LA Times: “Charisma Man: An American geek is reborn in Japan”


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Hi Blog.  One of the most controversial characters I’ve ever seen come out of the NJ (Eikaiwa) community has been the character of “Charisma Man”, as described in the LA Times below.  Compare and contrast him with McDonald’s “Mr James”.  I won’t right now, but readers feel free.  Arudou Debito in Tokyo



Charisma Man: An American geek is reborn in Japan

The anime character is coming back from hiatus to his Calvin and Hobbes-type fantasy world in which he is super. But he has his own version of debilitating kryptonite.

By John M. Glionna September 1, 2009

Reporting from Tokyo

From his window seat in the Roppongi bar district, Neil Garscadden eyes an exotic street parade: the reggae-styled hipsters, the Nigerian nightclub hawkers, the soft-stepping geishas, the secretaries in miniskirts and impossibly heavy eye shadow.

The nuances of the scene, Garscadden insists, would be lost on a mere tourist.

This, he says, is a job for Charisma Man.

With his blue eyes, tousled blond hair and foreign passport, Charisma Man is a sake-sipping man about town, suavely negotiating the intricacies of Japanese culture. Women adore him. Men respect, even fear, him. Life in the East bends to his every whim.

“It’s great to be a Western guy in Asia,” he says. “I’ve got lots of money, chicks dig me — everybody respects me.”

Well, not everybody.

In this land of anime, Charisma Man is a comic strip character created in 1998 by Larry Rodney, a Canadian then teaching English in Nagoya, to lampoon what he saw as the absurd hubris of many Western men in Japan. Capitalizing on their novelty status, they prowled for cheap thrills, an easy paycheck and sex — not necessarily in that order. Many were slackers posing as teachers (a job for which they were underqualified) to continue the charade of their low-wattage celebrity.

Even with Charisma Man’s limited knowledge of Japanese language or culture, he nonetheless sees himself as a self-styled Superman — albeit with a debilitating kryptonite: Western Woman.

“She sees him as the loser he really is,” says Garscadden, who penned the comic strip after Rodney returned to Canada. “When she’s around, he reverts back into an average Joe Blow.”

After an eight-year run in an alternative expat magazine, the black-and-white five-panel monthly strip was discontinued in 2006.

But now Charisma Man is back.

Following their 2002 collection of the first four years of Charisma Man adventures, Rodney and Garscadden are teaming up to publish a book containing both old and new installments. And there’s even talk of a new monthly strip.

(They dismiss Charisma Man comics between 2002 and 2006, saying the writers took the character in an uncharismatic direction after Garscadden also left the picture.)

The reprise comes at a much different time than the 1990s heyday, when fewer Westerners living in Japan meant bigger egos for the ones who were there.

But Charisma Man still reigns supreme, the pair says.

“Part of his success comes from the fact that many Japanese women are frustrated by their choices — Japanese men who often are very conservative, old-fashioned and not very romantic,” says Rodney, 41, who now lives in Vancouver.

“And even after all these years, many still have a romanticized view of what Western men are all about.”

Stereotypical fantasy is a main theme of the comic strip. Charisma Man is like the boy in the Calvin and Hobbes comic whose stuffed tiger comes alive only when he’s alone.

In the presence of Japanese women, Our Hero is a muscular he-man. Readers only see his true loser self when Western Woman shares the frame. Likewise, the Japanese girls in Charisma Man’s arms are all Barbie-like — until someone else shows up. Then they’re often rather plump.

“I guess I spent too much time on trains without much else to think about,” Rodney says of his inspiration for Charisma Man. “Maybe I saw too many of these geeky social misfits living above their station in Japan. Something snapped.”

In the strip, Charisma Man hails from the planet Canada, where he works as a McDonald’s fry cook, scorned by the opposite sex.

In an early strip, he snags a job in Japan over a much more qualified Western Woman, leading his foil to seek revenge.

One favorite strip by Garscadden, a former editor at the now-defunct Alien magazine, which carried the series, features the character as Commander Charisma, a submarine captain who spots an approaching battleship just in time to save his crew.

The final frame shows Charisma Man at a bar with his cronies hiding from “the battleship”: Western Woman, who strides through the joint.

For years, Charisma Man ruled Tokyo, at least among expatriates.

“I found references to Charisma Man in academic journals dissecting cross-cultural aspects of Asian studies,” Rodney says. “Years after I moved back to Canada and forgot all about the character, I mentioned to some guy who used to live in Japan that I invented Charisma Man. He shook my hand like I was Mick Jagger.”

There were some critics. One reader of the 2002 collection complained that the entire strip was one joke repeated.

“I loved that,” Garscadden says, “because that’s exactly what Western Woman would say about Charisma Man.”

Garscadden, 43, from Dayton, Ohio, says he recently called Rodney about reviving the character: “I just said, it would be stupid to let this guy die.” Under the new arrangement, Rodney will write the strip and Garscadden will edit.

“I’m already thinking of new directions,” Rodney says. “There might be a new foil other than Western Woman — a new sexy Western Man who threatens to usurp Charisma Man’s powers.

“That would be his worst nightmare.”


12 comments on “LA Times: “Charisma Man: An American geek is reborn in Japan”

  • By the way it looks like Mr.James is finally coming to Kansai…..BUT…He won’t be going to Osaka as he specifically promised in the 2009.08.28 entry of his blog.He’ll just pass through Kobe and Kyoto this weekend /tomorrow and the day after tomorrow/…Why?
    Me and a few of my friends /foreign and japanese/ were planning to go and express PEACEFULLY our views on their campaign.I wrote our intentions on Debito’s blog a while ago, also stating that anybody could easily join us.And now he is skipping Osaka…Is this somehow related, or am I just being paranoid?

