From Japanese cartoons to Japanese culture

Japanese cartoons are, among other things such as celery, bitter melon and jazz music, something I used to loathe.

Having been used to American classics such as the Merry Melodies series, the Flintstones, Popeye, etc. as a schoolboy, there were a few things in particular that I didn't like about Japanese cartoons:

(1) They are inundated with sentiments of extreme nationalism and doggedness. It's always Japan is the greatest nation in the world, Japan or its heroes will save the world, one has to achieve the 'noble' nationalistic cause at all costs or die, etc.
(2) There is a lack of variety of the facial expressions of the characters. Except for the expressions of emotions that are very exaggerated, such as crying with tears and snots flowing like floods, the facial expressions typically lack changes or subtlety.
(3) Similarly, there is also a lack of 'real' movements and animation. They use the trick of making small changes to a still picture, such as flashing it or zooming in and out, to create a false impression of movement. Also, they don't use too many frames per second so that the movements are not seamlessly smooth like the American cartoons.
(4) The features of the characters, such as girls' doll-like eyes and wavy blond (or other outlandish colours) hair, and the manners of the characters are always so exaggerated that they look and sound bizarre.

But as one grows older, one also gets a bit wiser. Down the years I have learned to turn from understanding, accepting, appreciating to truly admiring the Japanese culture. I have to say that Japanese cartoons are still not my cup of tea, as much of what I thought about them still holds true, but at least I now understand that those characteristics reflect, for better or worse, key features of the Japanese culture. Firstly, Japanese people are very proud of their nation. Whether those cartoons and TV programmes are implanting patriotism or simply portraying a national sentiment is just a chicken and egg issue. Second, beyond the elaborate expressions their social etiquettes require, Japanese people do not wear their emotions on their faces. Behind the polite facade, they are quite inscrutinable. Again, those cartoon characters may just be reflecting this. The third and fourth characteristics reflect the Japanese philosophy of doing business and providing service that the appeal is not in the quantity but quality and packaging. Think about Japanese cuisine, for example. It's tidbit after tidbit of fresh, choice food complemented with the finest presentation and service.

Given that Japanese cartoons, along with Japanese cuisine and confectionery, are so popular all over the world, such philosophies have proved to be successful. There is absolutely no question of consumers feeling short-changed or wooed.

No comments: