Whose Culture is it Anyway?

Whose Culture is it Anyway?

I own a kimono.

If you don’t know what a kimono is you’ve probably been living under a small to medium-sized rock because it’s not like it’s something exclusively anime fans would know about. Kimonos are a type of Japanese dress and in the range of somewhat, to way outdated in Japan. They still wear them, but as industrialism sets in a little more and their culture begins to fade a little bit, they reserve the kimono for certain occasions and certain positions.

This doesn’t stop people (aka me) from ignorantly going and buying this style of clothing while knowing not one iota of the culture or reason for its being. Which is not, particularly, wrong but definitely is problematic. I mean, that’s the very way culture begins to fade: when people come across its by-products but don’t stick around for or take an interest in the process.

In a way that’s what the early English anime dubs would do. They would alter or bluntly ignore the context and culture of what they were translating, completely assimilating it into their own with no regard to how the message would change if characters were geographically moved around or scenes were censored.

By the simple idea that, culturally, the same medium is appropriate for different age groups; where Japan views animation as being aimed at all ages and restrictions specific to the actual show that airs and America views animation as being for kids and only kids. This resulted in a ‘dumbing down’ of information and Americanization that leaves the viewer having learned nothing from the experience and blind to a gateway into another culture.

This, my Japan-loving friends, is the sub versus dub war.

But which way is really more culturally accessible?

If we’re going to be consuming foreign media we want it to be accurate. The closest we can get to that is to go with subtitles which, then, slowly raise a new problem: handling the two dimensions that surface when watching a subtitled anime. You see, dialogue is a great way to carry an anime’s message or just humorous wit and one has no trouble catching both it and the artwork when said art is visual and dialogue is auditory.

The sub changes that. It’s too much information for some eyes to handle and you have not even attempted to follow the story-line of an anime if you haven’t paused it at least once because too many people were talking at the same time or there were too many signposts on-screen.

The dub changes this. With a dub, we receive the right information through the right orifices but, there’s immense distrust here; engineered through the opening years of a fan’s introduction to anime being clouded by incorrect information (to the point of completely changing the plot) and annoyance, to fans outside of both Japan and America, who just can’t stand the accents!

Then again, how much cultural exchange do we really even get out of anime?

Well, if nothing else, it’s a gateway drug.

Advertisements

What is Anime?

What is Anime?

With the cheerful opening tune still ringing in the back of the mind the white clouds in the blue sky above the green cultivated land are visited by a burdened truck. Within the folds of the green machine’s load sit two girls sharing sweets. The elder sticks half her body out of the window made of furniture and large bags of what must be clothing but could be anything and calls to her father to offer him some. He checks after his daughters as he gladly accepts his eldest’s offering and they both look back to the countryside, made fluffy through the trees and clouds.

From the song that you don’t understand to the white text attempting to be as unobtrusive as possible (if you’re lucky) that explains it to you. And from the cinematography of the movie including the graphic intuition that you’re watching a painting come to life; the elements of Hayao Miyazaki‘s My Neighbour Totoro charm you into huddling into your knees, blinking a few times to oil your eyes, never doing so again so you can catch the subtitles and artwork at the same and make you think: ‘ahh, this is anime’.

You’re right; but what do you mean?

What is anime?

Is it a style?

Is it a genre?

Is it Japanese?

Is it art?

Anime can be thought to be very stylistic. It quite clearly looks nothing like the American cartoons, right? The differences not only include the way characters and settings are drawn but also the content one can find in an anime. Anime is for all people, people of every age; anime is not for kids (one branch of anime specifically; a branch some women would rip from the tree and claw off the bark with their own bare hands – manicure be damned – if they watched enough of it).

Speaking of branches on the sakura tree of anime: well, there are a lot of them. Anime is a fluid, versatile creature that covers every topic under the sun. There are even educational programme elements in the most abstract of shows, delivered in a format that is undisputedly anime plus nothing in the field quite fits into a category. I mean, they even had to invent new categories as the anime ‘genre’ flung up ideas that became so popular that similar shows continue to be made (the examples off the top of my head are the magical girl, mecha and, recently rising in popularity, game categories).

Anime and its new ideas are, in fact, so influential that they’ve thrown up the American-Japanese hybrid RWBY; a popular subject of debate. Now that throws the whole definition out of whack doesn’t it? Especially when you have Knights of Sidonia and similar anime cropping up afterward and looking a little too familiar in art style for it to be disconnected from the aforementioned hybrid. Yet the community’s done a bang-up job of either remaining in a moratorium or tightening the definition of anime to the point where holes in the theory abound. In the end, what makes Knights of Sidonia Japanese and RWBY American? Is it the nationality of who created them? Is it the location in which they’re created? Is it what language they start off in?

