A Response To Miyazaki: The Dark Side of Anime

Hayao Miyazaki
The influential Hayao Miyazaki.

“Anime Was A Mistake”

Every fandom has a dark side. This is nothing new. For every aspect of fandom where people can demonstrate a passion for their medium, there is always something negative that can take hold. Recently, influential director Hayao Miyazaki, made a claim that “anime was a mistake” which has been met with a wide variety of responses for anime fans and detractors alike. However, as things often are, this quote has been taken out of context and overly generalized. This article will explore the ramifications of the quote in more detail to promote better understanding of the controversy. We shall also delve into the possible ramifications this statement may create as a reflection on the anime industry and fandom.

In truth, this quote has been created to generalize what Miyazaki stated in early 2014. His specific concerns were with “otaku” and hardcore fans being reflective of the creative process of anime. He felt that many of the creators were pandering only to hardcore fan bases and not using reality as a basis for many series. This could be suggesting that many series feature characters who lack many basic human characteristics such as the ability to change and develop.

The imagery used for this logo is actually Totoro from My Neighbor Totoro, one of Miyazaki's beloved classics. Basically the Mickey of Japan.
The imagery used for this logo is actually Totoro from My Neighbor Totoro, one of Miyazaki’s beloved classics. It represents an example of the wholesome approach to his works to reach a broad appeal.

Understanding Miyazaki

Miyazaki is one of the most influential people in Japanese animation. His work is so popular that it has even found mainstream success outside of Japan. This is rare among many creators of anime and manga. Even audiences with little knowledge or interest in anime tend to enjoy his work. This is due to his unique style. Though much of his work is fantastical in nature, he often draws directly from his own personal life experiences to create his characters. His stories are very grounded in the human experience. This may be why his work is more accessible to Western audiences. His comments suggest that he considers himself separate from the general anime industry.

In a sense this is true, as his work is more distinctive than most. However, his statement is naturally generalized. While there may be some problems with some anime produced, many of the series vary in audience, style and general quality. Statements like this could create an overly simplistic generalization of what anime is. It’s not that Miyazaki’s concerns were totally invalid, it’s just that the context has been rather overblown.

Anime has a wide variety of genres and demographic audiences. Naturally, some shows reach certain extremes.
Anime has a wide variety of genres and demographic audiences. Naturally, some shows reach certain extremes.

The Extreme End of the Spectrum

The concerns regarding pandering to hardcore fans are relevant to some extent. Still, this type of concept could be applied to any fandom. There are always going to be people on the most extreme section of the spectrum. Some fans may become obsessed with the properties they enjoy. It may go beyond collecting merchandise and attending conventions. Perhaps some fans will become so enthralled with certain shows or comics or games that they tend to socialize less directly with people. This is where Miyazaki may be suggesting that anime has some of these sociological symptoms. One significant example is the portrayal of women in many of these shows. They are often drawn in hyper stylized and unrealistic proportions. This may create image issues for young women who may start to emulate anime characters as the template for a healthy body. This is more common than one would think and potentially dangerous. In addition, these characters are often simplified and overly objectified. For some young viewers, this may create unrealistic views on personal interaction. If a fan allows their interests to take the place of normal social interaction, it could potentially interfere with a well rounded social life. This type of issue could be applied to any extreme in any fandom.

These types of series can also create a negative view on what anime is to those who aren’t aware of the vast varieties available. While some viewers may keep an open mind, the risk of a bad first impression is rather possible. It’s these types of issues which have constantly prevented anime from gaining more of a mainstream following. Though the medium has grown more popular in the west, there is still a major image correlated with focus on underdeveloped characters and too much focus on the pornographic. It’s important to understand that since anime contains a massive variety of series appealing to many viewers, that things such as hentai or only a small part of the industry. It would be like lumping in pornography with mainstream film in Hollywood. They are only related by the vaguest of general concepts and are seen as separate entities. Unfortunately, different types of sexual fan service (often with young girls) seems to appear in many series outside of Japanese animated pornography. These elements are placed in many series to help boost the appeal of the lowest common commentator. These elements may not be overly harmful in and of themselves, but the constant use of them helps create an image of all anime being associated with these tropes.

