It can be interesting being a Batman fan when outside of the U.S. Let’s dig deeper and talk about Batman in Japan. He is (or was?) the most popular superhero in American pop culture. So how does he stack up in the land of the rising sun? You might be surprised!
My history with Batman
I grew up watching the 60s Batman TV show that ran on the networks when I was a child. It wasn’t until I saw the 1989 Batman film by Tim Burton that I became a fan. Since then, I’ve always been excited about the newest Batman movies and interpretations.
Batman in American culture
Batman has been a part of American pop culture ever since he arrived on the comic book scene in 1939. He’s had some ups and downs in his long career, but I would say that most Americans are familiar with Batman the character and know his general story. Having said that, how well known is Batman in Japan, if at all?
Batman in Japan:
Where do I even begin? Batman influenced American culture through comics, TV, and feature films. However, that doesn’t mean the same can be said for Japan.
America’s Movie Culture VS Japan’s TV Culture
First, let’s address Batman in Japan by the movies that are released. Yes, Batman movies are released here, but there are a lot of Japanese people that aren’t really aware of Batman other than maybe his name or his logo.
Japan is the world’s third largest market for Hollywood, so why wouldn’t people be interested in Batman? To put it simply, Japan has less of a movie culture than the U.S. What I mean by this is people don’t reference movies or think about them nearly as much as their American counterparts.
You’re more likely to find young Japanese people referencing things they saw on television from a Japanese TV drama or from a variety show. From my experience teaching young people and talking to adults in Japan, they don’t talk much about Hollywood movies or go see them. Exceptions to these would be something like Pirates of the Carribean or the Harry Potter series. So far Batman in Japan ain’t lookin’ too good. 😦
But wait! You’re probably thinking, “Duh, Bryan. They don’t watch Hollywood movies because they’d rather watch Japanese movies, right?” Well, it’s troublesome for younger people to read subtitles, so they’d rather watch something either dubbed into Japanese or simply Japanese-made content. You’d be right about that.
Even Japanese movies are not referenced or influence pop culture like they do in the U.S. I’ve met many people that rarely watch movies at all, regardless whether they are from Hollywood or local.
To put it simply, watching movies is an acquired hobby and not a default one such as in the U.S.
Batman in Japan can’t compare with Spider-Man
If you want to know the number one American superhero in Japan, it would have to be Spiderman. I couldn’t tell you why he became the most popular, but he is. Maybe it has something to do with the live action show that was produced in the 70s by the same people that made the Super Sentai (Power Rangers) series.
It also helped that Sony Pictures produced the Spider-Man movies and knew how to market them in Japan better than Warner Bros. could for their superhero movies.
Batman doesn’t match Japanese audiences’ taste
Based on my observation, Japanese audiences prefer superheroes to be more colorful and bright. Maybe they can’t relate to a superhero that takes justice into his own hands and constantly steps over the police. Of course, most superheroes do this, but I feel you’re more aware of it in the Batman stories.
Let’s think of it this way: Bruce Wayne’s parents were killed by a gun in an alley, leaving him alone and helpless. That’s pretty horrifying compared to Peter Parker getting bit by a spider and turning into Spider-Man.
Anyway, I would love for there to be a more in-depth look at why Spider-Man trumps all the other superheroes in winning the affection of people in Japan.
About one or two years ago, Toyota Japan started using the Batman character to promote its new line of ugly cars. Nothing too interesting, but cool that Batman is appearing on Japanese TV in some form.
Batman is for girls?!
It’s usually men that are typical Batman fans in the U.S., right? What would you say if I told you that the majority of Batman stuff (bag related) sold in Japan gets bought by girls?
I’ll explain. There are so many merchandise goods with logos and characters on them in Japan. However, the difference between consumers in the U.S. and Japan is young people in Japan choose things that are considered cute or cool without knowing the true origin of the character or logo they bought.
American young people are defined by what kind of T-shirts they wear. It says something about them. In Japan, most people will only notice what looks cool or cute. It’s not considered bad to have something and not know the background information about it.
