Monday, February 6, 2017

The Otaku Moralists

A couple of months ago I wrote about a new website (and niche movement) which tried to apply western feminist ideology to anime and manga, without taking into account that Japanese pop culture (and wider Japanese society) is not the same as in the west. There was also the bizarreness of applying a western ideology to a foreign entertainment not produced with that market in mind. I found it rather similar to the phenomena of Christian fans applying their ideology to anime and having difficulty with overtly sexual or demonic themes. If your ideology clashes so much your entertainment choices you have difficulty enjoying it, you really need to find entertainment suited to you rather than tiptoeing through it, or attempting to change it to suit your needs. I recall the rather vocal dislike for ero anime (erroneously called “hentai” by western fandom) in the 1990’s where anime fandom webpages had banners proclaiming “Hentai Free Zone” or the like.

In the last couple of years I have really noticed that certain segments of fandom are vocally complaining about sexual elements of anime and manga. What utterly surprised me was how prudish the complaints were. Sure, there are obviously people complaining about certain series where the main draw is fanservice or other overtly sexist elements which I totally understand. But what blew me away in the previous season were the complaints about shows such as “Sound! Euphonium” and “Flip Flappers”. Neither are shows you’d normally consider to be controversial or have offensive content, however this doesn’t stop the new otaku moralists finding something objectionable in these shows.

First up “Sound! Euphonium”; now most normal human beings would consider this show to be pretty wholesome with relationships being shown in a very chaste way. However like the rather bizarre criticisms of “K-On!”, this series has a small band of high profile detractors who point out it sexualises teen girls. “K-On!” was accused (and continues to be accused) of framing scenes in the male gaze, which essentially means the camera is presenting women in the show as objects of male desire. Of course the claim falls apart when you realise that the director of the show, Naoko Yamada, the head screenwriter, Reiko Yoshida, the character designer, Yukiko Horiguchi, and most of the episode directors, storyboard artists and animation directors are women. Plus the show was broadcast on the Disney Channel in Japan and there really isn’t anything sexual in the show (unless you’re a weirdo and see sex everywhere). I'm finding “Sound! Euphonium” is in the same boat as “K-On!” when it comes to weird prudishness by anime fans. So apart from Kumi Kaoru’s really weird take on “Sound! Euphonium” which I have previously covered here, a few other high profile western fandom figures have had problems with the show. First up Erica Friedman, self-proclaimed lesbian icon, speaker, writer, and founder of Yuricon & ALC Publishing;

She had difficulty with the first episode of the first series where the main female characters are momentarily concerned about their appearance and a teacher enforces school dress codes as a couple of girls hitch up their skirts to make them look shorter. In total the scenes add up to less than a minute in a 24 minute episode. Even so, aren't these scenes representative of real life? Don’t real teen girls obsess about their appearance? Don’t real schools enforce dress codes? And what if you didn’t agree with Erica assessment of the show?;

Yes, you’re the weirdo, not them! Let’s check the details on that episode; episode director and storyboards; Naoko Yamada, animation director; Shoko Ikeda… Why you awful and creepy arsehole women!  A local blogger also recently suggested that episode 7 of the second series had a scene which contained the “Gainax Bounce” (i.e. gratuitous bouncing breasts). Here is the scene in full;

Did you see the bouncing breasts? You didn't? You weirdo, you’re obviously not staring at the girl’s chests enough and not mistaking shadow for bouncing boobies!. Besides the non-bouncing going on, yet again the episode was created by a number of women in key staff roles including Haruka Fujita who was episode director and storyboarder. Our local blogging friend also had the gall to suggest that one of the main characters, Reina Kosaka, should not have an (unrequited) crush on the music teacher in the series, Noboru Taki. Seriously?! Students shouldn’t have crushes on teachers? Like this stuff doesn’t happen in real life?

Much in the same way, “Flip Flappers” has also been subject to accusations of sexualisation from people such as Amelia Cook from the Anime Feminist. It’s an inescapable fact the show is about female teenage sexuality, however when Cook criticises the first episode for having a “grabby robot”, she is blind to the fact the main character, Cocona, has an amorphous fragment embedded in her thigh, which is a key part of the show and revealed towards the end of that first episode. Is Cook being disingenuous here? I honestly don’t know. The fact is “Flip Flappers” was the original creation of Yuniko Ayana, yes, yet another woman, who is a fan of the Yuri genre and in a recent tweet admitted that she forced the show’s staff to place a swimsuit episode into the series. “Flip Flappers” also has numerous female staff working on the show including Kotomi Deai (director of “Rolling Girls”) as an episode director.

It really seems a lot of “progressive” anime fans are no better than the Christian right prudes of old such as Mary Whitehouse and Fred Nile. They see sex everywhere and rather surprisingly seemingly see depictions of female sexuality as a threat. Whether or not they realise or understand that many of these depictions of female sexuality are actually created by Japanese women in the anime industry, I really have no idea. To me it’s rather clear; these new otaku moralists are fine with wiping out depictions of female sexuality by female creators. I really find that to be an appalling state of affairs. What’s even stranger to me is that in a broader view of mainstream fandom, popular shows like “Westworld” and “Game of Thrones” are full of violence, sex and “problematic” content, yet anime fans are catching the vapours over what amounts to inconsequential scenes not more than a couple of cuts (or seconds) long in otherwise wholesome shows.

Sure this probably has to do with the western world’s view on teenage sexuality being a topic not up for discussion or exploration (which is only a recent shift, see Gabrielle Carey’s 1979 novel “Puberty Blues” for example), however I can only see it as one thing; a silencing of women expressing female sexuality in fiction. When Whitehouse and Nile did it 30 years ago, they were prudes and moralists. When anime fandom does it now, while wrapping it up in progressive language, they're still prudes and moralists. If you have problems with how Japanese women choose to express themselves and their characters sexuality, move on to another hobby. It's fine to criticise certain aspects of anime as well as Japanese culture as whole, but when its this prudish and moralistic, especially towards women, then I really think you should reconsider why you're in this fandom.

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