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Millennial Monsters

Millennial Monsters: Japanese Toys and the Global Imagination

Foreword by GARY CROSS
Copyright Date: 2006
Edition: 1
Pages: 356
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  • Book Info
    Millennial Monsters
    Book Description:

    From sushi and karaoke to martial arts and technoware, the currency of made-in-Japan cultural goods has skyrocketed in the global marketplace during the past decade. The globalization of Japanese "cool" is led by youth products: video games, manga (comic books), anime (animation), and cute characters that have fostered kid crazes from Hong Kong to Canada. Examining the crossover traffic between Japan and the United States,Millennial Monstersexplores the global popularity of Japanese youth goods today while it questions the make-up of the fantasies and the capitalistic conditions of the play involved. Arguing that part of the appeal of such dream worlds is the polymorphous perversity with which they scramble identity and character, the author traces the postindustrial milieux from which such fantasies have arisen in postwar Japan and been popularly received in the United States.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-93899-1
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  4. Foreword
    (pp. xv-xviii)

    Those of us who work in the often uncharted jungles of American and European popular and commercial culture are continually encountering the “monsters” of Japan—those often cute and cool critters that, especially of late, seem to have crashed onto the scene. They make us wonder: Where did they come from? Why have they so captured the imagination of children and adults on a global scale? I have often thought a really informed book about why and how Japanese popular culture has succeeded in becoming (with American pop culture) the leading exporter of fantasy, especially to the young, would go...

  5. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xix-xxii)
  6. 1 Enchanted Commodities
    (pp. 1-34)

    The boy is sixteen years old: a good student, a star athlete, and college bound. A colleague’s son, Peter is polite but bored as we chat on a warm North Carolinian fall day in 2003. When the subject turns to hobbies, however, and I ask about Japanese fads, the sober-looking youth immediately transforms. Practically jumping out of his seat, he announces, “I’m obsessed withYu-Gi-Oh!”—an obsession his father confirms while confessing total ignorance about the phenomenon himself. A media-mix complex of trading cards, cartoon show, comic books, video games, movie, and tie-in merchandise that became the follow-up global youth...

  7. 2 From Ashes to Cyborgs: The Era of Reconstruction (1945–1960)
    (pp. 35-65)

    Fire and ashes were recurrent tropes in the accounts of Japan’s defeat at the hands of the Allies in World War II. By the time of its surrender, the country lay, literally and figuratively, in ruins. American air raids, running relentlessly in the last fourteen months of war, rendered huge civilian losses (seventy thousand alone in the attack on Tokyo in March 1945) and vast urban destruction (half the country, concentrated in urban cities and small adjacent cities: 40 percent of Tokyo, 58 percent of Yokohama, 56 percent of Kobe, 38 percent of Osaka). The national transportation system was crippled;...

  8. 3 Millennial Japan: Intimate Alienation and New Age Intimacies
    (pp. 66-92)

    It is September 1999, and I am in Japan for a year researching the production and culture of “made in Japan” children’s play goods that are achieving unprecedented popularity in the global marketplace of kids’ trends and faddish fantasies today. As an anthropologist, I study this subject in the field. And, given the nature of even the Japan end of this study, my field site is dispersed—spread across the urban metropolis of Tokyo, the twelfth-largest city in the world. Here I go from toy fairs, game conventions, production studios, bookstores, and amusement parks to interviews with children and parents...

  9. 4 Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The First Crossover Superheroes
    (pp. 93-127)

    In summer 1997, an episode of the children’s live-action showChōriki Sentai Ōrenjā (Superpower Team Force King Rangers),broadcast by Tōei Studios in Tokyo, portrays a hot summer day in downtown Tokyo on which a power outage suddenly halts urban traffic. From commuters stalled on escalators and in subways and street crossings, the camera pans to a huge beast hovering over the city Godzilla-style. Standing on two feet, with a body whose pointy protrusions, we soon learn, are filled with deadly radiation, this monster is named—as written on the bottom of the screen—Mashinjyū Barabirudā (Machine Beast Barabirudā). Threatening...

  10. 5 Fierce Flesh: Sexy Schoolgirls in the Action Fantasy of Sailor Moon
    (pp. 128-162)

    In 1994, one year after it had debuted as the top-ranking children’s show on U.S. television,Mighty Morphin Power Rangerssold $330 million of toy merchandise for Bandai America—a spectacular success and major break through into a market (U.S. kids’ entertainment, a portal to global kid fads) long resistant to Japanese properties. Eager to extend its reach in the United States, Bandai quickly negotiated additional deals: Japanese kids’ shows that, if successful in crossing over to American television, would bring sales of Bandai licensed merchandise along with them. In 1995, three such Bandai sponsored programs debuted on U.S....

  11. 6 Tamagotchi: The Prosthetics of Presence
    (pp. 163-191)

    At the peak of its popularity in the late 1990s, thetamagotchiwas called “the world’s most popular toy” (Berfield 1997:33), a “sensation around the world” (WuDunn 1997:17), the “current craze” (Clyde 1998:34), and the “next Japanese gadget to sweep the continent” (Pollack 1997:37).¹ An egg shaped device that hangs on a key holder, thetamagotchiis a portable game with a liquid crystal screen whose purpose is to raise virtual pets. Targeted first to eight-year-olds, the electronic play pal took off with teenage girls and adults when it was launched in Japan in December 1996. With its crossover appeal...

  12. 7 Pokémon: Getting Monsters and Communicating Capitalism
    (pp. 192-233)

    When I enter the room, two children (a six-year-old girl and a ten-year-old boy) are glued to their Game Boys. Each is playing the gamePokémon,activated on their screens by inserting a cassette. Occasionally the kids whoop with delight or pound their legs in disappointment. For the most part, though, they sit on the edge of their seats, moving the controls on their Game Boys, immersed in their own separate (if parallel) pursuits of scouting out/capturing/battling pocket monsters. When their mother calls them to supper, neither moves. They have been playing for an hour, the limit for predinner play...

  13. 8 “Gotta Catch ’Em All”: The Pokémonization of America (and the World)
    (pp. 234-270)

    In a regular skit shown from fall 1999 to winter 2000 onOha Sutā,a children’s program airing early mornings on Japanese television, a cute dimply woman dressed in schoolgirl chic—short red skirt and matching shoes, frilly pink blouse and loose socks—introduces herself as Becky.¹ Asking the television audience,“Genki?”she follows this up with the English translation, “How are you doing?” The words HOW ARE YOU DOING? pop up on the screen in capital letters before a backdrop of hugePokémoncards that move up and down against a field of yellow flowers on the ground, scattered...

  14. Epilogue
    (pp. 271-280)

    In the filmLost in Translation,a Hollywood hit of 2003, Tokyo is the backdrop for a story about two Americans as lost in a foreign culture as they are in life back home. Strangers when they first meet as travelers in the same hotel, the two connect over shared insomnia and the mutual recognition of anomie in each other. Japan—a place they neither wanted to visit nor find particularly interesting—is utterly strange, yet it is a strangeness that, when the Americans venture into it together, inspires intimacy between the two. Being oddly in place while being displaced...

  15. Notes
    (pp. 281-300)
  16. References
    (pp. 301-312)
  17. Index
    (pp. 313-332)