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Author Topic: The thin veneer of Kuritan orientalism  (Read 1697 times)

Vandervecken

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The thin veneer of Kuritan orientalism
« on: 01 August 2019, 18:56:46 »
I've been working on getting a friend into Battletech's lore via reading Wolves on the Border, and his immediate response to the Combine is that they seem like ****** fanboys.
I know from deep exposure to Battletech over decades that the veneer of orientalism in the Combine is a lot more fragile than the founding societal myths make it out as, and that it cracks in all sorts of ways when practicality requires.
Are there any good write-ups or explanations about what's going on in the Draconis Combine? The whole bushido/samurai thing, and how it's far more complex than it appears initially?

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Re: The thin veneer of Kuritan orientalism
« Reply #1 on: 01 August 2019, 19:31:27 »
He's right, you know.

The Combine "culture" was a product of Urizen Kurita (IIRC), who attempted to formalise inherent pro-Kuritan/Japanese culture as a reaction to Star League imperialism. And it was basically forced on people. I could make some real-world examples, except I'd hit Rule 4 so hard the last thing passing through my mind would be my glasses ...

Handbook House Kurita (E-CAT 35205) is your best bet for the sort of information he'd want. But that won't disguise it's an artificial imposition intended to bolster a controlling state apparatus.
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Vandervecken

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Re: The thin veneer of Kuritan orientalism
« Reply #2 on: 01 August 2019, 19:43:27 »
He's right, you know.
...
But that won't disguise it's an artificial imposition intended to bolster a controlling state apparatus.

No, I think I didn't make my point. He thought that it was the *author's* ****** fanboyism.
In-game ****** fanboyism is actually a lot more interesting.
The idea that it's an artificial imposition intended to bolster a controlling state apparatus is the narratively complex fact I want to highlight.

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Re: The thin veneer of Kuritan orientalism
« Reply #3 on: 01 August 2019, 19:53:01 »
HBHK is excellent resource on that.



How samurai-like were Kuritans established when Wolves on the Border was released? I wonder if the author is actually a big reason how we see the Draconis Combine nowadays, or he was told to make them space samurai?
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Re: The thin veneer of Kuritan orientalism
« Reply #4 on: 01 August 2019, 20:03:26 »
No, I think I didn't make my point. He thought that it was the *author's* ****** fanboyism.
In-game ****** fanboyism is actually a lot more interesting.
The idea that it's an artificial imposition intended to bolster a controlling state apparatus is the narratively complex fact I want to highlight.

The Orientalism inference is a bit of a stretch, the Draconis Combine was meant to be Space Japan much as the Federated Suns was meant to be a neo-Angevin Empire, and the entire setting thematic at best. Anything more seems unlikely.
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Re: The thin veneer of Kuritan orientalism
« Reply #5 on: 02 August 2019, 07:55:37 »
How samurai-like were Kuritans established when Wolves on the Border was released? I wonder if the author is actually a big reason how we see the Draconis Combine nowadays, or he was told to make them space samurai?

House Kurita came out in '87, whereas Wolves on the Border was '89 - they were already space samurai.

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Re: The thin veneer of Kuritan orientalism
« Reply #6 on: 02 August 2019, 11:22:11 »
Since its the first book that deals with the Drac culture . . . yeah, you can say that . . . and I think you can also say it was built from 80s pop culture image, which makes sense with a imposed ideal since pop culture would likely be the IC source for such things.  The way the cities are described, the yakuza, and some of the other touches feels to me like a lot of the late 80s & 90s anime- and I have very little exposure, Ghost in the Shell, Cowboy Bebop, Robotech (haha).  Some scene descriptions felt like Decker was going to cross the street.  Maybe some old rubbersuit Godzilla movie touches for the idealistic society image.  Hmm, I am actually thinking mostly of Heir to the Dragon, lol.

But yeah, what Ogra said . . . you have to remember the universe was set up in the 80s, where the easiest/best source to build each House was going to be a published encyclopedia at the library and the universe authors were unlikely to have ever been to Japan.  They MIGHT have known some immigrants or a US armed forces member who had been stationed in Japan.  So sure it looks superficial . . . because it was, and used a lot of pop culture influence and likely your friend if he is interested in Japanese culture has a better understanding of it than someone would have in the 80s that was not a official expert.  Since it is a very foreign culture, its a lot more apparent superficial application than the Lyrans, FedSuns or Leaguers . . . the Cappies are better culturally grafted faction since they were ripped from a pair of world powers at the time.

