"Anime fandom has a cultural resistance to critique"
October 22, 2016 7:09 AM   Subscribe

I have a lot of friends who used to watch anime but don’t anymore, partly because, like me, it became too hard to seek out anime that treated women well. There are also lots of people who are enthusiastic about other geek properties but won’t touch anime because of its reputation of infantilizing women and sexualizing children. It makes it hard to recommend anime to people who aren’t already fans.
Amelia Cook on the need for more feminist criticism in anime.

For The Mary Sue Cook wrote three articles dealing with the problematic aspects of anime:

Stop Making Excuses for Fanservice: "I’m talking about the regular girls in regular shows who are designed to sexualize non-sexual situations for commercial gain despite the resulting artistic loss. I’m talking about sexual fanservice, the culture that surrounds it, and how we can bring our fandom in line with more progressive geek fandoms which receive more critical attention."

Stop Pretending “Sexy” and “Sexualized” Mean the Same Thing: "In other words, media creators have spent decades convincing consumers that sexiness looks like the objectification of women, and anime fans have become ambassadors of that definition of sexiness. It’s embarrassing. And avoidable."

Moé, Misogyny and Masculinity: Anime’s Cuteness Problem–and How to Fix It: "The result is that most moé characters are deliberately unrealistic teenage girls. This looks like half-decent representation of women when your standards have been dragged down by decades of Enormo-Boob and Lolita, but moé is not above criticism."

And then she went on to found Anime Feminist: "a new website for reviews, interviews and discussion on anime and manga through a feminist lens, run by a team of writers from academia, the industry and grassroots fandom."

Which has so far featured first episode reviews of many of the new Fall series written by Cook herself, an interview with manga artist Minami Sakai as well as an essay by Peter Fobian looking at the different treatment of Black Lagoon's Revy and Gurren Lagann's Yoko:
Where Revy’s presentation sells a complex and volatile character, the choice of camera angles, exaggerated postures, and repeated compromising scenarios makes Yoko come off as a source of inappropriate humor at best or a pure source of visual titillation directed at the male audience at worst. Revy’s background and her relationship with Rock are able to be respectfully explored because she is presented as a serious character. Conversely, Yoko’s later development is undermined by her presentation as something less than a character, an ornament not to be taken seriously.
As a measure of the site's impact, it took a full five days for the first death threat to arrive.
posted by MartinWisse (81 comments total) 85 users marked this as a favorite
 
Oh my god, so much this, this is so needed. I love anime, the Mister Star Stuff and I watch it all the time together as part of our in home date night money saving series. But we've stopped watching many a show after a few episodes because the sudden panty shots or tentacle molestation scenes of young girls is just too off-putting.

A huge exception to that is Shimoneta. It's about a world where sex and sexuality are extremely repressed, and a group of terrorists who go around telling dirty jokes and spreading soft core cheesecake porn to fight the censorship. There's a sweetness and innocence to it, and a joyful approach to sex, that really works well. It's chock full of stuff that we'd call fan service, but as Cook points out in the kotaku article, it's baked in and doesn't seem so shallow and prurient.

Thanks for posting this, I'm very excited about Anime Feminist!
posted by Made of Star Stuff at 7:55 AM on October 22, 2016 [12 favorites]


"I have a lot of friends who used to watch anime but don’t anymore, partly because, like me, it became too hard to seek out anime that treated women well."

The sad thing about this is that the thing that made me enjoy anime (and manga) in the first place was its willingness to embrace the medium as a way of telling stories that would never be told via animation anywhere else. That gave a freedom to the genre that really made it intriguing. To see it eating its own fan base in order to provide one particular kind of fan-base is disheartening. I do still enjoy watching some of the classics with my children, and I still look out for really clever one-off series that occasionally pop up, but it's true that the sexualization and objectification of women is an ongoing problem for which "it's what society sees as acceptable" is no longer a cop-out excuse.
posted by mystyk at 8:03 AM on October 22, 2016 [10 favorites]


One of the interesting aspects of so much anime is that the assumption of what masculinity is or who the the viewers are and what their relationship to women is differs greatly from say US pop culture. The disempowered male that desires the socially, emotionally, and even physically dominant woman, who demands the attention of the reticent male, or where the reticent male "by mistake" gets caught up in some embarrassing sexualized encounter. It's a different dynamic than much of the misogynist culture here, not necessarily better to be sure, but the difference is important and hopefully will be addressed as such.

I'm looking forward to reading TFAs, so perhaps I'll find out more about some of this within, but I thought I'd throw the idea out there before digging through everything since there seems to be a lot to ponder.
posted by gusottertrout at 8:06 AM on October 22, 2016 [5 favorites]


On Twitter, anime avatars are heavily favored by "alt-right" white neofascist types. This can't be coincidental.
posted by non canadian guy at 8:06 AM on October 22, 2016 [10 favorites]


I'm not a fan of the genre (though I've seen a couple of movies I've enjoyed), but this is a good writer; from "Moé, Misogyny and Masculinity: Anime’s Cuteness Problem–and How to Fix It": "Any empathy developed for these female characters is not applicable to women in the real world." It takes skill to boil down a complex argument to a takeaway sentence like that.
posted by languagehat at 8:16 AM on October 22, 2016 [17 favorites]


OMFG THIS THIS THIS

Haven't read the links yet, but first thoughts: while anime fandom has a sexism problem and a "resistance to critique" problem, it also has a "reductivizing and exoticizing Japanese culture" problem. I hope the critique that comes out of this project is both feminist and culturally informed.

I think I'll shoot them an email and see if they need a translator.
posted by J.K. Seazer at 8:19 AM on October 22, 2016 [22 favorites]


On Twitter, anime avatars are heavily favored by "alt-right" white neofascist types. This can't be coincidental.

It is an odd thing.

Why Do Anonymous Twitter Trolls Use Anime Avatars?
posted by Artw at 8:33 AM on October 22, 2016 [8 favorites]


I've complained about this many times here on mefi but have accepted that anime is a reflection of japanese society so things aren't going to change anytime soon. But yes, it's troubling that people will gobble down stuff like food wars without reflection on how messed up it is.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 8:41 AM on October 22, 2016


One of the interesting aspects of so much anime is that the assumption of what masculinity is or who the the viewers are and what their relationship to women is differs greatly from say US pop culture.

Is this a good time to link Michael Bay's Evangelion (NSFW)?

I'm not that into anime any more, but as a teenager I definitely identified with anime characters like Himura Kenshin or Maximilian Sterling/Jenius more than most western equivalents. Like, I was still watching a ton of Western media and enjoying it all, but the heroes weren't the kind of soft-spoken weirdos that I felt like I was. It's a very different picture of what masculinity is, if not necessarily always better, and I've always appreciated having that alternative model in my life.
posted by tobascodagama at 8:55 AM on October 22, 2016 [12 favorites]


One answer is to make series outside of Japan that are willing to tackle the kind of stories traditionally seen in Anime. Steven Universe and Gravity Falls are a couple of notable examples of western series that have explored interesting topics in cartoon form.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 9:11 AM on October 22, 2016 [13 favorites]


One of the tragedies of my Geek Life is that The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya is simultaneously A) one of my favorite science fiction stories in any format, period, and 2) so dense with weird anime misogyny and fan service that it's mostly unwatchable to anyone who isn't already inoculated, and thus a series I can't really recommend to anyone outside of anime fandom.

So yes, I'll be digging into this archive, thank you!
posted by Narrative Priorities at 9:13 AM on October 22, 2016 [9 favorites]


This is a great post, and I don't want to extend a derail too much, but I thought this was worth addressing:

On Twitter, anime avatars are heavily favored by "alt-right" white neofascist types. This can't be coincidental.

