Losing that Japanese Touch

I don't know much about this topic and I think all the main points have been addressed but here's my little blurb. I think Japanese art has been held back by anime and needs to continue to evolve. If Japan is starting to adopt more western art styles I say great. With their unique perspective we'll finally see something new or at least with more tentacles.

theditor wrote:

(I don't mean to troll, but I guess I'm kinda trolling).

Haha, yeah... I get the funny side of it but at least (seriously) they're completely different to the macho self-aggrandising tear-away, no-respect for direct authority (but they really love the real authority i.e. the good government/army) loner who pulls himself together to discover the corruption inherent in the system and who learns to trust his fellow comrades we get over here.

Duoae wrote:
theditor wrote:

(I don't mean to troll, but I guess I'm kinda trolling).

Haha, yeah... I get the funny side of it but at least (seriously) they're completely different to the macho self-aggrandising tear-away, no-respect for direct authority (but they really love the real authority i.e. the good government/army) loner who pulls himself together to discover the corruption inherent in the system and who learns to trust his fellow comrades we get over here.

Well, it's actually part of the reason that, from my understanding, the Japanese entertainment industry as a whole is in trouble. I mean, I know I sound all old guy but I liked my anime better when characters were more than just teenagers. Sure, it's okay once in a while with stuff like Full Metal Alchemist and Neon Genesis Evangelion, but that's because the show feels a lot less like an adolescent fantasy (okay, well, SOME parts of Evangelion definitely play out that way. Plus, I REALLY hate to be one of those assholes, but the comic book is f*cking awesome in comparison). But I mean, I remember Ghost in the Shell, which felt incredibly Blade Runner in its execution. Then there's Trigun, which features an adult protagonist. And let's not forget the anime for people that don't like anime, Cowboy Bebop.

Whenever I went to my anime club at College and saw the new stuff, all I saw was tired cliches, incredibly skinny people (though in truth, Japan is full of tiny scrawny people, so that's more a symptom of the culture), and everyone being a teenager. It has leaked into their video games as well (though to be honest, I actually liked Nero, but part of that may be because DMC4 was my first DMC game...and from the looks of it, my last).

There's a lot of cliche stuff that Japanese entertainment does for interesting reasons, however. For example, when I was reading Battle Royale (a f*cking awesome book, by the way), it felt very different from any anime I had watched. That is, except for one detail. Minor characters were loaded with flash backs, even if that chapter was dedicated to their demise. I sighed and thought "God, even this book is full of such trite characters", but then I realized why it is done. It's for the same reason our action heroes are always down on their luck going through a divorce and having lost their job/about to lose their job. It's trying to give the character's life meaning and purpose.

It's just executed in a way that is strictly Japanese, and as such it stands out after a while because when I first saw it the whole thing was new and fresh, but now it feels like we're just treading old ground. American entertainment does that a lot as well, but because I'm from America I identify certain cliches as being good narrative and others as being hokey. It may come off differently to the Japanese.

However, I think both countries are having issues creating interesting protagonists in this era of video games. Hell, even when you have an interesting average joe character, chances are he's out trying to save his daughter. Dead Rising 2, Silent Hill: Shattered Memories, and...f*ck, there were like five other games that did this recently and I just forgot them.

Oh, wait, Nier was one, but I actually liked how they handled the localization there. The Japanese version of Nier features a teenage protagonist out to save his sister. In America, they changed it to a buff older dude out to save his daughter. I haven't played the game myself, but localization changes like that just seem...I dunno. Interesting. It allows it to retain its Japanese-ness while making small modifications to attract a Western audience.

I don't understand why, when you're talking about Japanese aesthetics and cultural ideas that people automatically think "anime!". I never mentioned it once! Sure, some anime has those properties because it's from that culture.... not all and certainly not all Japanese cultural output is anime.

It's kinda like equating 70s & 80s American cartoons as the sum total worth of American cultural output.... Or Benny Hill and Fawlty Towers as the UK's cultural output. It's a very small part of the total and the cultural ideals behind the nation as a whole.

It's kinda like equating 70s & 80s American cartoons as the sum total worth of American cultural output....

Not at all. To this day cartoons are still looked upon as childish unless used in an animated form for a show like Simpsons or Family Guy. Yet Anime (and comics) are both mainstream and highly common. I believe one of the reasons anime is so prevalent is also because animation is simply cheaper than live action on the whole (I'm not sure if this is completely true, but I can see it being the case) and as a result is a more common medium than live action.

However, my reference to Battle Royale was, in fact, a book. Not a comic or anime, but a book.

The thing is, if you're going to discuss Japanese entertainment, you have to discuss their animation and comics because they are a big deal over there. Basically, their anime is as diverse as our live action, whereas our animation is either strictly for kids or an outrageous comedy (and in this day and age, an immature retarded comedy aimed at the same kids that make Xbox Live a complete bitch for the rest of us).

In truth, I only brought up anime because that's what I equate to our entertainment industry. Even then, if I go back and watch Godzilla films in their original Japanese they will still carry over a lot of the same attributes that you would find in anime. It's not about anime itself, it's about the culture and how they view story-telling techniques.

ccesarano wrote:
It's kinda like equating 70s & 80s American cartoons as the sum total worth of American cultural output....

Not at all. To this day cartoons are still looked upon as childish unless used in an animated form for a show like Simpsons or Family Guy. Yet Anime (and comics) are both mainstream and highly common. I believe one of the reasons anime is so prevalent is also because animation is simply cheaper than live action on the whole (I'm not sure if this is completely true, but I can see it being the case) and as a result is a more common medium than live action.

However, my reference to Battle Royale was, in fact, a book. Not a comic or anime, but a book.

Whuh? You really didn't get my point. Which was: Your whole negative outlook on the Japanese culture (especially characterisation) appears to be based primarily off the equivalent of 80s American cartoons - i.e. dreck. Sure, you mention a book but then go on to talk about the same type of stupid characterisation.

I sincerely doubt that Battle Royale (i've seen the film) is anything but dreck in movie form. It's hardly high-class cinematography.

It's like looking at 80's He-Man and Dog Soldiers and coming to the conclusion that these are the main and best output of those two industries. That animation quality and characterisation is rubbish and odd.

The thing is, if you're going to discuss Japanese entertainment, you have to discuss their animation and comics because they are a big deal over there. Basically, their anime is as diverse as our live action, whereas our animation is either strictly for kids or an outrageous comedy (and in this day and age, an immature retarded comedy aimed at the same kids that make Xbox Live a complete bitch for the rest of us).

In truth, I only brought up anime because that's what I equate to our entertainment industry. Even then, if I go back and watch Godzilla films in their original Japanese they will still carry over a lot of the same attributes that you would find in anime. It's not about anime itself, it's about the culture and how they view story-telling techniques.

Fine, discuss the comics and anime but don't mistake rubbish for being not what it is. Compare something like Old Boy to Battle Royale and you get a different view of what's going on. Yes, there are similar types of attributes but they're definitely not the same or of the same quality. You look at something like some of the dreck DC and Marvel comics put out but then compare them to the better ones that they have also released under different authors.

Not to be glib, but what is Japan's most pervasive and obvious cultural export if not anime?

Ninjas.

Duoae wrote:

It's like looking at 80's He-Man and Dog Soldiers and coming to the conclusion that these are the main and best output of those two industries. That animation quality and characterisation is rubbish and odd.

I'd think it's more like looking at a sporadic collection of American television. I remember when there was a Japanese foreign exchange student from Japan that came to our high school, she was amazed that my sister and her friends had Sailor Moon paraphernalia because it was a kids show. However, because we had seen stuff like Evangelion and Ninja Scroll our attitude of anime as a whole was much different. Our first assumption was that anime was usually for a more mature audience. Now that I'm older and have had more exposure to the industry I've been able to identify intended age groups for shows better.