Batman & Robin
Batman & Robin have even come under scrutiny as having a negative impact on culture.

Looking to the Past to Understand the Future

Anime is a fantastic medium comparable to many others. Many fantastic stories have been told aiming at different genres, themes and demographics. There are so many different films and series that the assumption of putting it under one general definition associated with perversion is laughable. Unfortunately, anime is just another type of medium within geek culture to fall under such scrutiny. The media will often glorify the negative aspects to get a strong reaction from the public. The same could be said of comics in the 1950’s when it was implied that superheroes influenced vigilante behavior and homosexuality in youth. This has mostly been debunked. Table top role-playing games such as dungeons and dragons were once the subject of fear regarding the occult and satanic worship among teens. This was also blown out of proportion. Off and on, video games have been blamed for an increase in violence among the youth. This has been viewed as debatable at best. Miyazaki’s statement, which was taken out of context in any case, has some minor degree of truth to it. However, any medium has a few negative aspects that take the spotlight. Art, much like life, goes through cycles. There is always going to be some despicable stuff.

Ultimately, this was one man’s opinion on the industry. Though it does encourage anime fans to consider how their medium is perceived and the methods of production on various shows they enjoy.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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Reviewer and critic of film, anime and comics. I also enjoy making videos and podcasts on these subjects.

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  1. I think we must remember that all forms of media are entertainment and not a way to sever oneself from reality. Those who lose their way become social shut-ins and are prone to criminal acts because their sense of reality is broken. I know because I personally experienced a glimpse of what it means to lose your sense of reality to otaku hobbies back when I was a crazy kid.

    On the other hand, I believe that anime, manga and games are also a great source of inspiration that can teach us great lessons about kindness, virtue, respect and courage. For example I started as a video game otaku and they gave me the strength to press forwards despite being victim to a lot of bullying as a kid.

  2. Anime is not embarrassing. It’s a hobby that people partake in as entertainment or lessons, which is good.

  3. These kinds of topics are interesting, as it is fun and also helps me get better as a critic.

  4. I love watching anime but unfortunately where i live people are more harsh when it comes to judging so i keep it hidden mostly but when i am around my friends or people who have the same interest i dont hold anything back.

  5. If you enjoy manga and anime and it doesn’t interfere with your life, I think that’s fine. Everyone has hobbies. Anime is often perceived in a negative light either because it is perceived as being for kids, or because a certain percentage of watchers (mostly male but some female) are perverted and develop bizarre fetishes for anime characters.

  6. Munjeera

    Interesting. I learned a lot and will definitely be exploring anime and manga in the future. Your article has piqued my interest about a topic I know nothing about but hope to rectify that lack of knowledge.

  7. Kriszti

    I think the difference between anime and most other media is that anime nowadays is extremely fan-pandering, and by fan I mean male fan. Panty-shots, even in anime aimed at little girls, gigantic breasts, 8 year olds getting milk thrown on their faces in a clear image of bukkake… Highscool of the Dead is a perfect example, and it was the anime that turned me off of anime for a good 3 years. It has a good story, good conflicts – and then they make all the one-dimensional girls fall in love with general male protagonist, with pantyshots and boob-bouncing every 3 seconds. In this regard, anime is more problematic than any other type of media found on television (soap operas, talk shows, even porn).

    I like anime, but it is hard to deny that for every anime I watch and enjoy (I could sing Madoka’s praises for days), there will be 3 others that I drop with disgust because of the overly sexualized and one-dimensional female characters. (Side note: tsunderes are fucking annoying, for example – they are portrayed as cute, while if anyone met a girl in real life so unable to express her feeling that she resorts to violent or agressive, you would just avoid her dumb ass or send her to much needed therapy)

  8. More people should drop their pride or stereotypes and get into anime. Anime is greater at storytelling then a lot of shows on TV.

