An extraordinary degree of social permissiveness for creative freedom

Image:©21997 二馬力・GND on mouseover Shisigami form もののけ姫, Princess Mononoke

Japanese people have an unfastidious, relaxed and easy going mental climate: their smorgasbord of global cultural borrowings, first from Asia, then from Europe and America, with little regret for origins or authenticity; their comfort with (and sometimes preference for) simulations and simulacra; their apparently easy and seamless coexistence with high-tech gadgetry and ancient ritual; their blurring of lines between high and low culture, good and evil, the self and the other; and their intensely visual culture, which dates back centuries.

The peculiarity of Japanese religion: animism that dates back to the prehistoric age, and syncretism since the arrival of Buddhism in the sixth century ― underlies the defining features of Japanese Manga and Anime such as violence, eroticism, and animistic presentation. “In some respects, Anime's relationship to verisimilitude, to what we expect and demand from portrayals of reality is freer than that of most other forms of visual expression, where the rules are genuinely different and where the imagination seems boundless, free to explore the darker terrains,” says Roland Kelts, a writer and an editor of the literary journal A Public Space. He said, “Imagination, runs the unspoken Japanese argument, is a sign of our humanity, whether it is expressed apocalyptically, erotically, or through multitudinous species of Pokemon.

So long as nobody is being hurt, Japan is intensely serious about pursuit of happiness, even without having it mentioned in a formal declaration of independence. On one level, Japan worships the freedom of the human imagination and is notably unashamed if that imagination is fully expressed and widely consumed.” “But paradoxically, the strict codes of etiquette and behavior that govern daily life in Japan also allow for an extraordinary degree of creative and social permissiveness ― the freedom to explore other identities to test the limits of possibility. Despite its ritual, social, and ceremonial etiquette, Japan has produced a popular culture that travels admirably light when it comes to religious-based moral compunction,” he added.

Great room and Respect for Eccentricity

©Tezuka Productions/NHK・NEP 

火の鳥 (Hi no Tori, "bird of fire") is a manga series by Osamu Tezuka. Tezuka considered Phoenix his "life's work"; it consists of 12 books, each of which tells a separate, self-contained story and takes place in a different era. The plots go back and forth from the remote future (science fiction) to prehistoric times.

“In the West, we have Cartesian dualism. But in Japan, you don't have to believe in one thing or another. You can believe in multitudes,” Kelts said, ”Japanese narratives come from somewhere else ― a somewhere that actually exists, where the rules are genuinely different and where the imagination seems boundless, free to explore the darker terrains of childhood fantasy.” Japan has great room and respect for eccentricity, for oddity and quirkiness, and they don't need to have happy ending. “Our Puritanical roots, together with our need to simplify and clarify the social codes for immigrant arrivals, cast pornography of any nature into the dark side of American life. If our fantasies revolve around Judeo-Christian categories of good and evil, heavenly angels, and hellish demons, then expressions of unfettered lust and violent longings must invariably be perceived as evil,” Kelts said. Sugiyama Tomoyuki, president of Digital Hollywood University noted, “The essence of Japanese Anime is in its taboo-free, in terms of violence, eroticism, and mechanical presentation.”

Tezuka Osamu, M.D. (手塚 治虫; 1928-1989) was a Japanese Cartoonist, manga artist, animator, producer and medical doctor, who is best known as the creator of Astro Boy, Kimba the White Lion and Black Jack. His prolific output ― In fact, his complete oeuvre includes over 700 manga with more than 150,000 pages. However, the vast majority of his work has never been translated from the original Japanese and is thus inaccessible to people who do not read Japanese ―, pioneering techniques, and innovative redefinitions of genres earned him such titles as "the father of manga", "the god of comics". Kelts noted: Tezuka created the blueprint for Japanese Manga and Anime artists―and it was vast. All subject matter was fair game, and expressions could be bleak, violent, and apocalyptic, in addition to being humorous and helpful. His major works included multivolume projects such as Buddha, which retells the story of Siddhartha in often graphically violent and erotic detail, and Phoenix, about the mythical bird who, in Tezuka’s rendering, appears in the distant future, and whose blood can render humans immoral.

—ODAKANE Fuji

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