I think it's because of how these spaces are formed. Typically, they aren't formed primarily as regressive alt-right havens, but rather as discussion spots for very niche, and correspondingly, very against the mainstream interests. Anime is a perfect example. When I was growing up (but probably less so today) liking anime was a sure sign that you were a nerd. It's unlikely you'd be able to freely discuss anime in physical social interactions, or at least not to the degree that you'd want to, so you would head online to spaces of like-minded fans. These have come to be called "affinity spaces" in learning literature, and are often valorized as being a first step into coding, fan art production, writing, community moderation and other new media literacies that mark heavy involvement in some sort of technologically mediated fan practice (see: Henry Jenkins' work about Convergence Culture).

I think that the other side of this, especially when sites like 4chan were finding their bearings in the early days of the social web, is that you effectively self selected for people at the bottom of the IRL social totem pole. Instead, these spaces gave them a way to form an identity that was powerful and disconnected from lower social standings they may have had at their job, their school, or in the realms of dating and relationships. The anonymous or pseudonymous nature of these spaces erases physical demarcations of class and position - or rather, it turns them into an assumed white-male-nerd baseline until you out yourself as otherwise. Instead, you have the option to form your identity based on your familiarity with the subject you're discussing, with the in-jokes of the space, and with a sort of edgy nerd-masculine sense of humor that proliferated and became prized within these spaces. I'm taking a lot of this from Auerbach's essay on the phenomenon, which he dubs a-culture (anonymous culture).

Therefore, you have these spaces that initially formed to discuss marginal cultural pursuits, which naturally attract marginal people. Marginal people have a lot of reasons to blame others for their position (sometimes rightly, if you are a bullied nerd who has grown to hate the 'popular' kids at your school for tormenting and excluding you). Often the people they blame are those they consider Others, and in spaces where you're assumed white-male-nerd until you indicate otherwise, that Other that you blame are women, minorities, and "normies" who don't share you specific nerd tastes. As the social web opened up to more mainstreaming through popularized social networks like Facebook, Twitter, and tumblr, you began to find fans and hobbyists who don't fit this mold, because there was suddenly a platform that allowed them to speak without having to hide their Otherness. There have been several fantastic posts here recently about female hobbyists talking about the early web as the dark days, where they couldn't mentioned their femininity, their sexuality, or their background without becoming defined SOLELY as that identity (often with terrible consequences) in these spaces where everyone assumes that you're white-male-nerd.

The guys who have spent most of their formative years in these spaces (maybe with the a-culture half of their life being more valuable and meaningful than their physical social interactions) are now ENRAGED that their safe space where they've spent a decade obsessing over fan media and hating the outside world has been broached by Others who have existed all along, but who were previously completely invisible by the social design of these spaces. So you have an extremely regressive group of people who are now viewing the growing parity of online fandom participation with the same language and focal lens that trump gives to immigration, increased reproductive rights, and calls for equality form BLM. They have an easy framework to extend beyond the pocket concerns of their fandom, and to attach their identity to the larger alt-right brand. On the other side, a teenager who is looking for an online fandom for anime, or video games, or comics might stumble into these spaces and become easily indoctrinated by people who are expert both at the niche concern of the space, and also the flashy and seductive politics of regressive hate. These are affinity spaces that have extended beyond their original area of concern, and have become a network of extreme right hate. Therefore, I (personally) think that's why we've seen trumpism and the alt-right in general gain so much traction in domains that we might otherwise write off as frivolous and silly: anime, games, sci-fi, comics.
posted by codacorolla at 9:14 AM on October 22, 2016 [107 favorites]


Media perceived as a boys club by those who make it continues to be toxic to girls. Film at 11.

I dunno, I find it amusing that skimming these articles on the objectification of female characters sounds so much like the problems I have with American superhero comics. Especially when it's a week where once more, Marvel is being taken to task for a variant cover of a teen girl hero drawn by someone who specializes in Sexy Babes. The names and faces change but it's always the same goddamn song. Always.

I've been finally sitting down and watching some anime lately. Went through Utena, working on Bebop now. And things like the impracticality of Faye's costume keep bugging the shit out of me on a low level. Good to know this is a thing I'll probably keep running up against.
posted by egypturnash at 9:21 AM on October 22, 2016 [9 favorites]


Anime was favored by online Japanese far-right nationalists far before American alt-right neoreactionaries adopted it. From 2012 - "Are Japanese Moe Otaku Right-Wing?"
posted by Apocryphon at 9:34 AM on October 22, 2016 [5 favorites]


Is this a good time to link Michael Bay's Evangelion (NSFW)?

anime is a reflection of japanese society so things aren't going to change anytime soon.

one of the interesting things about anime (from a US perspective) is that one of the common tropes seems to have been "feelings of guilt for having killed someone/thing" even horrible monsters. which is a notion totally alien to, say, Michael Bay. watching anime on Netflix leaves me feeling like this is eroding, and being replaced with a much more common American idea of militarized killing for the greater good. which might a a function of watching things being sold to an American audience... but I feel like Japanese culture is changing towards embracing "militarism" and violence as a necessary and moral response to crises. so, japanese culture is not a fixed thing, for good or ill.
posted by ennui.bz at 9:34 AM on October 22, 2016 [8 favorites]


The only issue I have with all of this is that it's hard to change a culture when the main product it's centered around is from another culture. Keijo is going to exist with or without western anime fandom. Japan, with it's shrinking population, has turned to marginal subcultures, like the hardcore otaku. The only way I could see to "change" anime is to support crossover artists trying to bridge the gap.
posted by zabuni at 9:42 AM on October 22, 2016 [3 favorites]


Part of the problem is that the anime industry is in dire financial straits and has taken to aim for the terminal otaku demographic, the Japanese equivalent of the neckbeard. That's why suddenly it's all yet another series where a standard nerd is transported to a videogame world, or adaptations of light novels with overlong titles like "my young neighbor is a cute nymphomaniac alien from the seventh dimension" (which I hope is not a real title), and the equivalent materials in games and ancillary media.

Mainstream culture, while still being sexist, isn't as bad as the otaku wank fodder. The general militarization of society these last years does go well with moe aesthetics, and has also been noted.
posted by sukeban at 9:42 AM on October 22, 2016 [14 favorites]


Also, from some shows, the problem may solve itself as western companies get into the act. It's telling that Netflix put money towards Little Witch Academia, rather than some of Trigger's other efforts. The financials issues discussed by sukeban will only accelerate this.
posted by zabuni at 9:47 AM on October 22, 2016 [2 favorites]


That's why suddenly it's all yet another series where a standard nerd is transported to a videogame world

is Log Horizon problematic because the theme song is pretty rad and I like how the title might be an allusion to James Hilton's Lost Horizon
posted by Apocryphon at 9:53 AM on October 22, 2016 [1 favorite]


(And I'd like to remember that not all anime is aimed at otaku, and from the merch I see from abroad, the most successful series of the past year are Osomatsu-san and One-Punch Man, which are mainstream rather than niche)
posted by sukeban at 9:53 AM on October 22, 2016 [2 favorites]


[Friendly reminder, please don't use the edit function to add/change content. People reloading the thread with "x new comments" won't see that your comment has been edited and it creates confusion. Just make a second comment instead.]
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:57 AM on October 22, 2016 [4 favorites]


I'm struck by how utterly foreign your description of online anime fandom is to me. I've been a part of online anime fandom for about twenty years now - but mostly in female-dominated spaces. They certainly weren't perfect communities, but they were generally among the most progressive spaces that me and my anime-loving friends had access to.

