Hey, Answerman: On Strike!

by Zac Bertschy, Dec 7th 2007


Okay, so I'm not actually on strike, although of course I support the WGA; there's no "new" column this week because I'm in New York City, at the first annual New York Anime Fest! This year I'll be hosting a handful of panels - one about how to get an amazing and glamorous job like mine, and another about how to write anime reviews that don't suck - and I'll also be sitting alongside my boss and coworkers on our Anime News Network and Protoculture Addicts panels.

That's a lot, so naturally, con preparation ate up all my time this week and I'm left with no room for a new Hey, Answerman column. So what do I do in this time of crisis? Recycle! That's right, it's a clip show.

Now, like any good clip show, I'll be offering some fresh commentary on the selected questions and answers in italics after the original answer.

So let's get started, shall we?

Dear Answerman, I am writing this letter in response to something you said in the forums regarding a discussion about Belldandy from Oh My Goddess!. People were talking about how Belldandy is the perfect woman, and you said that she was not realistic and so you didn't like her. Then you said this:

I don't know about you but I don't watch anime so I can fantasize about being married to one of the female characters. I don't "fall in love" with them, I don't get "moe" feelings toward them. Maybe I'm in the minority around here (which seems to have become the case over the years), but that sort of thing isn't appealing to me. I don't want someone to specifically write a female character so she's making goo-goo eyes at the screen or acting in a way that I would personally find attractive; their personalities should service the story.

Now I myself have noticed that over the years, females in anime have become less powerful or warrior-like and more like you're supposed to want to love them. I know this is part of the "moe" phenomenon. I have to admit that I do find myself attracted to a lot of these female characters, and I like it when I can watch a show and pick a girl i like the best. But at the same time i know they are writing them that way on purpose and it does kind of bother me. When I think back to older anime series like Escaflowne or even Dirty Pair, the girls in those shows were heroes, and had "real" personalities.

So I guess my question is do you agree with this, has anime become so 'moe-ified' that we don't have realistic female characters anymore, and will that ever change?

Huh. Normally people don't write in about things I've said on the forums, but this is a solid topic, so I'll go with it.

The original discussion there was about Oh My Goddess!; Bamboo Dong reviewed the latest volume of the TV series in her column, Shelf Life, which sparked some controversy in the forums. Someone claimed that Belldandy was the perfect woman (shortly before claiming that anyone who dislikes the series must be in a deluded minority), and that she embodies the ideal that all men fantasize about.

I took offense to that. I've always seen Belldandy as an emotional doormat; she's an unrealistic fantasy, written to appeal to men who apparently want to marry someone who's almost completely subservient and eternally patient. She loves to cook and clean! Her eye never wanders toward other men! She supports Keichi no matter how badly he screws up! Heck, she doesn't even argue with him!

To me, she's basically the idealized 1950's housewife stereotype, a hoary old cliche leftover from the days when gender politics were swept under the rug and females were still considered second-class citizens. I don't "fantasize" about being married to someone like that, and I'm sure there are a lot of guys out there who are with me on that. Don't get me wrong; Oh My Goddess! is a decent show, but I don't enjoy it because I'm secretly in love with a cartoon character.

The argument was then extrapolated to female characters in anime as a whole, and how they're written.
Sure, moe is certainly a phenomenon, and the Japanese are cranking out shows to appeal to that audience by the dozen. While that's definitely a trend - and shows like that are growing more and more popular as time goes on - there are a wealth of what I'd consider "decent" female characters.

Hell, just look at the heroines in common shonen anime - Nami in One Piece, Sakura or Tsunade in Naruto, any of the girls in Bleach - for an example of female characters who aren't written like mewling moe-bait. Escaflowne is a good example of a show with a solid female lead, as is the Ghibli film Only Yesterday. They may not be stunningly realistic portrayals of the struggle facing today's women (although Only Yesterday is brilliant), but they're generally strong, well-rounded, interesting female characters.

The moe trend will continue and likely get even more popular as time goes on, and it's all going to seem amplified because those shows are discussed a lot on the internet, but it's not like all anime being produced now is moe. If we see these blatant moe archetypes start creeping in to anime series that otherwise had strong female characters, then that's a cause for alarm, but there's no evidence for that yet.


In my opinion, this problem is only getting worse - there's a tendency now to categorize every female character that ever appears into some "moe" category based on a 2-dimensional personality stereotype, and so strong female characters are classified as "tsundere" by many otaku. While we do have a long and proud history of positive, progressive female characters in anime, I think this new tendency to lump them all into one fetish category specifically designed to make it clear which kind of otaku is most likely to sexually or romantically obsess over them is unsettling and undermines the growth of progressive depictions of women in anime.


I went to my first anime con a few weeks ago and i was a little surprised to see that the cosplayers werent just from anime - there were video games and movies like pirates of the caribbean and even like, people dressed up as jokes from the internet.

What is up with that? it's an anime convention!!

This is actually not a new phenomenon, but it did start after I went to my first convention.

