The term anime refers to a distinctive tradition of Japanese animation that is
almost immediately recognizable by its superior artistic quality as well as by
the somewhat mannered artistic conventions anime artists employ, such as the
preference for child-like, large eyes. But it's not just the art that grabs one's
attention. In contrast to the flat, Good vs. Evil plots in U.S. cartoons, many anime stories
deal with complex, thought-provoking themes, presenting complex characters
that change as the stories progress. There's a ready acceptance of the reality of
death. In some anime, even those intended for kids, main characters sometimes
die. For anyone used to Disney's predictable plots and platitudes, one's first
encounter with anime produces shock, followed by fascination.
Anime also provides a window into another culture. In ways that many anime
fans scarcely guess, anime draws strongly from Japanese and wider Asian
mythology and symbolism generally, and specifically from the rich Japanese
traditions of Shinto, the martial arts, and Zen. Perhaps that is one of the main
reasons because anime deals so successfully with fantasy themes.
Some of the most interesting anime explore the implications of technologies
that blurs the distinctions between machine and person, male and female, good
and evil, leaving the characters groping to find their moorings. In contrast to
American explorations of advanced technology (as in Star Wars and the
Terminator films), which subsume all the issues under the "absolute good vs.
absolute evil" and "happy ending" tropes, anime deeply explores the moral and
spiritual ambiguities of life and culture in a world pushed over the edge by
rampaging technological progress.
Anime is closely related to Japanese comics, called manga: Many anime series
got their start as popular manga. This is an industry with $3 billion annual sales
in Japan, manga has 60 percent of all printed materials sold in that country, in
fact, that addiction is something of a problem. The popularity of manga helps to
explain why anime productions values are so high: It's a huge, profitable market.
A good example of this is a recent anime feature release called The Wings of
Honneamaise, which reportedly cost $8 million to produce, and involved the
efforts of more than three thousand animators. Some of Japan's most talented
artists and musicians are drawn to the manga/anime industry.
Gender Relationships in Manga and Anime
One should of course realize that there are exceptions to every rule, and that
Japanese manga, like English literature, runs the gamut from one end to the
other. Concentrating on mainstream youth-oriented works, not as much on the
adult-male oriented manga (much of which is clearly meant to be pornographic).
Even with the youth-oriented works, one should remember these things:
Many manga are targeted at either girls or boys, and can be classified as either
girls' or boys' comics. Generally, though not always, boys' comics are told from
a male perspective, and vice versa. Also, girls' comics tend to focus on human
relationships more than the boys' comics; the latter focus more on competition
or contests of will (such as a detective struggling to close a case).
Lastly, girls' comics tend to have artwork that is dreamier and softer,
while boys' comics tend to be brasher and flashier.
- Japanese manga for young people tend to be far more intricate,
human, philosophical, and mature than American comics. Responsibility and
the consequences of one's actions are taught at all levels; so is the essentially
humanity of even one's enemies (usually). Conversely, the increased maturity
level also means that nudity and sexual themes are present in comics meant for
The theme of "men ought to be stronger than women" is a pervading theme that
can sum up a lot of gender relations in manga and anime. The idea is that women,
no matter how strong or independent they are, are actually looking for someone
who they can depend on and who will protect them.
In girls' comics, both old and recent, our heroine's mind is often full of devotion
and trepidition about her chosen male. It's sometimes highly annoying to read a
comic book where page after page depicts a girl whose mind is completely filled
with her adoration and respect (and worship!) of a guy she likes, her fear of
approaching him, her wondering what he thinks of her, wondering what she can
do for him, thinking she's worthless, comparing herself to other girls, and so on.
It is often assumed that boys are more stable, more reliable, more intelligent,
stronger, and more capable than the main-character girls. The males tend to
assume this as well, and take up the role of leaders and teachers.
Examples of this story are too numerous to list, but one particularly insiduous
one is Aim for the Ace, in which the entire manga, even though it's about a
woman tennis player, philosophizes on the inherent weakness of women, and
how men must train women to be strong like men. The main character the tennis
player, spends much of her time apologizing to male characters and blushing a
lot. One last thing that must be pointed out is that frequently the male is kept
in line by the female character (i.e., prevented from getting too "fresh") in a
very physical way. Frequently, in the more humorous manga, the female
characters must beat the male characters into a pulp to stop unwanted advances.
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