  9. My overall devotion to my academics while also enjoying anime creates this nice dichotomy. I believe in part selves, my otaku self, my bird loving self, my gaming self, my biochemistry self and so forth. Accepting your hobbies will allow to meet others with similar hobbies and most importantly allow you to accept your own interests. 

  10. Anime fans casually or critically enjoy anime and manga, but we don’t have it in our brains like its the most important thing in existance.

  11. Proud to say that I got several coworkers at my job to check out anime to an extent.

  12. I always get a interesting conversation going, most people were I life don’t know what anime is. When i talk about anime they always think about hentai. and then look at me all weird.

    Then its my turn to explain what it really is. If they still have the same opinion….screw them. Even my girlfriend doesn’t understand why I watch anime or why I can get so emotional from it. But as long as she excepts my hobby, I’m good.

  13. Terra Ha

    Otaku for Life.

  14. I enjoy the medium, I like the tropes and I love the fanbase that it has opened up for me…some of my best and kindest friends I’ve ever had are fellow otakus/anime fans and I’m very happy to be associated with them.

  15. It makes me happy watching anime and cosplaying.

  16. From what I can see, he’s really just a crotchety old man. If he hated anime than he wouldn’t have spent the last 60 years doing films. I think his frustration has built up, thus the retirement.

    And hating otaku is such a blanket statement.

  17. It’s because stupid western fanboys basterized and is misappropriating that phrase. An “Otaku” is not a positive word in any sense. It’s not a badge of honor or some kind of rally call.

    Real Otakus are socially stunted and suffer from a lot of genuine problems.

    I used to love anime growing up as a kid in Asia. But there was a weird shift in the late 90’s. As every other medium started making efforts to lessen bigotry and intolerance the world of anime doubled down. As the rest of the world because progressive world of anime became more exploitative.

    You can’t exactly call it a extremist fans or a vocal minority when you see clear examples of these terrible habits in the most popular shows on mainstream broadcasting network.

  18. Antebellum

    So you mention this quote multiple times, but where is it actually from? It would be nice to get some more sources around the context of what you’re discussing and where Miyazaki was even quoted as saying this in the first place.

    Otherwise, it’s pretty fair to say that anime has been getting a pretty bad rap, and it’s nice to have a well-written defense of it.

  19. Rose Chang

    I look at the way otaku are criticized the same way as people (mainly in high school) criticized the music I do. “It’s not normal, it’s just weird for you to enjoy that…” blah blah blah blah. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, which is what I totally understand and tend to mention. However I especially hate it when people criticize otaku without knowing absolutely NOTHING about anime/manga/light novels.

  20. When people find out that I love anime and manga they are shocked probably because it doesn’t fit well with my other interests. I love Muay Thai/Kickboxing the same as anime and manga.

  21. People in my school accept anime. Even my school library as its own section for manga.

  22. Golikoni

    When i was little, and by little i mean i was 10, i was always watching anime. You should know that i live in a little village in the south of italy and things like hardcore gaming o watching anime or reading manga are seen like stupid things and very childish, and when i say to someone that i’m a anime lover they start with the: “OMFG GET A LIFE!1!1!1!!” and things like that. So when i became 11 i stopped to watch anime completely, and that continued until i became 17 (last year). But then, one day i got a revelation… “Life is Life…STOP. The only thing that change is the way you live that life. No one has to make the error to think that the way he lives his life is better than the one another one is living. You like to do sports or get drunk with your friends? I like to play games with my friends and watch or read anime and mangas!

  23. I don’t mind being a very loyal fan to the art form that is anime and manga.

  24. Mcarthur

    I am proud of my love for anime and manga I know people at school judge me but at my school many people I know watch anime so it’s a very common thing to have someone who like anime. I know there are friends of mine that think I’m weird because I like anime but I don’t care I am a proud otaku

  25. anime is just another medium of telling a story to it’s public

  26. Christen

    I found this article quite interesting, I’ve never given it much thought and I’m sure most haven’t.

  27. While I am not a huge fan of anime, I can appreciate its utter beauty at times. I would really like to know why Miyazaki’s work affects me the way it does – at least two of his films. They always have an emotional heart. I think some of his concerns about the genre are valid.

