Anime in America: The Adverse Affect on Women

Nei in Bleach

Since the release of Akira in 1988, anime has been steadily gathering a worldwide fanbase. The United States has adopted the Japanese cartoons into its culture with relative ease. Many children are exposed to anime at a young age, and some develop an extreme interest that remains through adulthood. This recent poll taken from MyAnimeList shows that the popularity of anime in America is exponentially higher than any country excluding Japan.

Statistics

The cultural appeal of anime has a lot to do with having varied subject matter. In Bad Subjects, Issue # 13, Annalee Newitz theorizes “part of what makes anime so appealing to an American audience is the way it so closely resembles American popular media.” Anime has multiple subgenres that are similar to Western animated television and movies, but the standards are different than most American cartoons. In the U.S. cartoon movies or series are generally marketed towards children, and they refrain from mature subjects such as violence or sexuality. In Japan, this is not always the case.

Due to its overall rise in popularity, anime is being created for a wider variety of audiences. The industry capitalizes on the success of certain genres and tropes, so they have begun producing them in bulk.

The two main types of anime and manga are 少女 shōjo; which is meant for girls, and 少年shōnen; which is marketed towards boys.

These genres nearly always include tropes, or generalizations. For instance, the main character of a shonen anime is almost always the most powerful. The plot in shojo is usually centered around romantic drama. These tropes are essentially unavoidable, even the more negative ones like the hyper-sexualization of female characters for the purpose of fan service. Kotaku Staff Writer Cecilia D’Anastasio defines fan service as “…the practice of lacing gratuitous sexuality – and especially female sexuality – into an anime is known as “fan service”.’

Female Portrayal in Shōjo and Shōnen

Fan service in anime is essentially unavoidable. Panty shots and protruding cleavage are in nearly every episode, putting unrealistically proportioned cartoon women on display.

Evangelion
In Evangelion, scenes like Shinji falling onto a naked Rei and then getting showered with her underwear are, at first glance, unnecessary fan service.

Because of the constant amount of attention that the industry gives to sexualizing women, it has become a trope for anime media. Japanese cartoonists emphasize the ‘classical’ feminine aspects of their characters’ bodies to the point of perversion. Both shonen and shojo anime genres are subject to the influence of this trope.

Although shonen is known for badass action scenes, plot development, and diverse characters; the women in some of these series often serve no purpose other than to look sexy and keep men interested.

In the shonen animes where the women are represented as being more than a sex symbol they are often still drawn with unrealistic proportions. In One Piece, Nami starts out as a kick-ass thief who is only interested in getting paid. She’s a woman so she has breasts but they’re normal sized and covered with a t-shirt. However, One Piece, in all it’s fun-loving glory, is not immune to the effects of the anime industry. The previously innocent Nami has now been sexualized to the extreme. Her breasts have tripled in size and instead of her trademark white striped t-shirt she wears a skimpy bikini top.

Nami One Piece
Nami in One Piece.

The overall quality of the One Piece anime is suffering, and the only reason Nami has become ridiculously developed is to attract viewers. The industry demands this objectification of women in shonen series because of it’s traditionally male audience. Even though women are active members of the shonen fanbase, they are extremely misrepresented.

The worst offenders are shonen series that have weak storylines. High School of the Dead, a show about high schoolers fighting zombies, has appalling treatment of their female characters. The most powerful female character, Saeko, is subjected to three panty shots in one fight scene. Instead of focusing on her incredible swordsmanship the creators demean her to nothing more than a sex object. Another female character, Rei, is armed with a gun, and naturally the main character Takashi is ‘forced’ to have to fire at the zombies while it’s still strapped to her chest. The rest of the scene revolves around the resulting jostling of her boobs every time he pulls the trigger. The action in this particular series is bland so the industry uses fan service in a vain attempt to keep the audience’s attention. This problem is constant in shonen series as well as avoidable.

Shojo is no exception. Anime for girls usually revolves around romance. The main female characters are super cute and the boys they crush on are ridiculously hot. You’d think this would be the one subgenre where women are represented in a positive way, but that’s not always the case. Chobits is traditionally a shojo manga but the relationship between the main characters Motosuwa and Chi is borderline perverse. Chi is a robot girl that Motosuwa finds on the street. The scene where he tries to activate her seems like it’s written for adults, not young girls.

“…right from the outset, it looks like a sexual relationship. Yet the reader or viewer has constant reminders that it only looks like sex. In fact, Motosuwa is just turning on a computer – nothing but a switch between those legs, folks, just a button to turn her on. Yet the scene is deliberately disquieting, dirty and perverse, since it looks like a sexual relationship, and the idea that Motosuwa is activating the female computer, that is, turning it on, serves to reinforce this sense that something sexual is happening.”

(Lamarre 51)

Kids read Chobits expecting a simple and sweet storyline and instead get constant sexual innuendos. Chi is also impossibly proportioned and often wears skimpy, practically nonexistent clothing. The girls who read the manga or watch the anime idolize Chi and want to resemble her, but they can’t because it’s not physically possible.

The Adverse Affect on Women

The explicitly sexual female portrayal in anime does more than attract a male audience. This degradation makes many women too uncomfortable to watch the offending shows, so the anime industry often inadvertently loses the viewers that they’re trying desperately to attract. From the exaggerated proportions to the skimpy outfits, women are feeling misrepresented by the anime community.

Female characters in all genres of media often get put into ridiculous clothing in an attempt to make them even more sexually attractive. These outfits are needlessly sexy and rarely relate to the character’s personality or power type. Rangiku in Bleach is a member of the Soul Society, in which all the reapers (men and women) wear the same outfit. However her’s is completely open in the front exposing most of her abundant cleavage. The outfit style does not affect her soul reaper powers although it may contribute to her personality; she does seem to love rubbing her breasts in men’s faces.

At the start of Bleach, none of the female characters were hypersexualized. Orihime was busty but she wasn’t bursting out of her clothes. Due to the pressure from the anime industry Tite Kubo has begun creating his characters with more provocative outfits and body types. In the current volumes she is more developed than ever. Orihime went from a semi-realistic curvy girl to an impossibly proportioned still girl.

Orihime
Orihime’s breasts being exposed like this completely distracts from every other aspect of her character.

Even some of the new younger female characters in Bleach are sexualized. Nel is introduced as a goofy toddler and later it is ‘revealed’ she is actually a full grown woman.

