­ate ac­cess to hard­ship, open­ing them up to sym­pa­thy.

Cap­tion right top: · Fig­ure 1a.8 · Akira Toriyama · Dragon Ball, vol. 1 (cov­er) · 1985 · Book (pub­lish­er: Shūeisha) · Cap­tion right bot­tom: · Fig­ure 1a.9 · Akira Toriyama · Gokū (right) fight­ing an op­po­nent, from Dragon Ball (com­plete edi­tion), vol. 32 (page 58) · 2004 · Book (pub­lish­er: Shūeisha)

In the fires of war, Howl loses sight of him­self and be­comes a mon­ster. He can only es­cape by re­turn­ing to the past to find him­self again. He knows how grim his chances are. Howl’s dilemma is based on Miyaza­k­i’s own child­hood ex­pe­ri­ences of es­cap­ing Tokyo and the rav­ages of war for the coun­try­side dur­ing World War II. Miyazaki has can­didly dis­cussed the guilt and trauma that he felt over his fam­i­ly’s re­fusal, as they es­caped Tokyo by truck, to help other fam­i­lies beg­ging rides along the way for their chil­dren. In ad­di­tion, he is haunted by the shat­tered dreams of his youth, when he acted on his be­lief that ide­ol­ogy could change the world. The heroic sight of Howl, trans­formed into a kamikaze-like fly­ing fighter amidst a land­scape rem­i­nis­cent of fire­bombed Tokyo, is ren­dered real by the fact that Howl in­deed has no goal. The grad­ual trans­for­ma­tion of a gen­tle, charm­ing man into a de­mon as he is dragged into bat­tle may be con­strued as a pow­er­ful protest against the mean­ing­less of war, cloaked in the guise of a chil­dren’s fairy­tale. The Seven Samu­rai brought rel­e­vance through re­al­ism to post­war Japan­ese; Miyazaki achieves em­pa­thy with con­tem­po­rary au­di­ences not by ap­proach­ing re­al­ism (there are no scenes of hu­man death in the film), but by spin­ning a chil­dren’s fan­ta­sy. Howl’s Mov­ing Cas­tle re­sponds to the fears of death that be­set Japan­ese, both young and old. The fan­tas­tic, nearly re­li­gious scene in which So­phie tra­verses time and space to en­ter Howl’s child­hood fore­tells our in­vi­ta­tion to the nether­world be­yond death; it half sug­gests karmic rein­car­na­tion.

Sixty years after the war, the ves­ti­gial phan­toms that Miyazaki failed to con­quer in his youth still trap this film­mak­er, goad­ing him to por­tray the folly of war. And au­di­ences are moved by Miyaza­k­i’s per­sonal dilem­ma, with which they em­pathize and find res­o­nance. This is the movie Japan wants now.

Death and Narrative Merge

The cathar­sis in , the quin­tes­sen­tial main­stream man­ga, is a cli­max that never ends. Dragon Ball was the en­gine that drove , a weekly teen manga mag­a­zine with a cir­cu­la­tion [pg106] of 6.5 mil­lion.

Cap­tion left top: · Fig­ure 1a.10 · Asao Takamori and Tet­suya Chiba · Last scene of · 1973 (o­rig­i­nal manga pub­li­ca­tion) · Man­ga; re­pro­duced from Ashita no Jō, vol. 12, pub­lished by Ko­dan­sha Manga Bunko (2000)

To put this in per­spec­tive, , Japan’s largest dai­ly, has a cir­cu­la­tion of 10 mil­lion. Dragon Ball ran to some 520 in­stall­ments over twelve years from 1984 to 1995. The might­i­est pop­u­lar manga of its day, it had sold over 126 mil­lion manga pa­per­backs by 2000. It goes with­out say­ing that Dragon Ball spin-offs abound, in­clud­ing an an­i­mate TV se­ries, movies, and games. Vast quan­ti­ties of Dragon Ball char­ac­ters and mer­chan­dise have been pro­duced.

Dragon Ball be­gan with a heart­warm­ing story be­fore shift­ing into an ac­tion se­ries built around the war­rior tour­na­ments of the Peer­less Mar­tial Arts As­so­ci­a­tion (Tenka Ichi Budōkai). The pro­tag­o­nists fight, win, lose, and learn lessons, then re­turn to fight again in an end­less cy­cle. The tenets of the Shō­nen Jump phi­los­o­phy, “friend­ship, strug­gle, and vic­tory”, in­ten­sify the mo­ment bat­tling war­riors be­come friends. Dragon Ball then evolved into a bat­tle against aliens in­tent on world dom­i­na­tion, ex­pand­ing its nar­ra­tive scale, which in­creas­ingly in­flates the top war­riors and their chal­lengers. The colos­sal pop­u­lar­ity of the se­ries so ex­tended its life that ac­ro­batic de­vices were con­tin­u­ally em­ployed to keep the nar­ra­tive alive, evad­ing the pit­falls of rou­tine char­ac­ters and plots. The se­ries even­tu­ally went so far as to have pro­tag­o­nist Gokū and the other war­riors at­tain life after death halfway through their sto­ries by means of a mirac­u­lous de­vice. Gokū, for ex­am­ple, con­tin­ues his an­i­mate ex­is­tence by wear­ing an an­gel’s ha­lo. Dragon Ball is premised on the pre­pos­ter­ous no­tion that a dead, halo-s­port­ing hero can re­duce each of his per­sis­tent chal­lenger­s—from neme­sis and su­per-neme­sis to hy­per­-neme­sis—to a pulp. The nev­er-end­ing cycli­cal nar­ra­tive moves for­ward plau­si­bly, seam­less­ly, and with great fi­nesse.

In the 1990s, the man­ga-lov­ing pub­lic grew dis­sat­is­fied with the es­sen­tial manga cathar­sis at the heart of To­mor­row’s Joe or , in which the fi­nal death of the pro­tag­o­nist pro­vides sen­ti­men­tal in­spi­ra­tion. That pub­lic de­manded a riskier, high­-wire nar­ra­tive to sus­tain its ad­dic­tion to weekly manga mag­a­zines.

In fact, as leg­end has it, the cre­ator of Dragon Ball and his read­ers ended up play­ing out a game of one-up­man­ship as ex­treme—and even as haz­ardous—as the rig­or­ous thou­sand-day as­cetic prac­tice that an Es­o­teric Bud­dhist monk would un­dergo on the sa­cred [pg107] , nearly sac­ri­fic­ing his own life to at­tain the revered rank of (Sk: âcârya). The re­sult was the ul­ti­mate en­ter­tain­ment of a nev­er-end­ing loop that de­fies even death it­self.

Cap­tion top: · Fig­ure 1a.11 · Os­amu Tezuka · From New Trea­sure Is­land · 1947 (o­rig­i­nal manga pub­li­ca­tion) · Man­ga; re­pro­duced from Shin takara­ji­ma: Tezuka Os­amu manga zen­shū 281 (Com­plete works of Os­amu Tezuka, vol. 281), pub­lished by Ko­dan­sha (1984), pages 8–9 · Cap­tion right bot­tom: · Fig­ure 1a.12 · Ka­mui Fu­ji­wara · Choco­late Panic, vol. 2 (cov­er) · 1986 · Book (pub­lish­er: Futabasha)

An­other work em­blem­atic of man­ga’s hey­day, ’s (pl. 18), re­flects an al­ter­nate ap­proach to com­bin­ing el­e­ments of tra­di­tional manga nar­ra­tive. Ōtomo emerged in the mid-1970s as a pi­o­neer of re­al­is­tic de­pic­tion, and ex­erted ma­jor in­flu­ence through the over­whelm­ing power of his im­ages.

, the first manga mas­ter, laid out the es­sen­tial nar­ra­tive con­ven­tions of post­war man­ga. Though in­flu­enced by Dis­ney’s an­i­ma­tion tech­niques, Tezuka de­vised his own manga gram­mar, em­ploy­ing a pro­gres­sion of film-like shot break­downs and char­ac­ter [pg108] pos­es. His ap­proach drew many fol­low­ers, cre­at­ing the foun­da­tion for post­war man­ga.

Cap­tion left: · Fig­ure 1a.13 · · · 1563 · Oil on panel · 114 × 155 cm · Kun­sthis­torisches Mu­se­um, Vi­enna · GG Inv. No. 1026

Ōto­mo’s in­no­va­tion, in turn, lay in the frozen still­ness of his vi­sual com­po­si­tions, which offer stark con­trast to Tezuka’s dy­namic im­ages. Ōto­mo’s manga frames are styl­ized an ex­ag­ger­at­ed, and his me­chan­i­cally clipped im­ages cre­ate a weight­less at­mos­phere. His nar­ra­tives echo this qual­i­ty: there’s never a fi­nal pay­off. They’re anec­do­tal feints, al­ways side­step­ping any de­noue­ment. Other manga artists, such as , the Ōtomo devo­tee be­hind Choco­late Panic, be­gan to premise their work on an ex­ag­ger­ated fail­ure to de­liver a fi­nale. In the world of four-frame man­ga, the trend to­ward a non-nar­ra­tive struc­ture—­found in the work of Kōji Ai­hara, Sen­sha Yoshi­da, Sekai­ichi Asaku­ra, and —may be con­strued as a re­sponse to an ex­treme re­al­ism. Ōto­mo, one of the pi­o­neers of this tech­nique, aban­doned it after sev­eral [pg109] se­ri­al­iza­tions, even­tu­ally adopt­ing a filmic id­iom. He in­cor­po­rated cin­e­matic con­ven­tions of sus­pense in A Child’s Dream (1982), and in the short an­i­mated film The Or­der to Stop Con­struc­tion, he took the “frozen-still” com­po­si­tions he had mas­tered through manga to the next lev­el. As if to re­verse Tezuka’s move­ment to­wards Dis­ney-style an­i­ma­tion, Ōtomo de­vel­oped a vaguely me­chan­i­cal yet sup­ple an­i­ma­tion tech­nique. With these de­lib­er­ate strate­gies his ca­reer evolved, head­ing to­wards the epic film that would de­fine an era.

Cap­tion left bot­tom: · Kat­suhiro Ōtomo · Kaneda and his biker gang rac­ing through Neo Tokyo, from Akira, vol. 6 · 1993 · Book (pub­lish­er: Ko­dan­sha)

This film was Akira.

Akira set Ōto­mo’s ca­reer as a manga cre­ator and an an­i­ma­tor in stone. Dur­ing the nine-year pe­riod over which he se­ri­al­ized the man­ga, he also adapted it as an . In an era per­me­ated by the loom­ing end of the cen­tu­ry, Ōto­mo, en­tranced by the no­tion of the death of nar­ra­tive, set out to res­ur­rect epic sto­ry­telling. Push­ing the lim­its of his vi­sual [pg110] ge­nius, Ōtomo ren­dered an ex­plod­ing city in in­fi­nite de­tail. He cap­tured the very apoc­a­lypse of post­war Japan with a force akin to that of Pieter Bruegel’s The Tower of Ba­bel. Choos­ing “post-apoc­a­lyp­tic hu­man awak­en­ing” as his the­me, Ōtomo em­ployed every ex­per­i­ment and in­no­va­tion in the ser­vice of bring­ing his film to the zenith of Japan­ese an­i­ma­tion. In­evitably, given this the­me, he wound up with a fi­nal scene rem­i­nis­cent of Arthur C. Clarke and Stan­ley Kubrick’s .

Cap­tion left top: · Kat­suhiro Ōtomo · Kaneda scream­ing, “Akira lives on in our minds!” · from Akira, vol. 6 (page 422) · 1993 · Book (pub­lish­er: Ko­dan­sha) · Cap­tion left mid­dle: · Kat­suhiro Ōtomo · “Greater Tokyo Em­pire Akira” ban­ner, from Akira, vol. 6 (page 415) · 1993 · Book (pub­lish­er: Ko­dan­sha)

Once the an­i­ma­tion pro­duc­tion was wind­ing down and Ōtomo be­gan writ­ing the fi­nal manga chap­ter, his theme shift­ed. It was this shift that made Akira, the se­r­ial man­ga, so rev­o­lu­tion­ary.

Ac­cord­ing to pre­vail­ing wis­dom, Tezuka’s manga is semi­ot­i­cally struc­tured, with char­ac­ters act­ing as sig­ni­fiers to guide nar­ra­tive. Ōto­mo’s work, in which each frame is an in­di­vid­ual im­age, re­jected that ap­proach. Ōtomo de­fined a method in which it is the char­ac­ters that ce­ment the con­struc­tion of their world, even as they guide the nar­ra­tive. And he added an­other el­e­ment us­ing manga to cri­tique man­ga. In­stead of defin­ing a closed nar­ra­tive cir­cle, he strove [pg111] to de­vise a “meta-manga”.

Let us con­sider the end­ing of Akira, vol­ume 6. First, Ōtomo closes the nar­ra­tive cy­cle.

United Na­tions forces have ar­rived amid the ev­i­dent de­struc­tion of Neo Tokyo soon after Aki­ra’s ex­plo­sion, prompt­ing Kaneda to scream,

“Take your guns and get the hell out of our coun­try!”

“We’ll keep all the damned aid you’ve brought. But any­thing be­yond that, and you’re in­ter­fer­ing with sov­er­eign affairs.”

“Akira lives on in our minds!”

A cry for free­dom from a de­feated Japan, its own con­sti­tu­tion leg­is­lated by an­other na­tion after the war.

Don’t touch me, let me be in­de­pen­dent. We don’t need your U.N. or any other help. The im­age of Kaneda and the oth­ers wav­ing a “Greater Tokyo Em­pire Akira” flag, with none of the con­vic­tion that ac­com­pa­nied bran­dish­ments of the for­mer im­pe­r­ial flag of Japan, seems to mock our cur­rent “Japan­ese Na­tion of Chil­dren”. But this is where the story ends, giv­ing way to lay­outs that con­ceal new pos­si­bil­i­ties for man­ga.

A few pages be­fore the end, Kaneda and the other pro­tag­o­nists race around ru­ined sky­scrap­ers on mo­tor­bikes, even as the sky­scrap­ers re­build them­selves be­fore our eyes. The city, de­stroyed by Akira and Tet­suo, noise­lessly re­turns to its for­mer state, ren­dered in painstak­ing with Ōto­mo’s char­ac­ter­is­tic re­al­ism. The re­con­struc­tion of Neo Toky­o’s sky­scrap­ers em­bod­ies a move­ment from dystopia to utopia. The link to Tezuka, who, in­spired by , penned an epony­mous manga and cre­ated around a sim­i­lar the­me, ap­pears un­ex­pect­edly in these last pages.

