Millennial Monsters: Japanese Toys and the Global Imagination

Millennial Monsters: Japanese Toys and the Global Imagination

Millennial Monsters: Japanese Toys and the Global Imagination

Millennial Monsters: Japanese Toys and the Global Imagination

Synopsis

From sushi and karaoke to martial arts and technoware, the currency of made-in-Japan cultural goods has skyrocketed in the global marketplace during the past decade. The globalization of Japanese "cool" is led by youth products: video games, manga (comic books), anime (animation), and cute characters that have fostered kid crazes from Hong Kong to Canada. Examining the crossover traffic between Japan and the United States, Millennial Monsters explores the global popularity of Japanese youth goods today while it questions the make-up of the fantasies and the capitalistic conditions of the play involved. Arguing that part of the appeal of such dream worlds is the polymorphous perversity with which they scramble identity and character, the author traces the postindustrial milieux from which such fantasies have arisen in postwar Japan and been popularly received in the United States.

Excerpt

Gary Cross

Those of us who work in the often uncharted jungles of American and European popular and commercial culture are continually encountering the “monsters” of Japan—those often cute and cool critters that, especially of late, seem to have crashed onto the scene. They make us wonder: Where did they come from? Why have they so captured the imagination of children and adults on a global scale? I have often thought a really informed book about why and how Japanese popular culture has succeeded in becoming (with American pop culture) the leading exporter of fantasy, especially to the young, would go far in explaining both cultural globalization and contemporary children’s commercial culture. in these covers, we have that book.

Of course, much of Japanese fantasy in anime, comic books, video games, and toys has been influenced by the West. For the first sixty years of the twentieth century, the Japanese playthings industry was indebted to German and especially American innovation. Linkages between Japanese and American children’s consumption were well established by the 1930s, when Louis Marx, the famous American manufacturer of windup Popeyes and racist “Alabama Coon Jiggers,” outsourced production to Japan. After World War ii, Japan became an exporter of robots and space toys made of tin cans to an American market eager for science-fiction and space themes: Japanese spaceships looked like hastily recycled tanks and other war toys, and the toy figures looked alien to Westerners because Japanese toy makers could not afford to license images of movie and tv icons like Flash Gordon and Space Cadet.

By the late 1960s, however, Japan was producing quality Datsuns and other cars for export, and it exploited the development of transistor and digital technology to drive American and European manufacturers of TVs, ra-

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