Nei in Bleach
Same person. Anime logic.

Assumably the anime market has been heavily saturated with male viewers. The producers of new series have been forcefully adding fan service to shows in an effort to appeal to the male viewers and increase revenue. They are more than willing to objectify women for profit. Even though young women all over the world watch anime and are just as interested as the men, they continue to promote unrealistic body types.

In reality it’s impossible to be a size 2 and have a double d cup size. Women are needlessly and unrealistically sexualized by the anime industry in order to pander to a male audience, giving real girls a negative and unattainable body image. By constantly producing television shows that portray women in ways that defy physics the anime industry is creating an impossible standard of beauty that no real girl could ever live up to.

The Unnecessity of Sexualization by the Anime Industry

The sexy anime girl trope is completely unnecessary. Fullmetal Alchemist is one of the most popular anime series in the world, and it doesn’t rely on jiggling breasts to get an audience. The author, Hiromu Arakawa, wrote one of the most well rounded and entertaining shonen mangas of the past decade. Her female characters are generally attractive, but also realistically proportioned. Anime that has a good plot does not need to rely on tropes or sexual exposition to attract popularity. The hyper-sexualization of women is really a desperate attempt by the anime industry to attract male viewers, while in reality it only distracts from the plot and polarizes women.

Statistics

There are significantly more female viewers for animes that have less male directed fan service. Kuroshitsuji, or Black Butler as it’s known in the West, has some overt sexual tension between the two main characters but nothing explicit is ever animated. It has the most female viewers out of any of the four animes listed in this graph. Strike Witches 2, the anime with the most male viewers, also sexualizes women the most.

Sailor Moon

Sailor Moon is one of the most popular animes in the U.S. Although the girls do not look realistic, they aren’t treated like sexual objects but instead individuals. Each sailor has their own costume and although they are dressed in short skirts and tight tops their outfits represent their abilities. The sailor girls look more like fashion stars than sex objects. This anime is particularly popular amongst women because they are being justly represented. The fact that the women in Sailor Moon aren’t sexualized may be a direct result of having a female mangaka (someone who writes manga.)

Sailor Moon
Sailor Moon’s Weapon the Moon Stick.

Mangakas write their works with hyper-sexualized female characters because of pressure to conform from the industry. The Japanese market has stretched beyond its own country’s borders and their media is more popular than ever in America, especially with men. A large factor in this success is that the bouncing breasts and lifted skirts feed into the fantasies of adolescents with their overly sexualized women. Teenage boys may pick up a series because they’re entertained with the fan service, not because they want to know what happens in the show. This is a huge problem. Women in these anime often exist to provide non-vital fan service. Even if they play an integral role in the plot, that will not save them from being sexualized. The anime industry is perpetuating the archaic concept that females don’t matter unless they’re hot. Just like when western shows have their female characters wearing needlessly sexy clothes or they include a scene where the extremely hot woman is in the shower. There are a few exceptions to this rule; Winry Rockbell and OIivier Armstrong in FullMetal Alchemist, but even those badass women are drawn with desirable bodies. Princess Jellyfish is a great example of a positive anime about accepting yourself for who you are, but this show is definitely in the minority.

Another example of anime not influenced by industry tropes are the Studio Ghibli films. Produced by one of the most visionary animators of the century, Hayao Miyazaki, these movies have worldwide popularity, stunning plots, and emotional depth without objectifying their female characters in any way. “Many of my movies have strong female leads – brave, self-sufficient girls that don’t think twice about fighting for what they believe in with all their heart. They’ll need a friend, or a supporter, but never a savior. Any woman is just as capable of being a hero as any man.” -Miyazaki

Studio Ghibli

The Perceived Impact Of Anime On School Children writes “…electronic media, particularly television play a significant role in the development and socialization of children.” A child who grows up watching anime will believe that the impossible body standards from their favorite shows reflect reality. It may cause some young girls to develop a negative mental image whenever they don’t grow up to meet those standards.

The Future of Anime in America

It seems anime’s popularity in America is nonlinear. There are spikes in U.S interest, like when Attack on Titan was released, and then people gradually lose interest again.

Most all of the famous female mangakas, although they still follow the traditional anime style guidelines and have hot women, do not focus their female characters around their looks. So the problem extends beyond industry and actually has a lot to do with the way men perceive women. Men almost completely control the industry, in the United States as well, and allow the release of animes that depict perverse women because they want to sell copies to other men.

The industry needs to start including women in their decision making process and they need to realize that there is just as much potential for profit within a female audience. For instance, in North America, half the people that attend anime conventions (giant meetups for anime fans) are actually women.

Demographics

At a quick glance, it’s apparent that male and female attendance has reached almost 50-50. Attribute it to the fact that cartoons, comics, and videogames from Japan attract a wide audience. Cartoons can be directed at adults or kids or both, with some shows targeted at women (like Sailor Moon), and others more generally at men.” (forbes.com)

Hopefully, in the near future, there will be more people who notice this negative trend and take action against it. It would be unfortunate for young women to grow up hoping to meet these impossible body standards. Instead of having constant fan service the industry should focus on creating well rounded realistic female characters. The relatable characters will attract a wider female audience and ultimately boost revenue. Exemplary animes like Fullmetal Alchemist showcase realistic role models for young girls, and attract attention worldwide. It’s time to end the degrading hypersexualization of women in anime.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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76 Comments

  1. Great article. Here are a few series with major female leads that aren’t sexualized:

    Hourou Musuko (Wandering Son) is about a middle-school-aged boy and girl who are both exploring their gender identities. (The anime only covers a small portion of the full story, so to get the full story, you have to read the manga.)

    Kuragehime (Princess Jellyfish) is about a really frumpy nerdy girl who’s obsessed with jellyfish. She meets a cross-dressing guy who’s really into fashion, and he helps her turn her jellyfish obsession into jellyfish-inspired fashion.

    Nodame Cantabile is about an uptight, perfectionist guy who attends a top music university and meets an eccentric pianist girl. The series is about their musical lives and falling in love.

    Chihayafuru is about a girl who’s obsessed with a game called karuta, and she starts up a karuta club at her high school. She and the other members compete in karuta competitions.

    Flying Witch is a pretty low-key series about a witch girl who, when she comes of age, must leave home and learn to become a witch. It’s pretty Miyazaki-esque at times.