Our exposure to anime is more along the lines of someone from Japan switching between Batman Beyond, Heroes, Big Bang Theory and Bones. Very different shows on very different networks, but I guarantee if you are from a different culture you'll spot a lot of narrative similarities that don't even phase us anymore because we're used to it/are part of the culture.

Also note that my original point, that the entertainment industry in Japan is doing poorly as a whole and guessing why, is more based on reports I've read as well as my own guess work based on observations. If your story has teenage heroes, then chances are your target audience is a group of teenagers. This is one thing both America and Japan share, and this is also the primary source of protagonists for Japanese games and anime for the past decade. That's one of the reasons I imagine the Japanese entertainment industry is in trouble, but it's nothing more than a theory. From what I understand adults don't have as much time for television and games, so their comics are going to be much more diverse in material than their games or TV. But again, this is guess work as most comics brought over to America end up being tied to an anime in some way. We don't get nearly as large a percentage of their comics as we do their television.

Hondas?

Porn?

Grubber788 wrote:

Not to be glib, but what is Japan's most pervasive and obvious cultural export if not anime?

Robogeishas.

Duoae wrote:

1. Interest, wonder and exploration of deities and organised religion
2. Exploration of and less strict gender and sexual roles in society (expecially wrt men/males)
3. Questioning of authority structures and leading cultural and social rebellions
4. The use of characterisation (specifically self doubt) to show that protagonists don't necessarily believe that what they're doing is right but that they must do it anyway to achieve change.

This really made me "get" why Japanese developers feel the need to Westernise their franchises. It's simple: These are not themes that Western (read: US) audiences are not [perceived to be] interested in, or sensitive to.

1 - Religion is a touchy subject. You're bound to offend someone. We don't like offending people.
2 - Rampant sexism and trans/homophobia in Western society, especially in the gamer demographic. Not gonna fly.
3 - Questioning authority? Leading rebellions? Sounds awfully dangerous to me. Are you sure you're not one of them Communisticals?
4 - The West - particularly the US - is all about confidence. If you don't have any, you're considered spineless and weak, and people will ride roughshod over you. Humility isn't a positive character trait, it's a flaw.

Yes, these are all stereotypes, and you can argue as much as you like over to what degree they're true. But just as the West sees Japanese culture as "anime", I could quite easily see Japan seeing these attributes being typical of the West.

Ultimately the Japanese market is perceived to be fairly small. This isn't true in the handheld space, but if you want the really big sales in consoleland, you want to get the at least the US - and Europe if possible - on board. I can see how a Japanese publisher would want that, leading to the changes mentioned above.

I would have gone with sushi, zen, bushido or karate.

IMAGE(http://gaijinnosekai.files.wordpress.com/2008/06/hard-gay-motivational.jpg)

Floomi wrote:
Duoae wrote:

1. Interest, wonder and exploration of deities and organised religion
2. Exploration of and less strict gender and sexual roles in society (expecially wrt men/males)
3. Questioning of authority structures and leading cultural and social rebellions
4. The use of characterisation (specifically self doubt) to show that protagonists don't necessarily believe that what they're doing is right but that they must do it anyway to achieve change.

This really made me "get" why Japanese developers feel the need to Westernise their franchises. It's simple: These are not themes that Western (read: US) audiences are not [perceived to be] interested in, or sensitive to.

1 - Religion is a touchy subject. You're bound to offend someone. We don't like offending people.
2 - Rampant sexism and trans/homophobia in Western society, especially in the gamer demographic. Not gonna fly.
3 - Questioning authority? Leading rebellions? Sounds awfully dangerous to me. Are you sure you're not one of them Communisticals?
4 - The West - particularly the US - is all about confidence. If you don't have any, you're considered spineless and weak, and people will ride roughshod over you. Humility isn't a positive character trait, it's a flaw.

