TLF Recommends Teen-Based Shows You Should Watch

sungkyunkwan-scandal

by Raizel Liebler

sungkyunkwan-scandalI didn’t especially like teen directed shows even when I was a teen. And now when high school seems so long ago, shows like Vampire Diaries don’t manage to hold my interest and one of the reasons why I generally gave up on anime is due to the usual teen tropes. There’s nothing wrong with liking these teen (or teen-ish) shows, so if you are looking for critical or snarky analysis of shows that are truly directed towards teens, especially of the CW variety, check out Forever Young Adult. They do hilariously excellent recaps of Pretty Little Liars and more. Or previous.tv, with many of the former writers of Television Without Pity.

Below are shows we recommend focusing on teens from the United States, Korea, and Japan that are less mainstream and are entertaining regardless of age. Our recommendation shows are not generally ok for those younger than teens if you think they aren’t ready for seeing things with teh saxytimes.

Highly Recommended

Answer Me 1997

A show about being a teen in 1997 Korea — complete with lots of fandom moments. I’ve previously written about the show here in more detail.

Realism: Set mostly in 1997 with no magical/fantasy elements.
Humor: Mostly low-brow.
Drama: High, high level of drama, but not in a over-the-top way, instead based around the type of things real people deal with — broken hearts and conflicted feelings.
Cultural references: High level of references to Korean pop and to everything that was culturally relevant in 1997
Negatives: After the show completes its flashforward, much less interesting.
Available to watch on Dramafever

Dream High

A very well-written and plotted drama about the lives of high schoolers that want to join the entertainment industry. Like Fame, but within the unique world of the Korean entertainment industry. All of the young actors are members of musical groups, so in an odd way they are acting in a fictionalized version of their own lives. Has one of the most realistic subplots of the consequences of sexual harassment within the entertainment industry. Sequel Dream High II not recommended.

Realism: Set in the present with no magical/fantasy elements.
Humor: Minimal.
Drama: High level of drama, instead based around the type of things real people deal with — broken hearts and conflicted feelings.
Cultural references: High level of references to Korean pop.
Negatives: If you don’t like singing, skip this show.
Available to watch on Dramafever

Ouran High School Host Club

A mostly ridiculous show, but highly entertaining anime about a high school club run by teenage boys intended for teenage girls to swoon over. One of the boys is a girl, so there’s lots of “does anyone realize she’s a girl?” humor. Includes a canonical gay couple — and it isn’t the one you think it will be at first. As I mentioned, I’ve mostly given up on anime, so the fact that this is a teenage-based anime that I am recommending means I really like this one.

Realism: Minimal — this show is set in an European-style boarding school in Japan. Where there are no teachers and crazy anime girls appear on risers from the floor.
Humor: Mostly anime based humor.
Drama: As with any anime comedy, it exists.
Cultural references: High level of references to anime tropes, minimal to generalized Japanese culture.
Negatives: Much of the humor is lost if you haven’t watched other anime, especially shoujo anime.
Available to watch on Hulu

(ed. note: COSIGN. THIS SHOW IS AWESOME. One of the best anime endings I’ve seen, too. – keidra)

Suburgatory

A teenage girl and her father move to the New York suburbs and deal with culture shock. A teenage show that has either real teens playing teens — or at least those that don’t look like they will be playing jaded 40-somethings in five years. And friendship and romantic relationships contain the type of fraught drama that only teens can do. Generally a very interesting tone, where even the main teen can be frequently wrong — very wrong.

Realism: As realistic as any comedy set in a NYC suburb can be. Lots of mentions of the club. Mostly about the rich, but those who do not see themselves as rich.
Humor: But most of the humor is satire — but considering this is an American comedy after all, not too dark.
Drama: As with any anime comedy, it exists
Cultural references: American. Suburban. Teenage. Life.
Negatives: This is an American comedy after all — where problems can be solved in a half-hour (including commercials).
Available to watch on Hulu

Switch Girl

A show about a high school girl with two distinct personalities — her “on” look, with highly polished clothes and makeup, enough to get in Teen Vogue — and her “off” look, complete with sweats and messiness. Very much goes against the anime-based stereotypes of what life as a Japanese teen is like. Complete with a great theme song.

