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.

Love, Chunibyo, and How to Cope with Reality

Love, Chunibyo, and Other DelusionsWhile I watched Love, Chunibyo, and Other Delusions, I began thinking about how the series illustrates the difficulties of coping with reality. Everyone has different ways of coping with their problems. We avoid, fight, deny, and face demons within and without. Reality is tough. It’s hard to face death. It’s hard to face loneliness, loss, and love. Love, Chunibyo, though odd, has a lot of human elements.

Zach already reviewed the first season. During the second season, Yuta’s old friend, Satone, appears and strains the relationship he has with  Rikka. The story follows how Yuta and Rikka continue to grow closer through various challenges.

Both seasons use the Japanese slang term chunibyo (or chuunibyou) to describe Rikka’s tendency to live in a fantasy world. During the first season, we discover she does this to avoid the pain of her father’s death. She continues to live a fantasy of her own making because of the difficulties of living in a dull, repetitive world full of stress. This centerpiece of the anime spoke to me.

As a teen, I didn’t LARP (Live Action Role Played) as Rikka does; however, I used fantasy to help me cope with bullying and other issues. I was the pimply, nerdy kid the jocks targeted.  Diablo 2 and books provided a way to escape my lack of a school social life. The number of hours I spent on the game–I don’t want to think about it, but I was an addict. Eight hours was a light day of gaming.  I used the game to avoid the aspects of myself I disliked or found uncomfortable. I used the game, and others, to avoid feeling deaths in my family.

notes-of-love-chunibyo-other-delusions-heart--L-vrfbhKThis behavior prevented me from facing my issues. Avoidance doesn’t work. Problems do not go away because we ignore them. They must be faced and worked through. Eventually ,Rikka faces her father’s death. While this doesn’t stop her from living in a fantasy world, it changes why she uses the fantasy world. No longer does it become a sanctuary. Instead, it becomes a way for her to live with more awareness and wonder. Avoidance makes problems fester. Eventually, you must face your issues.Otherwise, they will pounce on you…likely during your final moments in this world. Best to take care of them on your terms rather than let them dictate the battlefield.

But how do you face demons inside you? How do you face soul-gnawing loss?

Mental Training Exercises

Stop running and face it.
This hurts. A lot. Agony will pierce your heart, and the longer you run, the more intense the pain. Your first reaction will be to shut it out, to run. When the pain grips you, it is hard to remember that the pain will pass after it runs its course. But it will. Everything is temporary, including pain.

Embrace the pain
In America, we are taught that pain is bad, that pain is evil. Life changing events are painful. Growing up physically hurts. Having a child hurts. Losing a parent hurts. It’s supposed to hurt. If it didn’t, it would mean we didn’t care. It would mean you are not changing. Change hurts. But we can’t avoid pain. Find someplace quiet and sit with the pain. Don’t act on any of the impulses. Just sit. It will pass. Everything passes with time.

Watch your feelings and thoughts
Acknowledge your anger, sadness, and joy. Don’t act or let yourself fall into them. Watch them as if you sat on a riverbank, watching the water roll past. Listen to what they are saying, but don’t dip into the water. It is hard not to get caught in the torrent. Notice how your thoughts move. Look at what they are saying. Ask each one these questions:

  • Why are you saying this?
  • Is this logical or reasonable?

Often we already know the solutions to problems if we listen to what is going on beneath the torrent.

Forgive yourself
Forgive yourself for being human and having these thoughts. They don’t make you a horrible person. They make you a person.  Few people lack demons. I have many! But you can make peace with them if you take the time to listen.

Thoughts are Thoughts
In the moment, we can forget thoughts are just thoughts. They can’t harm us unless we act upon them. Mindfulness–being aware of your present moment, inside and outside of you–helps. The torrent of thoughts you experience feel overwhelming, but they are only thoughts. Thoughts come from your behavior, worldview, environment, and level of mindfulness. Change these and your thoughts will change.

None of this is easy. Most people use entertainment to drown out their uncomfortable, racing thoughts. However, you can only be truly content if you learn to sit in silence with yourself.  When you first do this, it isn’t pleasant. Your mind will be a torrent. “This is dumb. I’m bored. This won’t help.” Anxiety will hit you. When I first started mindfulness practices, anxiety was a severe roadblock. However, even a few minutes counts. Stick with it.  Pain tells us something is wrong. It is a friend. Listen. With time it becomes easier and even pleasant. After a certain point, your day will feel off without a few quiet moments to sit and have a silent conversation with yourself.