    Juuni Kokuki (The Twelve Kingdoms) is about a girl and her friends who find themselves in another world and have to do what they can to survive. She becomes the leader of one of the kingdoms, and she learns how to rule despite her lack of experience as a typical high school girl.

    Kino’s Journey is about a girl who travels around to different lands on her talking motorcycle, learning about their customs and histories.

    Mourestu Pirates (Bodacious Space Pirates) is about a girl who’s inherited the captaincy of a space pirate ship from her dead father, and she and a largely female crew set out on a life as space pirates. She suddenly has to learn to lead this crew and deal with everything else that comes with being a space pirate.

    Sakasama no Patema (Patema Inverted) is about a girl from an underground civilization who, after a series of events, ends up on the surface where everything is literally upsidedown. She meets a boy on the surface, and they work together to figure out why things are the way they are.

    There’s a lot more to anime than the highly sexualized series, Miyazaki’s movies, and Pokemon.

    • Princess Jellyfish was adorable!

    • Adding Akatsuki no Yona, Akagami no Shirayukihime, and Pumpkin Scissors to the list. The female leads in all three of these are strong characters in a political landscape that none of the characters (male or female) can truly navigate on their own.

      Akatsuki no Yona: Yona, the sheltered princess of a nation whose king is a pacifist ends up on the run with her bodyguard after a childhood “friend” kills the king and takes over the throne. She learns to fight, hunt, and learns more about the kingdom through her travels, and the strained relations with the neighboring kingdoms.

      Akagami no Shirayukihime: An orphan girl is chosen to be wed to a prince(or noble, don’t remember) on account of her unusual hair color. She says, “hell naw,” and runs away. Meets the prince of the of a nation running around the forest with his friends/advisors/knights (one guy, one girl). Goes on to study medicine, cure a plague, secure a peace treaty with the first prince, and is well on her way to becoming a royal pharmacist(highly respected doctor).

      Pumpkin Scissors: Set in a fictional european country in a vaguely WWI era. Follows the story of corporal Randall Oland, an experimental supersoldier who is currently a homeless bum because the war ended. He is still in the military, and gets an assignment with a war reparations department headed by a young noble-woman, lieutenant Alice Alvin (or Melvin depending on the translation). They go around trying to help communities that were damaged by the war, and expose corruption and abuse of power by government officials and some of the noble families. The anime is short, but the Manga is ongoing.

    • Adding Eve no Jikan (same director as Patema Inverted), Kaiba, and Fantastic Children (although the cast is mainly male).

      Also a Kino no Tabi-esque manga called Shoulder-a-Coffin Kuro. It’s fantastic IMO.

    • michael
      0

      NANA – about two girls named NANA, one who is an independent, self-assured rock star moving to tokyo to start her band, another who is an dependent, boy-crazed but sweet and loyal girl moving to tokyo to go to university and live with her boyfriend. about relationships, both sexual and not, and how they affect us

      Honey & Clover – college art students struggle to figure out their purpose in life, what art means and how to deal with love and relationships. it’s centered on a male character but the female characters are super important and strong; the main female character is a famous child prodigy who struggles under the weight of expectations, both her own and others’, for herself.

    • Dave
      0

      Thanks so much for this!

  2. Shu Hussey
    4

    I dislike this, and I dislike it more because the hyper-sexualized female characters are often girls, not women. The incessant fan-service panty shots of big-eyed schoolgirls have completely put me off almost all anime. I hate that the women are almost all paper-thin stereotypes, passive and dim. I don’t get the allure of any kind of entertainment that tells the same kinds of stories about the same kinds of people — doesn’t matter if it’s Harlequin romance or anime, I just plain don’t like entertainment that fails to bring anything new to the table.

  3. Makes me not want to even try watching the majority of the genre.

    Miyazaki’s works are the sole exception.

  4. Cornell
    2

    I really hate how many of them are portrayed as dumb, weak and overly sexualized. Some years ago, I started watching this Anime that looked incredibly bad ass but I was really bothered by the melon boobs they gave the main female character. It was so unnecessary, it annoyed me.

    I’m watching SNK (Attack on Titan) right now and it has to be the least gendered anime I’ve ever watched (mind you, I am not an avid anime viewer). Men and women are treated the same, they behave the same (same strengths and importance) and there is no sexualization in the anime itself.

  5. I stopped watching anime because I couldn’t stand how the women characters were. They were all so annoying.

    Exceptions are attack on titan and one punch man, which I watched within the past few years. I rarely watch anime because I hate the women characters are so unrealistic. Everything is so sexualized. I started to feel disgusted by anime and the kinds of people who watch it (mostly perverted or weird losers, aka weeaboos. Not everyone who watches anime is a loser, but there are a lot of losers who watch anime! I didn’t want to be the kind of person that has no self-awareness, where anime actually influenced my perception of the real world).

    I miss good anime with good storylines and art that don’t rely on selling sex to get people to watch.

    • michael
      0

      yeah when i was like 10 years old or so, i caught some anime-type show on TV and thought “Wow, anime is about really cool badass warrior characters in neat fantasy settings”

      Turns out almost none of them are actually about that and the ones that are, are all dragonballZ with different characters.

      there are some notable exceptions though. X/1999 was dope as hell. that’s one of the closest things to what i thought anime was. cool characters doing cool stuff in a cool world.

      as an anime/video game fan you get used to turning off parts of your brain to ignore the story. but it’s so good when you get to a show where you don’t have to do that. NANA is one. The Wire, a real life show, is another. Hell, even shows like “The Walking Dead” require you to turn off your brain. So it’s not just anime that has clunky writing. Just that anime relies on the same tropes so hard that the clunky writing becomes immediately obvious once you see the first moe girl show up. or the main character says “I’m just a lame high school student!!!”

  6. Anime isn’t exactly a unified moe fanservice conglomerate. I prefer works by Miyazaki, and the more “out there” shows like Kino’s Journey, stuff by Yasuhiro Yoshiura (Patema Inverted, Time of Eve), older sci-fi that had Range Murata as the head designer (Last Exile, Blue Submarine #6) – basically anything where women are portrayed as actual people.

  7. I grew out of my anime phase some years ago, but I tended towards stuff that did not inherently sexualise the women in it. For instance, the few times I saw xxxHolic’s Yuuko being sexualised it seemed implicitly for the sake of making Watanuki uncomfortable, which always makes me laugh.

