Apr 10, 2021Liked by Noah Smith

The fascination with things Japanese play a very interesting role in Western cultures, European, American, in particular. Because the Dutch enjoyed privaliged trading rights in Japan from their base on Dejima off Nagasaki they were probably the first to feel the influence of Japanese woodblock prints. Artists like Rembrandt were aware of a Japanese style that was radically different from the standard styles coming out of the Renaissance. You would not mistake what Hokusai or Hiroshige had done with what Durer had produced. By the late1850s after Japan had been forcibly opened up by Commodore Perry and the treaty ports were created, woodblock art flooded the art markets of Europe, notably Paris. Vincent van Gogh, for instance, was profoundly influenced by Japanese art.

The reason: it was unusual, it was different! It was very colorful and evocative - depictions of stops on the Tokaido, views of Mt. Fuji, kimono clad persons gathered in densely packed marketplaces, exotic fish, shunga, and so forth - hence a challenge to Western conventions. It shared with the indigenous European folk art that was being widely collected by sophisticated audiences in Europe a perspective on artistic endeavors that was not mainstream. In music the scales used by folk artists differed from the standard twelve note major/minor scales that were standard in so-called classical music for instance. Where things Japanese parted company with European folk art was the level of sophistication.

As I understand the appeal of "weeb" culture in America today it is a kind of folk art movement that draws upon Japanese anime, video games, and manga. Like the European variant of the 19th century it is the merger of Western folk art tendencies with Japanese cultural artifacts, Not surprisingly what the folk art culture in America does with its Japanese artifacts -how an American audience feels emotionally about the Japanese artifacts - is going to be very different from what Japanese feel about these things.

That said there are going to be people - like me for instance - who have spent a lot of time in Japan, reading and speaking the language, who are able to appreciate the Japanese artifacts in a manner fairly similar to the way Japanese do. When I lived in Japan I read manga on a regular basis. My original interest in Japan was piqued by savoring the art of Hokusai. For us, the world of "weeb" is foreign territory. We are not part of the American subculture fascinated by :weeb" folk art.

In the same sense nobody would confuse van Gogh's paintings of cherry blossom trees or his versions of woodblock pictures with what artists like Hokusai and Hiroshige produced. Vincent was responding to a deep seeded desire to incorporate folk art into "high art" and he found the Japanese example helpful in realizing that ambition.

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Apr 10, 2021Liked by Noah Smith

Rawhide Kobayashi is a very important reference point in this discussion imo:


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Apr 10, 2021Liked by Noah Smith


Where would you put Gundam Wing on that silly meme?

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Apr 11, 2021Liked by Noah Smith

man, I'm sobbin. You articulated the weeb culture experience scarily accurate.

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As a lifelong weeb, I seriously doubt that it’s romantic. However, this is the first attempt I’ve ever seen to explain why anime specifically and weeb culture generally are becoming so popular.

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Apr 10, 2021Liked by Noah Smith

Interesting piece, Thank you!

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Missed opportunity to contrast weeb culture outside of Japan with Airsoft Culture within Japan. There is a similar rose coloured glasses idolization of the US Military within Japan Airsofters. Who are very jealous at probably never being able to fire a gun unless they travel to the US as tourist for the experience of firing "real steel" firearms. Which some do.

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> At some point, people on 4chan started using it as a term for “wannabe Japanese” — i.e., non-Japanese people who idolize Japanese culture.

That's optimistic!

It was a word filter for "wapanese" which comes from "wigger" which… you know. Everyone kept using it afterward because it didn't sound as much like a slur and there were new fun variants like ouiaboo / teaboo / weedaboo.

I notice no major company uses it in marketing yet, when they did sometimes use "otaku".

> If you look at the art weebs draw — whether stuff on sale at conventions or their own doodles on their Instagram pages — there will be a lot of scenes of young lovers holding each other tenderly, girls gazing up at the moon, young men brooding, and so on. This has nothing to do with the raw, exaggerated, pornographic sexuality of hentai.

Mostly commercial I think, since the people at anime conventions are mostly young women (yes, really), and of course it's legally a lot harder to sell adult art in the US than at Comiket. But there really is that much adult art being drawn on the Japan side, it's part of why their fanart is so much more technically skilled than Western ones.

> Others take trips (pilgrimages?) there.

They're called pilgrimages in Japanese (聖地巡礼). I think you knew that though.

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Hello. Weeb here.

