Hey, Answerman! Fallout: New Vilification
by Brian Hanson, May 25th 2012
Greetings, People of Earth!
Ha ha! It's funny because I'm not an alien and I'm talking as though I am. Lordy!
Welcome to Answerman, as usual. This week, well - there's a *TON* of Answerfans that are insightful and interesting covering every conceivable viewpoint, and I can't *wait* to get to those.
Though, fret not, I've got some questions as well. Wanna see? They're right here:
We are in a time that is truly awesome for anime fans. Now the complaint is shifting from "This show should be released in the US!" to "There is so much anime being streamed! I don't have time to watch it all!"
Problem, though. With all of these anime being streamed so quickly after they debut in Japan, isn't our culture moving away from a need for dubs? I like either, and I stick with whichever cast I prefer, but I will watch any format. Who needs the dubs, though? I can get my subs now and legally!
There are the Dave Rileys and Joel Whites of the world who watch dubs for the lolz-- and the benefit of not having to pay close attention to the screen. The American anime community have struck me as preferring subs and wouldn't miss dubs too terribly.
So hasn't the the speed of legally available subs done a significant amount of damage to dubbing companies? Fansubs are bad for the dubbing business, and the industry as a whole, but isn't Funimation, Hulu and Crunchyroll's good news bad news for dubs?
Sure, in a sense. Simulcasting is simply not conductive to dubs. I've written about that before - getting a dub ready in time for simultaneous launch, worldwide, would mean recording voices during translation and during the animation production itself, most likely. And given how quickly things need to move in order to make their airdates, no doubt we'd be facing a flurry of low-quality dubs if that were the case.
And aside from that, of course, is the fact that the overwhelming majority of simulcast viewers don't seem to miss dubs in the slightest. Seems like they're quite happy with their subs. Game, set, match.
I think what this tells us is nothing extraordinary. It's mainly reiterating something we've all known about since the VHS days: dubs and subs are two wildly different products on a fundamental level. It's nice that you can offer fans both of those products on a DVD, but when you offer them separately, they appeal to two very different demographics.
Anime itself skews younger viewers, while dubs tend to skew even younger than that. Subs appeal to the purists and the die-hard fans, while dubs are *still* a necessity to reach a more "mainstream" audience. This isn't groundbreaking news or anything. We've known this all along.
If it seems like simulcasting is "killing" dubs, it's not intentional by any means. It's simply a logical outcome from the constraints of the format (streaming video doesn't quite seem to have the infrastructure in place to support multiple audio streams, for example) matched with the demographics and also the production demands and cost that dubbing requires.
Having said that, if you want your DVD to sell at a Best Buy 'round the country, which is *still* the main source of revenue for anime companies out here, you absolutely need to have a dub. Essentially, unless you're Nozomi or Aniplex USA and you're only shipping a "limited" quantity of a DVD set through online sales, dubs are STILL ABSOLUTELY VITAL to an anime series' success. That "mainstream" market still occasionally buys a DVD or two, or perhaps even a Blu Ray. And there's a lot more of Them than there are of Us.
Another market to consider is Video on Demand. XBox Live Marketplace and PLAYSTATION Network. Hell, iTunes. That there is a wide swath of "casual" and "mainstream" viewers who aren't exactly attuned to reading subtitles. Even The Anime Network's VOD channel - A SUBSCRIBER-BASED CHANNEL - is careful to ensure that an even amount of its content has a dub.
Dubs aren't being "killed" necessarily, but they are decreasing in number as a casualty of the road our niche market has taken. With declining DVD sales, it was basically a given that dubs would relax a little bit in prominence. But there's no cause for alarm, people - so long as there's even a slight hint that a title could potentially cross into any "mainstream" market, be it a Best Buy shelf or a TV network or a gaming console, dubs still have a place in this world.
This isn't going to be your typical fansub question. I'm the type that looks for subs on obscure shows that never gets licensed, simulcasted, or anything. Heck, half the time fansubbers ignore them and don't bother to sub them either! The few subbers that do, I definitely respect and believe that it's what true fansubbing is all about: bringing shows to people that otherwise wouldn't be able to see them. But anayway here's my question:
How did the current trend of lazy 'fansubbing' (aka ripping Crunchyroll) start? I remember seeing this group called "Horriblesubs" pop up, who I don't believe are even from North America (at least their servers aren't). Now, I know these services aren't always available around the world, so not everyone can view Crunchyroll (and some just don't want to pay, or are picky about their subs, video, etc) but why do people now only seem to rip these from these sites? Everytime I pop open a torrent aggregator site, all I see is the same few "subber" list, and the same anime episode in 3 different video size formats by several groups. People seem to barely even sub things themselves now. What happened to people subbing things and actually doing work? Is it now not about "who does the best job and out fast" but "who gets the SAME EXACT FILE out first"? I don't understand this new trend, really... It's true with how people joke about "if Crunchyroll didn't do it, no one subbed it", and I find this a sad trend.