  8. The over sexualization of women is one of the biggest reasons why I don’t like watching anime. I feel the same way about the shows like Game of Thrones too. If I wanna see almost naked girls with super big boobs I’ll go watch pron, there’s no need to make every other scene about sex. It just ruins the storyline for me.

    • I hate the oversexualized characters which is in a lot of popular anime. Once I see signs that the anime is going to have a lot sexual gags im done watching it. The only anime ive been ok with that is Kill La Kill, because its hilarious.

  9. Anime is from a different culture that values extreme thinness. So, no, I’m not expecting to see cute plus-sized anime girls and I’m not gonna tell people of a different culture how to create their media. I can simply stop consuming it if it bothered me that much.

    Now, I hate harem anime. I even hate reverse-harem anime except for OHSHC. For both genres, the protagonists are boring and undeserving of all the attention they get from the opposite sex. But I also hate how women end up acting over men in anime and the sense of female competition instead of female camaraderie. I also hate the “ugu kawaii~” moe girls because they’re annoying and people just don’t…act like that. It’s kinda sad that so many boys are into a persona that just isn’t realistic. However, I solve this by simply not consuming those forms of anime. Mission accomplished

  10. Not a fan. Especially when it’s depicting kids in their school uniforms. Sexualizing that shit really makes perverts come out of the woodwork. I’ve seen grown male tourists on trains snap pictures of prteens because “wow! Just like my anime!”

  11. Sina Sun
    1

    I collect erotic anime, hentai & manga prints, so… 🙂

  12. I live in Japan and I know elementary school students who love One Piece despite the main female character having gigantic brst and a bikini top.

    Most Japanese anime caters toward gender and hardcore fan culture. What’s not made specifically for children in mind is made for hardcore fans including fan service. Fan service is also prevalent in idol culture as well.

    If the anime is made for male viewers, then obviously the skirt flips, panty-shots, etc will exist just like sexualized women in Hollywood movies made for men. Same thing can be said for anime made for women.

    It doesn’t bother me because I don’t particularly like shounen anime and manga anyway since there’s Too. Much. Damn. Talking. They’d have to add in the boob shot because otherwise the viewer would fall asleep listening to Taro-kun’s inner most thoughts for 25 minutes straight.

    I will also say that One Piece is probably the most racy anime that’s on public TV here even at night. All others are part of cable packages or online only. Many overseas anime viewers don’t realize that majority of anime is never intended for the average person to view normally. It’s usually viewed by fans and within fan groups.

    • – They’d have to add in the boob shot because otherwise the viewer would fall asleep listening to Taro-kun’s inner most thoughts for 25 minutes straight.

      This made me laugh out loud. It’s so true, and the reason I have spectacularly failed to get into Japanese visual novels.

  13. In general, in media I don’t mind fan service.

    I guess I always like the “eye candy” girls in general, whether movies, comics, or anime. Like one of my fave science fiction movies is Planet of the Apes and the (mute) female character is about as fanservice as they come.

    I guess it’s the mix of trashiness and campiness that appeals to me.

    It just bothers me super young teenagers being sexualized in anime. Like, yah a lot of young girls have t and a, but at least make it realistic or something.

    I second anyone who likes anime to check out the anime meant for older girls. Nana is literally one of my favorite anime’s and it’s one of the best representations of young adult female friendship I’ve seen in anything. And there’s def some lesbian subtext in places so it’s easy to ship them both!

    • michael
      0

      NANA has a very sexualized character as well in Hachi, but it’s done in a realistic way, taking a literary perspective on how she has sex, why, with who, and what the implications are. Rock NANA as well and her relationship with Ren, super sexy. But it is handled realistically and the plot is literally about people and how their relationships, sexual or not, either work, or don’t work for them and why. Honey & Clover is another one that is more love than sex based but does similar things, realistically treating its characters, so that to this day 20 years after I first watched it I’m still thinking about what some of the characters did to figure out my own problems.

      Compare that to less ambitious, more stereotypical anime where the guy trips into the girls boobs because that is funny and sexy apparently (not really). The shit that immediately makes you shake your head, not because you are a prude from 2000 years ago but because it’s just unnecessary and breaks your suspension of disbelief and respect for the characters.

      Sex, love, romance, these are some of the most important things in life, yet it’s damn near impossible to find a show that actually treats them in a way you can learn from. NANA and Honey and Clover were one of the first looks I saw (any any media) into “Hey, we can write realistically and actually teach you lessons about how to act and how to cope with these things.”

  14. I dunno–I think it’s too simplistic to say that “anime” objectifies or overly sexualizes women. Certainly, some anime do, but many do not. In this article you talk a lot about some of the most famous and popular anime; but remember that there are literally hundreds of thousands of anime and manga titles, that cover virtually every storyline and genre, so anime like Bleach and Fullmetal Alchemist aren’t really representative of the entire medium. I should point out as well that, while the blatantly exaggerated sexualization of various anime women and girls is certainly a problem, the lack of this type of fan service doesn’t necessarily mean that there is nothing wrong with the way a series portrays female characters. I’ve seen series that have their female characters dress perfectly sensibly but still treat them like garbage.

    As a minor point, Chobits is not aimed at girls. It’s aimed at men. The sexualization of its central character is deliberate and conscious throughout.

  15. I thought fan service wasn’t restricted to hypersexualization but included the development of plotlines to fit fan narratives.
    I liked the way your article borderline addresses scopophilia and the state of women in media as being simple objects for the pleasure of male viewing (defined as “to-be-looked-at-ness” by film theorist Laura Mulvey in her incredible paper ‘Visual Pleasure and Narrative Pleasure,’ which is an inciteful and famous read for articulating feminism in media.)

    🙂

  16. I think it would depend on how the director approaches the material. If a wanted a fun watch with some suggestive content, I would definitely go for Fairy Tail which takes it to a different level. But on the other hand, if you were to ask me about a more serious watchlist, I’d pick FMA.
    All in all, a fine article. I also think you could look at seinen if you’re interested.

  17. I’ve watched a lot of anime, hundreds of series/movies/one-off specials, and as a whole, I like how there’s more diversity in personalities for everyone. Characters who break gender stereotypes (looks- and personality-wise) are a lot more common. They might still be in the minority comparatively, but they’re still more common than what I’ve seen in western media.