Realism: High level of realism — kinda. It shows realistic high school students, but then also the imagined consequences of the actions of others.
Humor: Mostly low-brow — very low-brow, but not at the expense of others. The theme song includes a line about the heroine moving oil from her T-zone to her dry skin, if you need an example.
Drama: The highest level of teen drama — done with a comic tone — if the heroine is found out to be naturally not put together, her life will be OVER, COMPLETELY OVER.
Cultural references: Mentions of Japanese culture, including some mentions of fandom, including the most fannish based anime hero I’ve ever seen (and will not spoil).
Negatives: A surprising amount of non-consensual interaction.
Available to watch on Dramafever

Digging Deeper

Avatar: The Legend of Korra

A teenage girl is the one person in the entire world (based mostly on historical Asia of the 1920s) that can control all four magical elements in a world where others can either control one or none. Does she choose to learn to control her powers, focus on having teenage fun, or get swept up in political machinations?

Realism: There are lots of fantastical parts of this show, including the ability to control air, water, fire, and earth.
Humor: Minimal
Drama: A teenage girl is the reincarnated being who can control the four elements — the only one in the world. Yeah, there’s drama.
Cultural references: References to previous Avatar series, also to fictionalized versions of early 20th Century Asian cultures, especially Shanghai in the 1920s (ish)
Negatives: The show makes more sense if you’ve watched the previous Avatar series, but if you have, the pace of this show might seem a bit off. Some of the plotting isn’t as tightly done as the previous series.

Goong (Princess Hours)

Beautiful, but slow-moving show about an alternative universe where Korea has a young King and a commoner girl has been selected to be his wife. Especially swoony teenage girls will totes love this show.

Realism: Mostly a high level of realism, but this is a modern universe with Korean royalty
Humor: Minimal
Drama: Can the arranged marriage neither teen wants work? Enter drama.
Cultural references: References to Korean culture.
Negatives: Slow moving.
Available to watch on Dramafever

(ed. note – I have the attention span of a gnat and this show was paced perfectly for me – keidra)

Sungkyunkwan Scandal

The show is a historical “college” drama about four students and their friendships. One student is a girl pretending to be a boy, considering girls of the era were not allowed to take entrance exams and study. The friendships are intense and cross class and gender lines.

Dramabeans summarizes the show as:

Thank you for the memories, the tears, the laughs, the squeals, the giggles, the sighs, the cringes, the waff, the thump-thumps, the insomnia, the dreams, the fantasies, the discussions, the love, the shipping, the great times, the smiles, the late nights, the early mornings, the procrastination, the cheers, the oh-nos, the arguments, the factions, the alliances, the heartache, the heartbreak, the bliss, the grief, the tingles, the tangles, the conspiracies, the bromances, the flutters, the gasps, the nail-biting, the TGIM, the curses, the hallelujahs, the prayers and the fun times.

It was a helluva ride. You were worth every moment.

Realism: High for a historical drama, except for that whole girl-pretending-to-be-a-boy thing.
Humor: Minimal, but mostly surrounding the cross-dressing.
Drama: High, but also generally nicely plotted.
Cultural references: High level of references to historical Korea, but nothing that anyone who has ever watched a historical drama can’t handle.
Negatives: Oh so many tears.
Available to watch on Dramafever

I Read A Book: Christine R. Yano’s Pink Globalization: Hello Kitty’s Trek Across the Pacific

hellokittyforpresident

by Raizel Liebler

State of the world kawaii!

One of the inspirations for our starting this blog was trying to explain Japanese culture, especially anime and Hello Kitty to others, even those that understood U.S./U.K. geek culture. Posts on Hello Kitty and kawaii (Japanese style cute) on TLF were some of our first, most popular posts.