Yes, these are all stereotypes, and you can argue as much as you like over to what degree they're true. But just as the West sees Japanese culture as "anime", I could quite easily see Japan seeing these attributes being typical of the West.

Ultimately the Japanese market is perceived to be fairly small. This isn't true in the handheld space, but if you want the really big sales in consoleland, you want to get the at least the US - and Europe if possible - on board. I can see how a Japanese publisher would want that, leading to the changes mentioned above.

I'm not a fan of this sort of over-the-top localization pre-mediating Japanese culture. But then I'm not concerned about sales numbers in the short term so much as I'm concerned about the long-term intermingling of cultures and values with outside perspectives, and about the long-term depth and health of games as a medium.

wordsmythe wrote:

I'm not a fan of this sort of over-the-top localization pre-mediating Japanese culture. But then I'm not concerned about sales numbers in the short term so much as I'm concerned about the long-term intermingling of cultures and values with outside perspectives, and about the long-term depth and health of games as a medium.

Oh, sure. I'm not saying it's right, just that it's (perceived to be?) good business sense. Mo' sales, mo' profits.

I don't think we need to be explaining or reciting excuses for corporations. They pay people to do that.

wordsmythe wrote:

I'm not a fan of this sort of over-the-top localization pre-mediating Japanese culture. But then I'm not concerned about sales numbers in the short term so much as I'm concerned about the long-term intermingling of cultures and values with outside perspectives, and about the long-term depth and health of games as a medium.

But at the same time, a lot of those points are something that the Japanese publishers and developers consider when they consider releasing a game internationally.

Xenogears was almost not localized because it deals heavily with religious themes. Other games have been "sanitized" for the US market.

The fact of the matter is that these perceptions DO effect whether or not games are localized, and is basically the point of this entire thread.

wordsmythe wrote:

I don't think we need to be explaining or reciting excuses for corporations. They pay people to do that.

Er, okay then. I'll bow out of this discussion.

:\

Live albums at Budokan

+++++

Getting back to the OP, I think it's a matter of sour grapes: Japanese games aren't doing as well as they once did (or maybe it's just that Western games are doing better). Therefore blame it on Japanese vs. Western tastes, rather than face the cold hard truth that the problem is Japanese games haven't been innovating, and have gone stale. I mean, if something like Demon's Souls can become a minor hit in America the issue here isn't Japan vs. the West, it's just Stale vs. Innovative. BioWare didn't get where it did by simply slapping prettier graphics on Baldur's Gate, right?

CheezePavilion wrote:

BioWare didn't get where it did by simply slapping prettier graphics on Baldur's Gate, right?

I'd argue that's exactly what they did, but I don't like BioWare games.

ClockworkHouse wrote:
CheezePavilion wrote:

BioWare didn't get where it did by simply slapping prettier graphics on Baldur's Gate, right?

I'd argue that's exactly what they did, but I don't like BioWare games. ;)

Heh--even Mass Effect 2 isn't Mass Effect with prettier graphics: where'd my inventory go?

CheezePavilion wrote:
ClockworkHouse wrote:
CheezePavilion wrote:

BioWare didn't get where it did by simply slapping prettier graphics on Baldur's Gate, right?

I'd argue that's exactly what they did, but I don't like BioWare games. ;)

Heh--even Mass Effect 2 isn't Mass Effect with prettier graphics: where'd my inventory go?

If that's your idea of innovation, then I don't know how you can say that Japanese games have stagnated.

wordsmythe wrote:

I would have gone with sushi, zen, bushido or karate.

Sushi is perfectly valid, but I generally exclude food from cultural arguments if only because it's too easy, particularly if we are discussing American viewpoints. In general, I'd say that America's palette variety is rather large, so any country's greatest cultural export could be called a certain food. That doesn't seem satisfying though.

