09 January 2013

scraps: an ani-versary addendum

The following scrap is a brief addendum to an essay I wrote for Golden Ani-Versary. You can read the entire essay here and here.


The idea of the liminal entity as presented in 1963 anime can be seen as a (somewhat) limited allegory to the state of Japan at the time (or more appropriately, maybe 50 years earlier). One of the "problems" with Japan is its own rather liminal state within the Asian sphere: it often characterized itself through the perceptions of others; often lacked a serious idea of national cohesion, despite a nationalism that bordered on arrogance; and often "suffered" from a culture that was frequently influenced and redefined by outside contributions. (Sansom 1958) It happened in the 500s with the introduction of Buddhism, persisted through the Heian Period with a distinct Court preoccupation with Chinese philosophy, (Sansom 1958) and later became a trait of both Edo consolidation (limitedly) and Western re-introduction. (Jansen 2002)

As such, Japan often found itself situated on the frontiers of Asia: too "Western" for the East and too "Eastern" for the West. The syncretic mixings of so many external factors created within early modern Japan a sense of ambition, but also of “not-belonging” (sometimes structured as supremacy). It wanted to be taken seriously, and found enough roadblocks in its way that it finally decided to "make itself known," often via conflict. (The Russo-Japanese War being a type of "coming-out party.") It's one desire appeared to be to break out of its liminality, and in doing so drew not just the attention, but the ire, of the international community. (Forstchen 2009)

We all know how that ended. 

Are there shades of this in Tetsuwan Atomu? Definitely. One could look at Blue Knight and wonder if Tezuka was trying to decry racism, or question the "long suffering" history of Japan in the 20th Century. Atom’s empathy for Blue Knight’s robot crusade would only eventually be trumped by his devotion to serving humanity as a whole, rather than “selfish” personal reasons, and would end with his death. Is this a shade Japan’s fate at the end of the war, and their re-evaluation of their standing in the world?

Perhaps Ken was making light of those early modern years, with a "backwards" boy managing to get the best of the world around him, foiling technologically advanced hunters and cunning animal neighbors, and triumphing over all despite a sense of disadvantage. Japanese history is ripe with similar stories of it standing “alone,” while “enemies” plotted against it, only to emerge triumphant in the end.  

Maybe Eitoman was a happy fable demonstrating the loyalty and honor that Japan was embracing in the face of loss- its national identity destroyed, the time had come for it to "prove" its worth in the global community as a force of law, order and justice. Or maybe it was more like Tetsujin: while the nation would no longer be a military powerhouse, it could use its advances and skill in technology to help those it had wronged. 

Maybe then it wasn’t too much to consider that those early anime were looking to the future. It was just a slightly different narrative that we thought. 

Further Reading:
George Sansom: “A History of Japan to 1334.” Stanford, 1958
Marius Jansen: “The Making of Modern Japan.” Belknap/Harvard, 2002
William Forstchen: “Japan in WWII.” From Bill Fawcett: “How to Lose A War.” Harper Collins 2009

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