Ōtomo paid pri­vate homage to Tezuka, plac­ing a per­sonal mes­sage to the mas­ter next to rub­ble spray-painted with Aki­ra’s em­blem.

By the end of the sto­ry, the pro­tag­o­nists’ bid for free­dom has be­come the cen­tral the­me, and the self­-res­ur­rect­ing build­ings form a di­rect ref­er­ence to Tezuka’s post­war manga gram­mar.

Back in the 1950s, as the Japan­ese con­tin­ued to pon­der the na­tion’s de­feat, they nonethe­less placed their faith in the ul­ti­mate cut­ting-edge en­ergy source: nu­clear pow­er. It is no won­der, then, that in Tezuka’s mag­num opus, As­tro Boy—whose Japan­ese ti­tle, [pg112] Tet­suwan Atomu, lit­er­ally means “Mighty Atom”—a ro­bot named Atom might have seemed ap­pro­pri­ate as a de­fender of jus­tice who em­bod­ied the bright fu­ture. To con­sider that this name is iden­ti­cal to the force of the atomic bomb, and that the bomb dropped on Hi­roshima was nick­named “Lit­tle Boy”, is to un­der­stand the tor­tu­ously twisted road that led from war to re­cov­ery. Ōtomo ref­er­ences this jour­ney, cri­tiquing the Shō­nen Jump-style pop­u­lar manga cul­ture of the 1980s in a com­plete affir­ma­tion of his own re­al­is­tic manga style. Mirac­u­lous­ly, he’s pulled it all off si­mul­ta­ne­ously in a sin­gle work, Akira.

Manga oc­cu­pies a cen­tral place in the his­tory of post­war Japan­ese cul­ture. I am sure Ōtomo be­lieved this. Use manga to cri­tique man­ga. Fi­nal­ly, Akira, the meta-man­ga, was fin­ished.

In a sense, this co­in­cided with the emer­gence of Sim­u­la­tion­ism in the con­tem­po­rary art of the late 1980s and early 1990s, and Ōto­mo’s mo­tives cor­re­sponded to the as­pi­ra­tions of Sher­rie Levine and Jeff Koons.

It was a com­pli­cated era, when the only way to cre­ate re­al­ity was to merge nar­ra­tive and con­tin­u­ally gen­er­ate sto­ries within sto­ries.

We Japan­ese man­aged to cre­ate a con­text in which even a corpse, alive in death like Dragon Ball’s halo-adorned Gokū, can meet all chal­lengers. But in this con­text, the majesty of the liv­ing, who ac­cept death as self­-ev­i­dence, has been dis­card­ed.

The de­crepit chil­dren who ap­pear in Akira ac­cept the fu­til­ity of life and en­counter their own deaths as chil­dren, de­spite their cho­sen sta­tus and su­per­nat­ural pow­ers; they are ex­actly like the Japan­ese to­day.


[DAICON III open­ing an­i­ma­tion (1981)]
[DAICON IV open­ing an­i­ma­tion (1983)]

(pl. 2) was first shown at the open­ing cer­e­mony of the 22nd Japan SF Con­ven­tion held in Os­aka in 1983. The group that or­ga­nized the event and cre­ated the film con­sisted pri­mar­ily of stu­dent am­a­teurs. The five-minute 8mm film was a se­quel to the group’s de­but work, DAICON III Open­ing An­i­ma­tion, which pre­miered at the 1981 con­fer­ence (also in Os­aka). DAICON stands for “Os­aka Con­ven­tion”, us­ing an al­ter­nate pro­nun­ci­a­tion (dai) for the first char­ac­ter in “Os­aka”.

The an­nual SF (science fic­tion) con­ven­tion, in­au­gu­rated in 1962, re­mains an event by otaku for otaku, pre­dat­ing the term otaku it­self, which did not en­ter [pg113] pub­lic dis­course un­til the late 1980s. Sci­ence fic­tion is in­ti­mately linked to otaku cul­ture. The cre­ators of such otaku-fa­vored gen­res as “ro­bot anime” and (spe­cial effects) films drew heav­ily on sci­ence fic­tion; the anime clas­sic , for ex­am­ple, was in­spired by 1959 nov­el, . (In par­tic­u­lar, the cover il­lus­tra­tion of the “pow­ered suit” cre­ated by for the Japan­ese edi­tion of the book may be con­sid­ered the di­rect an­ces­tor of Gun­dam’s ro­bot de­sign.) Be­fore the full emer­gence of otaku cul­ture, fans of tokusatsu and anime TV se­ries cre­ated for chil­dren could fur­ther sat­isfy their ap­petites only by turn­ing to sci­ence fic­tion.

Cap­tion left: · Fig­ure 1a.17 · Stu­dio Nue · Fron­tispiece for Robert Hein­lein, Star­ship Troop­ers (pub­lish­er: Hayakawa Shobō) · 1977 · Orig­i­nal draw­ing · (de­signed by Kazu­taka Miy­atake)

DAICON was their event.

The leg­endary DAICON an­i­ma­tions were cre­ated by , , , , and (a­mong oth­er­s), who were then col­lege stu­dents in the Os­aka area.1 After con­clud­ing their ac­tiv­i­ties as am­a­teurs, the group later formed the anime stu­dio Gainax, which made its name with , the bible for con­tem­po­rary otaku, in 1995, twelve years after DAICON IV.

The DAICON an­i­ma­tions re­veal two char­ac­ter­is­tics that ap­peal to otaku. First, they con­tain abun­dant ref­er­ences to el­e­ments of the sub­cul­ture that would later be called otaku cul­ture, in­clud­ing and Space Bat­tle­ship Yam­ato. Sec­ond, even though these hand-drawn, 8mm anime films are ex­tremely short at five min­utes each, they demon­strate an ex­tra­or­di­nary artis­tic and tech­ni­cal level that ex­ceeds ex­pec­ta­tions for in­de­pen­dent films: not only is the qual­ity of the an­i­ma­tion high, but the DAICON an­i­ma­tors were able to in­te­grate the pic­ture and the mu­sic seam­lessly and de­ploy such so­phis­ti­cated tech­niques as mul­ti­ple ex­po­sures far more skill­fully than “pro­fes­sion­als”. In­deed, the DAICON an­i­ma­tors’ re­lent­less pur­suit of qual­ity and so­phis­ti­cated prompted the evo­lu­tion of sci­ence-fic­tion-based sub­cul­ture into ful­l-fledged otaku cul­ture.

So, what ex­actly was DAICON IV Open­ing An­i­ma­tion?

It’s worth ex­plain­ing the flow of the film in de­tail, be­cause the work em­bod­ies every otaku par­a­digm.

Cap­tion left top: · Fig­ure 1a.18 · Sci­ence-fic­tion au­thor Fred­er­ick Pohl con­vers­ing with con­ven­tion­eers, from Offi­cial After Re­port of 22nd Japan SF Con­ven­tion DAICON IV (page 4) · Cap­tion left mid­dle: · Fig­ure 1a.19 · Offi­cial After Re­port of 22nd Japan SF Con­ven­tion DAICON IV (cov­er) · Au­gust 1, 1984 · Book (pub­lish­er: DAICON IV Com­mit­tee)

DAICON IV be­gins with an in­tro­duc­tion de­rived from DAICON III, its fore­run­ner. The sound­track, per­formed by Ki­tarō, who helped de­fine the New Age sound, is very much of its time. The Jet VTOL ship from Ul­tra­man’s Sci­ence Pa­trol slowly de­scends out of the [pg114] blue sky to­ward earth, as an el­e­men­tary-school girl, car­ry­ing her ran­doseru (school back­pack), ob­serves the scene from be­hind a tree. Two pa­trol mem­bers emerge from the ship. They offer the girl a cup of wa­ter and ask her to de­liver it to DAICON. Bow­ing, the girl races away, but Punk Dragon blocks her path. He chal­lenges a “pow­ered suit” from Star­ship Troop­ers and the bat­tle abruptly be­gins. The girl tosses the pow­ered suit aside, where­upon Gomora rises from the earth. Us­ing a booster con­cealed in her back­pack, the girl flies up into the sky, with the pow­ered suit in hot pur­suit. They con­tinue their bat­tle in midair. A blow from the pow­ered suit sends the girl plum­met­ing to earth, im­per­il­ing her pre­cious cup of wa­ter. At the last mo­ment, she has a vi­sion of the Sci­ence Pa­trol and re­gains con­scious­ness. She snatches the cup just be­fore it crashes to the ground, sav­ing the wa­ter. Re­sum­ing her bat­tle with the pow­ered suit, she catches one of its mis­siles and hurls it right back at him; a huge ex­plo­sion en­sues. Just then, Godzilla ap­pears. With King Ghi­do­rah and Gam­era chas­ing her, the girl flies through the air with her jet-pro­pelled back­pack. The Star De­stroyer and an Im­pe­r­ial Scout from Star Wars cross the back­ground. Reach­ing into her back­pack the girl whips out a bam­boo ruler, which mag­i­cally be­comes a lightsaber. After slic­ing Bal­tan Sei­jin in half, the girl launches a mas­sive num­ber of mi­cromis­siles from her back­pack. Hit by a mi­cromis­sile, a Maser Tank from the Godzilla movies goes up in flames. The Atragon breaks in two as the Yam­ato, the En­ter­prise, an X-Wing, and Daima­jin ex­plode in to­tal chaos. The girl pours her cup of wa­ter on a shriv­eled up daikon (Japan­ese radish), buried in the ground. As the daikon re­vives, it turns into the space­ship DAICON. Bathed in light, and now wear­ing a com­man­der’s uni­form, the girl boards the ship, where the film’s pro­duc­ers, Toshio Okada and Ya­suhiro Takeda, sit at the con­trols. As the land­ing gear re­tracts, DAICON de­parts for the far reaches of the uni­verse. DAICON III, the in­tro­duc­tion, comes to a close.


Cap­tion left top: · Draw­ings for DAICON IV Open­ing An­i­ma­tion · Pen­cil on pa­per · 24.2 × 26.8 cm each · Col­lec­tion of DAICON Film · An­i­ma­tion di­rec­tors: · Takami Akai (left) and · Hideaki Anno (right)

The girl with the back­pack from the in­tro­duc­tion has now grown up into a Bunny Girl. Every last sci­ence-fic­tion/­fan­tasy TV and movie char­ac­ter makes an ap­pear­ance: As­tron, Jami­ra, Zarab Sei­jin, King Joe [pg116] Seabozu, Twin Tail, Gesura, Dada, and Sat­urn. The Bunny Girl jumps into a throng of Metron Sei­jin. She races past Gyan­go, Red King, Bal­tan Sei­jin, Takkong, Pole Sei­jin, Z-Ton, Mephilus Sei­jin, and Seago­ras, toss­ing them all side. With­out warn­ing, she’s in a light-s­aber duel with Darth Vader, while Storm Troop­ers sit in the back­ground, their legs folded un­der them. The Death Star is en­shrined in one cor­ner. Atop a cliff, aliens who have seized the Dis­cov­ery from 2001: A Space Odyssey kick up a fuss. The Dy­na­man ro­bot crushes the girl. When a sword flies at her out of nowhere, Bunny Girl hops on it like a surfer. Just then, Jedi-tei Yū Ida launches into a Japan­ese com­edy rou­tine with C-3PO and Chew­bacca in the au­di­ence. There’s Na­zoh from Gekkō Ka­men (Moon­light Mask) and a Pira Sei­jin with a nametag read­ing “Tarō the Blaster” (Bakuhatsu Tarō) on his chest. Bunny Girl is still surfing on her sword when she runs into a for­ma­tion of Ul­tra­hawk 1’s. Then the Yam­ato and the Ar­ca­dia ap­pear, along with an ex­plod­ing Valkyrie VF from Macross. An awe­some midair bat­tle un­folds in an otaku coffee shop (no doubt the film­mak­ers’ fa­vorite hang­out).2 Bunny Girl now trav­els into an ex­tra-di­men­sional world. We see Cap­tain Amer­i­ca, Robin, Bat­man, Spi­der-Man, Won­der Wom­an…the list goes on. Fly­ing into space are the Thun­der­bird, a TIE-Fighter, and the Mil­len­nium Fal­con. Rid­er, Jum­borg A, the Shoot­ing Star, nurs­es, the gi­ant Ohmu from Nau­si­caä, Nau­si­caä her­self, Lynne Min­may, Mazinger Z, Kool Sei­jin, Cutie Hon­ey, and oth­ers are there. Hav­ing made it through otaku-land, Bunny Girl re­lin­quishes her sword. It splits into seven parts, which fly through the sky spew­ing flames in seven col­ors. At the foot of Mt. Fuji are Mogera, the Yam­ato, Moth­ra, the Atragon, White Base, and Thun­der­bird 5. All of a sud­den, an atom­ic-bom­b-grade ex­plo­sion hits an un­pop­u­lated city. After the blast, there’s a flurry of cher­ry-blos­som petals. Suc­ces­sive up­heavals of the earth give birth to new worlds. As the beam launched by the DAICON tra­verses the sky, lush green­ery sprouts and grows. Robby the Ro­bot, ObaQ, Do­rae­mon, the Five Rangers, and other char­ac­ter­s—­too many to coun­t—­con­verge: Hakaider, At­man, Maria from Me­trop­o­lis, Met­aluna Mu­tant, the Ro­bot Gun­slinger from West­world, Cap­tain Dice, Robo­con, Derek Wild­star (Susumu Ko­dai), the Crea­ture, Ming the Mer­ci­less, X-Sei­jin, Lum, Kane­gon, Char Azn­able, Co­bra, Gekkō Ka­men, In­spec­tor Zeni­gata, Mr. Spock, Ke­mur Sei­jin, An­ne, Ban­del Sei­jin, Su­per­man, [pg117] So­ran the Space Boy, Cor­nelius, In­vis­i­ble Man, Hell Am­bas­sador, Doruge, Fight­ers, Boss Borot, the Ro­bot San­to­hei, Speed Racer (Go Mi­fu­ne), Big X, Space Ace, Tri­ton, 009, Tet­su­jin 28, Elec­tric Man, Met­al­i­nom, Hack, Bart, Gi­ant Ro­bot, Ga­ban, V3, Lupin III, Apollo Geist, Bat, Barom One, King Joe. The sun ris­es, the cam­era zooms out to the so­lar sys­tem, and The End.

