Goku vs. Superman: The Cultural Perspective

Published November 22, 2015 by Chris Kincaid in Anime, Culture

People debate who would win in a duel: Goku or Superman? Although entertaining, this question is the old oranges and apples argument. Goku and Superman are different types of heroes. Each reflects a different set of values and cultural views, and both types of hero are important.

The Man of Steel


Superman is the ultimate hero, good and infinitely powerful. With each generation he’s addressed concerns that troubled that generation. For example, during the Cold War, he addressed many of the concerns surrounding nuclear weapons. In short, Superman is a Messianic figure. He swoops in and saves the world. There is no doubt he will win. After all, he is Superman.

Certainly, he makes mistakes and faces challenges in many story arcs (I haven’t read many Superman comics so my knowledge of the arcs is limited), but in the end, he is a representation of Western Judaeo-Christian thought. God is an all powerful being that will set everything right in the end. Superman is an all powerful being that does the same.  Superman isn’t the type of role model we can emulate. He represents the values American culture holds dear: honesty, power, goodness, self-sacrifice, and individualism. He inspires us, but his other-worldliness keeps us from fully identifying with him.

Dragonball Z’s Goku

gokuGoku likewise embodies Japanese  cultural values: honesty, persistence, mercy, loyalty, and a drive to always improve.  Unlike Superman, Goku isn’t a messianic figure, but he is a hero that saves the day. Goku pulls from China and Japan’s rich mythology. For example, his hair design in Super Saiyan form is in the shape of a lotus. The lotus represents the state of awakening, enlightenment in Buddhism. Goku awakens to his hidden power. His relationship with monkeys( Saiyans can transform into giant ape when they have tails) hearkens to the Chinese story The Journey to the West.

Goku is also a father. This plays into the Japanese concept of adulthood. Marriage and the children that follow define what it means to be an adult. Goku’s fatherhood shows how he lives up to his social obligations to society. Take a look at my article about Japan’s social expectations for men for more information.

saiyan-gokuBelow is an example of a lotus bud. See what I mean about the resemblance?lotus

Whereas Superman has infinite power, Goku has to train and work to improve himself and unlock his potential. But Goku’s power takes the effort of the community. He is supported by his friends and allies. Even his enemies help him improve. Goku embodies Confucian ideals: striving toward self improvement,  being a good father, being an honest person, being loyal to friends, and being selfless. Goku is the type of person we too can strive to be.

Contrasting Values and Needs

Both Superman and Goku meet different needs and cultural concerns. Superman represents a final, corrective force that can right any wrong. The idea provides comfort. Superman will save the day. Goku is who a person can be. He represents the infinite potential for personal growth and improvement. He represents social responsibility. Unlike Superman, Goku has limits. But those limits speak to us. We all have our own limits that seem insurmountable.

Superman comes off as profoundly American. As Julian Chambliss, a historian who specializes in studying superheroes and American culture, states: “the core narrative in Superman has been and continues to be the values and belief about the U.S. experience being strong enough and good enough to address the troubles facing the generation engaged with the character” (Truitt, 2013).  Superman, among most other American superheroes, doesn’t rely on anyone for help. Compare this to Goku who relies on his friends. It often takes a community to take down villains in Dragon Ball Z’s universe. Superman exemplifies American individualism; Goku shows Confucian ideals of community. Goku requires help from others in order to reach a higher level of ability. Outside of Superman mentally blocking his abilities, he doesn’t need help realizing his potential.

Superman affirms the America world view, a view of justice, individual merit, and truth. Goku affirms the Japanese focus on family, community, and self improvement. See what I mean about apples and oranges?

Hidden Identity and Community

Speaking of community, Goku and Superman differ considerably. Superman hides his true identity behind the persona of Clark Kent. In American society, many of us do the same. We wear social masks when out in public. Just as Superman crafts the image of a fumbling Clark Kent, we create an image of a Superman. When someone asks an American how they are doing, we respond with our happy, healthy persona answer. After all, no one likes a downer right? We are Clark Kents that hide behind a Superman persona.

Superman, for all his power and independence, craves community.

