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Tuesday, February 14, 2023 

Why western "critiques" of anime/manga are sloppy

A writer for Areo addressed the would-be critiques leveled at Japanese manga by western sources, and tells why western writers' critiques are poor:
The panic over anime and manga has always fed off stereotypes of Japan as a “menagerie” of the bizarre, as Ryu Spaeth depicts the country in a December 2020 piece for The New Republic, a place where “men fall in love with busty Power Rangers, and the women vanish like ghosts into the gloomy mist of the suicide forest.” Many writers in the west project their own anxieties about their societies’ growing atomisation, sexual degeneracy and demographic decline onto Japan: a place where, it seems to them, many of their fears have already been realised. Fans of manga seem to typify all those worrying tendencies.

Critics have often described the genres as misogynistic because they allegedly sexualise female characters, pander to lonely otaku (obsessive, housebound geeks) or even enable abusers. Journalist Sasha Kong is a typical recent example. She cites Patrick Galbraith’s claim that Japanese media production “has been heavily tilted towards men since its early formations in the post-war period” and views this as the explanation for the hypersexualised portrayals of women contained in anime and manga—although she notes that they are now being challenged by “feminist storytelling.” This framing, however, ignores the role women played in shaping the industry as early as the 1970s. In April 2022, the United Nations-aligned organization UN Women filed a complaint against Japanese newspaper giant Nikkei over an advertising feature called Tawawa on Monday, which has been running since 2020 and allegedly presents “an underage girl as a male sexual target.” The majority of respondents in a Japanese poll, including young women, disagreed.

There have been many similar complaints about the supposedly abusive nature of these genres over the years. In a 2016 report on women’s rights in Japan, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights called for a ban on “the sale of video games or cartoons involving sexual violence against women” and blaming such works for propagating sexist stereotypes. As writer Dan Kanemitsu noted at the time, however, such assessments conflate wholly fictional creations with abuse directed at real people and do not reflect the views of mangaka (manga artists and authors), as the Japan Women’s Institute of Contemporary Media Culture representative Kumiko Yamada has argued in a memorandum signed by several professors and artists. A number of sexually provocative works in these genres were created by women, including Hiromu Arakawa’s Fullmetal Alchemist, Lida Pochi’s Lovecraftian The Elder Sister-like One and the works of the all-female CLAMP circle.
What's telling about this approach by alleged detractors is that they have none of the same complaints about graphic, gory violence in general. Over the years, there have been examples of knife cutting of all sorts in anime, yet that doesn't seem to ever matter to the phony critics at all. That they call for censoring instead of boycotting and improving creators' personals tastes says everything you need to know what's wrong with their MO. It goes without saying the critics are hurting lady mangakas as well as the men.
We should not make the mistake of viewing artistic freedom of expression as problematic in itself—no matter how emotively moralistic the appeals of activists may be. We must always take cultural preferences and creative liberties into consideration and not be blindly led by our disgust at sexual crimes to demonise an art form with which they have never been linked, despite perennial attempts to find such a connection. Neither should we slander the Japanese as child abusers because of their taste in comics.
Of course the wider sum of mangakas, no doubt, are far from scummy. To their credit, the Japanese usually apply higher expectations to their creators than those in the USA and Europe, and it's a shame there's only so many comic creators in the west with poor manners who vehemently refuse to borrow a page from Japan (and Korea) and retain a dignified persona.

If anybody thinks Japanese culture needs improvements, just say so, but to repeatedly resort to a call for censorship never solves the problem, and only obscures it.

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  • I'm Avi Green
  • From Jerusalem, Israel
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