Anime in the Mainstream

by Justin Sevakis, Jul 1st 1999

Arguments about Anime in the Mainstream

The following was submitted to us as an editorial. While we normally print follow-ups to editorials in the letters department, this guy really wanted us to publish this for real... and even went to the trouble of rewriting it. I still had to chop the heck out of it just to get it to sound like something besides a college essay (and I'm sure I missed a lot of grammatical errors), but he does make some valid points... which I will address (read: rip apart) below.

Efforts to Integrate Anime into the American Society: A Pandora Box Dilemma

(His title, not ours.)

Justin Sevakis' article "Anime for Adults" Attitude is Harmful is inspiring enough, but his reasoning is ultimately flawed. The editorial implicitly suggested that the Gothic culture had little significance in influencing the atrocity committed by Harris and Klebold at Columbine High School. While I took some issue with that statement, I was more disturbed by Mr. Sevakis' comment in the relationship between Japanese animation and American public. In a time when the entire nation mourns the lost of fifteen innocent souls, it is irresponsible to compare Anime with Gothic "music". Altering the fundamental essences of existing Anime genres to accommodate the American public opinion will not only doom to fail, but the process can effectively alienate tens of thousands of present fans away from Japanese animation.

First, it's important to realize that the comparison between Gothic culture and Anime is inappropriate. It is true that some Anime (e.g. Fist of North Star & Ninja Scroll) are notorious for dreadful acts of violence, but not all Anime advocates such ideology. Conversely, there is no tangible evidence that any aspect of Kein Mitleid fur die Mehrheit's (KMFDM) songs promote anything other than death, mass killing, and destruction ends justify the means (By the way, how is this albeit nihilistic nonviolence supposes to work?). To many Anime fans, the diverse genres of Anime only further proven the fact that Anime is not meant to be accepted universally by the American public.

We, regrettably, are living in a lawsuit-happy society. In order not to be hit with ridiculous claims that can drag on in years and bankrupt any company, networks can only broadcast shows that are proven to be "safe". In spite of ill-nature sitcoms such as Dawson Creek, Buffy the Vampire, and Party of Five, the majority of Americans will NEVER accept anime that even remotely matches their storyline and graphical details. Hypocritically, Americans reasoned that anime (or the God forbidden and Otaku outraged term cartoon) is for kids, and kids should not watch Anime with any implication of such "Grown-up stuffs" (Although many Americans let televisions do the babysitting, and those presumably innocent ten-year-olds can and will change channels). To condense the argument, Americans are unyielding in their beliefs that Anime can never intrigue their intellects. The upshot of all anti-anime rhetoric is that Anime as you and I currently watch, the kind of stuffs that we all enjoying fansubbing, not minding to shell out six to eight dollars per tape, and patiently waiting for a two months turnaround time, will not be seen in NBC, Fox, or even the deplorable UPN. Realize that there is not a snowball's chance in hell for that to happen, a whole bunch of Simpson, King of the Hill, and even the godforsaken Home Movie (the one shows after the witty Dilbert on UPN) drones will don the veneer of Japanese Anime and flood the networks' time slots. My fellow Otakus and Anime fans, do we want to watch anymore idiots drinking beers, stories that has no more plot than Baywatch and Day of Our Lives, and fourth rate art work?

This is not paranoia because of the current financial quagmire in Japan. As we all know, American market is now being regarded as a gold mine in many Japanese Anime studios. They will produce anything that will sell well abroad to remain financially afloat. Any Joe can tell you that studio will, logically, gradually, and then completely generate debacles such as Panzer Dragoon and Tekken. From a purely economic point of view, such changes are irrelevant because no money is lost. Japanese studios will produce cartoon, instead of Anime, and U.S. domestic firms like A.D. Vision, Pioneer, and Central Media Park will make even more profit for widespread foreign "cartoon" hype. As a result, the winners will be Japanese studios, U.S. domestic firms, and a new generation of fan (a.k.a. newbies). Well, the losers are, you guessed it, you and I. Would you be still devoted to anime if they are the same as Simpsons and Space-O-Rama? Recognized that we are not all the same, I will tell you what I am going to do. I would: 1) not send donation to esteemed fansub groups for Anime titles I do not love in the first place (might be a good thing), 2) refuse to buy commercial tapes like I spent $180 for a set of Saber Marionette J (definitely a bad thing), and 3) forsake my treasured devotion of Anime for good (worst case scenario).