Goku lacks a persona. Goku is simply Goku. He is a father and member of the community. He relies on his friends, and they rely on him. Goku is his own person, but he doesn’t follow the doctrine of American individualism. Unlike Clark Kent, he doesn’t try to hide who he is. Goku’s honesty often gets him in trouble, but we can’t help but admire him for it.

Friends and Enemies

Superman isn’t one to befriend enemies. Goku goes against the grain and befriends several enemies, changing them for the better. Vegeta transforms from a murderer to a responsible (somewhat) father. Superman doesn’t have to befriend anyone because he doesn’t need anyone to help him. Goku needs people to help him grow, and he desires to help others achieve their full potential. Superman doesn’t need to grow. He doesn’t have potential; he is potential. This isn’t to say Superman doesn’t have friends. However, there are fights only he can do. Goku’s friends friends help wear down villains or delay them for Goku to tap into his inner strength.

Superman vs. Goku


Alright, I will admit that I don’t care for Superman.  He is too powerful. Despite being an American, I view American individualism as corrosive and poisonous as it stands now. Individualism is a lark anyway. No one is truly self made.  Even Superman had his parents and greater society. However, individualism blinds us to this fact. Goku, however, represents human potential and the necessity of relying upon others to grow.

Both Goku and Superman are different types of heroes. Superman is a God figure. Goku is who we can be. Each speaks to a different psychological need: the need for justice amid reality’s injustices, the need for community. Superman is what Goku will eventually become. While Goku has what Superman deeply wants: acceptance and community.

Goku and Superman would never fight each other. Well, Goku would pester Superman constantly for sparring matches. But then, such a case would give the Man of Steel something profound: a friend and equal.


Truitt, B. (2013) Believe it or not, Superman is the greatest American hero. USA Today.

NHK World

Published November 20, 2015 by Chris Kincaid in Culture

nhk-worldNHK (Nippon Hōsō Kyōkai) World is a must watch station for fans of Japan. The public broadcasting station features news, documentaries, and current-interest programming from Japan. NHK World broadcasts in 18 different languages.

Anime fans will find shows like Imagine-nation interesting. Imagine-nation features stories about video games,  anime, and other works of art. Documentaries focus on various aspects of Japanese culture: festivals, towns, and places to visit. Some of the programs are quirky, like one that challenges aeronautical engineers to build paper airplanes.

The station covers concerns and events in Asia and in Asian business that rarely appear in American and other Western broadcasts. Often, these news shows end with an article about a personality. For example, one rural village in Japan has 30 residents but over 180 life-sized dolls created by a local woman. She recreates the vibrancy of the village’s past using the dolls. You will find many shows centered on food and others reveal Kyoto and Tokyo.

NHK World offers a look into Japanese culture that you can’t find in anime. Its nature and tourist shows visit places all over the island chain. Its programs offer anime fans a better understanding of the culture. The documentaries are a little cheesy at times, but the documentaries are always enlightening. They are also rarely boring, but then I do enjoy a good documentary.

Check out NHK’s live stream and their On Demand Programming.

Homosexuality in Japan

Published November 15, 2015 by Chris Kincaid in Culture

Japanese history is well known for celebrating homosexuality. Well, what we in the West call homosexuality.  During the feudal era, homosexuality wasn’t an identity as it is today. The celebration of male love changed with many other aspects of their society during the Meiji Reformation.  Like the protections single mothers and women enjoyed, homosexuality declined as Japan pushed to break out of the Tokugawa isolation and westernize.

Homosexuality in Feudal Japan

Photography by Wilhelm Burger 1869 near Yokohama Japan

Photography by Wilhelm Burger 1869 near Yokohama Japan

During the Tokugawa Era, which lasted from 1603 to 1868, homosexuality was a part of being a samurai.  Buddhist monasteries embraced it, and male brothels associated with Kabuki theaters flourished. Male homosexuality was thought to be useful for teaching young men virtue, honesty, and an appreciation for beauty. During this time, particularly in the samurai class, relationships with women were devalued. They were only necessary for the continued existence of the household (Furnham & Saito, 2009).  Men who were attracted to women were thought to also be attracted to young boys and female impersonators (McLellend, 2000b). Homosexuality among men was a normal characteristic of being samurai. Men who loved other men were still expected  to have wives and families. Homosexuality wasn’t the binary it is now. It was only a small aspect of a person’s character and responsibilities.