Okay, my understanding is - and this is just my own experience talking, and not indicative of anything else - that Horriblesubs and other "rip" groups *DO NOT* think of themselves as "fansubbers." Which is fair, I think - keeps all the negative energy directed at *them* instead of "legitimate" fansub groups.
"Rip" groups like Horriblesubs are certainly popular, I'll admit, but you'll still find groups subbing stuff like Naruto Shippūden out of some bizarre (and incorrect) notion that the official Viz streams are somehow "impure." Although, if I had to take a guess, I'd say the only reason they bother fansubbing the shows that get simulcast are because they'd rather use the perhaps-slightly-higher-quality HDTV rips from Japan as opposed to the Crunchyroll simulcast files. That's my hunch, at least.
However, I've been taken to task before about ignoring the work that certain fansub groups are doing specifically for those shows you mentioned - the older titles, the forgotten classics, the shows that never made it over to our shores during "the boom." I can't post any links here in the column for obvious reasons, but they're out there. Granted, you probably won't see any of those titles hidden somewhere in the aggregate sites you mention, and that's because - surprise! Aggregate sites thrive on traffic, and *nothing* guarantees more traffic than a big name title like One Piece and so forth.
So, do a little digging. Dig up your latent Google-fu and with some searching, you'll probably find a show or two that've slipped through the cracks of popularity that are carefully being subbed by interested parties.
"But Brian!" You say, aghast! "You've said before that you think fansubs are irrelevant nowadays! And now you're telling a reader to FIND A FANSUB?? You hypocrite!!" Jeez, I get so combative when I talk to myself. Look, I still think that fansubs are an increasingly irrelevant part of our fandom - simulcasting has essentially eroded the cornerstone of what made fansubbing popular and flourish in the first place, which was quick, easy access IN ENGLISH to the latest and greatest hit shows. (At least for North America. Sorry Unsupported Regions!) The remnants of that community are those who are, essentially, entrenched within it *so heavily* that they simply cannot fathom a world without it - people that've sunk so much of their lives and energy to it that they can't bear to leave it behind. And I'm certainly sympathetic to that; nobody likes the feeling that their years and years of effort and research were all for naught. It's a bitter pill to swallow, and trust me, I know it - I spent the better part of my 20's working very hard at a local theater company, and the pit in my gut that remained after I moved and realized how completely apathetic people here on the East Coast are to the work that I did left me in a funk that I'm still climbing my way out of. But it is inevitable.
So they're essentially fansubbing things for themselves. Which can be great! If they're, y'know, working to preserve or present those obscure shows you're hungry to watch. It can also be a bit depressing; watching fansub groups trip over themselves to sub something like Rock Lee & His Ninja Pals is painful to watch, especially since you know that outside of the legal streams, the version that the leeches will be watching ARE THE SIMULCAST RIPS FROM THOSE LEGAL STREAMS. It becomes nothing more than ego-stroking at its basest form, a sad grasp for attention from a disconnected digital sphere that has since moved on.
Suffice to say that you're not wrong, rippers like HorribleSubs are the go-to choice of any "leech" who simply wants to watch subtitled anime for free. But you're not right either, because there are still a few small-scale fansub circles who are doing just what you described.
This was supposed to be an Answerfan response, but I'm going to take the time to dissect it because it kind of infuriated me.
Oh sex-negative America, please don't ever change. The rest of us need the laughs.
I've been accused of this before, whenever I deigned to make a comment on hentai or somesuch. That I'm somehow this "prude" with an ax to grind against any form of sex in my cartoon shows. That I like to thumb my noses at the "pervs" of the world.
First off: if there were an anime series that genuinely plumbed the depth of human experience, and dared to present honest sexual relationships in an intelligent way, I'd be all over that show like flies on a turd. Even if it failed miserably, I'd commend it for taking an honest-to-God *risk*. I mean, if you've got two hours to kill, go look up Osamu Tezuka's BATSH** NUTTY Cleopatra movie. There's wall-to-wall sex throughout the whole thing, and it pretty much fails at presenting sex in an intelligent manner. BUT IT TRIED! And boy did it swing for the fences. There's 3-minute long sex scenes where abstract art rubs up against one another. And I love it, love it, LOVE IT.
