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Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Scatalogical 'Reactor Boy' web-cartoon eases fears of radiation


Staff writer

On March 15, four days after the Tohoku-Kanto earthquake and amid the heightened radiation fears following explosions at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, Tokyo-based media artist Kazuhiko Hachiya started posting a series of short messages on Twitter.

"I'll try to explain what's going on at the nuclear power plant — in poop and farts," he wrote in his Japanese-language tweet, with the tone of a kindergarten teacher addressing children.

"First, there was an explosion the other day, but it is not an explosion of the nuclear reactor itself. It's almost like (the reactor) had a tummy pain so he tried to resolve that by farting."

"From the outside, it's hard to tell whether it's a fart or poop," he continued. "So we checked the smell and found that it was a fart. But because it was such a big fart, everybody was surprised. No need to worry, because poop hasn't come out."

Hachiya continued the story in his tweets, personifying the crippled nuclear reactor and comparing radiation from the plant to farts and radioactive fuel to poop.

The impact was huge and immediate. Within hours, it was turned into a manga by some Twitter user, and within 24 hours, an anonymous professional animator uploaded a 4 1/2-minute video on YouTube. Somebody else then put English subtitles to the video, now titled "A Nuclear Reactor Explained by Poop and Farts: Nuclear Reactor Boy's Tummy Ache."

As of Tuesday morning, more than a million people have watched the original anime on the popular video-sharing site, and at least 133,000 have checked out the English version.

Hachiya, contacted by e-mail, said he decided to put up the tweets because, in the days since the nuclear crisis emerged, his wife and her friends have been "excessively scared" by a barrage of news reports that they find are too technical to understand.

"My intention was to allay their fears, and to help elementary school children, their mothers and the elderly get a rough understanding of the situation without using technical jargon," he said.

Hachiya, best known as the developer of PostPet e-mail software featuring cute virtual pets, has steered clear of criticizing Japan's nuclear power policy or the inefficient information disclosure by the plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. The 44-year-old father of a 6-year-old girl said his purpose was to explain the situation, not to add commentary.

In that light, the nuclear boy's story is very different in tone from a series of antinuclear anime on YouTube titled "Genpachi-ojisan to Tama 001 (The Uncle Genpachi and Tama 001)," posted by a user named "rjtvoekptmi."

The five-part series, which was posted before the Fukushima crisis and is, at present, only available in Japanese, points to the risk of building nuclear reactors in quake- and tsunami-prone Japan.



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