Anime fandom parallel to hip hop: my “normie” perspective

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As indicative of my recent posts pertaining to anime in general rather than individual anime series, my intention is to build a solid knowledge base in anime. Although in part motivated by my novelty to the medium, I’m also genuinely interested in learning about it; I don’t want to just enjoy consuming anime, I want to be able to understand and celebrate the thing I love. And in seeking this holistic understanding of anime, I want to be able to explain and share this passion with others.

Myself prior to getting into anime can be described as a twentysomething student living in the Canadian West Coast who would use the word ‘fam’. I never went as far as using vernacular such as ‘mad ting’, but it wouldn’t have been so out of place among my friends, many of whom are rappers. Speaking of which, I would like to call attention to how prevalent the African American Vernacular English (AAVE)–and the currently emerging Eastern-Canadian/London patois popularized by Drake and BBK–has become in the North American popular culture; hip hop has undeniably been integrated with the American society, growing alongside America since its come up.

While this is sort of obvious, at least when you think about it, what fascinates me is how anime seems to be becoming mainstream as well, in the West. Although my personal subscription of media content is biased, I think noticing anime’s popularity is a reasonable observance, which has been especially noticeable in meme culture. And in my frame of reference, Porter Robinson’s Shelter signaled a groundbreaking assimilation of anime into the popular culture, which cemented my anime fandom that only really started (a month prior) in September of 2016.

A semester (4 months) later, I would be experiencing my first time following an anime season (Winter 2017), which–by the end of this week–I will be finishing 9 of the season’s titles. This number isn’t even including many older series I’ve also been watching and… I found myself asking why, as this is objectively a lot of anime. Well, you could say that I’m obsessed (aka otaku), but probably, this is just a phase. I’m not implying that I’ll stop watching anime–it’s too culturally and nostalgically significant for me–but the time allocated to anime will naturally decrease.

There used to be a time when I would listen to at least one hip hop album a day as I felt inspired by rap and I wanted to learn everything I could about hip hop. I actively researched for ‘classic’ albums that I should listen to if I wanted to understand the culture. And I seriously dove right in: I’ve rapped, produced, DJed, and right now I’m even running a hip hop club at my university. What’s crazy is that this only started (almost exactly) 3 years ago when my friend invited me out to Rappers Without Borders, the aforementioned student club. But even though hip hop has solidified itself as a major element of my life, it doesn’t replace people, relationships, and community–and it’s going to be the same for anime.

In saturating myself with anime for the past 8 months (and I’ve actually yet to be satiated), I feel a satisfying sense of understanding for the current landscape of anime. And in feeling this way, I also realize my separation and differences in perspectives compared to the people who have watching anime for years: my appreciation of the ‘moe’ sub-culture. Before some of you dismiss me–although, really, who cares–what I understand of moe is that it’s very difficult to define it due to how diversely it is being understood and used today. And so, in clarification, when I say moe culture, while still acknowledging moe blob, loli, and CGDCT, I personally enjoy its focus on relational aspects of story telling (although this is slice of life), and the clean, cute, and colourful aesthetics they usually entail. In music genres, moe is the bigroom of EDM (generic), trap of hip hop (over-saturated), pop music in general (good production)–and all of these things are easy to consume.

Now, even if I recognize this, someone like me who actively enjoys moe may be frustrating to many. Although I can try to explain my pickiness within the moe genres, I can certainly sympathize with this frustration: hip hop has ‘youngins’ who only listens to Lil Yachty, Kodak Black, or 21 Savage. No shade against them, it’s just that they represent the currently over-saturated and derivative (mumble rap) trap sub-culture of hip hop. But let me offer this perspective, in prioritizing togetherness, understanding, and celebration of the positives: not that we can even stop art from evolving, new fans of the medium are nonetheless new fans. There’s no reason to discredit them or worry about the medium’s demise, because true fans will always seek out for more, as I am doing.

