Hey, Answerman! - Gender Rolls

by Brian Hanson,

Greetings, friends and loved ones, to the triumphant return of Hey, Answerman! My name is Brian, and this is what I do: answer your questions.

Thanks for holding down the fort, everyone, while I was away in sunny, bright, warm, not-freezing-cold-all-the-damn-time California. I got to ride The Simpsons ride and go to a Channel 101 screening. It was glorious. With my batteries recharged, I am ready to get in on this answering stuff.

Hey, Answerman!

I'd like to hear your views on gender stereotyping in Japan. How much of an issue is it over there? Do they care about it at all in the anime/manga industries? Since they sort target demographics quite strictly by gender I guess it can't be avoided but how limiting is it in reality to be labelled 'shounen' or 'shoujo', or 'seinen/josei'? I know that for many shounen titles it's not an issue since the female audience can be as big as the male but I imagine the same can't be said for most shoujo titles. Are there any anime or manga which you think are actually inaccessible to either boys or girls? Where do you draw the line between catering for a certain audience and shutting out others? Would you like to see any changes made in the industry in regard to this, or is it fine as is?

Hm. Well, first of all, I can't exactly say whether or not it is "an issue over there" because, y'know, I don't live over there, and not being able to speak the language obviously causes some difficulty insofar as my understanding. But, from what I've gathered, while I wouldn't say that it's not an "issue," I will say that fans on the Japanese side tend to pretty much ignore a lot of the same "issues" that we, I think laudably, are starting to pay more attention to. Y'know, where we are starting to become a lot more critical of portrayals of women in comics and popular culture, and demanding that certain sexist tropes and stereotypes be removed.

I will say this though - the mere fact that THERE IS STILL AN ENTIRE INDUSTRY IN JAPAN DEDICATED TO MAKING COMICS FOR WOMEN is still light years beyond where we're at. Sure, we've got dozens of wonderful indie comics and web comics created by women, but as such, the distribution model for that stuff simply can't compare to books by Marvel and DC and even Dark Horse. Everyone was hoping that the explosion of manga's popularity, mainly the "unusual" success of titles like Fruits Basket, would show comics publishers that there were indeed an army of girls and women hungry for comics, but of course the major comics publishers bungled that completely. Instead of creating strong, original stories, they opted for carbon-copied manga ripoffs.

Though, coupled with shoujo manga's success in the West and the recent explosion of superheros in pop-culture, there are more female readers of traditionally boys-only comic books. Which is something that, as you pointed out, Shonen Jump has known and courted for a while now. But outside of indie publishing, there still isn't a devoted and dedicated industry specifically creating comics and animation strictly for women. I would like it if that changed.

Back to the original manga itself, though: the important thing to note is that the reason we compartmentalize manga demographics - shonen, josei, shoujo, et al. - is because of the way they're serialized in magazines. You open up a copy of Ribon magazine, in between the manga, it's gonna look a lot like an issue of Tiger Beat; lots of spreads of cute boys and reams of pink everywhere. With that in mind, can shoujo manga be rife with sexism? It sure can! This blog post contains pretty much my entire thoughts on the subject.

So then, while shoujo manga can certainly be "sexist," the existence of shoujo manga itself - i.e. creating an entire subsection of comics specifically for girls - is not. The fact that Shojo Beat existed is not a casebook example of misandry. The fact that Pokemon is largely targeted towards young children is not ageism. There is no law that exists that you are unable to purchase and enjoy, as your average 20-something year old man, a copy of Fist of the North Star or Pokemon or Fruits Basket. Having multiple demographics available for everyone to enjoy reading manga and comics is a good thing. Because it means people start reading comics. And when they start reading comics, who knows? Maybe they'll read other comics! Maybe the teens reading Fruits Basket will pick up a copy of Drawn & Quarterly. Maybe the dudes reading Batman will pick up a copy of Nana. Maybe the kids reading Pokemon will pick up a copy of Jeff Smith's Bone. Despite all the demographic slicing, quality content can (and does) come from everywhere. You can't teach people to be open-minded, but you can tell them what is worth their time. And the more manga and comics we read, the more open-minded we get.

