Cover of Fooly Cooly Volume 3

Japan: Big in America

part 1, 2, 3, 4

So why is Japan so cool? What is it about Japanese pop culture that strikes a chord with young people in China, France, South Africa, and Richmond, Virginia?

Remember Jesse in the bookstore? I pretty much asked her that question.

She said, "It's kind of a lot the originality about it. You can't get the emotions and the plots that you get, you can't get them in Western comics. If you've ever heard of Fooly Cooly, it is so random."

All right, what's this Fooly Cooly? It's a manga series and an anime mini-series, it's also called F-L-C-L. It's about a 12-year-old boy, but in the very first episode, there's this sexy female alien who comes whizzing by on a Vespa scooter and knocks him over. Then she whacks him over the head with an electric bass guitar that causes him to give birth to a robot that comes popping out of his head.

"In U.S. logic, we kind of want things logical and clean," says Allison. "Is it animal or is it not? Is it alive or dead? Is it good or is it bad? But in the stuff we're talking about that's coming from Japan, things kind of go from one to the other. It doesn't have to be one or the other. It's both or neither or something beyond that."

Jesse pulled another favorite manga off the shelf.

"Ah, Fruits Basket," says Jesse. "It's about this girl who's an orphan, and she starts living with this really odd family. They share this curse where they turn into a certain animal from the Chinese zodiac when they're weak or when they have somebody from the opposite sex hug them."

"Often there's not a linear narrative or if it is, it goes forward, it goes backward, time is totally mixed up," says Allison.

For Jesse, it's a mark of pride when she can actually follow the plots.

So why now? Why would Americans find all that aesthetic interesting right now? And why are Japanese animators, Japanese artists creating it? Why Japan and not Norway?

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