In the end, I would like to refer back to Mr. Sevakis' article for references. He mentioned that Anime next challenge is to conquer "Anime is violent and oversexed" barrier. I agree that it is a challenge, but I disagree on rather or not this barrier should be breached. Generalizing Anime as we know it now will never be materialized. If somehow it is accomplished, than I am doubtful of how much unique features Anime can retain. Macross Plus the Movie, Vision of Escaflowne, and Nurse Angel Ririka are great pieces of Anime work, but how much will they have to give away (name changes, censor, editing, etc) to reach the stage Mr. Sevakis had been so aspiring for? We, as Anime fans of today, must feel obligated to ask ourselves this question: is that what we want from Anime? Perhaps we should leave things as what they are. Cool Devices and Urotsukidoji remain to the domain of hentai fans whom no sensible women would want to meet. Revolutionary Girl Utena for teenage girls who look for simplified dramas. Martian Successor Nadesico for true hardcore Sci-Fi fans who want cute girls and combat humanoids. Finally, Legend of Galactic Heroes for people like I who study the relationship between war and politic academically.

Anime, unlike the United States, is not necessary a melting pot. We don't have to so be fixated with the idea of integrating Anime with the mainstream American culture. Months ago I came across the poignant remark of one lamented Otaku, who had commented that the day he (she) see the action figures of Eva 1 being shown in K-Mart is the day he (she) quits anime. I cannot but resonate this emotion in the back of my head. Not surprisingly, domestic anime firms always put profit margin ahead of the interests of Anime fans (e.g. the Mixx Controversy, the policy of A.D. Vision charging $30 for two episodes, and Anime Village reneging its fans-friendly promises and pricing a two-episode Haunted Junctions for $24.95). Therefore, it is up to us, the existing cadres and vanguards of Anime-as-we-know-it, to preserve its legacies and integrity.

Howard Cheung

April 30, 1999


Well, I mean no disrespect to Mr. Cheung, but I can't help but sink my teeth into pretty much every one of his arguments... Let's pick them apart, shall we?

In a time when the entire nation mourns the lost of fifteen innocent souls, it is irresponsible to compare Anime with Gothic "music".

Why? Neither are mainstream. Both have a reputation for being overly violent. Both are generally the domain of younger people who generally scare those who are older. It's a perfect fit.

The editorial implicitly suggested that the Gothic culture had little significance in influencing the atrocity committed by Harris and Klebold at Columbine High School.

Just because they listened to KMFDM doesn't mean they're immersed in the gothic style. I love KMFDM, and I'm anything but. There is nothing else to indicate that they are in any way part of the gothic crowd.

It is true that some Anime (e.g. Fist of North Star & Ninja Scroll) are notorious for dreadful acts of violence, but not all Anime advocates such ideology.

No kidding... if it did, I wouldn't be working on this web site. But that reality doesn't mean a thing, it's all public perception here. And it's perceived as overly violent. Those two you named are generally what maladjusted teenagers get their hands on, and those two are probably some of the most famous titles out there.

Conversely, there is no tangible evidence that any aspect of Kein Mitleid fur die Mehrheit's (KMFDM) songs promote anything other than death, mass killing, and destruction ends that justify the means (By the way, how is this albeit nihilistic nonviolence supposes to work?).

This statement is generally what REALLY ticks me off about the mainstream media's coverage of the incident... they don't know what the hell they're talking about. Have you even LISTENED to KMFDM? Although they occasionally describe acts of violence, their songs are EXTREMELY anti-violent in nature! Wait, I have the lyric book to their 1996 album "Nihil" here... Let's take a look:

TRACK 5 - "Terror": "Radical anarchists, fascists and terrorists are responsible for the violence. Our societies are saturated with bloodlust, sensationalism and violence as a result of alienation from oneself's reality. How much longer do we tolerate mass murder? [...] We shall use all peaceful means to overcome tyranny."

Oh yeah, THAT one says "let's kill everyone for fun", doesn't it? But wait, here's another song:

Track 6- "Search & Destroy": "Our silence is death. We shall resist the violence, and we'll never give up. Only death is silence." (That's the chorus, by the way.)

Track 7- "Disobedience": "It's a war with no winners when violence hits home. Ignorance is your religion."