I don't know, exactly, how Japanese fans deal with some of the sexism that's sadly prevalent in their manga. And even if I did, there's not a lot I can do about it out here. My tiny, tiny sphere of influence on this earth largely stems from this column, which I'm grateful for, since I can reach an alarming amount of English-fluent readers from around the world. So I'll say this: wherever you are, wherever you're from, if you think something is offensive, or sexist, don't buy it. Don't read it. Reward the things that aren't sexist. Tell others to do the same. Vote with your dollars and your heart. Maybe, just maybe, when manga creators realize that certain sexist attitudes make their work unsaleable in other parts of the world, they'll reconsider their strategy.

Disclaimer: if this offends anyone, I'm sorry...

Many anime and manga have touched upon mental disorders (ex. Dissociative Identity/Multiple Personality disorders and Schizophrenia) or identities such as homosexuality (ex. transgenderism in "Wandering Son"), but how come common mental disabilities such Autism or Asperger's Spectrum Syndrome are never a major point of a story. I know there's the incomplete manga series With the Light which touched upon the subject of Autism, but that was more of a guide for parents of children with the disability. Then we have series with characters who I believe show symptoms, with recent examples such as the casts of Haganai and Tonari no Kaibutsu-kun, Mei Tachibana of Sukitte Ii na yo, and especially Mashiro Shiina from Sakurasou no Pet na Kanojo, but they are never brought up as major or important plot points. Now why is that?

Why is that? I've got an idea.

I think we, as fans, are always wanting more out of the entertainment we consume. And fair enough; we give it our precious time and money, so it would be weird if weren't vocal about improving it. But, more often than not, we're far too frequently willing to accept what is given to us.

So, I think we would all appreciate it if our entertainment a little bit more accurately reflected our real lives and experiences. The moment a piece of art or entertainment reflects our experience in a positive and uplifting way is a joy unequaled by most things. But at the same time, we also consume entertainment for its fantastical aspects; to show us things we can't experience in real life. Superheros and supervillains, space travel, wizards, powerful warriors able to destroy worlds with magic powers, things like that.

So I'll put this to you: how weird would it be if Dragon Ball Z took a time out to explain to the audience that Goten had Asperger's?

I mean, it's one thing to diagnose fictional characters with a whole host of ailments - Batman sure has some crippling OCD, huh? - but it's a whole other thing for the creators to hamfistedly "grounding" their characters in reality like that. The reason With The Light works is because it's a very personal story, constructed around a real experience. The point of that story was to relate with other people, to create a shared experience in a creative medium. The point of 90% of our manga and anime consumption is merely to be entertained. I can't tell you the amount of angry forum posts and Twitter comments I read when a show is deemed to be too "emo." I.e., the creator steps back slightly from telling a fantastical albeit forgettable piece of consumerist entertainment to attempt to imbue the characters with something resembling sympathy. You know what I'm talking about. "I just wanted to watch Eureka 7 to see cool surfing robots fight each other, not watch some crybaby main character complain about his feelings!!"

And in truth, there is something to that. When it comes to crafting good characters with real issues, it does need to feel at least a little organic, or the audience revolts. Like a body rejecting a transplanted organ, layering real elements - like mental illness - into a story has to be done delicately and precisely. Neon Genesis Evangelion is always the textbook example, and there's a very good reason why it still holds up. All of the crap the characters deal with - the depression, the anxiety, the abandonment - came from a very real place within Hideaki Anno's tortured mind. And more importantly than that, it was relevant to the plot. How relevant would it be to the Kyoto arc of Rurouni Kenshin if it was revealed that Kenshin struggled with dyslexia?

So, we're in this weird world where we both want our entertainment to more accurately reflect our own lives as a way to be more invested in the story - and we also want them to forget all that stuff and just give us the fantastical entertainment we crave. I don't care if Gandalf has sleep apnea, I just want to see him cast wizard spells and fight orcs.

