Perceptions of Maturity in Anime
Anime has been on the consistent back foot in North America and is consistently seen as immature or not meant for adults. With sites like Crunchyroll, becoming more and more prevalent in North America more and more people are exposed to anime every day. Take for example a show like Kantai Collection: Kan Colle where its success in Japan alone that started as a game incentivised the creators to make it into an anime show as well. The show centres on a girl who has the “spirit” of a World War 2 destroyer. This coincides with her last name Fubuki and is attributed to the Fubuki class Japanese destroyer. The rest of the characters in the show are also related to World War 2 Japanese ships such as Akagi the aircraft carrier and Kongou the battleship.
With the amount of anime produced in Japan, and the range in genre and quality it is difficult for most people new to anime to wrap their heads around this form of entertainment. Not only that but the form and the visual esthetic is a lot for people to understand or even comprehend. It makes sense though that someone from North America would be very confused with the content in these shows since most visual aesthetic is in animated form and it is immediately associated with children’s cartoons. Shows that enforce this stereotype include Sailor Moon, Puella Magi Madoka Magica and Heart Catch PreCure.
These shows all share a common theme of a young girl who is given magical powers in order to fight evil and is easily associated with being only for girls. Often these girls are dressed in frilly costumes defeating evil creatures and such throughout the show. Often during comical moments the visual style turns to chibi and cartoony imagery. The term chibi is associated with how a baby looks and when a character from anime show is turned into a much smaller size with a large head and small arms and legs this means they have become chibi. The term chibi itself is slang in Japanese for “short person” or “small child”. As a side note there is a show in North America that has been well received with a large male audience but was intended for only a female audience. For those who have not heard of this phenomenon already here is a link.
To start to find what makes people feel anime to be for children besides the obvious cartoon imagery, let’s look back at the roots of where it started, and the target audience it was originally intended for as well as the multiple kinds of anime genres.
The Intended Audience For Anime
Anime is produced in Japan and meant to appeal to a very large demographic of “Otaku”. Although the term Otaku is not just confined to individuals who like anime in Japan, it will be used as a simple demographic specification. For a more specific understanding of the term Otaku go to Gaijin Goomba and watch his descriptive video. These individuals have a passion for anime to a point where there is not only collectible figures based on their favorite anime show, but also maid cafes which recreate some of the scenes from anime in an enjoyable café setting. A maid café by definition is essentially a regular café except the waitresses are maids and address you as master when you enter and address you the same way throughout your meal. This trend of maid cafes is so popular in Japan there is even a maid café in downtown New York called Maid Café NY. Beyond the animated form on television there is also manga and games which spans a huge library of content. It is very clear to see that Otaku have a huge array of content to choose from in order to keep entertained almost 24/7. However there are even anime shows which depict the real life products for Otaku such as maid cafés.
An anime that reflects this maid café aspect is Kaichou wa Maid-sama! where the main character is a high school girl and is the school president at what used to be an all boys school, and she is keeping a secret from her classmates that she works at a maid café in order to make money for her family. The café she works at is the tradition Otaku maid café with its traditional greeting at the entrance, where they address their customers as masters. There even times during the show there are events around certain genres of anime, such as dressing up as shrine maidens, or even younger sisters and having the customers be considered their older sibling. Anime since it is produced in Japan is largely intended to be viewed and consumed by this Otaku demographic and these maid cafe’s and other entertainment products such as games and manga support this demographic.
To understand more of what appeals to Otaku we need to understand their age, interests and other factors that make them interested in certain things. For example one can see that the demographic on the surface is largely male but there are plenty of female Otaku as well that have their own likes and dislikes. A show that accommodates the female side of anime includes genres like romantic comedies or male harems. A show that depicts the romantic comedy is called Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun. In this show the story is focused primarily on Chiyo Sakura who has a crush on one of her classmates.
The show divulges in unlikely and comical scenarios such as the boys misunderstanding that she is in love with him and giving her an autograph. On the flip side there are also romantic moments where she is alone with him and there is the usually heart pounding moment where you think they will get together. But then the comical side reappears and something interrupts their atmosphere. Suffice it to say this is intended for the female audience and reflects this by having a very emotional aspect. Besides the female orientation of anime there is also a very large age range and some otaku can even be adults and do not have to be teenagers and children. Suffice it to say the otaku culture covers a vast population of Japan and just focusing on an individual will not help us to understand what may makes others see anime as childish. However if we look not just at the individual but the entire culture we can see large cultural differences between Japan and North America.
Japanese Cultural differences
If we look at the kinds of programs in Japan we see not only is there a great difference in the way advertising is done, but also how live action television or even Japanese game shows are produced. There are clear similarities in the production of anime and other Japanese television show due to the culture it is intended for. For example in Kill la Kill the over the top action coincides with how live television in Japan is presented at times. When people from North America see this all they can see is the absurdity of it all and cannot get past and understand the underlying meaning that many anime have. For example in Kill la Kill the whole underlying premise to make us question if we are becoming too dependent on technology, and specifically wearable technology. Due to these placements of over the top action mixed with the cartoony style it can be difficult for not just North Americans but other country’s to get past the absurdity of anime, and everything happening in order to understand the hidden meanings left within.