Zen is undoubtedly a Japanese concept, but a holds a relative minority position in America as an "exotic" alternative to mainline religions. I don't think it's affected popular culture any more than Paganism has. (I mean this as an insult to neither Zen Buddhism or Paganism, mind you)

Karate and Bushido are Japanese in name only as far as most Americans ought to be concerned. The prevalence of McDojo's and the blanket use of the term applied to non-Japanese arts has rendered "Karate" as a blanket term for martial arts. Nowadays, it's difficult to differentiate the Japanese aspects from the Chinese, Korean and American aspects.

I do digress however. I have to believe most Americans would probably associate Karate directly with Japan.

Or China. /facepalm

As far as Bushido goes, I'm not an expert on this matter, but I have been taught that "Bushido" as we know it, is something of a myth. Samurai were never particularly honorable, and the code of the warrior are products of historical revisionism, one which the Japanese are keen to propagate. Bushido existed, but not to the point most would believe. That said, even if Bushido was as important to Japanese feudal society as popular conventions hold, I don't see how it affects American culture in any substantial way.

In my eyes, the art style of anime for Americans would be related closely to Hollywood big budget films to the rest of the world. I would argue that Hollywood is America's biggest cultural export (for better or worse), in that, at least in my experience abroad, nothing has quite shaped foreign perception of America than has its films, and not even the really good small films that will often win Oscars, but rather the big budget action films. Maybe it's my perverse international viewpoint, but I see anime as an art form linked directly to Hollywood in their cultural relevance.

Edit: I should add that I know I sound like an ass with my post. I just find cultural hegemony and the concept of "what is truly unique in culture?" to be interesting topics.

ClockworkHouse wrote:
CheezePavilion wrote:
ClockworkHouse wrote:
CheezePavilion wrote:

BioWare didn't get where it did by simply slapping prettier graphics on Baldur's Gate, right?

I'd argue that's exactly what they did, but I don't like BioWare games. ;)

Heh--even Mass Effect 2 isn't Mass Effect with prettier graphics: where'd my inventory go?

If that's your idea of innovation, then I don't know how you can say that Japanese games have stagnated.

If you don't think taking the inventory out of an RPG coming out of a style where inventory was considered a defining element of the genre isn't innovation--good or bad--I don't know how I can have this conversation with you ;- D

CheezePavilion wrote:

If you don't think taking the inventory out of an RPG coming out of a style where inventory was considered a defining element of the genre isn't innovation--good or bad--I don't know how I can have this conversation with you ;- D

You're looking at it in terms of genre, though. "An RPG without an inventory! That's crazy talk!" But if you look at it in terms of the shift from Mass Effect to Mass Effect 2, it's a minor shift, just a tweak.

ClockworkHouse wrote:
CheezePavilion wrote:

If you don't think taking the inventory out of an RPG coming out of a style where inventory was considered a defining element of the genre isn't innovation--good or bad--I don't know how I can have this conversation with you ;- D

You're looking at it in terms of genre, though. "An RPG without an inventory! That's crazy talk!" But if you look at it in terms of the shift from Mass Effect to Mass Effect 2, it's a minor shift, just a tweak.

I disagree. For me, it (along with other shifts) significantly changed the game. Maybe it just didn't have the impact on you that it did on me. The question then becomes, I guess, which of our experiences is more representative.

CheezePavilion wrote:

I disagree. For me, it (along with other shifts) significantly changed the game. Maybe it just didn't have the impact on you that it did on me. The question then becomes, I guess, which of our experiences is more representative.

About as representative as the views of the people who think that each Final Fantasy game innovates on the previous one versus those who think they've stayed the same for years.

It's a matter of perspective. When you're inside a genre or title, when you're a fan, small changes can really mix things up. When you're not a fan, titles tend to blend together and look stagnant. From where I sit, Western RPGs have barely innovated in a decade; it sounds like from where you sit that they're still robust and engaging.