Friday, September 02, 2005

Comic World is Un-Korean

A couple of my students went to Comic World on Independence Day weekend (yeah, I'm two weeks behind. I know.) One of them was nice enough to buy a Simpsons button for me (as I have a habit of bringing up pertinent Simpsons episodes in class), while the other introduced me to the manga Death Note (the first 6 volumes of which can be found here; the rest are here - but be warned that it's addictive...).

While both of these girls mentioned that there was a great deal of cosplay (costume play - where people dress up like their favourite characters, for those not in the know), the girl who bought me the Simpsons button told me that 'the netizens were angry' about this. Why, you may ask? Well, one of the days upon which Comic World took place was August 15, Independence Day. And of course, as most people know, manga (manhwa in Korean) are primarily Japanese-made. Thus, dressing up as Japanese-created characters on a day celebrating your country's independence from Japan is just not very patriotic. And, perhaps, looking at these people to the left dressed as samurai, I can perhaps understand the sentiments of some of these people. At the same time, it's just kids having fun, and perhaps its refreshing to see people not concerning themselves with the past so much in Korea - or is it an example of the younger generation's self absorption? At any rate, this post over at Daum's KIN board (KIN, when turned 90° to the right, looks similar to 즐, a slang term in Korean meaning something akin to 'Piss off') has just the right antidote - people dressing up in traditional Korean garb, as Korean soldiers, and of course, as An Jung-geun (who assassinated former Japanese Prime Minister Ito Hirobumi in 1909). My Korean skills aren't that great, but basically the message is calling on people to be more patriotic and realize how shamefully they are behaving.

There are other posts of this type here and here. (If anyone wants to fill me in a little better on what's being said, feel free to).

Worth mentioning, though, is that these comics are introducing a great deal of Japanese culture to Korean kids, and I'm not talking about kimonos and samurai swords. Comic genres in Japan run the gamut from romance, to action, to historical, to hardcore pornography. And in that last genre you find a great many fetishes like rope binding and ritual scarring. The sullen, always bored 6th grade girl who introduced me to Death Note talked about her friends and their piercings, how they'd seen Japanese websites featuring photos of scarification, and how they'd scratched their names into their arms with knives. Whether she was just trying to get attention or not, she was obviously aware of the existence of this stuff at a rather young age. A lot of popular or underground culture in Japan is extreme in so many ways, but such extremity is found only in very small subcultures in other countries. Partaking of the cultural products of other cultures can provide an opportunity to learn and challenge existing perceptions. The internet doesn't place any age limits or filters upon this however. While I don't think the 'toe the nationalist line' message of the netizens criticizing the Comic World goers really had this in mind, it's probably still worth saying.


taemin said...

Hmmmm. Death Note some teens at one of those character play things introduced me to that comic. At that time, only volumes 1 and 2 were available, so I bought them and ate them up. When volume 3 was finally released, I bought it and was excited to pick up where I had left off, but for some reason I couldn't recapture the page-turning addictiveness that I had with the first 2. Volume 4 was even less impressive so I stopped.

My issue was that, while the original premise was pretty far fetched, rather than just going with that, it kept going farther and farther into the unbelievable. In the end I decided that there were other books I'd rather be reading.

matt said...

I guess there's a difference when you've got some 8 volumes available to read, all easily available online. I'd agree that the earlier volumes were more focussed, but despite some divergences (is that a word?) in the plot, there have been some rewards in the later chapters... but lately the story has slowed quite a bit (maybe because I'm reading each new chapter on a weekly basis?). Perhaps its one of the problems of the long-continuing serial format - you can run out of ideas or lose your focus after awhile, if you're not careful.