Wolves gets interesting and I think the PoV character lets the reader know the culture is a forced because he is a black samurai descended from a family that embraced the Kuritan Japanese culture push.  The antagonist being someone who exists in that culture but but rejects the tenets of bushido but gives lip service for his own advancement.
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Re: The thin veneer of Kuritan orientalism
« Reply #7 on: 02 August 2019, 11:33:16 »
The Orientalism inference is a bit of a stretch, the Draconis Combine was meant to be Space Japan much as the Federated Suns was meant to be a neo-Angevin Empire, and the entire setting thematic at best. Anything more seems unlikely.

a deconstruction of an orientalist analysis would quickly veer deep into rule 4 waters, but i agree that it's an aggressive accusation.

to me it seems the creators were like "hey you know what's cool? katanas."

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Re: The thin veneer of Kuritan orientalism
« Reply #8 on: 02 August 2019, 14:41:18 »
It seems to wax an wane with whomever is coordinator. Takakski K was a hard line fundamentalist, Teddy K and his son, not so much. Takakski K would practice ideology when practicing pragmatism would have been the better choice. Teddy and his son, were practical to the point of greatly upsetting the fundamentalist, like the Black Dragon Society, which caused its own problems.

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Re: The thin veneer of Kuritan orientalism
« Reply #9 on: 02 August 2019, 14:47:24 »
The Combine is the result of one man in the 26th century dusting off what he saw as the right culture for his empire -- the feudal era of Japan. The fact he was born a thousand years too late to actually experience that era meant he relied on history books and other sources for his vision. It doesn't mean its 100% accurate.

So, the Combine is one man's vision of feudal Japan. Simple as that. After several generations of being raised in a culture like that, the citizens of the Combine don't see anything wrong with their culture...

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Re: The thin veneer of Kuritan orientalism
« Reply #10 on: 02 August 2019, 15:17:45 »
No, I think I didn't make my point. He thought that it was the *author's* ****** fanboyism.
In-game ****** fanboyism is actually a lot more interesting.
The idea that it's an artificial imposition intended to bolster a controlling state apparatus is the narratively complex fact I want to highlight.

Your friend isn't wrong exactly. There's a lot of curiosity in the 80s about eastern cultures that were a bit blunt. That's something that's filled out quite a bit since then as the US has learned and understood more, but because there's little rebooting in the BT universe, much of that fanboi flavor sticks around along with perms and Terminator-style bandanas. Authors since then have done a lot of filling out that establish the hows and whys of the cultural fanboi-ism establishment and that certainly mitigates a lot of the heavy-handedness, but the core is still there, yeah, and that's probably what your friend detects. It's all good in the end.
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Re: The thin veneer of Kuritan orientalism
« Reply #11 on: 07 August 2019, 00:26:06 »
I once saw it put as the Draconis Combine is the theme-park version of Japan.

Also, IIRC there was a line in one book about some of the samurai who were invited to Earth as part of the Draconis Combine delegation to Hanse and Melissa's wedding taking the opportunity to actually go to Japan and being the most obnoxious tourists imaginable (to the point of actually stealing every random thing that they could get their hands on).

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Re: The thin veneer of Kuritan orientalism
« Reply #12 on: 07 August 2019, 01:18:29 »
A couple years ago I had to try explaining what was going on with the Japan obsession in shadowrun to a guy in his 20s. He just couldn't grok it either.

Japan looked different in the 80s/early 90s than it does through the lens of history.

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Re: The thin veneer of Kuritan orientalism
« Reply #13 on: 07 August 2019, 01:27:18 »
It was because at the time, Japan's economy was growing at a phenomenal rate and there was a great deal of speculation about Japan emerging as the third global superpower.

Also, for cyberpunk settings, Japan had a longstanding rep of being extremely dominant in the world of computers and electronics at the time.

Of course, that all came to an end in 1991 when Japan suffered a severe, decade-long recession.

https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/JapanTakesOverTheWorld

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Re: The thin veneer of Kuritan orientalism
« Reply #14 on: 07 August 2019, 01:30:02 »
I once saw it put as the Draconis Combine is the theme-park version of Japan.

Also, IIRC there was a line in one book about some of the samurai who were invited to Earth as part of the Draconis Combine delegation to Hanse and Melissa's wedding taking the opportunity to actually go to Japan and being the most obnoxious tourists imaginable (to the point of actually stealing every random thing that they could get their hands on).
There was also mention in JHS: Terra about DCMS troops stealing stuff in Japan,
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Re: The thin veneer of Kuritan orientalism
« Reply #16 on: 07 August 2019, 04:34:02 »
It's clear that Shiro and Urizen did hold onto a substantial amount of Japanese culture in their own upbringing, even though their colony appears to have been founded initially by Uzbeks.  (Samarkand is in Uzbekistan, so New Samarkand...)  It's known that they initially rose to control a single city-state on what appears to have been a fairly anarchic colony.