But fanservice isn't sex. It's just titillation. Which is also fine, I guess. It's not like I'm walking around wearing an angry sandwich board outside of a newsstand whenever the newest Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue is released. But I'm also sympathetic to people who find that sort of objectification of women demeaning. Here's a hot tip for you: women are people. And even though they wear make-up and fancy dresses, they don't always like being treated as though they are Sex Objects.
And the problem with fancervice-y anime is that they are treating women as complete and utter objects. Their personality is irrelevant compared to their costume. Their hopes and dreams don't compare to their Bust Size. They exist to grope or be groped by other girls or guys. They exist to look good and sexy while killing zombies or robots. Which, I mean, on a surface level, isn't terrible, but it's hardly great writing.
Going back to my theater roots for a bit, I saw this quote by playwright Qui Nguyen that really shook me:
"Asian actors with no accents. Black actors with British accents. British plays with people of color in roles other than housekeepers. Women in lead roles where they don't fawn over any men. Latino actors in lead roles where they don't have to be downtrodden. Gays and lesbians in lead roles where they don't have to cry. South Asian and Middle Eastern actors in lead roles not about terrorism."
And that really stuck with me. We're creating fiction that is supposed to be about characters. And characters are supposed to be about people's lives. I don't care if those same characters are wielding swords the size of a building or piloting a robot - characters are supposed to be the Entry Point for the audience. The point where we surrender our disbelief and inject a little bit of our own personality in order to be invested in the plot. And what does that say about us when all the "characters" are one-dimensional representations of women who fly around in their panties and grope each other?
And it's because these characters aren't really meant to be "people." They're meant to be a manifestation of the desires of their intended audience. Boobs and butts and the touching thereof. And *I'm* the prude for suggesting that perhaps this display isn't healthy?
I'm not suggesting that these shows need to be "destroyed." I'm not the guy who says that these things need to be censored in any way, shape, or form. But I *am* the guy who gets to say that maybe we, as a fandom, should really think about these stereotypes and what they might mean. Think about what they say about women. We can talk about how "empowering" these characters are until we're blue in the mouth - how they're proactive and the focus of the plot and how they destroy the villains with their strengths - but we should also talk about the fact that the trade off for that strength is the fact that they have to spend an inordinate amount of time pressing their flesh against the camera lens. Because it seems to me like a one step forward, two steps backward sort of situation.
And for more on that, I'll let my wonderful readers chime in with their Answerfans answers.
BUT BEFORE I DO! Here's a bonus question:
It has been awhile since you have assumed the role of Answerman and hopefully you feel comfortable and at ease in the Anime News Network family. It is with this sense of contentedness that I hope you might feel more inclined to answer a long standing question I've had about your predecessor. Is Zac building an army of robotic bunnies to take over the world? We all know Zac likes bunnies. The archives of "Hey, Answerman!" are overflowing with images of fuzzy bunnies and it is within this repository of unbelievable cuteness that I started to notice something peculiar. Let's take a look at a few examples.
This image is from Hey, Answerman! on June 27th 2008.
At first glance this looks like a friendly cute bunny, but notice the power cable disappearing behind it. Why does this bunny require a power cable? It is common knowledge that bunnies do not need electricity. Real bunnies gain energy by sneaking into your garden and eating all of your vegetables! You'll notice that there isn't anything in this picture to give a sense of perspective on the size of the fuzzy creature. One can only assume that this is not an average bunny, but that it must be a robotic bunny! One large enough for Zac to enter and pilot as he tries to take over the world.
Here is another example from Hey, Answerman! on Feb. 10th 2006.
Almost hidden on the left side of the image can be seen another strange cable. Yes, it is a big fat ball of cuteness, but being cute doesn't mean it can't be a deadly robot.
Look at this unbelievable scene from Hey, Answerman! on Nov. 9th 2007
Really? An urban warfare training camp! And these seem to be real live bunnies! That is just not right!
Are there words that can describe the heartrending image below from Hey, Answerman! on Nov. 23, 2007?
What evil has Zac's depraved soul inflicted on these poor bunnies to cause one to carry its injured brethren to safety? For shame Zac! For shame.
Here is the final image from Hey, Answerman! on Aug. 8th, 2008.
Look at the fiery red glare! With the murderous intent emanating from this robotic bunny, it is obvious that Zac is at the helm and ready to deploy his army! And what a poor attempt at subterfuge. Does Zac really believe he can pass off his crazy death machine as a friendly duck just by putting a giant duck head on it? I'm on to you Zac!
