Book: The Japanification of Children’s Popular Culture: From Godzilla to Miyazaki


The Japanification of Children’s Popular Culture: From Godzilla to Miyazaki

English Book Title

The Japanification of Children’s Popular Culture: From Godzilla to Miyazaki


Mark I. West


Scarecrow Press





By: Nicholas Driscoll

Who wants to spend over fifty dollars on a Kindle book of supposedly academic essays about Japanese pop culture and its effect on children’s media in the West? This seems like the kind of price and the kind of quality of a book your merciless college teacher might force you to buy for his course, and I’ll just say… you are way better off buying a used copy for four bucks, my friends. But I guess I helped fund someone’s academic career, or maybe just a purchase of a few pizzas or something. Anyway, let’s jump into the criticizing.

As mentioned above, The Japanification of Children’s Popular Culture: From Godzilla to Miyazaki is a collection of academic essays (nineteen of them to be exact—they never seem to end) put together by Mark I. West, who is/was a professor of English working in North Carolina. Fans of Godzilla will be pleased to know there are several essays about Godzilla in the front of the book—but will be much less pleased once they start reading. While some of the essays can be pretty interesting and some sweet, sweet insights are occasionally gleaned, the overall sense is of a book poorly put together, often with subpar writing and little academic merit. If you paid fifty bucks, your takeaway will probably be a sense of mourning for your wallet.

Let’s go through the essays as fast as possible. I don’t want to spend a lot of time on this.

“Godzilla, the Evolving Monster” by Dale Pike.

If you are a Godzilla fan who has read much and is familiar with the fandom, this essay won’t really do much for you. Yep, it goes over the history of Godzilla and how he started as a dangerous monster and allegory for nuclear warfare and… yawn… later became a hero. I guess since this essay was written back in 2008 this stuff might seem new, but even back then Godzilla had already gone back and forth from villain to hero to villain and this is pretty boring. Pike theorizes that Godzilla endures because he is so wild and isn’t just pegged as evil or good, which he attributes to Shinto teachings and their more finessed view of the shades of gray in life. And that’s about it.

“Reptar: The Rugrats Meet Godzilla” by Jan Susina

Susina points out that Reptar was inspired by Godzilla. Susina compares some of the episodes and movie appearances of Reptar to Godzilla, though she spends a lot of time just describing what happens in the episodes or giving some background information about the creators. Her conclusion is that Reptar is more dangerous than Godzilla because Reptar was so commercialized.

I’ll just leave it at that.

“Invasion of the Japanese Monsters: A Home-Front Report” by Mark I. West

West, the editor of this entire volume, writes an essay detailing the various Japanese properties that his son, Gavin, likes, such as Pokemon and Godzilla and Ghibli stuff, and theorizes about why Gavin liked these things. He thinks it might be because… not all the monsters are bad, which is a reflection of Shinto beliefs. Monsters teach kids how to control their “primal impulses.”

The end.


“Hello Kitty in America” by Kathy Merlock Jackson

Some interesting stuff in this one, maybe because I am not as familiar with Hello Kitty culture and the incredible number of huge fans who collect Kitty merch, including adults. One of the notable things about Hello Kitty is just how long the fad has continued. The essay includes some information about Japan’s understanding of cute culture. One quotation, from a critic named Jimmy Nelson about how “horrendous” life is in Japan and how Japanese people love going into fantasy worlds because of it, was especially interesting. This essay is pretty long, but for me had its merits.

“The Allure of Anthropomorphism in Anime and Manga” by Fred Patten

Kind of a history of funny animal/anthropomorphic animal stories in comics and animation, starting with information about the West, and then going through animal comics and animation in Japan, such as Kimba the White Lion and Hutch the Honeybee. There is also discussion of catgirls and a bit about how monsters in Japan are not always bad.

“We All Live in a Pokemon World: Animated Utopia for Kids” by Cary Elza

An essay about the Pokemon phenomenon, the controversy, and so on. The essay includes a lot of guesswork as to why Pokemon monsters and the like are so popular, and how the show gives kids a power fantasy where kids are in charge and important. The section about the controversy over the Pokemon phenomenon was especially interesting to me, but the essay is very long and seems a bit unfocused.