    Sidenote: found a typo:
    “that things such as hentai or only a small of the industry.”

  28. Blankenship

    If something makes you happy and doesn’t hurt anyone else, than you should never let anyone tell you that it’s a bad thing.

  29. Warning my poor English. I was an otaku, until this new year. I treasure my animanga collection and never ashamed to tell I like this series and anime is good and enjoyable and proud to be otaku. BUT then I don’t know since when I became lazy and lazier to watch anime. Don’t know when I realized anime is just so unreal: the school love affair, the character, attractive brother-sister (not the Alternative Universe). I just stop everything about anime, even read fanfiction. It’s unbelivable how I can love another thing. I tried to watch one of my anime and thought, ‘too much quote. Omg why it took so long to watch one ep. Awkward talking session. How to enjoy this?’ You can’t tell anime is good when you are in love with them. Now I can say, being a Otaku is wasting time and money (so glad I didn’t buy many things).

  30. Well, he is not wrong…

  31. Richard Marcil

    i’m confused. first, the author says “Recently, influential director Hayao Miyazaki, made a claim that ‘anime was a mistake.'” then later, the author says “In truth, this quote has been created to generalize what Miyazaki stated in early 2014.” by whom has it “been created”? towards the end of the article, the author refers again to “Miyazaki’s statement.” did miyazaki say “anime was a mistake” or not?

    i’m also interested in the alleged “wide variety of responses for[sic] anime fans and detractors alike.” what responses did this quote/non-quote meet with?

  32. At the end of the day its a form of entertainment. Instead of anime I could easily switch to watching TV Dramas, reality shows, or whatever. But Those things don’t give me as much fun and satisfaction as watching anime. Same can be said of manga.

  33. Jose Romo

    If I were called an otaku about how much I loved manga in Japan, I would like it. It would show the fact that I like manga so much is showing to others. Does that make sense? I think it’s cute. However, I’ve never been called an otaku.

    • Otaku in the Japanese means something along the lines of an obsessive. It could mean an obsessive about anything, but it clearly pertains to a compulsion toward something, anything. This compulsion is most typically applied to anime/manga in context. As such, the term otaku (as a number of commenters have correctly articulated) is an insult, and this is why; it implies a lack of impulse and emotional control, which is something valued in Asian cultures.

  34. Aaron Hatch

    A very well constructed article. It is totally okay for Miyazaki to have his personal opinion. I just think it worth saying he was not raised in a generation of Dragon Ball Z or Cowboy Bebop, therefore he would not have the same love the otaku crowd does. All that it comes down to is personal preference.

  35. The following is a nitpick but I believe an important one.

    “Recently, influential director Hayao Miyazaki, made a claim that “anime was a mistake” which has been met with a wide variety of responses for anime fans and detractors alike.”

    He never said it.

    While you address in the next paragraph that the quote “has been created to generalize what Miyazaki stated in early 2014” you do not at the beginning of the piece ever state that the claim was never in fact stated by Miyazaki. Since your title is “A Response to Miyazaki” and the first line is a quote that Miyazaki never actually said you are murdering your ethos. A simple google search brings up that he never said that and because of this it looks like you yourself didn’t go through a basic google search. Since you never state the actual quote that someone generalized into “Anime was a mistake” and only hint at it, with a single quoted word of “‘otaku'” but then continue to address the summarized part this entire article reads like you’re responding to a straw-man.

    For anyone curious the actual quote is “You see, whether you can draw like this or not, being able to think up this kind of design, it depends on whether or not you can say to yourself, ‘Oh, yeah, girls like this exist in real life. If you don’t spend time watching real people, you can’t do this, because you’ve never seen it. Some people spend their lives interested only in themselves. Almost all Japanese animation is produced with hardly any basis taken from observing real people, you know. It’s produced by humans who can’t stand looking at other humans. And that’s why the industry is full of otaku!.”