I guess I could have confronted Zac about this a long time ago, but I didn't want to be branded that "flake of the week". So, I thought I would present this question to you. Now if this is a week where you suddenly decide to have Zac guest host, I guess I better have a bottle of vodka handy in case he shows up at my door to silence me about his fuzzy apocalypse.
A concerned citizen
what are you talking about, I mean I have no
Enough bunnyfooting around! Pussyfooting. Wrong pet.
Time for the real meat of this week's installment - another iteration of Answerfans! And man oh man, there's a lot of them. Last week I wanted to have you guys chew on a rather complicated topic:
We begin with Sam, who thinks I have an aversion to Tenchi Muyo! for some reason:
Ya know, that's an interesting question.
Me, I'm okay with a fanservice if it's done in moderation, like with the Shonen shows. And I'm okay with a girl acting a certain way as long a she's allowed to occasionally show other facets of her personality from time to time. It's when a gal is a one-note stereotype who exists to show off her anatomy at inappropriate times it's a problem.
Take, example, the ladies of Tenchi Muyo (I know, you don't like hearing about it but bear with me). The franchise is peppered with fanservice, especially in the OVAs. But it's fairly well handed and the women often have a fair amount depth and personality (not so much in the franchises' last few installments...).
Another example: Highschool of the Dead. The animators throw in pantyshots, jiggling and female flesh at every possible opportunity and even when its wholly unnecessary. But it often worked, taking us back to the time when blood & gore and rampant nudity/sexuality went together hand in hand (before the MPAA became a bad joke of a marketing tool). It should also be noted that while the girls are often archetypes, there are moments where we see there's more to them than one may initially think.
And finally, the female characters of many harem/ero-comedies and hentais, who exist to be exploited and have about as much depth as a kiddy pool (or a puddle) because of it.
We all draw the line at different places. Some of us just draw it at better place than others...
Stuart pulls out the favorite poster child of Fanservice Gone Awry:
Where do I draw the line between “harmless entertainment” and “offensive misogyny” in my anime? Simply put, I get most offended when excessive fanservice gets in the way of a perfectly good show, and there is no better example of this than Highschool of the Dead.
Now here was a zombie apocalypse show that had it all: serious drama, over-the-top action, and even some comedic moments. Yet it was thwarted at every turn by the cantaloupe-sized assets of every female character past puberty. Serious moments became parodies of themselves when someone inevitably jiggled every time they moved. Action scenes invented new ways for the female body to bend and bounce in defiance of physics. And as for the comedy... want to guess what most of the jokes centered around? Fanservice hijacked this show like a Grand Theft Auto avatar; now it's not remembered for the pessimistic view on society it presented, but rather for “the bath episode” and “the bullet time boobs sequence."
Countless other anime offend me to a much lesser extent. You know the ones: the plot and characters are perfectly enjoyable, but would be even more enjoyable if the female cast had breast reductions or wore more modest clothes (lookin' at you on both counts, Witchblade). We're forced to make excuses for them if a friend glimpses the DVD art, as if our flowery descriptions of excellent writing and memorable characters can erase the images they just saw. Heck, some of the DVD covers on the new Revolutionary Girl Utena discs would cause half the people I know to question my tastes if they saw them out of context!
That said, fanservice can be and has been done well. Gunbuster showed a few nipples, but the mature viewers were more interested by the trials endured and choices made by the heroine. Evangelion was rarely shy about making sex jokes in the first half, and these early lighthearted moments balanced out the series' notoriously dark second half. Even Yoko from Gurren Lagann, a fanservice mascot if there ever was one, proved many times that she was also a multi- but not overly-talented woman, independent and capable while still having her moments of human weakness. All these shows came from a studio famous for its fanservice, and yet each of them is remembered for something far more than that (or am I being too generous in claiming that Gunbuster is “remembered”?).
Bottom line: if it has the potential to be a good show, I think fanservice should either be kept out or kept tasteful. The show can (and should) carry itself.
It's not the legs that bother me, Timeenforceranubis, it's the camel toe:
Largely, I think there is no line between “harmless entertainment” and “offensive misogyny” when it comes to portrayals of women in anime, and I think the need to draw such a line is a symptom of a strange concern within the Western anime fandom (Mostly among people who oppose moé, fanservice, ecchi, etc.) with changing elements of Japan's culture to conform with their own sensibilities, presumably so the anime industry will produce less moé, ecchi, and fanservice. It's a losing battle. Why do we need to draw a line if it isn't going to get anyone anywhere? Wouldn't it be easier to just not watch stuff you personally find misogynistic?
