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From Urobuchi to “Urobutcher”

Japanese screenwriter Gen Urobuchi made a name for himself (literally in this case) in the anime community when the 2011 series Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica became a smash hit in both Japan and the West.

The show shocked international audiences as it appeared to be – and was marketed as – a stereotypical, innocent and feel-good magical girl anime, but reveals itself to be in fact a dark and mature story about death and responsibility. Particularly renowned (or, as others would call it, infamous) is the show’s surprising and cold-blooded murders of its beloved characters.

As such, anime fans awarded a new name to Urobuchi, a pun that only western anime fans would understand as it combines English and Japanese: “Urobutcher”. Out of half admiration and half-joking resentment, anime characters who die in a particularly tragic fashion are now no longer “killed”, but “butchered” or “urobutchered”.

THE INFORMANT

The informant has just finished his undergraduate studies. He would consider himself to have been an avid fan of Japanese anime, manga, and games for 6 years. More than simply watching and consuming, he also actively contributes to the community, in the form of reviews, articles, discussions, and translation works. He told me of this folk nickname as a part of his collection of interesting facts/tales from the anime community.

When asked why he decided to select this piece of folklore, he replied simply that it was one of the most popular and enduring jokes/nicknames in the western anime community.

THE ANALYSIS

Cross-cultural folklore continues to fascinate me immensely. It’s curious how exclusive this kind of folklore can be: in the case of the nickname “Urobutcher” it not only requires the reader’s understanding of both Japanese and English, but also a familiarity with Urobuchi’s anime works. If anything this kind of folklore serves as a great example for Holton’s thesis of hybridization – and at the time of his writing in 2000, the power of the Internet wasn’t even evident yet. Now it seems only ever so obvious that global trend in culture has far transcended homogenization and polarization. Perhaps the word ‘hybridization’ is no longer enough – perhaps the Internet deserve a more powerful thesis.

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