So people think I watch porn. Being into anime must have been much cooler in the 90s. Cowboy Bebop was busting its moves as an instant-classic cross between Butch Cassidy and Battlestar Galactica. Miyazaki’s career was well-established; every kid wished their neighbour was Totoro. When you want to talk anime, this ‘golden era’ is your go-to. It has little to do with how horrible the industry looks, and makes its fans look, today.
Trying to get ‘into’ anime, absorbed in both classic shows and the new ones airing every season, is a game of blindfolded Minesweeper. It’s easy to get recommended big-shots like Attack on Titan, Full-metal Alchemist and Death Note, but what if you want to explore on your own? It won’t be long before you hit an ‘ecchi’ or ‘harem’ show full of oversized breasts and the things they grow from which you couldn’t call ‘women’ for fear of off ending the gender worldwide. It’s the industry’s view of the Japanese male target market, and it sells, and it helps to sell all kinds of other media. Watch the first episode of Naruto and be treated to a 12-year-old Ninja transforming into a naked woman to give his teacher a nosebleed. Apparently this show is popular.
It’s no surprise that nowadays, when you tell people how much you love big-eyed cartoons, you get those odd looks, maybe some giggles, and that one guy who says: “You do mean hentai, right?”
Japan is a far cry from Western culture, where we’ve fought to Free the Nipple and Lisa Simpson doesn’t have a shower scene every episode. Only in 2014 did they finally ban child pornography, albeit with the exception of explicit images of children in anime and manga, which largely defeats the point. Fanbased ‘doujin’ circles continue to scrawl out the vilest pre-pubescent situations, perhaps with slave-girls who look like cats and meow for their masters, or have superpowers that destroy their clothes , in order to satisfy whatever obsession their friends and fans are dying for. Even Nintendo’s squid-shooter Splatoon broke Rule 34 of the internet before it was released. Don’t Google that.
You can buy mousepads for resting your wrists on your anime crush’s carriage, and skimpy figurines for hundreds of thousands of yen. Most day-time variety shows feature a horde of girls at the back of the stage. Most magazine covers feature an innocent girl, real or cartoon, in some kind of attention-grabbing swimwear.
In this atmosphere, the more research one does, the more the anime fanatic that recommends you Angel Beats! and Shirobako, knowing you want as little big-chested ‘fan-service’ as possible, regardless looks like a paedophile. Who would be encouraged to join your fandom? Male audiences shouldn’t stand the feeling of being targeted and encouraged to revel in perversions. Female audiences should never stand for the objectifi cation many trends in anime and manga bring. It becomes hard to see the merit when some material goes against the grain, or takes a stab at it. To fully appreciate Ryuko’s loss of shame at her skimpy outfit in Kill la Kill, you have to be steeped in the ‘ecchi’ tradition and its flaws. Hibiki Yoshizaki’s cult music video to Teddyloid’s thumping ‘Me!Me!Me!’ would likewise make little sense without that experience. One only has to watch YouTube reaction videos of anime newcomers, confused at the great significance of naked girls vomiting down the lonely shut-in’s throat or firing lasers at him from their breasts.
But I am not ashamed of these things. Japan has a wealth of incredible art invested in its animated media, and the more it gets its act together, the more innocence can look like innocence, and sexualisation like powerful statements rather than eye-candy for the salacious soul. Miyazaki himself, with over 95 per cent of Japan having watched his films, threw down the gauntlet with Spirited Away’s subtle but certain attack against the country’s child prostitution industry. Children didn’t need to think about that, but his critics could lap it up. Though finding it can sometimes be more cat-and-mouse than one would like, there’s no absence of modern material like this. The current season’s smash-hit, Erased, takes us through the quest of a man thrown back in time to his schoolboy days to save many futures from death at the hands of a child-killer, and the theme of child abuse runs heartrendingly through each installment. Through stories like these that challenge the country’s thinking, animators, directors and writers have the potential to undo the knot that Japan’s perverted media has tied it in.
But would it make enough money? Japan has facilitated the lifestyle of the anime obsessed ‘otaku’, the shut-in ‘hikikomori’, to the point that at least a million citizens are estimated to live glued to screens, never to leave their rooms, fi lled like treasure troves with vast anime and manga collections. They are, tragically, the foundation of the animator’s pay-check. Is there any way to reach a target market who have shut themselves away from civilisation? If oversized breasts and glimpses of underwear are what they crave, how is the respectable male anime fan going to set himself apart and persuade others that his lifestyle does not need a regular Kleenex supply? We need to tear apart the culture surrounding Japanese cartoons, and build in its place something every fan can feel proud of.
But first, we would have to sink our claws into the country’s lack of respect for women. Never has more than ten per cent of the Diet been female. But women shouldn’t need more of a voice to get men to open their eyes and see the objectification of their media. We need to tell ourselves – we need to keep telling ourselves – that the future does not lie in the prostitution of our potential.