Pink Globalization: Hello Kitty’s Trek Across the Pacific

So if you’ve ever thought about or explained cool Japan, feminized consumerism, feminist reinterpretations, high art versus low art, Christine R. Yano’s Pink Globalization: Hello Kitty’s Trek Across the Pacific is the book for you.

In the tradition of the type of fan studies popularized by Henry Jenkins, and within the anthropology tradition she was trained in, Yano spent ten years learning all about the spread of Hello Kitty outward from Japan. This book manages to both encompass the small – individual interviews with devotees – to the large – contextualizing HK within the larger Japanese gift-giving tradition and views of shojo (young women). Hello Kitty manages to be simultaneously a symbol of ultimate kawaii and consumerist collecting (no one can buy every HK product!).

Yano doesn’t skimp on the identity politics involved with HK, including how … odd it is to have a humanized kawaii cute mouthless cat with a fictionalized British background globally represent Japanese culture. Or how Hello Kitty is viewed as a positive symbol by some women of Asian descent – and as a limiting vise by others.

Hello-kitty-punkWhile the book isn’t authorized in the sense of being a licensed product — there is a disclaimer next to the copyright notice — Yano did interview Sanrio employees at work, giving a unique perspective from inside the branding empire.

An interesting aspect of the discussion of the consumerist aspect of HK is how she is a worldwide brand that has a lifecycle along with its fans – from stickers for the kids to Hot Topic HK wear, through diamond necklaces… (on to KISS x Hello Kitty? or the most controversial HK licensed product?)

P.S., HK: A bizarre discontinuity within this book: a reference to Evan Seinfeld from Biohazard!

Summary: Highly recommended for its careful and detailed analysis of the complete Hello Kitty phenomenon.

Guide for the Perplexed: QR Codes

4461953159_410ab1e555

From Clever Cupcakes, Montreal (@clever_cupcakes)

Ever seen those square bar code-looking thingies on the bus or train or in a magazine and wonder what they were? They’re called QR Codes and they are being used increasingly in interactive marketing in the U.S.

These little barcodes can store text or URL info and are used to  point  your phone to information  like websites,  videos, contact information, etc. Some visual artists have incorporated QR codes into their work,  such as this 2009 public art exhibition in Amsterdam , and some entreprenuers have adopted novel uses for the technology like the above QR Code cupcakes for Twestival Montreal, a Twitter – based charity event.

Having originated in Japan, QR Codes have been used for marketing and entertainment in Japan and Korea for years now and are nearly ubiquitous, but for the most part hasn’t caught on here in the U.S. with the same enthusiasm. I have two theories as to why:

1.) Consumers haven’t been sufficiently educated about what QR Codes actually are and how to use them by the companies/organizations using them.

I noticed an ad on the train earlier today promoting a non-profit. There was a QR Code at the bottom. The text: “Take a picture of this QR Code to learn more about us!”

Two people on the train were looking at the ad. One person asks the other, “What’s a QR Code?” The other says “Oh, it’s a Google app.”

There were two levels of fail going on here. First off, the ad itself failed to explain what a what a QR code is and only vaguely explained how to use it. Secondly, I believe the individual on the trainl who did recognize what a QR Code was had conflated QR Codes in general with one particular use of the technology,  specifically Google Places.

In general the  marketing/tech world has a bit of work to do to educate the public on this technology. It’s not difficult, but some level of explanation would help to encourage its use, which them brings me to the other issue hindering the use of QR Codes:

2.) Most of the time QR Codes point to really boring content that no one cares about

Most of the time, scanning a QR code doesn’t really offer much for the user. Marketers use QR codes as a vaguely interesting way to point people to existing content that users wouldn’t care about even if they were sitting at their computers at home: boring websites, boring ads, boring contact information. There’s still a “so what” factor with QR codes, where the content hasn’t caught up with the technology. What would motivate someone to scan a QR code when they can check out your organization’s website at home or work? Offering exclusive information or special deals could be the solution.