To be honest, I doubt the explanation that social marginalization is a driving factor behind the sexist politics of male-dominated communities on the internet. When I hear this explanation, I think of fraternities, of my friend telling me he wouldn't play with me anymore because I'm a girl, of men in boardrooms, of predatory professors, of Donald Trump. I think the driving factor is just men.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 9:57 AM on October 22, 2016 [5 favorites]


is Log Horizon problematic because the theme song is pretty rad

Log Horizon, at least season one as I haven't seen season two, is great. MMORPG players find themselves trapped in a world they quickly start to realise isn't the game world they knew and have to deal with the politics and fallout of now being part of a world of actually living beings, rather than computer programmed NPCs, while they still have all their skills as gamers. There's little fanservice and capable non-sexualised women.
posted by MartinWisse at 9:58 AM on October 22, 2016 [3 favorites]


I watched Ghost in the Shell a while back. Then I stopped. Forever.
posted by Splunge at 10:00 AM on October 22, 2016 [1 favorite]


Log horizon is generally OK, no real fan service, and several powerful women with agency.
posted by signal at 10:14 AM on October 22, 2016


I think this is why for the past decade or so, no matter how much anime gets pumped out every season (and there is a LOT), I'll at most watch like one title, and it will be the one where I've analyzed the PV, the description, etc and determined the probability of seeing unbearable fanservice is low enough to give it a go. I'll straight up ignore any title with a poster featuring a cast of cute girls with blobby eyes because I know it will just be moe fanservice. Same even with the male variety (reverse harems, low-budget copies of Free! and such), which I also don't care for.

But at the same time I can't just drop All Anime forever, because every once in a while some little gem pops up that is more refreshing, heartfelt or even progressive than American cartoons. Stuff like Natsume Yuujinchou (which has its fifth season airing right now!), Kino's Journey or No. 6.
Also stuff that isn't refreshing or progressive but is at least non-problematic and generally entertaining (e.g. Haikyuu, Attack on Titan).

Also this season, Yuri!!! on Ice has been really interesting to watch so far. I'm surprised the episode review on the Anime Feminist website didn't mention that the director and co-writer, Sayo Yamamoto, is known for overturning preconceptions about sexy female characters and turning them into something rather deep and intelligently made--she directed Michiko to Hatchin and The Woman Called Fujiko Mine, and nearly everything she's touched has been visually spectacular. So it's interesting to see her do the same with a "fujobait" genre where all the characters are sexy men.
posted by picklenickle at 10:37 AM on October 22, 2016 [14 favorites]


(and there is a LOT)

They made an anime of Drifters? I'm in XD

(The premise is that a bunch of famous people from our timeline --with a suspicious surplus of Japanese historical figures-- get transported to a standard European fantasy world, wherein Oda Nobunaga wants to conquer it all (after Adolf Hitler did, then died of ripe old age). Oh, and the Big Bad is very likely to be Jesus Christ, who wants to wipe out humans so that orcs and ogres can live in peace forever. It's totally bonkers, but if you want to see Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid carting Scipio Africanus and Hannibal of Carthage around, give it a go)
posted by sukeban at 10:50 AM on October 22, 2016 [6 favorites]


The funniest thing about Yuri!! on Ice were the fans who got salty because it wasn't lesbians skating as the title seemed to imply.
posted by MartinWisse at 10:54 AM on October 22, 2016 [5 favorites]


Looks like a interesting site and added to my reader. I admit I do follow the new seasons but rarely do I join discussions since it leads to pile-ons if anyone disagrees on how the portrayal of female characters. It's extremely tiring to start up the entire discussion on how limited female characters are in anime despite YES there's a few shows but why can't there be more overall?

Manga is much better wrt to adding dynamic plots and less cringe-y characters so I've moved towards it with 25% anime/75% manga entertainment. Ofc this isn't 100% true as I've seen decent manga suddenly turn into garbage due to unfortunate side stories.
posted by chrono_rabbit at 10:57 AM on October 22, 2016 [2 favorites]


I've also been primarily a fan of manga, and lately I've been more and more into oddball titles, mostly historical. The one I'm liking the most right now, Innocent, is a biography of Charles-Henri Sanson, the executioner of Paris in the years leading to the French Revolution. But in the manga, he's soon-ish overshadowed by his little sister, Marie-Josèphe (executioner in Versailles), who is currently intent on bringing down the patriarchy, and probably the French monarchy too. Oh, and everyone is incredibly good looking, even Robespierre, who has had an early cameo.

It's not exactly too gory, but the subject being what it is, there's a whole volume dedicated to the quartering of a would-be regicide. Part of the fun of the manga are the relax-o-vision cuts to visual metaphors, but it's still not for the faint of heart. I always define it as "Berserk meets Rose of Versailles".
posted by sukeban at 11:39 AM on October 22, 2016 [3 favorites]


Therefore, I (personally) think that's why we've seen trumpism and the alt-right in general gain so much traction in domains that we might otherwise write off as frivolous and silly: anime, games, sci-fi, comics.

Let's not forget that one of the "niche interests" catered to on 4chan was straight-up pedophilia (people do remember what the name actually refers to, right?). This is not simply a matter of nerds with rare, odd, but innocent interests coming together and as a side effect developing a culture hostile to outsiders. The vileness was there from day one.
posted by praemunire at 11:54 AM on October 22, 2016 [8 favorites]


Heh. Ghost in the Shell will forever be my first favorite, but there's no pretending it's not problematic in this way. It's really an exercise in liking problematic things. Separately, the whole kawaii-military thing sukeban linked to is interesting and explains some things in my most recent favorite series, Shirobako, which is still generally an anime that avoids a lot of these destructive conventions and that I'd highly recommend. Sword Art Online is also good in this way.

Heh, and I liked this from Artw's link about Twitter trolls using anime avatars: "You're not liable to find somebody vehemently defending Trumpism who is using an anime avatar from a Studio Ghibli work." Indeed, I have an anime avatar on Twitter, which you can see in my profile, but it's, y'know, from Ponyo and reminds me all the time of her adorable, magical spirit—it's actually a good reminder to me to keep my Twitter persona weird and magical.

I was just thinking earlier, when I bought a T-shirt that references Spirited Away, that I will always buy stuff that takes me back to those worlds. I would describe the design aesthetic of my home office, with lots of little toys, art, dishes, and sparkly things, as Howl's bedroom meets Japanese table-setting meets Spanish tapas meets Dia de Los Muertos altars, or like Ginkgo's cabinet in Mushi-Shi. That's the magical, mystical, wondrous, culturally diverse stuff I come back to anime and comics for, not for the sexiness or whatever.
posted by limeonaire at 12:00 PM on October 22, 2016 [6 favorites]


Miyazaki said it best.
posted by Apocryphon at 12:25 PM on October 22, 2016 [1 favorite]


"Stopped watching anime forever"

That sucks, because you're missing some great Studio Ghibli entertainment.
posted by Brocktoon at 1:19 PM on October 22, 2016 [1 favorite]


This is my industry; I've worked on this stuff professionally for a decade, and I have incredibly mixed feelings about the fandom whose appetites created the industry that gave me this career. From a cultural studies perspective, it's a fascinating trainwreck. For those of us in the trenches, it's an exercise in constant cognitive dissonance.

I have a good friend who took over a widely-read weekly anime review column on the major English-language news site, and she was immediately baffled by the outcry to even mildly critical reviews. Broad swaths of the fandom truly do have a resistance to the idea of criticism—seemingly founded on a tripod whose rhetorical legs are "That's Just Your Opinion," "It's Giving Me What I Want," and "Why Can't You Enjoy Something For What It Is." It seems unlikely that there are many other media where critics are so routinely asked to justify the existence of certain kinds of criticism, let alone their specific position.

Meanwhile, the aesthetics and vocabulary of moé have swept through the industry. It's hard not to compare it to porn, even when there's no overtly sexual content. The specificity of moe signifiers means that characters and narratives can be assembled and categorized like porn, and that the consumers of these media in fact expect them to be so assembled, the better to cater to hyper specific emotional-narrative fetishes.