What about lesbians? I couldn’t find information about lesbianism during the Tokugawa period. Japan was, and still is, a male-oriented society. Women had roles they were expected to play.  I am certain many samurai and peasant wives were also lesbians.  Like same-sex male relationships, women’s relationships were not to interfere with their duties to the family. The heart of Japanese womanhood is to be a good wife and mother.  Marriage was the defining characteristic of adulthood for men and women. Even in modern Japan, singles are not considered full adults (Chalmers, 2002).

Anyway, during the Meiji Restoration homosexuality’s prominence declined.  Homosexuality remains acceptable in modern Japan as long as it isn’t flaunted.  It is simply not spoken about (Furnham & Saito, 2009;  Nakagawa, 2010).  Despite this acceptance, exclusive homosexuality is seen as something to fear and despise. Unlike the United States, this fear doesn’t come from religion. After all, Buddhist monks practiced same-sex relationships. Exclusive homosexuality is despised because it breaks gender expectations and social roles demanded by a culture that centers on family.

Discrimination in Modern Japan

ukiyo-3-suzuki_harunobu-geese_descending_on_the_koto_bridges__kotoji_rakugan-1769-1600x686Although the samurai class embraced same-sex relationships, it didn’t interfere with a man’s responsibilities to head a family and have children.  In modern Japan, marriage is still seen as establishing a household rather than a romantic relationship. Because of this, many Japanese gay men willingly marry women and do not see it as a contradiction to their sexual preference. In fact, Japanese media lauds gay men as perfect marriage partners for women because gay men are considered to be more feminine and sympathetic to women’s subordinate social position (McLellend, 2000a).  Many Japanese homosexuals hide their orientation in order to avoid disappointing or troubling their friends and family (Furnham & Saito, 2009). Remember, Japanese society and identity revolves around the family. The family comes first, above the desires of the individual. Well, this is the ideal anyway.

Openly gay people risk social discrimination despite Japan lacking laws against the orientation. Families have been known to disown gays and lesbians because of the dishonor they bring to the family and their inability to continue the lineage (Furnham & Saito, 2009).

Lesbians, in particular, face discrimination.   Women who are not satisfied with marriage and childbearing are often seen as lacking and less than a real woman. Lesbians and unmarried gay men are not seen as adults. Lesbians experience intense pressure to appear heterosexual and interested in men (Chalmers, 2002). They also lack the historical precedents that gay men enjoy. To ice the cake, parents are thought to be the reason why a girl is a lesbian. Her sexual orientation is seen as a parental failure that can and should be corrected (Nakagawa, 2010).

samurai-womenLike in the United States, Japan has slang words used to refer to gay men and lesbians. Okama refers to the butt and used to refer to gay men. Obviously, this term is suggestive of anal sex which is considered the definitive sexual act engaged by gay men. Okama is also used to refer to transgender men. Homosexual men are stereotyped in a similar way as in the US. They are seen as feminine and promiscuous.  Lesbians are called onabe and seen as the opposite of okama. Onabe are stereotyped as being masculine in dress and behavior. They understand themselves as a man, only without a penis (McLelland, 2000b; Furnham & Saito, 2009).

Same-sex Marriage

Same-sex marriage steps closer toward acceptance. Tokyo’s Shibuya Ward became the first locale to recognize same-sex partnerships as the equivalent of marriage, guaranteeing the identical rights married couples enjoy.  However, the ordinance isn’t legally binding (Associated Press, 2015).  Japan’s constitution prohibits same-sex marriage in Article 24 (Newswire, 2015):

Marriage shall be based only on the mutual consent of both sexes and it shall be maintained through mutual cooperation with the equal rights of husband and wife as a basis.

Boy’s Love and Yuri

Boy’s Love stories also called BL or YAOI are some manga fan’s first exposure to Japanese ideas of homosexuality.

Only the ideas found in BL are wrong.

Shinjo Mayu ShitaumiBoy’s Love is not considered gay literature. The genre, better known by its acronym YAOI ( ochinashi, iminashi – translates to “no point, no meaning”), are stories that emphasize sex scenes between bishonen, beautiful boys, rather than focusing on romantic plot development. Written by female authors for female readers, the stories do not reflect the struggles and view points of Japanese homosexuals. Rather, the stories are fantasies of what homosexual love means. The characters are androgynous and behave in a feminine manner (McLelland, 2000a).