Backsliding and the Anime Hero Within

rikka

After you do this, you will find yourself like Rikka: falling back into old habits. You will start avoiding things again. You will be a chunibyo again. It takes practice to change your behavior. And time.

In modern society, we want easy fixes. I see library patrons get angry with technology after only a few minutes of encountering a problem. Modern society has trained us to be impatient and avoid discomfort at all costs. This is childish. Life requires patience and perseverance. It takes years to overcome some inner demons. Others we have to make peace with and accept. There is no magic cure or pill. Hard work is the only course.

Fantasy worlds have their place. In small amounts, escapism is good for the mind. However, if you live anime, video games, or are a chunibyo, you need to look at why you are avoiding reality.

There is no shame in needing help. Some problems can’t be faced alone.  Rikka needed Yuta. Yuta needed Rikka. No one lives without the help of others. If your problems make you consider harming yourself or others, talk to someone. Every anime hero becomes a hero through the help of his friends and community. Look at how much help Rikka and Yuta get from their friends! Talk to a close friend, a pastor, a doctor, or a teacher.

If your thoughts lean toward suicide or violence and you live in the United States, call these mental health hotlines.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
24 hours a day, 7 days a week
1.800.273.8255

SAMHSA Treatment Referral Helpline
Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. EST
1.877.726.4727

You have an anime hero within. We all do. But like all anime heroes we have to work to unlock our hidden powers of mindfulness and compassion. We have to train hard like Goku and Ichigo. And like them, we have to sometimes seek help in that training. American heroes lie to us. They are born heroes or become them through some freak accident of fate. Heroism doesn’t work that way. Heroism comes from facing inner barriers–demons–and training to overcome them.

Are you training to face life like an anime hero? If not, why are you waiting to start? Go out and train your mind!

Ukiyo-e and the Importance of Eyebrows

Ukiyo-e, manga’s great-great-great-great-great grandmother, gives us a window on the Edo Period of Japan. Four-hundred years in the future, our descendants may look upon today’s manga as we do ukiyo-e. That’s something to think about!

Ukiyo-e, Merchants, and the Red Light District

Early woodblock by Hishikawa Moronobu,

Early woodblock by Hishikawa Moronobu,

Ukiyo-e, or woodblock prints, used carved wooden blocks to print images on paper. Their inexpensive price and mass production made them the fashion magazines, pin-ups, sex guides, flyers, advertising, and manga of Japan between 1615 and 1868. Ukiyo-e translates to “images of the floating world.” Ukiyo in Japanese Buddhism meant either “sad world” or “floating world” and referred to the troubling, suffering state of humanity. The pleasure districts of the Edo Period represented a slice of suffering and a reprieve from it at the same time (Fleming, 1985). These districts offered everything from gambling and prostitution to teahouses with their cultured geisha. Theaters hosted kabuki and popular puppet shows. These districts were walled off from the rest of the city and lit with red lanterns, literal red light districts. They became centers for dance, fashion, and music. Prostitution and gambling were regulated by the Shogunate, the central government. The regulation allowed families mired in debt to legally sell their female members to the districts so they could work off family debt. Women could also be sentenced to work in the districts. Few courtesans could pay off her debt and become independently wealthy. Geisha–who shouldn’t be confused with prostitutes– provided a better chance. However, both geisha and high-end courtesans were expected to be educated. For many women, this was the only way to access education.

Ukiyo-e also became the primary way for the merchant class to be heard. During this period, merchants threatened the samurai class. Merchants controlled more wealth than the samurai class. This threatened the Shogunate. In response, the Shogunate shuffled Japan’s social hierarchy and placed merchants near the bottom, stripping the class of political power and safeguarding the samurai from their influence. Without official political channels to put wealth into, merchants began to channel their wealth into theater, music, and art–places where they could still be equal to the upper classes. Ukiyo-e became their “in” with the samurai and other classes. The inexpensive production method and affordability allowed merchants to direct taste in fashion, culture, entertainment, and more (Library of Congress, n.d.).