Cap­tion left top: · Fig­ure 1a.21 · Por­trait of Hideaki Anno on the cover of Quick Japan, vol. 10 (O­hta Pub­lish­ing Co., 1996)

With every last pos­si­ble sci­ence-fic­tion (otaku-style) char­ac­ter from around the world—and through­out time—p­re­sent and ac­counted for3, the film is ob­vi­ously a mam­moth la­bor of love. By stuffing their film with all of the beloved crea­tures that in­spired them, the cre­ators dis­played a level of pas­sion in­com­men­su­rate with a work cre­ated as the open­ing event of an am­a­teur com­pe­ti­tion. There is the thrill of nav­i­gat­ing the bor­der be­tween par­ody and art. More than twenty years after the orig­i­nal screen­ing, this film de­serves re­newed re­spect for the en­ergy in­volved in fash­ion­ing a work of such as­tound­ing per­fec­tion. And yet, as if this achieve­ment were not suffi­cient in it­self, in the last scene of DAICON IV Open­ing An­i­ma­tion, the fun­da­men­tal metaphor for any Japan­ese cre­ator, the atomic bom­b—our sym­bol of “de­struc­tion and re­birth”—ex­plodes in an un­ex­pected way.

After the se­quence in which Bunny Girl flies around tire­less­ly, every­thing is de­stroyed by (what can only be con­strued as) an atomic bomb. In the en­su­ing whirl­wind, petals from Japan’s na­tional flow­er, the cherry blos­som, en­gulf every­thing in a blast of pink; the streets be­come scorched earth, moun­tains are burnt bare, and the whole world be­comes a waste­land. Amidst this dev­as­ta­tion, Space­ship DAICON, sym­bol­iz­ing otaku, floats in midair emit­ting a pow­er­ful beam—the beam of sci­ence-fic­tion fans. The world re­vives, gi­ant trees rise in a flash, and Mother Earth is once again be­decked in green. Char­ac­ters from the world of sci­ence fic­tion gather on the re­stored planet to cel­e­brate.

In ac­cor­dance with the rubrics of otaku taste, all of the char­ac­ters are hap­py, their chests puffed up proudly at the light of hope. Char­ac­ters who have never oc­cu­pied the same screen grad­u­ally in­ter­act with each other and as­sem­ble in the fi­nal mob scene—a per­fect en­cap­su­la­tion of the sci­ence-fic­tion con­fer­ence’s mes­sage.

In this film, the an­i­ma­tors dis­cov­ered an affir­ma­tion be­hind to­tal an­ni­hi­la­tion that had noth­ing to do with [pg118] the pol­i­tics or ide­ol­ogy of the atomic bomb. This is why they were able to por­tray the end of the world, with­out hes­i­ta­tion, as a kind of rev­o­lu­tion, and fol­low it with a “bliz­zard” of cher­ry-blos­som petals. Hideaki An­no, who later di­rected Neon Gen­e­sis Evan­ge­lion, cre­ated the ex­plo­sion scene, and it is al­most painful to watch his patho­log­i­cal ob­ses­sion with it, as an atomic whirl­wind de­stroys the city.

Cap­tion left top: · Fig­ure 1a.22 · Haruo Mi­nami · “Hello from the Coun­tries of the World: Expo ’70 Theme Song” · 1967 · 7-inch sin­gle; SN-464 (cov­er)

At first glance, this sce­nario for Japan’s re­cov­ery from an atomic bomb seems offhand, but the cre­ators’ com­pelling mes­sage is deeply felt in the ur­gency of the pro­duc­tion val­ues. In a way, otaku sen­si­bil­i­ties have much in com­mon with those of Amer­i­can hip­pies in the 1970s. A lifestyle that seems to turn its back on the world is founded on a nearly ground­less ob­ses­sion with peace and hap­pi­ness, tremen­dous cu­rios­ity for the in­ter­nal world of the self, ex­treme sen­ti­men­tal­i­ty, and keen sen­si­tiv­i­ty, all of which con­tribute to fu­tur­is­tic cre­ation.

The fact that Japan’s IT in­dus­try is built on otaku is also sig­nifi­cant, as it sug­gests a par­al­lel be­tween the hip­pie move­ment and otaku cul­ture. One in­di­ca­tion of the film­mak­ers’ ob­ses­sion with qual­ity and con­cept was their use of a then-rare per­sonal com­put­er, which en­abled them to cal­cu­late plan­e­tary or­bits and thus de­sign the so­lar sys­tem that ap­pears in the last scene. The com­plex­ity of this de­sign process offers fur­ther ev­i­dence of the film­mak­ers’ ob­ses­sion with re­al­ism.

Sur­pris­ing­ly, it turns out that the ul­ti­mate dream of otaku aes­thet­ics, scrupu­lous yet fa­nat­i­cally ob­sessed with re­al­i­ty, is a happy par­ty, a peace­ful fes­ti­val.

The Adult Empire Strikes Back

Hel­lo, hel­lo, from the West­ern coun­tries
Hel­lo, hel­lo, from the East­ern coun­tries
Hel­lo, hel­lo, peo­ple from all over the world
Hel­lo, hel­lo, in the land of cherry blos­soms
Say hello in 1970
Hel­lo, hel­lo, let’s shake hands

Hel­lo, hel­lo, to the realm of the moon4
Hel­lo, hel­lo, we fly away from earth
Hel­lo, hel­lo, the dreams of the world
Hel­lo, hel­lo, on a green hill
Say hello in 1970
Hel­lo, hel­lo, let’s shake hands


Cap­tion left top: · Fig­ure 1a.23 · Tarō Okam­a­to’s Tower of the Sun recre­ated at 20th Cen­tury Expo, from Crayon Shin­chan Stor­m-Brew­ing Mōret­su! Adult Em­pire Strikes Back · 2001 · Anime film
Cap­tion left bot­tom: · Fig­ure 1a.24 · Shin­no­suke from Crayon Shin­chan Stor­m-Brew­ing Mōret­su! Adult Em­pire Strikes Back · 2001 · Anime film

Hel­lo, hel­lo, every­one’s smil­ing
Hel­lo, hel­lo, from the bot­tom of their hearts
Hel­lo, hel­lo, the world will be one
Hel­lo, hel­lo, in the coun­try of Japan
Say hello in 1970
Hel­lo, hel­lo, let’s shake hands
Hel­lo, hel­lo, let’s shake hands

(Haruo Mi­nami, “Hello from the Coun­tries of the World: Expo ’70 Theme Song”, 1967; lyrics by Yōko Shi­mada, mu­sic by Hachidai Naka­mu­ra)

The in Os­aka was a na­tional sym­bol beloved by first-gen­er­a­tion otaku (born from the late 1950s to late 1960s). “Progress and Har­mony of Mankind” was its theme. Expo ’70 in­spired Japan­ese chil­dren to dream of a fu­ture free of na­tional bor­ders in which the no­tion of “progress for the fu­ture” could con­quer even hu­man strife. This con­ver­gence of ar­ti­facts, sug­gest­ing a tran­quil and peace­ful world with hu­man progress rep­re­sented by tech­nol­ogy and space de­vel­op­ment, made it pos­si­ble to be­lieve in the fu­ture. For the Japan­ese, their hearts newly healed from post-war trau­ma, this was the per­fect sce­nario for the fu­ture. For the chil­dren, the sce­nario was “real”. Yet that fu­ture has never ar­rived—their dreams were shat­tered. And they grew into adults, un­able to re­lin­quish those dreams.

The film stole the hearts of this first otaku gen­er­a­tion. The work recre­ated the at­mos­phere of Expo ’70 while iron­i­cally ren­der­ing fu­ture-less, [pg120] con­tem­po­rary Japan in a nut­shell.

Let me ex­plain the sto­ry.

The fran­chise orig­i­nated in the long-lived “shtick” manga se­ries by Yoshito Usui, which ran in Weekly Manga Ac­tion (a mag­a­zine for young adults) from 1990, mov­ing to Monthly Manga Town in 2000. Its pro­tag­o­nist, Shin­no­suke No­hara, a kinder­gart­ner who loves ac­tion masks and choco­late snacks, lives in Ka­suk­abe, a sub­urb in Saitama Pre­fec­ture. Shin­no­suke’s fa­ther, Hi­roshi, is a salary­man; his moth­er, Mis­ae, a house­wife; and with the ad­di­tion of his lit­tle sis­ter, Sun­flow­er, the No­ha­ras make up a typ­i­cal Japan­ese fam­i­ly. Shin­no­suke is a vul­gar, re­bel­lious char­ac­ter, dis­tin­guished by his pre­co­cious taste for at­trac­tive women. Al­though Crayon Shin­chan topped the “PTA List of TV Pro­grams Lit­tle Chil­dren Should­n’t See”, it be­came a huge suc­cess. Every year brought a new fea­ture film in the se­ries. Adult Em­pire Strikes Back was di­rected by Kei­ichi Hara, who also con­ceived the orig­i­nal story for the film.

In these films, adults re­vert to child­hood and go to play at 20th Cen­tury Expo, a theme park with a strik­ing re­sem­blance to Expo ’70, which has sprouted mys­te­ri­ously in Ka­suk­abe. The theme park stages fa­mous scenes from clas­sic TV shows, in which any­one can be the hero or hero­ine while rev­el­ing in nos­tal­gia. With the recre­ation of Expo ’70, Shin­no­suke’s par­ents, Hi­roshi and Mis­ae, be­come cap­tives of their own nos­tal­gia and com­pletely aban­don their chil­dren. Even­tu­al­ly, the par­ents give up every­thing else to stay at 20th Cen­tury Expo, and an or­ga­ni­za­tion called Yes­ter­day Once More (an ob­vi­ous nod to ) kid­naps the chil­dren. The or­ga­ni­za­tion is a se­cret so­ci­ety ded­i­cated to aban­don­ing re­al, twen­ty-first-cen­tury de­spair and re­turn­ing to the “good old twen­ti­eth cen­tury”. They plan to hoard the nos­tal­gia of the Ka­suk­abe adults un­til they have enough to push the Nos­tal­gia Me­ter to its high­est lev­els ever, and then spread Nos­tal­gia Ex­tract through­out Japan to force it back into the twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry. When Shin­no­suke charges into 20th Cen­tury Expo, the scene is a replica of a Shōwa 30s-era (1955–64) street, on the eve of Expo ’70; the scene drips with nos­tal­gia as the adults revel in their for­got­ten dreams and hopes. They have es­caped re­al­ity to cling to a hol­low past, and re­lin­quished any hope of cre­at­ing a fu­ture. En­dur­ing sev­eral falls and a nose­bleed, Shin­no­suke races up the tower hous­ing the but­ton that con­trols the re­lease of [pg121] Nos­tal­gia Ex­tract. His tri­als run live on tele­vi­sion, and the sight of Shin­no­suke des­per­ately liv­ing a real life shocks the adults back to their sens­es. The level on the Nos­tal­gia Me­ter plum­mets, thwart­ing Yes­ter­day Once More’s plot.

Cap­tion right top: · Fig­ure 1a.25 · Car­pen­ters · , in­clud­ing · 1973 (o­rig­i­nal LP re­lease) · CD (cov­er)

Otaku un­der­stand Yes­ter­day Once More, and they find Shin­no­suke’s par­ents com­pelling. At this point in time, otaku cul­ture spans three gen­er­a­tions, in­clud­ing the grand­chil­dren of the first otaku. Whether or not otaku have grand­kids, they re­main just as ded­i­cated to gath­er­ing otaku in­for­ma­tion and col­lect­ing otaku mer­chan­dise. But it is also true that the aims of a se­cret so­ci­ety like Yes­ter­day Once More are em­pa­thetic to, if not overtly syn­chro­nized with, the ter­ror­ist ac­tiv­i­ties of , the rec­og­nized otaku cult that ac­com­plished the on the Tokyo sub­way. Otaku have al­ways held ex­ces­sive be­lief in their dreams, and have con­tin­ued to trust that their fan­tasies would come true. This has only height­ened their bit­ter­ness upon the be­trayal of their dreams. But what is the ob­ject of their bit­ter­ness? Plain truth dic­tates that they should di­rect that bit­ter­ness at them­selves, a fact that they prob­a­bly com­pre­hend. Al­though they won’t plan their own rev­o­lu­tion, they won’t give up on the idea of a utopian fu­ture. If on­ly—they des­per­ately dream—they were al­lowed to ex­press their hon­est feel­ings in the world of ani­me. When they in­deed find such ex­pres­sion, they heartily ap­plaud it yet sigh in deep res­ig­na­tion, for they know it’s just an empty fan­ta­sy. Pe­cu­liar­ly, the sto­ries-with­in-s­to­ries struc­ture of Adult Em­pire Strikes Back also al­lows them to see through them­selves as rev­el­ers in their im­pos­si­ble predica­ment. In this, we glimpse the re­al­ity fraught with de­spair that awaited otaku after DAICON IV.

Memories of the Atomic Bomb

Be­hold, a gaze that ad­mits no ray of light
over­come by treach­ery’s grief
Be­hold, above our skep­ti­cal laugh­ter
a word of rage poised to strike.

Every liv­ing crea­ture yearns to gnaw our bones,
eyes glint in vengeance, urg­ing us to sui­cide
God’s cre­ation re­buffs our as­sim­i­la­tion
The at­mos­phere re­fuses to en­fold us [pg122]

The gen­tler our na­ture the deeper its rages
When that rage has erased
every last kind­ness, all is for nought
Come, let us sing now, the Ode to Joy

Oh, clouds drift­ing in a clear blue sky

Bird calls in for­est and field

My heart de­light­ed, brim­ming with joy

Our bright smil­ing faces ex­chang­ing looks

(Kenji Endō, “Ode to Joy”, 1972; lyrics by Kenji Endō [last verse by Tōichirō Iwasa], mu­sic by Lud­wig van Beethoven)

Cap­tion left top: · Fig­ure 1a.26 · Kat­suhiro Ōtomo · Akira, vol. 1 (cov­er) · 1984 · Book (pub­lish­er: Ko­dan­sha)

The boom in Japan­ese sci­ence-fic­tion/­fan­tasy anime was en­gen­dered by two works: Space Bat­tle­ship Yam­ato and Mo­bile Suit Gun­dam (pls. 27, 30). Both works share a nar­ra­tive gen­e­sis in a post-atomic world. And both are fun­da­men­tal to the birth of otaku cul­ture.