    Yeah, there are the dumb, over-sexualized series that certain demographics are obsessed with, but those types of gags and series aren’t quite as common as the stereotypes surrounding anime make it seem. There are a lot of other series that are aimed at different demographics that do things differently and have different tropes.

  18. I actually don’t mind sexualized women in anime as long as they’re in control of their own sexuality. Shows like Cowboy Bebop, Michiko & Hatchin, The Woman Called Fujiko Mine, Black Lagoon, and quite a few others feature women who are unashamedly sexual, but they’re treated like actual people. Shows like these avoid tropes like “accidental boob grabs” or “voyeuristic upskirt camera shots” that rob female characters of their sexual agency and force a male gaze onto the viewer.

    But even shows that are full of mindless sexy fanservice don’t bother me nearly as much as shows where female characters are infantilized (or simultaneously infantilized and sexualized, which is even worse). I am so fucking tired of seeing teen/adult female characters who are absurdly childish, innocent and gentle… especially in shows that are pretty obviously being produced as fetish fuel for adult men. Even fluffy “cute girls doing cute things” shows with no overt sexual content take on a creepy, voyeuristic tone when you know that the fanbase is primarily made up of adult men.

    It would definitely be nice to see more diversity in body images, but the vast majority of female anime characters are teenagers and most Japanese teenagers are thin… so I guess I’d first like to see more adult anime women.

    Ultimately, though, there are plenty of anime with great female characters that are light on fanservice… you just have to know what genres to look for. “Josei” anime (shows that are targeted towards adult/older teen women) are a good place to start. Mystery, supernatural and the less action-y sort of scifi shows tend to handle women pretty well, too. And there’s a small but growing number of female anime directors who are all worth checking out.

    • “I actually don’t mind sexualized women in anime as long as they’re in control of their own sexuality.”

      To me, that’s the difference between a sexual character and a sexualized one. Showing a woman who’s in charge of her own sexuality for her own sake is one thing; sexualizing her, such as the “accidental” boob grabs and up-skirt shots you describe, feels altogether different to me.

      I really like the way you expressed everything in this post; thank you for articulating it so beautifully and for saying this as someone who clearly knows and likes the genre.

  19. Well Japan certainly has more female leads and main cast in their media than America ever will. I can do without all those overly sexual animes though.

  20. As an Asian women, it’s disgusting to see guys wanting to be friends/get to know me just cause I’m Asian and their preconceptions of it through anime. To be fetishized in such a way is sick but also upsetting as many wouldn’t see past that.

  21. I find it disappointing when an anime with a great storyline still feels the need to include fanservice (looking at you No Game No Life!). But other than that, I know I’m not the intended demographic for the pure fanservice shows. Some are funny though, like Rosario + Vampire!

    I’d rather watch Eden of the East, Black Butler (but stay away from the fandom), Baccano!, Durarara!!, etc.

  22. Women are over-sexualized in every type of media, not just anime. It’s nothing new. At this point, I treat anime as a joke for the most part. It’s entertainment and nothing more. There are some anime shows that are deep, but a lot of it, especially the ones that make it to America, are in the shounen genre so it’s mostly guns and mecha and violence and breasts.

  23. Adrianne
    1

    Goddamn not every episode needs super up front fanservicey lewdness, which some series’ are guilty of. There’s a different genre for that, and if you’re into it, whatever. But when it starts to bleed into anime that’s unnecessarily gratuitous it’s just like

  24. OkaNaimo0819

    A problem that I have with Seras Victoria’s outfits in Hellsing.
    We have to remember that teenaged girls will wear shorter and skimpier clothing anyway (or they used to; maybe it’s different now), so some of the outfits may reflect actual teenage rebellion. Still, large breasts really piss me off (especially with Ukraine’s portrayal from Hetalia). And those naked shower scenes are NOT NEEDED.
    Another thing to consider is the sexualization of men. Especially in Free! Technically, these guys are teenaged boys, but they have the muscles of grown men. Yes, they swim and work out, but I do not think they would get that buff so quickly. And they are shirtless a lot of the time! It’s not just girls who suffer in anime; boys do, too.

  25. The evidence presented in the article is quite convincing that sexuality plays a large role in anime.

    Questions that come to mind:
    1) From what is stated, it is clearly a revenue-driven phenomenon. If so, how does one change the trend, without onerous government intervention (which I believe would actually “drive” it more)? Clearly, the current trend is going further into sexualization.

    2) Is this a cultural issue? Clearly, Japan still dominates this animation form – is their anime going through the same changes? Or, is this change more prevalent in U.S.-oriented anime?

    3) Since it appears that anime conventions are attracting 50% women, why hasn’t the changes started to occur? Could there be an underlying wrong assumption that all women detest where anime is going? Another way to phrase this: why are women attracted to the anime media if it currently is so sexist?

    Personally, I am not an anime watcher, so a good portion of my exposure to this form of animation came from reading this article.

  26. Jiraiyan

    As a little boy, I loved fanservice. However, as an adult, I find it more distracting and annoying than titillating or funny. Fire Force (which I generally love) has a character Maki that is largely just fanservice. Great article.

  27. I love anime, but I’ll nope right out of a show that oversexualizes its female characters. It’s not fan service for me… it’s fan disservice that completely breaks my immersion in a show. There are a couple of shows that have handled female sexuality without being gross about it, but they’re few and far between.

  28. It’s disappointing to see a series with beautiful animation and then bam, unnecessary upskirt shot and/or massive jello boobs (I’m looking at you, High School of the Dead and K). So much more irritating when they’re young girls.

  29. This is one of the more prominent reasons I don’t watch it. I’ve tried a few different ones but it just makes me feel uncomfortable. Not for the drawings themselves, just what it conveys.

  30. I love Attack on Titan, Claymore, all the Miyazaki movies, Sword of the Strager. But I’m having really conflicted feelings about Seven Deadly Sins, which I want to enjoy but the female characters (and sometimes the male characters) are just absurd.

  31. It makes me roll my eyes, but it’s hardly the only place I see female sexualization. I ended up incorporating it into my generic anime drinking game. If a scene compels me to shout “BOOBS!” everyone drinks. It helps me to notice when a show doesn’t draw its women like that. I think the characters are usually interesting either way though.

