Extra: The Gothic in Japan

Before I can begin analyzing Gothic tones as they appear in anime and other forms of Japanese media, I feel I must attempt the painful definition of “Goth” first.

The term “Gothic” originally applied to Gothic architecture that was popular around the 12th century, though it was not to be called “Goth” until years later. In fact, it wouldn’t be until the 1700s that “Goth” came back into fashion, as it were, through the emergence of a revival, primarily based in literature. Inspired by the odd beauty of old Gothic architecture, artists and writers began to question the idea that beauty lies only in the bright and perfect. Gothic literature was soon born, blending terror and romance. This revival later paved the way for other genres held dear today, such as science fiction, steampunk and cyberpunk. All held on to the basic Gothic mindset that is dedicated to finding beauty in unexpected places. And if one is to boil down what “Goth” is, it’s truly as simple as that. Yes, hardcore Goths I hear you. The music. Yes, Gothic music was a large part of the more recent Gothic revival of the late 1970s. However, regardless of the form, all aspects of Gothic art cycle back to the basic rule of finding beauty where few see it. Finding beauty in a red rose despite the browning and withering of its petals, as an example.

Of course, that means that the term “Goth” applies to a far broader range of topics than many originally thought. Even so, like all aesthetics, Goth has its stereotypes. And like all forms of media, these stereotypes are more frequently seen than their true forms. …Or are they?

While a typical harem show is likely to contain some girl dressed in black whose personality is quiet and predictable, there are a few shows that tap into the Gothic. Animes like Gosick have dark settings strung with the mysterious and supernatural, common elements seen in Gothic literature. Other shows like Trinity Blood and Natsume Youjin-cho also share some similarities, such as scenes of terror, the feeling of isolation and the questions of what it is to be human. Then there are others that simply joke around about the whole thing by dragging out an extreme stereotype (which is actually quite hilarious, if done correctly), as seen in shows like The Wallflower.

As far as Japanese culture itself goes, we get a mixed bag. Just as some Goths here in the states are more about the fashion than the thought process or literature, so is the case in Japan. Perhaps the most prominent examples being the Gothic lolita and visual kei fashion trends (on the topic of music, Japan has a very different standard altogether and I won’t even attempt messing with that landmine). However, the differences between these trends and the American versions that inspired them are pretty numerous, so it’s not surprising that what we in the US consider to be Gothic is often quite different from what would be considered Gothic in Japan. One must also consider that Japan has a very different outlook on terror/horror genres (in fact, the idea of “genre” is very different in Japan and largely doesn’t exist. Instead, categorization is focused on the intended audience. Example: Shoujo for girls, Shounen for boys, etc.), thus it’s unlikely that their version of Gothic literature is even considered Gothic.

Japan’s version of the Gothic, while having many of the same stereotypes as the US’s version, is hardly the same subculture. We are dealing with another country here, so it’s only natural that they have taken a concept and made it their own, applying it in new ways and creating a new kind of art through it. After all, that’s what has been happening in the Gothic subculture this whole time. Every revival has only redefined the original. At first it was a type of building. Then a mindset, a literature, a kind of music, a kind of fashion. Gothic, as a rule, must always be changing. Because the point of Gothic art is to find beauty where few see it, to draw attention to the white flower by putting a black curtain behind it, to feel the kiss of rain despite the cold.

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About inrosegalaxy

Raised on everything from Moby Dick to the Star Wars X-Wing books from a young age, it came as no surprise to anyone who knew me that I’d become a literature graduate and avid writer. But my love of a good story wasn’t restricted to the written word in my early years. Star Trek, Mystery Science Theater 3000, and badly dubbed Godzilla flicks helped shape my love of science fiction on screen as well. I wrote my first story while in the second grade. It was a horrifying tale about murdering a fairy-eating dog via a slice of pizza (in my defense, my only exposure to pizza was in the cafeteria and I swear you could legitimately kill someone with those things). I was a special snowflake. Today I write science fiction, fairy tales, Gothic epistolaries, fantasy and anything else that pops into my bizarre and twisted mind. I write new articles for my blog every Tuesday and Thursday. And if you happen to fancy Japanese animation, I also run an anime review blog, RRAR, which updates every Monday.

One thought on “Extra: The Gothic in Japan

  1. Pingback: Extra: Preach it! | Risembool Ranger Anime Reviews

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