Back when I was on break, I got in a mood to rant about a very particular topic. Of course, I was on break and I had another topic I picked out that I wanted to do before I went ahead with the rant I wanted to do, and even then rants are a bit off brand for my editorials. While it’s not like I’ve never ranted before, I like to take a more structured approach towards things I disagree with in order to hopefully introduce a new or existing opinion rather than force it. Nonetheless, this was still something I wanted to touch on once I gathered all my thoughts in an appropriate way. This week, let’s talk about the taboo nature surrounding Japanese media.
Unless you’re not a part of the anime community at all, you probably already know exactly what I’m talking about. In fact, chances are if you’re reading this post you know exactly what I’m talking about. Despite it not needing any real introduction: Japanese media in general, from anime to manga to visual novels to video games, have a borderline bad reputation to people have no interest in any of them. Clearly, as someone who writes weekly thought pieces for an anime blog, I’m not too fond of the taboo surrounding one of my favourite things. The primary things just anime has a reputation for is being only for children and perverts, having a rabid fanbase, or having an annoying or prevalent art style which in turn gets associated with the negative reputation Japanese media has. I’ve seen Japanese media and it’s audience in general be connected in their entirety to more extreme things like Nazism or somehow both Trump supporters and contentious liberals, but those claims seem to always come from less than intelligent people and I feel like it doesn’t need to even be said that no you’re not a Nazi if you enjoy anime and anime doesn’t somehow define your political alignment, so those outlying cases are just going to be ignored.
So, as usual, let’s look at these points. First of all, anime is for children and perverts. Now, of course, it’s not typically said in a statement with both “children” and “perverts” in the same sentence, but the argument of “anime is only for” typically features one or the other. The misunderstandings in each situation are at the very least extremely easy to see the origin of. “Anime is only for children” is undoubtedly mainly because of the fact that anime are cartoons. If the person making this argument is well versed enough they might also bring up that things like Pokémon and Dragon Ball are also anime and are also more or less kid’s shows. It’s very easy to be able to draw the line between cartoons having to either have a child audience in mind or to just be comedies for adults (i.e. children’s cartoons like SpongeBob versus adult’s cartoons like Family Guy) but there’s an obvious reason this is a misunderstanding.
First of all, no, not all anime are for children. There are shows that have primary focus points on mature subjects and dismissing them as childish is kind of absurd. While sure, a child could easily enjoy Psycho-Pass while completely missing the important aspects of the show, a child could also enjoy something like American Sniper while completely missing the important aspects of what that film tries to explore. This doesn’t mean that all films are for children, it simply means that if anything anime has deeper layers to be enjoyed on rather than just the flashy moments of intensity that get highlighted so frequently, similar to any form of media passively consumed. Maturity undeniably exists in all forms of entertainment, as maturity is something we all face and to not explore it in every way we can through as many mediums as we can would be silly. Discarding an entire medium to only be allowed to do things that explore childish ideas is stifling creativity and sure, not everyone cares about that, but obviously by stifling creativity truly unique ideas will be shut out; ideas that could become important to a lot of people. (Quick disclaimer since I know someone out there is going to point it out, Psycho-Pass and American Sniper are two completely different experiences both thematically and setting wise, the point is, they’re both things trying to explore mature ideas and the argument of children enjoying them can be applied to both)
Another thing wrong with this particular argument is that it seems like it’s a bit of a fallacy — Why does “childish” mean “bad”? At least from my experiences, things like Marvel’s cinematic universe and even classic Disney films are incredibly popular regardless of demographic. The Avengers films are super hero movies on such a large-scale of fiction, they’re almost completely unrelatable to reality in any way, but they’re insanely profitable for Marvel and an enormous amount of people enjoy them. Disney films like Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King are also immensely popular and even more modern films from Pixar like Up and Inside Out are without a single doubt in my mind made with the demographic of children in mind, but still a good number of adults will call these movies their favourite movies ever. Of course, the Avengers movies aren’t created exclusively for children and neither is anything that comes from Disney Pixar, but how silly would it be if that over-generalisation was okay to make?
Children’s entertainment focuses on things that can apply to everyone in a lot easier of a way while remaining at its core exactly what it set out to be, entertaining. I have yet to meet the person who wasn’t intentionally acting stuck-up about something that outright hated something well made with the demographic of children. Inside Out explores emotions and tries to teach the lesson that all emotions are important, happiness and joy are not exclusively good emotions and it’s okay to feel sad. If you ask me, that’s a very important message to be exploring and something that applies to more people than most want to admit, but Inside Out is also a children’s movie. Childish, if anything, means fundamental or easy to understand. I could ask any kid who thinks Inside Out is their favourite movie and easily they could likely explain the what the theme was correctly. Disney Pixar isn’t bad by any stretch of the imagination, and they’re not the only outstanding examples. Animated movies from Studio Ghibli get tons of praise and are also equally enjoyed by both children and adults, to the point where I’ve met some people who demand that Miyazaki’s films shouldn’t be considered anime (which is kinda silly, you all care a lot about relatively meaningless words) because of their outstanding quality. In way more cases, childish is good rather than bad.
If we flip this coin over to the other side, “Anime is only for perverts” is an equally large misunderstanding but one that’s at least a little different from the “Anime is only for children” argument. For anyone who watches anime, it’s very clear how this reputation was also created. Japanese media in general aimed at any older age group will have our lovely friend fan-service. Sarcasm aside, fanservice litters a majority of the anime that gets pushed to the forefront, whether it’s a primary focus point or not. As soon as you leave the realm of PG, the chances of encountering fanservice is very likely. However, to claim that all productions in this medium only focus on fanservice feels like a bit of a stretch. While yes, they’re very common elements, it’d be as glaring of an over-generalisation to say every show is inherently perverted as it was to claim that all things childish are also bad.