I was definitely on the QR Code bandwagon for a while, encouraging it for my workplace and for volunteer projects. I still think it’s a great technology with a lot of potential uses but waiting for it to catch on surely isn’t working. The company or organization that manages to educate users while offering something new and different will eventually win this race. It could be Google, based on the exchange I saw on the train, but time will tell.

I Read A Book: Hip-hop Japan: rap and the paths of cultural globalization

Americans are often separated from the musical traditions of other countries and unaware of the cultural influence of American music, Hip-hop Japan: rap and the paths of cultural globalization covers one small corner of cross-cultural music that needs more explanation.

While many of the artist examples are dated in this 2006 book, as would be true with much cultural anthropology, overall the book includes discussions of the issues of perceptions of race, gender and music, and the influence of sales on the production of music. I would highly recommend this book to those interested in an academic view of the Japanese music industry, and there are some fascinating charts that discuss the interaction between fans, artists, record companies, and media.

That isn’t to say that there aren’t places where more discussion would have been appreciated (especially about cultural issues surrounding race and gender)  — and I am dismayed by yet another book that lumps together hip-hop music, rap, and hip-hop culture. But the biggest failing of the book is not actually of the book — it is that there is so little discussion of Asian music outside of small subcultures — whether it is Japanese hip-hop, K-pop, K-rap, etc.

And when there are discussions, they are not mainstreamed! — SXSW 2010 had a very interesting panel discussion of the global influence of Japanese music, with a large focus on visual kei. Unfortunately, the podcast has been pulled. I know that many pay lots of money to attend SXSW, but it would be nice if the podcasts would be available after, say, six months. And no matter how much the website says earlier podcasts are available–they aren’t “(Also be sure and check out our extensive list of full panel podcasts from 2009.)”

The video above is from Suite Chic, a one-album Japanese collaboration; the singer is Namie Amuro, one of the biggest Japanese pop stars, the self-professed Queen of Hip-Pop; and the rapper is AI, a Japanese-American Japanese rap/singer (known in these parts as Japanese DaBrat). And they aren’t mentioned in the book.

The Economics of Hello Kitty, or what will save the brand of the world’s master of cute overload?


Hello Kitty seems to be falling on tough economic times — at least according to the New York Times. This is despite her appointment in 2008 as the Japanese official ambassador for tourism. Unlike many other brands, as The Learned Fangirl, stated at the time of her ambassadorship,

One of the oddly interesting elements about Hello Kitty is that there isn’t a starting product; she is a brand of kitty cuteness, the epitome of kawaii.

Kawaii — the idea of ultimate cuteness and the acquiring of this status — is what has propelled Hello Kitty and her business overlord (Sanrio) into a Japanese brand phenomenon, worth $5 billion a year. Perhaps Japanese and worldwide audiences are tiring of the need for sweet after 36 years, but that isn’t the entire story.

At least according to Steven Colbert’s reportage on the new Hello Kitty wine, demonstrates that Kitty is being marketed to all, not just as a childrens’ character (though the Hello Kitty licensed vespa and MAC cosmetics should have made that clear!).

[Read more...]

Transformative Reinterpretation or Total Rip-off?: Namie Amuro and Copy That

At what point is copying

  • homage (as a way of honoring and being respectful of the original)  even through direct copying?
  • transformative (in the traditional copyright sense) as building upon the original to create new meaning?
  • or copying as a means of economically exploiting copyrighted works?

This first post in a series about the difficulties in making this distinction focuses on three different examples of how difficult it is to carefully draw these lines, focusing on Japanese pop star Namie Amuro’s Copy That (official Vidal Sassoon music video-ish commercial above), and later posts will focus on Glee’s Madonna and Lady Gaga episodes, and Christina Aguilera’s Not Myself Tonight video (and dance responses), and other similar situations.

[Read more...]