The quote praised above is a perfect distillation: "Any empathy developed for these female characters is not applicable to women in the real world."

I remember seeing—I think on 4chan—a discussion of a lengthy work whose English translation I was mostly responsible for. They were discussing whether or not the lead female character was a virgin. The character in question was a worldly and widely-traveled supernatural being centuries (at least) old who nonetheless presented as a girl in her mid-teens. Setting aside the tiresomeness of this particular trope, a discussion of her virginity seemed absurd to me—she was a canny and well-adjusted adult who was obviously not asexual. The idea that she would have been celibate until meeting the story's male protagonist seemed absurd on the face of it.

This work had done a fairly good job of avoiding egregious moé-ification, but the conversation around it had been so thoroughly corrupted that this character's "purity" was of critical importance to these fans. If she wasn't a virgin, then she was disgusting, and the protagonist's feelings for her were wasted.

I was appalled. Reading this thread was a terrible revelation about (some of) the consumers of the work I'd put so many hours into.

I don't even really know where I'm going with all of this. The anime and manga industry in the West has achieved things I would've thought impossible even 10 years ago. Same-day release of subtitled episodes. Simultaneous digital releases of manga chapters. A growing library of and readership for translated prose works, in the form of light novels. It's an amazing time for the industry.

But the fandom's insistence that its appetites remain uncriticized, particularly when they're so profoundly anti-human, is endlessly troubling to me. I have no solution.
posted by Sokka shot first at 1:26 PM on October 22, 2016 [68 favorites]


director and co-writer, Sayo Yamamoto, is known for overturning preconceptions about sexy female characters and turning them into something rather deep and intelligently made

This is my favourite thing about Yamamoto. Her protagonists are grown-ass women who show interest in sex. I highly recommend Fujiko Mine - it's super-fun while making a good point about depictions of sexy female characters. Michiko To Hatchin is also good, but it's a bit slow-paced (I think my mistake was in trying to marathon it when, according to Yamamoto, it was meant as something for women to watch to wind down after work).
posted by airmail at 1:32 PM on October 22, 2016 [5 favorites]


They certainly weren't perfect communities, but they were generally among the most progressive spaces that me and my anime-loving friends had access to.

To be honest, I doubt the explanation that social marginalization is a driving factor behind the sexist politics of male-dominated communities on the internet. When I hear this explanation, I think of fraternities, of my friend telling me he wouldn't play with me anymore because I'm a girl, of men in boardrooms, of predatory professors, of Donald Trump. I think the driving factor is just men.


Oof, I am really glad you have had this experience as a woman in anime fandom. It was the opposite of mine, and the women I know. It was pretty par for the course that if you joined an anime group there was going to be at least one missing stair, and the dudes would say he wasn't that bad. There was one guy who hung around a group of friends (and was well-known and celebrated within that niche community) where everyone knew (and laughed about) that one hilarious time he whipped his dick out in front of a girl he barely knew in the stairwell. She laughed, told everyone about it, it was a-OK!!!! Oh, or that time he brought a high school girl to that party at the con. Haha, what a clown!

Or I remember the times I brought up feminist criticisms of popular titles: "Ew, you know that girl's fifteen?" (A: teenage girls are more mature than teenage boys!), "Why did they draw that college-aged woman like she's 10" (A: She's cute), "That fanservice puts me off/costume is unrealistic" (A: Are you anti-sex? She's proud of her sexuality!), "Why does every gorgeous woman go after this loser" (A: You must be fat and/or ugly and thus jealous).

Inevitably there was a pile-on on any woman who made these arguments. I was not friends with the men who said these things--but my male friends said and did nothing when these things were said. I'll say that as they got older these friends have definitely changed their attitudes, and things that brought laughter or shrugs a decade ago now make them profoundly uncomfortable and they'll openly speak against them. I don't think it is any coincidence that they've also pretty much migrated out of the center of the anime fan community and into other things.
posted by schroedinger at 4:38 PM on October 22, 2016 [12 favorites]


Like, to be sure, you got more acceptance of queerness and more acceptance of different forms of gender expression and sexuality. But the trade-off was the same dude talking about polyamory and wearing a skirt would also often be the one with two high-school aged girlfriends impressing on them how sensitive and forward-thinking he was.
posted by schroedinger at 4:41 PM on October 22, 2016 [12 favorites]


Amelia Cook on the need for more feminist criticism in anime.

There's no need for any kind of criticism of anything.
One of the key things about the modern age is that nobody cares what critics think any more.
posted by w0mbat at 4:44 PM on October 22, 2016


I mean, it's nice to have someone reviewing a historically problematic genre from a feminist perspective, so you can find the stuff that isn't terrible.
posted by schroedinger at 4:51 PM on October 22, 2016 [7 favorites]


To bring it back to a few months ago, the post by Ghostride the Whip and the post by p3on also do a good job in analyzing why regressive, bigoted troll culture has arrived in online communities for traditionally nerd interests.
posted by Apocryphon at 4:55 PM on October 22, 2016 [3 favorites]


Amelia Cook on the need for more feminist criticism in anime.

There's no need for any kind of criticism of anything.
One of the key things about the modern age is that nobody cares what critics think any more.


I hope you read farther than the title. If you're hung up on the word "criticism," read it like this: Amelia Cook recognized a need for people to be talking about the sexism and sexualization and other issues with popular forms of entertainment like anime, and she started a website where the writers' reviews proceed from that perspective. OK?
posted by limeonaire at 5:34 PM on October 22, 2016 [5 favorites]


I'm glad this exists. Will definitely be clicking on the links later.
posted by Fizz at 5:43 PM on October 22, 2016


Honestly I have been reluctant to watch much anime, but had been pulled in by Madoka Magica, which is trippy and interesting but has iffy bits in the way it treats one character and at least one jarring pantyshot that add nothing to the story. I say at least because i have only seen two of the series.
posted by emjaybee at 6:57 PM on October 22, 2016


because i have only seen two of the series.

If you were remotely intrigued by its tone or characters, I highly recommend finishing it. It's only 12 or 13 20-minute episodes, and it is Doing A Thing.
posted by Sokka shot first at 7:07 PM on October 22, 2016 [6 favorites]


A huge part of why I never really got into anime was that the portrayal of women made me uncomfortable. So much of what I was seeing was just so consistently creepy that I felt like I was contributing to misogyny just by watching it. Put me right off the whole genre, pretty much.

If pressure is starting to build in the fandom for studios to do better, that's great. I feel like there's a lot of work to be done there.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 7:12 PM on October 22, 2016 [3 favorites]


In English-language fandom, it seems that people are fans of anime as a whole and will watch series across intended target demographics. I'm curious if fans in Japan operate the same way.

If you're wary of women-unfriendly fanservice but want to get into anime, series aimed at women (josei) are a good place to start.
posted by airmail at 7:19 PM on October 22, 2016 [4 favorites]


Madoka Magica was one of the last ones i watched, and it was totally worth it. Insane concept. (Become a Magical Girl and save the city from Evil Witches! Which turns out to be an endless, existential nightmare!)
posted by ELF Radio at 7:22 PM on October 22, 2016 [2 favorites]


This is a great explanation of why my anime watching dropped off a cliff and now I hardly watch anything.

It has a really corrosive effect on expanding the community, too. Because the anime community tends to be so... uncritical, it means someone like me - who just wants to dabble in anime rather than dive into it - lacks the guidance to sort through the acres of shit put out there. Critical opinion is not necessarily a good guide, so how do you find the good stuff?

FYI, though, Natsume Youjin Sho (Natsume's Book of Friends) is the best anime I've watched in years. It's so, so lovely I highly recommend it. There is no fan service at all.
posted by smoke at 7:30 PM on October 22, 2016 [4 favorites]


"It's a complete deconstruction of the concept of mystery itself with multiple layers of meta that interact in ways that create their own type of mystery!"