This is an interesting article, with a misleading title. A better title would be something like "Why Marginalized People Enjoy Weeb Culture" or "The Psychology of Weebs." For an article claiming to be about "Everything you didn't want to know about the non-Japanese people who love Japanese pop culture" there is surprisingly little concrete about said Japanese pop culture or weeb culture in general. You didn't mention waifus, husbandos, tsunderes, moe culture, any other anime tropes, Akihabara, anime websites and their backgrounds, subs vs dubs, the anime industry, the voice acting industry, the manga industry, importing stuff, Japanese cultural norms, values, folklore, and so much more. A missed opportunity. You didn't even talk much about anime, claiming that you don't even watch much and wouldn't even call yourself a weeb! How can you write about weebs and not mention even a single famous anime?!

The content isn't bad, heck, some of it is very good, but the focus is wrong for something with that title and subtitle and goal of promoting the subculture to those who don't understand it. How are you promoting the subculture if you don't go into any specifics on what makes up the subculture? You got so caught up in the abstract politics/racial aspects that you missed some core concrete stuff. The reason weeb culture is inclusive is because weebs look past all of that stuff and focus on whats fun. If weebs would spend time focusing on the stuff this article focuses on, then weeb culture would stop being inclusive.

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One of the cooler things about Japan was that every time I've visited it seems to have multiple large sub-cultures that are visible from the outside, and isn't in some ways absorbed or pushed into a corner by a mainstream culture. Tokyo is the only large city I've really felt that in, the subcultures of Harajuku or Akihabara are all visible, you can go visit, even engage with, while not being a part of it yourself. Few cities have such an open buffet to pick from. This, to some extent, also helps make weeb possible. And while I'm not a weeb either, I get its gravitational pull!

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Oct 1, 2022·edited Oct 1, 2022

> And yet despite the fact that I’ll never really be a part of weeb culture, I want to understand it, to theorize it, to bring a taste of its beauty to the wider world.

I figure these videos from Gigguk (anime analysis/review/etc YT channel) might interest you - as a perspective from inside of the fandom. In reverse chronological order:

2017 "How Close is Anime to Mainstream?" https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xLIUW-h8siE

2013 "AZ Rant: Anime Becoming Mainstream?!" https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ryzAJqGDz40

(also maybe this from 2020, but it's a fragment of a podcast: "Is Anime Finally Going Mainstream?" https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YOrhlmeMITU)

Also, this analysis by Conrad Bastable touches upon cultural significance of anime (tho it's mostly an response to "Meditations on Moloch"):

"Moloch is Our God: AI, Mankind, and Moloch Walk Into A Bar — Only Two May Leave" https://www.conradbastable.com/essays/moloch-is-our-god-ai-mankind-and-moloch-walk-into-a-bar-only-two-may-leave

Also, radically different angle than in this text:

> One of the differences between Japanese media targeted at 12-18 year olds and Western media for the same demographic is that the Japanese media introduces adult themes and puts real stakes on the outcome of character’s decisions, in a visceral way that often punishes characters for failing and pulls away the fairy-tale-veneer coating much of Western media.

> So in [Hunter x Hunter], the protagonist experiences real hardship and accountability — his mistakes have permanent consequences for his friends, family, and community. His (real) father left when he was just a baby, and his core character motivation for the whole series is to find and reconnect with his dad by proving himself strong enough.

> He follows The Hero’s Journey, and things go wrong, and he gets taken under the wing of an experienced hunter who becomes our Hero’s adoptive father figure, and things go even more wrong, and he has to rescue his adoptive father from the Underworld, like a good Hero.

> Except he fails at the very end, where it counts most, at the story’s climax.

> And his adoptive father’s limp corpse is dumped in front of him by his Super-Intelligent Super-Human killer, forever dead, unresurrectable, unsaveable. Uber fail, yo.

> How should the good and virtuous Hero respond to such failure?

> How does Harry Potter respond to Sirius’s death inches away from him? Tears and angst and impotent rage and…and…Cruciat-? Oh, that’s right: “…although Harry's curse was intense, he still lacked the fundamental sadism to inflict prolonged, excruciating pain with it.“ She only killed Harry’s adoptive father figure inches in front of him, no big deal, no reason to want to hurt her…

> How does Rome respond when Hannibal turns a fifth of their men into so many corpses? As noncommittally as Harry Potter?

> No, in Japan, at the climax of their stories, their heroes have the option that all adults have: to make the Deal with the Devil. Sacrifice everything to Moloch. Throw it all into the flames. All Roads Lead to Rome, and all sufficiently intense competition leads to Moloch. Anything less is still just a fairy tale.

> So our cute green-shirted spiky-haired Hero sacrifices the very thing that he cares most about, the reason for the whole show — his ability to improve himself, and therefore any chance of reconnecting with his real father — in order to Win. That’s Moloch’s price. Never again can he do what he loves, never again will he be allowed to fight, never again can he level up like Rocky. His plan to meet his real father must be discarded, it’s all gone, forever, the story’s eternal soul.

