Chicks on Anime

by B. Dong, C. Brienza, S. Pocock, R. Sevakis, Sep 23rd 2008

About the contributors:

Bamboo is the managing editor for ANN, and writes the column Shelf Life.
Casey is a freelance journalist, and also writes reviews for ANN.
Sara is an animator who's also released her own independent short film.
Robin is an illustrator, and also the creator of Anime News Nina.

A few weeks back, the CoA team sat down to share some thoughts inspired by our conversation about harem anime, in which we briefly touched upon the male protagonist archetypes. Somewhat fortuitously, we brought up an interesting documentary about host clubs. For those who want to learn more about its contents and places to get it, check out the latest installment of Justin's column, Buried Treasure, which was devoted entirely to this fascinating film.

Casey, Robin (who will have a panel for Anime News Nina), and I will be at New York Anime Fest this weekend, so if you happen to chance upon us, say hi!


Bamboo: A few weeks ago, we talked about the whole concept of the alpha and beta male in Japanese pop culture. For instance, in the 80s, there was a surge of shows like Fist of the North Star and Crying Freeman, and all those shows that just leaked virility. Take a look at today, where you really don't have that alpha male stereotype in anime as much, or it's not as prevalent. There's more of a “sensitive male” model, it seems like. Casey, do you have any thoughts on that?
Casey: Well, as I said last week, you see a lot more beta males, or these kind of wimpy, girlish male characters because it's so difficult to be the alpha male in real life. And it's somewhat unrealistic in modern society, I think. So you see a backing away from that, and it's the same in the US.
Sara: For me, when I think of the alpha and beta male, it seems like an American thing to me. Like even when other people come from out of the country and interact with their American friends, I've noticed that they always notice the way that American men act, as opposed to European men, or men from Asia. Is alpha male a big thing in Japan? I don't think I've really seen that stereotype outside Fist of the North Star, and that kind of thing.
Casey: Well, I use the phrase alpha and beta, but that's a Westernism, I suppose. But there is certainly a sense of super masculinity that we imagine, like in Fist of the North Star, that is certainly a characteristic of the Ideal Man, even in Japan. In certain other Asian countries, it may be somewhat different, like in Korea, but in Japan, there is a sense that the super masculine is a virtue.
Bamboo: It's kind of interesting, too, when you look at certain Japanese pop culture icons. When you look at their most popular singers and their most popular figures, it's men who are super feminine. You know, it's either men who look like totally hot women, or are just super sensitive. The ones who always open doors, share umbrellas, and that sort of thing.
Robin: I think the kinds of male pop stars you see that are more feminine are the ones that seem to be marketed towards women. Is that the case?
Casey: I think so.
Robin: Because when I see something marketed towards guys, I see it tends to have the alpha male figure, like Kamina from Gurren Lagaan. He is the big, exaggerated ideal of that whole alpha male thing, so yes, I would say its still a popular thing.
Sara: I'm trying to think of that type of character in real Japanese celebrity culture, and no one is coming to mind. Maybe it's because I don't live there and have access to this stuff.
Bamboo: Yeah, the only popular male figures coming to mind are the super popular stars, like Gackt and Miyavi and such. I know that it's primarily females who listen to them, they do have male fans. Guys like Miyavi, but he is basically a super hot chick. But who are the male counterparts to that? Maybe some of our readers can answer that.
Sara: I'm trying to think of a Japanese equivalent of Schwarzenneger, and I'm not coming up with anyone. The polar opposite would be the television personality, Hard Gay. *laugh*
Casey: An interesting thing about him, he used to go around and kind of Candid Camera people by shocking them. If you listen to him talk, he doesn't speak in very feminine language. Which I thought was interesting, because there's a character in Zettai Karen Children called Muscle Okama. He spoke in very feminine language. People were saying that he was kind of a take-off of Hard Gay, but I wasn't entirely convinced by that, just because their speech was so completely different. The Hard Gay character actually talks in pretty neutral speech.
Bamboo: Somewhat interestingly, the guy who plays Hard Gay was originally a pro-wrestler. So there's your dichotomy between the super muscle man, and, well, Hard Gay. It's kind of brilliant, in a weird way.