I'm sure there's some room in our otherwise mindless entertainment to, perhaps, take a bold move and introduce characters who deal with very real issues like mental disorders, and nonetheless triumph. That would be very rewarding, I think. But, like I said, it takes a delicate touch to make such a thing seem authentic and real. And, sadly, most of the people who write and create our entertainment aren't willing to invest the necessary time and energy.

They just want to get to the explosions and sex and comedy and fantasy fun.

I've watched anime since I got into DVDs in the 90's. I'm disappointed to see how the rise of web streaming has all but eliminated the DVD/Blu-Ray purchasing aspect of calling one's self an “anime fan”, but I'm far more worried about what I see as the collateral damage being done to anime in general over the last half decade or so. The shift to web-based delivery of content, including anime, has shifted the mindsets of consumers to viewing all content as something you “consume” rather than “collect”. I see this emerging in what types of shows are offered up for sale now as well as what gets streamed. Complicated stories and character-driven plotlines are out- girls in skimpy outfits are in.

What was the cause of the shift? I began to wonder. By chance I then watched the Genshiken series, and got some insight into how a good number of Japanese fans like to use doujinshi to basically “consumerize” anime by taking the characters and replacing plots with nudity and sex. Then it hit me: most of the anime I see offered up in the US now has skipped the first step of making characters that get converted to doujinshi - the anime itself has become its own doujinshi. No girl too young to have giant boobs and no clothes. Just give 'em what they want.

I look at a show like Madoka Magica (which ANN was raving about) and see a viciously manipulative story where young girls run around in outfits that would make strippers blush, engage in pointless magic battles, and then are denied escape from the story even when they (SPOILERS REMOVED). And don't forget to have them run around naked some as well- fans love that. If this was a live action show with 14 year old-girls performing, it would probably be described as child abuse.

Most of these new anime are built to be consumed once, remembered briefly, then forgotten as the next series starts streaming. No need to think about characters or plots because no one watching it will ponder the show long enough to make that kind of writing effort pay off. The same thing can be seen if you browse the new releases of licensed anime at the stores - Heaven's Lost Property, Strike Witches, Sekirei, Vampire Bund. If the latest anime tells us anything, it's that in the near future clothing will be a rare item, at least for girls.

Maybe with the collapse of the consumer demand to own anime the publishers found that only the shows featuring regular doses of titillation could be counted on to make a profit, so that's about all that gets licensed. But even when I look at what is getting released in Japan it feels like the inmates are running the asylum now: too many pointless recycled plots looking for excuses to blend up a mix of sci-fi mumbo-jumbo, explosions, and short skirts. Just give 'em what they want.

Well, uh. I think I missed whatever question you meant to write. No matter! There's one big thing here you are very wrong about.

You rail and rant against streaming, and decry "web-based delivery" for its transformation of anime fans from "collectors" into "consumers." And, well, you're right - in the 90's, if you were an anime fan, you certainly were a collector, merely out of necessity. There certainly was a larger financial investment at stake.

The thing you're wrong about is that - IN JAPAN, WHERE THIS STUFF WAS MADE - the opposite was true. In the 80's and 90's, the halcyon days of anime according to your average crotchety long-term fan, anime WAS NOT MEANT to be collected in the days before DVDs. Sure, you could buy Laserdiscs of your favorite series, but that was reserved only for the hardest of the hardcore otaku. We're talking about shows produced at a time when people could not possibly fathom that there would be a disc format that could collect hundreds of episodes at a decent quality, that you could own forever and watch your favorite episodes over and over again. Sure, OVA series filled that collector's itch, but nearly every anime series broadcast on television was meant to be watched once and possibly once more as a rerun. That's all.

What I'm saying is, whatever dip or shift in quality and taste in regards to content delivery is completely false. This is a thing that drives me crazy. Look, guys - I get it. Anime is different now, and you don't like it. That's okay! That's fine! We grow and change as people, and often, the things we like change as well. There was once a time when I was in 8th grade where 311 was my favorite band! Now, I can't listen to them without feeling like my blood is clotting rapidly! That's not 311's fault - that's MY fault!

