Most of my current television viewing is concerned with American or British TV but I fondly recall a time when Cheez TV (or Toasted TV as it regrettably transformed into) broadcast some of my favourite anime shows such as Pokemon or Dragon Ball Z. Though this week’s blogging requirement of reflecting on “a program from a national culture other than your own” could technically have me writing about western programs Breaking Bad or Community, I feel that I should explore one particular anime that evokes talk of deeper transnational television themes concerning globalisation. Enter One Piece.
Talks of globalisation usually become confused with the concept of westernisation but the reality is that the former is a two-way street:
“Non-Western players also actively collaborate in the production and circulation of global media products… These developments testify to a decentering of capitalist modernity from the West and of the global cultural power structure from the US”
Anime is likely at the forefront of people’s minds when they consider television exports coming out of Japan. One Piece was exemplary in its capacity to probe violence and other mature themes and because I grew up with it, my perception of animation became heterogenous, occupied by both the western products almost completely detached from reality (eg. Spongebob Squarepants) and Japan’s anime. Settings and plot were removed from reality but the characters and dialogue seemed somewhat faithful to how everyday people were and are, or at least how they could realistically aspire to be. Japanese drama program Tokyo Love Story embodies this notion in its female protagonist:
“Rika is an unusually expressive and positive Japanese woman… Rika’s single-minded pursuit of love and her frank expression of feelings is the object of admiration and emulation.” – Koichi Iwabuchi (p. 23-24)
One Piece protagonist, Luffy, would routinely push the narrative in unexpected directions with bold or rash decisions and his speech reflected such spontaneity and while not as shocking as Rika’s “Kanchi, let’s have a sex”, Luffy’s expression captured the human desire to speak one’s mind freely.
While anime had a globalising effect on young children’s minds the world over, certain measures were put in place that stunted cultural similarity between Asia and the rest of the world. Censorship changed the way non-Asian audiences saw anime so that, perhaps inadvertently, viewers like myself became simultaneously familiar yet distanced from Japanese culture. One Piece’s omission of blood and Pokemonepisodes banned for their adult themes such as nudity and coarse language are two examples of how transnational alterations applied to Japanese television imprint a culturally isolating effect on non-western nations. So while the broadcast of anime on Australian television seemingly promotes a globalisation as hybridisation model, our nations distinctly occupy different temporalities: Japan’s a pre-modernity, the West’s refusal to completely absorb Japanese culture signposting its antithetical stance:
“… rapid modernization and globalization… have intensified the country’s cultural encounters with the West, and these, in turn, have generated a nostalgic desire in Japan… for pre-modernity” – Iwabuchi (p. 31)
We can be in some way thankful for the perforated cultural barrier between the West and Japan. It was about this time last year that my Breaking Bad marathons became interspersed with a string of Pokemon episodes (my girlfriend and I blazed through roughly 40 episodes in a fortnight). Such viewer membership of non-western television products is probably only possible through a paradoxical relationship. In watching One Piece or Pokemon, there is familiarity in the sense that I grew up with the globally renowned animes but also difference in that characters, storylines and overall themes run so perpendicular to my western television viewing that entertainment is had in watching anime to either get away from western storytelling that manifests itself in just about every American television program or simply to enjoy a unique televisual product.
Iwabuchi, K Discrepant Intimacy: Popular Culture Flows in East Asia in Erni, J & Chua, S (eds.) Asian Media Studies: Politics of Subjectives, (p. 19-36). Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishers, 2005.