Patrick Macias

by Bamboo Dong, Apr 11th 2005
Patrick Macias was kind enough to chat a bit with ANN about his new book, Cruising the Anime City: An Otaku Guide to Neo-Tokyo. Also a news editor at Animerica, and author of Tokyoscope, Patrick is no novice to the publishing world. Unsurprisingly, he was as entertaining in the interview as he was in his book. His latest book is available through Stonebridge Press.

What was your primary motivation for writing the book?

To make a book that was useful in a number of ways: To help you when you went to Tokyo to buy all the nerd vomit you so badly want. And to help you see how otaku culture has changed the city of Tokyo in terms of architecture, language, fashion, and even 7-11s. Also, I wanted to go to Japan as many times as I could.

What do you mean by “otaku culture” and what do you think is the biggest impact that it's had on Japan?

By otaku culture, I mean the world of anime, manga, games, toys, and collectables. As far as impact goes, I can't really think of one single area where the influence has been “the biggest.” I mean, you get off the train at Akihabara and you see buildings with manga characters on them. You go to the convenience store down the street, and there are the latest candy toys. You even pass by a pachinko parlor, and there are signs for Gundam and Lupin III games inside. So the influence is everywhere.

Do you think it's had a big economic impact as well?

The facts speak for themselves. What was that story you guys ran the other day? World market for anime estimated at 100 billion? It took some time, but the Japanese government is finally catching on, realizing that otaku lead the way for the personal computer revolution, communications, and now, the international anime and manga market. My impression from events like TAF-LA (Tokyo International Anime Fair) is that the suits are a little embarrassed about otaku culture themselves, but they have no choice now but to promote themselves using it.

You write in the book that the anime industry is shrinking, but the otaku industry is growing. What effect do you think that will have on consumers?

I'm no Nostradamus, but I think we'll see an increase in international co-productions and financing of anime and manga projects. More overseas investment, basically. I'm not worried about this taking away the “Japanese-ness” of otaku culture too much. The same thing happened to the live action film industry a few years back. A movie like Miike's Ichi the Killer was financed by something like five different companies. I'd have to look up the figures, but a lot of the money came from Hong Kong and maybe Korea as well. So, I can't judge this phenomenon as being good or bad. A lot of cool stuff will probably come out of it that wouldn't happen if all the money had to come from poor old Japan.

I noticed as I was reading this that it seems that there are two parts of this book. On the surface, it's presented as a simple shopping guide, but underneath, it presents a commentary on how the anime industry has evolved and is still changing. What did you want readers to take out of this?

I don't have any real agenda to steer people's heads one way or the other. We just didn't want to make a book that only stayed on a surface level, which is what a lot of guide books do. I mean, I wish I had a book like this the first time I went to Tokyo! Not just so I could find my way to Mandarake, but so I could get an idea of what kind of people were behind such a place. Basically, I just assume that most people are as curious as me and it's my job to try and satiate that curiosity.

It's a lot more in-depth and informative than I was expecting. I was impressed and delighted with how everything was presented.

Well, yeah, a lot of thought and research went into that side. My brain hurts just thinking about it.

Do you think there's anything the American anime industry could learn from its Japanese counterpart?

My sense is that when American animators think “anime,” they get this idea that things have to be frantic, humorous, and exaggerated the whole time, but that's pretty much the perception of “cartoons” in the US in general. I guess the idea would be to realize that what made anime interesting to people was the way it incorporated film technique and offered a variety of stories, and different moods within those stories. But, sometimes I myself just want to watch Daffy Duck pour ketchup on himself, so maybe everyone should stick to what they do best.

How do you feel about the current trend of doing anime-style cartoons and manga-styled comics? Art-wise, how people are trying to mimic the look of anime, with the big eyes and bright-colored hair?

