Why Hate on Anime? America’s Othering of (Another) Art Form

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TokyoPop. CLAMP. ufotable. VIZ Media. BONES. Usagi Tsukino.

To most of the people reading this, I’d assume few (if any) of these names represent nothing of any significance to them. I’d also assume that once I told you all of these terms are related to the Japanese animation industry I would lose a great deal of your attention or would garner a grunt, scoff, and/or eye roll. That’s been most of my experiences whether I’m talking to friends, family, or if viewing habits comes up in casual conversation.

I watch a lot of TV. Like, sooo much more than anybody else I know, and definitely more than you will ever catch me admitting to my parents. You can catch me binging on dramas like Mad Men and How To Get Away With Murder (a new favorite) to the comedic Shameless and Modern Family, and competition shows like Project Runway and the never-ending America’s Next Top Model, but I also fervently watch anime and read manga, its printed counterpart.

From Left: Ms. J Alexander, Tyra Banks, and Kelly Cutrone on the set of America's Next Top Model's 21st season

From Left: Ms. J Alexander, Tyra Banks, and Kelly Cutrone on the set of America’s Next Top Model’s 21st season

I’ve always been confused as to why I get negative reactions to involving myself in a completely valid art form. What about it offends one’s sources so intensely? When I ask why they feel this way, I get things like “It’s so weird,” “Those shows are crazy!” “Wait, you ACTUALLY watch THAT?”

Damn, boo, who hurt you?

Sure, not everybody’s going to like everything, but the reactions I get concerning this topic are always the most extreme. Many will immediately jump to some Americanized action show, in which the talent of the voice actors and/or instructions by directors often pale in comparison to their Japanese originals. I’ll give it to you, too, there is a lot that even a huge fan of the artform gives a side-eye to. And sure, there is a good number of “magical girls” and robot shows, but like any genre of anything, you can find some variety if you are willing and open to look for it. For example, Mahō Shōjo Madoka Magika looks like your typical “average-girl-finds-magic-and-saves-the-world” show, but things aren’t exactly so simple when two Machiavellian forces come into conflict; its big screen adaptation garnered it a nomination for Best Animation during 2014’s Japanese Academy Awards. Or you might like Usagi Drop, which is about a thirty-year-old man who ends up suddenly having to become the guardian of a six-year-old relative.

"Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica" a magical girl show with a dark twist

Mahō Shōjo Madoka Magika: a magical girl show with a dark twist

Rin and her adoptive single father, Daikichi

Rin and her adoptive single father, Daikichi

Another issue is that this unwarranted disdain is not universal for other animated productions. Disney and Pixar films from The Lion King, Aladdin, and Finding Nemo have become undisputed classics. What is the issue? In discussions I’ve had with many of my friends and family members, I just get the previously stated complaints of anime’s inherent “weirdness,” yet I can only remember one instance where I was told that they didn’t like the drawing style. It’s interesting because the “I’m too old for cartoons” card is played, yet dorm room Disney marathons are commonplace in college and “Let It Go” can be heard ad nauseam to this day from children, young adults, and parents. Let’s not forget that Frozen just broke a bunch of box office records, now!

From Top Left: A Bug's Life, the Toy Story franchise, Frozen, and Tangled

From Top Left: A Bug’s Life, the Toy Story franchise, Frozen, and Tangled

Sailor Moon and Dragon Ball Z were some of the first to break into the United States, and due to their roles in permeating the mainstream, to some extent, they have become iconic stories. But why haven’t more been able to break through to the mainstream from the various niche markets and late-night Adult Swim programming? This could just be a resurgence of American xenophobia, when we don’t like other cultures until they’re chic or profitable.

We do what we Americans love to do: change things so they better fit our culture even though it detracts from the artist’s original vision. Many anime and manga have accentuated many values that we are more frequently campaigning for, such as LGBTQ rights and feminism. Naoko Takeuchi’s Sailor Moon featured two of the female superheroes as lovers, but when I watched this show’s English dub growing up, they were apparently “cousins,” a fact I thought to be true until many years later (Okay so this is a bit on the stereotypical “action” anime side, but this is just hilarious how the American dub, well, interpreted these scenes). Still today, we are fighting for better representations of minorities as superheroes, lead actors in hit shows and films, and in fashion.

As a Black, Hispanic, gay man (I like to call myself Affirmative Action’s wet dream), it was hard enough to find a cartoon character or lead actor in the media as I grew up, unless we count Static Shock and the one Black guy on Power RangersSailor Moon had slaying these hoes by moonlight since 1991 with a developed female cast with relatively forward-thinking ideals, yet that didn’t and won’t make it into the mainstream…but I guess we can just wait for Frozen to do a Vogue or Elle and have the public pretty much blindly swear that this was the first animated production that was feminist and showed  a gay couple  for like .000587 seconds and was SO PROGRESSIVE. God bless.

Sailor Neptune and Sailor Uranus: superheroes and lovers

Sailor Neptune and Sailor Uranus: elemental superheroes, lovers, and overall ass-kickers

The United States has a deep-seated problem with our intercultural practices. The greatest irony lies in the fact that we pride ourselves on being the “Great American Melting Pot,” when, if anything, we act as a multi-layered sifter. Fellow college blogger Kate Haddock states, “If we keep treating the world as a binary where same is ‘good’ and different is ‘bad,’ how will our generation improve and take good ideas from others … Isn’t it time to stop pushing away the ‘weird’ and to instead find the merit in the ‘different?’”

Peace, love, and Blue Ivy Carter,

Jalen

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