Time for the Curtain Call


I grew up in a small town in south Louisiana. South Louisiana is not the place you go to be on the cutting edge of the revolution – any revolution. In fact, it is the best place to go when revolutions scare you and you want to hide from Scary Change. For example, my mom, who still resides in this southern Louisiana town, still can’t get broadband.

I knew Japanese culture was officially taking over when I walked into Waldenbooks in this same town in south Louisiana. Keep in mind this Waldenbooks is a mall bookstore, and not exactly a haven for obscure titles and books nobody reads. We’re not talking about the dusty racks of the local public library. But, there it was, perched right next to the bestseller racks: a case of manga. Beside it was another case of manga. Another case of manga was beside that one. Walking around to the other side of the cases revealed four more cases of manga and two full bookcases of anime DVDs. The depth of their selection was astonishing, reaching beyond the Pokemon and Dragonball Z I had expected, into obscure titles my otaku friends would drool over.

I can quote you the statistics that show increasing anime and manga sales in the U.S. I can suggest you go to any games retailer online and look under RPG. Admire the list I just pulled from EBGames.com: .hack parts 1-4, Xenosaga II, Arc The Lad: End of Darkness, Dark Cloud 2, Musashi: Samurai Legend, Fullmetal Alchemist, Fullmetal Alchemist 2, Radiata Stories, Wild Arms 3, Phantom Brave and Aetlier Iris. I can suggest you go look for an MMOG, but you’ll find ROSE Online, Ragnarok Online and Ragnarok Online 2, Parfait Station, and a dozen others. I can suggest you turn on cable TV and turn to one of the channels showing anime and anime-influenced programs.

Or I can bring you along with me to a Waldenbooks in a now-ruined mall outside New Orleans, where seven cases of manga sat waiting for consumption. From a long stint working in a bookstore circa 2000, I can tell you we weren’t in the business of keeping things on the shelves that didn’t sell. If your precious volume wasn’t making us money, we chucked it out as soon as Corporate gave us the okay. For us to stock seven cases of anything would mean it’s either something Oprah recommended or it’s huge. Manga is huge.

For my generation, anime was weird. Those wide eyes that seemed to stare soullessly out of the late-night showing of Akira on SciFi were new and strange. The questionable hygiene of that scary guy who drew way too many pictures of Sailor Moon was creepy. Anime was a distant thing from a foreign land, with terrible dubbing on bootleg VHS tapes. It was gritty and bizarre, like one of those scary imported toys you found in the cheap flea market when you went scroungingfor old Led Zeppelin albums, cool used books and props for your next high-concept class presentation. Maybe that was just me.

The generation after mine, the ones who’ll be telling us about how nice the home is as they wheel us up the walk, regards anime and Japanese culture as just another thread in the cultural tapestry. I thought it was weird that an ex-girlfriend had a frightening stash of Card Captor Sakura recorded from syndicated TV. But a generation of kids grew up with it as part oftheir lives. Pikachu and Pokémon are to them what Megatron and the Transformers are to us. Just wait until their nostalgia wave crests, then we’ll be inundated with “funny” Flash animations of dancing Charmanders.

And this is only the beginning. American animation is moribund, save for the swashbuckling lads at Pixar. Even Disney is pushing stuff out to Korea. Japan and Southeast Asia are about the only places still in thetraditional animation business. The domestic animation industry is busy imploding and shipping work across the Pacific to guys who do it better for cheaper. The kids will buy the foreign animation because they’re used to it, because they aren’t creeped out by the style and because there’s nothing else to buy. Anime is going to win by default, because there’s little meat left on the bones of the American animation industry.

Manga follows anime and may even overtake it, as it is light years beyond our own comics scene, which is still largely men in spandex and theoccasional Transmetropolitan or Neil Gaiman. Manga has entire genres devoted to separate interests and targeted to separate audiences across the age/sex spectrums. There’s the silly humor of a Love Hina, the dark bizarre Western-themed Priest, mysteries, comedies, romance – a genre for everything you could name. Manga is going to roll over the American comics scene still recycling things from 50 years ago, drawing them in a fancier way, and calling them new. While the domestic industry sneers “girls don’t read comic books” and wonders why girls don’t read comic books, girls read manga.

Seven cases of Japanese culture in a south Louisiana Waldenbooks mean it’s time for the curtain call. My generation gave the world terrible nostalgia trips (swing!) and bad revival movies. Now we’re being shown the door, ushered off the cultural stage as we dodder toward 30 and cultural irrelevance, at least according to the youth-obsessed mainstream. In our place comes a generation that grew up watching Japanese imports on TV after school, not on grainy VHS tapes they bought from a shady guy in a grimy comic shop.

With our exit goes America’s long reign as the king of entertainment culture. The king might not be dead, but he’s on his bed surrounded by mourners in pseudo-retro fashion. It’s a matter of economics. A generation that’s a voracious consumer of Japanese culture is rising towards its economic birth, bringing millions of dollars they will readily spend on something, anything, from Japan.

Millionaire playboy Shannon Drake lives a life on the run surrounded by Japanese schoolgirls and videogames. He also writes about anime and games for WarCry.

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