But I’ll admit: I have not seen all the ‘classics’, and at this point in time, it’s not my priority to watch all of them anytime soon (my MAL has over 100 PTW titles). I’m talking abut Ghost in the Shell (I couldn’t finish it), Your Lie in April, Clannad, The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, Code Geass, Gurren Lagann, and the list goes so on. While it could be argued that the classics must be watched in order to truly understand the medium, I think having this reference (at this point in time) is relevant in reflection of how newcomers come into the anime fandom.

My perspective, then, is when I came to the fandom that was post-Eva, post-Haruhi, post-NHK, post-K-On!, and post-Shirobako. I came in and enjoyed the likes of New Game! and Gabriel Dropout while also enjoying NGE and NHK. I didn’t hate One Room, I didn’t think the Monogatari series were confusing, I agree with the popular opinion that FMA:B is great, I’m slowly watching Cowboy Bebop… and K-On! is my favourite. Compared to modern anime, I don’t particularly like the character designs of early 2000s like in Clannad. These are just some of the ways to describe my viewing experiences.

In hip hop, there is a fairly vague divide in what we call old school and new school, in which old school is now synonymous with boom-bap (Just Blaze) and G-Funk (Dre). The original 80s sound of hip hop is probably called ‘super old school’ or ’80s hip hop. New school is whatever is new, which is trap right now so I guess the stuff in the middle like early Drake and MBDTF Kanye are… throwbacks? I guess it really depends on who you ask. And if Kanye’s 808 is said to have influenced all following 808 focused productions, K-On! is analogous in having created the CGDCT boom that is still popular today. Or was that Lucky Star (and Man on the Moon: The End of Day)?

In closing, I find it incredibly interesting that hip hop and anime actually amalgamates in some crossroads. Lupe and Logic watches anime (regularly?) and Kanye, at the very least, appreciates anime. And in both cultures, music is a huge part of the medium, which is a big reason for me being involved in the first place–I’ve seen entire anime series just because I liked the OP. I also can’t help but love the intonation of ‘seiyu’ (voice actors) and their dramatic, syllabic delivery of lines reminiscent of rapping.

There’s also vapourwave, which stands at an interesting junction between the two, a genre which is the soundtrack to the meme culture, that has the sampling aspect of hip hop and in which many of these samples are from ’80s Japanese funk records. How did this come to be? I don’t know, but it feels somehow catered to me.

Thanks for reading, I hope you found my frame of references as interesting as I did thinking about it. To read up on other personal perspectives, check out Diary of an Anime Lived.


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Image is from K-On!

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Linguistics of anime and moe

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(Note: I don’t have the necessary experience to discuss this topic myself, so I’ll be doing a meta-analysis on what has been discussed already)

A video by Geoff Thew (Mother’s Basement) called, “Avatar is an Anime. F*** You. Fight Me.” went to the top of r/anime today. But the focus of this video wasn’t really about Avatar: The Last Airbender as it was about discussing the changing definition of “anime”. I highly recommend watching it, but what the video discusses is the growing problem with defining anime as a “Japanese produced animated series”. Geoff starts his argument with Shelter, which is a music video that challenged the integrity of the definition in a way that has never been challenged before. Can we call the work of an American music producer (Porter Robinson) collaborating with a Japanese animation studio (A-1 Pictures) an anime? Moreover, what about the fact that what most people would consider anime are actually produced in Korea or China?

Digibro acknowledges this dilution of the term but makes a point that having a distinction is convenient for discussion. r/anime certainly agrees in having the distinction as it exists to “focus on the discussion of anime”. So then, the question is, “What Is Anime?” We’ll come back to this after we look at moe.