> Moloch rewards his followers, so the “fight” is ended in a single-blow (wait wasn’t this the “high-action” genre? Right, but we sacrificed all of that), and there’s no joy in it anymore, all the happiness and color bled out of the show on the floor earlier, victory comes at the cost of everything else, and the enemy, the Super-Intelligent Super-Human foe, is obliterated with stomach-churning brutality — except she wasn’t meant to be the show’s final act! Our Hero still had to find his father! But he doesn’t care. Victory secured. Global minimum. Scipio wept, but only after Carthage burned. Curtains down — and nobody feels good. The show is functionally over: our Hero sacrificed the very reason for its existence.

> That doesn’t matter, though. Strategic dominance achieved.

> It’s heavy, for a kids show. It’s heavier than anything you can watch this weekend at the movies.

> This isn’t an anomaly either — to watch another teenage boy make the same Deal with Moloch, you can also read the 10th best selling manga of all time, Bleach

> Thesis: this stuff resonates because it has something to say, and for the (competitive) kids who are listening that something is a reflection and an extension of their worldview. As for why Japan is willing to say this stuff to kids when nobody else is, well. I’ll save the post-WW2 analysis for a later essay, but let’s just note and be thankful that Japan refused the Deal with Moloch when he reared his head in 1945.

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> Cartoons and cosplay are themselves are still seen by some as a childish pastime or a form of escapism.

They are, in a way. From Gwern's "The Melancholy of Subculture Society":

> The hikikomori withdraws from all personal contact. The hikikomori does not hang out at the local pub, swilling down the brewskis as everyone cheers on the home team. The hikikomori is not gossiping at the rotary club nor with the Lions or mummers or Veterans or Knights. hikikomoris do none of that. They aren’t working, they aren’t hanging out with friends.

> “The paradoxical solitude and omnipotence of the otaku, the new century’s ultimate enthusiast: the glory and terror inherent of the absolute narrowing of personal bandwidth.” ~William Gibson\

> life is short and a zero-sum game. You lose a third of the day to sleep, another third to making a living, and now you’ve little left. To be really productive, you can’t divide your energies across multiple cultures—you can’t be truly successful in mainstream culture, and at the same time be able to devote enough effort in the field of, say, mechanical models⁠, to be called an Otaking⁠. A straddler takes onto his head the overhead of learning and participating in both, and receives no benefits (he will suffer socially in the esteem of the ‘normals’, and will be able to achieve little in his ‘hobby’ due to lack of time and a desire to not go overboard).⁠⁠

> The otaku & hikikomori recognizes this dilemma and he chooses—to reject normal life! He rejects life in the larger culture for his subculture⁠⁠⁠. It’s a simple matter of comparative advantage⁠; it’s easier to be a big fish in a small pond than in a large one

> As ever more opt out, the larger culture is damaged.⁠⁠ The culture begins to fragment back into pieces. The disconnect can be profound; an American anime geek has more in common with a Japanese anime geek (who is of a different ethnicity, a different culture, a different religion, a different language…) than he does with an American involved in the evangelical Christian subculture. There is essentially no common ground—our 2 countrymen probably can’t even agree on objective matters like governance or evolution!

> With enough of these gaps, where is ‘American’ or ‘French’ culture? Such cultural identities take centuries to coalesce—France did not speak French until the 1900s (as The Discovery of France recounts), and Han China is still digesting & assimilating its many minorities & outlying regions. America, of course, had it easy in starting with a small founder population which could just exterminate the natives.

> The national identity fragments under the assault of burgeoning subcultures. At last, the critic beholds the natural endpoint of this process: the long nightmare of nationalism falls like a weight from the minds of the living, as the nation becomes some lines on a map, some laws you follow. No one particularly cares. The geek thinks, ‘Meh: here, Canada, London, Japan, Singapore—as long as FedEx can reach me and there’s a good Internet connection, what’s the difference?’

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What ever happened to the Anime production of Niven & Pournelle's 'Ringworld' ?

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Sorry off topic but important. I would love to see you interview “Naomi Wu” @realsexycyborg. She’s a fascinating person. However I’d advise thorough preparation work to avoid getting eviscerated.

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New reader here, so apols if this is already well known to your regular readers, but in the spirit of examining and thinking about subcultures: you reference punk quite a bit in this article. We’re you involved in a punk scene? If so, when and where?

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Weeb culture is romantic? Sure, sure, but Japanense culture itself is super nostalgic! Just listen to 卒業写真.

Japanese people have their own obsession with the anime high school experience, hence why they created the dating sim video game (which you should read up on on places like Hardcore Gaming). And the club stuff is legit.

Actually, the secret to reaching Weeb Perfect Form is listening to lots and lots of Yumi Matsutoya.👍👍👍

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