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Art and ASCII: The Stories Behind All Those Brackets, Slashes, and Carets

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Art and ASCII: The Stories Behind All Those Brackets, Slashes, and Carets
: Many of Japan's most popular Web memes emerge from the millions of daily posts on the BBS called 2channel. So do some very elaborate and creative works of ASCII art. 2channel is a text-only bulletin board, but users have circumvented that restriction and created a whole new form of illustration, as well as an array of recurring characters that are continually refined and elaborated on by the user community.

One of the most famous creatures to emerge from the 2channel threads is Mona (aka Nomaneko), a catlike (or bearlike?) thing, which has been made out of apostrophes and brackets. Since his first appearance in 2000, he has become a fixture on the BBS. Many variations of Mona exist, and users will attach versions depicting the appropriate emotions to their posts and comments. The character is often accompanied with certain catchphrases popular on the site, such as omae mona! ("I know you are, but what am I?") and kimee! ("Gross!"). Mona is the collective property of the 2channelers—no single person owns the copyright. But when music label Avex tried to commercialize Nomaneko products, 2channelers fought back with everything from legalistic nitpicking to death threats, solidifying Mona's status as the collective symbol of the anonymous underdog.
: Watch your back, Superman. There's a new crime fighter in town, and he moonlights as a condiment. Named after world-renowned sauce company Kikkoman, this hero has a flowing cape, great pecs, and a head that looks like the fish-shaped bottles of soy sauce you find in convenience stores in Japan. The Soy Sauce Warrior started as a simple ASCII image on a 2channel thread. But as more and more posters chipped in, he quickly developed into a fully fleshed-out character with an elaborate backstory. Kikkoman hails from Soybean planet. His friends Sugarman and Saltman help him battle the Sauce Brothers and Ketchup Man, and they employ powerful fighting moves like the Kikko-punch and the Kikko-beam. A humorous theme song called "Fight! Kikkoman" was a big hit. (It also features the ASCII icon Mona.)
: Yaruo is a highly popular ASCII art character born from the Newsflash section of 2channel. Don't let his thoughtful expression fool you—Yaruo is not the brightest guy in the world. Many users create "Learn With Yaruo" instructional posts, in which they employ the character to explain things like the history of music or the subprime loan problem in a series of comic-style panels. (He'll occasionally get things wrong, then double back and correct himself.)
: This is a pair of popular 2channel characters. The shorter one on the right is Dokuo, short for dokushin otoko, or "single guy." Doku can mean both "single" and "poisonous" in Japanese, and the character has come to embody all the negative clichés of nerdhood. When he's alone, he's depicted as lazy, introverted, borderline suicidal, and most definitely a virgin. His catchphrase is mandokusei, which translates as "I'm too lazy to do it."Dokuo is the sort of loser that only a mother could love…and Kachan is that mother. In this image, she's on the left, holding Dokuo's hand and dragging him along. The depressive Dokuo's demeanor changes when he's around her—he beams with delight. 2channel users often create comic strips with the doting parent Kachan telling her child how cute and clever he is. The word kachan is rural slang for "mother" in Japanese. Her bobbed hair is created by pairing the letter "J" on the left side of her head with the hiragana character "shi" on the right side of her head.
: Back in 2002, users of 2channel's Lounge section decided that it was time they added a transforming robot to their crew. They dreamed up a twisted parody of the popular manga character Mazinger Z. This unlikely half robot-half human female superhero's mission is to save Japan from youth crime and corrupt politics. The inset is a CG representation of the character. In the larger ASCII image, Louzinger is saying namenjyanezo, or "Don't mess with me." Hear that, evildoers?
: Portrayed in the lower right corner of this ASCII image racing to catch the train, Train Man is a folk hero to geeks in Japan, especially 2channel users. The otaku Web nerd was riding the train home after figurine shopping in Akihabara when he saw a beautiful girl who was being harassed by a drunk. He came to her aid, and the grateful girl gave him her phone number. Train Man posted the story to 2channel, and with advice and encouragement from the anonymous community, he got a makeover and wooed the woman. Some insist that Train Man is an urban legend; others, including 2channel administrator Hiroyuki Nishimura, swear that he exists. The chat threads about him were adapted into a best-selling book (1.5 million copies), and his story also spawned a live-action film, a TV show, several manga and anime, an animated cartoon, and even a **** knockoff. This fan-made ASCII image of a train has the words "bound for Hermes," the name of the girl he was pursuing, written on it.
: Ronald McDonald is another popular Web meme in Japan. Here, the burgermeister is seen with an ax in hand, saying: "Let's take it outside, and we'll talk." Cows beware.In one extremely popular video on the site Nico Nico Douga, Ronald is dancing next to three happy dancing anime girls. Suddenly, a barrage of w's fills the screen. "The w's stand for laughter," explains Daisuke Miyata, a graduate student at Keio University. (Nico Nico Douga allows users to upload their comments directly onto the video.) The scene cuts to seven Ronalds with creepy red-lipped smiles dancing to a kitschy track from a popular anime. More kanji streams across the image: "I'm hungry now!" "How many times do I have to watch this?" "( ºwº ) ;" by the end of the video, one user has counted 169 Ronalds in the bizarre montage. "I'm a total Ronald geek!" he writes.
: Cute girls such as Hatsune Miku, the mascot for a voice-synthesizer app created by Yamaha , are a popular subject of ASCII portraiture. Anyone can create audio tracks of Hatsune Miku singing any song they like, and she's become one of the most popular characters on the Nico Nico Douga video site. Her fans have created thousands of videos featuring the blue-haired anime girl, which often turn into mashups of original tunes paired with elaborate 3-D animation.
: Some fans use ASCII art to draw their favorite anime and manga characters, like the adorable rodent Hamtaro.
: This elaborate ASCII cockroach was made using the kanji symbols for "river" and "nail" as well as lots of l's and i's to form its head.
: Some 2channel threads dedicate themselves to making ASCII depictions of Hiroyuki Nishimura, the geek who created the BBS and runs it with the help of volunteer admins. Here's one of him with a nosebleed. (In manga and anime, a sudden and violent nosebleed signifies sexual overstimulation.)
illustration: Chirstoph NiemannFor Wired's story about Hiroyuki Nishimura and his sites 2channel and Nico Nico Douga, we have created our very own ASCII depiction of Hiroyuki. We peppered his face with 2channel lingo like seishinteki purakura ("psychologically damaging thread"). Mona is in the lower left corner holding scallions and in the upper right saying mata-ri (an expression of laziness); a snake, also in the upper right, is saying kusoresu ("****ty thread").

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