In Space Bat­tle­ship Yam­ato, en­emy aliens from the Gamilon em­pire at­tack the earth. The Gamilons launch a plan­e­tary bomb from a great dis­tance, a bomb de­signed to ac­cel­er­ate ra­di­a­tion con­t­a­m­i­na­tion and ex­pe­dite their col­o­niza­tion of the plan­et. The land is de­for­ested and the oceans run dry.

Mo­bile Suit Gun­dam opens with a plan to drop a space colony on the earth. In or­der to al­le­vi­ate over­pop­u­la­tion, space colonies have been cre­ated at the La­grange Points, places where the grav­i­ta­tional fields of the earth and the moon are neu­tral­ized. One of the colonies, which calls it­self the Prin­ci­pal­ity of Zeon, de­clares its in­de­pen­dence from the Earth Fed­er­a­tion and de­clares war. Launch­ing a sneak at­tack, they take a space colony out of its or­bit and drop it onto the earth. Bil­lions die in the at­tack, both on the space colony and at the ter­res­trial point of im­pact, and the earth’s col­li­sion with the mas­sive pro­jec­tile pre­cip­i­tates cli­mate change. Earth, once the mother plan­et, en­ters a nu­clear win­ter and be­comes all but un­in­hab­it­able.

Plan­e­tary bombs, or space colonies falling to earth and ex­plod­ing in blind­ing white light fol­lowed by bril­liant red, were all com­mon story el­e­ments in the manga and anime of the time. So many of these nar­ra­tives be­gin in the cat­a­strophic after­math of an atomic ex­plo­sion.

There is a long­ing for some fun­da­men­tal hu­man power to awaken when hu­man­ity is backed into a cor­ner. Hayao Miyaza­k­i’s orig­i­nal manga and an­i­mated [pg123] film, , also be­gins in a world that has suffered a man-made apoc­a­lypse. This is true of Ōto­mo’s Akira as well.

Cap­tion right top: · Fig­ure 1a.27 · Fish­mans · …Some­thing in the Air, in­clud­ing “Slow Days” · 1996 · CD (cov­er)

We feel an abid­ing sense of right­eous in­dig­na­tion at the use of atomic bombs to bring the Pa­cific War to a close. We level cheap shots at the Japan­ese gov­ern­ment, which placed Japan in that fi­nal sce­nario and then con­cealed the truth about the bombs’ effects. We feel com­plex emo­tions to­wards the Amer­i­cans who thrust the ter­ror of nu­clear an­ni­hi­la­tion upon Japan. Added to this is our own cow­ardly rage for ac­cept­ing me­dia con­trol as a nec­es­sary evil. All of this sim­mered in the Japan­ese con­scious­ness as dogma with­out di­rec­tion. When these con­texts emerged, the mes­sage reached its au­di­ence in the guise of chil­dren’s pro­gram­ming; be­cause re­al­ity was por­trayed through ani­me, Japan fi­nally dis­cov­ered gen­uine re­spect for its cre­ators.

In Japan­ese el­e­men­tary schools, we do not learn that our coun­try has been man­aged in an in­com­plete, ten­ta­tive fash­ion ever since the loss of the war. Nor do we se­ri­ously grap­ple with the is­sue as adults. But every­one rec­og­nizes the dis­com­fort gen­er­ated by this un­nat­ural state of affairs. Japan is well es­tab­lished as a na­tion un­able to ad­dress its bad blood. But at least the truth sur­vives, alive and well, in sto­ries told to chil­dren. Per­haps it’s fair to say that the unique sym­pa­thies we la­bel as otaku were born the mo­ment Japan com­pre­hended the sin­cer­ity of these sto­ry­tellers.

An Endless Summer Vacation

Oh sum­mer sun­set past the view in the slow days
Or­ange days, or­ange sky in the slow days

The long, long sum­mer va­ca­tion never seems to end
I dream of be­com­ing some­one else, with the face of my child­hood

Oh yeah, one faint mem­ory upon an­other
Oh yeah, they de­ter­mine who we are

Oh sum­mer sun­set, or­ange cir­cle in the sun­set sky
That too-s­mooth col­or, packed with dra­ma, story told too often


Cap­tion bot­tom left: · Fig­ure 1a.28 · Mush­room cloud of the hy­dro­gen bomb “Bravo”, det­o­nated at Bikini Atoll on March 1, 1954

Oh yeah, I can’t get to feel­ing naive
Oh yeah, life’s not that big a deal

In the every­day with noth­ing lost, we feel fine
From be­yond the hori­zon, the same sound as al­ways

Spend­ing these days like I’m bored
Gotta give these days a hard time, too

(Fish­mans, “Slow Days”, 1996; lyrics and mu­sic by Shinji Satō)

The first atomic bomb hit on Au­gust 6, at the height of sum­mer. The war was over. Sum­mer is the sea­son when the story ends and hell be­gins. Peace was im­me­di­ately trans­formed by a unique sense of time. The blind­ing white light of the sun and the light of the atomic bomb co­a­lesced, de­lin­eat­ing the be­gin­ning and end of the nar­ra­tive.

Post­war Japan­ese nar­ra­tive themes jum­ble sum­mer va­ca­tions to­gether with leukemia; many tell sto­ries of doomed love. This still holds true to­day, as proved by the enor­mous suc­cess of the 2004 movie , based on by Kyōichi Katayama that sold an in­cred­i­ble [pg125] three mil­lion copies upon pub­li­ca­tion. In­deed, the story be­gins with a hero­ine who has leukemia.

Cap­tion right top: · Fig­ure 1a.29 · The ship Daigo Fukuryū Maru at Daigo Fukuryū Maru Ex­hi­bi­tion Hall, Tokyo

The pro­tag­o­nist, Saku­tarō (named after the poet Saku­tarō Hagi­wara), is a high­-school ju­nior in a re­gional city. The story opens with the death of his girl­friend, Aki. Saku and Ak­i’s friend­ship goes back to mid­dle school, but they first be­come ro­man­ti­cally in­volved as sopho­mores. In the sec­ond se­mes­ter of his ju­nior year, Saku learns that Aki has leukemia. Her par­ents ask Saku to take their daugh­ter to Aus­tralia when she re­cov­ers. Saku buys tick­ets and sneaks Aki out of the hos­pi­tal on her birth­day; they cel­e­brate with a cake on the train to the air­port. Aki col­lapses at the air­port, and Saku cries out for help. Aki is rushed back to the hos­pi­tal, only to die. Sev­eral years lat­er, the adult Saku re­turns to his home­town with his new lover. The high­-school cam­pus is rife with mem­o­ries of Aki. Amid a flurry of cherry blos­soms, Saku qui­etly scat­ters Ak­i’s ashes from a glass bot­tle, which he has kept since her death.

Art critic Noi Sawaragi has stud­ied the fre­quent ap­pear­ance of leukemia as a mo­tif in tragic love sto­ries, not­ing, “It de­rives from the ra­dioac­tive fall­out in the after­math of Hi­roshi­ma, Na­gasaki, and the Mar­shall Is­lands hy­dro­gen bomb tests.”

Cap­tion right top: · Fig­ure 1a.30 · Noi Sawaragi · World War and World Fairs (cov­er)

Sawaragi and I were both born in 1962. We were born into the pe­riod of Japan’s rapid eco­nomic growth, not a time of re­mark­able so­cial tu­mult. Our gen­er­a­tion co­in­cides with the first otaku gen­er­a­tion. (For the record, Sawaragi is not an otaku.) Deeply in­flu­enced by TV me­dia at the dawn of the TV age, we have been dubbed “The TV gen­er­a­tion”. The tran­si­tion from black and white to col­or, JFK’s as­sas­si­na­tion, the Viet­nam War, the moon land­ing, and archival footage of World War II: we’ve been del­uged by these im­ages. And we’ve won­dered, why does Japan have a mil­i­tary if we’ve aban­doned war? The rea­son re­mained in lim­bo. Be­cause any child, see­ing that archival war footage, must have asked his par­ents, “Why did we lose the war?” “What are the Self De­fense Forces?” Our par­ents would have cited the atomic bombs and dis­par­i­ties in eco­nomic pow­er. A mil­i­tary based on equiv­o­ca­tion, par­ents stuck try­ing to ex­plain the con­tra­dic­tions be­tween the Peace Con­sti­tu­tion and the Self De­fense Forces: every­thing in Japan is am­bigu­ous. Our gen­er­a­tion swal­lowed its pro­found frus­tra­tion at the rift be­tween re­al­ity and the in­for­ma­tion avail­able in the me­dia, and it fes­tered in­side [pg126] us. This cre­ated our patho­log­i­cal ob­ses­sion with re­al­ity and re­al­ism, as we at­tempted to iden­tify the source of our frus­tra­tion.

The leukemia an­gle and its ori­gins: atomic bombs and hy­dro­gen bomb tests.

I quote the iconic en­counter of the fish­ing boat Daigo Fukuryū Maru with a hy­dro­gen bomb test, so fa­mil­iar to the Japan­ese, from Noi Sawarag­i’s lat­est book, World War and World Fairs (Bi­jutsu Shup­pan-sha, 2005). It il­lus­trates the ori­gins of the nev­er-end­ing atomic bomb sce­nario.

On March 1, 1954, the Daigo Fukuryū Maru was ex­posed to ra­di­a­tion from a hy­dro­gen bomb test…

Hop­ing to com­pen­sate for poor fish­ing off the shores of Mid­way, the Daigo Fukuryū Maru sped to­wards the Mar­shall Is­lands. On March 1, as the ship pulled in its catch, a ball of fire some­thing like the sun rose in the dis­tance, fol­lowed by con­cus­sive waves. Rain mixed with par­ti­cles like white sand fell over the crewmem­bers as they hur­ried back to port. These were the “ashes of death”. They in­vaded the fish­er­men’s bod­ies with­out mercy through the mu­cous mem­branes of the yes and nose, con­t­a­m­i­nat­ing them with ra­di­a­tion from the in­side out; on Sep­tem­ber 23 of that year, the first of the crew mem­bers, Ai­kichi Kuboya­ma, died. The health of the re­main­ing twen­ty-three crew mem­bers (whose av­er­age age was twen­ty-five at the time) con­tin­ued to suffer from long-term ra­di­a­tion side effects, and many have al­ready passed away due to liver can­cer and other afflic­tions…

The many hy­dro­gen bombs tested in the Mar­shall Is­lands dur­ing this era were born of the ac­cel­er­a­tion of the U.S.-So­viet nu­clear test race. In or­der to gen­er­ate ex­plo­sions sig­nifi­cantly more pow­er­ful than those of the atomic bombs, the United States was al­ready em­ploy­ing “3F Bombs”. These bombs ex­ploded in a three­-phase process of fis­sion-fu­sion-fis­sion, and bomb cas­ings were fre­quently coated with de­pleted ura­ni­um. “Bravo” (an un­for­giv­able name), a hy­dro­gen bomb that shocked even its cre­ators with its de­monic de­struc­tive force, was a nat­ural ex­ten­sion of 3F strate­gies.

Its fifteen-mega­ton power re­mains be­yond imag­i­na­tion. By some cal­cu­la­tions, the to­tal TNT ton­nage de­ployed by both sides over the four-year Japan-U.S. [pg127] War amounted to three mega­tons. Imag­ine an ex­plo­sion five times that pow­er­ful un­leashed in an in­stant upon a coral reef pro­tected only by beau­ti­ful, emer­ald green wa­ters. But the ter­ror of Bravo lay not only in its de­struc­tive force. The mush­room cloud it gen­er­ated rose into the stratos­phere, scat­ter­ing its mas­sive ra­dioac­tive ma­te­r­ial into the jet stream, where it cir­cu­lated over the world…

In fact, Japan’s Pa­cific coast­line ex­pe­ri­enced heav­ily ra­dioac­tive rains in Bravo’s wake. In May 1954, Japan re­ported a Geiger count rate of 86 thou­sand counts per minute per liter of rain­wa­ter. (pp. 332–36)

Cap­tion right top: · Fig­ure 1a.31 · The Wings of Hon­neamise · 1987 · Video of anime film (cover of first edi­tion, re­leased in May 1987)

The Japan­ese were ex­posed to ra­di­a­tion from the atomic bomb blasts and then again through hy­dro­gen bomb tests. A blast of pure white light, a sum­mer eter­nally seared. That or­ange-col­ored cir­cle, leukemia, and sum­mer va­ca­tion. My own con­so­la­tion, a still end­less sum­mer va­ca­tion. The un­end­ing pain, the fes­ter­ing, seeks to break out of this dilem­ma.

The Beast that Shouted Love at the Heart of the World

The cre­ators of DAICON IV Open­ing An­i­ma­tion would come to oc­cupy a cen­tral place in the cur­rent anime world. The key mem­bers of the DAICON group opened the sci­ence-fic­tion store Gen­eral Prod­ucts, which was pro­fes­sion­ally in­cor­po­rated as Gainax in 1984 upon pro­duc­tion of the fea­ture-length anime (re­leased in 1987). Neon Gen­e­sis Evan­ge­lion (pl. 33), writ­ten and di­rected by Hideaki Anno and pro­duced by Gainax, is the land­mark otaku anime film, which marked the most bril­liant mo­ment of otaku sub­cul­ture.

Evan­ge­lion be­came an ex­plo­sive hit im­me­di­ately after the twen­ty-six orig­i­nal episodes were first broad­cast on tele­vi­sion in 1995–96. Caught up in the cult-like fer­vor sur­round­ing the work, fans will­ingly ac­cepted the con­tro­ver­sial and ir­reg­u­lar re­lease of the : un­able to com­plete it on time, Gainax re­leased to the­aters in March 1997 and re­leased the fi­nal ver­sion a few months later as a differ­ent film. This phe­nom­e­non points to the com­plicit re­la­tion­ship by then formed in the world of an­i­ma­tion be­tween the cre­ators and the au­di­ence, which rec­og­nized Evan­ge­lion as an in­stant en­ter­tain­ment [pg128] clas­sic. The orig­i­nal TV se­ries and the sub­se­quent fea­ture films at­tracted not only anime fans but also young cul­ture-lovers and anime vet­er­ans who had out­grown otaku ob­ses­sions. Evan­ge­lion is an un­sur­passed mile­stone in the his­tory of otaku cul­ture.