"Did he just grab his cousin's boobs?"

"Uhh... nevermind..."
posted by charred husk at 7:51 PM on October 22, 2016 [3 favorites]


Because the anime community tends to be so... uncritical, it means someone like me - who just wants to dabble in anime rather than dive into it - lacks the guidance to sort through the acres of shit put out there. Critical opinion is not necessarily a good guide, so how do you find the good stuff?

As someone who's in the same boat (though from the perspective of a neophyte, rather than a lapsed viewer), I've wondered the same thing. You can, at least, read the tenor of myanimelist to get a sense of whether you're like the fanbase or not, and then infer from there whether you'll be interested. Also, at least two of the shows I've liked in the last few years were Metafilter recommendations: Tokyo Magnitude 8.0 and Humanity Has Declined. Barely a trace of fanservice between the two shows, and I thought both were great to watch.

Having a place to discuss and recommend anime that isn't just moe-moe otaku bait would be quite lovely. The stuff on Anime Feminist right now isn't that helpful because it sort of asks that you be super up to date on what the current anime season is (but is probably great if you are!). But I assume that it won't be long before a recommendations piece shows up on the site.
posted by chrominance at 8:17 PM on October 22, 2016 [6 favorites]


I haven't watched any anime in nearly 10 years. Shows that have that I've enjoyed, and other women who I personally knew have also enjoyed, included series such as Azumanga Daioh, Fruits Basket, and also Full Metal Alchemist. So the article's first image, of Winry whom to me as a queer gay transfers as a kind of sister figure, is an interesting choice too. I'd like to know the author's critique of shows like these as well; whereas in contrast, the examples the author gives already sound really egregious.
posted by polymodus at 8:53 PM on October 22, 2016 [3 favorites]


Okay I'm reading the other article, and the author's argument is starting to confuse me.

Any empathy developed for these female characters is not applicable to women in the real world. (In this original context, the word "these" specifically refers to moe-anime genre characters, not necessarily all female characters. Author is not charging all of anime fandom with the practice and concern of distortion/infantilization of real women, at least not in that article.)

Paragraphs down author says:

Similarly, moé gives us a large number of shows featuring well motivated female protagonists, large female casts, and a variety of relationships between female characters, effortlessly passing the Bechdel Test on a scale we can only dream of for western pop culture. However, it is all framed to cater to the male gaze–even if this is through the characters’ behaviors rather than their physical attributes.

But on reflection, I think that's actually a healthy attitude, to have a bit of ambivalence about the status quo.

My own personal reference point is not that anime is a social niche (being Asian and in an Asian-populated American public school, that's sort of the opposite), but that in school such material is looked down upon in say English literature or visual Arts. The most basic criticism a high school teacher would offer, maybe 15 years ago, is that all manga is a form of escapism; that this fundamentally prohibits critical thinking development (which is obviously not exactly the truth, because there's plenty of thought-provoking anime, or whatever). So I predict part of the problem that Amelia Cook is going to have to refine in this project is figuring out the issue of healthy versus unhealthy fiction, in that it's not unrealism per se that's the problem, but the issue of inclusion and what different audiences/consumers get out of what the industry is doing. And maybe what role parents and teachers/scholars have to play in this, etc.
posted by polymodus at 9:37 PM on October 22, 2016 [1 favorite]


In English-language fandom, it seems that people are fans of anime as a whole and will watch series across intended target demographics. I'm curious if fans in Japan operate the same way.

In general, no. Otaku and fujoshi usually don't interact much in the same spaces, online or irl. I haven't attended many events, but the ones I did were 100% women, with the notable exception of the time I accidentally went to a 9AM screening of the first Evangelion film in its opening weekend.
posted by betweenthebars at 10:57 PM on October 22, 2016 [1 favorite]


It's kind of odd to say that I'm no a fan of anime, because anime is such a broad spectrum. Or it should be. You'd think. It's sort of like saying, "I'm not a fan of music".

But I find pretty consistently when people recommend anime, I'm mostly disappointed. Because I like good, engaging stories. And frankly, I find a lot of anime to simply be lacking in that department. OK, so such and such anime title might be pretty good... for a Japanese cartoon... But kind of crappy by any other standard. Same goes for comics. I love the medium. But a crappy story doesn't gain credibility because the art is so cool, or the setting is so imaginative, etc.

With anime specifically, I simply find all too often that there is too little of redeeming quality to justify silly stories, weird sexism, etc. So I have not been a big fan of the work that often ends up available to US audiences. Perhaps the problem is that much of the fan base really isn't all that demanding, and will consume crap without question?
posted by 2N2222 at 11:54 PM on October 22, 2016 [3 favorites]


Well it could be that one person's soap opera is another person's Wagner, etc. Is that a helpful perspective to consider?
posted by polymodus at 12:19 AM on October 23, 2016


In English-language fandom, it seems that people are fans of anime as a whole and will watch series across intended target demographics. I'm curious if fans in Japan operate the same way.

In my personal experience at least, with the exception of highly mainstream (almost inevitably kids') stuff, yeah, there's definitely a huge (arguably main) contingent of anime-as-genre fans in Japan who are familiar with pretty much everything contemporary. Based on my various coworkers, I'd argue that, with stuff like Bob's Burgers and The Simpsons, your average American adult may well actually watch more animated programming than your average Japanese adult (who generally watch variety shows and "dramas" that inevitably feature what can most charitably be described as "stage acting")
posted by DoctorFedora at 12:30 AM on October 23, 2016 [6 favorites]


I also stopped watching anime several years back as i became tired of the same tropes being repeated over and over ad nauseam, and the gratuitous "fan service" that finds its way into shows that are not even remotely about that. Part of me wonders how much of this is down to the translation between manga and anime, where filling in the gaps is necessary, and it's just become ingrained to pick ridiculous filler material.

One recent show i've allowed myself to watch was "Attack on Titan" as it had a lot of traction outside the anime blog-o-sphere, but it was more of the same. OK, relatively entertaining but just tiring in the level of cliché.

Like the author, Planetes is also a favourite. I think a lot of that is due to what Amelia mentions but also the hard sci-fi, which is very much against the endless BFOR that accounts for most sci-fi anime.

Just remember with anime an extreme form of Sturgeon's law applies - not 90% of it being crap, but 99% of it being crap. Given the number of series released per year is approaching 200, and the number of movies per year close to 50, you can maybe find a couple of shows per year that might be worth watching.

The other recent show i have watched was the second season of Mushishi, which came out a full 8 years after the first. It continued where it left off, in being utterly unlike anything else i have seen in the medium. It falls into the 1% and is highly recommended.
posted by lawrencium at 3:21 AM on October 23, 2016 [9 favorites]


Oof, I am really glad you have had this experience as woman in anime fandom. It was the opposite of mine, and the women I know.

I really hope that you didn't read my comment as denying your experiences, because that's the opposite of what I intended. I think that there is a real problem with anime fandom, and that my experience was unusual.

I brought it up because I think that focusing on the social marginalization of these men overlooks the elephant in the room: They're men. The problem is men. I was hanging out with socially marginalized women into the same "nerdy" hobby, and the dynamic was very different. Instead of pulling right, we pulled left.

I avoided men--although not consciously. Sometimes I tried to branch out and find new communities, only to quickly decide I didn't like the dynamic--before I really participated. Effectively, I was shut out of many fandom communities. I followed my "safe" communities to new shows, rather than trying to find new communities. So for a lot of shows, I just watched and enjoyed rather than participate in fandom.

Meanwhile, socially marginalized men or socially successful men--when they form male-dominated social groups, their social standing doesn't seem to matter that much. They band together against women no matter what. I don't want to hang out in a group of male anime nerds, and I don't want to hang out in a popular frat, either.

Anime may be uniquely bad because the pandering feeds the entitlement. But, eh, I am just really skeptical of the social marginalization argument and how it is often used.

Not that I don't think it's important to understand how it works in communities like these. But I think that it's too often used to shift focus away from the primary problem of masculinity and male privilege. It's not the primary cause; if anything, it is a secondary one, and I'm even doubtful about that. And I've seen it used by sympathetic men to distance themselves from their privilege, because it hurts to recognize that you are a beneficiary of such a system. (Gosh, that might make you responsible for doing something more.)

For example, I have seen men argue that male nerds don't have male privilege (!!) to female nerds who have just shared stories like yours (!!!). On MetaFilter, even.

tl;dr I am into this post big time, and will love reading about shows from people who have similar issues with anime and anime fandom as I do.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 3:40 AM on October 23, 2016 [22 favorites]


Japanese anime criticism exists. Japanese feminist critiques of Japanese pop culture and cultural movements exist. A huge problem is very precious little of it is ever translated. Much critical discourse of all flavors never gets out of Japan. This becomes an issue as Japan's use of anime as soft power has globalized.

I am always wary when Western audiences, lacking cultural context, start applying Western ideas about feminism into essentially foreign works. This is not to say it shouldn't be done. But I would really prefer to hear amplified Japanese, Chinese and Korean voices amplified so that the work and the critique can be placed in its true context.

A lot of people tend to see anime as a "universal" art form and project meaning into it as if it were originated in the culture in which it is viewed.This is definitely not the case. Anime is Japanese, it's issues are Japanese, and so to a certain extent they will not be solved by western feminism. it's also not our place to do so, in my opinion.

There's nothing wrong with a good site to point out recommendations, though. Personally as a lass discovering anime in the early 80s I.was tremendously empowered by the variety of female images and active female characters I found there, far greater than any available to me at the time. The current wave is low quality, but there is a cyclical nature to this industry. Trends come and go in long waves, depending on what explodes in the marketplace.But its true that there just doesn't seem to be as much good stuff to watch lately, and some of the most reliable diehards, like Ikuhara, have started to produce work that does not really translate well outside of the intended target. Anno's turn toward rightwing Yamato-style conservative boosterism stuff with Shin Godzilla may represent a troubling shift in the water. The industry has always been intensely inward focused, built on dense layers of injokes and references, too.A lot of the folks that came out of Mushi Pro seem to have faded back from the industry, either due to age or possibly not finding support for new projects?

As a subgenre the whole thing is very interesting, but it is definitely something that has changed a lot since Tezuka.
posted by Queen of Robots at 5:16 AM on October 23, 2016 [13 favorites]


smoke: "It has a really corrosive effect on expanding the community, too. Because the anime community tends to be so... uncritical, it means someone like me - who just wants to dabble in anime rather than dive into it - lacks the guidance to sort through the acres of shit put out there. Critical opinion is not necessarily a good guide, so how do you find the good stuff?"

Although MAL's forums are typically rubbish but I do like their listing format for info and reviews. A good portion of anime I watch if I'm familiar with the original source or follow feminist leaning blogs like Josei Next Door and GAR GAR Stegosaurus. Unfortunately, I admit it's mostly trial-and-error when I'll pick up a few intro episodes of a new show and hope for the best. After awhile viewers tend to pick up on certain cues like how XYZ studio produces certain shows or the director is known for a specific genre.

In a related note I do a seasonal anime post on FanFare which we discuss interesting shows in the upcoming months.
posted by chrono_rabbit at 8:06 AM on October 23, 2016 [4 favorites]


Anime is Japanese, it's issues are Japanese, and so to a certain extent they will not be solved by western feminism. it's also not our place to do so, in my opinion.

You're making a really interesting point here, and I absolutely agree that Japanese feminist critiques of anime are vital.

However—more than ever, anime is an internationally-supported medium. The expansion of the Western market is a huge part of why there's so much being made right now, and I don't think it's unreasonable or problematic to subject it to the perspectives of Western criticism. But I agree that it shouldn't be only Western criticism.

But its true that there just doesn't seem to be as much good stuff to watch lately

For my part, I find there to be one or two shows per season that are at least worth my time, if not exactly blowing my mind.

Anno's turn toward rightwing Yamato-style conservative boosterism stuff with Shin Godzilla may represent a troubling shift in the water.

I didn't take this away from Shin Godzilla at all. To me it read as a film both deeply critical of and pragmatically optimistic about the capacity of bureaucracy to respond to a crisis, but I admit I'm not good at reading Japanese political signifiers. Would you mind elaborating? I'd love to hear more about this perspective.
posted by Sokka shot first at 8:15 AM on October 23, 2016 [6 favorites]


I am always wary when Western audiences, lacking cultural context, start applying Western ideas about feminism into essentially foreign works.

I understand your concern, but my experiences in english language anime fandom & criticism seems that it leans far too much in the opposite direction, using the excuse of "Japanese culture" to not have to think about these issues. Because "Japanese culture" is supposedly more conservative and at the same time not bound by our western hangups about age and nudity, man, we're supposed to accept it uncritically and not ask ourselves whether a) Japanese culture really is that way (and that monolithic) b) anime does a good job representing it and c) whether western fans really are blameless in this or actually seek this stuff as well.

The Japanese otaku audience especially has provided a convenient excuse and punching bag for the sexism and fanservice in anime, but the Monster Musume (hapless guy gets a harem of various monster based girls living together with him, all after his virginity hilarity ensues) manga was a NYT bestseller too.

Anime is Japanese, it's issues are Japanese, and so to a certain extent they will not be solved by western feminism. it's also not our place to do so, in my opinion.

Up to a point. But we current got Netflix cosponsoring the production of P. A. Works's latest show (Kuromukuro), Crunchyroll partnering with A-1 pictures to provide a music video for an American electronic musician (Shelter) and Amazon getting into an exclusive contract to stream Noitanima shows (Battery, Fune Wo Amu). Commercially, we are seeing a much greater interdependence between Japan and the west in the production and financing of anime, which i'd argue should also mean an increasing need for feminist and other criticism, at least within the context of e.g. American attitudes towards the medium.

We should indeed always remain wary of blindly imposing our own progressive values on a context where they might not be appreciated or even be appropriate but that doesn't mean we cannot criticise our own consumption of it.
posted by MartinWisse at 8:40 AM on October 23, 2016 [19 favorites]


I should be really excited about this, but as much as I agree that anime, manga and Japanese games need much more Western critique than they're currently getting (I enjoyed it, but Madoka wasn't the anime equivalent of The Handmaid's Tale), this appears to be heavy on the content creators (and so far only American content creators) and doesn't include Japanese feminist theorists even a little.

I feel this is a step back! Where's the 101 stuff? I remember in the early 2000s we were passing around translated Akiko Ebihara and, even though she's a more manga-indirect feminist writer, Mahoko Yashimoto. Japanese feminists have been writing a lot on this stuff, for years, and I think one of the first duties of sites like these should be to make their works accessible or even just known to its audience.

I mean, Ebihara was writing fifteen years ago:

[...] realistic women were still conspicuous by their absence in boys' manga produced by men. Women were still sex symbols. It was in this period that female characters with baby-like faces and huge breasts (often crudely described as "huge jugs", "a pair of warheads" and such like) started proliferating in boys' manga [...]

The more things change, etc. At best it's naïve to work without the Japanese feminist response to anime and manga, and at worst it's ignorant. "Run by a team of writers from academia" -- well, it's not the academics who were there first on the ground. As Cook repeats, she's fluent, she's got access to this material. It feels strange that they're not even paying lip service.