What I've always thought was kind of interesting, is comparing the role of the sensitive shoujo male to the characters in all-female schools. You have this obsession with girls who are like, “I wish I could share my umbrella with her,” or like “I wish I could make her lunch.” It's like this role that men are supposed to take up in their lives, but they give it to women. At the same time, you have a lot of shows targeted towards men, like shonen romances, but the men aren't like shoujo men at all. Instead of the whole, “Oh, let me throw down my coat,” it's the whole “Oh my God, stop punching me in the face.”

Sara: I think one of the reasons for that is something we kind of rushed through a couple weeks ago. I think dating and relationships in Japan are very different from dating and relationships in Western countries. In what I've observed, I mean. Now might be a good time to bring up the whole host club documentary. Bamboo, do you want to talk about it?
Bamboo: It's a documentary called The Great Happiness Space: A Diary of an Osaka Love Thief. And basically, it spotlights a host club in Osaka. It talks about what their job is, what they do. Basically their job description is they act like boyfriends. Women pay them a lot of money to just sit there, put their arm around them, ask them about their day, chit-chat about co-workers, and what not. Their job is to be the boyfriend. All these women fall in love with these guys, and say things like, “I wish I could marry this guy in real life!I'm gonna keep coming back; I really love this guy and I wonder if he'll love me too.” Meanwhile, all these guys think, “It's just my job, I'm gonna do it for these women.” They make a lot of money. Some of them make around US $50,000 dollars a month, and one of the shocking revelations in the documentary is that 70% of their cliental are women who work at hostess clubs.
Sara: And prostitution, too. A lot have been prostituted.
Bamboo: It's weird, because when the filmmakers talk to these hostesses, they talk about their jobs, their work in hostess clubs, and for the most part, a lot of their job is more sexual. They get paid to do sexual favors, but they're always saying “It's just a job, I don't really love my clients. It's just a job, so at the end of the day, I go hang out at these host clubs so I can go see whatever his name is, and he can be my boyfriend.” It's just this interesting, weird dynamic between the two sides of the sex industry.
Casey: That's really depressing sounding.
Sara: It is kind of depressing, and a lot of it isn't even a sex industry. It's almost like a substitute for an emotional relationship, a real relationship. And because a services like that exist, like a service where you go to this club and have these men pretend to be your boyfriend, whom you don't even have sex with, what must that say about the men that are out there that these women are trying to date if their only access to this kind of fairy tale relationship is by paying $1500 a night to pretend with someone.
Robin: I almost feel like the people become so isolated. Or rather, I don't know if it's isolation or selfishness, or both, but people seem like they are not willing to put up with the difficulties of a real relationship, or to try to start a real relationship. So it's all about this escapism and fantasy of “I just want a pretty girl to sleep with,” or “I just want a pretty guy to listen to my problems and care about me.” But it's like no one is willing to meet each other half way for real, at least from an outsider's perspective. It seems like it could be a big thing and a problem, because aren't they having problems with dropping birth and marriage rates in Japan right now?
Bamboo: Right.
Robin: Because no one is getting together anymore.
Sara: No one is having sex over there.
Casey: And that's a big issue. If you look at countries' birthrates, the post-industrialized nations that are having the biggest problems with birthrates are the most patriarchal countries. Because what happened, essentially, is that there is this breakdown in expectations, that the women expect a more equitable relationship, while the men expects someone to wait on them hand and foot, and because neither is being satisfied, they just don't get together at all. And both are wildly unhappy.
Sara: Bamboo, I remember last time you were bringing up this point, you said a few scholars have brought up the argument that the reason Japan's society is so patriarchal today is because of World War II. Am I remembering this right?

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