For this reason, I can't just see this fight against sexism in anime as genuine. Sure, some people may find certain elements in certain anime genuinely sexist, but it's as simple as just not watching those shows and not showing support for those shows. It's not like complaining about it will change Japan's perspective on it.
All we can really gain from examining sexism in anime are 1: an understanding of how Japan's society affects their entertainment, and 2: An undeserved stigma placed on various anime. I mean, let's face facts here: When someone calls a work of media sexist, they are, at the very least, also accusing those who enjoy it of supporting a sexist work. Most people probably aren't going to appreciate being accused of supporting sexism, especially if they're just watching a show to be entertained.
It's unfortunate, because I honestly don't think that franchises like Strike Witches and Queen's Blade were created with these kinds of sex and gender relations in mind. I'm sure Humikane Shimada wasn't anticipating his work to be called out for sexism by soured Western fans, and I'm sure Hobby Japan wasn't thinking about the ramifications of “supporting a sexist work” when they decided to publish Queen's Blade. The creators of these franchises set out to create their vision, and their works are being lambasted by people who aren't even in the target audience.
So, yes, it really is just a mass overthinking of the subject. The line doesn't exist, but, to the people who feel there must be a line: Feel free to draw one for yourself (and yourself only), and please do everyone a favor by just not watching anything that strays onto the wrong side of your line.
Also, as an endnote: Can we please stop using Strike Witches as Prime Example Exhibit A of ecchi fanservice just because of the “no pants” thing? We're not living in 1919 anymore. Women's legs are okay to see.
Syaoran raises the specter of Chobits in this conversation:
What I like to see in story is a strong plot and good strong characters. Plain old blatant fanservice, in such a story, simply distracts from those goals. But in a story where serious crafting isn't expected, there is nothing wrong with FICTION being used to escape reality. (Let the guys have their Moe, let the girls have their Yaoi, in the end, as long as the viewer doesn't get them mixed up, fiction is nothing more than fiction). But that doesn't mean the characters in more well-crafted works need to be all stiff. Sometimes fanservice, when done right, can actually serve such a story. And that's the kind of fanservice I'm all for.
One such example is Chobits, where it's very fanservicy beginning later on leads to unfortunate implications and a message on what we consider normal about love and sexuality, providing social commentary not just in abstract philosophical terms of humans and machines, but the real issue we're having in this country about homosexuality. On the other hand you have a show like Kaze no Stigma, where the camera has a bad habit of finding just the right angles to get underneath the lead female's skirt in the middle of her swordfights (this despite the fact she kicks the butts of more than a couple peeping toms along the way).
But even more than social commentary is real world physics. Sometime a girl in a swordfight will just so happen to move in just the right way to have her skirt get flipped by the wind for a quick moment, it's when the camera actively seeks those moments out when it becomes annoying. Sometimes alone in the comfort of her own home, a character will watch TV in her underwear, or even naked (watch the double standard though- don't do this with a male character). Sometimes skidding across the ground will rip a character's pants off. But have it make some sort of logical sense, some part of normal everyday life within the context of your story; just don't include sex for the momentary testosterone high, that just becomes distracting. And bonus points if you can use such moments for either real life social commentary or to make your own story and characterizations stronger (The mysterious woman who underneath wears the same underwear everyone else does, the immature character who laughs at another's misfortune). This is the craft of storytelling.
It's a shame that the next answer wanted their name withheld, because of this topic's "incendiary nature":
“Boobs and panty shots! Misogyny!” This seems to be the knee-jerk response to any discussion of fanservice. I've never thought that nudity degraded women. It's not like men think “yes, that depiction of the female body convinces me that they should be treated poorly.” What I do think is degrading is portrayals of women being abused. They only series I've ever actually found to be misogynistic was Manyū Hiken-chō. In that series there was a blatant message of “a woman should do nothing but be physically attractive” that made me stop watching less than two minutes into episode one. This is a very different message than Strike Witches, which seems to be “here's an awesome story, and let's throw in some boobs to get lots of stupid male viewers.” The idea that male viewers are so easily manipulated into watching a series by using fanservice honestly seems more insulting.
Your article centered heavily on Strike Witches. I've always found the debate around the fanservice in Strike Witches to be a confusing one. For starters, people always seem to act like it was the most fanservice-laden series out there. I can think of several (To Love-Ru, for example) that focus more on fanservice. In fact, I honestly didn't even notice the fanservice in Strike Witches until a friend pointed it out. This wasn't ignoring it. This was not realizing the fanservice was there.