Likewise, yuri does not represent lesbian identity. Yuri focuses on sexual encounters between beautiful girls. Written by men for men, they explore male fantasies of lesbianism rather than actual lesbian relationships. Of course, in both genres there are certain to be a few stories that touch on homosexual people’s concerns and challenges.

Japanese Homosexual Identity

Like many touchy subjects Japanese culture slips around, homosexuality lacks the hard boundaries it has in Western culture.  There isn’t a strong sense of identity attached to sexual orientation. Gay men willingly marry and have children without seeing the act as a contradiction of their identity. It is simply their duty as a Japanese man, regardless of whether or not he is attracted to women. Likewise, lesbians are expected to marry and have children. Many do just that. Their attraction toward the same sex isn’t the defining part of their personality.  Of course, this is all just generalization based on surveys and other research. Such private, personal matters always have exceptions. It can be difficult for those of us in the West to understand how sexual orientation can play a small role in a person’s sense of identity. However, we live in a culture that values the individual. Whereas in Japan and other Asian cultures identity is focused on the family and family history.  The individual is just another part of a large tree; a part that is pressured to continue the lineage and not dishonor it.

The Problems of World View

It is difficult for those of us who are heterosexual to understand the social pressures transgender and homosexual people face. This becomes even more difficult when culture differences add further complications. Despite Westernization, Japan still remains a culture different from that of the United States and other Western societies. Applying our understanding to their viewpoints and unique cultural identity is a disservice, but at the same time we can only understand based on what we know. Basically, what I am trying to say is this: we  must have care when thinking about Japanese homosexuality and not view it from our own cultural lens. There are similarities and differences between the challenges homosexual people face in Japan and other countries.  It becomes even harder to understand and explain these challenges when you have a world view that isn’t discriminated against, such as mine as a white, heterosexual American male.

In any case,  it is important to understand that yaoi and yuri do not represent Japanese homosexual relationships. On the same note, hentai doesn’t represent Japanese heterosexual relationships. You can go ahead and smack your forehead and shout duh! But the messages we consume help form that worldview I talked about. We must remember not to allow media to shape our views without our knowledge.


Associated Press. (2015). Tokyo Ward 1st in Japan to Recognize Same Sex Marriage. The New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2015/03/31/world/asia/ap-as-japan-same-sex-marriage.html?_r=0

Chalmers, S (2002). Emerging Lesbian Voices from Japan. Psychology Press.

Furnham, A., & Saito, K. (2009). A Cross-Cultural Study of Attitudes Toward and Beliefs About, Male Homosexuality. Journal Of Homosexuality, 56(3), 299-318. doi:10.1080/00918360902728525

McLelland, M. (2000a). Is there a Japanese ‘gay identity’?. Culture, Health & Sexuality, 2(4), 459-472. doi:10.1080/13691050050174459

McLelland, M. (2000b) Male Homosexuality and Popular Culture in Modern Japan. Intersections: Gender, History, and Culture in the Asian Context. 3. http://intersections.anu.edu.au/issue3/mclelland2.html

Nakagawa, Ularam (2010). Japan’s Lesbians Still Scared to Come Out. CNN. http://travel.cnn.com/tokyo/life/lesbians-in-Japan-struggle-to-build-their-own-community-814836

Newswire (2015) Abe Lays Down Constitutional Barrier to Gay Marriage in Japan.

Manabeshima Island Japan

Published November 11, 2015 by Chris Kincaid in Book Reviews

Manabeshima Island Japan is a whimsical, warm  stay at one of Japan’s small islands. Populated by 300 people, Manabeshima’s small size allows the artist Florent Chavovet sketch all aspects of life, from the insects to the residents and even to the gangs of cats that control the island.


Chavovet’s art contains gentle humor and an awareness for life’s details. Personalities and quirks enliven his fond caricatures, and each page brims with life.  Chavovet’s notes and observations provide further details about life on a small island. He notes the resident’s habits and the antics of the many cats that rule the island.  These small details, many of them surprising, give Manabeshima Island a different outlook than a guide book. It is a smart, warm, gently comical look at everyday life. Vibrant colors and interesting perspectives keeps you turning the pages.

