The Impact of War and Violence on Japanese Popular Culture
1. War and violence in Japanese popular culture
The purpose of this paper is to explore how war and violence have influenced Japanese popular culture, specifically in the form of manga and anime. In recent years, there has been a surge in the popularity of these two forms of entertainment not just in Japan, but all over the world. Manga and anime often depict graphic scenes of violence and warfare, which has led some to question the impact that they may have on impressionable young minds.
It is important to first understand the historical context in which these forms of popular culture developed. Japan has a long history of warfare, dating back to the feudal period when powerful samurai clans battled for control of the country. This tradition of violence continued into the modern era, with Japan fighting wars against China, Russia, and eventually the United States. The experience of World War II was especially harrowing for the Japanese people, with devastating bombings of cities like Tokyo and Hiroshima, followed by the country’s occupation by American forces.
In the post-war period, Japan experienced a rapid economic boom, which led to a new wave of Westernization. This included the importation of American television shows and movies, which had a profound impact on Japanese popular culture. One of the most famous examples is Godzilla, a monster movie that was inspired by the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Godzilla became an iconic symbol of Japan’s experience of World War II, and helped to fuel a new interest in stories about giant monsters or “kaiju.”
This brings us to manga and anime, which both emerged in the postwar period. These two forms of popular culture were heavily influenced by American cartoons and comics, but they also drew on traditional Japanese artforms like woodblock prints and kabuki theater. Manga quickly became extremely popular in Japan, with readership estimated at around 35% of the population by the 1980s. Anime began as a niche form of entertainment, but it too exploded in popularity in the late 20th century, thanks in part to groundbreaking works like Akira and Neon Genesis Evangelion.
Manga and anime often depict scenes of intense violence, often involving superheroes or super-powered beings fighting each other or battling giant monsters. This might lead some to believe that these forms of entertainment are responsible for promoting a culture of violence in Japan. However, it is important to remember that manga and anime are just one small part of Japanese popular culture, which also includes non-violent genres like romance or slice-of-life stories. In addition, many manga and anime fans are not violent themselves; instead, they enjoy these stories as escapist fantasy or wish fulfillment.
2. Manga and the culture of violence
It is undeniable that manga and anime often depict scenes of violence; however, it is important to consider the context in which these stories are created and consumed. In Japan, manga is not just entertainment for children or teenagers; it is also read by adults, including working professionals. The topics covered by manga are extremely diverse, ranging from lighthearted comedies to dark thrillers. Similarly, anime covers a wide range of genres and themes, including romance, science fiction, and drama.
One reason why manga and anime feature so much violence is because these stories often deal with themes like war or conflict. This is understandable given Japan’s history; as mentioned earlier, the country has experienced a long period of warfare, both in the feudal era and in the modern era. The experience of World War II was especially traumatizing for the Japanese people, and this is reflected in many manga and anime stories.
For example, the hugely popular manga series Attack on Titan is set in a post-apocalyptic world where humans are constantly under attack by giant monsters known as Titans. The story features graphic scenes of violence, with characters being eaten alive or decapitated. However, the Titans are also metaphors for the enemies that Japan has faced in its history, including the Americans during World War II. In this way, Attack on Titan can be seen as a way for Japanese people to process their feelings about the country’s violent past.
In addition to war and conflict, another common theme in manga and anime is relationships between different species. This is often used as a metaphor for different ethnic groups or races, with stories exploring the tensions between humans and otherworldly creatures like vampires or aliens. These stories can be seen as commentary on real-world issues like racism or xenophobia.
3. Speciesism in war and manga
One issue that is often explored in manga and anime is speciesism, which is the discrimination against beings of other species. This issue is often used as a metaphor for racism or xenophobia, with stories exploring the tension between humans and otherworldly creatures like vampires or aliens. In some cases, speciesism is also used to comment on real-world issues like the treatment of animals.
One famous example of this is the manga series Fullmetal Alchemist, which features a conflict between humans and homunculi, artificial beings created from human souls. The homunculi are discriminated against by humans, who see them as inferior beings; however, the homunculi are also incredibly powerful and dangerous. In Fullmetal Alchemist, speciesism is used as a metaphor for racism, with the homunculi representing minority groups who are discriminated against by society.
Another example of speciesism in manga and anime is the treatment of animals. In many cases, animals are seen as inferior to humans and are treated cruelly or with indifference. One notable example of this is the Gundam franchise, which features giant robots called Mobile Suits that are piloted by humans. The Mobile Suits often kill animals during battle, or else step on them without any regard for their welfare. This indifferent treatment of animals reflects real-world issues like factory farming or animal testing.
4. The influence of American cartoons on Japanese youth
As mentioned earlier, American cartoons had a significant influence on the development of manga and anime. This is most evident in early works like Astro Boy or Mighty Atom, which were clearly inspired by American comics and animation. In recent years, there has been a resurgence in the popularity of American cartoons among Japanese youth. This can be seen as a backlash against the increasing globalization of Japanese popular culture; young people are looking to American cartoons as a way to connect with their own country’s culture.
One example of this trend is the popularity of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic among Japanese teenagers. This cartoon series was originally created for young girls in the United States; however, it has become extremely popular among teenage boys in Japan. The show’s positive messages about friendship and teamwork have resonated with Japanese viewers, who have also been drawn to its colorful and cute aesthetic.
Another example of an American cartoon that is popular among Japanese teenagers is Rick and Morty. This show is a irreverent and darkly humorous take on the science fiction genre, and it has become a cult favorite in Japan. Rick and Morty’s popularity can be seen as a sign of the increasing global popularity of American television shows.
In conclusion, war and violence have had a significant influence on Japanese popular culture, specifically in the form of manga and anime. These two forms of entertainment often depict graphic scenes of violence, which has led some to believe that they are responsible for promoting a culture of violence in Japan. However, it is important to remember that manga and anime are just one small part of Japanese popular culture, which also includes non-violent genres like romance or slice-of-life stories. In addition, many manga and anime fans are not violent themselves; instead, they enjoy these stories as escapist fantasy or wish fulfillment.