Hood? No Good.

Figure 1

Apparently, hoods have a very negative connotation in Japan.

It was just a few weeks ago that I became aware of this, while walking to the mall with a Japanese friend. My ears started to get cold, so I put my hood on. Based on my friend’s reaction, you’d’ve thought I’d just put on a leather gimp mask.

“What are you doing??” she chirped, “Take that off!”

“Huh? Why?” I said.

“It looks suspicious!”

“Who cares? I’m freezing!” I said, leaving my hood on.

She’s short, but that didn’t stop her. She leapt up like she was shooting a free throw, and physically removed my hood. When I tried to put it back on, I got more of the same. She refused to be so much as seen with a hood-wearer.

We argued for a bit. “Are hats okay?”, I asked. She said yes. “Well, a hood is just a hat that’s attached to your jacket!” My iron-clad argument failed to win her over. Noticing she had a hood on her own jacket, I asked her what is was for. “Decoration” was her reply.

I assumed she was crazy, so I asked other Japanese friends about it, looking for backup. Much to my surprise, everyone sided with her. Even in the freezing cold dead of winter, wearing a hood is a suspicious act. None of the friends I surveyed wore the hoods attached to their jackets, no matter how cold it got.

Okay, I guess every culture has its own illogical social norms, but I find the hood taboo particularly contradictory, because it’s perfectly socially acceptable in Japan to wear a surgical mask that covers up the entire lower half of your face; people often wear them to avoid catching/transmitting colds.

Figure 2

Can you imagine walking into a bank in the U.S. wearing one of these? You’d be tackled by a security guard before you made it ten steps…

You Cannot Escape the 1UP Mushroom

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Merry Christmas Everyone!

Right off the bat I should mention that the above video won’t be of any interest to anyone who hasn’t played Super Mario 64, so you can just skip the video (and the rest of this blog entry) if you fall in that camp.

For those who are familiar with the game, an explanation of what the player is trying to do: after making the 1UP mushroom appear by climbing a tree, he tries to evade it while collecting all eight red coins, and then the star that subsequently appears. Another self-imposed rule is that he can’t enter the log cabin, as that makes the 1UP disappear (though he can use the bridge warp to get back to the top of the mountain, as the 1UP remains active in that event). If the 1UP catches him, he fails and has to start over again.

The first two minutes of the video are a little boring, but a highlight reel of his failed attempts that starts at 1:55 is pretty funny. His final, successful attempt begins at the six minute mark.

When I played Mario 64 I never really tried to run away from 1UP mushrooms, so it’s funny to see how tenacious they are in trying to catch Mario, even going through walls in their tireless pursuit. They remind me of terminators or something.

At the end of the video it says he tried for roughly nine hours before finally succeeding. Rock on, dude!

Koko the Clown in “Koko’s Conquest”

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I hadn’t planned on posting two Koko the Clown cartoons back-to-back, but this week sort of slipped through my fingers, and I didn’t really have time to write a proper entry. Hopefully next week we’ll have something different.

Another thing I appreciate about Koko cartoons in addition to the line work is how unpredictable they are. This is true of much of the early work from the Fleischer Studios; you never really know what direction they’re going to take.

I guess you could argue that the “random for random’s sake” approach utilized in Fleischer cartoons is hardly the epitome of storytelling, but there’s something to be said for stories that actually offer genuine surprise. A friend of mine once told me that one of the reasons he liked the movie Eyes Wide Shut is because while he was watching it, he had no idea whatsoever how it was going to end. Most movies don’t have that sort of tension. When I see a typical romantic comedy I’m not really thrilled when the two leads get together in the end because there was never any doubt that they would. On the other hand, when I first saw the movie Show Me Love, *SPOILER* I was really happy when the two main characters got together in the end because it really seemed possible they might not. *END SPOILER*

So that’s why a little unexpectedness is nice to have every now and again oh my god an escaped bear just got in here and he’s eating me

Koko the Clown in “The Cure”

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Above is a Fleischer cartoon featuring Koko the Clown, the studio’s big star until Betty Boop (and the now largely forgotten Bimbo) came along.

One thing that really impresses me about the oldest Fleischer cartoons is how strong the line work is. In modern cartoons, lines are razor-thin and uniform in width, and don’t really have any personality. The lines found in the old Koko shorts, on the other hand, have an expressive, calligraphic presence. That this quality was achieved not in still illustrations but in the labor-intensive medium of animation is pretty remarkable I think. I can’t think of any modern animation that uses lines so artfully.

Interesting Inking Technique

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Comics are big business here in Japan, which has led to standardization in their creation and distribution. The vast majority are the same size, and in black & white. Even artistically, they’re pretty homogenized (within their respective genres). All boys comics look the same, all girls comics look the same… even “weird” comics all tend to look weird in the same way.

One thing I like about American “alternative” (i.e. “non-superhero”) comics is that they are obscure enough that a standardized way of creating them has never really emerged. This forces every cartoonist to reinvent the wheel, but it’s good in that it leads to a lot of artistic diversity; much more so than in Japan, even though comics are a million times more popular here.

Apropo of all that, the above clip is probably the weirdest inking method I’ve ever seen. Does that guy really draw all his comics that way? I dunno, but it’s pretty cool.

Via Neatorama

She Can Win You With A Wink

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Above is one of my favorite Betty Boop cartoons. It gets particularly good at around the five minute mark, and wraps up with one of the most bizarre, non-sequester endings I’ve ever seen in any cartoon/movie/comic book.

Betty Boop is an interesting case. She’s almost universally known, but most people have never seen any of her cartoons. I bet people would be surprised by how weird they are. These days, Betty exists only to sell mundane, crappy mall merchandise.

Japan has a lot of characters like this. The grand daddy of them all is of course Hello Kitty, the character equivalent of Helvetica, so generic that it/she can remain in style decade after decade. Snoopy is also big here in Japan, but most people don’t know he comes from a comic strip. Stitch from the Disney movie Lilo and Stitch is also big, but I doubt most people have seen the movie he comes from…