Much of the book focuses on the people that adopt Chavovet. The town is a fishing village, so expect to see plenty of fish drawings. Chavovet includes drawing of important buildings and maps to help you understand where his drawings come from. I particularly enjoyed the map of cat gang territories.

The book features comic-book style pages and messy, haphazard sketchbook pages that  come to life. If you enjoy learning about the everyday lives of Japanese or enjoy art books, check this one out.

Manabeshima Island Japan is available at Tuttle Publishing and Amazon.

Musings II: Magical Girls, or, Empowerment VS Sexism

Published November 8, 2015 by Jasmin Boehm in Anime, Culture, Finds and Ramblings, Otaku Culture

Magical Girls puzzle me; they make me feel intrigued and desperate at the same time. That is not just because of my, admittedly, relatively limited experience with shōjo (‘[for] girls’) anime genres – until recently, I preferred adventure fantasy, which is sadly, but undoubtedly, shōnen (‘[for] boys’) material of the most popular order. No, Magical Girls confuse my sense of feminism and empowerment because I have experienced some as assertive, active, self-reliant girls, who are nevertheless trapped in the a spiderweb of the male gaze, where they are stripped (quite literally) of their agency and self-reliance and turned them into consumable sex objects. Voyeuristic cinematography contradicts narrative content.

I am going to explore this paradox dualism in the context I noticed it, the anime Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha Vivid, which is the fourth anime series in the Nanoha franchise.[i]  Rather than Nanoha herself, who is an adult and military officer by now, the show focuses on Nanoha’s adopted daughter Vivio and her friends. They are Magical Girls for sport and practice Strike Arts (a system of magical martial arts) with enthusiasm. Thus the series constitutes a crossover between the genres of Magical Girl and Sports anime, portraying the life and hobbies of school children in a world of both advanced technology and magic. Through the sport, Vivio befriends the mysterious streetfighter Einhart Stratos: like her a young girl linked to a historic era of magical war. They visit a training camp together, and eventually the four girls compete in a tournament.

The series portrays the girls’ interest in martial arts with surprising nonchalance, although it is made clear how sweet and loving and caring Vivio is despite her fierce punches. Vivio01-martial arts0102Their training programmes contain jogging, sprints, sparring, and other activities which could be considered unfeminine, but they are never criticized for it. Indeed, the only slight criticism dealt out in the series is directed at Einhart, who takes fighting rather too seriously and has to learn over time how to relax and have fun. Overall, the girl’s determination to excel as athletes and magicians is received with admiration by parents and other adult figures.

Even more surprising and progressive I find the fact that Vivid portrays a queer family, or at least something that comes very close to it. vivio01-queerfamily01The initial Magical Girl, Nanoha, became close friends, after a few duels, with a fellow Magical Girl named Fate back in series 1. Subsequently they fought together in the magical military, and when they began to take care of Vivio in series 3, they shared the responsibility for her as well, although the relationship with Nanoha is clearly Vivio’s most important social bond. Still, she considers both women her mothers, and no eyebrows are raised at this arrangement; neither among her classmates nor any of the adult cast (which, admittedly, is mostly made up of Nanoha and Fate’s female friends and co-workers). Right to the end of the first episode, I was astonished how progressive this anime seemed to be.[ii]

However, the other side was yet to come. As in (to my knowledge) all Magical Girl anime, the transformation sequences, in which the girls assume their battle costume and/or body, are a central part of the show, and as Vivio transforms into her battle form, feminist viewers are in for a kick to the gut. The camera caressingly sweeps over her behind twice, while her clothing dissolves, piece by piece, until she floats naked in the dark, hugging her magic device to her chest in a cringeworthy close-up. As her body magically matures to adult form and becomes enveloped in a ‘barrier jacket’,  her breasts are featured in two more close-ups.[iii] SHE. IS. NINE. I would find such blatantly sexualizing imagery disturbing in any case, but it is exponentially viler if the victim is a grade-school child. This catering to the lowest impulses in certain male viewers (a ‘taste’ known as lolicon, Lolita complex) was nauseating – and it started me researching. There must have been something I was missing, something to explain this jarring contrast of empowered girls and these most despicable objectification they undergo as they access their power. Well. Here is what I found.