Of course not. Because those are all arbitrary details and are things we don’t exactly enjoy about anime. It certainly was never the highlight of my day to scour the internet for a copy of a show that’s made in a different country and a completely different language to my own. That’s not why we watch it.

We watch it because it’s art.

A viewer gets the easy end of the stick. They see the the dynamic motion and familiar art styles and, when these become a bit eccentric, they just assimilate it into the ever-growing whole of the mother – anime. But only so many words can be written on a leaf; so now anime is overflowing  and being poured out of the entertainment genre, where students can now be freed to study the thing.

Anime has too much of an effect (emotionally, psychologically, socially; for the people who watch at least) not to be studied and yet, because it is such a versatile thing and buried under stigma (like most things not given attention to in society) it’s difficult for someone with a passion for finding out the inner workings of the phenomenon, outside of Japan, to find enough credibility to get started. However, the recent breaking of barriers opens up new possibilities to people who hadn’t realised they were there – foreign creators.

Looking at it after the fact, Rooster Teeth’s RWBY is not the only intertextual, internationally integrated piece of anime in the world but it has inspired the minds of some to break down the segregational barriers of how fans think of anime and have encouraged even African creators to attempt to bloom into the industry. The kind of people not in it for the money but for the message. For the art.

If you don’t agree with me then at least consider that when it boils right down to it we want to ask if anime is worth it. If it’s all it’s cracked up to be and worthy of a second glance and maybe even dried out eyes. If it really is distinct in its boundaries and limited to nations.

And if not?

If not restricted to nationalities or age groups, men or women, pervert or saint: what makes a newcomer of any age or social background stop and observe the shower of cherry blossom options ever-growing on the anime tree?

What makes anime art?


I interviewed some great creative people to make this post happen.

I’ve made a highlight reel

Check it out if you want their answers.

Everyone Wants to Build a Bridge

Everyone Wants to Build a Bridge

Now, no well-adjusted fan has delved into the fandom and not found its pleasures too good to give up. Thus it goes: if you’re a book fan, you read/write fanfiction; if you’re a manga fan, you read/write fanbooks and fanfiction and; if you’re an anime fan, you watch/make an abridged version of it which other fans write more fanfiction of.

Basically, you’re not a fan unless you’ve come across fanfiction.

But that’s not the point of this post. I’ll be giving a run-down on the last thing I mentioned, the thing you have to check out if you’re a visual consumer of the anime variety; the abridged series.

The first, ever (or, rather, most well-received), abridged anime series was envisioned and created by LittleKuriboh; who abridged the old card-game show Yu-Gi-Oh to smashing success and popularity until his productiveness declined and he took a hiatus due to personal reasons. He has recently returned and started rebuilding his fanbase and, now, a voice acting career via patreon and several new comedy shows.

LittleKuriboh’s YGO:TAS sparked the immensely popular Dragon Ball Z abridged series by TeamFourStar that rivaled and, in some eyes, surpassed the originator.

Dragon_Ball_Z_Abridged_Logo
Dragon Ball Z Abridged logo.

It generated and perpetuated famous internet memes (at least within the circles of those who watch abridged series) and had its influence down into the fanfiction roots of Yu-Gi-Oh, with writers choosing between the exaggerated personalities the YGO cast had within the abridged series and the traditional or canon personalities of the regular series; as well as incorporating references to the abridged series and the little inventions of LittleKuriboh himself.

not brit
One of the most popular memes spawned off of YGO:TAS.

The series sparked a much-loved but short-lived spin-off abridged series of the spin-off of Yu-Gi-Oh.

Ygxtas
YGX:TAS came to an early end when its co-creators separated… geographically. They’re still good friends, I hear.

And has resulted in no popular anime being complete without at least a few of the first episodes being abridged.

TheAbridgedSeriesBannerSamllcopy
This picture features images of anime which have some of the best and most entertaining abridged series.

Abridging is a weird thing.

It gets its name from the intense shortening of the run time of an episode (20 minutes to 3-5 minutes in LK’s early days of YGOTAS) and, from the way the first few episodes are set out it seems that LittleKuriboh did intend to follow the plot of each episode and insert his jokes in between; but this soon faded into a full-on comedic approach that only properly picked up Yu-Gi-Oh’s story line every few episodes. This style is followed as the general template for the structure of an abridged series.

The creation and attention to abridged series has stabilized since 2006 (when LK released YGO:TAS) and remains unique among the kinds of fanwork one can do; in that it freely rehashes our favourite story in such a way that it becomes its own and is less of an offshoot than a counterpart to the original series. It finds a way to sidestep every category you try to put it in.

