Top 8 Anime Villains

Villains move stories. They motivate and challenge the hero.  Strong villains require the hero to grow in fortitude and strength in order to confront them. Most stories require the hero to grown in power. Think of how Goku must train to get stronger in Dragonball Z. But villains can also challenge the hero to grow spiritually. Sometimes these villains become friends after the hero reaches a maturity level. Vegeta of DBZ, for example. Heroes react to what the antagonist does. Few heroes are truly proactive. Most of the time, they struggle to repair or survive the fallout the goal-driven antagonist creates.

This list contains typical villains and a few that may surprise you. Perhaps it would be better to call these characters antagonists. Not all of them are pure villains. No list can be conclusive. This merely includes a few villains that I enjoyed in various stories.

Giovanni – Pokemon

giovanni

Giovanni leads Team Rocket, a group of Pokemon thieves that pester Ash and friends. He doesn’t appear often in the series, but he is always pressuring Team Rocket to perform. Giovanni had a childhood passion for Pokemon similar to the series’ protagonists. Over time, his passion morphed into an underground trade of stealing and selling Pokemon. He acts as a warning for how a hero can go astray. In the Pokemon games, his various criminal organizations pester you. Giovanni stands as the final Gym Leader before you challenge the Elite Four.

Holland Novak – Eureka Seven

holland-novak

Holland acts as more an antagonist than a villain. He’s on the side of the good guys, but his behavior toward Renton in the first half of the anime drives Renton to change. Holland takes out his pent up anger toward Renton’s sister on Renton. Holland’s actions drive Renton to leave the Gekko State, which also endangers Eureka. She sets out after Renton. Eureka Seven’s story is driven by characters more than plot. Because of this, Holland becomes one of the prime movers of the story through his actions. By the second half of the series, his influence has waned. His brother, Dewey Novak takes up the mantle of antagonist. Holland shaped both Renton and Eureka’s personalities through his friendship and through his contention. Holland shows how villains have degrees of antagonism. Even protagonists can take on the role of antagonist. Villainy is sometimes a matter of perspective.

Sasuke Uchiha – Naruto

sasuke-uchiha

Sasuke has a frenemy relationship with Naruto before becoming a traditional villain for a time. Traditional villains are ones that do everything in their power to reach their goals. The hero simply tries to stop him or is caught up in the aftermath of the schemes. In Sasuke’s case, his absence acts as one of the prime motivators of Naruto’s behavior. Naruto’s drive to bring Sasuke back to the Hidden Leaf Village directs most of his actions. Sasuke seeks to the avenge the murder of his family, which drives him to be consumed by the desire for power. Naruto’s relationship with Sasuke perhaps deserves the label of antagonist more than Sasuke himself. That relationship drives Naruto one way and Sasuke another. They both seek to improve their abilities partially because of their bond.

Gendo Ikari – Neon Genesis Evangelion

gendo-ikari

The father is a classic antagonist for heroes. The trope extends back to the first stories shared around fires. The coming of age story requires the hero to surpass his father. In Evangelion, Shinji is forced to follow his father’s puppet strings. Gendo is a cold and distant person, but at times some of his humanity shows through. His ideals drive him to the point where the ends justify the means. Despite his distance he loves Shinji, but he views that love as a source of pain. Like fathers in mythology, Gendo gives his son the means to surpass him. In this case, the EVA.  Shinji remains trapped in his father’s web until the end. His father forces Shinji to face stark reality and causes him to retreat further into his cracked psyche. Gendo has a strange way of raising a son. As villains go, Gendo has few peers when it comes to planning and manipulation.

Ulquiorra Cifer – Bleach

ulquiorra_cifer

In Bleach’s story, Ulquiorra isn’t the main villain. He’s a soldier following Aizen’s orders. However, he acts as a foil for Ichigo. Ichigo, as shonen heroes go, is impetuous, protective, and emotional. Ulquiorra is calculated, aloof, and logical. He cares little for his comrades. He represents a different ethos from Ichigo. Whereas Ichigo fights with heart, Ulquiorra fights out of necessity and duty:

“If this eye cannot see a thing, then it does not exist. That is the assumption under which I have always fought. What is this “heart”? If I tear open that chest of yours, will I see it there? If I smash open that skull of yours, will I see it there?”

Vegeta – Dragonball Z

vegetaVegeta begins as a standard villain for Goku and friends to defeat. Soon after, he becomes a frenemy for Goku. This is a common relationship for villains in many stories. It comes from the idea that skills can be sharpened only through competition. Sasuke plays the same role for Naruto. Vegeta is egotistical and prideful, a contrast to Goku’s personality. Contrasting personalities are a common characteristic for foil antagonists. Depending on your perspective, you could say Goku is Vegeta’s antagonist because Vegeta strives to surpass Goku’s abilities. Usually, the hero needs to surpass the skill level of this antagonist. But throughout DBZ, Vegeta strives to surpass Goku’s skill level. After Vegeta shifts from being a standard villain, he stops driving the story forward and begins to react to the flow of events like the other heroes.

Kasumi Seizō – Samurai Champloo

kasumi-seizo-samurai-champlooKasumi, Fuu’s father, only appears at the very end of the story. However, he drives Fuu, Mugen, and Jin’s journey. Fuu seeks revenge for Kasumi leaving her mother. Kasumi doesn’t actively drive the story, but Fuu’s view of him as a villain pushes the story forward. Villains do not need to be active in a story to drive it forward. Kasumi pushes the story of Samurai Champloo through Fuu’s desire to confront him. She builds up an image of the “samurai who smells of sunflowers”, an image that makes the confrontation scene poignant. This type of antagonist proves difficult to pull off because they lack a clear goal. They work best when the protagonist’s view of the villain drives them as in Kasumi’s case.

Naraku – Inuyasha

naraku

Unlike Kasumi, Naraku is an active villain. He represents the standard villain, the one that opposes the heroes directly. Naraku is a master of manipulation, and he is evil to the core. His selfish desires drive him to disregard all others. He seeks to break the bonds between people in order to turn them against each other. The malice between siblings, between lovers, and between friends taints the Sacred Jewel, which is his goal. When you think about it, he ranks among the most evil villains in anime. He goes out to destroy the relationships, lives, and souls of others for his own gain. He seeks to inflict maximum suffering and hatred instead of seeking to merely kill the heroes like most villains do.

A Bit More On Villains

Villains are the secret ingredient for stories.  They set the conditions and environment the hero reacts toward. Most villains are active like Naraku and Vegeta. Sometimes the protagonist’s idea of the villain drives the story, such as Fuu’s idea of her father. Anime has diverse villains, from the father to the beneficial frenemy. Some villains are protagonists that act as a villain toward the story’s hero. Holland is a good example. Villains may drive the entire story or small segments of the story. But their entire job is to challenge the heroes to grow and move forward. Without them, we can’t have stories.

kefkaThe hallmark of good fiction remains a good villain. Weak villains make for weak heroes. But it can be easy to fall into caricatured, Snidely Whiplash villains. My favorite villain remains Final Fantasy VI’s Kefka. He wins. He destroys the world and achieves godhood. This creates a fascinating dynamic for the game. Kefka follows the usual story. He begins as an experiment gone wrong, cracking his mind in the process. He becomes a power bent madman determined to destroy everything. While most of the Internet sees his desire to end everything for the “lols,” the final confrontation contains various hints to his ultimate motives:

Why do people insist on creating things that will inevitably be destroyed? Why do people cling to life, knowing that they must someday die? …Knowing that none of it will have meant anything once they do?

Why do you build, knowing destruction is inevitable? Why do you yearn to live, knowing all things must die?

In these brief moments of lucidity, you see Kefka’s despair about the reality of impermanence. He despairs about death and being forgotten. All of this reveals a human side and hints that he sees himself as something of a nihilistic savior. He wants to destroy existence itself in order to spare people from its “meaninglessness.” These motives are hidden behind his mad raving about destruction, but these few lines reveal how he had lost hope and hint how he wants to spare people the pain of losing it. “Why do you yearn to live, knowing all things must die?” is a tragic line from a man who achieved ultimate power but remains haunted by his lack of hope and inability to understand it.

Only destruction retains its meaning because it is forever in Kefka’s twisted mind. Yet, because he had attained godhood, he would ultimately remain alone after everything was destroyed, leaving his suicide as the final act of destruction.

Motives aside, Kefka drives the story forward in a powerful way. He unites the first and second half of the game. The heroes must react to his goal. Strong villains create strong heroes. This is where Tite Kubo goes wrong. His villains, while powerful, lack the threat level of Kefka. Kefka kills millions. Kubo’s villains can’t even kill a single captain of the Soul Society. Think of how much more threatening Aizen would be if he kills the Head Captain, the most powerful being in Bleach’s world. Think of how this could be increased further if Aizen kills the Head Captain as if he was walking on an ant. This threat level forces the hero to ever higher heights. But Bleach’s weak villains make for weak heroes. Yeah, Ichigo has power, but power is not the same as strength. Bleach’s villains lack threat. We know the heroes will win. It is far more provocative when the heroes lose. Kefka wins and destroys the world. The best villains win, leaving the heroes to try to find a way to undo what the villain achieves.

Anime Breast Obsession Explained

haganai-sena-swimsuitBoobs, headlights, breasts, jugs, chichi. Modern American culture worships the breast. But American culture isn’t alone. Anime too has a special fixation on the breast. While I’ve already addressed breast symbolism in anime, I haven’t discussed why anime obsesses over breasts. At first blush, this seems like a simple answer: guys. Guys like boobs, and anime targets men. However, this isn’t entirely correct. Modern men like breasts, but for most of human history, the breast was associated with life, particularly that of a child, instead of sexuality (Domshy, 2003). Let’s first take a look at modern ideas of why men  like breasts and then look into the traditional Japanese view.

Modern Man and Mammaries

Modern theories on breast fixation center on the idea of resource competition and biology. Scientists see the presence of large-breasted statues and cave drawings from the earliest period of human history as evidence for men’s focus on the female chest. Researchers see these artifacts across cultures (Chivers, 2012). It’s thought large breasts developed to keep men interested in women with children. They are a form of competition to attract men with resources. Basically, they work similar to how a male bird has colorful feathers. Breasts also mimic the shape of the backside which is a turn on for other apes (Miller, 2006). Larry Young, a professor of psychiatry at Emory University, suggests men like breasts because stimulating a woman’s nipples releases oxytocin, the neurochemical responsible for strengthening affection. The chemical helps bond a lady to the man (Wolchover, 2012).

soukyuu_no_fafner_dead_aggressor_exodus-01-rina-senpai-shopkeeper-fanning-cleavage-fanserviceBreasts show off fertility. Men are said to prefer young women who haven’t had children, so traits associated with youth and virginity (in this case, never being pregnant) like a slender waist, wide hips, and large, firm breasts attract men. Now you might be asking yourself, if this is the case why don’t all women have large boobs? Because breasts are costly, according to many researchers. They take vital nutrients to create, and energy to carry around; they make the female body biomechanically less efficient (again, all like the peacock’s tail). Eventually, the sexual selection benefits are outweighed by the costs. So not all women have these. Women’s breasts, on average, are already very large by comparison to most primates. (Chivers, 2012).

Sounds like science has the reason sewn up, doesn’t it? Not so fast. While these explanations are accepted, some argue against breast attraction as a natural part of male sexuality. These arguments offer convincing evidence that men learn to be attracted to breasts.

Men Aren’t Naturally Attracted to Breasts?

bleach-matsumoto_00290646The presence of large-breasted statues and paintings doesn’t necessarily point to a fixation on the chest for sexual reasons. The breast was the only means of nourishing an infant up until the 19th century. Because of this, a fixation on the breast as the symbol for life is a reasonable explanation for its prolific appearance across cultures. The idea that breasts were a way of competing for men makes little sense in light of cultural norms. Anthropologist Fran Mascia-Lees takes on this view and Young’s oxytocin argument by pointing out how not all men are attracted to breasts. She cautions: “whenever evolutionary biologists suggest a universal reason for a behavior and emotion: how about the cultural differences?” (Wolchover, 2012). For example, in some African and New Guinean cultures, women don’t cover their chest, and men show a lack of interest in the exposed bosoms.

What about breasts looking like a woman’s backside? This is a cultural projection of the West. Breasts don’t look like a lady’s backside without being squished together by bras and corsets. Both of which are Western inventions.

In Japanese culture, you also find a distinct lack of interest in the chest until the modern era. If you look at Japanese woodblock print from the Edo period, not a lot of attention is lavished on the breast. Artists rendered other body parts  in loving detail, but they largely ignored breasts. Yoshihiko Shirakawa, an expert on woodblock prints states (Kozuka, 2013):

“It appears that men of the Edo period considered breast to be a tool for child rearing. They were not a sexualized part of the body. In shunga from the early Edo Period, men and women were depicted with largely similar chests. From the point of view of the artists, breasts really didn’t seem to matter.”

Shunga are pornographic woodblock prints. Typically, shunga shows small breasts when they show up at all. When breasts appear, they appear in scenes where a woman breastfeeds an infant. Only a few artists fixated on sexual scenes involve breast stimulation. Such behavior doesn’t appear across shunga.

