Saturday, September 26, 2009

Bye-Bye Ai: Sad News From Japan With A Comic Book -- err, Manga -- Twist

The Masked Mayhem wishes, dear readers, that those of you who missed it could have experienced the vibrant Tokyo of the late 80s and early 90s before the Bubble Economy collapsed. The anime industry was in the early stages of becoming the monster that it is today, manga were selling in unheard of numbers, and the mood was much like that of the US during the go-go era of the 1960s.

One of the most vibrant personalities of those pre-economic stagnation days was a unique-looking woman named Ai Iijima. Incredibly thin with a gigantic mass of hair and a -- ahem -- famously shapely bottom. Ai-Chan was a quick-witted media darling who appeared on many panel and variety series including the infamous Gilgamesh Nights, the last hold out of the notorious anything goes late night Wide Shows.

The Mayhem first became aware of Iijima in a television ad for -- get ready -- a comic book shop! While singing a catchy song extolling the virtues of manga, Ai did a little dance which emulated famous comic and anime character's signature moves. And she did it while wearing a super-short miniskirt as part of a very Sailor Moonish costume. The juxtaposition of comics, anime and an overtly sexy spokesmodel was shocking at the time, but with the passage of years seems to perfectly encapsulate the mood of an era.

Here's the commercial:

And here's Ai-Chan perfoming her manga song and dance on Beat Takeshi's Sunday afternoon series, Super Jockey:

What the Mayhem didn't know when first seeing Ai-chan, was that despite being only in her late teens or early twenties, the girl in the costume was already a lady with a past.

Iijima began her career in pornographic videos, but managed to escape into legitimate television by working her way up from the late night sexy  shows to become a sought after panelist for prime time game and talk shows. Her autobiography, Platonic Sex, became an international best-seller and transformed her into an icon for a generation of girls in Hong Kong and Japan.

Over the years, the Mayhem admits to becoming less interested in Japanese pop culture. The glory days of creativity have been replaced by a numbing corporation-mandated sameness in product, whether talking about manga, anime, J-dramas, or even J-Pop. So he was shocked and saddened to read not long ago that Ai-Chan was found dead of pneumonia in her Tokyo condo on Christmas Day, 2008. Her death feels like  the final closure on those halcyon days.

(From the 90s, Ai-Chan's Sega Saturn video game)

All images are copyright by their respective holders. The Masked Mayhem and related text are copyright 2009 Will Meugniot

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