|It’s been a while since I was in Japan. The last time I posted from Kawasaki, HAL-Con 2014 had not even begun— and in the weeks since elapsed, other, more imminent things have commanded my attention.But when I was there, man. Nothing commanded my attention in Japan more than Japan.
There were the public service announcements. There was Chiba City, which was not nearly so exotic as it seemed in Neuromancer. There was dinner with a US expat who told me interesting things about telecom’s whoring of its customer data to the US government. There was the store just outside the Tokyo subway station devoted to Snoopy memorabilia, and a Studio Ghibli store which, oddly, seemed to specialize in Moomin merch.
There were the toilets, which really require a post— no, a research paper— all to themselves.
There were these Vocaloid thingies, straight out of Idoru (or vice-versa: Idoru was explicitly lifted from the Vocaloid mindset, such as it was back in the nineties): synthetic performers who actually appear in concert to hordes of screaming fans and who can sing beyond the vocal range of mere meatsacks. (They also pimp Toyotas.) I did not meet Hatsune at the con— not even their awesome toilets had the requisite projection equipment— but that’s where my hosts filled me in on the details.
There was the con itself, which was especially scary for me on account of a language gulf greater than any I’ve experienced in Europe. I nearly curled up into a whimpering ball when I got turned around during a solo excursion into Tokyo (using their subway network is like trying to navigate a mammalian circulatory system). (Although to give me credit, the guy I was meeting— who’s lived there on and off for over a decade— told me to meet him at “the exit”, apparently unaware that Tokyo Station has eight of those.)
Fortunately my hosts took excellent care of me, and a couple of life-saving transplanted Europeans kept me up to speed. There was an audience Q&A. There was a freeform discussion between myself and Dr. Hideaki Sena— pharmacologist, best-selling SF author, and video-game inspiration— on the subject of consciousness and free will. There was a nifty little collection of some of my shorter works, illustrated by manga maestro (and fellow GoH) Hotaro Unno. As I may have mentioned in a previous post, seeing my angsty benthogothic rifters rendered as manga characters gave me a whole new perspective. More on that later.
There was a bit of a rabbit-hole moment during an exchange with my Japanese editor after my reading of “The Eyes of God”, when I think some of the nuance contained in our respective views on God, animism, and the Orch-OR model of consciousness got lost in translation. For a few minutes there I thought I’d managed to give religious offense in one of the most secular nations on the planet, but apparently everything was cool. (Or at least, that’s what everyone tells me. Maybe they were just being polite.)
But you know what the real highlight of the con was? The dead dog party afterward.
It was held in this cozy little hole in the wall just around the corner from my hotel, down a couple of bright narrow streets that looked like they’d been lifted right out of Deus Ex. The place was called Pepperland, although I only glimpsed one or two bits of Beatles memorabilia in evidence. If there was any more, it must have been hidden behind the various models of Thunderbirds, Seaviews, Discoveries, and every goddamn iteration of the starship Enterprise ever committed to celluloid. The TV on the wall played an unending series of classic SF movies. Every centimeter of every shelf, every inch of wall space, was cheek-to-jowl with mementos of the best, the worst, and the ugliest that televised and cinematic SF has ever thought to offer up. Polite and formal guardians unwound on all sides; we quaffed beer and stuffed an endless variety of meaty kabobs down our gullets.
And I learned something really interesting about Japanese heroines. They have to be cute. Apparently it’s kind of a prerequisite.
And a prerequisite to cuteness, in turn, is peril.
At least, this is how I understood it as the discussion unfolded. North American female protagonists are frequently strong, kick-ass, take-no prisoners. They can be tough and beautiful. Frequently all of the above. But cute? Show me a N’Am heroine who’s cute, Hotaro said.
I thought of Buffy, at least during her first and second seasons. Sixteen-year-old cheerleader, kinda pouty; I guess you could call that cute. Certainly Willow was cute, prior to her black-eyed veiny-faced phase at least. But then, Willow was more sidekick than protag. Which leaves…
So, Buffy? I suggested. Maybe there were others, but I don’t watch Bitten or Vampire Diaries or any of those other paranormal-romance cheese-fests. So I wouldn’t know.
Didn’t matter. Nobody at the table had heard of Buffy Summers.
Female protagonists in Japanese genre productions have to be cute, apparently. And cuteness is, I’m told, context-dependent. Big anime eyes and tiny pointed noses may be necessary but they are not sufficient. There must also be jeopardy.
I have to admit this makes limited sense to me. I can understand the eroticism of the whole damsel-in-distress thing. Diana Rigg dragged all that into the mainstream half a century back; the producers of The Avengers couldn’t keep up with the demand for Emma Peel In Peril pics. But hot and cute are two different things, and the idea that the latter is a function not of an individual but of an interaction seems odd. What about Hatsune Miku, for example? She would seem to embody the very essence of Animé Cute, but unless that vegetable she keeps swinging around is going to give her food poisoning I don’t see any peril in her environment.
But that’s just me, and I’m not Japanese.
I pointed to Hotaro’s interpretation of Lenie Clarke regarding herself, icy-eyed, in the mirrored bulkheads of Beebe Station. “Not cute.” I pointed to his rendering of Lenie exposed and vulnerable, threatened by some hypertrophic monster from the deep sea. “Cute. Right?”
“Right,” he said. But our long-suffering translator, worn to exhaustion, had thrown in the towel and gone off to enjoy herself. So that’s where we left it.
I don’t think they were pulling my leg. Anyone have any insights on this?