Western feminism absolutely ought to be talking about this, but this does look like a whole bunch of Western feminists trying gamely to construct a rocket when Japanese feminists have been out on a space station for years.
posted by monster truck weekend at 10:49 AM on October 23, 2016 [15 favorites]


The Japanese otaku audience especially has provided a convenient excuse and punching bag for the sexism and fanservice in anime, but the Monster Musume (hapless guy gets a harem of various monster based girls living together with him, all after his virginity hilarity softcore porn ensues) manga was a NYT bestseller too.

Like, I think it's probably important - and the articles in the post do this - to distinguish between stuff that is sexy trash from its inception, and stuff that's trying to do something else but weighs its female characters down with sexist portrayals. There are feminist critiques to be made of both Fifty Shades of Grey and some random sad boner story novel trying to be high literature, but approaching them similarly because they happen to be novels is rather silly. I think a lot of anime is the same - sharing a medium doesn't mean sharing a theme or even a purpose.

For my part I'm predisposed to give unrepentant and unrealistic sexy trash a pass, except for the number of people who don't want to admit that there's not much more to the show that they like than titillation and fantasy wrapped in an entertaining package. And I think that's part of what lets these tropes creep into works that really shouldn't have them.
posted by Zalzidrax at 10:53 AM on October 23, 2016 [2 favorites]


In the vein of critique did anyone else feel a pang of discomfort when the interviewee sidesteps the Western values question by replying a variation of, "I have no qualms doing this because I have a degree in Japanese studies"? In a postcolonial context that kind of attitude, a cavalier justification, draws pause.

And it's not to suggest that Western consumers shouldn't conduct critique of a global Asian product. It says to me that it's even more important than ever but yet also that there's a fine line to tread.
posted by polymodus at 2:29 PM on October 23, 2016 [1 favorite]


Another issue with anime in the US is that a lot of what is popularize is shonen (boy's) and (to a lesser extent) seinen (men's) while shojo (girl's) and josei (women's) anime tends to not be brought over. Series aimed at boys and men may have a lot of female characters (Ah! My Goddess, Negima, or Lum) but those women are almost exclusively focused on the passive, often failing main character and it serves as a romantic power fantasy of sorts; this has recently been mirrored in shojo stories like Ouran High School Host Club or Fruits Basket, but the treatment on men in those stories is profoundly different with very different or very little fan service. There are also some really solid seinen anime, like Mushishi, which center around a man but have interesting and complex women, many of whom interact with each other, and it makes me wonder what's not showing up because it isn't a fighting or harem anime. The ultimate effect is of US sexism doubling down on Japanese sexism to make a double-decker sexism sandwich.

This also poisons the well for people who don't realize that within Japan there are multiple genres of anime and manga, each with their own target audience. Someone who hated Ghost in the Shell won't ever know about Vampire Princess Miyu, which is more obscure and might be more to their liking. Most women know nothing about the power fantasies of magical girls, my own particular crack, or the complicated psychodramas of Boys Before Flowers and His and Hers Circumstances.

I also was mostly in woman/girl dominated fannish spaces, but I also remember a solid stream of misogyny (Relena-hate, anyone?) especially within the Yaoi shoals (which have their own homophobia issues as well). I tended to avoid those, but it was impossible to forget they existed. These days I'm mostly outside of the fandom, though I daydream of finishing my two epic Gundam Wing fanfics.

I also highly recommend Madoka Majica. The follow-up movie turns things on their head again, which is kind of awesome as well. As a depiction of the interchange of hope and despair and how that plays into relationships, it's top notch. I have mixed feelings, even now, about Ghost in the Shell, but it's a series I adore on the philosophical level and I adore the Major and her offspring, but yeah... probleMATic... Other favorites include anything by CLAMP, Ghost Hunt, Escaflowne, Witch Hunter Robin, Vampire Hunter D (the novels are excellent Gothic Horror), Pretear, Yami no Matsuei (sub only), Marmalade Boy, Kaitou Saint Tail, Please Save My Earth, Fancy Lala, Welcome to Greenwood, Glass Mask, Princess Tutu, Kodomo no Omocha, and anything by Miyazaki except for Howl's Moving Castle.

(Sword Art Online SPOILERS: I loved Sword Art Online until they gutted and sidelined Asuna and the way they ended it means I have to issue a "serious rape threats and sexual assault" warning for any women who watch the series to the end. Asuna balanced Kirito in some interesting ways and removing her point of view and skills from the storyline by literally turning her into a maiden in a tower and denying her the ability to defend or rescue herself really pissed me off. END SPOILERS)

I'd love it if some of the Japanese feminist writings and discussion could be translated. I can react and interpret from my point of view, but a lot of my knowledge of Japan comes via narrow and often limited means, and it also means I probably get a lot wrong in terms of how this plays out from a Japanese perspective.
posted by Deoridhe at 2:50 PM on October 23, 2016 [6 favorites]


I had to take quite a while before posting, because it's triggering all sorts of complicated feelings. I've been involved in anime since the days of Kimba, was really heavily involved in fandom, and yet these days, I pretty much actively avoid dealing with anime fandom, and I'm down to watching maybe six anime, two of which are old continuing series. All too many of the new offerings are either regurgitation of tired old concepts or incomplete Light Novel advertisements, and the cliched characters, sexism and objectification has gotten incredibly bad.

The reaction of the audience, specially the American fans, is even worse than uncritical acceptance- I hear too many fans say "Yeah the fanservice is pretty explicit, and we've seen these characters and plotlines before. But I'm going to keep watching it." The audience is like an alcoholic who's long run out of alcohol, and is hitting the cleaning solutions.

Part of the problem I think stemmed from when producers coined the innocuous sounding phrase "Fanservice", as a euphemism for sexism and objectification, for turning characters into sex objects without even any narrative purpose. And then it's compounded with the idea of "Moe", where female characters' entire emotional life was distorted for the male gaze.

I don't know, I think it's too late to salvage the American anime fandom, and I admit I've long since become exhausted at trying to point out problematic content, only to get a collective shrug. That said, I'm really enjoying the animefem site, and I'm willing to become a patron of them. Hopefully something good will come from this.
posted by happyroach at 5:16 PM on October 23, 2016 [2 favorites]


In the vein of critique did anyone else feel a pang of discomfort when the interviewee sidesteps the Western values question by replying a variation of, "I have no qualms doing this because I have a degree in Japanese studies"? In a postcolonial context that kind of attitude, a cavalier justification, draws pause.

I mean, hell, seeing someone using a degree that ends in "studies" as an excuse for anything is generally going to mean It's Popcorn Time
posted by DoctorFedora at 7:40 PM on October 23, 2016 [1 favorite]


I'm having a difficult time articulating my feelings about a lot of this, so instead of trying to go into that, maybe I'll just ask some questions and see what people think.

Since my history or experience with anime is mostly personal, that is without any involvement with its fandom, beyond reading about it, or even friends who also watch it, do others find anime to be significantly different in its relationship with its fans and how that shapes response to the works themselves? While naming something fan service suggests, perhaps, a closer relationship, how different is it than say in comics, sci-fi, or other genres with their fans? I tend to treat them all as roughly the same, each with its own tropes or conventions and each with its own devoted fanbase that often wants different things than I would like to see, but I'm certainly open to having that view changed.

How do people view criticism on these different genres or mediums? I tend to see the dominant response being along a like/don't like axis from most fans, followed by a critical response that tends to often work along a prescriptive evaluative position as its most demanding form of critique. This kind of criticism puts the emphasis as much on what the critic wants to see and their justifications for liking/not liking along moral or "real" value lines rather than a more descriptive frame which would place the emphasis more on what was made and what it might "mean" through the works own framing. (Each has its own drawbacks, so I'm not advocating a position, just interested in how responses to culture or art has shifted over time.)
posted by gusottertrout at 10:55 PM on October 23, 2016


or the complicated psychodramas of Boys Before Flowers

Ugh. Ugh. Ugh. Let's set up our heroine with the four most arrogant, obnoxious, downright hateful boys in school, pretend that she will go for the only half way decent one and then surprise surprise, she falls for the would be rapist with the anger management issues.

