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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.
It's pretty hard to please everyone on the Internet, but a while back, one of the most well-respected anime conventions in the country released a commercial that raised quite a few tempers. You can see the spot for yourself. We at Chicks on Anime weren't terribly thrilled with the commercial either, and decided to talk a bit about our reactions. We hope you'll join us in the forums later to give us your thoughts.
Bamboo: A while back, the commercial for this year's Sakuracon popped up on the Internet. Within hours, it was met with a variety of reactions, and much derision. Before we get started, here's a link to the Youtube copy. Directed by voice acting veteran Vic Mignogna, it's set in a sushi bar (with actress Tiffany Grant making a cameo appearance). She bites into a succulent piece of salmon and says, "I love sushi." This escalates into an excited cacophony of other favorites, like DDR, J-rock, and Gilgamesh. At the end, the sushi chef looks up and says, "Get your butts to Sakuracon!"
Some found the commercial to be funny. Some found it to be offensive. Some thought it was just a tongue-in-cheek jab at anime fans, but... is that how we really want to be viewed? So this week's discussion is about how anime fans are viewed, and the stereotypes that we embody. Thoughts?
|Sara: Well, at the risk of sounding like a cantankerous PC-preaching prude, I honestly am not sure if this is more offensive to anime fans (I even felt kind of offended as just a white person, for the first time ever) or to Japanese people, whose culture is being spit out into hip little sound bites. I don't really see it in terms of "is this how we want to be viewed?" but more... I feel like it's just enormously tone-deaf. I almost feel like it celebrates the stereotypes of anime fandom that especially irk me—particularly mindless Japan worship and this whole "If it's Japanese, it's amazing!" mentality.|
Casey: Well, I immediately noticed that all of the customers in that restaurant are white. (Only the chef is Asian.) This isn't representative of real anime fan demographics, but it might be representative of the stereotyped anime fan as white American. However, if the commercial was intended to be satire, it fails utterly. Satire is about making something that exists in the real world totally exaggerated and ridiculous—and let's face it, those fans, though boisterous, were not anything that we all haven't seen in the real world a thousand times before.
These people aren't to anime fans what Stephen Colbert is to right-wing radio and television blowhards. It just reeked of thoughtless Orientalism to me, with white people objectifying and misrepresenting an Asian other. Hell, that one guy didn't even pronounce "Gilgamesh" correctly—in an American or Japanese accent. Fetishization of Japanese pop culture all the way. And I don't know about you two, but I think that is a truly awful way to represent anime fans.
Bamboo: You know, some part of me really wanted to laugh. I really wanted to take the route of, "Hey, this is funny. Not all anime fans are like this, but this is a funny caricature!" But... I couldn't. I couldn't shake the feeling that other people would watch this commercial and think, "My goodness, is this what anime fans are really like? If I go to Sakuracon, will I be surrounded by people like this?" The anime community has tried so hard to move away from these stereotypes. And yet this commercial is here, trying to appeal to people by saying that if you, too, are a Japanophile, you'll feel right at home here.
It's really distasteful to me. These are the kinds of anime fans that other anime fans dislike. These are the kinds of anime fans that give other anime fans a bad name. It's fine to appreciate another country's culture, but when you're reducing it to nothing but mindless consumerism and fetishes... well it's weird. The whole OH MAN, SUSHI, Oh my goodness, Japanese people! mindset is condescending. I mean, are we missing the point here? Are we being too cranky?
|Sara: I don't even care about what other people think when they see the commercial, really; the fact that it was written to appeal directly to fans, and this is the end result... that's what bothers me the most. It's terribly unfunny, just accumulates a handful of lame stereotypes, and like you said, Bamboo, it's distasteful. And condescending. To all parties involved.|
Casey: Well, if you mistake the satire for reality, then it isn't good satire. But let's assume that it wasn't meant to be satirical but was rather meant in seriousness for a moment. I think Sara makes an excellent point. Those obnoxious fans are supposed to be you, the viewer. Yet to assume that the Sakuracon goer is one of these people is, I think, erroneous and insulting. I certainly don't feel like one of those people. I'm not white, first of all. And secondly, I find it vaguely irritating that the commercial assumes that if you like, I don't know, Ouran High School Host Club, then you must like sushi too. What do those things have to do with each other?
Yes, they're both Japanese. But you know, sushi is only the "quintessential" Japanese food in the United States. I've been told on more than one occasion that the most archetypal Japanese dish is probably a donburi of some sort. The word “consumption,” which Bamboo used earlier, comes to mind. The commercial depicts (white) Americans indiscriminately and voraciously consuming Japanese culture. And gluttony is a vice, as they say.
Sara: If this was supposed to be a satire, which part is the exaggeration? Is it the "Oh, look, the white anime fans are all unpleasant hipsters!" part? Or the Japanese sushi chef who... is a closet anime fan, apparently? Because he's Japanese? I think the reason this falls flat is because there is a marginal portion of anime fans who don't act as an amplification of the characters in this commercial, but exactly like them. I knew people in college who would literally go up to Japanese exchange students and ask what their favorite anime character was, and when the last time they cosplayed was.
I suppose the question is whether we're supposed to mock the characters in the commercial, as we'd mock Colbert's character during The Word segment on his program, or identify with them. The "Let's all go to Sakuracon together!" message at the end negates any previous signal that everyone should be mocked mercilessly.
|Casey: There is another aspect of good satire that I just don't see here: that of critique. People like Colbert become exaggerated, ridiculous parodies of right-wing blowhards in order to rip the proverbial curtain down, to show us how wrong/inappropriate/ridiculous even the real-world versions are. I just don't see that dynamic happening here with the anime fans. As best I see it, there are two possibilities: 1) This commercial failed to convey its intended meaning, or 2) it is thoughtlessly, heedlessly bigoted.|
Bamboo: If this was going to be my first anime convention, and I was watching this commercial, I would choose to not go. I would be worried that I'd be drowning in a den of fans like this. I mean, we all went through that phase. The "I love anime!!!!!!!!!!!!!!" phase. Even my username, Sakechan, is a terrible artifact from my middle school years, when my friends and I thought it would be amusing to make a -chan username. I kind of hate it now, but I've used it for far too long. But we grow out of it. And I loathe to think that that's the stage in which anime fans are supposed to freeze at.
