Praying Towards Castle Grayskull

When it comes to the international phenomenon that is Pokemon, producer Ishihara Tsunekazu had the following to say:

石原: 北米ではけっこうクラシカルに伝説系のポケモンの人気があるんですけど、リザードンのような見た目か ら強そうなタイプのポケモンが好まれています。それとミュウツーでしょうか。

Ishihara: In North America, classical-style Legendary Pokemon are popular, but Pokemon who look strong like Charizard are also preferred. Mewtwo as well.


Charizard and Mewtwo

While Ishihara then goes on to say that  universally speaking, Pokemon like Pikachu are popular everywhere, I want to to focus mainly on this unique bit of difference North America has.

While I can’t speak for Canada, Mexico, or Central America, I think it’s very well-known that America likes powerful characters. More broadly, America likes the hero who rises above all, the larger-than-life figure. He may have a humble background, but the end result is still strong. It speaks to our culture of individualism, and it is reflected in the popularity of action movies as well as in the existence of iconic heroic figures in cartoons and comics such as Superman, Captain America, He-Man and Flash Gordon. When the US encounters the creative output of another nation such as Japan, it very profoundly reflects this ideal.

This is also partly why I think many of the anime that have been popular in the US are or were popular. Compared to the less popular One Piece, Naruto and Bleach exude seriousness and power in their aesthetics, doubly so for something like Dragon Ball Z. The hyper violence of MD Geist and its contemporaries in the 80s and 90s felt new and fresh to some extent, but that level of violence is I think something comfortably American, animated cousins of action movies.

I think it’s very easy to take one’s own cultural upbringing for granted, to think that the ideals of your own culture are the ideals of everyone else’s. It’s not small-minded or biggoted so much as it is a fairly natural progression if there is nothing to jar you out of it. In an article from 1987, Frederik Schodt, author of Manga! Manga!, points out that American superhero comics do not do well in Japan. Back then, they were considered too plain and too wordy, and today I can tell you that superheroes are better known through their movies than anything else. When I was studying in Japan, I had a conversation with a Japanese classmate, where I tried to explain the Flash to him. I told him he was “red and very fast,” to which he responded, “Daredevil?”

That said, there are a number of manga artists influenced by Americann superhero comics, such as Nightow Yasuhiro (Trigun) and Takahashi Kazuki (Yu-Gi-Oh!). In anime, it goes at least as far back as Gatchaman. Still, you will find that just as we have taken anime and said, “This is what we like in our anime,” they have said, “This is what we like in superheroes” and transformed it into something more in-line with their culture.

Cultural exchange, as they call it.

One last thing to dwell on is the way Europe has approached anime and manga. Taniguchi Jiro, who is influenced by the French comic artist Moebius, is much more popular in Moebius’s home country than he is in the US. His style is very European, incorporating complex and detailed backgrounds and placing a great visual emphasis on environment (not to be confused with “the environment”). But as I said before, I’m no expert on European comics, so I’ll leave someone else to fill in that blank until I catch up.

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3 thoughts on “Praying Towards Castle Grayskull

  1. Very nicely put, and yeah, I had the same experience – as a kid, I only liked action anime with badass heroes. The better a character was with a sword, the bigger a fan I was. Although I always liked the ‘young genius’ characters most (such as the super-fast kid from Kenshin) because that’s how I saw myself.

    Even today, I can’t deny that violence and badass are big factors in my love of anime. And looking at Pokemon, of course I always liked the Charizard family the most back in the day. My 12yo brother, if you ask him to list his favorite Pokemon, they are ALL legendaries. It’s like nothing else is worthy. My favorite now is Munchlax. I guess I’ve become culturally distant lol.

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  2. You mentioned the fact that Yasuhiro Nightow was influenced by American comics, and I wonder if this is why the Trigun anime was massively popular in America (well, you know – relatively speaking), but was never popular enough in Japan to warrant a sequel. I am aware that a movie version finally appeared earlier this year, but I think it is worth noting that it premiered in Seattle not Tokyo.

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