Katsushika_Hokusai,_published_by_Nishimuraya_Yohachi_(Eijudō)_-_Peonies_and_Canary_(Shakuyaku,_kanaari),_from_an_untitled_series_known_as_Small_Flowers_-_Google_Art_Project

Katsushika Hokusai. c. 1834. Poenies and Canary

Ukiyo-e artists embraced the pop culture of the time. Geisha, courtesans, and kabuki actors were common subjects.  These were the Edo Period version of headshot photography. Called bijin-ga, or beauty portraits, these prints appeared in guidebooks, books on etiquette, and as advertisements (Munro, 2008). Many prints acted as advertising or pin-ups. Later ukiyo-e took to portraying tourist locations around Edo and other landscapes. Ukiyo-e were printed in single sheets and compiled into books call ehon  (Library of Congress, n.d.).

Censoring Ukiyo-e

ukiyo-3-suzuki_harunobu-geese_descending_on_the_koto_bridges__kotoji_rakugan-1769-1600x686The Shogunate wasn’t ignorant of the power ukiyo-e had for conveying ideas. They imposed strict regulations as to what could be printed. The court forbade publishing anything of “political subversion, sexual and social [im]propriety and excessive luxuriance contrary to the frugal spirit of Neo-Confucian morality” (Thompson, 1991). In 1804, the Shogunate tried several artists, writers, and publishers for their representation of the 16th century general Toyotomi Hideyoshi. Hideyoshi was the guy who decided to regulate and separate prostitution and gambling from the rest of Edo. He wanted these districts to be a place for merchants to blow their money and reduce their hold on the samurai class. Many samurai were in debt to merchants. The Shogun liked the premise, but not the application, so he had the districts walled off. This increased their allure. After all, what we don’t see attracts us. Among the artists arrested was Kitagawa Utamaro, one of the most popular ukiyo-e artists of the time. The team had published a book called Ehon Taikoki, a biography of Hideyoshi 7 years before their arrest.

keiseki-kyotoOdd the Shogunate waited 7 years before bringing the artists to court, isn’t it? The government forbade the publishing of anything involving Tokugawa Ieyasu, the first Tokugawa shogun, and his family. Hideyoshi was fair game, and other biographies were published before 1804. So why were Utamaro and his colleagues singled out? The problem was how the values Hideyoshi symbolized mixed with the floating world. While he came up with the idea that allowed the floating world to flourish, he was better known as a great general. The shogunate didn’t want one of their historical heroes to become a mere popular figure like just another kabuki actor.  The ehon threatened the shogunate’s control over its official history. So Utamaro and his colleagues were tried to curb the trend of portraying warrior families as part of the floating world. The court found them guilty and sentenced them to 50 days house arrest in manacles. The publisher was required to pay heavy fines. The book they published, Ehon Taikoki, was banned and confiscated (Davis, 2007).

Erotic Ukiyo-e

Hiroshige-shunga1I mentioned how the Tokugawa issued an edict about the limit of ukiyo-e. Well, despite the edict about sexual impropriety, shunga flourished. Shunga is a subgenre of woodblock prints that focused on what went on behind the closed doors of the floating world.  Think of shunga as the great-great-great-great-great grandmother of hentai. These explicit prints told stories and served as sex guides. They exaggerated genitals and often had contorted poses. Shunga were produced for both men and women. Many show scenes of lesbian encounters and female masturbation. At the time, the samurai class often segregated genders into quarters within castles. Men were encouraged to visit brothels, but women had fewer options. Male prostitutes were found in theater districts where few women could go (Munroe, 2008). But on the whole, women were housed with other women. In such situations, lesbian romances are sure to develop, and shunga provided guides and stories about such. While samurai men were encouraged to have relations with other samurai men, Japanese literature rarely mentions such relations between women.

Because of the explicit nature of shunga I created a page with some of these works rather than post them here. Again, the page beyond this link contains explicit depictions of sexuality.

The Making of a Woodblock Print

Sparrows - Hokusai

Just like mangaka need help creating their work, ukiyo-e artists needed a team. It took 4 people to make a print. The publisher coordinated everyone and handled marketing. The artist dreamed up the designs and drew them in ink on paper. A carver broke the design into patterns that were carved into wood blocks. The number of blocks used ranged from 10 to 16, depending on the number of colors and complexity of the drawing. And a printer managed the ink and handmade paper (Library of Congress, n.d.).  The artist receives most of the recognition, much like the front-man in a band. Each member of the team was highly skilled in their piece of production. The printer often made their inks and paper from raw materials, for example.

