Pinoy Otaku LiteraturePosted: March 29, 2014
The Filipino youth of this past two decades has an imagination highly influenced, if not dominated, by Japanese animation. Fanfiction, Wattpad stories illustrated anime-style, even the music and fashion sense – the symptoms are everywhere. This younger generation is an otaku generation.
I have been particularly exposed to this fact. During my time in the Ateneo de Davao, many members of the literary org, SALEM, were practically more into anime than literature, and were in the club with writing fanfiction as their main writing background. Many of my friends there were consequently anime fans. In Dumaguete I might very well be the first and so far only graduate student of Silliman University to have been made a member of its humble otaku club, SU MAGE, and several of my students in NORSU are no strangers to anime either. Indeed, I think I can say with some authority that anime has, after decades of mass exposure to it, thoroughly become an element of contemporary Filipino culture.
And, as the case of members of SALEM reflect, anime’s influence to our imagination has had profound influences in our creative output, particularly in our literature. Far more than published text, our youth’s exposure to narrative has been through anime, either on TV dubbed by our local stations, or streamed or downloaded online fansubbed, and this consequently influences their narrative: beginning Filipino writers inevitably write about Japanese scenarios, and in the rare event that they do write in Filipino contexts, Japanese cultural nuances will be found entering both the situation and the storytelling.
And I feel that to the beginning writers trying to enter the literary craft with only a background of writing fanfic or anime-inspired stories, the Filipino literary establishment has not always been kind.
Filipino Literary Objections to Anime
I have seen enough beginners’ writers workshops to hear of the many objections more established writers have on the way anime has influenced beginning writers’ imaginations.
Perhaps the most common objection I hear is that anime-inspired writing by Filipinos is being contextually inauthentic, pretentious even. What, writers ask, is a writer from Bangkal, Davao City, doing writing about Heian-era playboys or Tokugawa-era profligates? Filipinos should write about Filipinos, and true to that Deriada maxim, “you should write what you know,” and writing about Bangkal, Davao City is far more practical than imagining the interior of Himeji castle. More profoundly, writers opposed to this way of imagining (and yes, the objection really is in the way the youth imagine) will argue that the young people into anime are becoming removed from the Filipino consciousness, imagining that they are Japanese and consequently writing as if they were Japanese to a Japanese audience. Otaku imagination is a threat to Filipino identity.
The other most common objection to anime-inspired writing is that it has bad effects on the craft. Dominique Cimafranca, writing about “the curse of fanfic,” listed seven reasons why fanfic makes bad literature. The first six talk about craft, and I quote:
1. Fanfic bespeaks of laziness and lack of imagination on the part of the writer. Instead of creating their own characters and settings, they merely appropriate what others have built.
2. Because they use characters and settings which are, within their sphere of readership, already well established, fanfic writers do not take care to fully flesh out these elements. Readers unfamiliar with the source material are left high and dry.
3. Moreover, characters from TV and cartoons do not translate well into the page. On the screen, the frenetic action may hide their flatness and one-dimensionality; when put into prose, which demands greater introspection on the part of the reader, these faults come to the fore.
4. Likewise, character development is almost nonexistent in fanfic stories. Because they do not own the property, because they may be careful not to offend other fans, or simply because they love the characters too much, fanfic authors do not push the boundaries of their protagonists.
5. Characters in fanfic stories do not have flaws. In the minds of their writers, the characters are perfect; in fact, too perfect to properly describe in words. In the prose medium, which relies on
words, this is a fatal flaw.
6. Worse still, some fanfic writers may actually be infatuated with the characters they write about. This is so common that it even has a name within the fanfic community: the Mary Sue syndrome. Not only does this make for unbearable reading, it is downright creepy.
Additionally, some workshop panelists argue that because the influence material is popular culture, and as many works of popular culture are often formulaic, this renders the works themselves formulaic.
Anime as Part of Pinoy Identity
While I have no intention of contradicting sir Dom’s six points (or even the seventh, that fanfic can’t be published because of copyrights), there is something to be said about anime being cultural inauthentic to Filipinos and being formulaic.
While there is some weight to saying that exposure to anime detaches the youth from Filipino realities, it would be an exaggeration to say that it threatens to damage Filipino identity. For one thing, these young people may think Japan, but they most certainly do not live in Japan: they have to eat Filipino food, go to Filipino schools, meet Filipino friends, fall in Filipino love, perhaps even engage in Filipino sex. Inasmuch as culture is the way people live, they cannot possibly live like Japanese people in a Filipino reality, no matter how much affluence gives them the luxury of removedness from other Filipinos.
And then we have to argue that, contrary to what established writers argue, exposure to anime has instead become an indelible part of Filipino identity. Jessica Zafra once humorously wrote that the main catalyst behind EDSA 1 was the Marcos Administration’s suspension of Voltes V from TVs. By now two generations of Filipino have grown up exposed to anime, from the children of the late eighties and early nineties growing up with GMA’s dub of Dragon Ball or much later ABS-CBN’s dub of Naruto, to the children of the second millennium who grew up watching Code Geass and Gurren Laggan online. I must say here that to deny anime’s influence on Filipino culture is being removed from reality, being stuck perhaps in the nostalgic past (as many nationalists are, particularly the precolonial past) or being too highbrow as to be idiosyncratic.
And there we touch on two things: that arguments against anime-influenced imaginations on nationalistic grounds are founded on arbitrary preconceptions of a fixed Filipino identity; and that such a dismissal of anime is counterproductive.
When an established writer decries young people “not being Filipino enough” because of being too influenced by anime, there seems to be an underlying assumption that there is a definite, fixed Filipino identity, and anything from other cultures is “impurity.” But by this logic we can argue that electricity, which certainly is no Filipino invention, is an impurity in Filipino culture, and therefore we should not use electricity. The idea of a fixed Filipino identity is a delusion: cultural identity is not and never will be fixed. There are constants of course, but a culture that does not change is a stagnant culture. And is the role of art (and in this case literature) not simply to reflect culture but to create it? We can argue that not only is Filipino otaku literature being authentic to contemporary Filipino realities, it even does something which hitherto entirely local literature has not done yet: take Japanese ideas to add to Filipino self reflection. Luis Katigbak’s “Subterrania,” a poignant story about Pinoy hikkikomori, demonstrates this best. And on that note we must also say that resistance to Japanese influence in Filipino culture is not only being hypocritical on the New Criticism-influenced (and therefore Americanized) Filipino writers’ parts, it is downright impossible: cultural influence is inevitable, any resistance to it is futile.
I must here say that this dismissal of young writers’ anime-influenced attempts at writing is becoming counterproductive. It is turning off many young people who want to try writing. In the long run, this will risk alienating a whole sector of our collective imagination from our literary output, rendering our already elitist literature even more removed from its people. Hito o norowaba ana futatsu, as the saying goes, and all this cursing is not doing anyone good.
Futatsu no Bunka Baransu: Pinoy Otaku enters literature
And writers who dismiss anime as formulaic obviously do not know much about anime. The anime-manga industry is one of the most competitive industries in the world, one that rewards originality above all else. Just watching the anime (or reading the original manga) Bakuman. by the wonder duo of Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata gives a glimpse into the importance of being able to breathe in fresh ideas into the scene.
And more informed anime fans will be quick to point out that anime is perhaps the most intertextual and even the most literary form of pop culture. Literary-wise, I once wrote about how anime is no stranger to literary adaptation. Additionally, I’ve also written before how many anime titles were made with such deep understanding of literary principles that they could readily be considered literature themselves: the powerful subtlety of Clannad, the megalomaniacal plot intricacy of Code Geass, the compelling rootedness of Fullmetal Alchemist, just to name some popular choices. But if anyone is in doubt as to the literary nature of anime, I would like to introduce them to the works of Nishio Ishin, or perhaps of Kunihiko Ikuhara.
And anime, or at least Japanese pop culture, is the battleground of Takashi Murakami’s Superflat, the deliberate confluence – intersection, even – of pop and high art. Perhaps Filipino writers, who have been philistinically but dare I say accurately accused by Carlo Caparas of sitting on an ivory tower, have something to learn from anime’s at once mass and intellectual appeal.
So we have argued enough that anime, far from being detrimental to literary and artistic growth, is in fact the most conducive to it. How then does the Pinoy otaku go about starting literature?
For starters, the otaku must expand his fandom. More often than not the Pinoy otaku is into moe, a bit of shounen and shoujo here and there, and the odd niche fanservice (yaoi, RPG-based fantasy, or just straight plain ecchi). Anime for the Pinoy otaku is not a serious thing, it’s a source of immediate gratification. If the Pinoy otaku wants to go about writing, he must take anime more seriously. I could namedrop a lot of anime and manga titles here for your reference, but it’s best to describe it: find anime and manga that is difficult, and damn it try to understand whatever you choose to deal with. Kara no Kyoukai, Bakemonogatari, Eva, heck, even Five Cm per Second (there, namedropping).
And then, the established writers were somewhat right in saying that anime fandom limits the young, but only insofar as the young choose to limit themselves to their fandom. With the same willingness to try new titles, the anime fan who wants to write must begin exploring literature, particularly Filipino literature. Those six points on fanfic, after all, still stand, and while anime can offer a diverse worldview, it still does not present Filipino realities (something I have never denied – Filipino exposure to anime is the Filipino reality. Anime per se as an art form of course does not portray Filipino realities). And exposure to more literary anime will make literature easier, specially with Japanese literature (a bone I have to pick: an otaku with literary pretensions CANNOT be ignorant to Japanese literature – from the Kojiki to Murakami!)