    When you read the entire quote he isn’t saying anything along the lines of “Anime was a mistake.” It’s more along the lines of “Because they never use physical, practical actors and effects they have no idea how things actually work together and because of this there is a disconnect between anime and real life and people take to the escapism of the later.” It’s his critique of people not going out and learning how actual anatomy works and how actual relationships occur between people so a writer can draw on it. He’s not critiquing anime fans, he’s critiquing a herd mentality in the industry and how everyone just wants to basically continue the status quo because that’s what they like so they only draw on knowledge of the medium and not the real world.

    If anything the quote should be summarized as something close to “People need to actually go outside and draw from reality and not just draw from fiction for fiction or else everything will stagnate.”

    The fact that this paper even made it through editing with it seeming like no one went to see if the quote was actually real and/or made you put the actual quote in and address it makes me worried for this site and it’s citations. Then again, you never cite either his original or the fake quote.

  36. Otaku is only bad if you think that anime and manga represents real life and real people in Japan, even though it was invented there. I see lots of people say they want to be manga artists and go to anime school in Japan because they want to be as close as possible to their chosen hobby and they think that by soaking up the air in Japan they can indulge their hobby much more. Lots of anime and manga otaku seem to lose touch with reality as a result.

  37. My observations of the anime fan base do show signs of strong passion than those of an average animation fan base, and to be perfectly honest that passion can sometimes lead to misconceptions but there are some who address the situation with a logical perspective, while being perfectly aware that the anime is entirely fictional.

  38. dreamlikediana

    I didn’t see that happening considering I love Miyazaki’s work, but after reading the article I can quite honestly understand his view. Anime has changed, shaped, and made people view a lot of things in a different way. There’s some that view anime as childish, and others who end up watching a mass amount and start to make less social contact with the world. Through it, they start to have sociological problems, and have met numerous amounts of people that weren’t all quite…there.

    There have been guys that assume that females will act, should act, or be a certain way, but could later lead to sexual harassment. In fact, by some of these guys on my university campus who do watch generalized females in anime, they have followed me around. Some of which have followed me all the way to my car or the girl’s bathroom.

    I’m not all too sure how the females are, but the females I do know who do watch anime, and have grown into the K-Pop scene, generally just want to be with an Asian man. Not for him as a person, I’m sure that’s a factor but not much of a priority, they just want someone Asian. Which gives a bad view to those who are in an interracial relationship, but not because of anime or K-Pop.

    Lastly, I would like to conclude that while I do enjoy anime I cringe at the extents that people take it to. I’ve seen my fair share of moments. Though, particularly, I enjoy seeing the itasha work on cars. Sorry for the long comment, I tend to do that at times when I find something I’m interested about.

  39. I think the bigger question is, should we even question Miyazaki?

  40. I found this article engaging and well-written and the topic is fascinating. I am a big fan of Hayao Miyazaki and of certain anime. I understand where Miyazaki is coming from when he says that, although for him, his work is so outside traditional anime that I’m not sure if he really has the right to say it. His animation is so different from everything else I’ve seen, which leads me to sometimes forget that he is even under the anime umbrella. His movies are focused on realistic characters and situations, whereas a lot of other anime shows are focused on plot and physical appearance, both of which tend to be melodramatic. I, for one, wish that anime tried harder to appeal to large audiences without stereotyping and creating unrealistic expectations for both men and women. It is true that there are hundreds of anime out there, but the amount with unrealistic characters far outweighs the ones with realistic characters.

  41. I think the difference between anime and most other genres is that anime now these days is extremely all about fanservice, such as Panty-shots, even in anime aimed at little girls, gigantic breasts. I don’t even watch those. I watch action series such as Owari no Seraph, Bloodivores, and of course, Wixoss Series.

  42. Brad Hagen

    An interesting take on the medium. I agree that it would be ignorant to generalize anime, or any art for that matter, in such a way. There are too many good attributes that go ignored if one makes such a claim.