Cap­tion left top: · Fig­ure 1a.32 · · (cov­er) · 1969 · Book (pub­lish­er: Avon; pa­per­back edi­tion: New Amer­i­can Li­brary, 1974)

The story is set in 2015, fifteen years after the Sec­ond Im­pact, a deadly cat­a­clysm of global mag­ni­tude that orig­i­nated in Antarc­ti­ca. The new city of Tokyo 3 is sud­denly at­tacked by “An­gels”, uniden­ti­fied en­e­mies that take var­i­ous forms in­clud­ing gi­gan­tic crea­tures and a com­puter virus. NERV, a spe­cial U.N. agency charged with fight­ing the in­vaders, de­ploys Evan­ge­lions, al­l-pur­pose hu­manoid weapons pi­loted by three spe­cially cho­sen four­teen-year-old kids (Sh­in­ji, Rei, and Asuka).

A com­plex amal­gam of sci­ence fic­tion and hu­man drama in the form of ro­bot ani­me, Evan­ge­lion show­cased Gainax’s skill­ful an­i­ma­tion, along with An­no’s bold use of white-on-black sub­ti­tle graphs and speedy, al­most sub­lim­i­nal con­struc­tion of ac­tion se­quences. In many ways, Evan­ge­lion is a meta-otaku film, through which An­no, him­self an otaku, strove to tran­scend the otaku tra­di­tion.

While du­ti­fully pay­ing homage to the pop- and otaku-cul­ture land­marks that pre­ceded it, Evan­ge­lion pushed its de­pic­tion of the psy­cho­log­i­cal and emo­tional strug­gles of the young moth­er­less pi­lots to the ex­treme. The fi­nal scenes were pre­sented in a few differ­ent forms and me­dia, in­clud­ing the orig­i­nal TV ver­sion, the fea­ture-film ver­sion, and fi­nally the DVD ver­sion, which com­bined the pre­ced­ing two. Each was un­fail­ingly con­tro­ver­sial. Es­pe­cially shock­ing were the fi­nal two episodes of the TV se­ries, which un­con­ven­tion­ally mix anime scenes with draw­ings and video footage. These episodes fo­cus on Shin­ji, the cen­tral char­ac­ter among the pi­lots, and his painful search for what his life means both as a per­son and as an Evan­ge­lion pi­lot. With the pur­pose­less Shin­ji’s in­te­rior drama tak­ing cen­ter stage, Evan­ge­lion is the end­point of the post­war lin­eage of otaku fa­vorites—from Godzilla to the se­ries to Yam­ato to Gun­dam—in which hero-fig­ures in­creas­ingly ques­tion and ag­o­nize over their right­eous mis­sions to de­fend the earth and hu­man­i­ty.

The fi­nal se­quence of the the­ater ver­sion, which in­cor­po­rated scenes from the TV ver­sion in a some­what con­fus­ing man­ner, con­sti­tuted the apogee of otaku ani­me.


Cap­tion right top: · Charly · 1968 · Film poster

The ti­tle of the fi­nal episode of the TV ver­sion is “The Beast that Shouted Ai at the Heart of the World”. (The use of katakana, a Japan­ese syl­labic script, for the word ai al­lows the term to carry the dou­ble mean­ing of homonyms “love” and “I”.) Both the ti­tle and con­cept are bor­rowed from Har­lan El­lison’s epony­mous sci­ence-fic­tion nov­el. In a con­test pit­ting the au­di­ence (read­er­s), who are nor­mally on the re­ceiv­ing end of en­ter­tain­ment, against the au­thor’s vi­sion, who can fly high­er? How far can the au­di­ence both com­pel and fol­low the di­rec­tor’s vi­sion? With Evan­ge­lion, the di­rec­tor Anno raised a chal­lenge to works that re­fused to al­low au­di­ences any es­cape from the re­al­ity of their own self­-con­scious­ness.

The sub­ti­tle to the film ver­sion’s fi­nal se­quence also al­ludes to sci­ence fic­tion, ref­er­enc­ing the film (based on ), which was re­leased in Japan as Magokoro o kimi ni (My heart to you). Evan­ge­lion also in­cor­po­rated ref­er­ences and el­e­ments, such as the “Spear of Long­i­nus” and “AT (Ab­solute Ter­ror) Field”, that were freely adapted from Judeo-Chris­t­ian re­li­gious mys­ti­cism, psy­chol­o­gy, bi­ol­o­gy, and a wide range of sources. Their jux­ta­po­si­tion with ro­bots and anime pro­voked wide­spread spec­u­la­tion and much deeper read­ings. This sim­u­la­tion-based ap­proach stood Japan­ese ani­me’s fun­da­men­tal dis­re­gard for dra­matic themes on its head. But ul­ti­mate­ly, by arous­ing sym­pa­thy in its au­di­ence, it laid bare a true otaku heart.

It is the fi­nal scene of the film ver­sion. When Shinji comes to he has been asleep, naked. Rei, also naked, strad­dles him, her hand poised to melt and fuse with Shin­ji’s tor­so. The Hu­man­ity Com­ple­men­ta­tion Pro­gram will en­sure that all hu­mans liq­ue­fy, fuse, and be­come one. The gi­ant cru­ci­fied on the cross deep be­neath the spe­cial agency NERV is rec­og­nized as Lilith, and all hu­mans are des­tined to merge with her, ul­ti­mately fus­ing into one. Lilith was the bib­li­cal Adam’s first wife, but the chil­dren born of their union, Lil­in, were re­garded as demons; they rep­re­sent hu­man­ity in the film.

Shin­ji: “Am I dead?”

Rei: “No, every­thing’s just be­com­ing one. This is ex­actly the world you dreamed of.”

Shin­ji: “But this is differ­ent. This is­n’t it.”

Rei: “If you wish for oth­ers to ex­ist, once again, [pg129] the walls of your heart will pull you away from every­one else. A new ter­ror of oth­ers will be­gin.”

Shin­ji: “That’s fine.”

Cap­tion left top: · Fig­ure 1a.32 · Shinji and Rei merg­ing, from The End of Evan­ge­lion · 1997 · Anime film

Shinji re­moves his hand from Rei’s torso and shakes her hand. Shinji chooses a world in which a bar­rier sep­a­rates him from oth­ers. He no­tices the oth­ers again. Those who have al­ready fused be­gin to reap­pear in in­di­vid­ual sil­hou­ettes as each per­son re­gains his in­di­vid­u­al­i­ty. On the beach, Shinji is stran­gling Asu­ka. Asuka ca­resses his cheek with her in­jured right hand. As he re­leases his grip, Shinji weeps and a tear lands on Asuka’s cheek. Asuka blurts out, “That’s dis­gust­ing.” “The End” ap­pears in a cor­ner of the frame, and abrupt­ly, the film is over.

Shinji longs for the self that has split away from him to ac­knowl­edge his re­main­ing self. He would like for his neigh­bors to ac­knowl­edge him as well. And so he re­jects to­tal fu­sion with Rei; but he’s wary of the pain that ac­com­pa­nies in­ter­ac­tion with oth­ers. Should he let him­self be­come the ob­ject of an­oth­er’s love? Alone with Asuka, the only per­son left who may un­der­stand him, Shinji tries to kill her. But as he stran­gles her, Asuka ex­tends her hand to him. She strokes his cheek. Skin touches skin. Prim­i­tive com­mu­ni­ca­tion, am­bi­tions de­railed. Even though he at­tempts to kill her, Shinji wants Asuka to un­der­stand his real in­ten­tion: that what he re­ally seeks is sim­ply him­self. But he also knows that this is im­pos­si­ble. See­ing this pa­thetic side of [pg131] Shin­ji, Asuka mir­rors the re­sponse of so­ci­ety. She as­serts that she finds Shin­ji, who is only ca­pa­ble of self­-in­volved com­mu­ni­ca­tion, “dis­gust­ing”.

Cap­tion bot­tom right: · Fig­ure 1a.35 · room, 1989

In the last scene of Kataya­ma’s novel Cry­ing Out Love from the Cen­ter of the World, the pro­tag­o­nist, Saku, has grown up. With a new lover in tow, he re­turns to a high­school cam­pus drenched in mem­o­ries of his dead lover. He is not in the least con­cerned that his new lover nei­ther knows he lost Aki to leukemia nor ap­pre­ci­ates his mem­o­ries of the dead girl. In fact, his dri­ving pur­pose is to reaffirm an en­dur­ing sen­ti­men­tal­ity that he has re­served en­tirely for him­self, and it is this that trig­gers sym­pa­thy in the read­er.

In Evan­ge­lion, Shinji would ful­fill his de­sire to com­plete a soli­tary jour­ney of the heart by mur­der­ing Asuka, his only coun­ter­part.

The drama of this mur­der at­tempt ex­ists on the level of a child who dis­cov­ers the mean­ing of life by killing a frog. Such paral­y­sis sig­ni­fies both the otaku’s apex and his gen­e­sis.

In a sense, the search for a place in the world, which so tor­ments An­no’s al­ter-ego Shin­ji, is the in­sur­mount­able [pg132] chal­lenge fac­ing Japan. Our re­lief at fi­nally putting the trauma of the war be­hind us was brief, for we im­me­di­ately were con­fronted by our in­abil­ity to de­vise an in­de­pen­dent fu­ture. Japan is now en­meshed in the search for what it means to have a self.

On the other hand, in his “jour­ney to self­-a­ban­don­ment”, Miura Jun, the man who coined the term , asks whether or not there is a self worth search­ing for; the more such para­doxes emerge, the more a mean­ing­less “jour­ney of self­-dis­cov­ery”, which offers no ap­par­ent or ul­ti­mate in­de­pen­dence, be­comes the theme of Japan.


It is im­pos­si­ble to avoid otaku in any dis­cus­sion of con­tem­po­rary Japan­ese cul­ture. Al­though some otaku prize them­selves as “ge­netic” otaku, all are ul­ti­mately de­fined by their re­lent­less ref­er­ences to a hu­mil­i­ated self. Though ob­sessed with per­sonal taste and in­di­vid­u­al­ism, otaku can cul­ti­vate friend­ships based on shared in­ter­ests. They ex­cel at rad­i­cal­iz­ing in­su­lar in­for­ma­tion. They thor­oughly re­ject those who stray out­side the bound­aries of shared in­ter­ests.

Japan­ese so­ci­ety has con­sis­tently ridiculed otaku as a neg­a­tive el­e­ment, dri­ving such per­son­al­i­ties into the far cor­ners of the so­cial fab­ric.

There is a slight but ab­solute gulf be­tween “sub­cul­ture” [zoku?] and otaku. If we de­fine sub­cul­ture as “cool cul­ture from abroad”, otaku is “un­cool in­dige­nous Japan­ese cul­ture”; as otaku in­sist, “at least it’s home­-grown”. Otaku are mer­cu­ri­al, and em­brace the in­ter­nal con­tra­dic­tion of con­sid­er­ing such de­fi­n­i­tions “un-otaku”.

Nev­er­the­less, the in­ci­dent that spurred the im­pulse to purge otaku from the world ex­poses the stark re­al­ity of otaku an­thro­pol­ogy for all to see. After the ar­rest of Tsu­tomu Miyaza­ki, a kid­nap­per and mur­derer of chil­dren, me­dia im­ages re­vealed his otaku-esque ex­is­tence in a win­dow­less room lined with wal­l-to-wall stacks of videos5; the otaku lifestyle was thus de­mo­nized as a sym­bol of evil.

The otaku as­pect of the cult group Aum Shin­rikyo trig­gered a me­dia bo­nan­za, dis­sem­i­nat­ing an im­pres­sion of otaku as evil in­car­nate. From the am­a­teur­ish tech­nol­ogy of its self­-pro­duced pro­pa­ganda videos and elec­tric-e­quipped hel­mets for fol­low­ers, to the launch of its Mahāpōsha store sell­ing cheap home­made com­put­ers in Ak­i­habara (Toky­o’s elec­tron­ics dis­trict) [pg133] to raise cult funds, Aum Shin­rikyo could be char­ac­ter­ized by its wide-rang­ing otaku-esque be­hav­ior. The clincher was the sec­t’s cre­ation of a detox­i­fi­ca­tion sys­tem dubbed “Cosmo Cleaner”, a di­rect ap­pro­pri­a­tion of the iden­ti­cally named ra­di­a­tion-dis­posal de­vice promi­nently fea­tured in Space Bat­tle­ship Yam­ato. Aum Shin­riky­o’s otaku di­men­sion had be­come so ex­treme that the group was per­ceived through­out Japan both as a laugh­ing­stock and as an in­com­pre­hen­si­ble species.

Cap­tion right top: · Fig­ure 1a.36 · Space­ship, in­au­gural is­sue (cov­er) · 1980 · Mag­a­zine (pub­lish­er: Asahi Sono­ra­ma)

Yet otaku con­tinue to pro­lif­er­ate, heed­less of the crit­i­cism cen­tered in so­ci­ety’s reser­va­tions about such in­ci­dents, prob­a­bly be­cause otaku ex­is­tence fits so effort­lessly into Japan­ese lifestyles.

Otaku emerged in the late 1970s. Their fore­run­ners were ob­sessed with ac­cu­mu­lat­ing in­for­ma­tion, and rad­i­cal­ized the crit­i­cal as­sess­ment of TV an­i­ma­tion, sci­ence fic­tion, and other sub­cul­tures then per­ceived as noth­ing more than chil­dren’s en­ter­tain­ment. They com­prised the grow­ing fan base for Space Bat­tle­ship Yam­ato; the in­tensely cliquish found­ing mem­bers of the spe­cial-effects sci­ence-fic­tion mag­a­zine Uchūsen (Space­ship), cre­ated in 1980 by ; and the DAICON group. The de­fin­i­tive otaku an­i­ma­tion works, Space Bat­tle­ship Yam­ato and Mo­bile Suit Gun­dam, are piv­otal in the way that Mar­cel Ducham­p’s uri­nal is piv­otal as a twen­ti­eth-cen­tury work of art; sub­se­quent works are de­rived from in­ter­pre­ta­tions and rein­ter­pre­ta­tions of these par­a­digms. Prod­ucts aimed at this ob­ses­sive fan base still pro­lif­er­ate, and the otaku mar­ket con­tin­ues to ex­pand grad­u­al­ly, though it has al­ready reached its peak.