What Harujuku? and Gossip Manwha

As a followup to our recent posts about anime and Korean dramas, we have more about the cross-cultural influence of pop culture from Asia, or what Lisa Katayama calls on BoingBoing, the weird /othering of Japanese pop culture moves on to fashion.

The New York Times recently had an article on the difficulty of Japanese fashion designers to find recognition outside of Japan. Surprisingly, there was only passing reference to the appropriation of Japanese fashion — completely sans mention of the problematic aspects of Gwen Stefani and her fashion line, Harujuku Girls.

There was also no mention of the subcultural aspects of Japanese fashion that have found success outside of Japan, including anime fans, especially through cosplay — and the San Francisco branches of the Gothic Lolita store, Baby, the Stars Shine Bright and the Japanese store, Black Peace Now.

And considering that NYC’s FIT recently had the Gothic: Dark Glamour exhibition, including panels and fashion from Japanese subculture, this omission from the NYTimes article is striking.

However, the article did include mentions of the Lolita fashion trend thusly:

(Although Lolita style is a reference to the Vladimir Nabokov novel “Lolita,” its look is more covered-up Victorian schoolgirl than skin-baring teenage vixen.)

– and yes, the original was in parentheses.

I’m not sure why in an article about the Japanese fashion trends this description of the Lolita fashion style was viewed as a sufficient description — girly steampunk would have been more appropriate, but that is likely still too subcultural.

Interestingly, Google search filters out the word lolita from Google SafeSearch — even though this is the title of a well-regarded novel!!!

On the other hand, Jezebel recently highlighted the licensed manhwa version of Gossip Girl. Interestingly, even the publisher decided to describe this graphic novel / comic by a Korean artist as manga (the term for this art literature from Japan) rather than manhwa (for Korean litart). Considering the growing influence of hallyu as the appropriate term for Korean pop culture, and the growing understanding about the difference between graphic novels/comics from Japan and Korea, I’m really surprised by the lack of distinction. Blair would be highly disappointed!

When is 1000 true music fans not enough?: Faith No More, Kylie Minogue, hallyu, and J-pop

If you don’t know the artists (Faith No More & Kylie Minogue) and musical genres (J-pop & hallyu) mentioned in the title of this post, that doesn’t make you odd. You just aren’t aware of these music more popular outside of the U.S. (and the “hallyu wave” is not limited to music).

But that doesn’t mean that they don’t have fans — they have many! The U.S. music audience often doesn’t get to hear the music popular elsewhere, yet American music is popular worldwide.

As Frederick Stiehl in his article about J-pop/Hallyu artist BoA,

America has known few foreign artists outside of Latin America or Britain. Indeed, America has proven itself to be quite resistant to foreign singers, and especially to non-English artists. A few exceptions include Icelandic Bjork and German Rammstein …. However, both of these artists demonstrate a specialized style, known to but not followed by “mainstream” Americans.

So where does subgenre begin when it includes an international superstar like Kylie Minogue?

[Read more...]

Mini book reviews: three important books on the impact of Japanese popular culture plus one

I’ve been reading several interesting books on both the cultural and economic significance of Japanese popular culture, ranging from a general overview, to the business of manga, to the importance of Pokémon to children’s culture worldwide. All of these books are recommended.

Pikachu’s global adventure: the rise and fall of Pokémon (Joseph Tobin, ed. 2004) is a collection of essays about the cultural and economic significance of Pokémon, especially as an overarching brand (or as Henry Jenkins would explain as an example of convergence culture). The book pre-dates the release of the Wii, yet covers the first years of the phenomenon. In a footnote, the reason for Brock’s absence for a year from the television show is explained — the producers were concerned that his features would be perceived as too Asian or foreign in the U.S.;  kids loved Brock and he was brought back.

Roland Kelts, Japanamerica : how Japanese pop culture has invaded the U.S. (2007) — the title is truly inaccurate — the book is an overview of Japanese popular culture and why certain elements of Japanese popular culture are interesting to Americans, but not an examination of the impact of manga and anime outside of Japan.