The carver cut the negative of the design: the lines and areas to be colored were raised. The rest was carved away. Each color required a different block that had to be perfectly aligned. Paper made from the inner bark of the mulberry tree would be laid on the blocks and rubbed to transfer the ink (Metropolitan Museum of Art, n.d.). The blocks were used until they  wore out.

The mass production of these prints makes them hard to preserve. Paper and silk are vulnerable to Japan’s variable weather. The inks change color when exposed to light for long periods (Fleming, 1985).

How to Read Ukiyo-e

Utamaro woman ukiyo-eBeyond the obvious Japanese writing, ukiyo-e has to be read to be understood. The Edo Period had a host of pop culture symbols that allowed a print to tell a story. For example, eyebrows matter. Married women shaved their eyebrows. So this lady on the left is single! Notice how she shows off the nape of her neck? Well, that was…is… an erogenous zone for Japanese men. So this print has voyeuristic elements. We are looking in on a young woman as she applies her makeup, something few men would witness. Think of it as peaking in on a lady as she showers. Ukiyo-e often showed everyday actions like this with a twist.

Like eyebrows, the importance of ukiyo-e is in what is missing. The artists focused on the positive aspects of the floating world. You do not see the lowest levels of prostitutes. Women are all painted in idealized way with few individual characteristics or blemishes. Ukiyo-e, like the floating world the prints reflected, represented ideals of feminine beauty. They didn’t represent individual women. The omission of individual women attempts to capture the image of fleeting forever the floating world wrapped around itself. It weaves a fantasy.

The floating world influences much of Japanese sexuality today. Japanese sex culture focuses on fantasy more than experience (Bourdain, 2014). Maid Cafes descend from the red-lit fantasy world. Hentai and other erotica descends from this period.

Ukiyo-e and Manga

Ukiyo-e and manga share similar art styles. Flat coloration with prominent outlines. Ukiyo-e was the popular media of the time, entertaining people and telling stories. The cheap cost of ukiyo-e allowed it to spread throughout the Edo Period. Manga does the same today. It is relatively inexpensive and is a part of Japanese popular culture.  Ukiyo-e experimented with ways of representing motion and emotion with minimal lines. The prints laid the framework for all the genres and themes we see in manga: erotica, macabre, humor, historical stories, current events, and slice of life. Manga inherited the free thinking and experimentation of the floating world.

Ukiyo-e is a look at the lost floating world of dreams and suffering. The dreams of pleasure, conversation, and culture came at the price of the women and men sold into its work. Ukiyo-e  freezes moments, people, and concerns in ink.

References

Bourdain, A. (2014). Anthony Bourdain Parts Unknown: Tokyo. http://transcripts.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/1401/25/abpu.01.html

Davis, J. (2007). The trouble with Hideyoshi: censoring ukiyo-e and the Ehon Taikoki incident of 1804. Japan Forum 19 (3) 281-315.

Fleming, S. (1985). Ukiyo-e Painting: An Art Tradition under Stress. Archaeology. 38 (6) 60-61, 75.

Library of Congress. The Floating World of Ukiyo-e. https://www.loc.gov/exhibits/ukiyo-e/intro.html.

Metropolitan Museum of Art. Woodblock Prints in the Ukiyo-e Style. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/ukiy/hd_ukiy.htm.

Munro, M. (2008) MasterClass: Understanding Shunga, A Guide to Japanese Erotic Art. London: Turnaround.

Thompson, Sarah E. and Harootunian, H. D. (1991)Undercurrents in the Floating World: Censorship and Japanese Prints, New York: The Asia Society Galleries.

Tokyo Ravens

tokyo ravensTokyo Ravens lacks focus. So many anime fall into this trap! The story cannot decide if it wants to be a magical action-adventure or a slice of life story. Throw in a sketched out magic system, reincarnation, cults, and shake well. The story tries to do too much.

Harutora Tsuchimikado is the usual block-headed shonen character. Frankly, I feel insulted as a guy with how brain-dead shonen male leads are. Harutora is often infuriatingly dense and hotheaded to the point it hampers the story. Anyway, he is made into a familiar by his childhood friend, Natsume. Together they attend a mage school where Natsume has to pass herself off as the male heir of her family.  The family’s last male heir became one of the most powerful mages, and Natsume is believed to be his reincarnation. See what I mean about many things mixed in? I skipped all the other details behind this just for the sake of simplicity. Anyway, there are three factions, or cults, that watch for this reincarnation. Events ensure that mix with slice-of-life with magical hijinks.

tokyo-ravens-gangThe magic system revolves around talismans and incantations. Honestly, the incantations are not all the practical. By the time you stand there and say the tongue twisters, you would be killed by some normal dude with a gun.