It has a lot to do with the notion of a "group identity" and the fact that anime fandom has experienced the boom it has primarily due to explosive growth on the internet. Basically, you have a bunch of nerds who like anime who find other nerds online who also like anime. They form a community, they share in-jokes, they develop an entire group identity and they become a cohesive (if not totally comprehensible) group.

Over the years this group has gotten bigger and bigger and since most of the people in it can be classified as having similar tastes - meaning most people you meet at an anime convention will also be playing similar video games and watching certain movies - you're going to see a mixture of genres and mediums at an anime convention because the people dressing up as Strong Bad and Captain Jack Sparrow know their costumes will be appreciated by the nerds at an anime convention.

It's gotten even more insular lately with the incredible community growth you see on internet message boards, so now we have people who cosplay as internet memes, like Chuck Norris or Snakes on a Plane; they do it for the same reason people dress up as popular movie characters. They know the people in attendance will "get it" and they'll be appreciated, so you get this cross-pollinating of genres and mediums when it comes to cosplayers at anime conventions.

To be totally honest, the movie costumes - like Darth Vader or Jack Sparrow - don't phase me at all. The "internet joke" costumes on the other hand make me roll my eyes. Normally it's because people are dressing up like the O RLY owl or Chuck Norris months and months and in some cases years after what they're cosplaying as has ceased to be funny or amusing or even relevant. If it's one thing that gets to me about nerd culture on the internet it's that there are hordes of people for whom repetitive humor and catchphrases seem to be the highest form of comedy. What this results in is people repeating the same joke over and over and over again, beating it into the ground year after year, and still patting themselves on the back for being Komedy Kaptains after repeating some tired old internet catchphrase for the 9 millionth time. If they weren't doing it specifically to look like they're the "wacky" guy I wouldn't have a problem with it, but it's like someone showing up in a "Where's the Beef?!" or "Don't have a cow, man!" costume. Yeah, man, that is the height of comedy right there.

I mean, if you're sitting on your living room floor making an All Your Base Are Belong To Us costume, stop and think - how old and tired is this joke? Do you really still think people are going to yuk it up at how clever you are for repeating it in 2006? The answer is "no".

I know it might sound a little snobbish, but some anime cons these days seem to be more "internet culture" cons than actual anime conventions. The people who attend cons by and large spend a hell of a lot of time on the internet and it really shows, especially at larger cons like Otakon. It's not the end of the world, and I'm all for community growth and expansion, but the internet stuff gets a little tiresome when you're there for the anime.

But hey, if that's the way anime fandom is going, then we'd better get used to it.

I wrote this answer in 2006 and it still holds very, very true to this day. I saw more people cosplaying as tired, worn-out internet memes and catchphrases this year at Otakon and AX than ever before. My response has since changed from a simple roll of the eyes to an intense, burning desire to give these people severe wedgies.

It's time to pick a side, answerman!! in one of the biggest arguments out there: Yuki Kajiura or Yoko Kanno?!?

Oh boy. I don't know what it is about this squabble that gets people so up in arms, but I've seen people nearly come to blows over this one. As far as I know there isn't any real feud between the composers themselves, just hardcore fans who apparently live to fight about it.

Personally, I'm a Yoko Kanno fan myself. Everything she touches turns to gold and she has a musical range like I've never seen before; who else can so competently and completely pull off authentic jazz music and then a few months down the road write a great pop song and then follow that up with a sweeping orchestral score? Yuki Kajiura can't, that's for sure.

I'm not even sure what it is people see in Kajiura's music; sure, it's OK, but it all sounds the same. It's always high-pitched strings and wailing female vocals; her scores for .hack and Noir and even Madlax all sound really similar to me, and what's worse, it seems like she only does 5, maybe 6 pieces for each show, and they wind up being repeating a zillion times over 26 episodes. Watch Noir and you'll see what I mean; by the end of the third episode you'll wish they would stop playing that blasted
watch theme.

I'm sure I'll be flamed to hell and back for saying that about Kajiura but hey, I'm used to it! Bring it on, fanboys!

I gotta say, I'm reprinting this one because over the last few months I had the chance to hear more of Kajiura's catalog and some of her more recent stuff, and seriously, she's not even in the same league as Kanno. They're not even playing the same game. I don't see how people can even compare the two or why this argument started in the first place.

I recently have gone through Seven Seas' series to see if there are any worth checking out, aside from Ballad of a Shinigami and Kashimashi nothing at all appeals to me. But then I clicked on one of their future releases called Nymphet and I was shocked. How can a title like this get liscenced for release in the U.S and Canada. Just read the story outline.

*It's the cute ones you've gotta watch out for...*

23-year old school teacher Aoki Daisuke has a huge problem. One of his precocious students, Kokonoe Rin, has the hots for him?! Yes, mischievous Rin has proclaimed herself to be Daisuke-sensei's girlfriend and is now on a warpath to win him over or cause him to lose his job...whichever comes first!