How is this possible, you ask? It's simple: I wasn't looking for it. The main reason I didn't notice any of the fanservice is that none of the characters pointed it out, as if to say “hey, viewer! I know the story isn't that interesting so BOOBS!” Instead the story and characters drew my attention, to the point that they could have been naked the whole time and I wouldn't have noticed. All I saw was bad-ass characters shooting at aliens, who all happened to be girls, who happened to not be wearing pants.
It also strikes me as somewhat odd that Strike Witches is considered misogynistic at all. Think about it: given the fact that only women can use magic in the series, all the main characters are each more capable than entire squadrons of male soldiers simply because they are female. Honestly, that's about the most feminist idea I can think of. That's one of the main reasons Strike Witches is one of my favorite series.
In short, a series is only as misogynistic as you want it to be.
In case you're wondering what kind of person makes the argument that fanservice is not degrading and has Strike Witches as one of his favorite series: I'm a straight 20 year old male college student from Minnesota. Most of my friends are girls. I'm not trying to get laid. I honestly relate to them better than I do to most guys. It doesn't matter what kind of fanservice I see, I'm still going to treat them like human beings and not objects.
Rednal wants to see more dudes with spines:
Honestly? I'm concerned more with the portrayal of men in anime than I am with women. Like most forms of entertainment, anime and manga have a heavy emphasis on wish-fulfillment; with a few exceptions, female characters tend to be shoved into idealized forms where they're less "people" and more "female-shaped things with a collection of feminine character traits corresponding to a particular archetype". So I'm not very worried about the portrayal of females except when the character is clearly supposed to have some actual depth, rather than being Generic Anime Tsundere #56,893 (or whatever). In most anime, however, the viewers are supposed to connect with the main character. This is, almost invariably, a male somewhere between Middle School and College, and in my opinion the great majority of these characters have no right to exist. Children growing up tend to mimic the behaviors that are shown to them, and I don't really like the idea of an entire generation being taught that being a spineless loser is a good thing (or that it will get them half a dozen beautiful women with no effort). I believe that someone watching a show should be able to look at the protagonist, connect with their situation, empathize with what the protagonist is going through, and at the end of the series have learned something useful about living life by watching the protagonist face and overcome (or fail to overcome) obstacles. I know Japan has this thing about people fitting in, but still. I don't think it's a coincidence that the shows I tend to enjoy the most are the ones where the protagonist (and, hopefully, everyone else) are actual characters, not mere placeholders for the exact same people I've been watching do the exact same things for the last two dozen seasons.
Give me people in my entertainment, not cheap, recycled cardboard cutouts.
And now for a few feminine reactions, beginning with Kayla:
In response to your question, yes, there is a line between a harmless/funny portrayal of a woman and a misogynistic portrayal. Of course, where the line is drawn is highly controversial and will vary from person to person for a variety of reasons. For me, and I am a female so that does factor into my opinion, I draw the line when ALL females in the show/manga have no purpose beyond being sex objects, but some of the males are actually well-developed characters. If I only see naked women touching each others boobs and stripping for no apparent reason and then I see intelligent, funny male characters, then I definitely won't watch. I'm certainly not the target audience for that show and quite frankly I find it insulting if a show can't even portray ONE woman as more than the sum of her lady parts but the creators will go the extra mile to create a 3-D male character. Those kinds of shows send a message that women are less interesting, less intelligent, and less prominent. As you mentioned in last-week's column, liking those kinds of shows doesn't automatically make one a creepy weirdo, and I will agree with you that not everyone who watches those shows is a creeper. However, where does one draw the line between fantasy and reality? If a person finds that kind of show entertaining, but claims that the subordination of women in real-life is wrong, are they subconsciously lying to themselves? Is there really that much of a difference between a man who subjugates women in the real world and the man who finds entertainment in their subjugation on TV?
You could argue that the difference is that one man acts while the other merely fantasizes, but everything we chose to watch, play, or read does influence us, for the most part. After spending countless hours watching a show, is it not possible that that show can change how you see the world? Maybe I'm over-analyzing and I'm too sensitive, but those are my honest feelings and thoughts. One last thing before I end my rant. In last week's column, you mentioned that you managed to find three female reviews of Strike Witches. From what I've encountered, many women I've met who have seen Strike Witches and others like it agree that such shows do have merit based on good animation and storyline, but that the fan service makes them uncomfortable to view. And that saddens me most of all; there's nothing worse than seeing what appears to be a great show, but knowing that in the creator's/producer's minds women are only welcome in that show if they leave their humanity at the door.