Back here in the West, the erotic breast appears in a brief period during the 15th and 16th centuries. The French painter Jean Fouquet paints one of the first erotic breasts in Western art. He painted Agnes, the mistress of Charles the VII with a bare breast specifically designed to suggest her eroticism. During the 16th century, prostitutes would stand on the streets bare-chested as a form of advertisement (Domshy, 2003). However, in the United States, the breast didn’t become erotic until the 1940s. Miller (2006) argues that the science of breasts is a projection of this late cultural fixation and the boom in breasts as a form of advertisement. The arguments seek to validate what is an aberration or vested interest. In 1982, the American Society of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgeons went as far as labeling small boobs as a disease. Because scientists live and grew up in a culture that fixates on breasts as a symbol for sex, they struggle to view breasts in any other way.

Anime and Breasts

kill-la-kill-ryukoAll of that brings us back to anime and its breast fetish. Anime came out of the complex interchange of American culture and Japanese culture after World War II, the same time breast fixation developed in the United States (Miller, 2006). The United States had a large influence on Japanese culture. For example, the United States is responsible for the panty fetish we see in anime. It stands to reason that the US also influenced how Japan views female chests. On the opposite side of the coin, anime targets West. In order to make more money, studios need to make stories that have the widest appeal. This explains why you often see Japanese humor–falling flat, puns, and other jokes that are strange for Westerners–combined with breast hijinks. Both the US and Japan share the same fetish, so it’s common ground for marketing stories.

Culture becomes a self-perpetuating loop. That loops can make us think something is natural. Think about Chinese foot-binding. That was a practice in ancient China that forced women to have abnormally small feet by binding them so they couldn’t grow. It caused pain and even prevented women from being able to walk. But Chinese men at the time thought it was erotic. These small, 4-inch feet, hidden in elaborately embroidered shoes, became the focus of erotic fantasies. It shows nearly anything that is hidden can gain sexual attraction. Eroticism in humans starts in our large brains. It isn’t as hardwired as some people believe. In Japanese culture, the nape of a lady’s neck excites men. For most of us here in the West, the nape of the neck is about as sexy as a wrist — which was also sexy in feudal Japan I might add. During the Roman Empire, women considered the sweat of gladiators sexy.

This article doesn’t seek to validate objectification of women. Rather, I attempt to sketch some of the reasons why we have a cultural breast fetish. Culture directs the biological drive for sex. In this article, I focused on male sexuality, but culture shapes women’s ideas of eroticism as well. While genetics creates the foundation for attraction, culture determines how that attraction forms. But in all cases, culture fixates on individual body parts. Which body part depends on culture and time period. Anime focuses on breasts because it is a product of American and Japanese culture. The breast fixation in otaku culture will disappear once culture shifts to the next erotic body part. Perhaps elbows will be the next big fetish.

References

Chivers, T (2012) Is it really ‘the West’ that’s breast-obsessed? Or just men? Telegraph. http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/tomchiversscience/100129578/is-it-really-the-west-thats-breast-obsessed-or-just-men/

Domshy, H. (2003) (Re) Imaging the Breast: An Analysis of a Cultural Obsession. Fellowship. 34 (3).

Kozuka, J. (2013) How Times Change: Japanese Men in Edo Period Not Interested in Breasts.  RocketNews24. http://en.rocketnews24.com/2013/04/18/how-times-change-japanese-men-in-edo-period-not-interested-in-breasts-nsfw/

Miller, L. (2006) Beauty Up:  Contemporary Japanese Body Aesthetics. University of California Press.

Wolchover, N (2012) New Theory on Why Men Love Breasts. Live Science. http://www.livescience.com/23500-why-men-love-breasts.html

 

Oiwa O'iwa lantern ghost monster chochin obake hokusai ukiyoe

Musings VI: On the ghost of O’iwa, and why she’s still scary.

The Season of Horrors

It may seem strange at first that summer is the prime time for ghost stories in Japan. We tend to associate summer with pleasant things… but imagine you’re living in early modern Japan.

You have no iced drinks, no electric fans, no convenient water taps. There’s basically no way to keep cool at night. So you lie awake, too hot to sleep, too hot to breathe, and listen to the buzzing of mosquitoes just outside the net around your futon. The next day you drag yourself to work again, through streets flaring with sunlight. It hurts your eyes and gives you a headache. Things go bad fast, and they smell. The next night brings no cool either, the air remains thick and stale and sticky like old sweat, and the mosquitoes are still buzzing… I wouldn‘t be surprised if I started seeing things after a while.

Also, if someone tells you a good ghost story and you get that shudder down the spine, wouldn’t that be refreshing at a time like this? It would possibly work as “a psychological form of air conditioning“.[i] Finally, in August you have O-Bon, the week-long festival of the Dead. So, a number of summer customs related to the scary and supernatural has arisen. For example, there is hyakumonogatari kaidankai, a meeting to tell one hundred ghost stories in a room with a hundred lighted candles. For every story told, the group extinguishes one candle, and when the last flame dies, it is said, a monster will appear.[ii]  Also, the theatres and later cinemas of Japan traditionally offer horror stories in their summer programme, and that’s where O’iwa enters the picture.

The Birth of O’iwa

In 1755, the man who would later be known as playwright Tsuruya Nanboku IV was born in Edo as son of a dyer. Aged 25, he married the daughter of Tsuruya Nanboku III, but it took him another 20 years to write a successfull play. He then excelled at mixing well-known plots and settings with new elements, creating new types of characters and sharply observing the lives of the lower-class townspeople.[iii] His best-known work only premiered in 1825, four years before his death: Tōkaidō Yotsuya Kaidan (The ghost-story of Yotsuya on the Tōkaidō (Eastern Sea Road)). Onoe Kigurorō III and Ichikawa Danjurō VII, two of the most famous actors of the day, played the lead roles.[iv]

Oiwa O'iwa Iemon yotsuya kaidan ukiyoe

O‘iwa (Kikugoro III) and Iemon (Danjurō VII), as painted by Utagawa Kuniyoshi, 1836.  http://www.theartofjapan.com/art-detail/?inv=11124034

The plot of Tōkaidō Yotsuya Kaidan

The play is set in the same sekai (“world“: the historic situation and characters used) as Chūshingura, the story of the 47 rōnin, and was often staged alongside it. Iemon, a good-looking young samurai, has murdered the father of the woman he desired in order to be with her. However, his lord has to commit suicide (this is the Chūshingura plot) and Iemon loses his position.

Forced to eke out a living as a paper umbrella maker, he grows tired of his sickly wife and child. Meanwhile, the daughter of a rich neighbor falls for Iemon. She sends a ‚medicine‘, actually a deadly poison, to O’iwa, so she could marry Iemon. But O’iwa survives, becoming horribly disfigured in the process. This prompts Iemon to leave her, and she dies, vowing revenge.[v] Iemon kills his thieving servant Kohei and nails the two corpses to a door which he throws into the river, to make it appear like a lover’s double suicide.