The lat­est gen­er­a­tion of otaku emerg­ing in the post-T­su­tomu Miyazaki era no longer ex­ists in her­metic iso­la­tion. They have also ceased to at­tract so­cial dis­dain. This is be­cause otaku have pro­lif­er­ated so widely that they no longer form a mi­nor­i­ty. They are in­te­grated so thor­oughly into the main­stream that first-gen­er­a­tion otaku have be­come diffi­cult to dis­tin­guish from every­one else.

Otaku will never be out­moded and will con­tinue to pro­lif­er­ate be­cause they con­stantly trans­form them­selves.

In every do­main—from the world of games, to the In­ter­net, to a world of pop-i­dols—otaku swiftly dis­cover the loci of ex­change be­tween in­tense Eros and con­scious­ness, never tir­ing in their efforts to fuse with such realms. Every otaku cat­e­gory sub­li­mates into [pg134] fan­ta­sy, fu­eled by gar­gan­tuan in­for­ma­tion stores, in­te­grated re­search, and the otaku quest for Eros. As a re­sult, al­though their world has be­gun to over­lap with re­al­ity and otaku have grad­u­ally be­gun to merge with the main­stream, they re­main un­able to shed the air of the grotesque.

Cap­tion bot­tom left: · Fig­ure 1a.37 · Store model for Sev­en-Eleven Japan


Just one more, one more call from you and we can
start over
But if we keep this up, my mem­o­ries of you will be
I’ll do my best
I want to grow the teeny-tiny guts of a de­feated ath­lete

These days, I play ’til around 8 or 9 p.m.
I go to the con­ve­nience store, I go to the disco and watch
rental videos with girls I don’t know
I don’t know if this is as good as it gets,
but none of it
com­pares to you

In those days, I got drunk on Kahlu­a-milk
These days I can drink bour­bon-so­das with the guys,
but I don’t re­ally like them

Let’s get off the phone and meet in Rop­pongi,
come meet me, now
I want to make up with you, one more time,
over Kahlu­a-milk

Girls are so frag­ile, which is why they need to be
pro­tect­ed, as much as pos­si­ble
But I’ve never been able to be that kind of man, I’m sorry
I’ll do my best
I want to grow the teeny-tiny guts of a de­feated ath­lete

We’re both stuck in our stu­pid lit­tle pride
You treated me to Kahlu­a-milk on my birth­day
When I had one the other day, it made me want to cry

Let’s get off the phone and meet in Rop­pongi,
come meet me, now
I want to make up with you, one more time, over

(Ya­suyuki Oka­mu­ra, “Kahlu­a-Milk”, 1990; lyrics and mu­sic by Ya­suyuki Oka­mu­ra)

[pg135] Cap­tion right top: · Fig­ure 1a.38 · Bank Band · Soshi soai (Like-minded mu­si­cians get to­gether and jam; lim­ited edi­tion) · 2004 · CD (cov­er) · The CD Soshi soai con­sists of Bank Band’s cover ver­sions of songs by var­i­ous artists, in­clud­ing “Kahlu­a-Milk” and “Ode to Joy” (quoted in the tex­t). Bank Band was formed by Takeshi Kobayashi and Kazu­toshi Saku­rai to aid their non-profit or­ga­ni­za­tion, “ap bank”, which makes loans to en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­jects. They seek mean­ing in his­tory by archiv­ing, re­spect­ing, and re­new­ing it. Their goal is to travel along the ver­ti­cal tem­po­ral axis of Japan­ese cul­ture with­out ref­er­ence to ex­ter­nal fac­tors.

At the height of the bub­ble econ­o­my, from the mid-1980s to the early 1990s, Japan spent mon­ey. This eco­nomic fren­zy, sim­i­lar to the cli­mate sur­round­ing the rise of Pop Art in Amer­i­ca, vis­ited a Japan­ese cul­ture grown obese from cul­ti­va­tion in a green­house. The vi­cis­si­tudes of re­al­ity grew more com­pelling than fic­tion. With a manic feel­ing of hav­ing con­quered the fu­ture, with­out any heed for the fu­ture, and trust­ing only the up­ward mo­men­tum of the bub­ble econ­o­my, we ob­served a mi­rage that bore us straight into the fu­ture. And when that mi­rage van­ished, we felt re­lief, as if to say, “That’s right, this is what re­al­ity looks like.”

We re­al­ized that life was per­fectly fine with just a mod­icum of joy. No need to par­ty-hearty every day of your life. No one was starv­ing, no one was that bored. If you were hun­gry, you’d go to . And soon, the ba­sis of every­day life de­pended on con­ve­nience stores and dis­count shops. The lo­cal con­ve­nience store is now a sig­nifi­cant fac­tor in apart­men­t-hunt­ing.

cur­rently dom­i­nates the con­ve­nience-s­tore mar­ket. The chain opened its first store in 1974 as a Japan­ese in­car­na­tion of Amer­i­can South­land Cor­po­ra­tion’s 7-Eleven. Em­ploy­ing dis­tinctly Japan­ese dis­tri­b­u­tion strate­gies—in­clud­ing com­pletely com­put­er­ized in­ven­tory con­trols, metic­u­lous re­plen­ish­ment of per­ish­able goods via nine de­liv­er­ies per day, and the elim­i­na­tion of ware­hous­es—­Sev­en-Eleven cur­rently con­trols 10,303 of Japan’s 37,691 con­ve­nience stores, boast­ing the high­est gross sales in the coun­try, an an­nual to­tal of more than 23 bil­lion yen (n­early 222 mil­lion dol­lars).

The next rev­o­lu­tion­ary re­tail out­let to set­tle into the ur­ban land­scape was Don Qui­jote. It offers a unique “con­densed ar­ray” re­tail space that sug­gests you’ve wan­dered into an Asian bazaar. Brand-name goods, [pg136] elec­tron­ics, and ap­parel are dis­played in an en­vi­ron­ment rem­i­nis­cent of a trop­i­cal jun­gle, which cus­tomers can “ex­plore” as they shop. It is the thrill of wan­der­ing into a maze. Don Qui­jote’s forty thou­sand prod­ucts vary con­stant­ly, and it is the only place in the world where Louis Vuit­ton bags can be seen next to toi­let pa­per.

Cap­tion left top: · Fig­ure 1a.39 · Miura Jun · Miura Jun’s Yuru Chara Show · 2004 · DVD (cov­er)

The stores are open day and night, but the quin­tes­sen­tial Don Qui­jote ex­pe­ri­ence un­folds late at night: peak sales hours fall be­tween 10 p.m. and mid­night. Un­like the late-night mar­kets of con­ve­nience stores, where cus­tomers make pur­chases to sat­isfy im­me­di­ate needs, young peo­ple flock to Don Qui­jote nightly in or­der to “kill time” in a new kind of ur­ban amuse­ment, like moths to a flash­light.

The cap­i­tal­ist econ­omy has be­come the world’s phi­los­o­phy. It pro­lif­er­ates be­cause it offers the im­age of a so­ci­ety where life is easy and no one starves. Plea­sure mo­ti­vates every­thing. Peo­ple cre­ate en­vi­ron­ments spurred by their own de­sires. In Japan to­day, we’ve nearly per­fected a liv­ing en­vi­ron­ment based on con­sumer su­premacy that’s very com­fort­able, easy, and nearly stress-free.

If you have a con­ve­nience store, you’ll be fine. For a lit­tle en­ter­tain­ment, check out Don Qui­jote. Your sce­nario for a happy so­ci­ety free of star­va­tion is now com­plete.

Yuru Chara

Japan is a trea­sure trove of kawaii char­ac­ters: Hello Kit­ty, Poke­mon, , (“Droop­ing Panda”), and (“Bean-Paste Bread Man”)—the list goes on and on. By now, kawaii has even en­tered the global vo­cab­u­lary.

These char­ac­ters, which first won pop­u­lar­ity with chil­dren, ei­ther were spun off from manga and anime or were cor­po­rate icons; all were re­garded as pro­mo­tional prod­ucts. At this point, count­less char­ac­ter are gen­er­ate ex­clu­sively for mer­chan­diz­ing, sup­ported by a flood of spe­cialty mag­a­zines fea­tur­ing such prod­ucts. Kawaii char­ac­ters, up­held by a global mar­ket, are now in ri­otous pro­lif­er­a­tion.

To­day, with the char­ac­ter boom at its height, one branch of these crea­tures has al­ready fallen by the way­side. Miura Jun, the mul­ti­tal­ented pop­u­lar il­lus­tra­tor and cre­ator of up­-to-the-minute slang—a ver­i­ta­ble sub­cul­ture king with links to the otaku world—has delved into this hope­less, stranded pop­u­la­tion, in­fus­ing [pg137] it with new­found sig­nifi­cance and rein­vent­ing its mem­bers as yuru chara (pl. 32).

Cap­tion right mid­dle: · Fig­ure 1a.40 · An­pan­man · 1988 · Char­ac­ter cre­ated by Takashi Yanase · Cap­tion right bot­tom: · Fig­ure 1a.41 · TarePanda · 1999 · Char­ac­ter cre­ated by Hikaru Sue­masa

The Japan­ese term yu­rui sug­gests a sense of loose­ness and lethar­gy. Com­bine the ab­bre­vi­a­tion yuru, from yu­rui, with chara, from “char­ac­ters”, to form yuru chara. Miura first coined the term to de­scribe the char­ac­ters cre­ated in­de­pen­dently by re­gional mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties and tourist boards. He jus­ti­fies their ex­is­tence from an an­i­mistic point of view, em­ploy­ing his own rhetoric, but it is pos­si­ble to eval­u­ate them from an­other per­spec­tive: art crit­i­cism and ap­pre­ci­a­tion.

Like , syn­onyms for Japan­ese aes­thetic sen­si­bil­i­ties, yu­rui evades ready trans­la­tion. The best way to com­pre­hend the term is to place it along the ex­tended lin­eage of words such as (sen­si­tiv­ity or sub­jec­tive emo­tion) and okashi (e­mo­tional at­trac­tion), which ap­peal to hu­man emo­tion.

A prime can­di­date for a his­tor­i­cal prece­dent is In the Cool of the Evening, by , an ink artist of the Edo pe­riod (1615–1868). Ac­cord­ing to the art critic Nobuo Tsu­ji, au­thor of The Lin­eage of the Ex­tra­or­di­nary (1970),

Many [na­ture sce­nes] are pas­sive and drenched in an ad­mir­ing, em­pathic tone, as though in­fused with a sense of aware. We must not, how­ev­er, over­look the fact that, among Japan­ese de­pic­tions of na­ture, al­though all stem from the same roots of emo­tional em­pa­thy to­wards na­ture, there are those who stand apart by pro­ject­ing ac­tive feel­ing to­wards the live­li­ness and en­ergy of na­ture. This dis­tin­guishes the spirit of aware from the spirit of okashi, as ob­served by Yoshie Okaza­ki, de­lin­eat­ing works in­fused with the cheer­ful­ness of a heart open to its sub­ject. (The His­tory of Japan­ese Art 7: How to Look at Japan­ese Art, Iwanami Shoten, 1992, p. 21)

We may thus dis­cover the in­evitabil­ity of yu­rui within the tra­jec­tory of Japan­ese his­to­ry.

In ad­di­tion, the tran­si­tion from kawaii to yu­rui re­flects a sig­nifi­cant de­gree of sex­ual in­ca­pac­i­ty, or a sense of im­po­tence. There are no dra­matic sto­ries linked to these char­ac­ters, which con­vey only a sense of lethargy to their au­di­ence. Em­body­ing only op­por­tunism by de­fault, lives are be­stowed on these crea­tures in the ser­vice of effer­ves­cent pub­lic events. Each sports ex­pres­sions “spaced-out with peace”. Yuru chara stand [pg138] in for the Japan­ese them­selves: once every­thing had been blown away in a flash, an in­fan­tile and im­po­tent cul­ture gained strength un­der the rubric of an un­found­ed, pup­pet na­tional in­fra­struc­ture. What emerged was a cul­ture frozen in its in­fan­cy, ear­lier than ado­les­cence of even child­hood.

Cap­tion left bot­tom: · Fig­ure 1a.42 · Kusumi Morik­age · In the Cool of the Evening · 17th cen­tury · Two-panel screen; light col­ors on pa­per · 149.1 × 165 cm · Tokyo Na­tional Mu­seum · Na­tional Trea­sure

Kawaii and yu­rui char­ac­ters sprout from this soil. Once you have thor­oughly di­gested kawaii, the yu­rui sen­si­bil­ity is a log­i­cal next step. The day is com­ing when the world will sneer at its own in­con­stan­cy, its vacu­ity, with de­ri­sion.

Phantoms in the Brain

[pg139] The nar­ra­tor of a TV doc­u­men­tary based on (writ­ten with San­dra Blakeslee; William Mor­row, 1998) notes, “Our bod­ies move ac­cord­ing to sig­nals sent out from the brain, and the brain can be fooled.”

Ra­machan­dran’s book in­tro­duces the cen­tral case study of the doc­u­men­tary, an Amer­i­can man who lost his en­tire arm in a mo­tor­cy­cle ac­ci­dent. He de­scribes feel­ing his lost hand and miss­ing fin­ger­tips pulse with pain; these are symp­toms of a “”. The pa­tient is in a ter­ri­ble predica­ment and re­ports fre­quent, sear­ing pain in his fin­ger­tips since the ac­ci­dent. He en­dures ex­tended pe­ri­ods of pain akin to burn­ing in flames. The au­thor en­cour­ages his pa­tient to try an ex­per­i­ment. , the use of which is first de­scribed with a fe­male pa­tient:

To en­able pa­tients like Irene to per­ceive real move­ments in their non-ex­is­tent arms, we con­structed a vir­tual re­al­ity box. The box is made by plac­ing a ver­ti­cal mir­ror in­side a card­board box with its lid re­moved. The front of the box has two holes in it, through which the pa­tient in­serts her “good hand” (say, the right one) and her phan­tom hand (the left one).

Since the mir­ror is in the mid­dle of the box, the right hand is now on the right side of the mir­ror and the phan­tom is on the left side.