Their initial expansion of the Alliance of Galedon and the later Draconis Combine did show some overtly Japanese cultural elements, even prior to Urizen II's Star League-era wholesale cultural reformation.  In the prologue of Far Country, the Von Rohrs-era troops act like post-Urizen II soldiers, and go on to found Japanese-architecture influenced city-states on the Tetatae homeworld.  The first ever DEST team equates its initiation rituals with becoming a true samurai (also during the Von Rohrs era). 

So the Japanese cultural elements within the Combine were present even before Urizen II.  This can be explained by people feeling uneasy with the usurper Von Rohrs dynasty and trying to act more Japanese as a show of loyalty to the old Kurita clan.  Once the Von Rohrs dynasty fell and the Kurita line was restored, I can easily see the populace doubling down on emulating their leaders' cultural background (ignoring the half-Rasalhagian heritage of the bastard offspring who survived the Von Rohrs usurpation and restored the dynasty), and being primed to absorb everything Urizen II threw at them during the Good Years of the Star League.
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Re: The thin veneer of Kuritan orientalism
« Reply #17 on: 07 August 2019, 10:59:24 »
A couple years ago I had to try explaining what was going on with the Japan obsession in shadowrun to a guy in his 20s. He just couldn't grok it either.

Japan looked different in the 80s/early 90s than it does through the lens of history.

Yeah, I will go with this . . . I would say the current cultural equivalent is like Firefly/Serenity with the blending of trope-level Chinese into that universe.
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Re: The thin veneer of Kuritan orientalism
« Reply #18 on: 07 August 2019, 17:56:11 »
Yeah, I will go with this . . . I would say the current cultural equivalent is like Firefly/Serenity with the blending of trope-level Chinese into that universe.

Hence the Capellan resurgence?

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Re: The thin veneer of Kuritan orientalism
« Reply #19 on: 07 August 2019, 19:31:01 »
Hence the Capellan resurgence?

More like lazy creative writing and magic Worf effect.  :P

Edit: less critical
« Last Edit: 07 August 2019, 19:43:36 by Ogra_Chief »
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Re: The thin veneer of Kuritan orientalism
« Reply #20 on: 07 August 2019, 20:40:02 »
Hence the Capellan resurgence?

The Capellan resurgence happened six years before Firefly went on the air.

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Re: The thin veneer of Kuritan orientalism
« Reply #21 on: 07 August 2019, 20:57:32 »
The Capellan resurgence happened six years before Firefly went on the air.

I meant perhaps more replacement in the public consciousness of the old trope with the newer
https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/ChinaTakesOverTheWorld

Firefly was itself maybe a sign of this.

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Re: The thin veneer of Kuritan orientalism
« Reply #22 on: 07 August 2019, 21:11:34 »
Yes, that was my point . . . sorry client called and I hit done.  For the 80s, it was a panic reaction to Japanese industrial/import explosion of the late 70s into the 80s that brought us brands like Sony to replace GE & RCA in homes.  I was in junior high but I remember the 'we got to stop Japan' talk that happened around the Gulf War that lasted into the early 90s- it was still going even after they collapsed.

Now its China, and as demonstrated in Firefly/Serenity we get cursing in Mandrin, ideograms, and more cultural stuff.
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Re: The thin veneer of Kuritan orientalism
« Reply #23 on: 12 August 2019, 07:31:34 »
No, I think I didn't make my point. He thought that it was the *author's* ****** fanboyism.
In-game ****** fanboyism is actually a lot more interesting.

The truth is that it's both, I think. It was the late 80s - not the height of Western Japanophilia, but it was definitely on the upswing. The OOU cause of House Kurita is a bunch of nerdy game designers going, "Hey, you know what's cool? Samurai. And katana. And ninja. And Gundams."

But the IU cause of House Kurita is Shiro Kurita and his descendants, and they were obsessive restorationists. The Draconis Combine is not based on Japanese culture as it actually is or was - it's based on Shiro and company's attempt to construct something new inspired by a particular period of Japanese history. Their construction is not going to be entirely accurate, partly because that's impossible, and partly because the Kurita family consciously adapted what their inspirations to the needs of running an interstellar empire. I talked about this a bit last year.

The short version, though, is that the Draconis Combine are not historical Japan or historical samurai. They are a new thing inspired by a particular, idiosyncratic recollection of Japan.

And the point of this is to have giant robots with katana.

Because that's cool.

