Chicks on Anime

by B. Dong, C. Brienza, S. Pocock, Aug 26th 2008

Welcome to Chicks on Anime, a roundtable discussion about today's anime issues from women's points of view. Every week, we'll tackle two different subjects—one a bit more serious and one that's a little bit silly. Our regular contributors will be Casey Brienza, Robin Sevakis, Sara Pocock, and myself. Robin wasn't able to join us this week, but she'll be in some later discussions. In future installments, we'll also have various industry guests and voice actresses.

To kick off our first column, we decided to talk generally about being a woman in the industry, to give a little background about ourselves, and to introduce readers to the roundtable.


Bamboo: Let's start off with some introductions. Casey, can you tell us a little bit about who you are and what you do?
Casey: My name is Casey Brienza, and I've worked on the periphery of the manga industry as a freelance writer for a little bit over three years now. I write features, news, articles, reviews, and so forth, usually manga-related, for several anime-related publications. I also copy edit and blog independently in my spare time. I have worked for the industry proper in the past, though for personal reasons, I really don't want an industry job right now.
Bamboo: Thanks Casey. Sara?
Sara: My name is Sara Pocock. I've been working as an animator and independent filmmaker in Los Angeles for about two years. In my own time I've directed a short film which has enjoyed a successful festival run. I'm currently in the middle of co-directing another short animation and have begun pre-production on a new film of my own. I also work full time at a production house in downtown LA, where I serve as an animation supervisor, character designer, and animator. I've also worked as a freelance illustrator and comic artist. I currently have one comic book in print and a weekly webcomic currently online at Kakkoicon.com. I also filled in for Robin for a few weeks on Anime News Nina.
Bamboo: Okay. My name is Bamboo. I am the managing editor for Anime News Network, and I also write the column Shelf Life. In the past, I've freelanced for a few magazines like Anime Insider and Neo. I'm also the assistant editor of Protoculture Addicts. During the days, I'm actually trying to get my PhD in molecular biology, which is pretty clearly related to anime.

So with that, let's get into it. Casey, I want to ask about your experiences within the industry. Do you feel as though women in the industry are treated differently than men? Or do you think that's mainly a myth?

Casey: Well, I definitely think that happens in certain subsets of those industries, and it's only recently, maybe in the past 10 years or so, that manga has become more of a subset of the book industry, which has a larger consuming female demographic. The industry over the years has reacted to that. I definitely see a lot more women working in the industry because there is a need for them.
Bamboo: Do you think that has to do with a lot more manga being targeted towards female readers?
Casey: Oh definitely. Because whether this is true or not, there is the belief that women know best what women want. Some of the best editors I have met in the manga industry have come in over the past five years or less, and they're female. They know they are, to some degree, the exception to the rule of the male comics editor, but they certainly bring in a very unique viewpoint to manga. Certainly, in as much as you see the OEL or global manga phenomenon, you see a lot of female artists in the field because there are female editors that are really pulling for them. But there have been cases of sexism in the past.
Bamboo: Can you give an example of sexism?
Casey: Well, I can't date this off the top of my head exactly, but I believe it was in the late 90s or early 00's that at one point, Tokyopop, or as they used to be called Mixx Entertainment, had a line of shoujo manga called Chix Comics. Chicks spelled “C-H-I-X.” A lot of people felt that for a comic like Sailor Moon or Peach Girl or Miracle Girls…first of all, these are all manga for 13 and under girls. To call them Chix Comics, which sounds like a soft porn or something like that, was totally inappropriate and also somewhat demeaning. And you know, of course not all the people watching and reading Sailor Moon were 13 and under—some of them were older. To use the term was probably not one of their finest moments. You'll notice nowadays that when you see shoujo manga marked at all, even boys' love manga, they'll use a Japanese word, or some adaptation thereof, rather than an English signifier. Japanese words come with less semantic baggage.
Bamboo: Sara? What about your experiences as an animator?
Sara: Well, first off, the American animation industry has definitely had a long history of overt sexism. The first example I can think of off the top of my head is the Disney studios in the 1940s. Women weren't allowed to animate at all, they were only allowed to paint. And the reason that the studio gave was they were used to putting on make-up, so that made them better cel painters. As for actual animation, it was all left to men. I have an example here, actually, of a letter from the Disney feature studios from 1939 that clearly states "Women do not do any of the creative work in connection with preparing the cartoons for the screen, as that work is performed entirely by young men. For this reason girls are not considered for the training school." I think definitely now in the animation industry in general, you're seeing more women. Eiko Tanaka is the president and chief producer at Studio 4°C, where she has a great amount of power and influence in the projects that are produced there. She played a big creative role in Michael Arias' Tekkonkinkreet, for instance. She's one of the most powerful figures in the Japanese studio animation industry today.