Beyond the cultural differences we can also view that anime for the most part has a very unique way of depicting action sequences and comical moments. They usually depict a character overreacting and becoming more animated in the sense they seem less realistic than before. This tends to confuse North American viewers since they are not used to this in any form of media, besides maybe commercials and children’s cartoons. This however can be seen prevalently in Japanese television whether it be advertisements television shows and cartoons of different variety. In the end anime is used not just as a medium for entertainment it is used to depict and make you think about certain cultural issues
Anime as a Thought Provoking Medium
For those who do not know there are anime short films which depict graphic imagery in order to highlight an obvious problem. The most recent of which is a short film called ME!ME!ME!. In this short it depicts the life of an everyday Otaku, however it uses graphic imagery to depict the social effects of overconsumption of anime on his life. This short film is probably too graphic at times to describe in this article and would not do the content justice. An individual who has done justice to the content and thoroughly explained is Gaijin Goombah who broke down all of the imagery, the psychological and social effects anime can have on Otaku. Here is a link, for those who wish understand this topic more and fair warning this is not safe for work and you should investigate it on your own time.
Now most individuals from North America could see this short film as nothing more than eye candy for teenagers, and has no positive effect on them whatsoever. If anything some may only see it as nothing more than Japanese animated pornography. Besides this form of graphic imagery another anime short film called DyE Fantasy which depicted a similar form of graphic imagery. This is another short as well that is not safe for work so if you wish to researcher it be mindful of your surroundings. In this short it is posing the question that there is too much sexualisation in society on advertising. This is the way most anime is presented where there is underlying meaning to what is being shown, the same way artists have hidden meanings in their different pieces. This is another reason for North Americans to not see anime as a good form of entertainment and it comes down to the fan service and graphic imagery depicted in some anime shows and films.
Fan service Barrier to entry
It’s not just the cute animated characters that individuals from North America cannot understand, it is also the fan service or graphic depiction of the human body both male and female that makes it difficult for them to watch and enjoy anime. This argument has also been going on that there is too much fan service in anime and on the other side there are those who believe there is enough. Both arguments have weight and a good reason behind them but that is not what this article is about.
Continuing on it is obvious that in North American culture the use of the human body depicted in different ways is more often than not used in advertising to sell products and services, it is only used as a form of entertainment during events such as beauty contests. In Japan the human body is seen in a much more different way. An anime show that depicts a great deal of fan service is a show called Senran Kagura where the main characters are well endowed teenage girls who are also ninja’s. These girls practice their ninjutsu in a secret school and they are in a war with a competing ninja school for a very powerful ninjutsu scroll. The plot for the most part centers around five characters as they increase their ninjutsu skills and compete against the enemy school. Besides the shows plot through multiple scenarios the camera displays they full bodies but never reveals any private body parts.
On the flipside there is also the male variety of fan service in anime such as Free!. In Free! the main characters Makoto Tachibana, Rin Matsuoka, Haruka Nanase and Nagisa Hazuki are part of a school swim club. They are training to become the best swim team and compete in school wide swim events. Besides that visually throughout the show there imagery of the characters six pack abs and their manly physic. These visuals in anime being accepted in Japan can be attributed to the cultural effects of Japanese culture such as mixed bathing in Onsen’s. Mixed bathing is where both male and female patrons can bathe together in the same area. Due to the existence of mixed bathing in Onsen’s the Japanese culture is very content with the human body, and is not as prudish as Western society. In the end however it is very difficult for North Americans to get past this barrier to entry into anime and some can find it quite provocative.
End Depiction of Anime
Anime for the most part can be seen as childish, immature and sometimes even scandalous. However if you are able to look past these than you can discover many different hidden meanings in Japanese anime, the same way artists like to make the viewer question and make their own decisions on certain topics. An anime that reflects this very well has been done with Fullmetal Alchemist. In this anime show which only lasted one season it depicted racism, religion, and even scientology. A good example of racism depicted in Fullmetal Alchemist is the Ishval war that took place while two main Characters Edward and Alphonse Elric were still just children. In this war the main city state of Amestris goes to war with the outlying city of Ishval due to an officer stationed in Ishval shooting an innocent Ishvalan child. This war causes almost the entire extinction of the Ishvalan race and causes a racists bias towards Ishvalan’s wherever they are. Regardless of the material being depicted appearing to be for children it can still be appreciated by adults and kids alike. Different messages can be found in many different anime, and it is up to the viewer whether they see it as just flashy cartoon imagery for kids, or thought provoking questions in an enjoyable show.
What do you think? Leave a comment.