Pokemon as Theater: Training the Pocket Monsters of Self and Consumerism” by Mark Pizzato

Pizzato writes another long essay about the Pokemon phenomenon, this time with quite a bit about the card game, and various symbols in the show and how it teaches kids and how Pokemon reflects Japanese beliefs and values. Pizzato claims Nintendo is owned by Hasbro. It’s not true.

“Japanese Dominance of the Video-Game Industry and the Future of Interactive Media” by Joe Wezorek

Since I love reading about videogames, this was a bit interesting to me. It’s a kind of history of Japanese games, with misspelled Japanese game developer names and some disdain thrown towards Toho Pictures for good measure.

“Jet-Set Kids: Mutation/Seduction/Hybridization” by Derek A. Burrill

Burrill tries to analyze the “nice” style vs. the “epic” style of entertainment properties in Japan—“nice” being cute, “epic” being guns and fighting and coolness, and then discusses an example of a game that embodies both—Jet Set Radio from Sega.

“Interviews with Adolescent Anime Fans” by Brent Allison

Allison interviews U.S. anime fans, trying to find out if Japanese animation works as a sort of “informal education” to the fans, what they think about Japan, and how they interact with their own culture as a result. Some interesting insights here.

“North American Reactions to Yaoi” by Antonia Levi

Explores the increasing interest in boy’s love (sort of idealized homosexual love) manga in the West. Again, kind of interesting. Relies on a lot of interviews, and some of the results are kind of surprising.

“Paradigm Lost: How the Rising Ubiquity of All Things Japanese Ruined the National Pastime for One American Father” by Bill Davis

An ostensibly humorous piece full of vitriolic sarcasm and colorful and ridiculous assertions as Davis claims basically that Japanese media is terrible. Representative quotation: “Even as a boy, I knew that all things Japanese were crap.”

“Two Worlds, United by Anime” by Elizabeth Flynn

An autobiographical essay about Flynn’s life and her consumption of anime in Japan and in America. Like the previous essay, this one is not very academic, but at least it’s not a sarcastic screed.

“The Cross-Cultural Appeal of the Characters in Manga and Anime” by Hiroaki Hatayama

A Japanese man waxes long about why Western youth are interested in manga and anime. His conclusions aren’t surprising: Often the same reasons young people like them in Japan.

“The Censorship of Japanese Anime in America: Do American Children Need to be Protected from Dragon Ball?” by Rieko Okuhara

A fairly in-depth look at some specific instances wherein sexual jokes especially were edited out of Dragon Ball in the West, and why Okuhara thinks that is unnecessary. I found this one somewhat interesting, though her conclusions are basically just her opinions, and her English should have been edited a bit more (no offense to her at all—just a good idea when publishing something).

“Early Japanese Animation in the United States: Changing Tetsuwan Atomu to Astro Boy” by Brian Ruh

An in-depth look at how the original Tetsuwan Atom was changed for American audiences. Pretty interesting actually, at least to me, including some details about the Battle of the Planets adaptation and the original animation made for the American version that I had not heard about before.

Inu Yasha: The Search for the Jewel of Four Souls in America” by Nicoloe Farrell

An exploration of the popularity of Inuyasha in the West. I read it, and I don’t remember much about it, but it’s quite in-depth. Maybe not worth fifty dollars, though.

“Folklore and Gender Inversion in Cardcaptor Sakura” by Bill Ellis

Looks in great detail at how Cardcaptor Sakura takes the story of Sleeping Beauty in one particular episode and uses that story in profound ways to advance character development and comment about gender relations. I found the analysis insightful.

“Anima and Anime: Environmental Perspectives and New Frontiers in Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away” by Nathalie op de Beeck

An in-depth analysis of two Ghibli movies. Definitely has some insights that fans of those films might find interesting.

Last words:

Honestly, I found a lot of this book underwhelming—especially the Godzilla essays—but several essays contain nuggets of gold which may make the reading a worthwhile endeavor, especially for fans or media-loving academics. Like many academic books, though, buying a new copy can be expensive, and I personally didn’t find this collection anywhere near worth fifty dollars. Fans of kaiju will also find several dismissive or even scathing opinions on tokusatsu, which may be annoying for some readers. I’d recommend most readers pass on this one.

Note on the cover: For some reason, the more expensive Kindle version comes with a black and white cover, so it looks even worse than the already terrible art on the color version.