But O’iwa and Kohei return from their wet grave to haunt the murderer. They appear at Iemon’s wedding night, causing him to slay his bride and new father-in-law. Later, while fishing, he catches the very same door with the two corpses on it. The two ghosts keep appearing and accusing him, eventually driving him mad. In the last act, O’iwa breaks out of a burning paper lantern, an iconic scene often depicted in woodblock prints. Only when Iemon is finally slain, the ghosts are satisfied.

This story has been adapted and cited many times since then, in plays, prints, stories, movies, and anime. Even the ghost of Sadako in Ringu has some features of O’iwa.[vi] What made her scary then and still scary now?

The three horrors of O‘iwa.

Pollution

The female body itself is threatening to the patriarchal mindset. “Ancient worldviews frequently equated the female with the impure, often with evil itself. Given that her body was the site of

discharges and emissions, of miraculous change and transformations, she has been suspect of harboring all that is dangerous and threatening.“[vii] Childbirth and menstruation were stigmatized as polluting, which made women threatening to male ‘purity‘ – even outside the role of the seductress.

Mother and Monster

 

Oiwa O'iwa hair blood ukiyoe

O’iwa’s bloody hair loss.Source

O’iwa has given birth shortly before the beginning of the second act and as such is affected by this pollution. The disfiguration of her face by the poison might be a visualisation of the disgust Iemon feels towards her. In addition, her last day is a bloody nightmare.  As an effect of the poison, her hair falls out in bloody clumps. When Iemon tears the mosquito net out of her hands, he ripps off her fingernails. Finally, she dies by the sword. These events not only make her more and more polluted; they are also already part of her transformation into a monstrous ghost.

 

Remember, O‘iwa has just experienced all the transformations of pregnancy. Now her body transforms again, and in this state of in-between-ness, she dies. That may be one reason for her dangerousness as a ghost: “In most religions, the passage from one stage of life into the following one is seen as dangerous and demands support in the form of rites of passage. If such protective measures are lacking and a person dies during the transformation, this yields an enormous potential of threat for the community of the living.“[viii] O‘iwa dies in transformation. This makes her more powerful as a ghost, and thus scarier.

Rebellion

Class…

O’iwa is meek and obedient as long as she is ignorant of Iemon’s deeds. However, his betrayal of her ignites a fury so strong she returns again and again to haunt him. She is now in control, he is her victim: an inversion of the social order. As a kizewamono (‚naturalistic‘ play), Yotsuya Kaidan portrays the social problems and societal fears of its time. One of those is the decline of the feudal caste system and the fear of social unrest, when those who are meant to obey rebel against their „betters“ for being treated badly – as O’iwa does against Iemon.

Fourty years after Yotsuya Kaidan premiered, the samurai of Satsuma and Chōshū would rise against the Tokugawa government. Thus they ignited a civil war which led to the opening of Japan in the Meiji restoration of 1868. Yet, the seeds of this upheavel were already growing at the time of Yotsuya Kaidan. Enough perhaps to transfer the fear of power being turned upside down from a level of gender to a political level.

…and gender

Besides being potential political commentary, O’iwa shows the limits of a woman’s abilities to gain justice.  “One of the chief ways in which women who have been trampled on become empowered is to turn into vengeful spirits after they have died.“[ix] She has to transform to become a monster and vengeful ghost, in order to gain power over Iemon. In life, she was at his mercy, caught within the confines of society and her role as woman and wife. She can only escape them through monstrosity and death.

At the same time, the woman exacting revenge on her deceitful, murderous husband is basically a conservative morality tale. In addition, it is not O’iwa but her sister’s fiancé, a male character, who actually kills Iemon. Thus in the end, societal norms and morals are reinforced, and the fear of social upheaval and female empowerment is banished.

Otherworldliness

One of the Japanese words for monster/spirit/uncanny being is bakemono or obake, literally „changing thing“. This allows the conclusion that transformation itself is a key element in Japanese concepts of horror, and especially ghost stories. When it comes to female ‚changing creaturues‘, „[i]n almost every instance, the mutation from benign, subservient female, into something ‚else‘/Other is motivated by a violent act of betrayal and murder“.[x] This exactly fits the situation of O’iwa, who transforms from obidient human wife into something terrible and Other. In her haunting of Iemon, she assumes a male position of power, another factor in the fear of rebellion and gender role reversal I discussed above.

An onryō…

But also, O‘iwa is the first woman in a line of revenging ghosts (onryō), who wreak havoc among the living for an injustice suffered before or in the manner of their deaths. As such, she has become so iconic that she overshadows her male predecessors such as Sugawara no Michizane (now deified as Tenman Tenjin, God of Learning) or the Taira warriors.[xi]

Carmen Blacker describes onryō as follows: “Most dangerous of all, however, are those ghosts whose death was violent, lonely or untoward. Men who died in battle or disgrace, who were murdered, or who met their end with rage or resentment in their hearts, will become at once onryô or angry spirits, who require for their appeasement measures a good deal stronger than the ordinary everyday obsequies.“[xii] A sudden or violent death, in contrast to a death of old age or disease, leaves the departed soul with some remaining energy. This is even more volatile if the soul harbours resentment, e.g. for their killer.[xiii] Nanboku cleary alludes to this type of ghost in his construction of O’iwa and her postmortal empowerment. She dies poisoned, betrayed, disfigured and furious – the ‘best‘ conditions to become an onryō.

… or another other scary creature?

However, male onryō usually caused disasters and plagues rather than appearing in human form to the object of their grudge. O’iwa‘s appearance refers to the classical shape of the female yūrei. (Long disshevelled hair, often white burial robes and the triangular headpiece assoicated with them, etc…).[xiv] In addition, she appears as corpse on the door, as a rat (her zodiac sign) or a lantern monster, further adding the category of yōkai/bakemono to her repertoire. The tangible person undergoes a series of painful transformations and turns into an unstable avanging ghost – ethereal in ist substance and mutable in its form. Woman, ghost, rat, lantern; onryō, yūrei, yōkai: O’iwa invokes the fear of all that is intangible and beyond our understanding.

The Burning Lantern

Oiwa O'iwa lantern ghost monster chochin obake hokusai ukiyoe

Monster Lantern O’iwa, as depicted by Katsushika Hokusai, early 1830s.  https://monstrousindustry.files.wordpress.com/2014/09/c9712-oiwa2bhokusai.jpg

One of the features which brougth Kabuki ist popular appeal are keren, stage tricks which made stunning transformations of scenery and character possible in front of the live audience. Yotsuya Kaidan features a numer of keren, but one of the most iconic is chôchin nuke. In this scene in the drama’s last act, O’iwa appears in, or through, a burning paper lantern. For this, a slightly enlarged lanters is set aflame on stage, and the actor playing O’iwa emerges from it. He “slides through the burned-out aperture from behind the scenes, his timing in perfect accord with the man who does the burning”.[xv] As with other keren, finely tuned teamwork is essential to produce a credible illusion of the incredible and fantastic. In contrast, artists only needed colour and paper for their fantastic image.