Kon, Harutora’s fox girl familiar, stole the show. Of course, this being anime, there had to be jokes about Harutora doing bad things with the underaged fox girl. Ugh. Honestly though, the story may have done better by dropping all of the usual global reaching conflict and centering on Kon, Harutora, and gang.

There really isn’t too much to say about this one. The animation is dull. Action scenes lack excitement with people standing still or running in circles chanting things. Oh look a fireball! The CGI looks out of place. Some of the familiars are better suited for a mecha story. I mean, robot looking guardians summoned by magic?

harutora-tokyo-ravens

Tokyo Ravens is middling. It isn’t great, but it isn’t completely terrible. Harutora, like most meat-head shonen characters, is annoying. We have so many meatheads, in part, because of anime watchers. Many of us tend to be introverted and on the nerdy side. Meatheads allow us to imagine what it would be like to live as an impulsive extrovert.

Meatheads have confidence many fans lack, but on the whole, the genre needs to get away from impulsive, dense heroes. Some of this is because these types of characters are a way to escape stilted social obligations. Who wouldn’t want to punch out a boss or someone mouthing off? But, this impulsive behavior and lack of critical thinking is terribly clichéd. Perhaps it is my cranky “old” age setting in, but anime needs to make more protagonists like Spice and Wolf’s Lawrence and the original Fullmetal Alchemist’s Ed. Protagonists that think before acting.

Considering the Quality of Information and Blogging

Horo Musuko Yuki Wandering son transwomanThis post may be a little elitist, but not all information is equal. Much of the internet overflows with drivel written by people who are not the experts they claim to be. Like this blog! Okay, Okay. I don’t claim to be an expert. I am a librarian and a fan who enjoys ferreting out information from books, academic journals, and databases. I try to only use vetted sources. I admit I sometimes get things wrong. Sometimes my articles are not accurate.

Source accuracy matters. How do I determine the accuracy of the sources I use? Well, first I try to avoid Wikipedia. Some of my early articles used Wikipedia, but over time I learned just how inaccurate Wikipedia can be. Anyone can add or delete information. Experts may edit or write an article, but someone in high school could just as easily change the expert’s article. Antipathy toward expertise is a problem even Wikipedia’s co-founders Lawrence Sanger acknowledges (Levintin,2014).

Wikipedia is decent for a general idea about a topic as long as you keep in mind its potential to be inaccurate.  Sadly, there is no way to know if you are reading an accurate article or not.  Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia, states experts should have no more respect than newcomers to Wikipedia. Often people are contrary because they consider it being fair and balanced. Contrary isn’t the same as showing both side of an argument. There are times when the opposing side has no place being mentioned because they lack evidence.

However, not all information is valid, contrary or not. Fair and balanced information tries to reveal all aspects surrounding a topic. It doesn’t matter if that information is contrary or agree with established knowledge. But why would someone be inaccurate with an educational article?

Causes of Information Inaccuracy

Three issues cause inaccuracy (Levintin, 2014).

  1. bias
  2. desire to maintain status quo
  3. preselection effect

Bias deals with personal preferences and limits of knowledge. For example, because I study Japanese culture, I tend to also understand Chinese culture through its relationship with Japanese culture. That creates blind spots and misunderstandings with how I understand China.

The desire to maintain status quo blinds people to information that undermine their expertise or their vested interests. You can see this in business. A business may resist an idea that may benefit it but at the cost of the corporate culture.

The preselection effect deals with who writes information. Often, those who are most qualified to write an article are unable to do so.

You can find many excellent public domain photos at NY Public Library and other online libraries

You can find many excellent public domain photos at NY Public Library and other online libraries.

Why does this matter for an anime blogger? Why should we care? Well, this matters to everyone who seeks information. Misinformation is a serious problem on the Internet. Don’t misunderstand, it is great that anyone can publish online. But it leaves the seeker solely responsible for finding accurate information. Before the internet, responsibility for accuracy fell on the author more than readers. Now, readers must be careful. As bloggers, we cannot accurately express ourselves, educate our readers, or make proper decisions without good information. We need to be skeptical toward all information, including those found in vetted sources like academic journals. If you are writing a blog post, you want the post to be as accurate as possible. You want it to represent you.

