I have almost worked my way through the last manga and anime that had been in my reading/watching queue, before clearing the desk to focus on a project I’ve been planning for some time. I read the manga version of Welcome to the N.H.K., originally written as a novel by Tasuhiko Takimoto, which explores hikkikomori, a phenomenon in Japan of acute social withdrawal. I first discovered the anime adapted from the earlier works and found the story so interesting I wanted to go back to the detailed sources. I then completely switched gears, watching the anime versions of The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya and Lucky Star, rather silly but required viewing for any Japanese pop culture student. Though each has moments that border on annoying, there is a deeper layer of cultural norms embedded in each that I would not have picked up had I watched these shows many years ago, when I had just discovered anime.
I had originally thought that these choices would be great as sorbet before I dive into analysis of Hayao Miyazaki’s Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, a story laden with environmentalism and an unambiguously negative assessment of modern consumerism. What I hadn’t anticipated was that thinking about this project has heightened my awareness of depictions of the resource-efficient lifestyles that impressed me so much while living in Japan. For instance, in Lucky Star, a good number of scenes from each episode take place while the characters are utilizing mass transportation (as in the screen capture above). High school students Konata, Kagami, Tsukasa and Miyuki use commuter rail, subways and buses to explore the greater Tokyo metropolitan area – the kind of mobility I could only have dreamed about growing up in rural New Jersey. Environmental considerations of not relying on cars aside, the freedom of being able to move around at will, aided by well-designed infrastructure, is a joy appreciated by erstwhile chaperone-dependent children and world travelers alike.