Hokusai’s O’iwa

While a number of depictions of the chōchin nuke scene and other kabuki ghost scenes exist, Katsushika Hokusai’s (1760-1849) print is unique in that is is not a portrait of a specific actor. Ukiyo-e of kabuki characters were usually a kind of early modern movie poster, something you hung up on your wall because of the star actor you were a fan of, who was captured at the hight of his art in a striking pose. In contrast, Hokusai does not show an actor and his O’iwa does not emerge from the lantern. Instead, she is the lantern, and this completely changes the direction of the image.[xvi]

To this end, Hokusai merges the character of O’iwa with an only mildly scary yōkai, the chōchin obake or monster lantern. Chōchin obake are a subclass of tsukumogami (monsters born from objects wither discarded thoughtlesslly, or used for more than 100 years), ad are usually depicted with a mouthlike parting in the middle or lower, a rolling tongue and (usually) one eye. As such, they are more funny than threatening, but still good for a jump scare. Chōchin O’iwa, therefore, is an image full of allusions, some more playful, some rather scary.

Oiwa O'iwa lantern ghost monster chochin obake hozuki reitetsu

O’iwa the Monster Lantern, as seen in ‘Hôzuki no Reitetsu’.

Interestingly, O’iwa‘s depiction as monster lantern did not transform the category, as it did with onryō. Monster lanterns stayed the same, and the ‘monster lantern version‘ instead became a subordinate image for O’iwa.

Modern Representations: Ayakashi and beyond

I already mentioned the influce O’iwa has had on modern female ghosts such as Sadako.

Moreover, she appears in the anime Hōzuki no Reitetsu (2014) as the monster lantern. Even if she did not introduce herself, she is clearly recognizable by the eye swollen shut, the yūrei-style hair and generally non-comical features which set her apart from the usual chōchin obake. Most striking, however, I found the adaptation of Yotsuya Kaidan in anime form in Ayakashi: Samurai Horror Tales (2006), which features rats and doppelgangers and of cause the scene where O’iwa emerges from the lantern, and there’s nothing funny about that.

What made, and still makes, O’iwa scary, I think, are the feelings she evokes in us. Against her we are powerless, helpless, on many levels at once. Most of us have at some point done someone a wrong and can imagine Iemon’s guilt. We feel his fear, understand his flights, cover-ups and denials – all that while being aware what a despicable human being he is. In contrast, O’iwa in her onryō state is utterly alien. You can never be sure in what shape or manner she will appear next; it could be anyone, anything, anywhere.  She destabilizes categories, perception and thus reality itself and drives you mad. And you cannot reason with her, reach her, or forcibly stop her. You are completely at her mercy, and she has none for you. What could be more horrifying?

Notes and References:

[i] Anderson & Ritchie, as quoted in Elisabeth Scherer: Spuk der Frauenseele. Weibliche Geister im japanischen Film und ihre kulturhistorischen Ursprünge. Bielefeld: transcript, 2011, 98.

[ii] If you like Japanese monsters as much as I do, check out the amazing website named for this event.

[iii] Shirane Haruo (ed): Early Modern Japanese Literature. An Anthology, 1600-1900. New York: Columbia UP., 2002, 844. See also http://www.kabuki21.com/nanboku4.php.

[iv] http://www.kabuki21.com/nakamuraza.php#jul1825

[v] The exact circumstances of her death vary between different summaries of the story. Sometimes she commits suicide, cutting her throat. Sometimes Iemon kills her, but in the only version I had access to, Mark Oshima’s translation of acts 2 and 3 for Shirane 2002, while grappling with Iemon over the objects (such as her bedding and mosquito net), he intends to sell in order to make her leave him, she accidentally falls into the Kohei’s sword, which had remained stuck in a pillar from an earlier fight.

[vi] An interesting article on this topic: Valerie Wee: „Patriarcy and the Horror of the Monstrous Feminine. A Comparative Study of Ringu and The Ring“. In: Feminist Media Studies 11 (2), 2011, 151–165.

[vii] Rebecca Copeland: „Mythical Bad Girls: The Corpse, the Crone, and the Snake.“ In: Laura Miller und Jan Bardsley (eds): Bad Girls of Japan. Houndmills, Balsingstoke, Hampshire, New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005, 14–31, 17-18.

[viii] Scherer 2011:50-51, my translation.

[ix] Samuel L. Leiter, as quoted in Richard J. Hand: „Aesthetics of Cruelty. Traditional Japanese Theatre and the Horror Film“. In: Jay McRoy (ed): Japanese Horror Cinema. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2005, S. 18–28, 24.

[x] Wee 2011:154.

[xi] For a definition of onryō, see http://yokai.com/onryou/, where you can also find an article about Michizane. For a story about Taira-clan onryō, see https://hyakumonogatari.com/2013/10/07/heike-ichizoku-no-onryo-the-vengeful-ghosts-of-the-heike-clan/

[xii] Carmen Blacker: The Catalpa Bow. A Study of Shamanistic Practices in Japan. London: Allen & Unwin, 1975, 48.

[xiii] Scherer 2011:40-41

[xiv] For a first look, see http://yokai.com/yuurei/. There are whole books on the different types of yūrei… This one, for instance.

[xv] Samuel L. Leiter: „Keren. Spectacle and Trickery in Kabuki Acting“. In: Educational Theatre Journal 28 (2), 1976, S. 173–188, 188.

[xvi] Scherer 2011:112, 114.

Fanfiction Review: The Heart of the Ocean. Chapter 1.

Fanfiction sits in an important fandom niche. Fanfiction can encompass anime or, as in this case, Western stories. Alex reviews a fanfiction based on BBC’s Sherlock. While you may wonder what this has to do with Japan, Japanese culture has inspired modern fanfiction of all types. This story, “The Heart of the Ocean,” involves a pairing called Mystrade, a contraction of the names Mycroft Holmes and Gregory Lestrade. This story is essentially Western yaoi. You can read the fanfiction here.

Dang-cap-cua-Heart-of-the-Ocean-NecklaceThis fanfiction is based around the 1997 movie of Titanic. (The movie stars Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet, and other actors and actresses who all make this movie come alive. I highly recommend it. But, I digress). Mycroft takes the place of Rose, (Kate Winslet’s character), and our dear Gregory replaces Jack, (Leonardo DiCaprio’s character). Others from BBC’s Sherlock take over roles that are in the movie. And while somebodyswatson follows details and scenes from the movie beautifully, some details are changed up a bit to help this amazing fanfiction flow more smoothly with it. But I’m not going to spoil everything.