Susan Napier addresses the problem of sexualisation in her (highly recommended) study Anime from Akira to Howl’s Moving Castle. She describes shōjo, girl characters in Japanese media, as ‘characterized by a supposedly innocent eroticism based on sexual immaturity.’[iv] While such pandering to the shadier corners of the otaku  (obsessive [usually male] fan of anime and video games) demographic seems most unsavoury to me, a bit of research into Magical Girl transformation sequences on youtube convinced me that it is also something of a genre tradition, featured in varying degrees in these series, even if they seem primarily designed to entice preteen girls into buying merchandise,[v] rather than being made mainly for otaku (the initial broadcast time gives a hint about the intended audience – for example, the summary episode 12.5 of Vivid ran between ten at night and four in the morning, according to the website).[vi]

The global tendency to show women as sexual objects was described as the concept of the ‘male gaze’ by Laura Mulvey in her 1975 essay ‘Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema’. She explains these patterns of objectification in western mainstream movies in reference to Sigmund Freud’s theories, with special focus on a) the concept of scopophilia or “pleasure in looking” at an image/character, and b) the process of identification with an image/character.[vii] Although the female form evokes desire, it also reminds the viewer unpleasantly of castration anxiety,[viii] Mulvey argues. I wonder if part of the Magical Girls’ objectification is a kind or reassuring reverse of this – powerful, self-reliant girls seem threatening, so they are displayed de-humanized as a ‘fetish object’ for an erotic gaze,[ix] in order to numb the feeling of threat they may evoke. In addition, Mulvey observes how the spectacle of the female body ruptures the narrative,[x] and indeed, the transformation sequences clearly occur outside the normal space and time of the story, in a timeless void; the action pauses to accommodate the show. This strategy also casts the viewing male as the one controlling time and narrative development.[xi]

However, Mulvey’s analysis is based on western cultural production and as such only applicable to Japanese material with certain restrictions. Anne Allison notes this in her analysis of the set-up, fetishistic display of female bodies even in anime and manga actually aimed at children, which she links to a discourse of passive spectatorship and control of both self and other: ‘the positioning of males to be masterful viewers but passive and consuming actors’.[xii] Therefore, such depictions of women serve as titillation for adult men and as an education about their later roles for children.[xiii] The Magical Girls’ transformation sequences can thus function as reassurance to male viewers that women will eventually stay put in their place as sexual objects – even if they wield magical power in their adolescence – and as an instruction for girls to conform as they mature. Fittingly, Susan Napier defines shōjo – the Japanese girl character – as ‘liminal identity between child and adult’[xiv], a special existence where transgressions are possible, as long as the traditional female identity is resumed with adulthood. The Magical Girl genre additionally places this temporary freedom in a fantastic setting,[xv] which further emphasizes the unattainability of real-life, lasting power and equality for women. Kumiko Saito notes how in early Magical Girl series, ‘the magical freedom of adolescence’ seems to be a prelude to ‘the gendered stage of marriage and motherhood’ – in other words, freedom is possible only outside restrictive gender roles, to which the early Magical Girls return at the end.[xvi]

In the Nanoha franchise however, magic – and the power and freedom from gender role restrictions associated with it – is permanent, as demonstrated by adult magical girls like Nanoha and Fate, and their shared parenting of Vivio. In addition, the military provides career opportunities not just for magicians but, to some extent, for regular women as well: they crew spaceships, work as technicians or fly helicopters, and even those who serve as administrators or personal secretaries are depicted as competent and dedicated to their profession, not as women only working to find a husband to settle down with.