Sharon Kinsella, Adult Manga (2000) is an excellent overview of the cultural production of  manga, including discussions of the business (publishers, authors/artists, editors), mainstream manga (including on politically significant manga), Doujinshi (amateur manga), economic charts!, and even the legal regulations of and censorship efforts surrounding manga. Highly recommended.

Since I haven’t been able to find another place to mention Anne Elizabeth Moore’s Unmarketable: Brandalism, Copyfighting, Mocketing, and the Erosion of Integrity here it is: The chapter on Star Wars marketing and fan culture is recommended for its discussion of the deflector shield Lucasfilm places around Star Wars.

From Geisha to Go Go: Book Review of two recent books on Asian women

While no book can fully explore a culture, two recent books, Sheridan Prasso’s The Asian Mystique: Dragon Ladies, Geisha Girls, & Our Fantasies of the Exotic Orient and Veronica Chambers’ Kickboxing Geishas: How Modern Japanese Women Are Changing Their Nation, give a window into how different the lives of Asian women are from the pop culture stereotypes.

Interestingly, both books are written by Western female journalists that are not of Asian descent. Also, both are written primarily around interviews with individual women, using their experiences to explore larger social phenomena. Both books touch upon fandom issues, but this is not their primary focus.

The most valuable aspect of The Asian Mystique from a pop culture studies perspective is a multiple chapter analysis of stereotypes used in Western media of Asians and Asian-Americans. Prasso discusses how media stereotypes are based in a binary dichotomy in two ways — first, the stereotypes vary based on gender, and second, Asian women are seen as either submissive and desirable (“China Doll”/Vixen) or as dominant and therefore to be feared (“Dragon Lady”). This section would be perfect for a film/television or ethnic studies class.

Kickboxing Geishas does discuss Japanese female fashion, including Harajuku, Lolita, and Gothic Lolita. (Interestingly, though Chambers is an African-American woman, she never mentions the racialized aspects of yamamba in her discussion of this fashion/social trend).

Kickboxing Geishas also discusses the economic and social impact of teenage girls and their style:

Joshi kosei [teenage girls] are voracious shoppers with a quirky eye for fashion and an uncanny ability to start trends.’

Although there are broad groupings among …Japan’s contemporary costume culture …– kawaii, or the culture of cuteness; gothic; Lolita, etc. — the young women (and some men) who embody these street styles thrive on their individuality. …I believe the costuming of today’s Japanese young women reveals, in a powerful way, how for many young Japanese females, Japan is a hard place to become a grown woman.

[Yasuko Nakamura] recently published a book, The Uchira and Osoro Generation: Unadorned High School Girls of Tokyo. The Uchira in the title refers to the way Shibuya’s masses of teenage girls like to refer to themselves–a posse called “us.” Osoro is short for osoroi meaning that the girls like to dress the same. Currently eight thousand of these girls are on [her company's] payroll [;] companies rely on her and her teen experts to help develop products such as soft drinks and cosmetics.

The Asian Mystique mentions “ladies comics”/manga and their role as peer sex education:

Unlike in the West where [teen] girls pass around steamy romance novels between friends [Peyton Place to V.C. Andrews to Twilight] or watch teen dating shows [90201 of yore and now], Japanese girls read [explicit] manga.

One of the most interesting side notes in Kickboxing Geishas involves Bizet’s Carmen, which has been reinterpreted once again, this time in a Japanese ballet where the action takes place within a Japanese business where Carmen is an “office lady” (secretary/tea server) and Jose is the corporation’s security guard. (Someone should write a book on the incredible resonance of Carmen cross-culturally!)

Both books have so much more than is truly in the scope of this blog, with analysis of the real world day-to-day sexism that women face. The Asian Mystique is especially recommended for its in-depth analysis of many issues, including the sex industry throughout Asia.

%d bloggers like this: