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Annals of Anime: Information Travels Faster Than Seismic Waves

posted Jul 28, 2012, 11:31 PM by Douglas Sun   [ updated Aug 1, 2012, 11:16 AM ]
Originally posted: March 11, 2011

Yesterday’s earthquake-tsunami combo that struck the north of Japan is a calamity almost beyond comprehension for all of us, of course, but the news is especially concerning for anime and manga fans. Otaku have a way of digging into the who’s who of their favorite entertainments with a dedication that I’ve only seen among the nerdiest of sports nerds, and somehow, we feel a sense of acquaintance with them that makes the thought that they would be swept up in such a disaster unusually distressing. 

It’s a little weird, frankly, to feel that knot in the pit of the stomach unless you actually have friends and/or loved ones in Japan right now, but, well, there you have it. I suspect that the fact that anime serves its fans as such a complete and rapturous form of escapism has much to do with it. It’s almost unnervingly easy to buy into the fantastical realities that anime sells us, so that at some level we really do want to think of Japan as a place of — depending on the genres that you like the most — enormous battle robots, pretty magical girls, goofy but lovable high-school kids who receive the call to adventure on a regular basis, constant intersection between the natural and the supernatural, etc. To look at the news and see a real Japan in ruins and consumed by fire and water in a way that you can’t enjoy as an aestheticized spectacle — well, it evokes all the more pity and terror precisely because it blows the fantasy.

Anyway, the point that I wanted to make here is a reflection on how the Internet and social media in particular has changed the way in which news of events like this spreads. I’m old enough to remember a time even before CNN, when you had to wait for the major news organizations to pull everything together before you could begin to understand a disaster of this scale. In Los Angeles, we had (and still have) two 24-hour news AM radio stations, and the television networks would break into their regular programming with news coverage (in fact, you knew something serious was going on because “Gunsmoke” or whatever was being pre-empted). But you’d probably have to wait until the next day’s newspaper to feel like you were getting the whole story. The advent of CNN and ‘round-the-clock TV news speeded up the news cycle, but not by that much; the problems of collecting and organizing information for presentation still remained.

So, what happened on March 10-11, 2011? Within 12 hours of the disaster, venerable J-goods importer J-List emailed its subscribers with a personal account of the earthquake. As of this writing, the contents can be found on its homepage here. While the overall tone may seem oddly frivolous given the loss of life and property. it was nonetheless reassuring to hear that not all of Japan was exploding oil refineries and trucks washed out to sea and great cracks in the earth. Here, an email from an eyewitness corrected what has always been the worst problem with the way in which television news reports disasters — the microscopic angle of vision. It’s so easy to confuse the fragment of reality on the screen with the whole and think that things are worse than they really are, and it only makes it worse when you have Geraldo Rivera or some other such idiot babbling melodramatic voice-overs. That email from J-List served as a comforting assurance that things are never so bad that you can’t be sold something fun, whether it’s absurdly fun, obscenely fun, or just exotically tasty fun.

Likewise, Twitter makes it possible for individuals on the spot to disseminate information instantly, to a lot of people, and over vast distances, without waiting for a producer to contact them and get them on the air. Of course, Twitter probably won’t help much if your electricity and your mobile data network are both down (both of which seemed to be issues for a lot of people in Tokyo). But if you can Tweet, that by itself is at least somewhat reassuring. Anime News Network — the otaku answer to IMDB, started a list of links to Twitter feeds from people known to anime and manga fans — perhaps most notably superstar seiyuu Aya Hirano and Yui Horie — and added to it throughout the day. Of course, you’d have to be able to read Japanese to comprehend most of it. But (as I noted here) seiyuu Yuu Asakawa is reasonably fluent in English, and she maintains a Twitter feed in English; the same seems to be true of J-Pop star Hikaru Utada. And Azumanga Daioh creator Kiyohiko Azuma Tweeted a pic that presumably shows some of his action figures in a toppled-over state.

In a lot of ways, I really am an aging fart, and I generally dislike the unending news cycle with which we live these days, as well as the time pressure that instantaneous communication places on us. But I have to admit that in a situation like this one, in which it is all to easy to fear the worst (and things even worse than the worst), the faster you can get information that allays those fears, the better.


In the couple of days right before the terrible Sendai quake, I dealt with insomnia in one of my usual ways, by wandering through YouTube well into the night. Mostly anime-related stuff, of course. And I came across something that encouraged me to re-visit “Aria: The Animation:”

It’s an insert song from the OVA, “Arietta,” sung by the late Eri Kawai. As a close-enough approximation of an Italian Baroque canzone, I find it delightful, and it’s just the sort of detail that — for me, anyway — takes an anime out of the ranks of “worth watching once” to “worth having in the permanent collection.”

Not that my opinion of “Aria” needs to be reversed; as I said here, I kind of liked the first series, and found that it had some subtly interesting aspects that make it worth an open-minded viewing from outside its shojo target audience. Since then, I’ve had a look at Kozue Amano’s original manga, and have come to appreciate her gift for whimsy, capturing the frozen moment and letting symbolism carry the emotional weight of her storytelling. I’m open to the possibility that the sequel anime capture those gifts more fully than the first series did.