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Japanamerica: Why ‘Cool Japan’ is over
By Roland Kelts.

American journalist Douglas McGray’s 2002 Foreign Policy essay ‘Gross National Cool’ crystallized for many not only evidence that contemporary Japan had become hip and attractive, but also a nifty phrase to go with it. From Boston to Australia, “cool Japan” subsequently appeared in the titles of academic conferences, essays and articles addressing everything from Japan’s anime and manga imagery to fashion, style, pop music, and even food. It signified a national brand that packed a lot of soft power – the appeal of a culture’s sensibility and products. But that was eight years ago. And like most bits of journalistic shorthand, the phrase “cool Japan” is as convenient as it is vague. Does it refer to an aspect of the national or ethnic character that is fundamentally cool? Is it Japan’s capacity to absorb and then reinvent a range of outside influences that makes it so au courant in our smorgasbord 21st century? And, perhaps most pressing: If Japan is cool now, can it possibly 1/5

I’ve taken to calling this Japan’s pop culture branding gap. as I have during the past few months. anime conventions. very few of its fans know anything about the brands behind it. While cool Japan has amassed a vast audience overseas in the past decade. an English-language news portal site. but with scant enthusiasm. but that hardly matters. they may be too late. most of the industry’s online offerings are amateurish. Look up these companies online and visit their Web sites. They are knowledgeable. and worst of all. But today. it will likely be provided by the enterprising folks at the Anime News Network . dull – just the opposite of their vaunted products. and you won’t be surprised: If you find any information in English. Japan’s producers of pop culture can no longer afford to ignore the overseas market. artists and animators – continues to be virtually faceless outside of Japan. some posters on Wikipedia or ardent fans in their blogs. Audiences are large. Madhouse . and very colorful. with a shrinking youth demographic. inward-looking and provincial approach to brand marketing may have sufficed when Japan’s domestic market was still breeding successive generations of native otaku. hard to navigate. www. But there remains an unsettling gap between the American fans of cool Japan and the Japanese who actually make what’s cool. Quite a few industry producers and publishers still maintain Japanese-only Web presences. too. Industry stalwarts such as Studio Pierrot . Shogakukan and Shueisha barely register at U. While the faces of popular anime and manga characters elicit oohs and aahs and sometimes squeals of recognition when they flash on projection screens or parade past in cosplay events. where fans passionately recite and reenact their creations. imperiled economy and new competition from their Asian neighbors. the industry that creates them – producers. at least about the titles and characters they love – so much so that they are often costumed and made up to look exactly like those characters. You might hear the words Ghibli (usually mispronounced). In either 2/5 .25/07/13 Japanamerica: Why ‘Cool Japan’ is over » 3:AM Magazine stay that way? These questions resurface every time I make a round of appearances at anime conventions and university campuses in the United States. sometimes massive. Toei and Bandai batted about in conversation among older generations of American fans. Production IG . Unfortunately.3ammagazine. This antiquated. publishers.

They just haven’t been educated on how the industry works.5 million unique visitors per month. The brutal layoffs and cuts at TokyoPop . Crunchyroll announced a 250 percent growth spurt in the first quarter of 2010 over the past five quarters.” says Vince Shortino. May 17th. ABOUT THE AUTHOR Roland Kelts is a Temple University. lecturer who divides his time between Tokyo and New York.3ammagazine. when I interviewed them for this column. Vu Nguyen. Tell that to cool Japan. one of the United States’ most active promoters of cool Japan . 2010. Representative Director of Crunchyroll’s Japan office.25/07/13 Japanamerica: Why ‘Cool Japan’ is over » 3:AM Magazine According to a recent industry white paper. two years ago have been followed earlier this week by massive layoffs at VIZ media. “The old model of neglecting content on one-way video sites has become less and less effective. “Creating an Internet presence is about cultivating a two-way relationship with the user. the site’s co-founder and Vice President of Business and Development and Strategy. The slip means that North American publishers will release the lowest number of new manga titles this year since 2004. We’re doing our best to inform them.” One-way content delivery is over. He is the author of Japanamerica: How Japanese Pop Culture Has Invaded the U. told me: “The fans genuinely want to support creators and the industry. www. the veteran San Francisco-based distributor formed by five Japanese publishers in the late 1980s. the former anime fansite – by and for fans. manga sales dropped in North America for the second straight year in 2009. with 3/5 . This article is hosted by 3:AM and Daily Yomiuri . from a peak in 2007. Share Share Share Share More First published in 3:AM Magazine: Monday.S.” Earlier this month. Japan Campus. Fast. with pirated streaming content – that went legit via licensing deals with Japanese producers in 2008.. About the only bright spot in the recent spate of reports is news from Crunchyroll.

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