Across The Pond: Hot For The Orient

Hot For the Orient (first in a series)

As a columnist once said; some days you scratch around for a topic and other days it just lands on your lap. This is one of the latter. The subject of Japan had to come up sometime because I live in Japan but am not Japanese. After eight years here, the place is still a source of wonder and amazement to me and the 2000 AD message board are probably sick to death of the subject. What follows is a brief look at things Japanese in the comic world of 2000 AD.

I have just taken delivery of about 100 back issues of 2000ad from Prog 650 to Prog 750. They are beautiful by the way. Large comics with great covers. Put these next to a minute American comic or indeed 2000 AD as it is today and tell me that size doesn’t matter, I dare you!

I have only read three of these so far and my biggest surprise, after the fact that something from 1994 can seem so ancient, is that on the editor’s page the words “Tharg`s Nerve Centre” are written in English and Japanese. Yes, the katakana script the Japanese use for writing `foreign` words (i.e. most words they’ve borrowed from other languages since about 1870)is there, running along side the English. I`m delighted to find this because a minor hobby of mine is tracking the days when Japan Ruled the Earth. More accurately called The Time When Everyone Thought Japan Would Rule the Earth. You remember, don’t you? They had the second biggest economy. Sony had just bought an American movie studio and (by buying a record company) Prince and George Michael, proving that there were limits to their business acumen. Americans consoled themselves by having Michael Douglas in Black Rain, showing the Japanese that gut instincts and knowing how to have fun were more important than running the world. The shadowy company in the Alien movies went Japanese (well, Asian, but I wasn’t fooled), shaved Sigourney Weaver`s hair off and marooned her on a grey planet full of English character actors. Evil Japanese businessmen ate sushi off naked blonde girls while Harvey Keitel looked on in horror and Sean Connery practiced his Japanese (in Rising Sun). Michael Keaton demonstrated to a Japanese car company that instincts and knowing how to have fun were more important than making good cars.

Possibly most importantly William Gibson wrote his `cyberspace` novels, Neuromancer, Count Sub-Zero and errr, the other ones. These books made Sci Fi briefly cool again and introduced a world in which all the characters seemed to be foreigners living in Japan. Japan ran the world but the non-Japanese characters had all the street smarts and instincts (everybody was too cool to know how to have fun). Cyberspace had a ruinous effect on 2000 AD, producing some really lame new strips such as Wireheads and some pretty awful `cyberspace` sequences in old established strips such as Rogue Trooper. I remember a story in which most of the action took place in cyberspace with one of Rogue`s bio-chipped buddies fighting virtual sharks – an example of shark jumping? It was a relief when the editors calmed down and realized that things could still happen offline and that not every story needed to involve someone `jacking in`.

The Japan years also produced `Tracer`, a reject story from some spin-off that never happened, about (sigh) a tough, lovable foreigner living in Japan who shows the ruthless, automaton like Japanese that (all together now) instincts and knowing how to have fun are more important than being ruthless and efficient.

Right now everyone knows that Japan is not going to run the world (if China keeps on the way it’s going, I expect a similar rash of fear-fueled fiction) but it is still fictional fun and there is a new Shimura story in the Judge Dredd Megazine, complete with a shogun, Ronin Judge and a shuriken throwing android. Romantic as this sounds, the writer actually knows a thing or two about my adopted country and I recommend it to one and all.

You’ve been warned, there will be more ‘hot for the orient’ columns in the future!

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