In his video, “The Evolution of Moe Anime” (which was posted just 2 days ago), Lewis (Anime Everyday) defines moe as pertaining to both a genre and an aesthetic, where moe is a certain characteristic and art style used in anime. My interpretation of this is that moe is a device used to invoke feelings of ‘cherishment’ and love towards what the moe aesthetic was applied to. Lewis suggests that this moe aesthetic has pretty much always been an element in anime, as far back as Astro Boy: the focus on facial expressions, the emphasis on innocence, and the marketability of creating characters that live beyond the screen. Lewis highlights the introduction of lead female characters in anime which led to an increase in female viewers in the ’70s, thereby pushing anime productions to include moe aesthetics to appeal to both male and female viewers.

Digibro has also released a video in which he discusses moe. Digibro, however, is more concerned about how the word moe has been used and makes a clear distinction that initially, moe referred to neither a genre nor an art style, but was a word to describe a feeling. Thus, in its initial usage, otaku would use ‘moe’ to describe the feeling they had for anime characters — as in, they would feel moe towards a character that they wanted to see do well and succeed. This is different from how moe is presently understood as “something that triggers your protective instincts”. Digibro concludes by saying that moe is a dead term that only exists now to be used derogatorily to describe bad “cute girls doing cute things” shows.

What I think is interesting about all of this is the lack of Japanese perspective on these terms and their usage in Japan. But, understandably, the focus of the discussion is the cultural landscape of the international audience of anime. After all, we are using the word “anime” instead of cartoons to describe the predominantly and initially Japanese medium in our discussions. The definition of moe seems to be continuously debated and disagreed upon, but I think that as language evolves and definitions change, moe will largely be referring to the aesthetic of cute character designs.

Geoff and Digibro agree that, as time goes on, the distinction between anime and other mediums will be impossible to make. Geoff concluded in his video that anime is a movement and that it influences the American anime that we see today (like Avatar), and that the future anime creators are being influenced by the what’s popular now. As I’ve said before, one of the reasons why I watch anime is because it allows me to affectionately revisit the cultural attitudes and feelings of my upbringing. What I think will be interesting is to see how the specific cultural values and relational hierarchies that exist in Japan and thus in anime will translate to other mediums.

On learning languages

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This term, I signed up for a program at my university where you get paired up with a language partner. How it works is, you teach your partner a language, and they teach you a language — it’s that simple. Expected commitment level is 90 minutes (so around 4 anime episodes) a week to meet up and talk. As you probably could’ve guessed, I’m going to be learning Japanese (and teaching English).

I actually have some formal education in Japanese. I took Japanese during grade 10 and 11 for my high school language requirement. Like most — if not all — students in the class, I was initially drawn to Japanese by anime. That, and I thought that Japanese would be easier for me to learn than French or Spanish. The biggest advantage for me was — and it still is — the fact that I can actually pronounce Japanese syllables, unlike the syllables in the other two languages.

IIRC, Japanese 10 was mostly about learning how to read and write in hiraganaと katakana (the Japanese alphabet), and Japanese 11 was about learning basic vocabulary (ex. water, to walk, and warm) and using them to form basic sentences (ex. I was walking.). Five years later, I’ve still retained most of hiragana, some katakana, and many of the nouns but not the verbs.

When I got the email announcing my language partner, Shiori, I became filled with excitement. I couldn’t wait to use all the Japanese phrases I’ve picked up from watching anime. If you’re reading this and thinking oh no, don’t worry — I soon realized that people wouldn’t actually talk like they do in K-On! in real life. Or, to be more accurate, I probably shouldn’t talk with a sociolect of that of certain Japanese school girls. And although I don’t know very much about keigo (casual, polite, and honorific/humble speech forms in Japanese) yet, being Korean, I can at least begin to discern when and how it should be used.

Story time. I have a friend named Saba who loves watching Korean dramas. She said that K-dramas were very popular in Iran when she grew up there and so she has seen a lot (so I guess it’s like me with anime). Anyways, she often talks to me in Korean, and it’s actually very impressive how well she pronounces and forms her sentences, especially when considering that she has learned it all from watching K-dramas. Now, unfortunately for her (but funny for me), she sometimes speaks Korean in the way that used to be spoken back when we had kings (for example, in English, it’s like saying thou hath). So like… I can understand her, but no one talks like that anymore.

