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  Big In Japan  
Posted 2000-10-10 by Tony Walsh
A secret invasion has been in the planning for years now. And the orchestrators aren’t just humans. Animals, plants, and robots are also in cahoots. Grinning from ear to ear, the culprits can often be found amongst chaotic shapes and patterns, or amidst scrambled architectural surroundings. They wait an ocean away, big heads on top, small bodies underneath, huge eyeballs on the North American horizon--ironically, the very place from whence they were spawned. What was hatched in New York City fled to Japan, where it grew, multiplied, and prospered. It will only be a matter of time before the Western world is overrun with the super-freaky cartoon creations of Rodney Greenblat, disdaining the comparatively mundane Pokemon and Hello Kitty phenomena.

A virtual unknown on this continent, Greenblat is the genius behind the hit video game Parappa the Rapper. With a unique style obviously unsuited for mass Western appreciation, Greenblat has had a sweeping impact in Japan as big as any tsunami. You can be the first kid on your block to be a Rodney expert, so read on with one hand clicking your mouse and the other covering your eyes in disbelief.

Rodney Alan Greenblat was born in California to an artist mother and an educator father. Early in his youth the Greenblat family moved to Maryland, where Rodney created his own world around trains in the attic of the house. He graduated from the New York School of Visual Arts in 1982, and then moved to the East Village where gallery owner Gracie Mansion became his mentor and promoted his work. He has had group and solo exhibitions through out the world and is represented in many museum collections.

Rodney's colourful designs have graced entire product lines over the years: food chains, video games, toys and album covers among others. This spring, Rodney and some well-financed associates opened up the Café Rodney theme restaurant in Tokyo. Westerners hungry for Greenblat's goodies can satisfy themselves with his extensive web presence, a visual as well as musical feast. is Rodney's personal site, containing a vast buffet of cartoons, audio files, and information about his various commercial endeavours. Those of us you who read Japanese can sink your chopsticks into or Rodney's World; while most of the text is in Japanese, the pictures need no translation.

My own Rodney fun was first found in Rodney's Wonder Windows, a CD-ROM published by Voyager way back when new media was multimedia. A work of inspiring absurdity, Wonder Windows takes the user on a journey through wiggy animations, bizarre game-play interactions, and strange audio experiences. The release of Wonder Windows was followed by the award-winning Dazzeloids in 1994, a digital storybook also available through Voyager. Two other CD-ROMs on the way: Artbrain published in Japan in 1998, is a retrospective of his artwork, and Funscreen 2 EXTREME is a learning toy for pre-schoolers with unusual parents.

Rodney is a true Renaissance man. Not only can he draw, paint, animate, and create interactive adventures, he also has quite a musical talent. With a nasal, boyish voice, he sings the ten songs of Baby Sea Robot, distributed by Sony Intermedia, and Interlink Planning in Tokyo. His first full-length music CD, Baby Sea Robot features ditties such as Kazoo Boy, Great Goodness, and Potato Dough, all of which can be sampled online. Greenblat also sings the opening Jet Baby song from Parappa the Rapper.

Rodney Alan Greenblatt's future domination of the earth cannot be turned back. What's big in Japan always comes to North America sooner or later. While some Japanese cartoons drive kids into epileptic fits, I can see Rodney's characters instilling a future of blissful insanity in Western children. I for one am looking forward to bathing in a sea of Greenblatt merchandise, eating in one of the many Café Rodneys, and visiting the Rodney's World theme park. In the meantime, I'll have to visit Greenblatt's web sites, spinning on one foot while hyperventilating between sips of liquid nitrogen.

Originally printed in Exclaim Magazine, Nov. 2000 edition. James Keast, editor.
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