OK, NOW we can talk about the Batman aspect of this difference. A lot of Batman licensed stuff is actually very colorful and seems to be mostly purchased by women. It must be the logo that is interesting because I don’t think I’ve ever seen another guy walking around with Batman-related merchandise in Japan. Those people exist, but I’m speaking in generalities.
See these bags? I’ve seen women with these and I’m pretty sure they don’t really know much about Batman. As I said, it’s not about what represents you or what you know about the franchise when you buy something. It’s what looks cute or cool.
Batman in Japan: Japanese Comics
OK, so maybe Batman isn’t really well known through movies, but he’s a famous comic book character! Japan loves comics, so he should be well-known there, right? Wrong. Japan has its own comic culture that operates differently from the North American market. Comics are drawn in black and white and are usually released every week compared to comics released once a month in North America. American comics don’t usually show up on the radar for most readers in Japan.
Made in Japan: Batman Manga
There are SOME works that are completely Japanese-made with DC Comics’ blessing. There are only two or three titles, so not much. I happen to own one that I picked up at a used bookstore.
It’s called “Batman Child of Dreams” and it’s 360 pages of black and white Japanese comic goodness. I couldn’t tell you if it was engaging or not, because I forgot what happened. I’ll have to go back and re-read it!
I’ve taken a few snapshots from the inside to give you a peek at what a Japanese Batman manga looks like! I’ll translate some of them so you can get a feel for what the characters are saying.
“Bruce: So there’s Two Face and he’s in Arkham Asylum. Then he breaks out and there’s no record of it. He’s alive and in Arkham.”
“No one came to save me back then…”
“Batman: Finished! This part was easy.”
“Gordon: Whew…what a day.”
“Batman: Are you an impostor too?
Joker: Hee hee hee! Are you saying you’re the original then, Batman?
Joker: I’m trying to save the citizens of Gotham from their anxiety and suffering. Hee hee hee! With this medicine!”
“Yuuko: So far the medicine called “Fanatic” isn’t much different from other illegal drugs.
Yuuko: The problem is we don’t know what kind of medicine the impostor criminals are using. Have you figured out anything?”
Another comic I found but don’t own is “Batman Death Mask” The cover looks interesting, so maybe I’ll try to track down a used copy and post some excerpts in a future post.
American Graphic Novels
I have never seen the various American Batman graphic novels for sale at normal bookstores, but have seen some of them in Village Vanguard, a chain store that paints itself as an “exciting bookstore” These stores are filled with random goods, toys, clothes, and books. Sort of like an interesting nerdy store.
I own the Japanese edition of “Batman The Killing Joke”. Most of the famous Batman graphic novels can be purchased in Japanese, but you’ll probably have an easier time finding them on Amazon Japan. I can’t imagine they sell in great numbers, but I’d love to know!
“Barbara: Just what happened to my Dad?”
“Batman: I heard that joke before.
Batman: It wasn’t funny the first time either!”
“Batman: Barbara, can you hear me? It’s me, Bruce.”
There were novelizations released in North America of some of the Batman movies. They got translated and released in Japanese! These are pretty neat because I can imagine the movie as I’m reading, which is great practice.
For the life of me, I checked high and low, but couldn’t find them in my area. I was lucky enough to be able to find them used online.
Something interesting I noticed about the novelization of Batman (1989) is it has scenes and dialogue that were cut from the final version of the movie. This is really cool because I get to see what the writers/director changed. It’s sort of like looking at a beta version of the movie, but reading in Japanese. Also, I can’t believe the great condition this thing is in considering it came out in 1989. The original bookmark was still inside!
I haven’t read the Batman Begins novel yet, but I plan to after finishing the previous one.
Batman in Japan- Final Thoughts
None of my friends around me are interested in Batman. I stand alone as the only Batman fanatic in my area. I don’t think Batman in Japan will ever become as popular as Spider-Man or the recent Marvel characters. It’s just not in the cards for Batman and DC Comics.
Would I like for Japan to make its own interpretation of Batman and release it as a new manga or anime? Absolutely! Maybe one day an agreement can be made between DC Comics and a Japanese publisher/studio. Until then, I think Marvel is winning the hearts of Japanese audiences.
Why do you think Batman is not popular with Japanese audiences? Why is Spider-Man always the one superhero that people like? Let me know in the comments!