In my own experiences of promoting my own film and traveling to different festivals, a lot of times I would notice that whenever people encountered a film they really liked, there would almost be this tangible feeling of surprise if a woman had made it. I've attended a number of film festivals, and at each one, excluding the LA Femme Film Fest, during my respective time block, I've always been one of maybe two female filmmakers in a sea of men. I think this fact alone lends itself to a kind of differential treatment. People will be like, “Oh, that film is really good, who made it?” and in the case of my film, I would sometimes get this surprised reaction, like people think that it's almost not possible that the works that women make are on par with films that men make. And so there's this perpetual surprise, I guess, at the talent of women artists in today's industry.

Bamboo: I think to some degree, women in the industry are still a bit of a novelty. They're not necessarily treated differently, professionally, at least that I've seen, but they're definitely not treated like men. What I mean by this is that when you go to conventions, for example, you'll see that some of the female industry folks are treated as women, in that they get hit on a lot. During my several years going to conventions, I've definitely been asked by male industry people if I'm ever going to dress up like a booth babe. There's also that whole shady, “Hey, let's go up to my room for some drinks and talk about business,” side of things that can get really sketchy. In the professional world, outside of anime, there may be traces of that as well, but I think it's more pronounced in the anime industry because fandom itself used to be so male-centric, and the only females were the stereotypical "fangirl." As a result, the men in the industry haven't quite shaken that mindset that there are also females who are not also fans, but are also competent businesswomen. This isn't to say that that's the rule, of course. Most of the men I know in the industry are very respectful and open-minded and treat their coworkers with the utmost courtesy, but there are always a few bad apples in every basket. It helps that the many of the women in the industry are extremely talented. Some of the best marketing people I know are women, as well as those in production fields.

On a slightly different track, though, do you guys think that when a female is in the anime industry, she still gets stuck with very female-centric job duties? One of the examples I'm thinking of is how there are a lot of females in anime marketing right now. Some of them get a leg up in terms of “I am a female, so I know how to market to a female audience,” but I think that women can be just as good marketing towards a male audience. I don't think they really get that chance, though. Do you two have any thoughts on that?

Sara: No, I definitely agree with you. In fact, one of the projects that we're doing now at my work is a virtual online world that is marketed towards women. My job was to create the boyfriend because their mindset is, “She's a woman; she knows what is desirable and attractive to a female audience in a virtual boyfriend, so let's have her make it.” Although, I have to mention that the studio I work at is somewhat of an anomaly in that all the animators are female. So I don't know if there would have been any marked difference in assignment if there a guy was there. I just thought I'd put that out there anyway, since I suspect the assignment would almost certainly have gone to me over a male animator.
Casey: Well, as far as manga goes, I know that the top marketing director at Viz Media is a woman. I think that because manga is now being seen as a popular medium, with more than a 50% female audience, like with all books in the fiction category, that you are going to see a lot more women working in the industry, just because a female audience is really your base. It's often hard for people in the American superhero comics industry to hear that, but it's certainly true. And also, as we know from the recent Tokyopop layoffs, that overall, the manga industry doesn't pay very well. For a bunch of complicated reasons, women are generally more willing to take a lower salary than men are, so you definitely see more women entering the industry for that reason. Whether they will be able to rise to the level of senior editor or something like that consistently is unknown because there really haven't been that many women in the industry for that long. And only time will tell how it will shape out.
Sara: Yeah, I agree with Casey. In terms of festival participants and audiences, it is also primarily male. There are maybe ten films by a man to one by a woman, but I think that's also a statistic that is beginning to change.
Bamboo: Is it just that women haven't had an interest in filmmaking? Or do you think there is something else?
Sara: Well I think it's part of the bigger overall trend and the shift of the workforce. I mean, I don't have any statistics on hand, but in the past couple of years, female participation in the work force all across the board, not just entertainment, has been rising. And in the case of filmmaking, I don't think it was ever that women were disinterested. It was more of a case in which they never had the same opportunities to rise to prominence in a big studio environment. The independent animation scene has always been slightly more gender balanced than the studio scene, with prominent animators like Faith Hubley and Caroline Leaf and Wendy Tilby. And I think now, with technology progressing the way it is and more people having access to affordable film and animation equipment to work on their own, think of Makoto Shinkai, you're going to see the playing field even out more.
Bamboo: Sometimes I think women can get a bit of a chip on their shoulder about "being female in the industry." There is a bit of pressure to do well, because you're not only representing yourself... you're also representing your gender, in a way. You know, during the weekdays, I actually do research in a biology lab, and I see that chip all the time with some of the female faculty. They're so wrapped up in carrying that "woman in science!" torch that they can be a bit tough to deal with. I think for the anime and publishing industry, there might be a bit of that, too. You're proving to the world that you're competent, and that you're not a flake, because you need to be taken seriously.

I want to shift to a slightly different topic. Casey, since we both write reviews, this is something that pertains to our everyday lives. One thing that I have noticed as a female anime reviewer is that people often expect you to respond to things a certain way. You know, for instance, people expect you to like shoujo, and they expect you to like romance shows. But if you say something like, “I don't like this harem show,” I think a lot of people think, “Well, it's because you're a female. You're not the target audience.” Even if you can say you don't like it because it's poorly done. A lot of times, I find that when I'm reviewing something and I say, “This is blatantly sexist, people should not be having cooking shows to win over a man,” then people chastise me for not having a sense of humor, or for not “getting it.” It's like my opinion is expected to fit within a certain box.

