115th Annual Conference - Honolulu, Hawaii
Friday, November 10 - Sunday, November 12, 2017

Mixed Species Characters in Japanese Visual Culture

Kaori Mori Want, Konan Women's University

Mixed race characters are quite popular and visible in Japanese visual culture. This paper will examine mixed race characters in Japanese visual culture, and argue their popularity and visibility with reference to various theoretical frameworks such as theory on the Other, monstrosity theory, critical mixed race theory, etc.

Proposal: 

Mixed race characters are quite popular and visible in Japanese visual culture such as manga, anime, games, and so on. Visual culture bridges between imaginary and real world, and mixed race characters, which live in more than two worlds, may fit in the concept of visual culture. This paper will introduce mixed race characters in Japanese visual culture, and argue their popularity and visibility with reference to various theoretical frameworks such as theory on the Other, monstrosity theory, critical mixed race theory, etc.

There are numerous mixed race characters in manga and anime such as Unagiinu, a mixture of eel and dog in Genius Bakabon, Son Gohgan, a mixture of human being and alien Saiyans in the Dragon Ball series, Nezumi Otoko, a mixture of human being and rat in Kitaro of the Graveyard Kitaro, a mixture of human being and Kappa (an imaginary creature) in Kappa Sanpei, Lupin the Third, a mixture of Japanese and French in Lupin the Third, to name a few. They are all long-loved characters. Some are main characters and others are not, but regardless of their position in each manga, these mixed race characters are popular among the audience. 

 The latest Tamagotchi series (a game toy to raise an egg) also features mixed race characters and the series name is Tamagotchi Mix. Players can mix seven characters which include cat, dog, rabbit, human in the game, and create new creatures. Calbee, a snack food company, promotes its oopular snack Kappaebisen by creating characters called the Kappaebi family, whose mother is shrimp, father Kappa, children mixed shrimp and Kappa (see below) for its promotion. 

Mixed race characters’ popularity may come from their unique positionality. They live in liminal space. For example, Unagiinu in Genius Bakabon lives between river and bank. His body is half in water and half on land. Mixed race characters also cross borders, and show unexpected perspectives to viewers. For example, Son Gohan in the Dragon Ball series, manifests unimaginable power when he has to fight. His power is immeasurable compared with humans and Saiyans. If living in liminality and having extraordinary power is the characteristic of the Other, we could say that mixed race characters are the Other. They are not subsumed in normal ways of life. bell hooks points out that people in power exploit the Otherness. Mixed race characters’ Otherness may be consumed by the audience but their long-lasting popularity would not be simply explained because of their Otherness.

Mixed race characters are not docilely exploited by the audience. They rather overwhelm the audience with their uniqueness. This paper argues that their popularity may be due to their monstrous Otherness. In Western monstrosity theory, people are simultaneously fascinated and scared by monsters. Mixed race characters in Japanese visual culture have similarities with the Western notion of monstrosity but what separates the two is that Japanese mixed race characters are covered by a Kawaii mask. This paper thus complicates the notion of otherness and monstrosity by examining mixed race characters in Japanese visual culture.