The feeling of wonder and nostalgia is almost immediate. The events of April 14th, 1912, are known to many. The lives that lived, the lives lost, feelings, memories, almost nothing but history now. Pictures, words on paper, tales told and retold. For those who have seen the movie, and lovers of Mystrade, this tale will certainly not disappoint. Somebodyswatson wrote gold with this, they did a marvelous job.

Looking for stories to read, I go by what I’m feeling at the time, and by what catches my eye. Scrolling through Mystrade and Johnlock fanfics, the title caught my eye instantly. The tragic tale of the Titanic caught my attention at a young age, and I am a huge fan of the movie. I absolutely love it, and I cry my eyes out every time (But, back to the topic). Right away I grumbled to myself, because the death of one of my precious babies is something I do not enjoy reading. (It was also well past 1 in the morning when I stumbled upon this multi-chapter work of art). …but Mystrade. And Titanic. I needed this in my life. The curiosity would just kill me if I didn’t give in and read this. So, much as my grumblings tried to talk me out of it, I gave in. (As if I actually had a choice to begin with once I saw it). To cut off my personal ramblings, I continue with the review of this wonderful story. (Really, I can’t give it enough love. It’s fantastic. ..anyway).

*Review Start*

Infiltration

( Infiltration by scigirl451 on Deviantart.com )

Somebodyswaton did a bloody great job of blending characters in, following the movie, and making the feelings and emotions..the reader really feels everything from the get-go. Especially if you love the pairing and have seen the movie. As far as characters who are introduced in the first chapter, we have Mycroft and Anthea, (BBC’s Sherlock), and Lovett and Bodine, (Titanic. While Lovett is a real person, I believe Bodine was just a created character for the movie). Sherlock is briefly mentioned, as is Moriarty, (both from BBC’s Sherlock). But Moriarty will definitely be seen in this story from the sound of things. Our lovable Lestrade is also mentioned. (Also from BBC’s Sherlock). This being a Mystrade story, we will most certainly be seeing him later on.

Having seen the movie, I can hear the music from it as I’m reading this. (That’s how close somebodyswatson kept to the details of the scenes). The emotion started right off for me. It was like looking at an old photograph and reminiscing. Mycroft is spot on. His wit, charm, elegance, he’s all there. And it’s all shown beautifully. Anthea, ever loyal with her phone glued to her hands, is right by his side. This is just the first chapter, and I was glued from the first line. It starts off where the movie does, of course. Somebodyswatson didn’t miss a detail. (Seriously. If you haven’t seen this movie, go watch it. Now). And it cuts off right before Mycroft begins his tale of being aboard the luxury cruise liner.

Through the majority of this chapter, I was chuckling and grinning. Mycroft was being his usual classy, subtly sassy, genius self. (Just a few reasons why we love him). But the moments where he’s remembering, where he feels..the reader feels too. You see his face, you hear his thoughts, you experience everything. You are right there with him. And you remember. It happened. And, for this story, it happened to him. The heartbreak, sadness, pain, fear, you’re going to feel it, to experience it. But, along with all those feelings, there is also love, happiness, joy, living. You’re going to be pulled into it all. The curiosity of the crew, even if you know the details, read the book, watched the things, you’re going to share it. To sit in front of Mycroft, waiting, preparing yourself to hear his life. You’re doing that by reading the first words of this chapter, this tale. And that’s where you’re left. Waiting. Wanting to listen. Wanting more. And so, one chapter ends. But the story is merely beginning.

Japanese Public Baths – Anime’s Staple for Awkward Humor

pokemon-team-rock-hot-springThe hot spring scene, a staple for any romantic-comedy anime. So predictable and so traditional.  Baths are an important part of Japanese cultural identity.  Until the mid-1960s, 60% of Japanese homes had bathtubs. Everyone else went to communal bathhouses.  Japan’s oldest text, the Kojiki — written in the 8th century–mentions public baths (Wynn, 2014). Anime’s public bath scenes pull from a long history. In the 1580s, Luis Frois, a Jesuit who lived in Japan for over 30 years, wrote (Loureiro, 2000):

“We bathe at home to completely avoid the eyes of others; In Japan, man, woman or monks alike bathe in public baths or, by night, in front of their homes.”

History of Public Bathing

When Buddhism arrived in Japan in the 6th century, bathing was already established with the elites of Japan. Buddhism brought the idea of purity to the custom. At first, bathhouses were enjoyed only by monks and the elites who could afford to build them. In Zen monasteries, the bath became a place to meditate and attain enlightenment. Over time, temple baths opened to the poor, and rich elite would sponsor these bathhouses. The best known was Empress Komyo (701-760), the consort of Emperor Shomu (701-756) who vowed to personally wash 1,000 beggars and did so at the Hokkeji bathhouse in 747.

Eventually, these developed into the social gathering places of the Edo period. These commercial baths allowed people to rent the space for special occasions and business meetings. Women also rented these spaces. A record from 1405 mentions court ladies renting a bath far enough away that it required them to travel by cart to reach it (Butler, 2005).

Now you’d think with all this public nudity shenanigans would break out at some point. After all, as anime suggests, mistakes happen! These “mistakes” were just part of attending bathhouses for a time. During the Edo period, male bathers enjoyed the attentions of yuna, or bath girl. These young ladies would help men bathe and take care of…other needs for added cost. But this didn’t happen as much as you may suspect. Bathhouses were important social centers, not brothels. In 1657, the Shogunate banned yuna (Wynn, 2014).

Types of Bathhouses

sakura bath scene

Much like the Greek and Roman baths, Japanese sento were places to conduct business and make alliances. Clans and families would meet to conduct negotiations. Bathhouses were one of the few places in feudal Japan where social status wasn’t as much of a factor.

There are three types of baths:

  • sento – the public bath we discussed
  • onsen – the hot springs anime rom-coms love
  • ofuro – the private bath

Hot springs have certain requirements before they can be called onsen. They have to have 19 different types of minerals, meet certain levels of hydrogen and flourine ions, and meet certain temperature requirements (Wynn, 2014). Ofuro also appear in anime. These are private baths common to Japanese households now. In the past, only the rich could afford them.

Japanese people typically wash in the evening after dinner. Baths are associated with nighttime and relaxing instead of getting ready for the day like here in the United States. Some households follow old ofuro rules. The head of the household gets first dibs, while the water is at its hottest and cleanest. Then male members take their turn by descending age. Finally, females take their turn also by descending age. Just as many households bathe in order of convenience: who has to go to bed early and the like (Wynn, 2014).  It’s not unusual to spend as much as 45 minutes washing and soaking.

