Turning Japanese

Anime, superheroes and the outsourcing of the American imagination

Once again, American tradespeople are being forced to stand by helplessly while they watch their jobs disappear overseas. But this time we're not talking about auto-plant workers or tech-support operators; the outsourcing epidemic has now spread to the creative community, to the good folks who draw our animated cartoons and our superhero comic books! And it's not some sinister corporation putting these people out of work. It's you.Every time you rent another anime DVD or buy another stack of manga, you're depriving a hard-working American geek of his pizza and Red Bull. How do you live with yourself?

Growing up as a comic book and animation fan, I wasted a lot of time trying to explain to friends and girlfriends that both mediums were capable of so much more than they were generally given credit for. Sure, I loved a really good superhero comic as much as the next dork, and I was a fanatic for the best of old school Disney animation. But I knew that comics had also produced much darker, more experimental artists (your R. Crumbs, your Art Spieglemans), and the animation festivals I regularly attended taught me that while Disney's influence was nearly all-pervasive on mainstream animation, there were plenty of genius weirdo doodlers out there in America's hinterlands who were creating art that deserved a far wider audience than it was getting.

I'd long dreamed of the day when bookstores at the mall would boast shelf after shelf of weird comics, when college kids would stay up late enjoying animation aimed squarely at adults. And then, in the '90s, something happened that I never would have predicted: superhero comics and hand-drawn Disney animation both plummeted in popularity, and suddenly people were actually interested in edgier, more idiosyncratic stuff . . . fromJapan.As I wandered through Borders, looking for TheR.CrumbCoffeeTableBookbut instead finding shelf after shelf of NakedBattleAngelSchoolgirlRobotsAreGo!,I felt like I was trapped in one of those morality tales where some dope makes a pact with the devil, and then all the dope's dreams come true but there's a horrible catch that makes the whole thing completely suck. And just like those dopes in the morality tales, all I could do was fall to my knees in the bookstore, throw back my head and scream NOOOOOOO! until the security guys hauled me out of there.

Superhero comics themselves are hurtin' bad sales-wise, but movies based on superheroes have never been doing better. State of the art CGI now enables filmmakers to take the feats of superheroic derring-do that were once confined to the comic book page and translate them into noisy, big screen action sequences that other people apparently find a lot more persuasive than your moldy fig of a narrator does. This week you have the chance to see some recent blockbusters based on comics nobody reads anymore, as Edwards Aliso Viejo presents Marvel Mania Week, with screenings of Spider-Man2(which doesn't suck), Daredevil(which does), X-Menand X2:X-MenUnited(which both offer pretty much equal amounts of non-suckage), all culminating in the July 8 debut of FantasticFour(which I'll go ahead and guess sucks just based on the trailer). For some reason, no screening of the first Spider-Manpicture is planned, so if you missed it I'll bring you up to speed: Tobey spent the first movie climbing walls, fighting bad guys and angsting over Kirsten Dunst. It was fun. The end.

It turns out this is Geek Week in OC, and this superhero movie deal pales to near insignificance when set against the awesome might of Anime Expo 2005. Whether you're a fan of anime or not, this show should be a skull-fuckingly strange spectacle. There will be copious screenings, panels, performers, merchandise for sale and costume shows where people actually show up dressed in the exotic costumes of characters from their favorite anime and manga. That means you'll see more fat little Pokemon waddling around than you'd ever want, but it also means grown women in schoolgirl outfits. Just keep nodding and saying, "Ah, yes, but Miyazaki will always be my favorite," and you're in.

Oh, I slag the anime and the manga, but even I will admit that some of this stuff is pretty excellent. You have to wade through a lot of crap to get to the gold, but that's true of any art form anywhere in the world. So go, see a superhero movie, hang around with some Pokemon, knock yourself out. But on the way home, stop and rent Pinocchioor Fantasiaon DVD, and drop into whatever comic book store you can find that's still in business and pick up a copy of Superman:TalesoftheBizarroWorld.

It's your patriotic duty.

MARVEL MANIA WEEK AT EDWARDS ALISO VIEJO, 26701 ALISO CREEK RD., ALISO VIEJO, (949) 425-3861. SUN.: SPIDER-MAN 2; TUES.: DAREDEVIL; WED.: X-MEN; THURS., JULY 7: X2: X-MEN UNITED. ALL SCREENINGS 9 P.M. $7-$9.50.

THE ANIME EXPO 2005 AT ANAHEIM CONVENTION CENTER, 800 W. KATELLA AVE., ANAHEIM, (714) 937-2994; WWW.ANIME-EXPO.ORG. FRI.-SUN. CALL FOR TIMES. $45 (THREE-DAY PASS); $40 (TWO-DAY PASS); $25 (ONE-DAY PASS); $20 (12 AND UNDER).

 
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