Box Men in the 21st Century

One of the key questions we can ask ourselves today is regarding what it means to be human. Somehow, after the Enlightenment, many modernists lost sight of true humanity. Instead of asking how to live authentically, philosophers and literati began g questions about how to live perfectly. Instead of understanding the truth of the human condition (humans are intrinsically flawed and at some point, the mythical promise of scientific progress will cease to deliver), modernism sought to subjugate nature and humanity into a variety of visions that were highly mechanized and looking for earthly perfection.

Somewhere in this path towards perfection, we lost much of what true humanity is all about. We do not love our neighbors as ourselves, and we constantly are trying to wear the mask of false perfection as we disassociate ourselves from the messiness of deep human relationships and flesh-based community. We ignore our own imperfections as we readily point out, then distance ourselves from, the perceived imperfections of others. This tends to cause community breakdowns and the loss of self as we attempt to live inauthentic lives.

Those of you who are familiar with Heidegger and Ponty will no doubt recognize where I am going with this.

Abe Kobo’s “Box Man” takes these issues and repackages them in a surrealist novel. The major themes of this work revolve around alienation from society, denial of identity, loss of community, and the inability to create lasting, meaningful relationships in the modern world. The modern world so fails the box man that he must disconnect from it to become an ineffectual voyeur in order to find a deeper meaning in his newly discovered world. This world is perceived through the slit in the box he wears, giving him a unique vantage point, and the ability to create a window from which he may view the world, no matter where he finds himself. The box allows the box man to be in a quantum state of neither human nor non-human, neither alive, nor dead. The box makes the box man a pariah while being unremarkable. It allows for the dualistic tension we find in much postmodern philosophy.

My jury is not yet out on everything that is going on in this work. It seems to strongly connect to Okakura Kakuzo’s worship of the imperfection. Regardless, this disturbing novel is an important work, especially in light of contemporary otaku studies.

Marvel vs. Capcom?

Now that I am playing with an iPad, I found the Marvel application. I downloaded the six free issues that they are offering and started to flip through the 1999 Amazing Spiderman issue. The artwork is great as are the colors, but I found myself losing interest after about 10 pages.

Why? I have gotten used to reading Manga, and the action sequences, camera angles, frames, and visual narrative have totally replaced my ideal of what a comic book should be. The Spider Man issue had too many words, too little dynamic action, and just took too long to digest. I was tired and had a long day at work. I wanted to spend a few minutes relaxing, but it felt more like work.

However, a lot can change in 5 years. I also downloaded a 2004 issue of “The New Avengers” and noticed immediately how much more manga had left its mark in such a short time. For one, there were a lot more camera angles, reminiscent of Tezuka’s work. There were zooms out and pans to establish location. Frames were no longer simply boxes; sometimes they were ignored. There were also fewer words, and a lot more action. Rather than a bar scene with one shot and 10 bubbles, there were 5 frames with 2 or 3 dialog bubbles.

Image Copyright Marvel.com

You can guess which comic I read through.

On the subject of manga’s influence on the US scene, I discovered that on the iPad, in the iBook store, you can purchase Roland Kelts’ “Japanamerica”. I looked for other manga related books but didn’t come up with any results. I wonder if Stonebridge will release any titles on the iBook store? I guess many authors might be concerned about intellectual property.

Speaking of intellectual property, I wonder if VIZ will get an iPad app? A friend of mine wondered if some might consider importing scanned images as a way to read manga on the iPad in theory, but, of course, we wouldn’t want to break copyright. I am sure less-ethical people have already done as much?

I wonder, too, why most of the manga titles on the kindle store are ero titles? I am not interested in that genre…I am sure will keep on buying/borrowing hard copies of old-school shonen/seinen titles for now.

Facebook blunders, Anime, and Nekulturny

Over the weekend, a New Hampshire state representative, Nikolas Levasseur made some ridiculous commentary on Facebook, saying that “Anime is the reason just 2 nukes wasn’t enough.”

Now, of course, for some, to be upset over this comment will be another example of oversensitivity and politically-correct responses to an ill-thought out, idiotic statement. But looking deeper, we can see that this is more than purely foolish rhetoric. Many people think Facebook is private and safe, but anyone who has been to “Failbooking” will recognize that what you say on Facebook may not stay among your close network of 500 friends. Indeed, we forget just how public the internet is. So perhaps Mr. Levasseur was just making an idiotic comment that one might make at a bar with friends, where some of his actual meat-space friends would say, “Nick, come on, that’s not cool.” And perhaps, he would have relented thinking that maybe “jokes” about thousands of people instantly dying are not funny in the least.

Perhaps this statement is also an example of someone simply being uneducated. As any Tom Clancy fan will know, a highly-charged Russian insult is to call someone Nekulturny, meaning “Uncultured.” A boorish, loud person might be prone to say such things. A person without deeper historic, or cultural appreciation for Japan might think it OK to say something like this. Maybe a way to prevent this kind of thinking is education.

Sure, there are things in anime that I find detestable, and I would not advise people to pick up and enjoy those titles. But, there is a huge variety of excellent, deep, moving, refreshing content within the anime genre that deserves to be seen and enjoyed. Most anime that we might find objectionable in the west is created for a subset of a purely Japanese audience, who has a different sense of what it means to enjoy something versus acting out on it. (We Americans seem to act out our violent fantasies, rather than leaving them in the realm of fantasy…just look at the murder/rape rate and compare to Japan.) But, to say anime is a reason a country should have been wiped out, and that a state representative is saying such things, is really inexcusable. If he read up a bit, he might realize, as Takashi Murakami posits, anime and the otaku subculture is really in response to the atomic vaporization of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

So, I humbly submit a short reading list for the state representative, and hope he will begin to do some homework before shooting of his mouth again.

  1. Dower, John. Embracing Defeat
  2. Drazen, Patrick. Anime Explosion
  3. Gravett, Paul. Manga, 60 Years of Japanese Comics
  4. Hendry, Joy. Understanding Japanese Society
  5. Ibuse, Masuji. Black Rain
  6. Kelts, Roland. Japanamerica
  7. De Bary, Keene, Tsunoda, and Varley. Sources of Japanese Tradition, vols 1-3
  8. Napier, Susan. Anime: From Akira to Howl’s Moving Castle.
  9. Schodt, Frederick L. Dreamland Japan
  10. Schodt, Frederick L. Manga, Manga, Manga
  11. Sugimoto, Yoshio. An Introduction to Japanese Society

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