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Japanese Dream
© Alan Riquelmy
September 17, 2002

So you want to go to Japan for the sole purpose of finding all that quality anime, the stuff you’ll never be able to find here in the states, the movies and
OAVs of legend that are only hinted at in anime guidebooks. That’s what I thought I’d find when I went there.

Eighteen long months I spent in Japan, searching uselessly for the kind of movies and manga that I had always heard about, but never truly seen. All throughout the Kansai region I plodded in a vain attempt to locate just one movie, one DVD to wow my friends back home with. And did I find it? Did I?

Well, yes, I did. But there’s a big problem with anime and manga in Japan. Maybe you’ve already stumbled upon the dilemma I faced when looking for anime in the land of the rising sun. For some reason before I left for Japan I had fooled myself into thinking that language wouldn’t be a barrier, that
somehow I could muddle through a year, even more, without being able to speak one coherent sentence in Japanese.

And I did. To this day I’m able to say, in Japanese, only two sentences: “My name is Alan” and “I can’t speak Japanese.” Bemoan my lack of cultural sensitivity if you will; live in Japan for over a year and then empathize with me.

It’s easy to survive in Japan without knowledge of the language. At times I thought even easier than living here in the United States where I do speak the language. Fluently. But accessibility of different languages is not so prevalent in Japan as it is here. Sitting in my living room I can find Spanish TV
stations, call my bank’s helpline and get assistance in different languages, and go to the bookstore and find books, movies and magazines in a variety of languages.

Not so in Japan. Oh, sure, it was easy enough to find some bookstores that had a large English section. You could get all the John Grisham or J. K. Rowling books that your heart desired. You could even find some manga translated into English (poorly, at times). Right now, sitting behind me on a bookshelf, I have quite a collection of "Love Hina," "Ah! My Goddess" and "The New Kindaichi Files" in English. Great manga, but stuff that I could get in this country if I looked hard enough. And probably for cheaper, too.

But try to find anime in English in Japan and you’re going to find yourself up a creek, paddleless. The society, the culture is just too homogeneous to
translate all of its manga and anime, or even a fraction of it, into different languages. It was simple enough to find flicks such as "Ghost in the Shell" and "Blood: The Last Vampire" in English. But this is stuff that I’ve already seen back home! I want something new, something distinctly Japanese that we can’t get in the states.

Nigh-impossible. There’s just too much manga and anime produced in Japan to translate even the tiniest portion into English—not that English would even be their first choice of languages to translate it into. You’d be surprised at how many German manga I found floating around used book sales over there. And, again, cheaper than anything in English.

Think about some of the varied genres of anime that comes out of Japan every year that we never hear about or see. Anime about tennis, about baseball, about go even. Do you have any idea how boring it is to watch a 30 minute show every week about people playing go? Why would something like that ever get translated into English?

If you can imagine an anime, I’d put money down that it exists. Business, cooking, any kind of sport, anime for kids, for adults, for adults who like a bit of kink in their lives, about politics, history, anything, everything. It’s all there, but completely inaccessible because there’s absolutely no reason for anyone to translate all this stuff. For the most part we wouldn’t want to see it anyway.

And even the anime that we would want to see you can’t find in English. Why? Because Japanese people don’t want to watch their anime in English, they want to see it in Japanese! Why pay extra money for a DVD with subtitles or dubbing in a language that you don’t know? Sounds kind of silly, doesn’t it?

But I understand there are those of you out there that study Japanese for the sole purpose of reading manga and watching anime in its unspoiled form. More power to you. I met plenty of people in Japan that studied English for the sole reason that they wanted to watch American movies without having to rely on subtitles. But every single one of them told me the same thing: In the movies they talk too fast, their accents are too difficult to understand, they use too much slang, or cursing, or whatever, that makes it very difficult to comprehend what’s going on.

Ultimately, it comes down to this: all the anime you want to see is already at your fingertips here in America. The same with martial arts. The same with manga. If you import it, you better speak—and read—Japanese, Cantonese or Mandarin as the case may be. You know, I still haven’t seen "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon." I looked everywhere in Japan, and found it in a number of video rental shops. But there was this one little problem about the subtitles that I just couldn’t get around. . . .
Alan Riquelmy used to spend his time searching Tsutaya stores for "Cutey Honey" OAVs. He now wanders the local Blockbuster asking frightened store clerks where the hentai section is.

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