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The Asian ApertureJapanorama
POSTED BY JASON FETTERS, January 23, 2011    Share

Looking for a quality series that showcases Japanese Pop Culture? Then look no further than Japanorama with controversial host, Jonathan Ross. With an witty British humor, Ross explores the common icons that everyone is familiar with such as Godzilla, Ultraman, and Astro Boy, but it is the off the beaten path references such as the strange yet appealing artwork of Junko Mizuno that is the real draw. You could say that Japanorama is a time capsule of Japanese Pop Culture from 2002 to 2007 and therefore a realistic look at how pop culture has evolved in Japan for the first 10-years of the 21st Century. Japanese Pop Culture is in constant flux and what is popular right now can be quickly thrown out like Monday trash the very next day. Japanorama is a much needed primer for pop culture.

The first series aired on BBC Choice back in 2002. Episode 1 is one of my favorites because it covers what got me into Japanese Pop Culture in the first place, Science Fiction. Jonathan Ross interviews the director of Ultraman and asks the really important questions that all fanboys really want to know such as who would win in a fight between Ultraman and Godzilla? I know that question has kept me away long into the night.
Also, Ross looks at Astro Boy and the 1988 Cyperpunk anime classic, Akira. Akira has stood the test of time as the one anime movie that has been the gateway point for millions of American fans.

Besides movies, TV shows, and video games, Ross looks at how robots are accepted by Japanese people in a way that is alien to Western society. In American, most people have this strange fear that if we build humanoid type robots then they will rise up and destroy us all. Not so in Japan, where robotics represents that latest in technology and toys. If you go to the electronic district of Tokyo called Akihabara, you will find a store that sells toy robots and even teaches robotics to children. All the employees have degrees in Engineering and have this great passion to share their love of robots. You can buy fully functional robots and you can even build your own in the spare parts section.
The city I lived in, Osaka, is considered the Robot Capitol of the World with robot cafes where hobbyists can get together to discuss robots and even battle each other. This is also a Robot Battle contest held annually. And that's not all.

There is much to learn from Episode 2 that focuses on Youth culture. Japanese movies used to be highly regarded art films such as Seven Samurai and Tokyo Story but all that has changed in recent years because Japan keeps making movies just for the youth market. Gone are the great masters and available are comedies such as Waterboys from 2001 about high school boys on a synchronized swim team. Waterboys is clearly designed to get young high school girls into the theater. It is a fun and entertaining movie but it lacks any sustaining power. Waterboys is meant for a quick run and then tossed out.

Another interesting topic are Cupheads. A Japanese artist designed masks that are made out of cups. She and her friends put these giant sized Cupheads on and ride the train and go out shopping together. In socially conservative Japan, where the biggest nail gets hammered back down, this really shocks the local population, sometimes in a healthy amusing way.

The rest of the first series has shows on Sex, Crime, Swords, and Horror that really bring out all that is interesting about Japan. Each show does a great job of showing pop icons that everyone knows to something from out of left field that only a die hard fan of Japanese Culture would have any real knowledge of.

Series 2 aired in 2006 and covered, Cool, Otaku (nerd culture,) Tribes, Comedy, Bushido, and Kawaii (cute.) Kawaii is an entertaining concept because it was created by young Japanese girls and even today young girls are in control of what's cool and popular and what's out.

If all that was not enough there is even more good things in Series 3 from Gaijin (outsiders,) to Love and Romance, Pop Art, Legends, Scary Stories, and Bad Girls. Bad Girls does not mean prostitutes and criminal activity. Bad girls are women who go outside the accepted mainstream of society. You have the Kogals who go to tanning salons to purposely burned their skin until it almost turns black to get the California look. You also have female metal band like the Metal Chicks and eX-Girl.

Overall, if you have any interest in educating yourself about the fun and wonderful world of Japanese Pop, then Japanorama is a great starting point. You can go wherever you want after. Japanorama is available for current viewing on Youtube and Google Video including whole episodes so do yourself a favor and check one out.

"The Asian Aperture" is ©2011 by Jason Fetters. All contents of Nolan's Pop Culture Review are ©2011 by Nolan B. Canova.

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