I don't want anime fans to think that every other anime fan is a nipponophile. The kind that have to Japanify their pronunciations of everything, and that throw in miscellaneous Japanese words into their speech. It's offensive. We're not like that. And I'm kind of surprised that someone who's been in the industry as long as Vic, and who's as well respected as Vic, didn't pick up on it. Not every anime fan is going to be inhaling Pocky and sushi all weekend. Not every anime fan is going to run around screaming, "OMG HERUSHINGU!!!!!" all weekend. Anime fans should be offended by this commercial.
|Sara: It almost feels like it celebrates fan douchery rather than ridiculing it.|
|Casey: Sakuracon equals a weekend where you can regress to your embarrassing adolescence? I suppose that might be an endorsement to some people. But really? Would the majority find that a compelling reason for going?|
|Sara: I'm actually going to be at Sakuracon this year, so... let's see if the commercial worked!|
|Casey: Yes, you must report back.|
|Sara: And no, I can't see this being an endorsement for anybody above the age of 14 who can't see the inherent ridiculousness of Japan worship.|
Bamboo: The thing is, Sakuracon is a very well-known, well-liked anime convention. I don't know what they were thinking. They've put out some cheesy ads in the past, but this one was ridiculous. "Hey, everyone here poops on Japan, and then plays DDR on it!"
A while back on the ANN forums, we were considering banning people for using the term "weeaboo." There's a lot of negative feelings associated with that word—both for the people being called a weeaboo, and for the people who are doing the name-calling. I don't think anime fans are at all flattered by this depiction. On either side of the argument. If there are that many negative feelings towards just a word—which was meant to replace another word... how are we supposed to react to this exaggerated, yet disturbingly sincere rendition?
|Sara: This commercial is rather like the terrible manifestation (and celebration?) of the "weeaboo." But that's what makes it so downright confounding to me—it's like... if your TV was an anime forum, this commercial would be sasuke28745 showing up and saying "I think Japan is awesome and American cartoons are dumb amirite?" How, as the viewer, do I respond to that? This is truly a case of "What were they thinking?"|
|Casey: I have to say that I find the very existence of the white person who totally tries to become some exaggerated form of Japanese deeply offensive. Okay, I get it. Being white means that you don't have much in the way of ethnic identification in this country, but guess what? You have a choice to don the kimono and play with exoticness. Real Asians in this country don't have a choice about their Asianness, and that is a key distinction. It's like the white person who tries to be black. Guess what? I'd bet a million bucks that the great majority of those wannabes wouldn't really want to be black—with all the negative aspects of life that entails. They just want some sort of superficial stylistic identification.|
|Sara: Casey, I find that offensive, too! Which is why I don't like a commercial showing all white people acting precisely that way. Nevermind the ones who actually act like that.|
|Bamboo: Maybe the commercial would've been more amusing if they had one character who was like that. And that person was in stark contrast to all the other fans. That would be appropriate satire.|
|Casey: Hmm. I dunno. Even if just one of the fans were like that, you still might not be able to tell if the person was meant to be realistic or not. But at least you wouldn't assume that all fans are like that.|
|Sara: But having a character like that would at least clear up for the viewer whether or not the rest are ridiculous caricatures.|
|Casey: Not necessarily. Just because the quarter comes up heads nine times doesn't mean it won't come up tails the tenth.|
|Bamboo: At least they looked kempt? That's a plus. Although... that's probably another point toward it not being satire. Because if it was satirical, maybe that person would be raising some kind of beautiful funk. Then we'd all have a chuckle.|
|Casey: Animated con funk would've been hilarious.|
|Sara: But now that I think about it, maybe the commercial creators (Vic?) took into account that anime fans are very serious. They don't like to be made fun of. I've heard people complain about series like Welcome to the NHK because they felt like the hikkikomori was being "picked on" by the creators. Not everyone, obviously, but I'd say a majority, take themselves and their fandom very seriously.|
|Casey: What this commercial was, it was definitely not a good way not to offend anime fans. The misjudgment had to have been monumental.|
|Bamboo: What, and this isn't making fun of them? Degrading them into a bunch of buffoons who all flock to sushi restaurants and squeal over Garugamesh? Welcome to the NHK isn't about picking on hikkikomori. It's a series that, while it has it's funny moments, has just as many tragic moments. It brings their plight to the surface. It's just as much of a drama as it is a comedy— maybe even more so.|
|Sara: Exactly. But some fans don't perceive it that way; they feel like it's a session of "Let's make fun of the sociopath." But I'm getting off track. Basically, if someone wanted to make a commercial poking harmless fun at anime fans, they should have been way more... silly and over the top about it. Rather than reinforcing the worst habits of the worst fans.|
|Casey: I agree entirely.|
|Bamboo: I'm eager to see what readers will have to say about this. Maybe we're being over-sensitive. I mean, there are some funny parts about the video. If you look on YouTube, there are already an endless number of loops of that kid saying, "GARUGAMESH!"... but I don't think it was intended to be funny. But it'll be enlightening to read the forums after this. I want to see what the readers think—what other anime fans think.|
|Sara: It's almost like YouTube is acting as the token "critique" character in this instance, pointing out the inherent absurdity that the commercial itself missed.|
this article has been modified since it was originally posted; see change history