Mandy is definitely displeased:
I've honestly given up on trying to find an anime that does not handle its female characters in a problematic way. Japan is very behind on women's rights, and most male creators aren't even aware of how crappy they are at writing believable female characters who aren't fanservice bait. If I want a good piece of fiction with awesome female characters that doesn't rely on institutionalized misogyny to be entertaining, I'll turn to the American book market. There are lots of amazing books out there that can fill my need for women being treated like human beings.
This isn't to say that you can't enjoy anime despite its problematic nature. I usually manage to watch one or two series each season, and I have a list of anime which I feel are the best I've ever seen. You can enjoy problematic things, so long as you acknowledge that they're problematic in the first place. I just know that anime will always test my patience, and that I should only watch it when I have the willpower to deal with the sacks of shit animation companies try to pass off as female characters in 99% of the anime produced.
Honestly, the fandom is what annoys me more than any show does. Pretty much all of the vile garbage I've ever heard in regards to women has come from fans, not creators. I've learned not to mess around in most fandoms, since the attitudes of the fans are where I draw my line.
Joyce pleads for honesty, for cryin' out loud:
From a female viewpoint it is somewhat difficult to answer the question rationally. My favorite animes have equal numbers of strong, competent female and male characters with little or no inappropriate overt sexuality, abusive relationships, or gratuitous fan service, even in the comedies (though I have few of them because of fan service). That I have a decent sized collection with a minimum amount of absurd body types or creepy obsessions with underwear shows that it is possible to enjoy anime without being grossed out. I will allow a little of it in something I otherwise enjoy if it passes without too much comment; so I can accept the panty shots in Kaze no Stigma (though they bug me) and guys smothered in over abundant bosoms if not used to launch a delirious "in heaven" face or nose bleed.
I looked at Strike Witches but quit in the opening sequence. I tried Highschool of the Dead and quit during the first scene because it was clearly going to be half zombies and half prurient titillation. I got all the way through 2 episodes of Rosario x Vampire before I quit, unable to stomach the rampant fan service. Oddly, from what I have seen of the manga it is much different. The succubus is well-endowed (as she should be) but the whole range of sexuality she entails is played down. Rosario has no panty shots and in transform scenes her nudity is concealed. The mangaka seems to try to preserve Rosario's innocence. I find myself not desensitized to the various aspects of objectification of girls but rather sensitized to the point that I can tolerate almost none of the fetishistic aspects of anime though I am more tolerant of overabundant adult women.
The cover art for Dance in the Vampire Bund is repulsive and brings me to the thing which bothers me most and it's not the objectification of women. Bad as that is the sexualization of children is beyond creepy. It's sick. It doesn't matter if the naked little girls look like dolls, they are meant to be naked little girls. I realize that in Japan children are counted as adult at 15 for many purposes but many magical girls are younger than that and most are still high school age. Old men peeping up the skirts of little girls, boys trying to see what color a girl's panties are, college age boys blushing as they peep up the skirt of a doll? Where is the entertainment value in that except for truly disturbing fantasies? I don't ever accept "that's the way things are" or "It's only a TV show, or game, or whatever". Those are just excuses to continue to indulge in a pleasurable activity without examining the ramifications morally or philosophically. If you're going to do something you should at least be honest with yourself about why.
Sahara ain't got time for this nonsense:
As a woman, perhaps I should be more offended by the pervasive fanservice with which anime seems to be saturated. And in truth, I suppose I am. But more often than not, I'm simply too grossed out by all the bouncing boobs, panty shots, and so on to even consider how offended I should be by how women are portrayed. Perhaps this is because I have built up a sort of “immunity” to it all after more than fifteen years of exposure to anime. For better or for worse, it's become quite easy for me to turn a blind eye to such shows, telling myself “that's just how it is” and that there are too many far better, far less offensive shows out there for me to waste my time being bothered. It's also probably because I have learned to tolerate some types of fanservice, particularly those that have been wrapped neatly, if not tastefully, in strong humor. The many references to Lina Inverse's small chest in The Slayers franchise, for example, strike me as humorous, not offensive. Even Naga the Serpent's ridiculous outfit and independently-moving boobs leave me laughing, not raging at Japan's “gall” for portraying women in such a way. At the same time, though, I am the type of viewer who will often not even give an anime a chance if the advertisements consist of a gaggle of girls sporting watermelons where their chests should be.
