When I’m not watching anime to prepare for my next blog post or working on a visual novel translation, you can usually find me out taking walks through the rice fields around J-List, and listening to podcasts. One podcast I got into a year or so ago is The Rest is History, in which historians Tom “No, Not The Spiderman Guy” Holland and Dominic Sandbrook give their views on various ancient and modern historical topics, with a blending of English poshness and references to video games like Civilization and Assassin’s Creed. Their most recent podcast is about the Platinum Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II, which got me thinking about Great Britain and the special relationship Japan has always had with her.
Japan’s Special Relationship with Great Britain
In 1853, American Admiral Perry visited Japan in his now famous “black ships” and got the country to open itself to trade in exchange for Ramune. This caused Japan, which had been closed to the outside world except for one trading outpost open to the Netherlands for hundreds of years, to realize how backward they had become as a nation and undergo a program of modernization so they could stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the powerful countries of the West.
Japan had an incredible opportunity to study the other countries in the world in detail before taking action. They modeled their military on that of Prussia, borrowed the French prefectural system, and reworked civil law with the help of German advisors. But again and again, the country Japan looked to the most was Great Britain, closely imitating its parliamentary system, postal service and later, the BBC. And of course transportation, which is why japan is one of the few countries to drive on the left, and is why you can see signs showing you how to get to the W.C. in Japanese train stations.
It’s fun to look at the many seeming similarities between the Japanese people and British. A high population crammed onto an island that forced it to create social structures for managing having so many people around. Claiming of curry as an unofficial national dish. A love of lining up (or “queuing”) to eat at busy restaurants. A love of tea and gardening. A fetishization of their national uniqueness. Being stereotyped by other nations for having “bad teeth.” A love of imperialism made possible by geographical good luck and naval power, which they use to terrorize other nations at various points in history. All that fun stuff.
How Britain is Seen in Anime
It’s funny to look at British people as seen through the lens of anime. Some major features include:
- They’re always blonde, despite only 25% of the country being naturally blonde. Even Karen from Kin’iro Mosaic, who is half Japanese, has golden blonde hair.
- Every British character is seen as noble and wealthy, speaking in formal ojosama speech (if female).
- There must be ridiculously formal butlers standing in the corner of every room, ready to serve the needs of the main characters.
- Add in a cup of tea drunk from a fine china cup and Bob’s your uncle, you’ve got a proper British anime character!
Does American and British-style sarcasm exist in Japanese? Here’s a blog post for you on this subject!
The Japanese Love Shakespeare
Like the rest of the world, many Japanese have an appreciation for the world of William Shakespeare, though the average Japanese is quite unable to tackle reading it in English. They occasionally make homages to his works in anime form, like the ridiculous but enjoyable Romeo x Juliet, which tells a stylized version of that famous story but adds in random characters from other Shakespeare works, because why not? Or the currently airing Requiem of the Rose King, a retelling of Henry VI Part 3 and Richard III with BL themes.
Shakespeare references can show up in anime when you least expect it. The name of my favorite anime ever, Macross, is a reworking of the word “macro” (meaning large) and Macbeth, which Big West founder Yoshimasa Onishi suggested, reasoning that the story combined an enormous spaceship and a level of human drama worthy of the famous name. As an English major, I salute his literary passion.
The Japanese Love Sherlock Holmes
In addition to loving the mystery genre in general, Japan loves Sherlock Holmes, and regularly work Britain’s most famous detective into anime works. Here are a few examples:
- Sherlock Hound, the last animation Hayao Miyazaki made for television before switching to feature films.
- Aria the Scarlet Ammo, which pits Aria against the granddaughter of Sherlock.
- Tantei Opera Milky Holmes, which merges mystery solving with cute magical girls-esque characters.
- Case File nº221: Kabukicho, aka Kabukicho Sherlock, which features the Wizard of Baker Street solving crimes in Shinjuku.
- Moriarty the Patriot, an anime with Sherlock’s archnemesis as the protagonist.
- The recent Lupin III series, which builds a complex story around Lupin doing battle with Sherlock, who mistakenly blames him for the murder of John Watson.
That Time Queen Elizabeth Became an Anime Character
No one is safe from becoming an anime character. Elizabeth II shows up as “Queen Elizard” in season 3 of A Certain Magical Index as leader of the Church of England faction.
Thanks for reading this post exploring why Japan is so fascinated with Great Britain. Got any questions or topics you’d like to see us write about? Post them below, or reply to us on Twitter!
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