Additionally, the Pinoy otaku should begin exploring his or her own nature as a Filipino. Xenophilia is not the necessary antagonist of local pride. If the Japanese teach us anything, it’s the opposite: foreign influence not only gives us fresh perspectives of our own culture, it even lets us enrich what we already have. The Pinoy otaku should begin reflecting on the Filipino realities around him or her, and with his or her exposure to anime he or she will have a perspective to it that older writers don’t. Additionally, his or her general worldview can be more expanded: a Pinoy otaku can always relate with the plight of the dispossessed Manobo, but the older writer who refuses to expose himself to contemporary realities can never fully understand being a hikkikomori.
When going about writing, the Pinoy otaku must consider that stigma by the literary establishment against Xenophilia and used it against them. You want to write a Welcome to the NHK-ish story but you’re from Arakan? Set that story in Arakan! Experiment. Write about a tsundere or a fujoshi in Tagum, or make a B’laan get lost in your sci-fi metropolitan Takamagahara where he meets and falls in love with Inari the goddess. Write what is true to you, and if such a reality is true to you, all you have to do is give it the trappings of reality to convince the readers that you are articulating a real experience. Just make sure your fandom doesn’t affect your craft. Yattermirou!
Waga My Way
This matter hits close to home because, as may be evident by now, I’m an otaku – literally, I stay at home (if you know the etymology of “otaku”) to expose myself to anime, and have suffered social repercussions for my fandom. I’ve been exposed to anime since I watched Akazukin Chacha as a five year old on Cartoon Network, and I’ve been a conscious anime fan since I was fourteen. I am listening to “Wave” by the Nico-Nico utaite Kradness as I write this, waiting for the latest episode of Nagi no Asakura to finish downloading. Heck, I have a friend, Kim Calub, who happens to be a dubber.
And anime has had a profound influence in my imagination. My earliest short stories, written in High School, had Japanese characters and had Japanese settings. I even wrote a story entitled “We Were Once Angels” (from Hironobu Kageyama’s “Bokutachi wa Tenshi Datta“). When I was in college I dabbled with anime in poetry (one poem was published in Ateneo de Davao’s folio because, I suspect, the obscure allusions were lost to the editors – Kurapika from HxH was alluded to with “the chain tears of red moon”), and while that didn’t succeed (yet) I had great fun. The eponymous character in one of my earliest published stories, “Kei by the Stream,” was inspired by Haku from Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away (my vanity refuses to call that work fanfic, but I can call it an environmentalist, Freudian take on Chihiro’s relations to Haku perhaps?). In my first story to win an award, “In the Manner Accustomed,” the main character calls his weeding trowel “Kusanagi.” In a recently written story the main character is listening to Akiko Shikata and Yuki Kajiura on the van from Mati to Kidapawan – the list is endless. Perhaps my first attempt at explicit anime-related writing is the short story “Cause-Play,” about a cosplayer in Davao and her misadventures. I have yet to find a venue for that piece of scandal.
Anime played a crucial role in my deep sense of romanticism, a flame that stems most likely from the fact that I’m Filipino. Because of exposure to titles by Key like Kanon and Clannad, Kidapawan mornings and afternoons seemed more emotionally intense. Love stories like Cardcaptor Sakura and Myself; Yourself made the people around me seem much more interesting (although arguably also much more daunting). To this day I still imagine my better looking characters with anime character designs.
If I had not been exposed to literature as well as anime (in high school I was reading Francois Copee while watching xxxHolic) I feel that I would no longer be writing today. The fact is the Philippine literary scene has become so alienating that unless you know your stuff you can’t enter it. While myself not much into fanfic, I feel I have to speak out for the fanfic writer with so much potential who gets turned off by some elitist CW majors brandishing Hemingway and Atwood. And yet I have to admonish the same fanfic writer for sticking to what he or she is comfortable with. How can you reach Bankai if you don’t go beyond relying on your Zanpakutou? You need to explore the rest of the world. Go, walk around Bangkal.
There has come to be a distinction between art as human profundity and art as entertainment and pleasure, and I am now in that part of my creative journey where I wish to blend them, to once again stay true to the Horatian maxim of “dulce et utile.” At the opposite sides of the spectrum are the writers – highbrow “experts” who take literature too seriously, pharisaically rendering it dry and daunting – and the otaku – the socially awkward serious fans who nevertheless don’t take the art they love seriously enough, inadvertently contributing to the low opinion on it as they stick to K-ON and the .hack franchise. Perhaps my being a bit of both (I’ve had my share of people accusing me of being too highbrow huhu) will make the dulce et utile project easier.
Or perhaps – and this may also prove true for the many beginning writers with only anime as background – this was inevitable, that my anime fandom invariably made literature easier and more pleasurable, and literature has made anime something more worthwhile than just entertainment.
Yes, kono yo ni guuzen wa nai, aru wa hitsuzen dake.