Introduction to Popular Culture Studies

Transnational Media & Otherness

Posted by Sean Hull on April 24, 2017

As we reach our penultimate chapter, the complexity of media distribution is portrayed in ever-increasing complexity: from the pirate video distribution in Africa to the creation of Persian-identity media for Iranian diaspora that then found its way back to the Middle East, there is no easily described path by which media is shared between groups & individuals. Among these and other points made, those which most drew my attention are the concept of culturally impure media, and its relationship to the notion of “fragrance” versus “odorlessness”.

I suppose both these concepts are halves of a single whole, seen from different angles: the problem of purity is described in relation to those within a culture and their desire to see their cultural expression preserved from outside media, whereas the discussion of “fragrance” and “odorlessness” seems more focused on the perception of media by individuals outside its culture of origin. Though these analyses serve different purposes, there is still the common aspect of ambivalence towards the influence of “other” culture, be it “other” culture that forces its way into the “local” culture, or “other” culture that demands “local” culture be exported, potentially to its detriment. I cannot hope to wrestle the myriad moral ambiguities raised by such appropriations and adaptations, but I can provide a brief case study that illustrates both sides of this issue: that of Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure, or JJBA.

Written by Hirohiko Araki, this Japanese manga debuted in 1987, and for the time was a unique piece of entertainment: rather than being set in Japan, the story was set in England and followed the life of the distinctly non-Japanese nobleman Jonathan. Furthermore, Araki included a variety of references to U.S. & English pop culture throughout his work, with many characters being named after classic rock songs & musicians; in one particularly humorous example, the identity of a character is confirmed by his knowledge of western pop culture [1]. Furthermore, JJBA’s geographical scope expanded over time, with the manga at times being set in the Middle East, the U.S.A., and Italy, to name but a few.

This adaptation of western pop culture, though unique when JJBA debuted, has perhaps been a detriment to its distribution abroad; despite being continuously popular in Japan [2], JJBA is less well known in the west. Though the recent release of its anime adaption has led to increased recognition, as evidenced by its location on Crunchyroll’s “popular anime” page [3], it is nonetheless interesting that its source manga has received little love from translators, and hardly any western distribution up until recently. Parts 4 and upwards have not been officially translated at all, leaving western fans dependent on infamous fansubs [4].

If I may be allowed conjecture, I wonder if this lack of attention is due to incorporation of western culture. Though a unique work, perhaps it does not appear uniquely Japanese to outside audiences?  Could this have stunted its popularity among early adopters of anime & manga, who were looking for a distinctly “Japanese” experience? Without evidence I can make no claims, but it is a hypothetical scenario that nicely ties to the content discussed in our reading.

[1] https://youtu.be/6NX8M2DIAOg?t=1m8s

[2] https://www.destructoid.com/jojo-s-bizarre-adventure-sells-425k-tops-charts-in-japan-261319.phtml (Hearsay of its popularity is easy to come by, but it is difficult to track down statistics. For the purposes of this brief post I will presume that a PS3 game topping the charts is evidence that JJBA recently remains popular.)

[3] http://www.crunchyroll.com/videos/anime

[4] http://knowyourmeme.com/memes/duwang


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