You don't like Madoka Magica? Okay dude, that's fine. It clearly didn't resonate with you. You hate boobie-shows with tons of fanservice and exploding clothing? Me too, man! But, to each their own, right?

Anime has always been a mixed bag of quality - just like every other form of entertainment on the planet. Sure, there was once a time when releases were more carefully cultivated to suit our Western tastes and you felt like you enjoyed it more. That's a common occurrence, my friend. I certainly feel that way. But it's not the fault of streaming video, and it's not the fault of Japanese anime producers who are placating viewers in precisely the same way they always have, just at a time when you didn't notice it as much, since - BECAUSE THERE WAS NO SUCH THING AS STREAMING VIDEO - you weren't as aware of the worst offenders. I'm sure you've seen Otaku no Video at some point - doujinshi has been around for decades, man. Anime and manga isn't any better or worse than it was before simply because Japanese otaku are drawing more porn.

And now we are aware of the worst anime products of every season! Calough, Caleigh! For the first time in Western anime fandom history, we have the opportunity to see pandering fluff like Cat Planet Cuties for ourselves! FOR FREE! WHENEVER WE WANT!! And then we can decide if we like it or we don't!!

I'm just sick of people conflating some "decline" in anime's perceived "quality" for a variety of reasons other than the fact that they now have the opportunity to watch all the crap they wouldn't have liked in the first place. And then that same "crap" gets a boatload of views on Crunchyroll - because SHOCKINGLY there's a large audience out there for jostling, bouncing animated breasts - and SUDDENLY it's the downfall of anime's stock value as we know it. Please, people. This is the anime equivalent of the "it's not you, it's me" breakup. Other fans aren't to blame for making anime suck, compared to how it used to be. You, my friend, are simply a different person - with different taste - than the person you used to be.

Well alright then, that's enough HARD HITTING ANSWERS from me - it's time to collect the mass bounty of Answerfans responses over the past two weeks! To what question? I'm glad you maybe asked!

Let's get things started with Binyamin, who gets the 800-pound gorilla out of the way! Funny story: my stepsister's ex-husband still thinks this is real.

The first one that comes to mind is Dragonball AF. Yeah, I was just the right age for that one to really pique my interests, back when it was spreading around the school in 4th grade. It sat around in the back of my head for years, always wondering if everyone was wrong and the rumors really were true. If there was really such a thing as Super Saiyan 5 and a third, half-alien child of Goku. And then I started getting into online anime fandom, and tound out that it was conclusively false. It was somewhat crushing, to have something I'd wondered about answered so thoroughly, but it was also a relief, both from the curiosity and from the fear that Toei had actually done something so ridiculous with the franchise (it was a bit hard to trust Toei's judgment after Dragonball GT).

The other really big one was a mistaken translation from 2ch that grew out of proportion and spread like wildfire. Back in 2008, when Hunter X Hunter started running again, somebody on 2ch said that Hunter X Hunter and One Piece would take turns alternating serialization for ten weeks each at a time. I was very heavily into the One Piece fandom at the time, and I remember vividly how Arlong Park and every other fan-forum completely lost their minds. Rumors and predictions and shock and grief were swirling that day. I myself entered a period of mourning (and bugged all my friends, who didn't read manga, by griping about it for the rest of the day). I can't remember being so worried about anything before. Fears for One Piece's pacing, its popularity, the quality of the story, all of this was at the forefront of my mind for the rest of the day. There was nothing else that seemed important enough to be worth thinking about in the face of such news.

And then it turned out that the entire uproar had been a mistake. The "announcement" on 2ch that had been translated had actually been a joke on the poster's part. The English translator who mentioned the joke on Arlong Park apparently missed it, and didn't realize that he had worked the fandom into conniptions. All that stress, all that griping, and for nothing! Still, I think the intensity of the relief I felt might have made the whole thing worth it.