So, while I might not cry blood and think something so distinctly as “For crying out loud, how backwards can these boob-loving-freaks be,” my senses are clearly offended enough in at least some way for me to not give many of such shows a second glance. In summation, it is really difficult to say where exactly I draw the line. I've enjoyed watching visual-novel based shows like ef ~a tale~ and Shuffle! and nudity-filled anime like Ayashi no Ceres without feeling offended. But then I wouldn't touch shows like Queen's Blade, Ikki no Tousen, and Astarotte no Omocha! with a fifty foot pole. I think, in the end, it really all comes down to the packaging and presentation (as well as the pervasiveness) of it all. A sprinkling of fanservice can be ignored, while humorous sexual jokes and ridiculous scenarios make me laugh. When all of the fanservice is so prominent that it seems to be the axis upon which the entire show revolves, however, I find myself with zero desire to waste even two minutes being grossed out.
AND OUR FINAL WORD; the one, the only, Theron Martin!
As someone who greatly appreciates quality fan service but is also a fan of strongly-presented female characters, where one draws the line between harmless and misogynistic portrayals of women in anime is something that I've often contemplated. In general, I do not find emphasizing the sex appeal of female characters to be problematic unless they're clearly underage, it's done in such a way as to sabotage an otherwise-strong character (see how Takako Ayase is handled in the middle episodes of Midori Days, for instance), or doing so detracts and/or distracts from the story being told. For that reason, I place the line at the point where the portrayal goes beyond just offering prurient displays and becomes mean-spirited and/or prejudicial. Manyū Hiken-chō is probably the most glaring recent example of this amongst non-hentai fare, although Golgo 13, which consistently portrays its female characters as foolish and disposable, is a more subtle example. Expand considerations to hentai games, anime, and doujinshi and a wealth of even stronger cases appear in the material which focuses on sexualizing rape and/or turning girls/women into sex slaves. One excellent example is Virgin Roster, an ero game which involves the main character posing as a teacher so that he can methodically rape and turn into sex slaves both female students and a female co-worker. The game is very well-made but also one of the single most repugnant anime/manga-styled creations that I've ever come across, and unfortunately there's a lot of that kind of thing out there if one goes looking for it. Fortunately that kind of content is typically out on the extreme fringe of published material, so those who want to avoid it can easily do so.
Beyond the above criteria, the truly problematic portrayals of women are few. Are some of the fan service-focused portrayals of girls/women unflattering to women? Perhaps, but most guys who watch anime would probably also agree that generic male harem leads are just as unflattering to them.
Wow. Once again, all of you really stepped up to the plate on this one. Great job.
Next week's question is a lot less, uh, "incendiary." Although it does have a bit of a viewing assignment attached to it:
Now you've got this week's question, and it's time to get answerin'.
For those of you new to Hey, Answerfans!, I'll explain the concept.
Believe it or not, I'm genuinely curious what you think.
That's right; as much as I love the sound of my own voice, I do love to listen to what other people have to say on a subject. I'm finding that over the last few years, the attitudes, reasoning and logic that today's anime fans use eludes, confuses or astounds me; I have so many questions for you, and I'm dying to hear what you have to say in response.
Welcome to Hey, Answerfans!
Basically, we're turning the tables. Each week I'm going to ask you a question, and I want you to email me your answer. Be as honest as you can. I'm looking for good answers; not answers I agree with or approve of, but good, thoughtful answers. People feel passionately about these subjects and I'd like to see that in the responses I get. I'll post the best answers I get, and maybe some of the crappy ones. Sometimes there may only be one or two good ones; sometimes five or more. It all depends on what I get in my inbox! Got it? Pretty simple, right? Start writing those answers and email them to answerman [at] animenewsnetwork dot com.
We do have a few simple ground rules to start with.
Things To Do:
* Be coherent.
* Be thoughtful.
* Be passionate.
* Write as much or as little as you feel you need to to get your point across in the best possible way.
Things Not To Do:
* Respond when the question doesn't apply to you. For instance, if your email response starts with "Well, I don't do whatever you're asking about in the question... " then I'm going to stop reading right there and hit delete.
* Be unnecessarily rude or use a lot of foul language.
* Go off-topic.
Off you go, everyone! I need to eat food again, because somehow I forgot to do that all day today for the second week in a row. Why does this keep happening to me?!? But don't forget to send me your queries and responses over at answerman(at)animenewsnetwork.com! You all have a splendid Memorial Day Weekend!
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