I think that it's very superficial, trying to imitate anime on purely visual terms. The real difference and appeal lies deeper under the surface. Throwing big eyes and crazy hair on everyone isn't going to do it. I don't think too many Japanese artists lose sleep over “American anime and manga” and rightfully so.

If you could take one of the topics in the book and write as much about it as you wanted, which would it be?

One topic, huh? The part that I liked best was profiling people like the CEO of Mandarake, and Chimatsuri, the plastic model monster. I'd like to do a book that's nothing but interviews and profiles with the most extreme otaku we can find, maybe including even a few here from the States. I know the perception is that otaku are sad, depressing nerds, but they've got a lot of passion, imagination, and are kind of like living libraries of information. I guess it would be a kind of a search for what it is about Japan that creates these kinds of people, and why it's so attractive to people overseas. I'd like to try collecting otaku, basically.

Any you have in mind?

Tomo and I have our beads on some, but one of the biggest ones I wanted died recently, unfortunately. She was this old woman who collected other people's trash, literally. That kind of seems to say it all to me.

So, a collection of anime/manga otaku, or just otaku in general?

Otaku in general, but it would be mad to leave out anime/manga stuff.

Is there any one event that stands out in your memory from all your trips to Tokyo?

It's in the book—visiting the model kit collector's house. I have, like, a new definition of insanity now, and I'll never forget the sensation of feeling thousands on model kits falling on my spinal column.

Is there anything you wish you could have put into the book but didn't?

Yeah, we had a whole section on food planned, but it was deemed, “not otaku enough.” I ate BBQ dog and deep fried whale.

How was it?

Dog tasted remarkably like puppy breath. Whale tasted like an unholy combination of beef and tuna. Both got better the more you drank.

You know, I've found that dog tastes surprisingly like old lamb.

I can see that. This was cooked in mad kimchee. Maybe if it had been “The Dog of Flanders,” it would have made it into the book.

What has it been like working with Tomohiro Machiyama on this book?

Painful. Unless you've been in a “kohai-sempai” relationship with someone, it's hard to explain. It's basically like Pai-Mei and the Bride in Kill Bill 2. I learned a lot, and I'm eternally thankful to him, but my hands had to do a lot of bleeding.

What are you working on right now?

Getting out of the USA, book proposals, and general freelance nonsense. I do a lot of DVD notes for Japanese films nowadays.

Any topics for books in particular?

Secret, tee hee.

On a more personal note, what are your interests? Both in anime and in anime-related merchandise?

Recently, I liked Gunbuster 2 and Neo Getter Robo a lot. Manga-wise, Tough and Samurai Executioner. But aside from loving Rose of Versailles, I don't think I have a shojo or yaoi bone in my body, which puts me at odds with a lot of the stuff coming out now. I'm most comfortable with Showa-era stuff, like Yamato, Macross, and the first Gundam, which were the things that first roped me in. So maybe I'm not knee-deep in Naruto or Princess Tutu, but hey, I'm true to my obsessions.

Between this book and your last one, TokyoScope, which one was more enjoyable to work on?

Hard to say. The difference was that TokyoScope, being about old movies mostly, was like doing archeology, trying to dig up lost forgotten films, many of which have since become a lot easier to find at Best Buy. Cruising the Anime City was real journalism, trying to find the pulse of the times, RIGHT NOW, and frame it in a way that would still be interesting to read a few years from now. I'm proud of what I accomplished on both projects.

Since the book is a shopping guide to Tokyo, what's your favorite thing that you bought there?

A die-cast metal spaceship from Message from Space, which was this awesome Star Wars rip off from 1978. My neighbor had one when I was a kid and I was jealous and always wanted one. I just strolled into Mandarake and picked one up, so dreams really can come true.

Well, I think that's all the questions I have. Thank you very much; it was nice talking to you. Any last words?

I'm not just saying this because I'm Col. Sanders and this is my chicken: if you are interested in anime and manga, I think it may be worth it to read this book. It will help give you an idea of how your hobbies can change the world around you.

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