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The Weirdness of the Japanese

I hope Hollywood decides to make no more horror movies based on Japanese ones. They're really boring and not the least bit scarey. Right now I'm thinking of 'The Ring' and the 'The Grudge' and I've seen ads for 'Black Water' which I absolutely will not see or rent in the future because I learned my lesson from those first two. Both of them I fell asleep watching. The Ring, I know, got some good reviews and it was really beautiful to look at but I didn't like the characters and I didn't understand what was happening most of the time. I wasn't the least bit frightened because I didn't care so much if bad things happened to these two dimensional characters and I didn't quite get what was supposed to scare me, anyways.

The problem with Japan is that it's not America. In college I got interested in Anime films because they were really beautiful and I loved the concept of using cartoons to tell a story, but again - and please tell me if I'm really just stupid - I didn't get at all what was going on. Like in this one anime all the characters were really frantic about this glowing egg from which a magical dragon would pop out of and I knew it had to represent something - but what? I'm not Japanese. A glowing egg that a dragon pops out of is just a glowing egg that a dragon pops out of. That's all. I don't know what it means.

And what is the deal with Japanese school-girls? In all of these anime films there would be Japanese school-girls who would be represented as fully sexualized, eager and active. And the movies would let it be known that they were thirteen or fourteen. For a Westerner like me, it just seems more than a tad bit creepy. I know, in Japan they have vending machines that dispense used School-girl panties (Yes. True) And I also know that books about how to rub up against School-girls in the subway are best-sellers. It's their culture and I should respect it and not make judgements ... but, c'mon.

I rather enjoy some Japanese video games, but again, the weirdness just gets to me. One of the first games I played was called Zone of the Enders on Playstation 2. It's what's called a mech game, (ie) you control a giant fighting robot which you ride in, in this case the robot also flies.

I was already familiar with this variety of game from watching the Power Rangers on TV, mainly because of the delightful Amy Jo Johnson AKA The Pink Power Ranger. My ten year old nephew was quite confused as to why she was my favorite power ranger. He's older now and I presume he understands my preference.

In Zone of Enders you fly around in your giant robot, but the cockpit (so to speak) is at the top of a structure in the lower mid-section of the robot that bears more than a passing resemblance to a woody several stories high. Forgive me, but it just makes me uncomfortable playing a game from the tip of a huge robot penis. I don't why. Maybe it's just me.

Some Japanese video games I've enjoyed are Onimusha (the whole series) and ICO. They were so great because of the lovely worlds they created and if I never knew exactly what was going on, well, they were video games and I alway knew enough that if a monster attacks you then you fight it. The plots were just beyond me and I learned to stop asking myself why this or that was happening or who this person was and why they had wings. Here's one I still don't get: For some reason in Japanese video games chickens, of all things, seem to be set as the most terrifying monsters imaginable. The hugest Boss fights would be with gigantic, awful chickens. I've never been much scared of poultry, but it must reach deep into the dark depths of Japan's psyche.

Time for a little cultural relativism. Is it possible that perhaps some things about Americans seem a little off to the Asian mindset? Perhaps they find some things about us 'weird? Well, I've also played a few American video games where part of the plot of the game involved the elements of fire, water, earth, and air, like in Myst where you have to travel to worlds that represent each one, or any number of other games where you had to collect parts that represent the four elements and then put them together in some meaningful way.

It makes sense to me, but is the whole world as familiar with medieval European alchemy as we are in America? Probably not. Not everyone has the same background of myth as we do. Joseph Campbell didn't design their video games and movies like he did for us, so if they're a little backwards in that area, it's probably his fault.

Sad to say, I think this lack of cultural understanding is a generational thing, too. A lot of entertainment product that they wee ones are getting are coming to us courtesy of our good neighbors in the Far East. Our kids are growing up with this stuff. They know it, and they like it, while dinosaurs like me - and maybe you, too - are perplexed and baffled. Ever have a kid try and teach you Yu-Gi-Oh? I have and I guarantee you that I'm not now, nor ever will be a skilled Yu-Gi-Oh player.

And one day when all these kids grow up having been exposed to all these foreign Asian games, we'll all seem like the weird ones to them.

Well, we probably already do.

About the Author: Steve Sommers is the author of Breakfast with the Antichrist. His new novel, Rexroi, along with the best of Australian Science Fiction - is available as an ebook at, OR if you ABSOLUTELY need to turn pages when you read - at

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