It just sounds so wrong!! A series like this does not make the manga/anime industry look good. I know Geneon is releasing when they cry which is controversial also but as I read here I think before its really a fan only release. But this book might end up in book stores and what if a kid picks it up and takes it to their parent because the cover does make it look like a average series. The publisher said it will be shrink wrapped but um at my bookstores people take that off and read it anyways. Whats your take on this release? I personally think it should *not* be released

You know, I remembered hearing about this title back when our lolicon wars were raging, but I never really looked it up; your synopsis there doesn't mention how old the Rin character is, so I had to look it up.

She's in 3rd grade. And apparently this manga is pretty popular with the loli crowd so I have to assume it's unsubtle about what the point of the whole thing is.

Barf.

While I can't possibly endorse this release - the whole concept makes my flesh crawl - so far, not even the hardcore gay porn you find in manga aisles has managed to cause any kind of a stir. This is - I think, anyway - the first lolicon title that's explicit enough to be released here with shrinkwrap, so the potential for danger is probably higher than it is with yaoi manga, but for right now I'm not sure I'd be panicked about this release.

Is it gross and wrong? Yes. Do I wish Seven Seas would just leave this particular Pandora's Box alone and maybe consider not releasing comic book kiddie porn? Of course. But they will anyway. Maybe we'll get lucky and nobody will buy it and they'll stop barking up the pedo tree, but for now, we just have to hold on and hope that this is silently put into only a few markets, disappears, and is then never heard about again.


I'm going to catch hell for reprinting this one. Because of the tsunami of shit that this reply rained down on me - people calling for my head on a stake, demanding I resign, blaming me for the eventual cancellation of the title - I've always felt the need to go back and correct part of it. I was wrong about Nymphet. Now, I'm sure that will be quoted out of context by the people who attacked me for this response, but allow me to clarify.

I was wrong when I said Nymphet was "comic book kiddie porn". It is not pornography. Yes, there's a lot of underage cartoon nudity in it and a mountain of egregious, inappropriate, tasteless and disgusting sex "jokes" aimed at underage cartoon girls, but it is not pornographic in the textbook sense of the word nor is it illegal under US Law (a point I never made but many argue with me about). I've been corrected on this about a hundred zillion times so I'm just going to publically correct myself here and hopefully never hear about it ever again.

Dear Answerman,

I'm a newbie anime fan, only been into it maybe 2 years but I love it. Recently I attended my first convention and I found a little section at the con called "artists alley", where people sold what looked like bootleg drawings of anime characters. I remember when I was a kid people would sell like bootleg simpsons tee-shirts and I have to wonder, how is this legal and why do conventions let people get away with it?

Well, while you're not entirely wrong, you're at least a little misguided.

First and foremost, you can't really draw reasonable comparisons between a convention Artist's Alley and some guy at a swap meet selling thousands of bootleg Simpsons tee-shirts for $2 apiece. For starters, while yes, selling fanart is technically copyright infringement, it's largely a tolerated practice, mostly because nobody there is earning enough money to bother with and it's assumed everyone there is doing it solely for the love of the art form rather than being motivated only by profit (although that's not always the case). I don't know of many fanartists who actually make a living selling images of copyrighted characters; they do it for fun, to get their art out there, and to potentially fuel interest in their original work.

There are a few fanartists out there who are a little too far up their own asses about what they do, and they get really uppity when you suggest that they're not really being very creative by just drawing Naruto, coloring it in with Copic markers and then selling it for $10. Some of them even try and drag out tired old (and completely inapplicable)
first amendment arguments when challenged, and there's a small contingent of them that feel they're master artists, even though they've never produced anything original. Those people tend to be a little vocal - especially when they're challenged, as they were last year when Otakon had all that controversy about the changes made to their artist's alley policy - but these folks are, by and large, in the minority. 99 percent of the fanartists I've met are decent folk who are doing it just for fun; according to most of the people I've spoken with, their sales at the Artist's Alley rarely even get close to covering the expense of attending the show.

So while you're not totally wrong, the spirit of Artist's Alley is in no way related to someone selling bootleg tee-shirts, and that's mostly why it's tolerated.


I've read a lot of arguments on both sides of this issue since this response originally ran, and these days I'm seeing more and more fanartists busting out the opinion that not only do they deserve to profit as much as they can from the sale of unlicensed, fan-created merchandise for any given franchise, but the companies that produce these series should thank them for the "free promotion". I don't know about that, and I don't know why that attitude is proliferating, but at what point do you step back and say "This is OK in moderation, but I did not have a hand in the inception, creation, execution or marketing of this property, I do not own it, and therefore I do not deserve to profit from it." That seems like common sense to me. Making fanart, selling a few copies and having a grand ol' time is one thing, but liking a cartoon and being able to draw its characters does not entitle you to profiting from merchandise sales. At least, in my opinion.

Okay! So that's it for this week. We'll be back with our regularly scheduled column next time. Have a great weekend, and hopefully we'll see you at NYAF!



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