There was also Arlong Park's April Fool's Day prank for 2009. This was back when Luffy was in Impel Down trying to rescue Ace. We'd just seen the week earlier that Emporio Ivankov had the ability to inject people with hormones, to the point where he could change a person's gender. And he'd injected Luffy with some that were supposed to heal him from heavy injuries at the end of the chapter. Fandom being what it is, people's minds naturally leapt to the conclusion that as part of the healing process, Luffy was going to be turned into a girl. The debate about how plausible the idea was and whether it seemed likely raged for a while...

And then, around April Fool's Day, somebody posted in the weekly Spoiler thread (where snippets uploaded to Japanese websites by Japanese subscribers to Weekly Shonen Jump who got the magazine early were posted for fans who just couldn't wait for a full scanlation on Friday) a picture of a female Luffy (who was immediately dubbed "Luffyko") conspiring with Ivankov to sneak out of Impel Down.

Now, I made it a policy to avoid Spoiler threads, so I didn't see the entire thing go down from the beginning. And even once it leaked to the other threads, I didn't believe it, because I couldn't fathom Oda's making such a major change to his lead character like that. But a lot of people did believe it, and there was a humongous firestorm of debate between people who believed it, people who didn't, and those who thought the move was brilliant or stupid or scary, whether they believed it or not. A lot of people were really had.

But again, the chapter came on Friday like normal, and Luffy just persevered through an intensive (and hormonally-boosted) healing process through sheer will-power, just as usual. No transgender transformation necessary. You had a lot of people feeling sheepish, or victimized, and you had a lot of people crowing "I told you so". Me, I just had a good laugh at the antics fandom could get up to. If I'd gotten as involved in other fandoms as I was in that of One Piece I might have seen things like this more often. But these were the big ones, for me.

Aside from the fact that Donovan's answer makes me feel really old, this is EXACTLY THE KIND OF RESPONSE I WAS LOOKING FOR, THANK YOU:

Hey, Answerman!

I remember back in elementary school, Naruto was first getting popular in the United States, and I was one of the few at my school to actually know what it was. Aside from my immediate friends/family, there was one other person who took my bus who claimed he knew what happened in the Japanese version of Naruto, insisting there were cut scenes, going on about how it crossed over with Dragon Ball Z somehow, and so on. I kind of figured he was making it up as he went along, but when you're around 9-10 years old, you tend to fall hook line and sinker for some of this stuff. I eventually looked up his claims, and guess what-they were bunk. I never mentioned it to him, though. If he wanted to act like he knew everything about the show, he was more than welcome to. Plus, it was funny to hear his ideas on what "actually" happened in Naruto.

As far as fake endings go, "Legless and In A Coma" is pretty dire, L. yogurti:

Hey Answerman.

One of the most widespread and ridiculous rumors around the anime fandom, especially in Latin America, is about the 'finale' of Captain Tsubasa: ROAD to 2002, where the main character had actually dreamed everything and had lost his legs in an accident. Apparently someone even made an animation regarding that, which can be found rather easily in YouTube, albeit in Spanish.

As a (mostly former) Captain Tsubasa fan, I can assure you that ending is as fake as a three dollar bill; most fans will tell you that it's not just fake, but the manga series, while divided into smaller series, still continues, much to our dismay. It's currently tackling the topic of the Spanish Football League. In fact, I've had to prove to some skeptics how that cruel joke of an ending has NOTHING to do with the original story, as the last anime remake they did (precisely ROAD to 2002) butchered the series and turned it into a bloody, unrecognizable pulp. But sadly, debunking the myth has been pretty hard to do, if not impossible.

Myths, lies, and horrific rumors! Swell! Hey, next week, I have another question - one that we can *all* respond to! I wanna see a lot of answers to this one, folks:

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.

That's all for me this week! Don't forget to drop me a line with a question or two, and of course your Answerfans answers by emailing me over at answerman(at)animenewsnetwork.com! Good night!

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