    Now I’d like to share with the readers of the blog a great win /in my view/ that I had.As perhaps many of you know comments on Mr.James’ blog are heavily censured.I’ve tried to send a few messages and nothing even remotely personal, critical, or off-topic ever got published.Then three days ago I succeeded and delivered a very subtle but also very symbolic blow to their mean-spirited and racially motivated campaign.On 2009.09.07 as the entry ゴクラク、ゴクラク~♪ reveals to us, Mr.James went for a bath and apparently loved it.Readers of his blog share his enthousiasm for japanese onsen and try to offer him alternatives for a great bath.Then I join the discussion and actually recommend to him to go to Otaru and try Yu-no-Hana……LOL
    Take a look:

    — If that comment gets deleted after you reveal its intention up here, then you know McD’s is reading

  • I rememberf Charisma Man, and found the comic strip hilarious. I would very much like to buy collected reprints, and new stories would be the icing. Fun times…

  • I wonder what would happen if there was a charisma man in american featuring a japanese as the leading man. believe me there would be a boycott of that magazine in a heartbeat and a public outcry …

  • “I wonder what would happen if there was a charisma man in american featuring a japanese as the leading man. believe me there would be a boycott of that magazine in a heartbeat and a public outcry …”

    Depends on who created it. If it was anyone other than a Japanese or Japanese-American it would feel the wrath of activists. If it was a Japanese or JA making fun of behavioral stereotypes it would be hailed as “hilarious” and “irreverant.”

  • Why, Jim? Unlike Mr. James, Charaisma Man is a Canadian lampooning himself, whereas Mr. James is the Japanese asserting their superiority through racially sterotyping Westerners.

  • I personally like Charisma Man. I have met so many so called Charisma Men over the years who act just like the character lampooning them, and have actually known people worse than the extremes portrayed in the cartoon! On the other hand, Mr James is not funny, will never be funny and is just a stereotyped character for advertising purposes, whilst Charisma Man is a parody that is very funny and accurate on occasion! More Charisma Man would definitely be great to my mind, it was the highlight of my devourance of Japanzine! Plus, is Ask Kazuhide – a column where an old Japanese guy basically insults foreigners – ,one of the most popular features of the magazine these days, ironic or plain offensive? Like Charisma Man, it’s lampooning stereotypes and I personally find that column hilarious!

  • both the charisma man, and Mr.james are offensive regardless of who created them. because they are sterotypeing a certain race of people.

  • Isn’t the line between satire and stereotyping a fine one – and how dependent on context is it! In my humble, the Mr James thing goes too far because of the fact it is an advertisement – its purpose is to sell burgers, and it does so by perpetuating a stereotype. It doesn’t hold that stereotype up for examination, it uses it to sell things.

    Charisma Man and Kazuhide (two things I found to be unbelievably hilarious) on the other hand use a stereotype to provide laughs – at the same time allowing us to think about and reflect on how funny the truth presented in the stereotypes provided is. This is satire. You could stretch a point and say they are used to sell a magazine, but I don’t think that holds too much water. People don’t get the magazine just to see those, unlike the purpose of the McDs commercials.

    As per Debito, i think the idea that counts is in what would be found acceptable if transferred to different contexts. A goofy Japanese guy (me likee flied ricee) in an ad would – and has – come under fire by Japanese minority groups, and rightly so. Satirical cartoons however are a feature of every major newspaper. Isn’t that the point?

  • I agree with Derridge. Satire that plays on stereotypes is a staple of British humour, and I’d imagine much humour around the world in general. Charisma Man made me laugh because it resonated with what I’ve seen of a certain kind of Westerner in Japan: those who go to Japan and indulge in the farcical celebrity status they’re given, living for cheap laughs and sex. Many stereotypes have a ring of truth to them, and Charisma Man is no exception. I know many such people, and it makes me cringe.

    I think satire relies on how much the writer trusts the audience, as well as their skill at making it clear that it is satire. I’d imagine the people that read Charisma Man are smart enough to see the point of the character, and to know that it doesn’t apply to all foreigners in Japan, but nevertheless does draw attention to a problematic stereotype for foreigners in Japan.

    As for Mr. James, well, I can’t detect any satirical purpose.

  • Andrew Smallacombe says:

    Charisma Man and Mr. James differ in their inside/outside approaches.
    Charisma Man is paradoy of stereotypes, and of certain personalities any Westerner working in Japan has probably encountered. It has a target audience, who can choose whether or not to read it. It was created by people inside a certain experience for people with similar experiences. Charisma Man would be meaningless (and possibly even offensive) for those who have not lived in Japan.

    Mr. James is either a parody of Westerners in general or a stereotype – not a parody of stereotype. The character has been created by people outside the group for consumption by people outside the group. The character is not based on any real experiences, just stereotypes created and perpetuated by the media.

    Much like the “sushi” sketch that was made by Japanese for Japanese, but certain elements of the Japanese-American community found offensive.

  • The Charisma man type isn’t exclusive to white men/asian women. How about a black “Charisma Man”. I’ve seen many black men who are disfunctional with black women but seem irresistably charming to many white women. Watch these black men/white women interact and there are many similarities to the white men/asian women behaviors. Would the creators of “Charisma Man” have the courage to create a black “Charisma Man” character? They would be accused of racism, of course, but then why is it OK to do to white men/asian women? Ignore the double standard, there’s nothing wrong with commenting on something that exists, it deserves mockery just as much as the white men/asian women behavior.

  • Yeah, I’ve seen the black Charisma man in action, very similar to white Charisma man. Couldn’t do it unless it was an African american doing the cartoon though, as was pointed out in a previous posting, it has to be someone the same race, if the satirist is of another race they’d be accused of being racist.


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