Shounen manga may be trash in a lot of ways, but the depths shojo can sink to...
posted by MartinWisse at 11:23 PM on October 23, 2016 [1 favorite]


...justifications for liking/not liking along moral or "real" value lines rather than a more descriptive frame which would place the emphasis more on what was made and what it might "mean" through the works own framing.

Yeah that's a good point. In literature and rhetoric we were taught to not import/project our own values into a work, but rather perform something called "close reading", which is the unintuitive task of critiquing the text on its own terms, and not appealing to the author's intentions, etc. This is interesting in the case of foreign language commercial media, because at the intellectual level you'd expect there to be a "lost in translation" effect, that we would be very much blind to.
posted by polymodus at 2:18 AM on October 24, 2016 [1 favorite]


Perhaps there wasn't a shiny site literally named "Anime Feminist" or whatever, but the framing that "the conversation is just starting" re: feminist critiques of anime and feminist fannishness is pretty short-sighted and disrespectful to all the feminist critics and critiques of past decades, whether anglophone fans literally having conversations on Livejournal or actual published Japanese artists and activists.

Like, I get that it can be frustrating when you want to be criticizing the lack of progressiveness, inclusion, etc. in mainstream fiction and mainstream discourse, but to frame it as nobody having said anything before is to be part of the problem.
posted by inconstant at 8:29 AM on October 24, 2016 [4 favorites]


I am sure the angry internet mens are taking this criticism with empathy and consideration.
posted by Theta States at 9:35 AM on October 24, 2016 [2 favorites]


Like, I get that it can be frustrating when you want to be criticizing the lack of progressiveness, inclusion, etc. in mainstream fiction and mainstream discourse, but to frame it as nobody having said anything before is to be part of the problem.


I'm actually okay with that. As Chomsky noted, throughout history, similar intellectual developments tended to happen concurrently yet independently. So just because this author wants to start a media project, and speak out without exactly paying "due respect"/"referencing" prior work in the area—that's understandable because these bits of awareness happen despite the social isolation. If prior critics resent new blood coming in, it's also partly, by symmetry, on the established groups to make a connection too, etc. She is incorrect in thinking that people haven't done lots of stuff on this subject, but I wouldn't necessarily blame her but see this isolation as more a function of how oppression generally works, e.g. by dividing people, etc.
posted by polymodus at 2:22 PM on October 24, 2016 [3 favorites]


I was quoting the journalist who wrote about the project, not the person who started the project. I don't think it's unreasonable to expect journalists to do some super basic research. (Of course, I am sure it is well known that journalists often do not do the super basic research. That doesn't mean I'm going to let it slide, especially if it appears that nobody else is commenting on it. By remaining silent I, too, would be part of the problem.)
posted by inconstant at 3:01 PM on October 24, 2016 [2 favorites]


I'm actually okay with that. As Chomsky noted, throughout history, similar intellectual developments tended to happen concurrently yet independently. So just because this author wants to start a media project, and speak out without exactly paying "due respect"/"referencing" prior work in the area—that's understandable because these bits of awareness happen despite the social isolation.

I'm not quite sure I understand this. This isn't happening concurrently as Japanese anime/manga critique began years ago. I get the idea of Person A and Person B coming up with the same idea without knowledge of each other, but if launching a critical inquiry into anime and manga, isn't the first thing you ought to do be seeing what's been done before? This isn't happening in social isolation, this is the Internet.

Also, if we take Person A as the Japanese discourse, isn't it even weirder as anime and manga critique culturally belongs to Person A and their voices should be boosted first as the most authentic? This isn't to say that Western critique can't be meaningful, but I don't get not prioritising Japanese voices here unless it's an issue of accessibility, which Cook herself has addressed.

I'd love it if some of the Japanese feminist writings and discussion could be translated.

The tough part. I found an online copy of the old Ebihara article, which remains absolutely Goddamn fascinating. And Jessica Bauwens-Sugimoto has for some years now been writing within Japanese academic discourse on gender in anime and manga, with the bonus of a lot of her work being available in English. I love her article here about the BL manga SEX PISTOLS.

Although I knew about these two beforehand, it was still a whole five minutes to Google them, and three of those minutes were me rummaging blindly for my box of flapjacks.
posted by monster truck weekend at 4:43 PM on October 24, 2016 [6 favorites]


This isn't happening in social isolation, this is the Internet.

That's an ideal, though, not reality. The reality is there's research showing that the Internet is consumed differently across global culture, that it's not a monolithic social space, that people experience intellectual isolation despite the apparent connectedness of modern infrastructure. Another way of putting it is, you and I may hold certain expectations and views about best practices such as first checking the literature. But ask any real scientist how that plays out in practice, and things aren't so simple.

Applied to this context, my own initial reaction was irritation that oh, here's a "Japanese studies" graduate trying to do a thing that sounds kind of arrogant. But if I am able to check and reflect on that emotion and look at some of the structural causes influencing how progressive ideas are shared and disseminated, I can understand from her perspective what she's trying to do. As I recall, my original response was to someone else mentioning this process being frustrating, and identifying what the "problem" is, and in turn the complexity of presuppositions surrounding that, etc.

And I suspect that critical authors would be more sympathetic, to this person than some of us who do not actively produce the critiques, etc. For similar reasons, that they know what it's like, etc.
posted by polymodus at 7:59 PM on October 24, 2016 [2 favorites]


> Another way of putting it is, you and I may hold certain expectations and views about best practices such as first checking the literature. But ask any real scientist how that plays out in practice, and things aren't so simple.

Could you elaborate on that? Because while I'm not an academic, I did time in grad school and I still read a lot of academic writing, and I find it hard to believe anyone can get away with not first checking the literature. I mean, the bibliography is the backbone of academic writing; I turn there immediately to see if the author is quoting the relevant people I know about (and thus knows what they're doing and is likely to be worth reading). An article about Japanese anime, or anything else, that depends entirely on the author's own thoughts on the subject isn't an academic article, it's a thumbsucker.
posted by languagehat at 7:31 AM on October 25, 2016 [3 favorites]


So, brassbrass tacks: how much of this is really about "we need Japanese voices /proper literary criticism", and how much is about silencing a frminist and/or female analysis of anime? Because I really don't see the male-oriented/uncritical fandom sites getting this kind of critique.

Why is it only a site that addresses the sexism in anime that has to have proper footnotes and attribution?
posted by happyroach at 12:22 AM on October 26, 2016 [2 favorites]


Also, if we take Person A as the Japanese discourse, isn't it even weirder as anime and manga critique culturally belongs to Person A and their voices should be boosted first as the most authentic?

Not really? Amelia Cook and Anime Feminist have explicitely said that they're interested in providing a feminist perspective on anime in the context of western anime fandom and are not interested in attempting to influence the (Japanese) anime industry directly. They're also coming at it as fans rather than academics and want to address anime as it exists now; you don't really need a literature overview to do that. Let's not even go into the high turnover in anime fandom, where most fans seem to be around for two-three years before moving on to something else; livejournal discussions might just as well be in ancient Sumerian to them.

Of course, in the long term it would make sense both to seek out and inform about Japanese feminist criticism and existing American/western feminist anime critiques, but you don't really need that to start with. (Do note that the site already features a review of Rokudenashiko's What is Obscenity? The Story of a Good for Nothing Artist and her Pussy, so it isn't completely ignoring the Japanese side of things.)

Ultimately, the fact remains that while there are critical, feminist voices in anime fandom, there isn't the kind of critical mass that there now is in e.g. science fiction or comics fandom; Anime Feminist at least looks like a good first step towards building it.
posted by MartinWisse at 2:59 AM on October 26, 2016 [5 favorites]


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