Can Western Feminists Change Japanese Anime?

By William Hicks | 4:34 pm, October 17, 2016

Can Western feminists change anime?


But that doesn’t stop some committed feminists from trying. The folks at  are banging their heads against the wall taking on the many, many “problematic” aspects of anime. Mainly fan service, or portions of anime series with unnecessary sexualization aimed at keeping male viewers’ attention.

Already when some anime is brought to Western countries a localization process takes place, which removes some of this fan service in order to get aired for kids on TV. But many watch unedited anime on sites like Crunchyroll, which don’t prep Westerners for the offensiveness (by Western standards) of unadulterated Japanese culture.  You don’t necessarily have to be an ardent feminist to find fan service off-putting if it’s out of sync with the rest of the show.

But Western feminist critique of anime will unlikely reach the ears of Japanese animators, who are much more tuned into criticism from their Japanese audience.

AnimeFeminist‘s stated goal is not necessarily to change anime, but to create more varied offering that would appeal to women and people of color, although certain articles by the founder Amelia Cook seem to say otherwise. It also aims to create a safe space for feminist critique of Japanese manga and anime.

The site was able to use its contributors connections to get some attention. For instance, one of their contributors, Molly Brenan, is the co-manager at Gizmodo Media’s anime blog AniTAY, while another Gizmodo site, Kotaku wrote a profile on the site. Other contributors include writers for The Mary Sue, The Daily Dot, and Crunchyroll. 

In the Kotaku interview, Cook explained the mission of the site: “It’s not censorship, because we’re not asking animators in Japan to stop making anything. Were not asking people to ban anything. We’re not asking for any rules to be put in place. What we’d like to see is more anime being created to give more options to people.”

But months earlier, Cook seemed to have a different method of bringing change to anime. She published a series of articles in The Mary Sue taking on fan service, which received a large amount vitriolic backlash, some allegedly involving death threats.

In an article in July, Cook advocated changing anime, by moving the conversation toward those around video games and comic books. She wanted to move the onus of justifying oversexualization onto the creators as opposed to those who rail against it.  Video game and comic creators constantly get taken to task over outfits or covers accused of being too sexy. Culture wars still wage strong in these industries to the chagrin of everyone involved.

She also advocated readers vote with their dollars and financially support anime that does not objectify women.

It was probably more the words than the overall message that angered anime fans so much. Phrases like “Anime’s cuteness problem and how to fix it,” gave the appearance of cultural imperialism, or trying to change Japanese culture from the outside.

And  that is the perception problem with these moral criticisms of anime. Many like anime as a glimpse into a different culture — warts and idiosyncrasies included — and would feel threatened by those who want to push Western values into their hobby.

Cook and her group obviously should not be cyber harassed for opinions on anime. But to expect any change to a Japanese cultural export is a bit wrongheaded — not to mention impossible, as the vast amount of anime sales come from Japan.

If gratuitous fan service is ever removed from anime, the push has to come from within Japan, no matter how many articles Kotaku, The Mary Sue, and AnimeFeminist churn out.

There is nothing wrong with talking about anime from a feminist perspective. But to go so far as to try to change a foreign export from outside is going to be infuriatingly futile.

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