Two weeks ago I provided an autoethnographic account of the Netflix original series Kuromukuro, as well as introducing my autoethnographic methodology in recording my live responses via Twitter. If you missed either of these links are provided:
Now as much fun as this was, recording my reactions only became half of the exercise. In order to fully comprehend Kuromukuro as a Japanese cultural text, I needed to dig further and research beyond my own cultural understanding. Moreover, I needed to understand why I came to these conclusions and unpack my own observations to determine how I actually met them.
One of the largest themes I found when reviewing my initial observations was in regards to access as seen through the tweets below:
In my previous encounters with, anime (namely through watching episodes at seven in the morning on Cheez TV) I was rather restricted in terms of accessing the texts. Shows were typically screened five days a week, two hours a day, and that was if mum let me watch TV before school! Now with the implementation of streaming services such as Netflix (and Crunchyroll as a more specific anime platform) the ease of access to texts such as Kuromukuro has increased exponentially. Admittedly, in previously attempting to stream the show, a nationwide connectivity issue with Bigpond had blocked access to the family email account, and thus my Netflix account was useless. Despite, the increase in accessibility I found myself exceptionally frustrated that I was unable to watch the show which made me reluctant to even re-attempt to watch Kuromukuro. What this highlights is that although access to media has increased, we have become much more impatient. As an ultimate result of this, aside from the first two episodes I am yet to continue watching Kuromukuro. Furthermore, a study conducted by The Pew Research Center supports this idea, concluding that
“The hyper-connected lives of modern individuals have the potential for Negative effects including a need for instant gratification and loss of patience” (Pew Research Centre in Muther, 2013).
The fact that 120mm was used as a unit of measurement, as opposed to the colloquial, American equivalent (five inches) shows an apparent translation error in the cultural adaptation to an English speaking audience.
Interestingly Japan’s screening of Anime programs, including popular shows such as One Piece and One Punch Man, are screened during late night hours or prime time (Sevakis, 2016). This could have several implications, namely that anime is targeted to broader audiences in Japan than Australia. Anime audiences in Japan however are notoriously hard to pin down, with the age and gender allocations of characters rarely being used to target specific groups (Sevakis, 2016). Anime is undoubtedly one of the largest cultural exports from Japan in terms of media and is widely regarded as a cultural activity. However, certain Scholars such as Iwabuchi argue that “anime lacks an inherent cultural identity because it is commonly dubbed into English, edited to suit local tastes, and lacks distinct cultural markers such as racial features or foreign architecture” (Manion, 2005). Iwabuchi’s perception of Anime in Japan contradicts my previous beliefs towards its popularity, although the ratings of anime shows and movies still determine a largely positive perception to the genre. Despite this, Kuromukuro specifically was screened in Japanese with English subtitles. However, English dub versions are available as an alternative for many other shows on Netflix such as Fullmetal Alchemist. The very fact that Kuromukuro is a ‘Netflix’ exclusive (Netflix being an American company) highlights the cultural adaptation of the series to western countries. Additionally, streaming services are arguably keeping the Japanese anime industry alive with producers selling the rights to their shows directly to these services (Kelts, 2016). Kuromukuro is a perfect example of this as a Netflix original. My favourite example of cultural adaptation in Kuromukuro however, occurred during a giant robot battle in which the protagonist exclaimed:
In regards to my observations of anime being a subcultural activity in Australia, support was found through research findings by Norris (2000). In a study of 50 Australian anime fans, many participants of the study recalled being mocked due to the fact that anime isn’t part of the dominant Australian culture. Alternatively, the choice to watch anime was also determined to represent a perceived desire to rebel against mainstream Australian cultural identity. As an anime fan from the early 2000s, these finding was extremely interesting as I never particularly questioned why anime was treated differently from other media formats. I also found myself questioning if I myself chose to watch anime in an apparent desire to ‘be different’ from the Australian cultural norm.
In terms of content, the show produces massive references to technology, thus serving to reinforce my perception of Japan as the technological capital of the world.
What is specifically interesting is that even though shows such as Dragon ball Z were created 2 decades prior, there were still large references to technological development (such as the Saiyan scanners, capsules, and hover bikes). This represents the ongoing relevance of technology to Japanese culture, which can even be traced back to the 1950s with the Astro Boy series.
As one of the few things I learnt in my high school Japanese classes, the significance of the Japanese train network also resonated within Kuromukuro. Looking into this further sought to confirm my initial assumptions towards the pride of the Japanese train network, with the shinkansen’s (bullet train) importance influenced through a pristine record of safety and dependability. The Bullet train furthermore allowed companies to unite with firms and suppliers across cities, while ultimately setting the standard for rail transport networks globally (Pinsker, 2014).
Despite technology such as modern smartphones appearing throughout the show, a specific technology commands the attention of the audience and provides the whole setting for the series. That, of course, being the giant robots or Kuromukuro as referred to in the series.
The obsession of mecha technologies in Japan first appeared to me in the original transformers series screening on Cheez TV, and my prized Astro Boy tapes (I can even remember getting into fights in kindergarten over who got to play with the transformers toys!). However, further investigation demonstrates that mecha goes beyond a common theme of both anime and manga with Ascraft (2011) arguing that mecha has become a massive cultural activity. Ashcraft also cites Game designer Barder, who states
“With the dissolution of the samurai during the Meiji Restoration, mecha were partly birthed from that cultural vacuum.”
The obsession furthermore goes beyond the design of the robots themselves, and towards building them. Even recently a 59 foot, ‘Gundam’ robot statue has been erected around the various cities of Japan, acting as a monument towards mecha and its cultural impact.
Despite my ongoing love affair with anime and the significant impacts it has had on my life, no greater impact has been felt than through analysis of Kuromukuro. In undertaking an autoethnographic analysis towards this text, not only have I been able to unpack the various assumptions I have made towards Japanese culture, I have also determined how anime has personally affected me. Access became a major theme in reviewing my personal experience to the genre in a comparison to both traditional and modern methods of contact, while research into the popularity of anime in Australia has determined a probable reasoning to my viewing habits. Furthermore, technology as the dominating theme through the text allowed for me to look past my perception of Japan as merely a technological super power, and see the true cultural impacts as seen through mecha, and the bullet train network.