Kumiko Saito traces the unholy union of children’s show and erotic ‘fanservice’ to the 1980s, where tropes of action and science fiction became incorporated in the genre – indeed, the extended transformation sequences of Magical Girls seem related to the mechanical device-setup sequences from shōnen anime.[xvii] Thus, she also locates the introduction of the objectifying male gaze (using the exact term) in this period, which alleviates the anxiety potentially generated by gender-bending plot elements, in the same way the fantastic setting downplays female agency.[xviii] In concurrence with Saito’s observations, a union of sexual and mechanical fetishism is very clear in the first three series of the Nanoha franchise, where the transformation sequences combine the above-mentioned sexualized scenes with shots of the Magical Girls’ staffs assembling.[xix] (Vivid is a different case because the main characters are either fist-fighters or use small melee weapons). The same fetishizing fragmentation is applied both to the girl’s body and to her mechanical weapon. This genre convention is not only ‘one of the most effective ways to show the details of the toy’ or costume most Magical Girl anime want their child audience to buy; it is also described by Mulvey as a means to turn a (woman’s) body into ‘a perfect product’, commodifying her.[xx] This process sanitizes the castration anxiety evoked by the female body because it ‘is fetishized into a phallic substitute, thereby turning the male’s attention away from the lack in her body and toward the fetish that is made of her body.’[xxi] The double substitution of body-as-fetish and weapon-as-fetish, I would argue, amounts to an overcompensation – along the lines of  “If Magical Girls need that much: magic, transformation and weaponry, to be badass, than surely we have nothing to fear from normal women”. Female objectification and fetishism alleviates men’s own fear of their powerlessness in society.[xxii]

As Allison also points out, the limited (western) view of power Mulvey’s theory is based on – powerful viewer vs disempowered object of the gaze – fails to take into account both the passive role of the spectator and the power of active female sexuality, non-heterosexual lifestyles, and ‘forms of power, influence and authority that real women and real mothers in society exert.’[xxiii] Both the first and the latter two are present in the world of Vivid. However, the almost exclusively female society depicted in the series – also a common feature of Magical Girl shows creating ‘a pseudo-lesbian community in which girls enjoy a carefree everyday life’[xxiv] – can be understood either as a positive statement, that women are self-sufficient and in no need of men, or as a relegation of female independence to a utopia, as something only possible when men are removed from the picture. In addition, it creates a virtual harem for the otaku audience to choose the type of girl they prefer. Without interference by male characters, they can dream of having unlimited access to any and all of the girls on display. And there we go again with this oscillation between progressive and regressive facets which makes Magical Girl anime such a puzzling subject for me.

In the end, though, I want to read the story positively. By relegating males to the voyeuristic audience, the series transports the message that girls can fight, not for a male teacher, father or love interest, but for themselves, to reach a sense of fulfilment or to prove themselves – the same reasons which motivate the shônen heroes I usually engage with. Like women in our still sexist society, the girls are subjected to a sexualizing gaze, which violates their personhood even if they are unaware of it, but they struggle on nevertheless. In my opinion, any viewer decent enough to recognize them as full characters is bound to recognize their sexist treatment as injustice because of the contrast to how they are portrayed and act in the remainder of the show. I have voiced my horror at the child-abusive imagery above and now I want to focus on the fact that gendered characteristics and gendered genre conventions are mixed and disrupted, which leaves room for hope. Where the child-woman as ‘Battling Beauty at once fulfils the criteria for the [male audience]’s desires and [becomes] a figure that promises to liberate femininity’ from the very restrictions of gender which distort her portrayal,[xxv] there is potential for positive change, I believe. And on this hopeful note, I would like to end my musings on Magical Girls, at least for the time being.

Notes and References:

[i] This anime is an irregular Magical Girl show due to its strong borrowing from ‘male’ genres and its pitch to an adult audience, as evidenced by its late-night broadcast schedule. This was already very well explained here: http://www.animenation.net/blog/2012/03/23/ask-john-what-exactly-makes-lyrical-nanoha-more-adult-oriented.

[ii] For those interested in gender-bending and cross-gendered characters in the context of shôjo, I recommend Kotani, Mari, ‘Metamorphosis of the Japanese Girl: The Girl, the Hyper-Girl, and the Battling Beauty’ in Mechademia, 1, 2006, 162-169, and the Saito article (see note 5)

[iii] See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wTiwaZ9VLrI, from 0:30 onwards, if you have the stomach.

[iv] Napier, Susan J., Anime from Akira to Princess Mononoke: Experiencing Contemporary Japanese Animation, New York, Palgrave, 2005 (updated edition), 148.

[v] Saito, Kumiko, ‘Magic, Shōjo, and Metamorphosis: Magical Girl Anime and the Challenges of Changing Gender Identities in Japanese Society’, Journal of Asian Studies, 73.1, 2014, 143-164, 144.

