By John Ingulsrud and Kate Allen
Juvenile delinquency is big business in Japan. It’s not the criminal or motorcycle gang activity itself, but its representation and the attraction of media products that depict it. The origins of the term yankii, according to Patrick Galbraith’s Otaku Encyclopedia, are various. (1) Most date back to the post-World War II days and actually do relate to “Yankee,” in the sense that the delinquents emulated the styles of their American counterparts and lived in neighborhoods with shops that sold US army surplus and other American goods. We sense that it was convenient to label delinquency as something foreign, so that the young people themselves could be seen as good kids.
Yankii stories and products are not new. There has been a steady number of manga devoted to these themes. The difference, according to the tabloid Spa!, is when several kinds of media and consumer products are available at the same time, which tends to happen in times of economic hardship. (2) Yankii stories are full of defiance toward the establishment with characters flouting social norms. Their discontent is directed toward the rich and powerful that perpetuate the situation and they feel no one is going to help people who do not fit in or have trouble in school.
Two films this summer are proving to be blockbusters, Crows Zero II and Rookies. Both are based on long-running manga series by Takahashi Hiroshi and Morita Masanori respectively. Crows Zero II, a sequel to the 2007 film Crows Zero, is proving to be more successful. Rookies, made on the heels of a TV series, is also a box office success. The yankii styles, the bad-look, are also a hit. For example, there is the hip-hop look of Inoue Santa’s Tokyo Tribe series; Crows Zero II has the school uniform look with multiple permutations on the Nehru-cut jacket; Rookies offers more of the same uniform look, plus variations on baseball gear.
Spa! magazine extols the yankii trend by stressing the values of honesty, solidarity, as well as the attention to family and community. They provide examples of former yankiis who have made good. At the same time, the trend also has a troubling side, such as the attributes of violence, vigilantism, and intolerance, plus a penchant for ultra-nationalism. Topics with this kind of edge are found in manga stories. A similar kind of edge is found in works employing moe representations found most often in manga for girls and women. Is moe porn or is it simply a style that fuses the cute, seductive and the pitiful?
Fortunately, Japan has comparatively few violent and sexual crimes. Therefore most people do not see the media as causing criminal activity. As the label yankii implies, although the acts are bad, the characters are basically nice kids. In the same way, the implication includes the readers and viewers who see themselves as nice people.
John E. Ingulsrud is Professor of Applied Linguistics in the Department of International Studies at Meisei University. Kate Allen is Professor of Linguistics in the School of Global Japanese Studies at Meiji University. They are the authors of Reading Japan Cool: Patterns of Manga Literacy and Discourse.
- Patrick W. Galbraith, The Otaku Encyclopedia: An Insider’s Guide to the Subculture of Cool Japan, (Tokyo: Kodansha, 2009), 238.
- “Yankii Supirittsu Sugoi Keizai Kōka (The Yankii Spirit Huge Economic Effect)”, Spa! Business Culture and Entertainment Weekly (June 23, 2009), 38-45.