The best example of this in anime that I can think of, is to how Kuroko talks in A Certain Scientific Railgun. She always ends her sentences with ” ~ desu wa” or ” ~ desu no”. Unfortunately, there really is no English equivalent for this. But from the fact that I’ve never heard any other anime character talk like this, it’s pretty clear to me that most people wouldn’t talk like this. And this probably the most important part of learning a language, getting a lot of exposure to hearing and using it.

The point is, me going into Japanese, I realize that I need to be mindful of the kind of speech forms I should be using. And I predict that this is going to be my biggest challenge for learning Japanese. I can’t even imagine a person with English as their first language trying to grasp keigo other than to just memorize it — at first, anyways — without really understanding the nuances of using different keigo to emphasis different positions in conversations.

Anyhow, going back to the language program, this week marked the start, and I got to meet with Shiori for the first time. Everything was great except for the fact that she doesn’t watch anime. Of course it’s not the end of the world, but it does suck not to have the other person interested in a topic that I have a lot to say in. I would have loved to hear opinions on certain trends and tropes in anime from a Japanese perspective. To be fair, though. we did talk a little bit about the recent overwhelming success of Kimi no Na wa. (your name). She even said that she liked The Girl Who Leapt Through Time better and I absolutely agreed. As for our future meets… I’m thinking that it’ll actually be beneficial for both of us to watch anime or a Japanese movie together. I guess we’ll see.

In other news, a few days after meeting with Shiori, I found out that one of my friends is Japanese and she actually did the same program last term to learn Korean. On top of this, she said that she watches a lot of anime! You have no idea how excited I was. This seemed so perfect. I got to talk to her for a bit about the similarities between the Japanese and Korean languages. This was both fascinating and insightful because, the way I learn Japanese, I always connect it to Korean. I realized then that the fastest way for me to learn Japanese would be to learn it from a Korean person.

There are these videos on YouTube made by an American-Korean guy named Dave that I absolutely love, one of which explores the differences in the pronunciation of words among English, Korean, Japanese, and Chinese (and if you liked this video, there are tons more, like this one or this one). This has been one of the most fascinating things I have ever seen in my life, as I’ve always been fascinated by this kind of stuff but have never seen it being explored before. It’s also interesting to note that his video edits are in a Korean style. I don’t know how to explain it but you’ll definitely notice it when you watch the videos. Also — one last thing — I also found it intriguing that the shared language among his featured international friends was Korean.

As an aside, I want to briefly call attention to how widely the current American pop culture has embraced/appropriated the African American Vernacular English (lit, fam, dab, etc). And this influence, or rather a complicated relationship stemming from America’s history, is clearly seen in the attitudes of the millennials. What I’m trying to say is that these aren’t just words and slangs being used, they’re an integral part the current cultural landscape. I feel that this phenomenon is a byproduct of the social media age combined with… actually, I don’t think I’ve thought about this quite enough yet. And I don’t know if it would be accurate to say that hip hop was the major driving force, when hip hop as a culture has been progressing alongside society. You know… I think I’ll resort to saying that I’ll talk about this more at another time, but this is a great example illustrating the bidirectional relationship between language and culture. I would go as far as to say that the heart of a culture exists its language.

In terms of other languages I would like to learn one day, they would be Spanish and Mandarin Chinese. Spanish because it sounds so expressive and has a completely different feel from Korean and English, and Chinese because so many people in Vancouver and in the world as a whole speak it — so it would be the most useful, as my employer would say. I don’t aspire to be a polyglot or anything but I do think I have a passion for language. Or, words and communicating in general. That certainly would explain why I’m into rap and blogging.