 

Read up a little more on abridged series; they have an interesting history.

 

 

 

Why We Don’t All Have to be Feminists

Why We Don’t All Have to be Feminists

I’m just going to come right out and say it… (takes deep breath and squares shoulders)

I’m okay with panty-flashes!

Kami-sama, that was hard (as things get when panties are involved) but, alas, it is the truth.

I’m okay with panty flashes and harems and boobs that defy the laws of nat- well, no; if there’s one (admittedly sexually exploitative) thing that I cannot tolerate it is breasts that have the potential to grow mouths and eat four year old children. I just can’t stand the way it breaks physics. I mean, with anime, there’s an expected level of childishly beating science over the head with fluffy bat, annoying the old stickler half to death, but sometimes (and these instances are rare) anime just crosses a line.

Monmusu 2
Monster girls from the new anime Monster Musume or Everyday Life with Monster Girls.

Are we… are we just running out of fetishes?

Not only do they do the thing, the one thing, that I cannot stand but this puts furry on a whole new level. Have they invented the new name for this yet? I don’t know, I don’t want to know, I don’t even want to be curious because we’re getting off topic.

What I want to be arguing is an acceptance or tolerance of these (well not especially this ^ this is up for debate). An acceptance of the objectifying panty, a tolerance for the dehumanising harem, a moment of silence for the poor woman who falls down every day because her boobs are too heavy.

Tough as it might be for some I don’t think I’m the only female fan of anime that can actually stand to watch this sort of thing, get a laugh or two out of it, refrain from buying a piece of objectifying merchandise just so I can stab it with a kitchen knife (that has nothing to do with ridiculous gender stereotypes; that it is just the only place to plausibly find a knife). This is because, on some deeper level, we can understand that men are just trying to recreate what we are starting to refuse to give them: an illusion of power.

In areas of gross offence, like not having the right to vote and equal wages; all the worthy battles to be fought under the banner of feminism, I see no reason to oppose or demean the efforts. There are women out in the world who are not as free in choice as I am and that is easily recognisable.

The line we  don’t want to cross is nitpicking.

Feminism has its time and its place and its fight but anime isn’t the battlefield.

A Girl on GirlxGirl

A Girl on GirlxGirl

It surprises me that, in Japan, being lesbian is okay… until you hit your late teens. Then it’s not okay. Then it’s evil.

This is in contrast to being gay (as in male and homosexual) where it’s just evil. From beginning to end. No leniency.

This is even represented in the names for these genres of anime and manga. Yaoi, I’ve found, is a Japanese acronym. It comes from Yama nashi, ochi nashi, imi nashi which translates to no climax, no point, no meaning. You can imagine my distress when I found out what fujoshi means; as a proud fan of the genre I don’t take too kindly to being called a ‘rotten woman’.

And right there’s another contrast between yaoi and yuri: the fanbase. Yaoi, despite being a depiction of the relationship between two men, actually caters to women and is largely drawn by them; whereas yuri caters to both genders in terms of appeal and popularity and, even though it blossomed after yaoi, rapidly grew in popularity.

 

yuri 1
An example of a ‘pure’ yuri relationship.

But I’m not here to compare the two genres, I’m not even supposed to talk about yaoi, I’m here to tell you that I watched something I have never touched in my life to give you a post on the cool things and quirks of the genre.

First would have to be the mystery of the name: no one knows exactly where it came from, not even producers of the genre, and the first time it was ever used was in a bara magazine (which would be Japan’s gay romance for men), ‘bara’ quite literally meaning ‘rose’.

This happened in the 1970s and the first man to use ‘yuri’ in this way, Ito Bungaku, chose it because he thought it to be a fitting antonym for bara. Ito Bungaku was the editor-in-chief of the magazine Barazoku (rose tribe) and thought yurizoku (lily tribe) would be appropriate.

Coincidentally (or intentionally), in the period of Japanese romanticism, the white lily symbolized the perfect woman: beautiful in spirituality and pure in sexuality; which may explain why we now get the two types of yuri we do. This would be the pure relationships (this is mostly what I came across on my adventurous romp through girls love) and the more racy, ‘impure’ relationships.

The former is accepted and, to an extent, even expected of young girls as they grow into women. The latter, by contrast, is associated with the couple suicide of a pair of teenage girls and is, therefore, easily considered a no-no in the culture.

Interestingly, the couple suicide mentioned above is what brought girls love into the public eye for Japan which is, indisputably, the worst introduction into that sort of thing, ne?

yuri 6
Another example of a ‘pure’ yuri relationship though this depiction can be compared to an image of friendship and the line between the two categories are blurred.