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Re: The thin veneer of Kuritan orientalism
« Reply #24 on: 13 August 2019, 12:17:36 »
The truth is that it's both, I think. It was the late 80s - not the height of Western Japanophilia, but it was definitely on the upswing. The OOU cause of House Kurita is a bunch of nerdy game designers going, "Hey, you know what's cool? Samurai. And katana. And ninja. And Gundams."
I don't think that the original Kurita House Book (where all of this starts, really... in BTech and MW 1st Ed. Kurita was just a straight-up military dictatorship and police state with only superficial Japanese elements) shows a lot of Japanophilia. Quite the opposite, in fact.
Some of the sources used in the HB are writings about Feudal Japan, but many others (in some cases rather lazily copy-pasted) are writings about WW2-era Japan... taken up to eleven to paint a comically drastic picture of brutality and backwardness.

Quote
And the point of this is to have giant robots with katana.
That kind of silliness only came much, much later.
EDIT: Have to correct myself a bit - the Hatamoto-Chi didn't have a sword, but it was clearly designed to visually evoke Samurai armor, and that was as early as 1989. But the first katana-wielding Mechs only came about in the FM:HK if memory serves.
« Last Edit: 13 August 2019, 12:25:09 by Koshirou »

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Re: The thin veneer of Kuritan orientalism
« Reply #25 on: 14 August 2019, 05:05:33 »
Look no further than Victor Milan's Black Dragon trilogy, he was the original 80s Japanophile. He played the Japanese Drac idea utterly straight, with all its masks and undercurrents. And he even predicted the aggressive rise of saccharine J-pop/K-pop girl bands at least a couple years before it was mainstream in Japan itself, God rest his soul.

In that sense he might have gone a step too far, since the original idea is that Dracs were people of all races playing at being Japanese.


Now its China, and as demonstrated in Firefly/Serenity we get cursing in Mandrin, ideograms, and more cultural stuff.
Not actual curses, but yeah.

When a country does the economic equivalent of leaping on the world stage, the mainstream media picks it up and runs with all the cultural stuff as well to fill headlines. Then if any cultural ambassadors are around, they start getting attention, even if they didnt before, and they lead everyone else into it. Its suddenly cool to be interested in that stuff, and people learn more about it and feature it in whatever they write.

Like what Game of Thrones did for medieval and dungeons and dragons stuff. ASOIAF fans leapt from the back rooms of FLGSs and secondhand bookstores (around the discount bins) into the limelight cause suddenly it was cool to think and talk about knights and dragons, it was no longer the domain of geeks.

Same thing.

Who knows what the next big thing will be. Maybe HBO will do a Georgian series next. Then there'll be this huge interest in Regency lifestyles and you find a lot of content coming out based around it, Davions suddenly acting like Jane Austen characters.

Then maybe I'll get hired by Buzzfeed to write about Napoleonic line and column tactics...

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Re: The thin veneer of Kuritan orientalism
« Reply #26 on: 14 August 2019, 10:47:41 »
Who knows what the next big thing will be. Maybe HBO will do a Georgian series next. Then there'll be this huge interest in Regency lifestyles and you find a lot of content coming out based around it, Davions suddenly acting like Jane Austen characters.

Well . . . I think the broken up League's Rim Commonality had that nailed down when Jessica started bringing folks back together.
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Re: The thin veneer of Kuritan orientalism
« Reply #27 on: 14 August 2019, 12:13:30 »
Look no further than Victor Milan's Black Dragon trilogy, he was the original 80s Japanophile. He played the Japanese Drac idea utterly straight, with all its masks and undercurrents. And he even predicted the aggressive rise of saccharine J-pop/K-pop girl bands at least a couple years before it was mainstream in Japan itself, God rest his soul.

In that sense he might have gone a step too far, since the original idea is that Dracs were people of all races playing at being Japanese.

To be fair, Battletech as a whole seemed to get hit with that at about the same time.  The CC saw a similar plunge in the ethnic diversity of the characters who represented it (in the Warrior Trilogy, Romano was very explicitly a redhead).

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Re: The thin veneer of Kuritan orientalism
« Reply #28 on: 14 August 2019, 15:53:13 »
Don't look too closely at the Germanization of the Lyran Commonwealth. Or that fact that the Federated Suns was founded upon a medieval theme-park.
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Re: The thin veneer of Kuritan orientalism
« Reply #29 on: 14 August 2019, 16:09:38 »
Or that fact that the Federated Suns was founded upon a medieval theme-park.


Oooo . . . Katherine got off light!  Victor should have placed her in stocks in the center of the Davion Peace Park!
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