Casey: Well actually, it's interesting because several of my editors over the years have not known I was female because my name is Casey, which of course can be either a male name or a female name, and we had only ever communicated online. It wasn't until I met them in person that it dawned on them that I was a woman. But in some cases, being a woman has made a difference in whether or not I was hired. For instance, for ANN, I was hired as a female reviewer because the other three reviewers are male, and your previous female reviewer quit.

It so happens that in my case, I really don't like cute stuff, and this goes so counter to all stereotypes of females, women, and girls, that it comes as a bit of a surprise. I remember one person thought that I didn't like Chi's Sweet Home because it was a bishoujo show, when in fact I didn't like it because it seems to be cuteness for no other reason other than its own cuteness, and I really don't appreciate that stuff. But, you know, it is possible that people are unconsciously harder on writers they know are women. Some studies have shown that even if an online user's name sounds female, the person will be treated differently.

Bamboo: Yeah absolutely
Sara: I wanted to comment on how it seems a little unfair that when a man makes a comment on how something is sexist or misogynistic, it's seen as taking a bold stand, or defending political correctness or whatever. But whenever a woman makes those same statements, and they don't even need to be as strong as “This is sexist!,” even if you make an offhand comment about something having sexist undertones, then you are perceived as this feminazi, this super, ultra-hardcore feminist and it's kind of an unfair accusation.
Bamboo: There is definitely a bit of a lashback when it comes to women and talking about women's issues. It's hard for women to take a progressive stance without being stuck with the “Feminist” label, even though there are many women and men who would agree with their sentiments. I mean, I certainly don't think that women and men are one hundred percent equal in every way, but I don't think women should always be in the kitchen either. I'd like to be able to say, “This show is unprogressive,” without a swarm of dissenters coming down upon me with the, “Why didn't a guy review this???” pitchfork.
Casey: One of the other things that's very interesting is that certain genres of manga, many mainstream shoujo manga and virtually all boys' love manga, are specifically about human relations and especially relations between the sexes. I mean, that is their main theme. And not to talk about that is very difficult and certainly they don't portray those relations in the same way.
Bamboo: Absolutely. Well, with that, I want to transition into something a little less serious. Since we're talking about our own jobs here, I want to talk about some of the women in anime. A lot of anime females don't necessarily have cool job, but there are a few that are worth looking up to. Casey, are there any females in anime that you think have cool jobs?
Casey: To be perfectly honest I really do admire the kind of ideology and world view of Revolutionary Girl Utena. The anime, specifically, not the manga, and in the way it really presents a really hard-edged view of the world. And also, living according to the real world and not according to your fantasies. I tend to be a real hard-edged sort of person, so I really appreciated that kind of message from an anime. Most anime, of course, are very escapist, so to have something denying that fantasy and to say, “Look, the people who really matter are your friends and the people right before you and right in front of your face," that's something I can admire. It doesn't matter if Utena and Anthy are Rose Brides, or students, or sword fighters. That is something that inspires me.
Bamboo: I think there has to be something to be said for the fact that to step into that role, she had to dress like a man, but perhaps that's another discussion suited better for another day. But I do admire Utena, she is a strong character. I really like girls who don't take crap from people. One woman that I really admire is the lead character from Story of Saiunkoku. She becomes the retainer to the emperor, and ends up being the one who has to hold this young emperor's hand and say, “These are your duties. This is what you should be doing as an emperor. This is what you should be doing to rule your country.” And her entire dream in life is to be a government official. The only reason she can't do it is because she is a female and isn't allowed to take the exam. She still continues to study with him partially because she wants that knowledge for herself. I think she is a fantastic character. I don't know if I really want the job of babysitting the emperor, but I think she is one of the greatest characters in current anime.
Sara: I actually thought of one that is kind of a combination of her and Utena, which Casey mentioned. I'm a big fan of Lady Oscar from that old 70s anime, The Rose of Versailles. I think she is Amazing! Here she is, this woman born into nobility, but despite that, she can still empathize with the poor and protect the queen and be a general of the French army, and not even be emasculated by all this. She's just a very strong, feminine, empathetic, amazing character who has a mind of her own, and is intelligent and smart and everything she does, well originally everything she did, was to get people to admire her. But, she changes as a person and learns how to form bonds with other people. I think the strength in her personality helps her work hard not only for her own future, but for the future of the sake of others as well, and she doesn't beg for anybody and can totally stand for herself and for Andre, who she kind of has to save in the second part of the series and in the manga.
Bamboo: Alright, that brings us to the end of the first week of Chicks on Anime. Hopefully we've brought up some interesting viewpoints, so please join us in the talkback forums to further the discussion. See you next week as we tackle the topic of harem anime.

Transcribed by: Keith LaPointe


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