  32. They’re too sexualized

  33. Ainsworth
    1

    I watch a lot of anime and enjoy it very much. It’s a cartoon and not to be taken seriously.

    • It’s media. It’s to be critiqued, just like any other form of entertainment.

  34. Miyazaki films are a great exception. Those are magical, and I cherish them. The women and girls in his movies are the antithesis of the vacant moe stereotype. They’re free to be fierce or brave or foolish or loyal or ingenious or compassionate or whatever they’re meant to be, and if they’re children, they’re allowed to be children.

  35. I have only watched a handful of anime series and have had no issues with the portrayal of women in any of them.

  36. Munjeera

    Great critique and so applicable to so many genres in the media.

  37. Great article! It put to words something I’ve been saying for a long time — there’s a huge female market out there for anyone that cares to open it up. I think ultimately what needs to happen is more female artists need to occupy the upper rungs of the industry, as when you have the same kinds of people running things, the industry starts to get very insular, which ultimately affects the quality of the shows we get to watch. Even hardcore fans must be tired of this — the same rehashed plots, scenarios, and characters.

  38. Good article (other than a few typos).

    I’d be interested in seeing a deeper dive on this. The article mentions that media has a significant effect on child development, but there could be more there. I wonder if studies have been done on the influence of anime specifically on American children vs. the regular misogyny and sexualization of women in western media. It would also be neat to see how anime-influenced cartoons (Avatar, Samurai Jack, to a lesser extent Steven Universe) take anime tropes and flip them. There’s a lot to discuss here, and I appreciate this first pass.

  39. I love anime. and of course, anime childrens cartoons are superb

  40. amazing insight. I didn’t know about the “fan service” I just thought the creator’s enjoyed it. I too agree it is a shame that they sell themselves short in feeding these negative biases men create to objectify and ‘unmanify’ ladies, but it has an adverse effect where men exalt women and praise them for doing dangerous duties. I believe they sell themselves so short. I look back on shows like Pingu, Tom & Jerry with such pride. They are gender neutral more or less, simply put because they aren’t human. There is the big ‘cooking mama’ in Tom & Jerry, she was no less fearsome and intriguing than sexy because of her powerful build and chest and her enigmatic essence. I wound’t want to ignore the Studio Ghibli workshop, where they really prove that anybody and anything holds a lantern of powerful light, one which, if tended to dearly, will overpower darkness. So why is the over-sexualized scene today so much less evanescent. I reckon it’s partly publicity. Normally there is a myriad of good anime to pick from, but as you say, your personal favourites are being degraded for the sake of spunky boys. I think the adverse effect it has on the male psyche cannot be overlooked. In fact, it may bring balance to some people, it may remind some men of their position in power, as it may too to some women. I believe certain people will gravitate towards sexualized content for all sorts of reasons, so a ripple on the river won’t change things for long, what is certain to have an effect is to bring about a strong character in oneself, changing something ‘upstream’ i.e. the mind. Having said that I think that if certain content wishes to be borderline pornography fantasy then they should focus on doing that, they should define their genre, and then Other ones should remain true to their guns. Let us not forget the androgynous superpower that was ‘L’ from Death Note, and many other notable mentions…

    To summarize I will talk about my own character. I myself have gone through the cycles of addiction to the many sorts of harmful vices this Earth & our Culture have to offer, but I cannot say for certain if I wish my whole existence were innocent, or sheltered, or if I want it to be demonic, vulgar, or otherwise. I do not know if there is a universal balance for these sorts of things, one which works as a fail-safe for avoiding crime, rape, punishment, sexualization…or maybe I do but I am afraid of the implications it would have on the human psyche…(some sort of mind-control drone effect, which some may say began with christianity, but would be wrong as they are completely different fundamentally)
    But what I can say, from any side of the spectrum I may find myself floating in between; I still possess an ego. One which caters to my basic needs for food, and love. In certain senses my other urges such as violent or lustful ones are just as legitimate and valuable as the lesser, or for the sake of being euphemistic, shall i say; more holy urges.

    I always contradict myself as we all do, it is part of the mosaic of man’s consciousness. I confess that my tribal urges are just as much a part of me as my sophisticated ones, inasmuch that, sophistication of man is birthed in our wish to protect and develop, which is very much a sexual, primitive act. I wish to send you my strength in these times.

    For the sake of yourself, to better yourself, mold the evil, possess it, so you can harness it’s power and do good with it. Empower yourself by understanding evil, you are only as good as your enemy if you truly understand them. Only then can you beat them.

    Without light, darkness is abyssal. Without the dark, light is blinding.

  41. Stephanie M.

    I am *very* new to anime. I’d be interested in your thoughts on new or reviving anime series, such as Avatar: The Last Airbender and how they portray or treat female characters. The same is true for stuff like Sailor Moon, or animes based on fairytales or classics like A Little Princess. I’m especially interested in the latter because the characters in such tales are sort of “locked into” uber-feminine, antiquated roles.

  42. Dr. Vishnu Unnithan

    I have not seen much of anime and reading this article makes me think it was a wise choice. Spirited Away, Your Name and Death Note were some titles I liked.

    • michael
      1

      it’s like anything else, if you look for metal music, most of it is crap but there are a few bands out there that will blow your brains. genres are an “ideal” and only the best works actually meet the myth.

      try NANA, Honey & Clover, Attack on Titan for a few that are pretty good. Gintama is the funniest thing I’ve ever seen in my life.

  43. very good read, opened my eyes

  44. Joseph Cernik

    A very good article. I remember getting these books for my daughters years ago and the sexual was not in them, or, perhaps, just not as obvert as it is now. I remember somewhere in the last year or so picking up on of these books and started wondering if they looked like that when I bought them for my daughters, talked about that with them and they don’t remember this over-the-top sex. I wondered if these books still appealed to girls or whether they were aiming at a male audience.

  45. jongsuk
    1

    I haven’t watched so much anime.I start with kaichou wa maid sama, kamisama kiss.. Then I start watching from other genres like death note. And I was so mesmerized by their characters.Upto this time I was happy to be an anime fan. I always thought just like those amazing male characters girls characters are also so amazing, then I search for best female characters. Then what I actually get is a list crazy girls with those big… I search again and again but no better result.Then I get to know what are women in anime. I was really disheartened. I really wanna ask why can’t it be women . I literally cry on knowing this side of anime which I like so much. Now I really don’t like to watch anime.

