Feast from the East

Mar 15, 2000 at 12:00 am

It is the year of the dragon, ladies and gentlemen, and, as such, the culture – high, low, pop, etc. – of the Asian diaspora is roaring its way into popular culture. You already know about Dragon Ball Z, Pokémon, Hello Kitty and the ubiquity of Nintendo. You know about the kitsch cache of Godzilla and the perennial appeal of kung-fu flicks. Pizzicato 5 and Fantastic Plastic Machine have brought the hyperlinked international pop sound of Tokyo’s Shibuya district to stateside hipster audiences for years. But, with the explosion of awareness in this technological age, Asian pop culture deserves to be examined further and reported on more thoroughly, for, as sure as Godzilla met King Kong, our Western sensibilities will fuse with those of the East. Both of these mags aspire to bring curious readers to an understanding of the variety, depth and reality of Asian culture. And one of them, Giant Robot, succeeds wildly, while the other, Tokyopop, is a perfect example of the kind of empty pop-culture "reporting" serving as filler between ads that we real Detroiters know only too well.

To its credit, Tokyopop offers a gaggle of mildly enticing topics ranging from game reviews, anime and manga news (written in such a way that only fans will learn anything substantial), an interview with film-pop star Tadanobu Asano and Fantastic Plastic Machine. All of the pieces struggle gamely (as it were) to hold the reader’s attention and none of them succeed. Add to the equation that the mag is published by a manga-anime company and you’ve got a recipe for a wasted five spot.

In stark contrast to Tokyopop is Giant Robot. Over the past year, Giant Robot has evolved from an endearing fan mag to an engaging culture publication. Highlighting a cross section of news, features, reviews, tidbits and interviews from across the Asian spectrum, Giant Robot manages to fascinate throughout. This ish features Margaret Cho on the cover, and the piece delivers. But it’s the two-page spread of ramen noodle reviews, a package of stories highlighting Jamaican-Chinese soca and ska musicians, a first-person account of authentic Vietnamese street vendor food and a gaggle of other undercurrent-spotlighting pieces presented without cultural bias and a nearly anthropological fascination that keep the pages turning. Above the title are written the words "Eat Dogs, Eat Bugs and Be Lactose Intolerant," and below the title, "Asian Pop Culture and Beyond." It’s this ‘tude that’s going to keep Giant Robot flying off the shelves and this ish is a great place to start.

E-mail Chris Handyside at [email protected].