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Anime news and stuff

(An Essay —by Eri Izawa)
The stereotype image of Japanese anime and manga has lately gotten worse. Once upon a time, for those who knew, Japanese animation meant KIMBA THE WHITE LION, or BATTLE OF THE PLANETS, and SPEED RACER. It meant (to us who were kids at the time) some of the best and most addictive shows on TV, animated or otherwise. Once upon a time, a TV reporter would report on the sales of transforming robot toys in Japan, and not even mention the animated TV shows that spawned them.

Now, TV has picked up anime. Now, the WWW is filled with anime pages. Now, reporters show us sensational footage of anime fans in anime-postered seclusion, apparent victims of a new mental disease from Japan. And what is the new stereotype of anime in this suddenly anime-aware age? Things have gone beyond the "big-eyes and big-hair" stereotypes. For today's pigeonhole, try the phrase "big-breasted women, mechs, and lots of gore," and see if that doesn't sound familiar. For example, look at CNN: "...the standard for the cartoon genre in Japan ... usually involves a series of blood-and-guts battle scenes in futuristic space settings." Battles in space? Sure, some anime have that—but the majority don't.

Even beyond big-chested women is the implication of sex. Take a US mailorder catalog characterizing RANMA 1/2: they called it a "sex comedy." Action adventure romance, yes. Occasional nudity, yes. Sex? There wasn't a single sex scene in the entire series. Our main characters don't even kiss each other—except for once in a school play, where a layer of sticky tape covered our hero's lips. Perhaps the biggest irony is that the "big-chested women, mechs, and lots of gore" stereotype seems to be largely a product of the US market itself. The market drives most business decisions, and perhaps the fact that every anime in the US seems to have lots of large busts, mecha, and blood-n-guts may have something to do with the demand (or the perceived demand) on this side of the Pacific. Before anyone points a patronizing finger at Japan, perhaps a good look at ourselves is warranted.
How True Are the Stereotypes?
First off the bat: Many series do contain some nudity and scenes of some sort of sexually-tinged embarrassment (both male and female), but with some exceptions, the incidences are occasional, and are generally not central to the story. As for large-chested women: they are probably just as ubiquitous in American superhero comics as in Japanese manga. In fact, it might be argued that the American stereotypical style—ridiculously muscular men and ridiculously curvaceous women—is one of the influences that increased anime women's bust sizes (and anime mens' biceps).

What of the blood-n-guts and techie stereotype? Japan has had anime for decades now, and a sampling of the shows might produce the follow: a baseball anime, an anime for little girls about some friends with magical powers, a plain old comedy anime, and yes, one techno fantasy with guts and gore. Let's look at a sampling of a weekly compiled comic book for even one of the most violence-and-sex-fascinated group, boys. Let's take a fairly recent (1997 issue 15) SHONEN SUNDAY, one of the more popular manga magazines in circulation. With a rough analysis, and excluding the short-format gag cartoons (which are usually not story based), we find two general themes present in most stories: some sort of action/adventure or sports theme, and some sort of character growth and/or romance theme. Bluntly put, action/adventure/sports doesn't necessarily mean blood-n-guts. Often, it simply means tension at a crucial moment in a ballgame, or scenes of our hero (or heroine) hitting a golf ball. These scenes have all the gore of a tennis match. Common Aspects of Anime and Manga Most People Don't See The other category should give more pause. Romance as a category is fairly understandable, but character growth? One might ask what that really means. Let's look at FUSHIGI YUUGI. This manga and anime, whose target audience appears to be junior high school girls, follows the adventures of a normal schoolgirl named Miaka who winds up in a magical version of ancient China. Sure, she has adventures, meets deadly enemies, and even makes out with her boyfriend (quite a bit in fact). But the climax of this series, as steeped in grandiose good-evil battle action as it is, is one of the heart and soul. Our heroine, once a student overwhelmed with school worries and fears, has found more important things in life. She has found that caring for others and being cared for by others are stronger than adversity. She has found that she has the strength and ability to make a difference—as long as she doesn't give up. These realizations—more convictions, really—are what gives her the strength to conquer evil and (yes) save the world. Let's look at a boy's manga. One of the more popular manga currently running in SHONEN SUNDAY is ME GUMI NO DAIGO. Daigo is a young firefighter who has an uncanny ability to find and rescue people who are in trouble. While the series naturally has lots of action and some nail-biting cliffhangers, there is no combat. There is blood, but only on those injured in fires and accidents. There is no sex—only a troubled, vague romance between Daigo and a teacher who thinks he's putting himself in too much risk. There is no mecha or space scenes; this is everyday Japan. There is no weird science fiction or magical sorcery; the strangest it gets is Daigo's mysterious impulses, which practically drag him into dangerous situations to rescue and save lives. There is, however, plenty of internal emotional drama within our hero, as he at first tries to exorcise the strange impulses that pulls him to those in danger, and then later comes to understand more and more about himself. Finally, let's look at the 1997 much-trumpeted Sony Playstation game, FINAL FANTASY VII. It contains our stereotypical elements: action, combat, mecha, yes, even large-chested women. Yet to just focus on those elements would be an insult to the entire game. It would be missing the point. The game's events revolve around the character of the hero, Cloud, his relationships with others, and his thoughts, desires, fears—and his growth. He starts off outwardly a cold, almost heartless young man—yet inwardly small and frightened. We don't see it at first, but his worst failures are largely a result of his own inner hypocrisy and fear. But with the progression of the game—through the help of his friends and his help to them—he grows into what he really wanted to be: a hero, able to selflessly care for others, and with enough courage to look within himself and admit to what is there and overcome it. He has to first conquer himself, before he can truly succeed in his mission. That internal growth is the pivot-point of FINAL FANTASY VII, the inner flame that gives meaning to the (yes, stereotypical) story about people trying to save the world from evil. It is what makes the story real, the people sympathetic, the attempt to save the world worthwhile.
Aren't these aspects of the universal story of human progression and human personal growth? Most people, at some point or other, wonder who they are. Some of us get lost sometimes, putting up masks of one sort of other, covering up the most vulnerable feelings within. And some of us forget the mask isn't us at all. We make mistakes, we hurt others, we fail our own expectations. Yet throughout history, the happiest—truly happy—have been those who have had the courage to shed the mask and look within; they have tried to live true to the vulnerable ideals from deep down; they strove to accept their mistakes and learn from them. They dared to care, dared to strive, and dared to never give up.

This story, this message, is hardly rare in the manga/anime world. Look closely—you'll see this story is repeated over and over and over. So much so we can add this to our stereotype list: big eyes, big hair, big busts, big machines, blood-n-guts—and deep, personal, spiritual growth.

The other stereotypes are often there too, and yes, they can be enjoyable and entertaining, or they can be overdone and irritating. But to look only at those—to talk about only those, to promote only those—is to cling to the shallow picture. For many who know manga and anime beyond the stereotype, there is that common but little-recognized element that draws us in too, something somehow profound that reminds us of more important things.

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