restricted access The Japanification of Children's Popular Culture: From Godzilla to Miyazaki (review)
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Reviewed by
Mark I. West, ed. The Japanification of Children's Popular Culture: From Godzilla to Miyazaki. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow P, 2009.

Mark West, editor of The Japanification of Children's Popular Culture: From Godzilla to Miyazaki, developed an interest in Japanese cultural production as a parent whose son was fascinated with My Neighbor Totoro, Pokémon, The Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, and other pervasive and uniquely Japanese mythologies. The Japanification of Children's Popular Culture, an edition of nineteen essays, grapples with this phenomenon and investigates why Japanese influence is omnipresent in children's popular culture. Its wide-ranging contributors provide critical reflections on cultural artifacts and contexts, and illuminate elements of Japanese culture not widely known in the United States.

In "Invasion of the Japanese Monsters: A Home-Front Report," West notes that his son enjoys Japanese monsters because, though they are every bit as powerful as American monsters, they are not all bad—due in part, he suggests, to the influence of Shintoism. In these imported myths, humans and monsters can form "non-adversarial relationships" (22) in which difference is advantageous. By comparison, American monsters are not so nuanced. They are always a threat to society and therefore need to be destroyed or domesticated (21). Productive difference is a subtext throughout the book, and an inescapable, more general subject that each contributor deals with uniquely through style and strategy.

In "North American Reactions to Yaoi," Antonia Levi examines the form of anime known as yaoi, or "gay male romances written by women for girls" (147). The Japanese audience for yaoi is primarily heterosexual, but its American fans are more often gay or bisexual. Levi contextualizes this difference in reception through a discussion of culturally accepted gay, lesbian, and cross-dressing episodes in Japanese history and linking these to the Japanese appreciation of yaoi. Embedded within her larger argument are multiple examples of recurring homosexual relationships in Japanese anime (including Sailor Moon and Robotech) that are routinely edited out of the American versions. Levi uses yaoi as a springboard to examine, for instance, North American audiences, feminism, and homo or queer sexuality.

Several of the essays are personal reflections. Bill Davis sets himself up as the "ugly American" dad, with the likely intention to provoke, in "How the Rising Ubiquity of All Things Japanese Ruined the National Pastime for One American Father." In "Two Worlds, United by Anime," Elizabeth Flynn, an "Army brat" with a Japanese native mother and American father (185–86) evokes her early years in Japan, watching children's television shows in what was at the time her native and sole language—Japanese. [End Page 119] Brent Allison's autobiographical "Interviews with Adolescent Anime Fans" is situated within critical theory, yet tells a suspenseful story about a self-proclaimed stereotypical anime fan at conventions (Allison himself) chatting with various teenagers and wondering, "What do these conversations say about their correspondents' relationship to Japanese culture, U.S. mainstream culture, and to each other?" (130). The account is humorous, and the conclusion a poignant reflection on issues including gender, class, age, and homophobia.

Two of the contributors are Japanese nationals, and their essays benefit from the disjunction between experiencing anime in Japan and re-experiencing the same films in the United States. Hiroaki Hatayama makes a case for "The Cross-Cultural Appeal of the Characters in Manga and Anime," which stems from his initial surprise at the popularity of anime in the United States. Rieko Okuhara answers her title question—"The Censorship of Japanese Anime in America: Do American Children Need to Be Protected from Dragon Ball?"—by detailing how the series Dragon Ball is re-inscribed for American television audiences. Editors for the American market delete instances of sex and violence, which eliminates the multigenerational appeal of the folkloric series. More important, editing out nudity leads to confusing, even sexist representations. For example, in the American version the urban teenager Bulma "suddenly appears hysterical . . . [and] frantic" toward her friend Goku, a kind of feral child-hero, while she is taking a bath. Viewers of the Japanese original know she is reacting to Goku's admission that he is 14 years old, though he...