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Chicks on Anime
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by B. Dong, C. Brienza, S. Pocock, R. Sevakis,
Bamboo: Ah, right. What I had said was something from one of my college film classes about modern Japanese film and anime, in particular. I had read a lot of interesting papers about the reason why a relatively higher percentage of their pop culture, compared to other countries, has stuff like rape, monsters, and all this stuff is because of World War II. The papers argued that because they were no longer allowed to have an offensive military and because they felt so demoralized after the war, that in order to get that masculinity again, they projected it through their pop culture.
Casey: You have to remember also that the US imposed equal voting rights, equal rights for women, and up until that point, women were second class citizens and were an inferior form of life in Japan. It was a huge leap forward after World War II for women, and that kind of abrupt shift in woman's expectations also affected gender relationships. It's part of what I was talking about earlier about expectations that don't match.
Bamboo: A lot of the same papers also say that the idea of the magical girl in anime is that you suddenly have these super women who can take over the world and save the world from space invaders, because suddenly these women are no longer like a shadow. These women are at the forefront and that is also something that comes into pop culture because all these females want to say, “Hello, we are here, and we can save the world.” Whether or not it's just academic BS, or actual Japanese subconscious thought after World War II, I don't know, but it is an interesting argument that some scholars have made.
Casey: There is something also we really haven't touch on, and I think is important in this context, is that in Asia, generally you don't have cross-sex friendships. Most of your friends, if you are a woman, are other women, and most of your friends, if you're a man, are other men. And on top of that, many, many people still attend schools that are single sex all their lives, so you really don't have the kind of day to day contact with people your age of the other sex that Americans might expect. I taught in Korea and I've taught in an all-boys middle school, and the understanding of girls was very naïve for their age. I'm sure it's the same with girls and their understanding of guys as well, and you still see that kind of breakdown of expectations because there is nothing to ground it on a practical, pragmatic level.
Bamboo: What do you mean by understanding? Like, what kind of thoughts do they have about girls?
Casey: Very romantic, for example. But the thing is, on the other hand, there are also very different expectations about family. One of the things I've noticed, and it's this way in Japan as well, is that even after they get married, the husband and wife lead very separate lives. They don't do necessarily things together that we would expect a family to do in the United States. And the woman is really responsible for the kids.
Sara: I don't really think that's true, and I think another point we should probably bring up is the insane expectations of the salaryman and how much he has to work in order to rise from the company. I've heard from people who have been there and tried to be a member of the Japanese workforce, of expectations of how much work you have to do to prove you are a good worker. Totally different from what they are in America. Like the later you stayed and worked, the better you were, no matter how much work you get done during the work day. Just to see you work extra hours and stay longer than anybody else. And I think because of that, you are seeing men staying in the office all hours of the night with really limited contact with their wives and their families.
Bamboo: I read some studies a couple years back that one of the reasons why people are getting married later is that the women no longer need the man at all, and a lot of women are get staying at home with their parents, and are working and just spending their money on stuff like clothes, designer bags, hanging out with their friends, and all that. And because they can live that kind of lifestyle and still be with their parents, they don't feel the need to get married.
Casey: Also you need to remember that the workforce in Japan isn't as flexible as it is here. You were kind of hinting at that with the salaryman and the stereotype, but if you leave the workforce in Japan, whether you are male or female, you don't re-enter. You have a lot of trouble getting back to where you were before. So if a woman decides to quit her job to get married and have kids, her career is over, and a lot of people aren't willing to give that up, because their work is important to them.
Robin: I feel if I say too many things about Japan, I'm going to be sort of making it up, because I haven't really studied the culture much outside of watching anime and movies and media and sort of making observations here and there. So I don't want to just act like I know what I'm talking about, but I have to agree with what you guys were saying about the workforce and the expectations on salarymen. It feels like Japan is in need of a new social revolution of some kind, because I think the combination of these unsatisfied expectations about genders, isolating each other, between the expectations of the workforce, and to put in ridiculous amounts of hours, and never being able to get your foot back in the door once you leave. It all seems to be things that are probably leading to the low birth and marriage rates, you know. It seems like they need some sort of new revolution to get people back together and it seems like when you see a lot of anime and manga that sort of caters to the fantasy and wish-fulfillment, and all these different romance things, and the hentai things. It just seems to be a symptom of that environment. The environment that, we have these needs that aren't being met, and that are seemingly too difficult to get, so we have crazy dating sims and shoujo host club harem manga, and all those kinds of things. Seems like symptoms, really.
Sara: I was going to make a comment on Robin's statement about all the escapism you see in anime and dating sims, and how it seems like the ratio of escapist pop culture media that comes out of Japan is much higher then the escapist media in other countries.
Bamboo: What I've found interesting is that there has always been this stereotype, that of the “lonely nerd.” There has always been this stereotype of this dude who sits in his mom's basement watching a video of Kanaka-chan playing at the beach with her friends or whatever, but you know in the US, I haven't found that to be really that true. It could just be the subset of people I've encountered. I find that at least in the anime community, people are, for the most part, very well socially adjusted.
Sara: I think so, too.
Bamboo: When you go to anime conventions, these are people who are there with like, ten friends. They're all hanging out, all having fun. You meet some random dude in the hallway and can start up a great conversation. In college, I lived in a program house with a bunch of gamer geeks, and they had sex all the time. I thought it was kind of gross, but they were not the lonely nerd. You could see them coming down the street and know, “Oh, those guys are nerds for sure,” but amongst themselves, they had tons of friends and they were always dating people. It's interesting, because I feel like there is so much anime out there that's made for the lonely nerd, but at least in the US, I think people watch it because it's fun and entertaining, not because they need it as escapism.
Robin: Well, I think also in America, especially nowadays, I think it's just so much easier to communicate. There isn't any societal pressure to keep to yourself and blend in, and not stand out. I think it's just easier for nerds and different people to sort open up. We don't have as many hikikomoris, unlike Japan, where they actually have a name for as big of a social problem as that. I think that right there makes it harder for them to communicate and relate to other people in their subculture.
Bamboo: Definitely something to think about. Alright, let's wrap it up for this week. Next week, a special convention-centric discussion from New York Anime Festival.
Transcribed by Keith LaPointe

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