Unlike Greeks and Romans, Japanese custom is to wash before getting into the bath. That is why in anime you see people sitting on little stools washing before soaking. Baths are meant for relaxing not for washing off dirt. A study in 2000 looked into how a hot relaxing bath benefits sleep: it induces quite a good sleep actually (Kagamimori, 2000).

Bathing Etiquette

anime bathLike every aspect of Japanese culture, there are rules to follow when you visit onsen or bathhouses. Understanding these rules will help you better understand some of the more subtle jokes anime likes during their onsen scenes. These notes are from an American military dispatch I found (Targeted News Service, 2013). First and foremost, onsen are for soaking only, not for washing.

Next is the small towel rule. You are given 2 towels at onsen. People use the full-size towel for drying off, and you take the small hand-sized towel with you into the hot springs, but it cannot touch the water. It is used to wipe sweat from your head and face. When you aren’t using it, it is folded on top of your head or, for ladies, wrapped around your head to keep your hair out of the water. Rising and wringing the towel in the water is taboo.

While onsen are gender segregated, children can attend opposite-gender baths with their parent or guardian.

Most bathhouses have pools with different temperatures. The main pool is hot, while other pools have lower temperatures. Custom recommends people move to lower temperature pools to prevent dehydration from the heat or heat-stroke. You see many anime characters stay in the hot pool until they pass out because they are too embarrassed to move to another pool.

You need to be comfortable being in the buff, seeing others in the buff, and seeing naked children of both genders. Japanese customs have a different view of nudity than us in the West, at least when it comes to communal baths.

Finally, don’t be surprised if you are barred from public bathing areas  if you have tattoos. Tattoos are not mainstream in Japanese culture, and they have long association with crime, delinquency, and the yakuza. More then half of Japanese hotels (56%) do not allow people with tattoos into their bathing facilities (Demetriou, 2015).

Body Image and Public Nudity

persona-4-body-imageSpeaking of public nudity, Raimy Shin accounts of her experiences in mokyoktang, or Korean public baths. She writes that her first visit to a public bath opened her eyes. It was the first place where she saw a wide range of female body types: those with large breasts, those with small breasts, those with body hair, those without body hair. Before her experience, like most of us in the West, she mostly had exposure to ideal body types through media.

“Every single woman I saw out there was unblemished and thin. Thin thin thin, to the bone. The women in the magazines are, of course, still like that. Way too spotless to be real. When I look at them for too long I start to believe that women really look like that, and that I should also aspire to look like that.”

Anime scenes touch on this, particularly with female characters. Most of the time they will compare their breast sizes, but the comments still suggest a disconnect between reality and expectations. Flat-chested characters will feel inadequate next to their buxom friends. This is both commentary on modern body ideals and also serves to reinforce them. Public baths shed the clothing media places on our minds and reveals reality with all its lumps and droop. Men also struggle with media-forced body images, if to a lesser extent.

Understanding the long history of Japanese bathing customs helps us better understand the humor of onsen scenes in anime. Trips to hot springs and bathhouses connect the characters to the past, connects them with each other, and helps the characters relax. Of course, it provides the natural setting for fanservice and hijinks.

References

Butler, Lee (2005) “Washing Off the Dust”: Baths and Bathing in Late Medieval Japan. Monumenta Nipponica, 60 (1) 1-41.

Demetriou, Danielle (2015) Majority of Japan hotels ban tattooed tourists from public baths;
Most Japanese hotels refuse to allow visitors with tattoos from entering their public baths. The Telegraph. October, 2015.

Kagamimori, S., Sekine, M., Izumi, I., Ohmura, S., Liu, Z., Matsubara, I. and Sokejima, S. (2000), Effects of taking a Japanese-style bath on sleep. Focus on Alternative and Complementary Therapies, 5: 91. doi:10.1111/j.2042-7166.2000.tb02351.x

Loureiro, R.M. (2000) Turning Japanese? The Experiences and writings of a Portuguese Jesuit in 16th century Japan. ÉCOLE  FRANÇAISE  D’EXTRÊME-ORIENT

Shin, Raimy. I Learned to Love My Body in A Mokyoktang. Tufts: Jumbo Talk http://admissions.tufts.edu/blogs/jumbo-talk/post/i-learned-to-love-my-body-in-a-mokyoktang-aka-a-big-nude-public-bath/

Targeted News Service (January 25, 2013  ). Japan Travelers’ Onsen Etiquette Notes.

Wynn, L (2014) Self-Reflection in the Tub: Japanese Bathing Culture, Identity, and Cultural Nationalism. Asia Pacific: Perspectives, 12(2), 61-78.

Anime Undermines American Masculinity

attack on american manhoodAnime is a threat to American values. It injects foreign ideas into the veins of American culture, particularly American masculinity.

But then, American masculinity needs the medicine.

Let’s step back a moment and look at American values. The United States contains several core values: freedom of speech, rights of the individual, equality, achievement, social mobility, and competition (Doran, 2013).  American masculinity revolves around individualism, competition, achievement, and sexual prowess. The core value of masculinity is quantity. More achievement, material, power, sex, and masculinity itself. American men raised on the idea that maleness is something we accumulate through action. It is something to be saved, like money. Like money, maleness can be lost. Guys who don’t try to climb to corporate ladder are not as manly as those who do (Tuck, 2003). This idea of American masculinity reaches back to Greek and Roman culture. Semen became the symbol for this idea. It made man masculine in the ancient West. Today, we substitute achievement for semen, but the links between achievement and man milk can be seen in the writings of the second-century physician Aretaeus the Cappadocian (Tuck, 2013):

[I]t is the semen when possessed of vitality which makes us to be men, hot well braced in limbs, hairy, well boiced, spirited, strong to think and act.

It is thought semen could also distract a man.In There’s Something About Mary, Ted (Ben Stiller) is told to masturbate before his date with Mary (Cameron Diaz) so he doesn’t have “baby batter on the brain”. The movie shows the American focus on sex. The scene reflects how men can’t speak with women without thinking about sex unless he takes himself in hand first. Sexual prowess underpins American masculinity. You see it in the way products are marketed to men. They are all designed in one way or another to enhance male performance. Even car commercials equate their design and performance with this currency view of maleness. A male isn’t something you are. It is something you earn and buy. In my area, many people consider  stay-at-home fathers as strange and effeminate because they aren’t out earning bread like a man.

arnold-schwarzenegger-conan

Conan makes a good stand-in for American masculinity.

American masculinity contains only one side. Gay men, for example, are portrayed as feminine. As if femininity is somehow wrong. One of the worst insults a straight man can endure is being called gay. It essentially calls him a woman. While this is insulting to gay men and women, the insult ties back to the values of maleness: sexual prowess, achievement, authority. So-called real men must be on top, sexually and socially. That is one reason why many parts of American culture find homosexuality abhorrent: gay men aren’t acting like “men”. Likewise, stay-at-home fathers fail to act as “men”.