  43. RachelHart

    This is particularly relevant to me as just yesterday I started watching a series called Oreimo–having not previously heard of the show or researched it at all. It has many promising aspects, including a premise of connections made through geek culture, and a story of a girl aspiring to be a writer/animator in Japan despite social stigmas and prejudice against perceived otaku. The story could have been fleshed out in many ways and made into something pretty great, but instead a good deal of the show was devoted to an obsession with eroge and sis-con games, and the idea that the main character wanted to get with her brother. Discussions of Oreimo seem to conclude that the more promising aspects of the story were cast aside in favor of fanservice, and the exact kinds of traits that, as you eloquently phrased it, “appeal to the lowest common denominator.” Like you, I don’t believe Miyazaki necessarily meant that anime as a medium is a mistake, but rather the trend of pandering to what will be popular in the moment, rather than what might be timeless. We have that same problem in America, both in the field of animation as well as other mediums. But for every Oreimo, you have a Spirited Away. Gain some, lose some, I guess.

  44. I grew up with Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli, and spread to other anime and manga in middle and high school. It did always confuse me that people immediately lumped these parts of my childhood with the less savory shows and stories.

    There is a line between the anime that I watch and enjoy and the anime that makes other people turn up their noses when I bring up Fullmetal Alchemist or Princess Mononoke in conversations. Anime has the potential to spread awareness about problems such as the dangers of a god complex and the importance of taking care of the environment. There are stories out there that inspire and appeal to the hero inside all of us. These are not the stories that attract views with panty shots. I can only hope that people will see that differentiating line, and not mar my childhood and my current interests.

    • I can relate to that. I grew up watching Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli films too before discovering other anime and manga as I got a bit older. Different types of Japanese animation are often lumped together by those less familiar with it, meaning overly-sexualized and fan-pandering stuff like hentai can sometimes, somehow be mentioned in the same breath as titles with a bit more narrative substance like Princess Mononoke (now that’s a great film!!) or Fullmetal Alchemist as you mention. There are tons of great titles to explore that don’t necessarily involve the objectification of women or other questionable tactics used simply to attract a large audience.

  45. Yeah! Anime shouldn’t be overgeneralized at all! You’d be ignoring good anime like Hyouka, Tanaka-Kun Wa Itsumo Kedaruge, and Durarara!!!!

  46. When people think of anime they really generalize it. There’s so much more to it! Just like when you say action/adventure movies, there’s tons of them.

  47. People should also be aware of Miyazaki’s personality when examining this statement. While producing truly beautiful animations and having a keen eye for detail, Miyazaki himself is somewhat of a curmudgeon. As shown by his statement of the medium of anime being a “mistake,” I believe he is making a clear statement between animation as a medium and contemporary anime as a multi-media industry. While Miyazaki has displayed an idolization for well-produced anime since he was young he has regarded the current anime industry as a cheap recreation of the animation process. The production techniques and tropes used to produce contemporary anime series, such as still frames and Hanna-Barbera like sliding scenery, probably seem lazy and uncreative to a director like Miyazaki who prides himself on skillful and smoothly flowing animation.

    Part of this animosity may stem from the success of another animator, Osamu Tezuka, who arguably impacted the anime industry through the same animation tropes mentioned above during the 1960s. Miyazaki even went as far as to denigrate Tezuka’s legacy, directly after his death, claiming Tezuka was a hack that cheapened the industry (Clements 2013). So, while it may be ironic that one of anime’s most prolific director has seemingly disparaged the medium he partly made so popular, I think its fair to factor Miyazaki’s personality as a grumpy old man into this statement. It’s just who he is.

  48. TricksterZero

    In a way, Miyazaki has a point: nowadays it’s hard to find Anime that didn’t look like it took another’s idea while trying to claim it as their own original idea. To me, most Anime feels like it’s aimed almost exclusively to Otaku, rather than fans of Anime and Manga which sucks because I used to watch it quite a bit until the whole “Moe” Explosion: basically, it seemed like almost every Anime was about “cute girls and no substance” or lots of fan service to the point it was borderline hentai.

    For every Full Metal Alchemist, Attack On Titan, Akira, you’ll get a pound load of KissXSis or worse: Kodomo No Jikan.

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