If there’s a reason to learn a new language, I would say that it’s the same reason for recommending travelling the world (and these two usually go together anyways). Travelling can be fun and full of new experiences but ultimately, it leads to gaining perspectives. And perspectives are a funny thing — you really don’t know what you don’t know. So let’s learn.


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Image a screenshot from Kiniro Mosaic E01

Linguistics of dubs

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As I had mentioned in my last post, I was away from Vancouver during New Years. I got back a week ago, and I’ve been trying to integrate myself back into the normal routine of things: school, work, volunteering, music, and anime. There were both pros and cons about the trip, but one con that turned out to be a pro was having my phone taken away. Looking at the mountains instead of screens all day was probably good for my eyes and my stress response. But still, the first few days of camp were embarrassingly rough. I was clearly upset, and I even had mild withdrawal-like symptoms as I found myself desperately trying to playback the Monogatari series’ OP in my head as I tried to fall asleep. Granted, this had been my sleeping habit for most of December. And along with music and anime, I also could not do my usual journals. This sucked the most because it’s these frustrations and anxiety that I would use Evernote for. Of course, I tried using pen and paper but that was not an alternative I enjoyed using. But whatever, like I said, I eventually realized that this detox from technology was much needed. I’m not someone who is constantly on their phone, but it was evident that I had become very dependant on it. Being away from my phone allowed me to develop other sober thoughts that I would not normally be able to have.

And so by the time I got my phone back, I didn’t even go straight into listening to anime music like I had thought I would. In fact, as I later listened to the Monogatari series’ OP on the bus ride back home, I felt a hint of foreignness to it. This might be because I was only exposed to music like Shut Up and Dance and Don’t Stop Believing all throughout the weekend, but it also seemed like I had lost some of the deep emotional attachment to the series I had before going on the trip. I don’t know whether this was a good thing or a bad thing, but it definitely gave me an opportunity to look at anime differently. I think being able see something that’s become so normal and natural to you in a more objective light can be an important experience as it allows for a new perceptions that I think ultimately leads to a better understanding of it. And when I’m trying to understand my own feelings, I’ll take as much objectivity I can get.

I’ll now get into the topic of today’s post. On the charter bus, there were these 14″ screens set up to play DVDs. No one had anything prepared on the way to RockRidge, but as for the trip back, someone had purchased a movie called Kubo and the Two Strings at a gas station. My friend Noah who sat beside me on the bus told me that he had seen this movie before and that he quite enjoyed it. To briefly introduce Noah, he is one of those well spoken individuals that I can’t help but feel jealous of when I hear him talk. He was reading a photography philosophy book on the way there and I think that this picture of him says a lot. From spending the weekend with Noah, I’ve come to value and respect his opinions, especially when it comes to (contemporary) art.

To talk about the movie, I’ll start by giving the movie a numerical rating of 5/10. I distinctly remember fighting the urge to go back to listening to my anime music multiple times throughout the movie, but I stuck with most of it because I wanted to know why Noah liked it. I was looking forward to discussing the differences in our tastes and preferences because it’s things like this that help further develop relationships and lead to better understandings of each other.

Well to be fair, the aspect of the movie that Noah appreciated the most was in its production. By production, Noah meant the movie’s blend of claymation and CG animations. And I have to agree, the animation certainly had a unique characteristic to it and the work that went into producing it was apparent. But I had to ask, was it worth the effort? Of course, watching the movie in the setting that I was in, there was no way that I would have been able to appreciate it. But although the aesthetic outcome of the film is interesting and admirable, I had 2 glaring issues: the characters and the dubbing.

From the start, I couldn’t get myself to care about the characters. So nothing in the rest of the movie resonated with me. Not being cute is one thing, but the characters were not shown to have any inherently attractive qualities about them — they felt flat. On top of this, the narrative flow of the story seemed like this movie was meant for 6 years olds. I feel that many kids movies and shows do this. The stories feel like a dumbed down version of reality that omits information that would otherwise help you relate and connect with the characters. And I’m not saying that the story-telling in anime is perfect either, but I would argue that for the most part, anime better acknowledges kids’ capability to understand emotions like joy and pain. Having said that, I fully enjoyed shows like Babar and Paddington and movies like Inside Out and Zootopia.