The pa­tient is then asked to view the re­flec­tion of the nor­mal hand in the mir­ror and to move it around slightly un­til the re­flec­tion ap­pears to be su­per im­posed onto the felt po­si­tion of her phan­tom hand. She has thus cre­ated the il­lu­sion of ob­serv­ing two hands, when in fact she is only see­ing the mir­ror re­flec­tion of her in­tact hand. If she now sends mo­tor com­mands to both arms to make mir­ror sym­met­ric move­ments, as if she were con­duct­ing an or­ches­tra or clap­ping, she of course “sees” her phan­tom mov­ing as well. Her brain re­ceives con­firm­ing vi­sual feed­back that the phan­tom hand is mov­ing cor­rectly in re­sponse to her com­mand.

Will this help re­store vol­un­tary con­trol over her par­a­lyzed phan­tom? (Pas­sages as sub­mit­ted from p. 46 from Phan­toms in the Brain by V.S. Ra­machan­dran, M.D., Ph.D. and San­dra Blakeslee)

Cap­tion left top: · Fig­ure 1a.43 · V.S. Ra­machan­dran and San­dra Blakeslee · Phan­toms in the Brain (cov­er) · 1998/999 (pa­per­back) · Book (pub­lish­er: William Mor­row)

In the doc­u­men­tary, the male pa­tient puts his hand in the box. After the ex­per­i­ment, he says that this phan­tom [pg140] limb is cured, that the pain has gone. He also says that if he re­peats the ther­apy process by putting his hand in the vir­tual re­al­ity box, his pain will again re­cede. The claims that fic­ti­tious in­for­ma­tion gained from an il­lu­sion elim­i­nates the trauma of the ac­ci­dent.

Con­tin­u­ing with Dr. Ra­machan­dran’s case study,

Three more weeks passed un­til one day Philip called me, very ex­cited and ag­i­tat­ed.

“Doc­tor”, he ex­claimed, “it’s gone!”

“What’s gone?” (I thought maybe he had lost the mir­ror box.)

“My phan­tom is gone.”

“You know, my phan­tom arm, which I had for ten years. It does­n’t ex­ist any­more. All I have is my phan­tom fin­gers and palm dan­gling from my shoul­der!”…

The ex­per­i­ment sug­gests that when Philip’s right pari­etal lobe was pre­sented with con­flict­ing sig­nal­s—vi­sual feed­back telling him that his arm is mov­ing again while his mus­cles are telling him the arm is not there—his mind re­sorted to a form of de­nial. The only way his be­lea­guered brain could deal with this bizarre sen­sory con­flict was to say, “To hell with it, there is no arm!” (pp. 49–50)

We Japan­ese ex­ist in a state ex­ceed­ingly sim­i­lar to Philip’s phys­i­cal con­di­tion. In other words, we don’t have both arms, yet we imag­ine that we feel the pres­ence of two nor­mal limbs. None of us rec­og­nize that one is a phan­tom. We feel pain in an arm that does­n’t ac­tu­ally ex­ist. The fin­gers of that nonex­is­tent arm throb with pain. It’s im­pos­si­ble to get rid of it, be­cause no one un­der­stands why or how. At the height of the bub­ble econ­o­my, hop­ing to elim­i­nate our lost arm, we held drunken orgies, the equiv­a­lent of or­tho­pe­dic surgery. But our pain per­sist­ed. Its source was our forced re­me­di­a­tion to West­ern­iza­tion and our predica­ment as a na­tion sit­u­ated in the am­bigu­ous en­vi­ron­ment that fol­lowed de­feat in the Pa­cific War. In other words, our coun­try was not func­tion­ing nor­mal­ly. Like Dr. Ra­machan­dran’s pa­tient, Philip, Japan has con­tin­ued to op­er­ate with a phan­tom arm through­out the post­war era.

Un­til now, Japan has re­jected otaku pro­found­ly.


Why? Be­cause Japan did­n’t want to ac­knowl­edge its miss­ing arm. Be­cause we did­n’t want to ac­cept that our bod­ies were in­ad­e­quate.

Otaku are char­ac­ter­ized by in­di­vid­u­al­ism, a patho­log­i­cal ob­ses­sion with re­al­ism, and a ground­less, op­ti­mistic at­ti­tude to­ward the fu­ture. There is no de­ceit or du­plic­ity in the pa­thetic yuru chara’s pro­foundly lethar­gic smile. Otaku and the throng of yuru chara func­tion as Japan’s vir­tual re­al­ity box. Japan puts both arms in the mir­ror, we Japan­ese rec­og­nize that one arm is a phan­tom. When the in­for­ma­tion gained from the vir­tual re­al­ity box reaches the brain, the phan­tom limb should van­ish. This cre­ates an al­to­gether differ­ent re­al­i­ty. How can we Japan­ese com­pre­hend and in­ter­pret our miss­ing limb?

Re­gard­less of win­ning or los­ing the war, the bot­tom line is that for the past sixty years, Japan has been a test­ing ground for an Amer­i­can-style cap­i­tal­ist econ­o­my, pro­tected in a green­house, nur­tured and bloated to the point of ex­plo­sion. The re­sults are so bizarre, they’re per­fect. What­ever true in­ten­tions un­der­lie “Lit­tle Boy”, the nick­name for Hi­roshi­ma’s atomic bomb, we Japan­ese are tru­ly, deeply, pam­pered chil­dren. And as pam­pered chil­dren, we throw con­stant tantrums while en­thralled by our own cute­ness. It’s the de­noue­ment of a cul­ture, nour­ished by trau­ma, snugly raised in the in­cu­ba­tor of a so­ci­ety gone slack. We feed at Sev­en-Eleven, ac­quire cul­tural ar­ti­facts at Don Qui­jote, and sat­isfy our in­tel­lec­tual cu­rios­ity with cell phones and com­put­ers. We hold the il­lu­sion that any­thing can be con­cen­trated within our reach, that every kind of in­for­ma­tion can be cen­tral­ized on our desk­tops. If the world finds a way to main­tain a con­ve­nient en­vi­ron­ment free of star­va­tion in­defi­nite­ly, there’s no doubt its fu­ture will look like our pre­sent.

Un­con­di­tional love for things that are kawaii and het­are. An otaku lifestyle. A guile­less heart that mis­takes its affec­tion for mis­ery, self­-deri­sion, and masochism for a con­science.

Now the world lies at our desk­top fin­ger­tips.

Our ex­pe­ri­ences, this pre­scrip­tion for self­-med­icated denizens of a cas­trated na­tion-s­tate, may well be ap­pro­pri­ated in the fu­ture world as an ex­em­plary model of re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion.



The Japan­ese are un­usu­ally dri­ven to cre­ate ro­bots. And not just in manga and ani­me—they are also in­fat­u­ated with ac­tu­ally mak­ing them. This fas­ci­na­tion stems from As­tro Boy and Mo­bile Suit Gun­dam, and the myr­iad works of ro­bot anime that fol­lowed.

Karl Capek first coined the word “ro­bot” to de­scribe an ar­ti­fi­cial hu­man in his 1920 play, RUR Rossum’s Uni­ver­sal Ro­bots. In 1926, Me­trop­o­lis fea­tured a fe­male ro­bot, and in 1950, Isaac Asi­mov es­tab­lished the “three laws of ro­bots” in the sci­ence-fic­tion novel I, Ro­bot. The fol­low­ing year, manga mae­stro Os­amu Tezuka first be­gan to se­ri­al­ize As­tro Boy in the mag­a­zine Shō­nen (Boys), un­der the ti­tle Atom Am­bas­sador. Tezuka, ever alert to cut­ting-edge for­eign cul­ture, clearly had a flash of in­spi­ra­tion about how to trans­plant the over­seas move­ment to im­pov­er­ished post­war Japan.

The gen­e­sis of the ti­tle , an­other mag­num opus of post­war man­ga/anime, vividly evokes the scars of war. In an in­ter­view in Fig­ure-ō (Fig­ure king) mag­a­zine, , Tet­su­jin 28’s cre­ator, ex­plained that he had come up with the name from mem­o­ries of watch­ing B-29s dur­ing the war. “In the fire­bomb­ing of Tokyo, huge pieces of steel flew through the sky. I could never get that im­age out of my head, and it be­came the ba­sis for my ‘iron-man’ [tet­su­jin] idea.” In other words, Tet­su­jin 28 was in­spired by a bomber. There are in­nu­mer­able pop­u­lar manga based on ro­bots; one quick lin­eage would in­clude Jirō Kuwata and (1963), (1972), Do­rae­mon (anime be­gun in 1973), (1976), Mo­bile Suit Gun­dam (1979) and (1980), Stu­dio Nue’s (1982), (1989), and Hideaki An­no’s Neon Gen­e­sis Evan­ge­lion (1995).

Honda is cur­rently at the van­guard in de­vel­op­ing hu­man-style ro­bots. Es­tab­lished as a mo­tor­bike man­u­fac­tur­er, the com­pany launched its ro­bot project when it de­cided to en­sure a sus­tain­able fu­ture by low­er­ing harm­ful emis­sions and achiev­ing a level of safety suit­able for ve­hi­cles used for hu­man trans­porta­tion. The com­pleted ro­bot stunned the pub­lic. Its alarm­ingly sup­ple mo­tion, and the spec­ta­cle of a ro­bot walk­ing up­right—as if it had stepped straight [pg143] from a man­ga- or ani­me-in­spired dream—­took our breath away.

Cap­tion right top: · Fig­ure 1a.44 · Os­amu Tezuka · Episode 6: “Denkō Nin­gen” (Flash­light man), from As­tro Boy · 1963 · TV anime se­ries · Cap­tion right bot­tom: · (Ad­vanced Step in In­no­v­a­tive Mo­bil­i­ty) · 2000 · Hu­manoid ro­bot cre­ated by Honda Mo­tors · H. 120 cm

The gen­eral pub­lic’s in­ter­est in ro­bots is also re­mark­able; more than fifty ro­bot con­tests are now held in Japan over the course of a year. The most fa­mous of them, known as Robo­Con, has evolved into an an­nual event broad­cast on (Japan’s pub­lic broad­cast net­work). This event, which in­spired a fea­ture film, now com­prises an early step onto the ca­reer paths of tech­nol­o­gy-minded high­-school stu­dents.

Robo­Con be­gan in 1988 with a dozen tech­ni­cal high schools. Since then, the com­pe­ti­tion has been en­hanced through re­struc­tur­ing and sub­di­vi­sion into a range of com­pet­i­tive cat­e­gories, from Kōsen Robo­Con (for stu­dents of kōtō sen­mon gakkō, or tech­ni­cal high school­s), Daigaku Robo­Con (for daigaku [u­ni­ver­si­ty] stu­dents in Japan), (Asi­a-Pa­cific Ro­bot Con­test, for uni­ver­si­ty/­col­lege/poly­tech­ni­cal stu­dents in the Asi­a-Pa­cific re­gion), and IDC Robo­Con (In­ter­na­tional De­sign Con­test, for uni­ver­sity stu­dents from seven coun­tries). This year marks the eigh­teenth and four­teenth an­niver­saries of Kōsen Robo­Con and Daigaku Robo­Con, re­spec­tive­ly. In Kōsen Robo­Con, 126 tech-school teams will com­pete in pre­lim­i­nary con­tests, with 25 mak­ing it to the fi­nals; whereas in Daigaku Robo­Con, 73 uni­ver­sity teams will sub­mit ideas on pa­per, and 20 will be se­lected to pro­ceed to the fi­nals. The fi­nal com­pe­ti­tions will be broad­cast on prime­time tele­vi­sion.

In ad­di­tion to Robo­Con, two thou­sand of Japan’s 12,500 ju­nior high schools hold ro­bots con­tests as part of their tech­ni­cal cur­ric­u­la.

Seen in this con­text, it is no sur­prise that Hon­da’s ro­bot project pro­voked such a com­mo­tion. With Hon­da’s an­nounce­ment, a ro­bot­-pro­duc­tion craze hit Japan­ese cor­po­ra­tions. No doubt each firm will de­velop pro­grams in tune with its in­di­vid­ual cor­po­rate phi­los­o­phy, but it is diffi­cult to imag­ine this ma­nia in any other coun­try.

The founders of these cor­po­ra­tions, who dreamed of As­tro Boy, fund these ini­tia­tives, and the Gun­dam gen­er­a­tion im­ple­ments them.

As­tro Boy and Tet­su­jin 28 were born di­rectly of the raw ex­pe­ri­ence of war to be­come the im­pe­tus for Japan­ese dreams. Mo­bile Suit Gun­dam por­trayed ro­bots as ever-more-real weapons. Its pro­tag­o­nist pon­ders the mean­ing of war, the mean­ing of life.

The brain spe­cial­ist Dr. Takeshi Yōrō be­lieves that [pg144] hu­man am­bi­tion has shifted to­wards the cre­ation of “hu­mans”.

Cap­tion left top: · Scene from Idea Com­pe­ti­tion: Na­tional Ro­bot Con­test for Tech­ni­cal High School­ers 2004, fi­nals in Tokyo

The flow of bi­o­log­i­cal sci­ence from past to fu­ture runs not in a straight line, but rather in a spi­ral. In the nine­teenth cen­tu­ry, ex­per­i­men­tal em­bry­ol­ogy fo­cused on newt­s—am­phib­ians. The twen­ti­eth cen­tury saw a shift to chick­ens and now mice. This tra­jec­tory ul­ti­mately points to hu­mans. Al­though bi­ol­o­gists still in­sist that they aren’t work­ing to­wards hu­mans, but in­stead in a differ­ent di­rec­tion, any ob­jec­tive re­view of his­tory re­veals that the path has turned, and is aimed in a hu­man di­rec­tion. Yes, what hu­mans will ul­ti­mately cre­ate are hu­mans. (from Kōkoku hi­hyō [Ad­ver­tis­ing crit­i­cis­m], Jan­u­ary 2000, p. 101)

Hu­mans re­gard ro­bots as ex­ten­sions of them­selves and al­ter-e­gos. For the Japan­ese, in par­tic­u­lar, ro­bots as the avan­t-garde of self­-por­trai­ture, poised to be­come re­al­i­ty.

New Type

Mo­bile Suit Gun­dam (pl. 30) de­fined the cur­rent tra­jec­tory of Japan­ese ro­bot ani­me. The de­tailed his­to­ries, me­chan­i­cal im­ages, re­al­is­tic por­tray­als of [pg145] hu­mans, and ref­er­ences to abortive com­mu­ni­ca­tion found in sub­se­quent works in the genre all take Gun­dam as their stan­dard. “New Type” sig­ni­fies a con­cep­tual struc­ture first forged by Gun­dam, a frame­work so pow­er­ful that it con­tin­ues to stim­u­late new works and drive the anime world twen­ty-five years after Gun­dam’s ini­tial broad­cast.

