Some of the best story telling in fantasy today is coming out of Japan, using the visual medium. Even my parents understand that anime and manga exists and is here to stay, although vampire manga chibis under my sister’s bed wasn’t exactly the best way to make them aware of the fact. That’s still a highly taboo topic around the parental home front. Lucky for me I was in a foreign country at the time and avoided the whole mess.
My boyfriend, (now husband) introduced me to the English dubbed Cowboy Bebop shortly before we started dating. I showed him Ranma 1/2 episodes that I had found in the bowels of our university library while working the DVD stacks. If you have not watched either one, I strongly recommend them. Watching anime became part of our dating ritual. We went through all of the episodes we could find of Ranma 1/2, all of Cowboy Bebop, Apple Seed, and all the Hayao Miyazaki films we could get that summer. Even though he and I came from very different worlds as children, anime created a strong commonly shared language between us. We spent hours talking about them, pointing out cultural artifacts and discussing what our particular regional U.S. culturals could relate to the stories. We shook our heads over the representations of Chinese by the Japanese writers in Ranma 1/2 and agreed that listening to Spike by the Japanese voice actor was intolerable. Cowboys and bebop should be listening to English. Enough said. I’m not saying English is always better though, I prefer to watch One Piece in Japanese because the cursing is so wonderful. Calling someone baka just rolls better off the tongue than idiot.
One of the fascinating aspects of Japanese anime is the dichotomy of western myths being told without the hang ups and cultural grounding of western cultural, but rather an almost unanchored viewpoint of culturally unrooted globalism. Crosses, roses, blond hair and blue eyes are strong motifs in anime and manga, as well as floating waves of fantastic hair, exceptional Asian martial arts and Shinto style priestesses. Stories are set all over the world, using characters from a plethora of countries and cultural backgrounds. One of the best examples is the One Piece epic that continues to be written today. One could argue that some of the stories are not necessarily Japanese or western stories any more, but a global hybrid. Considering the global popularity of these stories, we may have entered a new era of fantasy, not necessarily based on the myths or concepts of any particular world view or cultural, but rather whatever has made it’s way into the globally immersed and widely read mind of an author, no matter where he or she may be. With the global media, it is actually difficult to imagine that the future of fantasy will limit itself to any particular tradition. It will become natural for us to mix unicorns and tanuki because we know of both and what we know is what influences our fantasy.
Now if we could dig a little deeper than Egypt and Mayan ruins for story ideas in the southern hemisphere, we could really mix this place up!