There are several questions to ask when looking at an information source:

  1. What is the goal of the author?
  2. What bias do I see?
  3. What information is missing?
  4. Are sources cited?
  5. Are sources high quality?

The  goals and bias of the author impacts information. That is why I attempt to point out my bias and goals in my articles. It is impossible to include all information in a single piece. The act of writing requires selection and omission. After all, you can only write what you understand. The goal of the author and her views determine what information is present and disregarded. Sometimes, the author isn’t aware of some information. Therefore it cannot be included. While this seems obvious, this matters. We don’t know what we don’t know, and this causes us to miss vital information.

\To avoid this, collect as much information as you can about a topic, including indirect information. For example, when I work on a folklore project, I pull documents loosely related to my chosen topic. When I researched for Come and Sleep, I pulled articles about European foxes, Chinese foxes, and Native American foxes to shed more light on kitsune. Most of this information wasn’t helpful, but I found links and a few bits that the articles focused on kitsune failed to mention.

It is important to cite your sources for readers to review. It helps readers and fellow bloggers see what could be missing. It also helps them continue with their own research. While few will do this, those that do will appreciate your consideration. Citations do not protect you from plagiarism, but they do lend weight to your work. However, they can also mislead readers if your information is inaccurate or incomplete. Citations lead them to believe the information is complete. Again, we don’t know what we don’t know.

As a librarian, I am concerned with connecting people with accurate information. But the act of writing automatically creates the issues I’ve discussed. We understand information through our individual lenses. This shapes information into something usable. However, we need to remain cautious about problems with bias, omission, and blatant misinformation.

What is the take away? Don’t rely solely on Wikipedia. Its information is suspect. Use your own judgment on sources found in vetted databases and online. The extra effort helps you craft higher quality blog posts and helps expand your understanding on anime, manga, and Japanese culture.

References

Levitin, D. (2014) The Organized Mind, New York: Penguin Group.

The Anime Watcher’s Tea

pouring green teaLet me share a secret with you. I love tea. One of the greatest pleasures is reading (or writing or watching anime) with a cup of tea at hand. I’ve been known to spend a chunk on imported teas. But even the humble filter teabag available at the local grocery store can help you get in touch with thousands of years of tea history.

I will spare you a long history of tea. Thick books have been dedicated to tea and its influence on history. But a short summary is still in order. The leaf has inspired painters, writers, poets, warriors, despots, Victorians, saints, and many others. Tea came from the forests of southern China. It is an evergreen tree that can live to be over 2,000 years old. Although, most tea comes from trees cultivated to look like bushes. There are 380 varieties of tea (Fisher, 2010). These varieties helped tea’s popularity spread.  Tea traveled from China to Japan and Europe.  Although most think tea arrived in Europe during the Colonel period, it arrived far earlier.  The earliest appearance of tea in European writing comes from an Arab merchant in 879 (Okakura, 1906).

True tea comes from the tea tree. Herbal teas like chamomile and rooibos are not true teas. Of course, I still enjoy them and call them tea.

Tea in Anime and Japanese Culture

Those who cannot feel the littleness of great things in themselves are apt to overlook the greatness of little things in others. The average Westerner, in his sleek complacency, will see in the tea ceremony but another instance of the thousand and one oddities which constitute the quaintness and childishness of the East to him.

Okakura, The Book of Tea 1906

When we think of tea, we think of China and Japan. Of the two, Japan is perhaps more famous as a tea nation because of its tea ceremony and the teahouses geisha entertain. Like many aspects of Japanese culture, Chinese practices were taken and adapted into something quite different. Tea is a prominent detail in anime as well. Rarely does tea become a focus, but it is offered to characters to calm them, cool them, warm them up, and other treatments. Despite having caffeine, tea is relaxing. It does cool during the summer (iced or hot oddly enough), and I love tea during cold winters.

anime-tea

Tea is great for socializing and relaxing.

The tea anime characters offer is matcha. Matcha is a Japanese style of tea that grinds the leaves into a powder. Mix with hot water and enjoy. To be honest, I prefer the Chinese style of brewing tea: using loose leaves. I tend to make swamp water with matcha. Speaking of water, it is the most important part of tea. Chlorinated water makes terrible tea. So does hard water. Filtered or good spring water make the best tea. The best, most expensive tea will taste terrible with heavily chlorinated tap-water.

