Stuff I Say

Life in Japan is Not a Manga

Posted in Japan, Japanese Language, Stuff by 51future on September 11, 2008

So let me tell you a thing or two about life in Japan: It’s not a manga. First and foremost, that’s the gist of this article. And I guess the second point is that even if it was, you’d find it sorely lacking.

So let’s talk about comics for a second. There’s a movie coming out soon in the states called Watchmen based on a DC comic of the same name. Even if you don’t know much about Watchmen, the point here is that “remains the only graphic novel to win a Hugo Award, and is also the only graphic novel to appear on Time’s 2005 list of “the 100 best English-language novels”, an annual feature of the magazine since it was founded in 1923.” Yes, I realize this is sort of an odd man out as far as comics are concerned, but if Watchmen doesn’t convince you that American comics are both interesting and relevant, then take a look at say, The Dark Knight or 300.

Japanese comics, on the other hand, are not interesting or relevant. Sure, there are cash cows. Evangelion has been around forever, and I still see the damn figurines every day I walk into a convenience store, even out here in the countryside. But there’s nothing particularly relevant about it. I mean, the gist of it is that a bunch of middle school students in big mecha are the only thing standing between a strangely-familiar ultra-futuristic Japan and total annihilation. Now, when the series first came out, the producer basically shit his pants on the last two episodes and put the main character (who had, about 3 episodes earlier gone into the hospital room of a cloned, emotionless sort of human-autopilot and jacked off on her full-body bandages while crying) in a room at school with all the other characters who then proceeded to tell him that he could reshape the world however he wanted. All this was mashed up with random footage shot in different places in modern Japan. Suffice to say, the ending was shit. Trust me, if you haven’t seen it, I’m not spoiling anything. A few years later, they came out with a proper ending, appropriately titled “End of Evangelion” which was good, if only because of the very visceral violence and appropriate suspense. However, at the end of that, the main character (who again, gets to choose how to reshape the world) turns it into a wasteland consisting of him, his love interest, and an ocean of blood. And then he spurns her.

I’m rambling though.

If you had talked to me 5 years ago, you would have found me in a bad way. I was stuck somewhere I didn’t want to be without any friends and a lot of spare time on my hands. I was depressed and near suicidal at some points and generally stupid and emo. You know what I spent a lot of my time doing? I read manga. I read Love Hina, Chobits, all sorts of mass produced shit– all around the time that manga was really taking off in America. I watched my neighborhood bookstore turn a whole wall into a manga section, even. (Shortly thereafter it closed down. +1 Barnes & Noble) It took me all 8 volumes of Chobits (that’s $80 for those following along at home) to come to the 5th grade realization that I had to tell my crush that I was in love with her and willing to do anything for her.

And you see, it was all that, coupled with the fear of doing real work in college that led me to taking Japanese. (Important for the next entry; take note of it.) I, like you may be now, was that guy/gal who thought that learning Japanese would help me find these wonderful emotional pastures where I could spend my days idling away entangled in the arms of my love. Japan is not that. Japan is not anything like that.

I’m going on my third year here and try as I might, I’ve only ever met one person who I would have been inclined to date. And I was. Twice, actually. And then she left for America. Yes, people do get together here (I mean, hell, they must. Someone is having kids!) but it’s not like the manga. I was reading an article just the other day (how about that for anecdotal evidence?) that referenced a quote by some woman with some clout somewhere saying: “I have never met a Japanese man who did not want me to be his mommy.” This. This is what is happening in mangaland right now. As a 23 year old guy of modest looks and casual demeanor, I spend the majority of time talking to my “e-mail tomo.” That’s Japanese for “We talk about useless, pointless shit, but can never meet in person no matter what.”

And I haven’t even touched on the bad manga dramas yet.

I think that a lot of this probably sounded like a big long rant, but there is something here. I know that a lot of people come to Japan with plans to love the shit out of it. They can’t wait to go to drinking parties afterhours with their co-workers and be involved in crazy karaoke shenanigans. Or maybe they believe that coming here is going to miraculously improve their ability to draw their favorite emo basketball stars that start with nothing and rise to the top through a combination of luck, skill, and Shiseido hair gel. It doesn’t happen like that. Life in Japan is no different from life in America or life in China. Sure, there are school uniforms, perverted old men, shinto shrines and retarded video games, but you don’t need to speak Japanese to indulge in any of it. The only price of entry is to completely ignore any and all good taste and plunge right in.

Once you learn Japanese and all the mystique of waiting for scanlations and subtitles, guessing at stuff that even anonymous won’t translate, and generally just bitching about all the games that don’t make it across the Pacific, is gone, you’ll soon realize that most intellectual property in Japan, beyond a handful of literary writing that you probably won’t have the stomach to get to reading in its native language anyway, is complete and utter shit.

If you want to live inside a manga, I suggest you get a better brain. This is not a good reason to study Japanese.

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