Cap­tion right top: · Fig­ure 1a.47 · Yoshiyuki Tomino · Dakara boku wa… (And so I did…), An­i­m­age pocket edi­tion (cov­er) · 1983 · Book (pub­lish­er: Tokuma Shoten Co., Lt­d.)

Of course, Gun­dam also rewrote the book on ro­bot ani­me. Its reeval­u­a­tion of the ax­iomatic mean­ing or pur­pose of fight­ing an en­e­my, and pro­vi­sion of a con­text that gave the en­emy a right­eous cause, star­tled Gun­dam’s orig­i­nal au­di­ence. Prior to Gun­dam, ro­bot anime had served up moral­is­tic sto­ries fea­tur­ing a “mecha” (me­chan­i­cal) pro­tag­o­nist and his neme­sis, who were en­gaged in pro-wrestling-style bat­tles with tac­tics in­tended to at­tract chil­dren. Orig­i­nal­ly, ro­bot anime was sim­ply a pro­mo­tional tool de­vised by toy com­pa­nies to sell their ro­bots, and all sto­ry­lines were linked to mar­ket­ing strate­gies. Then Gun­dam’s di­rec­tor, Yoshiyuki Tomi­no, de­cided to chal­lenge this sta­tus quo.

Tomino started out as an an­i­ma­tor at Tezuka’s pro­duc­tion com­pa­ny, , which ex­panded op­er­a­tions after As­tro Boy’s huge suc­cess. The com­pany is known for nur­tur­ing the an­i­ma­tors who went on to lead the anime world. In ad­di­tion to Tomi­no, Mushi Pro fos­tered a ver­i­ta­ble who’s-who of the gi­ants of con­tem­po­rary ani­me: , , , and . After leav­ing Mushi Pro, Tomino made his way in the anime world. In his au­to­bi­og­ra­phy, he de­scribes his efforts to val­i­date his ex­is­tence as an an­i­ma­tor by draw­ing sto­ry­boards for TV ani­me, in­clud­ing such high­-end pro­grams as Hei­di, Girl of the Alps and , pro­duced by , who laid the foun­da­tions for re­al­ism in Japan­ese anime (a­long with Hayao Miyaza­k­i). All the while, Tomino was search­ing for his own form of anime re­al­ism.

Op­por­tu­nity came in the form of an offer to di­rect sev­eral ro­bot anime films, cul­mi­nat­ing with Gun­dam and its long-awaited New Type con­cep­tion. The en­cy­clo­pe­dic hand­book Gun­dam Offi­cials (Kō­dan­sha, 2001) de­scribes the defin­ing el­e­ments of this con­cept:

The core of Zeon­ism, the great­est phi­los­o­phy of this cen­tury [“Uni­ver­sal Cen­tury”, the pe­ri­odiza­tion em­ployed in Gun­dam], is the New Type the­o­ry. The hu­man race has a sub­lim­i­nal adapt­abil­ity to new en­vi­ron­ments, and when civ­i­liza­tion ad­vances to the [pg146] point of col­o­niz­ing space en­vi­ron­ments, our race will de­vise a new, spe­cially adapted hu­man form. [This form] will pos­sess clair­voy­ance and the req­ui­site en­vi­ron­men­tal cog­nizance for sur­vival in the vast re­gion we know as the cos­mos. Its pow­ers will also en­able smoother hu­man com­mu­ni­ca­tion, al­low­ing [these hu­mans] to per­ceive the to­tal­ity of things with­out any mis­un­der­stand­ing. His­tor­i­cal im­per­a­tive dic­tates this.

Zeon Daikun chris­tened this race “New Type”. Be­cause New Types un­der­stand things in to­tal­i­ty, they com­mu­ni­cate in modes that far sur­pass the re­stricted chan­nels of lan­guage. This re­sults in an ex­pan­sion of cog­ni­tion not lim­ited to New Types, but ex­tend­ing to all hu­man­i­ty. Thus, New Type so­ci­ety will func­tion by hu­man con­sen­sus, and will cor­rect any in­di­vid­ual er­rors im­me­di­ate­ly, elim­i­nat­ing the im­pro­pri­eties of mu­tual mis­un­der­stand­ings. The com­pos­ite, com­mon con­scious­ness born of this ex­panded com­mu­ni­ca­tion and its at­ten­dant in­tel­lec­tual ca­pac­ity is the essence of New Type. (pp. 533–34)

Cap­tion left top: · Fig­ure 1a.48 · Amuro Ray from Mo­bile Suit Gun­dam (episode 1) · 1979 · TV anime se­ries

Thus de­scribed is an evo­lu­tion­ary process in which a new hu­man race—a race adapted to life in space, a race that de­vises a new form of com­mu­ni­ca­tion that fa­cil­i­tates un­der­stand­ing with­out lan­guage—e­merges as a by-prod­uct of our ex­pan­sion into space and the fu­ture.

The no­tion that aborted com­mu­ni­ca­tion causes in­ter­tribal war­fare and prej­u­dice is an en­dur­ing the­me; it ap­pears in the bib­li­cal ac­count of the Tower of Ba­bel, in which God gar­bles hu­man lan­guage to bring the tow­er’s con­struc­tion to a halt. Our de­pen­dence on a lan­guage that is in­ad­e­quate for com­mu­ni­cat­ing our in­ten­tions and needs, and the re­sult­ing strife, prej­u­dice, and mis­un­der­stand­ings, pose ob­sta­cles that hu­man­ity strives to over­come.

Lat­er, in Neon Gen­e­sis Evan­ge­lion, Hideaki Anno out­lined his Hu­man Com­ple­men­ta­tion Pro­gram, offer­ing a tragic de­noue­ment for the New Type mod­el. In a sense, this was An­no’s re­ply to Gun­dam’s vi­sion of ex­panded com­mu­ni­ca­tion.

V.S. Ra­machan­dran’s de­scrip­tion of Sa­vant Syn­drome in Phan­toms in the Brain is sug­ges­tive of the New Type. The term is com­monly used to de­scribe peo­ple with men­tal dis­abil­i­ties who nonethe­less [pg147] pos­sess as­tound­ing mem­o­ries; they are ca­pa­ble of ac­cu­rately re­pro­duc­ing mu­sic or land­scapes to which they have been ex­posed.

Con­sider the pos­si­bil­ity that sa­vants suffer early brain dam­age be­fore or shortly after birth…Is it pos­si­ble that their brains un­dergo some form of remap­ping as seen in phan­tom limb pa­tients? Does the pre­na­tal or neona­tal in­jury lead to un­usual rewiring? In sa­vants, one part of the brain may for some ob­scure rea­son re­ceive a greater than av­er­age in­put or some other equiv­a­lent im­pe­tus to be­come denser and larg­er—a huge an­gu­lar gyrus, for ex­am­ple…An an­gu­lar gyrus dou­bled in size could lead not to a mere dou­bling of math­e­mat­i­cal abil­ity but to a log­a­rith­mic or hun­dred-fold in­crease. You can imag­ine an ex­plo­sion of tal­ent re­sult­ing from this sim­ple but “anom­alous” in­crease in brain vol­ume. The same ar­gu­ment might hold for draw­ing, mu­sic, lan­guage, in­deed any hu­man trait. (p. 196)

Cap­tion right top: · Fig­ure 1a.49 · Shō­tarō from Tet­su­jin 28 (episode 70) · 1965 · TV anime se­ries · Cap­tion right bot­tom: · Fig­ure 1a.50 · Kat­suhiro Ōtomo · Army test sub­ject no. 28, from Akira, vol. 2 (page 298) · 1985 · Book (pub­lish­er: Ko­dan­sha)

Amuro Ray, Tomi­no’s pro­tag­o­nist, is a shy, an­ti­so­cial New Type who awak­ens to war. It is in­evitable that hu­mans who are born and dwell in low-grav­ity space, with ra­di­a­tion lev­els that far sur­pass those on earth, will be fun­da­men­tally differ­ent from hu­mans born and raised on this plan­et. For the Japan­ese, the hope that a New Type will emerge in this en­vi­ron­ment is an in­evitabil­i­ty, born of the con­flu­ence of re­al­ity and post­war trau­ma.


We have al­ways searched for a set­ting to be­lieve in. Cer­tainly our home, the coun­try in which we were born and raised, should qual­ify as some­thing we can count on. But for us, such trust has al­ways been con­di­tion­al.

We prob­a­bly owe this to our ex­pe­ri­ence of na­tive soil as some­thing that can be re­duced to noth­ing in a flash; this has dulled our in­stinct for build­ing foun­da­tions. Be­sides, it is clear that our so­ci­ety is hardly founded on ab­solute jus­tice.

As­tro Boy is a child-type ro­bot in­vented as a com­pan­ion for the hu­man race with the hope of cre­at­ing a peace­ful fu­ture. A lit­tle boy named Shō­tarō pi­lots Tet­su­jin 28, an amal­gam of ro­bots sym­bol­iz­ing weapons and the B-29, which evokes the ter­ror for fire­bombed Tokyo. Akira is a child whose ex­per­i­men­tal sub­ject code [pg148] num­ber, 28, is de­rived from Tet­su­jin 28. Amuro Ray finds him­self on the bat­tle­field as a young boy, even though he be­longs to a su­per-race, the New Types. Shin­ji, from Neon Gen­e­sis Evan­ge­lion, is a young­ster ca­pa­ble of syn­chro­niz­ing him­self with a ro­bot, but he is hope­less when it comes to ver­bal com­mu­ni­ca­tion. No­bita, the pro­tag­o­nist of Do­rae­mon, is a young los­er. All are chil­dren who want to stay chil­dren against the will of so­ci­ety. How are they to main­tain their worlds? Post­war manga and anime are de­fined by this dilem­ma.

Cap­tion left top: · Fig­ure 1a.51 · ki­cell · Earth in My Win­dow, in­clud­ing “Enola Gay” and “Earth in My Win­dow” · 2004 · CD (cov­er)

Ro­bots are re­fined to a level at which they com­pen­sate for the in­ad­e­quacy of hu­man com­mu­ni­ca­tion, ex­pand hu­man ca­pa­bil­i­ties, and even pos­sess self­-con­scious­ness. With the aid of such ro­bots, hu­mans can evolve into su­per­hu­man New Types. Peo­ple them­selves be­come a black hole: life in death, trans­for­ma­tion, re­peated mu­ta­tion. Thought stops and the child never grows up. Sucked in by kawaii, you lose ini­tia­tive, or laugh at your own lethargy and take a ro­bot for a re­al-world part­ner. And yet, amidst it all, peo­ple awaken and evolve to­ward a new hu­man­i­ty.

A flash, all is gone. We have been pro­tect­ed, borne sick­ness, be­come rich, and lost every­thing. Our hearts have been bro­ken, com­fort­ed, and cap­ti­vat­ed. And now, we wait for death.

We have no choice but to pre­pare for death as chil­dren.

This is the bizarre re­al­ity we have in­hab­ited since the atomic bombs fell and we tasted de­feat.

The com­ing fu­ture, the near fu­ture. The pur­suit of ag­gres­sive eco­nomic growth in­evitably re­quires that we pi­o­neer new fron­tiers. And so the hu­man race must even­tu­ally em­i­grate to space. How will the hu­man body and heart sur­vive an en­vi­ron­ment in which high lev­els of ra­di­a­tion pierce our bod­ies?

Then, we Japan­ese will have de­vel­oped the ro­bots to pro­tect us, the philoso­phies to guide us, and the char­ac­ters to com­fort us. In that flash, we found a way to glimpse a fu­ture in which the con­cepts of time and space have warped.

Earth in My Window

There’s Columbia, and good old Mon­go­lia
Africa, singing in the rain [pg149]

Smok­ing Ara­bia, stal­wart Poland
And Japan, al­ways dream­ing

Where did you come from
Leav­ing that cen­tipede scar

Re­flected in the win­dow, your fa­mil­iar face
I await the day you come to Earth

Phoeni­cia in the sea, far-eyed Rome
Chi­na, who has fin­ished its let­ter

Sleep­ing Amer­i­ca, star­ry-skied In­dia
Spain, who re­minds me of you

Some­day green shoots in the rub­ble
At dawn, where shall we set out for?

On the beach at dusk, let us meet our dreams
Kiss­ing un­der a tree, I await the day

When the large bird takes flight and mur­murs on a stone
The over­flow­ing mys­ter­ies drift like clouds
Re­flected in the win­dow, your fa­mil­iar face
I await the day you come to earth

(ki­cell, “Earth in My Win­dow”, 2004; lyrics and mu­sic by Take­fumi Tsu­jimu­ra)

In “Earth in My Win­dow”, it’s night in Amer­i­ca. Japan is al­ways dream­ing.

While Amer­ica sleeps, Japan has been day­dream­ing.

Greet­ings, you are alive. I, too, am alive.

In­scribe the tra­jec­to­ry, the arc of our lives, and warp the co­or­di­nates of time and space. Fi­nal­ly, take your place in the fu­ture, sig­nify equiv­a­lent mean­ings. The world is ut­terly ho­mo­ge­neous. It will al­ways ig­nore di­men­sions and con­tort it­self, but some­day it will quicken with life. And some­day it will in­te­grate and present it­self to us.

Evo­lu­tion and progress are not our only dreams. After in­ter­minable mu­ta­tion, a de­formed abom­i­na­tion, a face hideous with scars, there is still mean­ing in life. Our cul­ture may be re­pul­sive, but I want the fu­ture to know the mean­ing of our lives.

Further reading

  1. For more on DAICON & the for­ma­tion of Gainax, see Takeda’s . —Ed­i­tor↩︎

  2. Pos­si­bly the So­laris cafe in Ky­oto; see The Notenki Mem­oirs. —Ed­i­tor.↩︎

  3. Ex­cept for, to their eter­nal cha­grin, char­ac­ters from the manga of con­ven­tion star guest Os­amu Tezu­ka. —Ed­i­tor↩︎

  4. Orig­i­nal lyrics: “to the moon, into space”↩︎

  5. Al­though such stuffed rooms are com­mon in Tokyo; eg , Ky­oichi Tsuzuki 1993/1997. —Ed­i­tor↩︎