The Japanese pop culture invasion or J-Pop of American youth culture markets, while still under the radar from a slow-to-market Hollywood/Entertainment point-of-view, is a subculture that’s captured the hearts and minds and creativity of more young people under the age of 17 than this nation may realize. More than $12.5 billion is spent annually on Japanese-inspired entertainment, from anime and manga comics, to art, books, films, toys, video games, and the growing fascination of cosplay—dressing as your favorite character, then going to local parties or Cosplay Conventions.
In our Global Youth Culture Studies, next to the Harry Potter books, it’s manga comics that a large percentage of readers under 15 site as what got them “into reading.” Why are young people reading manga? Often because the hero is an everyday boy or girl or animal…and they don’t always end happily. One of the best-selling manga’s is “Rurouni Kenshin” about 19th century Samuris that often do damage to average families. One of the most popular girl manga’s is “Fruit Baskets” about an orphan student adopted by a family that’s constantly hit by a curse.
While several years ago, Gwen Stefani’s “Harajuku Girls” brought considerable attention to the street fashionistas in this district of Tokyo, she is by no means the first to jump on the J-Pop train in America from a musician’s point of view: Before Gwen, Courtney Love co-created “Princess Ai” –-a manga story of a girl who becomes a rock star and escapes assassins.
The online culture of anime is soaring as seen by any number of online communities dedicated to specific characters, themes, games, and fashion design inspired by specific anime characters. But it’s cosplay that’s changing up the fashion and entertainment industries most recently (although still very much under the radar). Dedicated cosplayers in Japan are known to make a living from dressing specific characters in themed restaurants, and cosplay’s creating an entirely new annex for the porn industry, i.e. the EGL girls (elegant, gothic Lolita’s), which of course means big money all ‘round.
In video gaming, while the industry is known to test games within core fanbases before release, and thus inherently having a community that spreads the word about the game before it even hits the marketplace, cosplay-ers are also reshaping games and characters in terms of what they expect in their game—and voicing these opinions. Ironically, for video gaming that is, a large percentage of this community is made up of young girls. Through cosplay, the impact of the potential female audience of gamers has finally penetrated the notoriously male dominated creators of gaming in general, as seen in our Japan Youth Culture Study 02007.
Meanwhile, for other aspects of art, entertainment, and fashion, J-Pop continues to push the envelop in America in new ways, i.e., creating a new industry of anime fashion designers, video character creators, movie anime music score writers, J-Pop rock bands, and manga entrepreneurs from unlikely sources--and along with it, creating a new sense of identity for many of America’s so-called lost children, who, on some days, aren’t lost, but rather looking exactly like Aya from Psyhco le Cemu.—Kathleen Gasperini