These ideas extend toward male anime fans. Male anime fans who enjoy romantic comedies trouble those who think with chest hair. After all, American anime fans live inside American culture. Yet, male anime fans have access to a different perspective. Anime offers a different view of masculinity as we shall see.

Anime’s Softer Side of Manhood

inuyasha-kagome-hugAmerican romantic comedies target women. Sex comedies try to appeal to men. These comedies, unlike romantic comedies targeting women, don’t focus on emotions and wishes (Newitz, 1995). Sex comedies fall in line with the American view of manhood. Anime, however, suggest American masculinity isn’t the only type of masculinity. Okay, yes, anime has many shows that play right into typical views of masculinity — the man dominating various girls. Anime romances represent a different type of heterosexual masculinity, one based on romantic feelings instead of sexual ability.  They also break the equation American romance has: sex = love, love = sex.  Newitz (1995) writes:

Anime offer to the post-sexual revolution generation stories which suggest that young men and women do not need to have sex in order to experience love.

Anime romances provide a way for American guys to enjoy a romance where the male character wants to fall in love rather than want to have sex. The passive nature of these male characters run against the masculine ideals of being a dominating, go-get-em leader. The male characters explore a tender side of manhood. They are free to experience love and emotions normally considered feminine. Look at Love, Chunibyo, and other Delusions

The story centers on the growing emotional connection between Yuta and Rikka. Over the course of the anime, Yuta backs Rikka away from sex and other physical shows of love on several occasions. He wants to develop a deep emotional bond with her. If the story was American, he would have taken her to the sack instead of telling her not to worry about such things. These types of romantic comedies move manhood away from what is between the legs and toward the nobility of love and empathy. These stories often have a character who represents typical masculinity, a character that gawks at the ladies and is otherwise focused on sex. These characters serve as a backdrop to show how much better a male focus on emotion can be.  They also fail to understand the main male’s focus on love. It speaks to how many men feel about society. Only a few express their disdain for the male focus on sex.

Waifu and Love

Waifuism came from needs of men to experience love outside of the sexual dimension. Condry (2012) quotes:

For people who have grown up with the “common sense” that love equals the 3-D World, it may be impossible to convey the point I’d like to make: 3-D love is like the Edo era’s shogunate government. Throughout that period, everyone thought that the shogunate would continue forever. It was almost impossible to imagine another kind of government, and floating in this vague understanding, all of a sudden, the black ships appeared…Now, the love revolution expanding in Japan is easiest to understand in terms of Meiji Restoration. For a long time, everyone expected the commonsense belief that “love = 3-D world” would continue, but it has begun to be destroyed by the appearance of the moe phenomena.

Waifuism comes from a dissatisfaction with the cultural norms of male love. A guy can’t have sex with his waifu. This allows him to experience love outside of social sexual expectations.

Sex is Fine, Just Not as a Core Value

ComicArt-gropeSex isn’t the issue with any of this. The focus of American culture on sex and accumulation as the defining characteristics of masculinity damages men. Anime’s message that it is okay to be a guy and want to experience romantic love undermines American culture. It shows how it is okay to be a heterosexual guy and not focus on getting between a girl’s legs.  In fact, many of these anime stories reveal how seeking emotional connections over physical is superior.

Some anime seek to reinforce traditionally dominate male roles. And anime still has problems with objectifying women. However,  anime is one of the few mediums that provide an alternative to American macho values. This doesn’t stop men from being the target of insults and bullying. Male anime fans that enjoy romantic comedies have the same problems as men who enjoy Hollywood romantic comedies.

American masculinity has come under threat by women and the increasing acceptance of homosexuality. These threats make those who hold these traditional values louder and more insistent. However, many men who grew up watching anime live in ways that reveal a softer, stronger side of being male. And these men are raising sons of their own. With time perhaps the one-sided view of manhood will fade.

The Focus on Community and Cooperation

goku_and_friendsAside from the focus on sexual prowess, anime also undermines the American ideas of individualism and competition. Many parents raise American men to compete. Competition and individualism are kissing cousins. When you view yourself as a self-made product, you will naturally feel drawn toward looking out for oneself first. The US teaches competition (and the greed that results from it) is good. We have the mistaken idea that competition makes people more productive and achieve more. Of course, we measure achievement in terms money and other possessions. Even in team situations, competition rather than cooperation takes focus. People jockey for position or to stand out from their peers, and companies reward such behavior.

American manhood focuses competition: having more money, having a bigger home, having a hotter wife, having more loyalty to a sports team. Then you have anime. Anime focuses on cooperation and community. Every great hero has a posse of friends who helps him achieve. While there is some competition, it isn’t the same as here in the US. Competition in anime centers on improvement for both people — the drive to get stronger. It doesn’t involve stomping on people as you climb. I wrote more about this idea in my Goku Versus Superman article. Anime undermines this aspect of American culture by showing how no one is truly self-made. Each person has a support system. Even if sometimes they are unaware of that support system. For example, public services like police, fire protection, roads, air quality, water quality, and other infrastructure form support systems so-called self-made business people don’t consider in their views. In a similar way, anime heroes have invisible and visible support systems. Anime heroes measure their manhood by how well they return value to those support systems.

Dragonball Z‘s Goku is a good representation of manhood. Goku can’t achieve any of his victories without the help of his friends. He is also a father who isn’t afraid to express his love for his son.

Anime provides a welcome alternative to traditional American masculinity. We internalize value systems without realizing it. Anime and other media allow us to see a different perspective, and that perspective can reveal the unhealthy aspects of our value systems. American men often live one-dimensional lives. We fail to get in touch with our “feminine side”. Even calling these male emotions feminine seeks to denigrate both. It is good not to focus on sex in a relationship. It is good to want to love someone and embrace those emotions. It is good to stand against competition and individualism. If enough men stand up for the other side of manhood, we may be able to achieve a better balance. If women refuse to associate with men who are driven by sex and competition, perhaps some of these men may discover the side they are missing.

Or maybe we should just require everyone to watch anime. That just might work too.

References

Condry, I (2012). Love Revolution. Recreating Japanese Men. University of California Press. 262-283.

Doran, C., & Romie Littrell (2013) Measuring Mainstream US Cultural Values. J Bus Ethics. 117. 261-280.

Newitz, A. (1995) Magical Girls and Atomic Bomb Sperm: Japanese Animation in America. Film Quarterly. 49 (1). 2-15.

Tuck, G. (2003). Mainstreaming the Money Shot: Reflections on the Representation of Ejaculation in Contemporary American Cinema. Paragraph, 26(1/2), 263.