 

If you’re vaguely intrigued about Yuri and the genre (which you should be because who doesn’t love girls in intimate relationships? If you watch the ‘pure’ stuff it is literally like how you hang out with your best friends) go to Yuricon which has amazing essays on girls love and the yuri genre.

On My Profile Picture

On My Profile Picture

No, I am not an American white girl as the little circular icon that sits on the left of any comments I make has doubtlessly led some of you to think.

Getting up after that loaded statement; I’d like to think that despite that ^, you’re likely to get a lot better of a feel for me if you look at the icon and that it has nothing to do with what is actually in the image.

Yes, I own a pair of glasses but I have nothing else visually in common with my avatar and yet I identify with this ambiguously white/asian chibi-esque girl that will make whoever connects this blog to the real me take a step back and wonder at the strangeness that is a darker-skinned otaku.

I say this because I, myself (me), have been under the impression that I am an anomaly which is absurd because (and I’ll elaborate on this a bit later) anime – in my sense of the word – is not an ageist, sexist, racist etc. media so I’m not exactly having my identity oppressed (I don’t know, maybe it’s because I’m South African) just because there are no literal representations of my face that I can attach myself to in the anime that I’m in love with.

This blog’s grand opening untied a bag of misconceptions, if you’ll remember (those who don’t/are reading this post first should go back to the days when I was witty and made references to people that are funnier than I am). In that bag is not just the ‘anime is for kids’ or ‘it’s a guy thing’ misunderstanding but the third of the walls that anime breaks down: ‘it’s a white people thing’.

Let me ‘bruh-bruh-break’ this down for you.

I can tell you that the misconception goes deeper. ‘It’s an American white people thing’ would be the full and incorrect terminology because it’s not true but it feels true. And, though I’ve said that I don’t feel anime is a platform that excludes people, you have to look pretty carefully to find any characters of colour in the medium. This isolates those people of colour (initially).

This is definitely not anime’s fault and the Japanese are dealing with their own social conflicts but all girls of colour know how difficult it is to cosplay…

Can you see me in any of these women?

No?

That would be because the black woman’s character, in the majority of their representation, is a feisty, strong and fearless pillar of strength.

I, for one, would be ashamed to play half of these characters on account of the sheer size of their breasts.

Is Reverse-Harem Becoming the Norm?

Is Reverse-Harem Becoming the Norm?

 

Frequently, newcomers to the wondrous world that can only be called anime (or manga, whichever entry point one comes across on their way into this particular branch of Japanese-dominated culture) tip-toe in with a bag full of misconceptions. The biggest of these misconceptions is the idea that anime is for kids (hence the tip-toeing) and the second is that anime is ‘a guy thing’.

This is increasingly being proven untrue by a rise in more than statistics but in the very content of recent and popular anime.

In polls for the most anticipated anime of 2016 the female preferences came out on top. The top 5 of a survey done by Akiba Souken (a website that hosts polls on anime in Japan) featured a fairly even spread of male-targeted to female-targeted. Only one of the anime that guys most anticipated this year reached the top 5 of a poll by Charapedia (another poll and info website based in Japan).

These numbers mean that we are wrong and that anime is increasingly appearing to be an even, if not fair, playing field. And I say not fair because of this:

sexually exploitative anime
Screenshot of a google search I was on.

Putting Google’s outdated values behind, the objectification of men has, no doubt, become a discussion topic in the feminist community as well as a reality in shows like Free!! Iwatobi Swim Club and Kuroko no Basuke (No discredit to the shows themselves which feature captivating dynamic motion and, certainly in Free!!’s case, some mastery of suspenseful techniques). Sports anime featuring all-male casts are definitely becoming more frequent, more female-aimed and popular enough that second seasons are less of a question and more of a waiting game.

But is the increase in females within the anime-viewer demographic really behind these changes? Does this trend apply world-wide? Is it a bad thing?

All of these are tough questions to bring up in this post. There are, quite possibly, other factors involved in these decidedly feminine statistic trends. One possibility is that the blend of genres in individual anime these days might have the anomalous effect of drawing both sexes to the same work in a kind of ‘common ground’ of viewing material. Another thing not to discount is the exclusion of mentioning other genders and sexual orientations in these polls, which might also influence results.

However, there are certainly not enough worldwide surveys to test the gender demographics of such an obscure niche of entertainment (compared to the wider live-action TV and movie audiences). Though not necessarily a bad thing, I do think that the sort of topsy turvy turnaround that going from men on top to women with whips is problematic.

If we really are going to be stepping into an age dominated by ‘shoujo’ then, according to the trend that women tend toward action rather than romance anime, I don’t believe I am the only female who thinks that dark days are to come.

The Charapedia results with pretty pictures and better english