PLEASE do your homework before you make such statements. This is as bad as Rosie O'Donnell firing off about gun control when she's the spokesman for K-Mart, which sells assault rifles! (By the way, "Nihilism" is defined as "the belief that there can be no social or economic progress until all existing institutions have been destroyed." I fail to see how that precludes anti-violence.)

In spite of ill-nature sitcoms such as Dawson Creek, Buffy the Vampire, and Party of Five, the majority of Americans will NEVER accept anime that even remotely matches their storyline and graphical details. Hypocritically, Americans reasoned that anime (or the God forbidden and Otaku outraged term cartoon) is for kids, and kids should not watch Anime with any implication of such "Grown-up stuffs" (Although many Americans let televisions do the babysitting, and those presumably innocent ten-year-olds can and will change channels).

Well, to be anal retentive, none of those are sitcoms... but at any rate, if you had actually read what I wrote, you would see that part of the action plan I mentioned is to CHANGE the thinking of the masses. It can be done... it has before (Remember, dancing and rock music were both once considered satanic). It just takes time.

They will produce anything that will sell well abroad to remain financially afloat. Any Joe can tell you that studio will, logically, gradually, and then completely generate debacles such as Panzer Dragoon and Tekken.

Uhh... both of those titles were produced in '95 - '96, before Japan's economy even went to hell. They weren't thinking of America much, I guarantee.

In a purely economic point of view, such changes are irrelevant because no money is lost. Japanese studios will produce cartoon, instead of Anime, and U.S. domestic firms like A.D. Vision, Pioneer, and Central Media Park will make even more profit for widespread foreign "cartoon" hype.

When some of the biggest hits (established and predicted) to come out of Japan are Neon Genesis Evangelion, Serial Experiments Lain, and Perfect Blue? Riiiiight. Come on, they know what sells. It's the thought-provoking stuff. Why do you think Studio Ghibli attracted Disney's attention?

Recognized that we are not all the same, I will tell you what I am going to do. I would: 1) not send donation to esteemed fansub groups for Anime titles I do not love in the first place (might be a good thing), 2) refuse to buy commercial tapes like I spent $180 for a set of Saber Marionette J (definitely a bad thing), and 3) forsake my treasured devotion of Anime for good (worst case scenario).

I'm sorry, but I don't follow the logic here. Why would you stop buying the good stuff because there's bad stuff? Does the fact that Panzer Dragoon is available make you want to watch Nausicaä less as a result? If so, I have to wonder why you like anime in the first place. Wouldn't it make more sense to support the GOOD releases?

If somehow it is accomplished, than I am doubtful of how much unique features Anime can retain. Macross Plus the Movie, Vision of Escaflowne, and Nurse Angel Ririka are great pieces of Anime work, but how much will they have to give away (name changes, censor, editing, etc) to reach the stage Mr. Sevakis had been so aspiring for?

That's another issue. We'll cover that in another editorial.

Perhaps we should leave things as what they are. Cool Devices and Urotsukidoji remain to the domain of hentai fans whom no sensible women would want to meet. Revolutionary Girl Utena for teenage girls who look for simplified dramas. Martian Successor Nadesico for true hardcore Sci-Fi fans who want cute girls and combat humanoids. Finally, Legend of Galactic Heroes for people like I who study the relationship between war and politic academically.

The goal isn't for Americans to lump all anime into one basket, the goal is to have them accept it as much as they do live action, or at least close. Any idiot can see the difference in titles out there.

Not surprisingly, domestic anime firms always put profit margin ahead of the interests of Anime fans (e.g. the Mixx Controversy, the policy of A.D. Vision charging $30 for two episodes, and Anime Village reneging its fans-friendly promises and pricing a two-episode Haunted Junctions for $24.95). Therefore, it is up to us, the existing cadres and vanguards of Anime-as-we-know-it, to preserve its legacies and integrity.

As a fan with no ties to the commercial community, such statements are easy to make for the simple reason that you don't know the whole story. ADV has to charge that much to stay profitable so they can stay IN BUSINESS! (Do you have any idea how much licensing prices have risen in the last five years?) AnimeVillage.com is at the mercy of their Japanese parent company who is overly worried about cheaper American releases being sold on the Japanese gray market. I'm not saying that their pricing practices are always fair (ADV has charged as much as $1 per minute of tape), but let's give credit where credit's due... they do as much as they can to give fans what they want. It's this anti-commercial attitude that is the greatest challenge to fandom itself, because it is ultimately the most destructive.

Whew! Glad that's off my plate...


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