There’s a sort of derogatory attitude taken by people in the US and Japan over China. The nation, not to make light of their questionable ethics, is beleaguered with bad press. In Japan’s case, it’s the recent debacle over the fishing boat collision last year, as well as mounting concerns over China’s haughtiness since being confirmed as the world’s second largest economy.
One of the finest clashes last year was a giant robot, that had no affiliation whatsoever to the popular “Mobile Suit Gundam” series, erected in a Chinese amusement park somewhere in Sichuan. While the creators defended the creation as wholly original, the park still made it magically disappear after word spread of their clever attraction.
Most of us thought that was the last we would ever see of that statue. However, this was not the case. It would appear to be, THE GUNDAM TOTALLY ORIGINAL ROBOT IS BACK! (Linked site is not safe for work).
That certainly looks… better. No, no, no, no it’s still terrible, really, it just looks even worse now. I would prefer copyright infringement to this (that only hurts corporate income, this hurts my eyes).
So what do you do when something like this comes up? Do you go cry on your blog and complain that the Chinese have no sense of shame? No, of course not, that would be futile and ridiculous.
What we should do is think about the historical context of Japanese pop-culture and how this may be a sign.
I’ve said this before, but Japanese anime and manga has roots in copyright infringement. The foundation for today’s culture could not be possible without Osamu Tezuka, the great mangaka and animator that gave Japanese many classics known today: “Astro Boy,” “Black Jack,” “Phoenix,” “Ribbon Knight,” and so much more. Tezuka got his start in drawing by copying popular western artists like Walt Disney. It’s no secret that his earliest works featured non-sanctioned reproductions of Disney’s works like, “Bambi” and “Pinocchio.” (Bambi was later approved by Disney in 2005. Fred Schodt, who provided me with this info, supposes that Disney may have felt bad about all the drama with “The Lion King.”)
What’s important to note is that copycatting happens in the arts. I’ve come across a number of “how to become a mangaka” books in Japan, and many of them emphasize the concept of saru-mane or “monkey-copy” (i.e. copycatting). The way for many aspiring artists to get better is to copy and mimic the style of others until an original style develops from the artists themselves. This is no defense for plagiarism, but it is sort of a way to say “we gotta start somewhere.”
China is still growing, and despite an external appearance of modernization, perhaps its pop-culture has yet to develop itself out of the clutches of what’s in vogue outside of its borders. Who knows what the next decade will bring; it’s quite possible that China’s culture will explode in popularity – if Americans can emulate anime and manga, so can they.
This is especially the case with the stagnation of growth in Japan. As a recent report shows, Japan is beginning to lag behind not only due to its continuing economic slump from the early 1990s, but due to its rapidly aging workforce that leaves little room for innovation. Unless Japan can strive for creativity and evolution, they’ll be overtaken for sure. Just as how we rag on Hollywood for being terrible, we may come to a day when Japan becomes some kind of inhuman factory of rehashed anime concepts.
Tomo Hirai is a Shin-Nisei Japanese American lesbian trans woman born in San Francisco and raised in Walnut Creek, Calif., where she continues to reside. She attended the San Francisco Japanese Hoshuko (supplementary school) through high school and graduated from the University of California, Davis with degrees in Communications and Japanese, along with a minor in writing. She serves as a diversity consultant for table top games and comic books in her spare time.