Various Thoughts Concerning American Cartoons in Japan

I recall at some point someone (possibly me) asking my high school Japanese teacher what animation she watched as a child. I think everyone was expecting an answer like Tetsuwan Atom or Candy Candy or something, but her answer was “Tom and Jerry.” She was apparently quite fond of it as a child growing up in Japan.

American cartoons have a long history in Japan, what with Tezuka idolizing Walt Disney, but today we’re at an interesting point in this cartoon exchange. Rather than American cartoons inspiring Japanese ones, or Japanese people being “secretly” responsible for American cartoons, both countries are well aware of the other’s creative exports, with anime becoming a fairly common word in English (is it that Pokeyman stuff?!), and American cartoons making their way to Japanese cable.

According to Craig McCracken, Spongebob Squarepants is a huge success in Japan, doing much better than his own Powerpuff Girls, which necessitated the creation of Powerpuff Girls Z to try and appeal to the Japanese market better. South Park has also found some popularity, and it makes me wonder if the appeal of South Park and Spongebob in Japan is the absurdity of their characters and situations.

I used to joke that I would start subbing “The Boondocks” into Japanese at some point. A lot of the humor of Boondocks, like South Park in its later seasons, is very political, using the (relative) innocence of children to illustrate a point about society, so I thought it’d be amusing to try and translate this aspect for a culture that is not intimately familiar with race relations in a country with so much history and diversity in this regard.  Suffice it to say, I was shocked when I found out that Boondocks had in fact been dubbed into Japanese. Still later, the second season of Boondocks was moved from a Korean studio to Studio Madhouse, one of the most famous animation studios in Japan. To what extent were the people watching on Japanese cable able to understand the deeper meanings involved in Boondocks? While I don’t really have an answer, I can’t help but wonder about this every time I hear Riley say, “Niigaa.”

Cartoon Network has its own station in Japan, and through it many old classics are brought to Japanese viewers, as well as newer shows such as Teen Titans and Samurai Jack, two shows which are inspired by anime to varying degrees. A more recent show to come out in America and to hit the shores of Japan is Ben 10, the cartoon by Man of Action about a 10 year old boy with the power to turn into different aliens who fights menacing aliens with the help of his grandpa Max and his cousin Gwen (pictured above). As far as I can tell, Ben 10 is not widely popular but it does have its fans, and some have even drawn fanart. Not surprisingly, it seems as if most of them are primarily fans of Gwen before anything else. I get the feeling it’s because she is surprisingly moe for a western cartoon character. Some call her “tsundere,” though something about that description doesn’t quite line up. Maybe a new term is needed.

“American Tsundere?”