I say this because if all shows highlighted fan-service and only fanservice, the act would get just as boring for us as any other overly repeated poorly used element would. What if every action movie with a sex scene turned was marked as “only for perverts” because off the reoccurring prevalence of one minor element? While, yes, it’s an element that is indeed present, that doesn’t mean that every instance of it is a means to redefine a demographic. What if every TV show with guns in it was blamed for inspiring people to become killers or terrorists? A somewhat extreme jump, yes, but just as insulting to the medium of television as branding fans of anime as a medium “perverts” is to the medium of anime. It’s an unnecessary branding because of a respectfully minor element, despite it’s prevalence.
Another reason this misunderstanding likely exists is because anime is the only medium in the west where pornography of it is extremely well-known to exist. There’s no real way of sugar-coating this, as pretty undeniably anime pornography does exist and with an undeniable following to a pretty large degree in the west. While I won’t go into the details, I feel like it would be foolish to deny its existence. However, claiming that everyone who watches anime watches anime pornography and then on top of that to shame people over that not only is a bit rude but overgeneralizing to a pretty high degree. Pornography could easily just not be for you and that’s perfectly respectable, however shame surrounding it is cutting pretty close to shaming sexuality and the exploration of sexuality, which I’d hope most people are okay with the existence of. Stepping aside from the subject, this sort of exploration, while it may be strange from an outside perspective, is a bit of a completely different overly taboo thing in the first place that in this situation just so happens to be drawn from Japanese artists. Then to suggest that all members of a specific audience that is not explicitly and exclusively pornographic indulge in pornography is overgeneralization at it’s finest. I don’t feel like I need to give an example of this, but imagine if every person who watched daytime television was just assumed to watch porn. Not even branding these people as perverts or calling them gross, just assuming they all watch porn. Then change “daytime television” to “anime” and let it sink in.
One argument that I have a hard time refuting is that anime fans are, for lack of a better word, “rabid” and are very prone to starting arguments. The reason I can’t refute this as easily is because for better or worse the anime community is incredibly passionate and as a result, we can get heated when it comes to specific topics. Like I had mentioned in the preface to this post, I wanted to rant about this topic but ultimately decided against it. An important thing to note, however, is that a fan base should not reflect to be what the thing they are a fan of represents. While I could sit here and explain how misguided passion has charged almost the community at large, how the community acts shouldn’t really be a reflection of the medium. Undertale, a popular RPG from 2015, has themes of friendship, compassion, and pushes a narrative that violence is not the solution to your problems even going so far as to have an alternative bleak and hopeless storyline if the player choses to go out of their way to kill everything. It’s a game that has a lot of love put into it and a unique idea that was one at the very least in a passable way — an RPG where you didn’t have to kill anyone. But, something that was surrounding the game around its release was a horrible fan base that was more toxic than loving and more controlling than encouraging, despite the game’s themes.
An important thing to note here is that in no way did this audience reflect the game in question and instead pushed the complete opposite. Undertale was a good game and it was a breath of fresh air in a medium where violence was a rather popular focal point. However, the number of people who audience pushed away was almost unfair. Misguided passion built an urge inside of people who instead of letting people explore the game and its themes in their own way, they demanded people play it in a specific reason to have an experience identical to theirs.
This same idea is very common in the anime community. Opinions like “The Japanese voices are always better” are forced even in cases where English, French, Korean, Spanish, German, and Italian voice casts are just as good and don’t force the person watching to read subtitles for the entirety of the time they want to watch the show. Opinions are heavy and hard to push through in this community and depending where you get into it, it’s perfectly possible that your opinions are being forced to fit a specific mold which is a bit ridiculous. It’s a problem the community faces, but it isn’t a representation of the medium in whole. Anime is a medium full of heartwarming stories just as Undertale was a good game with a wholesome intent, the community shouldn’t be a deterrent from enjoying it in your own way, or anyone’s own way for that matter.
What I think the taboo surrounding anime is more about than anything is a fear of things new, or at least a misunderstanding of new things. It’s a heck of a lot easier to cast aside new things and mock them than it is to learn about them and learn from them. No one has the time to look at everything and no one has the time to explore every single medium available in the world, but dismissing them is a bit of a silly stretch. I hardly watch movies and there’s probably a long list of films by well-known directors that I’ve never touched, but if I were to label the entirety of movies as something negative I’d be in the wrong, no questions asked. The same goes for games or books or streamable television, there’s no point in branding an entire medium as bad. There’s no point in overgeneralizing an audience. All this does is create tension and an unwillingness for either side to talk to each other and address the misunderstandings either side might have. There’s a dialogue to be had and I can’t say it’s very common that this dialogue ever exists.
Anime fans stand by their opinions that people outside of the community just don’t understand the medium and never will while people outside of the community stand by their opinion that anime fans are weird and that the medium is for freaks. It’s a silly mindset, on both sides. If we love this medium so much, we should at least try to express what it means to us to those willing to listen, and even if it seems like the chance is minuscule if not nearly non-existent, taking the chance matters. And if people want to criticise the medium we love, perhaps they should be a bit more open-minded when films like Kimi no Na wa (Your name in English) hit box offices in the west and do outstandingly well, because this medium will grow with or without people and choosing to understand it at least on some level is more likely than not an incredibly useful mindset to have.
Thank you for reading this week’s editorial! I hope it provided some insight and hopefully was a bit of an eye opener for anyone who read it. If you’d like to see what I’m up to when I’m not writing for this blog you can follow me on Twitter. If not, as always I’ll see you all next week with another topic.
The featured image for this post was drawn by Gori Matsu.