  46. Blackcat130

    I agree that anime often uses panty shots and close-ups of the female chest as a reoccurring joke/gag to an obscene level. But, I’ve always understood it as just that a joke. Character’s like Nami who reveal a lot of skin shouldn’t be written off as being merely objectified, as to how these characters dress and handle their sexuality is an important part of their character. A good example of this would be in Naruto. As the series progresses Ino’s outfit becomes far more revealing, while Hinata continues to dress conservatively. Hinata does this despite being considered the most well-endowed girl in her age group. This is because of her personality. Hinata is far more modest when compared to the other girls. While Ino is arguably the most confident and vain girl of her group. Ino puts far importance on her looks than other characters. The way she dresses throughout the series reinforces that idea.

    While I’d love to see more varied female designs and personalities, my problems with female characters in anime rarely have to do with their treatment sexually. Don’t take this as me writing off your point about anime women receiving biased treatment in terms of fan service. This bias does exist, but often there’s more to how they’re depicted than meet the eyes. Your example of Rei from Evangelion is proof that. The scene you choose where Shinji falls on a naked Rei with here panties scattered about was meant to mock how anime continuously uses they idea of panty shots as a joke. Rei merely shrugs it off and is largely indifferent to Shinji seeing her nude, and doesn’t slap him until she hears him saying something bad about Dr. Ikari. But details like that are often missed.

  47. Burkely Hermann

    Like the other commenters, I would say this is a good read as well. The fact that anime is more popular in the U.S. than in Japan raises the question: who is this anime being made for, anyway? Can it even be considered a “Japanese cultural product”, as you could call it, anymore? In any case, this article is well-argued and I agree with its conclusions. Without a doubt anime has an adverse affect on women. There are very few series which do not have at least some fan service. Sadly, that seeps into a lot of anime with LGBTQ characters. I appreciate the author brought up Sailor Moon as not objectifying women. I haven’t watched much of Kuroshitsuji / Black Butler, and have not watched FullMetal Alchemist, Princess Jellyfish, One Piece, Evangelion, Chobits, Bleachm High School of the Dead, or Strike Witches 2. After watching Cardcaptor Sakura, I would say that it includes well-rounded female characters, so that would be a good addition to your article, as would an anime I watched this morning, Burn the Witch. I agree with the conclusion that it is time to end “hypersexualization of women in anime.”

  48. I agree with you with anime shows like ‘God Eater’ many of the female characters are over sexualized. That show is clearly aimed at men. But every once and awhile they show a musclear shirtless guy. but they are clearly more devoted to the male viewers. And they were probably just trying to arouse the girls. and set a body imge for the men.

  49. Raven Kirk

    I love watching anime, and I tend to avoid anime that sexualize women. The minute I see big breasts and little attention to their personality and abilities, I turn it off. I do agree that they should include suggestions from women as to how they want female characters to be represented.

  50. Great article, agree with a lot of what you have to say. Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood is my personal favourite anime series, and I am a fan of Miyazaki. I think it’s a shame that many shows with hypersexualised women are quite good narratively, and I’m sure I’d appreciate Noragami and Code Geas more if they were more self-contained and didn’t rely on these unnecessary tropes. I see the appeal of fanservice, boobs are great, but it is kind of sad haha

  51. Noah Kaufman
    1

    I Completely agree, Over sexualization of women in anime really pushes me away from most series, but I also have noticed anime and manga that flip the trope entirely, to fight back against this sexualization. Like JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure for example, often sexualizes the men in the series, and even shows the femininity of men and masculinity of women. It really pushes back against the gender conformity, and shows that men dont have to be manly, and that being more effeminate does not make you less of a man, and being more masculine doesnt make you less of a woman.

    I wish there were more LGBT+ characters in anime, and I hope Mangakas include them.

    (Sorry if this doesnt make sense, Im a bad writer)

    • michael
      0

      masculinity and femininity are, some slight biological and mental differences aside (look it up!) just social cues anyway. you’re telling me women can’t be tough, brave warriors, and men can’t be loving, thoughtful companions? that’s not a healthy way to look at things. a person should be balanced between the “Masculine” and “feminine” and lean more towards one when it’s required. And as far as appearances go, men used to put on wigs and wear makeup. The feminine ideal of beauty used to be, get as fat as possible. So these are just fashion statements.

  52. Hey! Just wanted to say the reason why Chobits has more sexual innuendos is because it’s actually a seinen manga/anime, not shojo! Seinen is meant for adult men and often times has sexual themes in it because of that. In Shojo manga or anime, girls are nowhere near as sexualized as shounen, in fact the ones mostly sexualized and objectified are the men because shojo commonly has a more female gaze than the male gaze in shounen and seinen. If there is a form of female objectification in shojo, it is mainly the supporting females always having more curvaceous “womanly” bodies than the main female who then feels insecure and jealous because she doesn’t have bigger breasts/more curves/looks too plain in comparison to the girls around her, making her feel less feminine because of that idealistic woman view.

    Not that this isn’t a great article, just thought I would give a headsup to anyone curious since I am currently studying this!!

    Hope this helped anyone <3

    • Christopher Collins
      0

      yeah, as a dude who likes chobits but feels it’s pretty cringe inducing at some points, it’s clearly written for guys. you have basically a cute innocent girlfriend you found on the side of the road that you have to teach everything, she lives with you without you having to do anything, and then she even starts liking you just because you take care of her, or something.

      but she’s cute, clamp are art goddesses, and the anime has a killer soundtrack. so there.

      but yeah chobits is the exact sort of thing why anime and visual novels get discredited (and often rightfully so) as worth watching by any self-respecting person.

      while video games just have generally clunky writing, anime and visual novels have the clunky writing plus things that would be legitimately embarassing to watch with another human being sitting next to you.

