Patrick Macias, journalist/author and expert on Japanese anime/manga culture, is one of my favorite commentators on Japan. Though I can’t say I share his affinity for Ultraman reruns and shitty 1970s Japanese rock bands, part of what I like about Macias is the fact that he understands Japanese culture but nevertheless takes what he enjoys from the country (namely otaku culture) without compromising his personality or values. A recent interview he granted podcast Otaku Generation featured some of his typical wit. I’ll transcribe some of the choice quotes so you don’t have to listen to the tinny, irrelevant banter of the questioners:
“I was told that the worst that I could do as a gaijin writer on Japan was to live in Japan because you need this perspective if you want anyone to pay attention to you. Otherwise you’re just one of those kind of circus monkeys they have on the TV shows there who sort of read the newspapers in the morning talking about American foreign policy even though even though they haven’t been in America for, you know, 10 or 15 years.”
“Pizza is a joke in Japan. People should be arrested for what they call pizza there. I think the mafia should just go over there and start shooting people ‘cuz that shit is not pizza. It’s like a tortilla with cheese on it and tomato sauce… And you don’t get that bloated, gassy feeling two hours later. It goes down too easy. With pizza, it’s got to be a struggle against your own humanity to digest it. At least American pizza should be… Even Mama Celeste would destroy the average pizza in Japan. Totino’s party pizza is gourmet compared to what you can get in Japan for top dollar.”
“Patrick: They close off the street traffic in Akihabara on Sunday and the street fills up with wotaku, with amateur idols, and cross dressers. There’s a new kind of wotaku, where guys buy sailor suits and dance with their favorite idols in the streets. It’s pretty sensational. There’s a lot of them. I don’t know if there’s a new word for it, I think I would classify them as ‘wotaku’, but they’re basically trannies. This is a new kind of fandom that really kind of blew my mind. I didn’t see this one coming.
Questioner: You see a lot of those at the American anime conventions, you know, the older guys who use it as an opportunity to be trannies for the day.
Other Questioner: Yeah but that’s like, one time every convention. I think these guys are coming every weekend, right?
Patrick: Well, when it comes to American otaku and Japanese otaku, I think American otaku want to follow the example of what Japanese fandom looks like. We want conventions and dojinshi and maids and dressing up like trannies and all that stuff, so it makes perfect sense that both sides are into the same thing. Just stay the hell away from me! … You see people laughing behind their backs non-stop… It’s a very judgmental situation, but there’s not an ethical component to that. No one will challenge you. In America I think someone would come up to you and say, ‘What’s wrong with you?’ …People would be offended to do that sort of thing, but in Japan it’s more like ‘That’s funny, but I’m not going to send you Hell for it.'”
“A lot of the animation that they’re making [in Japan] is actually made in India or the Philippines or Korea. It’s really hard for me to call some of that stuff anime because there’s not a hell of a lot of animation going on in some of the new shows. You get like a talking mouth for 3 minutes and you feel like ‘wow this is great, I feel like I’m being treated to something really spectacular here.’ … The average anime is made by some underpaid guy in India, sort of like the guy you call when you have problems with your ISP. You want that guy making your anime? … I heard some amazing stories that Chinese prison labor, political prisoners in China are being used to produce animation… Also I think one animation company in South Korea got busted because they were exporting the work to North Korea to do the actual animation. They were just taking the money and forcing people in North Korea to do the actual work… I don’t follow any current anime so avidly, but I pay close attention to what’s happening behind the scenes because it’s a much freakier and terrifying story than anything I can find in fiction.”
“One thing we were saying is that anime is everywhere in Japan, but elsewhere it’s kind of dying. A lot of it is being outsourced, and there’s not a lot of new talent going into the industry… [People] realize that they can make more money in video games or… a convenience store on a monthly basis than they can doing anime or manga. It’s hard, it’s tough. Japan is trying to use anime and manga ato promote Japanese culture. You see the Tokyo Metropolitan Government doing things like the Tokyo Anime Fair. You have politicians saying this is Japan’s soft power, anime, mange, Puffy AmiYumi, music, stuff like that. But there’s not a lot of support for these things. There should be a foundation, there should be a grant, something, but it’s just not there.”
“[In Japan] you get respect by playing by the rules – by not grabbing the food first before the oldest guy at the table does, or by not drinking before everyone else does first. You get points for observing those things and paying attention to them, but at the same time no one’s ever going to think you’re Japanese if you’re American. You can’t win. There’s definitely a time to do the gaijin smash, and just go in there like the Hulk and just destroy everything… You can play it either way. They both have their advantages and their strengths, but the one thing you learn in Japan is to just be a little more considerate. Even in America I find it’s being respectful and saying thank you a little more. Not necessarily bowing like a robot, but you kind of begin to appreciate just genial human kindness.”
I didn’t catch the rest of the 3-hour interview, but I am 100% sure that Macias gets tired from there and lays off the more insightful commentary, which is good for me since I happened to get tired of listening at the exact same point!