Types of Tea

Tea comes in a few families: white, green, oolong, and black. But how can a single tree make 380 types of tea? The time tea is picked, the amount of light the tree receives before being picked, and even location impacts the flavor of tea. Oxidation shifts the flavor as well. Oxidation makes iron rust and apples turn brown. As tea oxidizes, it changes from green to black. Flavor becomes earthier and richer. White teas have delicate flavors because they are made from new leaves and dried without aging (oxidizing). Silver Needle is a wonderful white tea, but it can taste like barely flavored warm water to many people. People who favor strong flavors may not be able to taste white tea.

Green Tea

green-teaGreen tea involves aging mature tea leaves, but green tea isn’t aged as long as black or oolong. The different varieties come from when they are picked and how they are aged. For example, one of my favorites is Jasmine Green Tea. This tea is aged in rooms that contain jasmine flowers. The tea absorbs the scent and flavor of the flowers. The jasmine scent and flavor relaxes like few other teas can. The aging method complete shifts the flavor of tea. The shape of the tea leaves also impacts the flavor. For example gunpowder tea, which looks like old fashioned black gunpowder pellets has a different flavor than flat-leaf tea. The amount of surface area the leaf has changes how the water absorbs the flavor. Gunpowder slowly unrolls as it heats, allowing the flavor to gradually flow into the water.

You do not boil water when you make white or green teas. It makes them bitter.  Steep these teas for about 2 minutes in water that is just a few minutes from boiling. The easiest way to know when is to heat the water in an open pot. When you see bubbles form on the bottom of the pot, its time for tea!

Black,Oolong, and Red Tea

Chinese oolong tea

Chinese oolong tea

Black and oolong teas are rich teas. Some types are more like coffee than tea. I like to sweeten these teas with honey, but sugar will work too. Some, like Indian Chai, need to be sweetened and mixed with milk. Indian Chai takes black tea and mixes it with spices like black pepper, cinnamon, cloves, and other goodies. I didn’t like chai with milk, but you should give it a try. Black teas require boiling water and longer steeps than green tea. About 3-5 minutes.

African Rooibos Tea

African Rooibos Tea

You won’t see this tea (it’s not a true tea) in anime, but rooibos needs a little attention. Rooibos comes from a shrub in Africa. When steeped, it turns the water a deep red, similar to the red rose tea creates. It has a flowery flavor that goes well with honey. Like other herbal teas, you can boil the water. Rooibos (pronounced roy-boss) requires long steeps of 5-10 minutes.

Tea Sets and other Tips

You don’t have to have a Japanese tea set to enjoy a cuppa. You can buy single-serve strainers for loose leaf teas. They come in various styles. If you are making green or black tea, you can usually get two cups out of one strainer-full of leaves. White teas are too delicate for more than one cup. Green teas can be made into iced tea during hot summer months. Pro tip: fresh mint from the garden makes excellent black or green iced tea.

Tea grows bitter with long steeps or boiling water. If you like bitter flavors, boil the water and steep for a longer time. I like some green teas on the bitter side. Luckily, you can cut bitter flavors with sugar or honey. I prefer honey.

Speaking of honey, honey comes in many types including orange blossom and the common American clover honey. Each will change the flavor of tea. Sometimes for the better, other times the flavors will compete. Honey can completely overpower white tea. Luckily, white tea has natural sweetness. Experiment and find what works best for you. Just know many tea-lovers think adding sugar or honey to tea is sacrilegious.  I am not one of those. After all, I am an American with a sweet-tooth. But don’t sweeten a tea without tasting it without sweetener. Artificial flavors and the proliferation of sugar has ruined our sense of taste. Natural flavors tend to be subtle, and this is especially true with tea. Many teas have flowery or sweet after-taste that sweeteners mask. Many of us will have to retrain our tastebuds to notice these subtle flavors.

Tea is one of the simple pleasures in life that improves health and well-being. While it is often a background element in anime, tea reminds us that that anime has a place in tea literature. We could even say tea has inspired the poetry and literature that led to anime. Each cup of tea connects us with Japanese and Chinese culture. We are truly fortunate to enjoy a small part of tea culture and its long history.

References

Okakura,K. (1906) The Book of Tea.

Fisher, A. (2010). The Way of Tea. Vermont: Tuttle Publishing.