Okay, so the other problem I had with the movie I mentioned was in the dubbing. To be accurate, this movie is not a dub, since the movie is originally voice acted in English. But I got the same feeling I get when I watch dubs — it felt awkward and down right silly at times. And this made the characterizations worse.

I was told at the end that the movie is “inspired by Japanese culture”. I’m not saying that it was cultural appropriation or anything but this production is non-Japanese people making a story about Japanese culture. I’m not going to pretend that I’m an expert of Japanese culture, but I was so frustrated when it was obvious that the movie failed to capture the heart of the culture completely.

For example, to me, the monkey character’s voice was reminiscent of something like a fairy being that appears in front of fountains in a video game. She sounded deep and rather distant to humans in general and she had this tone of knowing much more than a mere human is capable of knowing. Apply this to a mother figure and the movie loses its relational intimacy and warmth between the characters. More over — and maybe this is simply unavoidable — I think the feelings inside language was not translated well into English.

To highlight this issue, let’s say that I was talking to a man on the street who is a stranger. Later on, I would refer to this person as an 아저씨 [ajeossi] if I were speaking in Korean, whereas in English, I would probably just refer to him as a guy or a stranger. 아저씨 is a relational word that you would use to call your dad’s friend, your mailman, or just about any guy who is clearly older than you. So in Korean, there are these relational words built into the language, thus creating these unspoken but clearly existing relational bonds within the framework of the society. And I’d assume that it’s more or less the same in Japanese, like with おじさん [ojisan]. This is why the language of the movie was a problem for me. The monkey, in Korean, would have definitely been conceptualized as an 아줌마 [ajumma] (female equivalent of 아저씨) to the audience, as opposed to this weird monkey lady thing. So in this way, I felt that a lot of the intimacy in the characters’ relationships were lost. I realize that the movie is meant for an American audience, but if Japan is the setting, I don’t think that it’s an unfair expectation to have.

These aspects of story-telling, portraying the warmth and intimacy of human relationships, as well as verisimilitude, is essential to me when it comes to art or entertainment. I realized that this is one of the biggest reasons as to why I love anime, because it showcases both the cultural and adolescent nostalgia to me. It’s also why, when I seriously thought about it, porn is such a emotionless and dead experience. It’s actually not erotic at all.

I’m not sure if this post made sense but I wanted to explain this disjointed feeling I have towards anime, and my own culture as a whole. When I look at anime, it’s both familiar and foreign. And the way I see it, there are these feelings that I feel from anime that are simply not present in Western culture. This is one of the reasons why I used to feel so isolated while exploring anime, I felt that the deep and emotional connection I had with anime would never be able to truly be understood by the people in Canada. I’ve seriously wondered if it’s possible for cultures to really understand each other.

But as I think back to the subtle foreignness I experienced on the bus ride — which has long gone by — I believe that people will be able to adapt and even embrace the foreignness if they are shown the genuineness and the humanity behind it. For years, I used to ask myself this question: is anime weird? Is it good or bad? Well, I found peace in Philippians 4:8: “… whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” I found anime to be able to narrate and bring to life some of the most heartwarming emotions and genuine human experiences to story-telling. And if it’s anything, it’s the love in stories or our actions that supersede language and culture.

If you want to explore more of the topic of translations, Beneath the Tangles has a whole column on it called Lost in Translation. And Digibro, whom I look up to, has a video called Video About My Stance On Dubs That I Apparently Somehow Haven’t Made Already where he talks about… well the title should be pretty self-explanatory.


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Image is a screenshot from Carnival Phantasm E04