Anime Roundtable Special Edition: A conversation with Matt Alt – December 28 2020

Matt Alt and Peter Barakan with American and UK versions of Pure Invention: How Japan’s Pop Culture Conquered the World

Translator and Writer Matt Alt stops by with the intention of promoting his latest book “Pure Invention: How Japan’s Pop Culture Conquered the World”. But we ended up talking about many other topics concerning his work, and Japanese Pop Culture in general

2:29 – Matt talks about his TV work having been a co-host on Japanology Plus with Peter Barakan on NHK World Japan 

6:28 – Matt tells us of his admiration for Frederick Schodt and swaps a few stories with Mike and James. Including a number of Osamu Tezuka stories

15:28 – How perceptions have changed overtime about being a “nerd” when younger, and the “kidification” of adult tastes. Which is in many ways at the heart of the book

23:15 – On the topic of the book. Matt expresses his gratitude to having a younger editor who understood the concepts, helped keep the common threads through it, and held him responsible in making sure it was accessible to non-fans

29:20 – How the two parts of the book differed. And a thought on soft power and how it cannot be controlled, which is the issue with the “Cool Japan” initiative. And how important it was to its popularity that overseas fans had to search it out, instead of be fed it

33:35 – A thought on the original debate of Anime fans, subtitled vs dubbed. And a larger discussion on translations. And how being involved in them changed Matt’s view. And how much of it is really nothing personal, but really just business

50:15 – Matt gives a thought on how overseas audiences understanding the Yokai world helped the popularity and understanding of Demon Slayer outside of Japan

53:35 – A thought on City Pop Music. And how it illustrates our consumption of Japanese pop culture without realizing it at the time. And how it ultimately become cyclical

57:50 – Demon Slayer’s domestic popularity in Japan in the context of the pandemic, leading to the pandemic in Japan in general

1:00:46 – Mike brings up Tomomi Kahara and how she personified both the kidification mentioned earlier, and the rise of Kawaii Culture in the mid 90s. And a reminder of how young women drove urban culture and ultimately consumer culture

1:08:05 – How the 1954 US Comics Code (which banned American comics from venturing into adult material) couldn’t work in Japan because of its longer history of illustrated mature entertainment, with a quick thought on how woodblock prints moved from general consumer goods with various subject matter, to fine art. And how the refined and the vulgur exist side by side, from Houksai to Tezuka

1:16:19 – We give a few thoughts on the bookend chapters of the book. Matt gives a quick overview of the book’s last chapter and how internet boards like 4chan had its impact on US politics (j-pop culture, internet, 4chan, Japanese software). And James praises the first chapter’s method from connecting the (often overlooked) Japanese pop culture products of the immediate post war to the more well known ones beginning in the 50s

1:23:53 – We talk a little bit about Sanrio founder Shintaro Tsuji and how his odd and sometimes tragic life had its hand in shaping things there

1:26:56 – Some talk about Sony and their transition from hard products (electronics) to soft products (anime and video games). And how their moves are a harbinger of things to come with the further overseas market (and that there isn’t really a “domestic” or “foreign” market anymore). Within that, Mike tries to make sense of how Sony missed out on being the smartphone leader revolution despite having all of the pieces to do so 

1:38:10 – A thought on Netflix taking out the Japanese-ness out of shows in the future. But how it may not be that simple. And a question on the impact of their algorithm

1:42:44 – We conclude the chat with Matt encouraging people to contact him. Send him a tweet… 

We gotta do this again soon

Mike Nicolas, James Austin, with Special Guest Matt Alt

Links of Interest

Matt Alt on Twitter

Alt Japan (Matt Alt’s translation company he runs with wife Hiroko Yoda)

Pure Invention on Penguin Random House website

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