59 – J-culture, an enchanting obsession.

Now I would not consider myself to be an ‘otaku’ or an eccentric enthusiast for that matter either, but I do like to think that I keep an open mind when it comes to the possible gems that other cultures quite often bear. In particular I have grown more and more drawn to the cultural exports of Japan, noticeably their music and anime.

We’ve all seen our fair share of anime at some point, even if we won’t admit it. If you have seen Pokemon then you can put a tick by your name. Do you remember how enchanting and intriguing Japanese cartoons were as a child? The unusual captivation and excitement from flicking over to an episode of Cardcaptors or Naruto? Of course you do, everyone does! Well recently that child-like spark of intrigue was rebooted for me with a rather prompt decision to start watching anime as soon as possible. Why did I do this I hear you ask? Well it is mainly down to the genius that is DJ Shimamura. This J-hardcore DJ brought back a sense of nostalgia that I had not felt for some time, and after listening to a few of his songs and gazing at the artwork I felt compelled to revisit the world of Japanese music and cartoons. I actually reviewed Shinsuke Shimamura on my music review blog, NoobyMuzo. If you’d fancy a read then by all means…

But without digressing any further, I would like to share my thoughts with you fine people, and in return I would like you to consider where you stand regarding the magical culture from the land of the rising sun. Let us try to look past the ‘tacky’ and ‘generic’ stigma that is often attached and marvel at the vast collection of works that are offered up and integrated within Western culture without us even realising.

Anyone who considers themselves a ‘gamer’ will have undoubtedly come across (at some point) or played in-depth a game of Japanese origin. For me the standout series would be Metal Gear, the revolutionary stealth action games by Hideo Kojima that helped shape the conventional gaming industry that we enjoy today. Obviously the original ‘Metal Gear Solid’ is still the best, the Playstation blockbuster is a decade old yet continues to dazzle die-hard fans and retro enthusiasts alike.

Then of course you have the film industry, which is massively overlooked. Admittedly there are a few odd pieces out there (Underwater Love would be a prime example!) yet there are the cult classics such as ‘Battle Royale’ that are recognised internationally as iconic pieces of cinematic entertainment. For those of you who are unaware of the Battle Royale franchise, it originated from a series of novels and manga comics, before it was adapted onto the big screen with the help of Kinji Fukasaku. Sadly he passed away before he could finish the sequel (something that was finished by his son, who is also a director). Seriously if you haven’t seen the Battle Royale films then you need to remedy that pronto, they were out-doing the Hunger-Games for years.

When it comes to J-pop/rock the scene is somewhat ecstatic, home to both the stereotypical and the downright unique. Obviously it depends on what you like, but the J-culture intrigue (which I am yet to fully understand its hold on me) makes it all rather exciting, especially when you listen for the first time. Even a relatively generic artist can feel like something from a whole new genre when it carries some of that vibrant eastern culture along with it. ‘Maximum the Hormone’ is a fairly popular example of how the J-rock vibe can take a music scene by storm, all it takes is the charisma and the enthusiasm behind the music that is universally appreciated. These guys take it to another level however, with their insanely energetic live performances, explosive record sounds and high power videos that typically portray the four-piece jumping around like maniacs, thoroughly enjoying what they do. How can you turn your nose up to that? Once again, if you fancy something new, or consider yourself a muzo of the rock persuasion then check them out if you haven’t already. The same goes for the world of J-techno, which I am beginning to discover. Like I said earlier, DJ Shimamura would be a good starting point.

And finally, to conclude this mini pick of J-culture that is growing on me faster than a Sekirei does an Ashikabi (yes, I actually just made that reference) I bring you the anime series that currently has me engrossed, despite my studies taking the majority of my time… Sekirei! Well it’s not the first series I have worked through, in the space of a few weeks I have gone through the strangely addictive ‘Uppote!’ series and the ‘Cat Planet Cuties’ series. I am considering writing some kind of review for the both of them, but in the meantime I will remain in a state of semi-brainwashed awe as the Sekirei’s fight it out in a Battle Royale known as the ‘Sekirei Plan’. I don’t think I am qualified enough at this point to try to even begin to explain the background or the plots of these programs, as my understanding of the Anime world is both a fledgling one as it is malnourished. All I can say is watch them!

That is, provided you can stomach the increasingly in-your-face sexual innuendoes and semi-naked antics. No, it’s not porn. But it does make it feel like a guilty pleasure, like something you really shouldn’t watch, but do so anyway. The intrigue only grows stronger with each series I sink my teeth into, and the way this stuff gets under your skin (in a good way!) it won’t be going away any time soon. I honestly wouldn’t call my interest in J-culture a fad because I’ve held the nostalgia and the interest ever since childhood, so it’s about time this stuff earned a comfy spot in the Wunderkammer!


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