  53. Nick Percent
    0

    You spoiled Bleach for me, I didn’t realize that Nel became a full grown woman. I’m in the middle of the Hueco Mundo arc…

  54. michael
    0

    i’m a dude. as an atheist i don’t subscribe to views, mostly sourced from religious tradition, in my view, that sex and/or the female form is sinful in some way. if an anime can show all the guys walking around shirtless on the beach, some bikini girls are not going to kill anybody.

    my sense is that sex isn’t bad, and looking good isn’t degrading to women. both sex and beauty are good things. i follow a lot of asian models who have no problem looking classy in a dress or rocking some lingerie. being sexy and showing it to make money and/or get attention is not mutually exclusive with having a personality. also, while it’s not average, there are plenty of women with large breasts. having a cut six pack is also not normal but we don’t hear guys complaining about that. while you don’t need to be a weightlifter or have DDs to be sexy, that is kind of the “spectacle” version of beauty that gets easy attention, similar to a giant explosion in a movie. magic mike is not a representation of any guys i know, but i’m not upset about it because 1) i know it’s meant to be sexy for women and 2) unlike women, men have plenty of entertainment that represents them in non-sexual roles.

    where i think the real problem is, and where i agree with you and similar arguments in general, is that what is degrading is being ONLY perceived as eye candy. for example, the 3 main girls in Nisekoi are all meant to be cute and sometimes sexy, but they all have actual personalities and are pretty endearing in their own ways. they have arcs. they have houses and families. they are interested in different things. they have different reasons for liking the main character. now it’s not literature by any means, but they feel like people. on the other hand, you have plenty of female characters in media that solely exist to be looked at/be love interest material and, unless it’s a harem situation, are often the only female character in the plot. that in itself is also not necessarily a bad thing; i wouldn’t object to a male character being in a story just to be Sexy Guy. But I would object if 99% of the guys i saw in stories were just brainless, bland 6-pack guys of different romance novel character trope flavors fawning over the protagonist girl. because at that point i would feel like i couldn’t relate to any of the guy characters. or perhaps more importantly that the guy characters don’t represent the real world in a meaningful way where i can learn from them and keep suspension of disbelief.

    gender isn’t necessarily how we relate anyway. gender is only important when it divides characters, such as who likes who, or if there is a girls’ club or team or something. but in plot situations where it could be a boy or a girl, it’s simply a human plot element. for example, i relate to onodera’s character more than raku’s in Nisekoi because i’m more like her, probably. marika also. i relate to the particular problems or motivations they have. it’s only when you start looking for aesthetic or gender-specific issues that gender even becomes meaningful for a character.

    that’s my perspective as an outsider. obviously a female is going to be able to talk with more passion or investment in feminine issues. To me, it seems there are legitimate points, but honestly, the only way to really change this is to get more creators and production companies on board with your vision. I hate today’s radio music because it’s just as boring as one-dimensional big titty girls, but it’s going to keep selling because people like it and there’s not a whole hell of a lot I can do about it. Except make something I do like or support those artists and companies who do it for me.

    • michael
      0

      PS for amazing depiction of women/girls and just really good damn writing in general in anime, my 2 favorite anime: Honey & Clover, and NANA

  55. Gene Chow
    2

    I mean at the end of the day, that’s never going to happen. Sex sells and that’s a fact. You can blame capitalism, the patriarchy, or something but that doesn’t solve anything. The only thing media will bend to is the general audience and young men with a healthy amount of sexual desire is a very easy and very vast market to hit. It’s like trying to get rid of pornographic media. Also

  56. Metta
    0

    I agree with this!! I used to watch anime as a child and growing up but always felt it was unnecessary and uncomfortable when they show the women with the unrealistic body proportions. I loved Naruto as a child but as I rewatched it again as a Adult there are some scenes that are unnecessary and uncomfortable just like you said, in the war arc there’s a woman with blonde hair and everything they show her its just an from below boob shot again and again to the point where I actually want to just skip that part of the series just so I can watch it fully. I wish some authors keep that stuff to theirselves. It’s nasty and I’m especially hating when I see children in those shows being portrayed the same way as a grown adult when its just a kid in a skirt and they show under the little kid’s skirt. Its very sad and very very disgusting. I hate anime alot these days, also to the point where the only how I’ll watch it if my partner wants to watch a movie. I thought My Hero Academia would be better at it cause the beginning season but …sigh its just as worse if not worse since these are high schoolers with their costumes barely covering their overly disproportionate bodies. Smh.

    And to the person who said this shouldn’t have a bad affect on women or the society, it does when you got women and children being constantly raped, attacked and overly sexualized because of stuff like this that is shown on TV. Human trafficking is here and children are getting hurt. Anime needs to do something where they ATLEAST protect children and STOP giving these perverted MEN and WOMEN ideas about children.

  57. john
    0

    These same people who hate unrealistic sexual depictions of anime girls simultaneously LOVE beyonce and Katy Perry and Lady Gaga Arianna Grande and other REAL women who have had enough plastic surgery to keep a Mattel factory going and who strut around at government events and the most televised events in all of America twerking and shaking their butt (for who else but men) and singing about how they want to have sex all the time with men (and sometimes women, woah!!! \s)

    That is also unrealistic and harmful to girls, but because they sprinkle in something like “Girls run the world” in their song while their entire butt and breasts are exposed in skimpy outfits on television then it’s okay.

    I tend to agree with most of you, these shows aren’t appropriate and I hate that because a lot of the times you want to share these stories with your family but you can’t because there’s too much sexualization, but you all don’t have that same energy for things like pop stars, or “sex workers”, etc. so I’m not here for your double standards. If this is damaging to women and girls those things are too.

  58. Joshua S
    0

    It’s really hard to take this seriously when you’re complaining about Highschool of The Dead, that’s like complaining people are having sex in porn, it’s a trashy fanservice show with uncensored nudity. It’s fine if that’s not your kind of thing, but that’s the purpose of the show, everything else is secondary. As for fanservice as a whole, I hate it when it is unwarranted, but don’t mind it when it doesn’t hurt the atmosphere of the show. I’m also not sure what fanservice Madoka Magica was supposed to have, it’s a pretty grim show, and Strike Witches is clearly another actual fanservice show, not justa show with fanservice in it.

  59. Ely
    0

    There’s the unrealistic body standard issue, but there’s also a psychosocial issue. Growing up reading manga I personally had no problem with how the woman body was portrayed in manga since I had an already high esteem of mine. (I wonder where that went ;_;) But as I teen I never realised how abusive some of relationship in shojo are, and grew up thinking that was okay, that was romantic, that was love. And that influenced how I see relationship in real life. Same for boys being served plattera of fan services and objectified women/girls, get influenced in their perception of women and relationship with them.

  60. Dave
    0

    Any shonens with non sexualized female leads?

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