[vi] http://nanoha-vivid.tv/news/index_cat.html?cat=Onair

[vii] Mulvey, Laura, ‘Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema’, Visual and Other Pleasures, Basingstoke: MacMillan, 1989, 14-16.

[viii] Mulvey, 19.

[ix] Mulvey, 21.

[x] Mulvey, 19.

[xi] Mulvey, 20.

[xii] Allision, Anne, ‘A Male Gaze in Japanese Children’s Cartoons, or, Are Naked Female Bodies Always Sexual?’, Permitted and Prohibited Desires: Mothers, Comics, and Censorship in Japan, Berkeley, Los Angeles & London: University of California Press, 2000, 31, 32-33, emphasis mine.

[xiii] Allison, 33, 47-48.

[xiv] Napier, 148.

[xv] Also mentioned by Saito, 143.

[xvi] Saito, 148. She goes on to discuss how in the 1990s, domestic concerns even invade the magical experiences of the Magical Girl, 157.

[xvii] See also Saito, 152.

[xviii] Saito, 145. She refers to critic Saito Tamaki for the claim that ‘anime and manga are produced and consumed within an imagined autonomous world of representations detached from what we generally recognize as reality’, 146.

[xix] Those of Nanoha and Fate come with moving, transforming parts and contain a revolver cylinder or a machine gun magazine from series 2 onwards; for an extreme example of the double fetish, see their dual transformation sequence from the movie version of series 2 here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jFuYTiUDxl0 .

[xx] Mulvey, 22.

[xxi] Allison, 38.

[xxii] Allison, 39.

[xxiii] Allison, 39.

[xxiv] Saito, 159.

[xxv] Kotani, in relation to Revolutionary Girl Utena and Sailor Moon, 168.

Midoricon 2015 (Meh-doricon?)

Published November 4, 2015 by Zach in Culture

Midoricon 2015!!! Amazing isn’t it, just a few short years ago this small convention started at Salt Fork State Park in Cambridge, OH,  made it to its fourth year overall, and enjoyed  its second year at the beautiful Maumee Lodge in Oregon, OH. I would like to start this, by saying that I do love Midoricon. It’s one of very few conventions where you can easily meet up with people in a close, intimate setting. That being said, this year was  boring  I did not attend some of the events, such as the Live Action Mario Kart, so I can’t provide and opinion on them. I will also note that this year, there is no interview with one of the guests.


Good ol Master Roshi!

As every year, I went to Midoricon with the same group of friends. On Friday, we got up early (which is amazing in itself!), got our badges, and started our weekend adventure by simply wandering around. Around noon, my group split in two.  Some of us headed over to the Nerf Wars event going on, while the rest went elsewhere. While the guys (Reckless Krew) running the event were awesome and it was fun on a whole, my group of 4 people were the only ones that were actually there for the entire event. It seemed to be really poor planning to put an event in a time slot, where not only are there few people at the convention (more on attendance later), but also have very little advertising for it. We only found it by accident (wandering around and happened to see Reckless Krew setting up the Nerf guns).

Friday night also posed another problem.  A bonfire was scheduled for 9pm. You’d think a bonfire would be easy to find. Nope.  While actually looking for the bonfire, I came across a group of other con-goers who had little luck finding it either. They said they found a fire-pit that looked like it was setup, so they hung around waiting for it to start but  no one else showed up. One girl also told me that they had no maps except a big one at the registration table and one drawn on a dry erase board. I know that they had small booklets provided that I THINK had small maps in them, but a digital map would have been nice that con-goers could view on our phones. The schedule was visible online, so why not a map? It was suggested by multiple people (myself included) two years ago when Midoricon was at Shawnee. It took someone going back into the lodge, hunting down a staff member, and being pointed in the right direction to finally get where we were going.

Saturday, we got up for Day 2! One again, we all split up to go our own things. Around 2pm, some of us headed to the amphitheater for Midoricon’s Got Talent. Last year, I missed this event and didn’t hear much about it, so I decided to check it out. The event seemed very unorganized, and like no one knew what to do, or what was going on. About 20 minutes in, my group and several other large groups got up and left.  Later that night brought us the Beach Party!…or it should have. It was set to start at 6pm and end at 8pm, around 7 o’clock, I got down to the beach to find….nothing. No con-goers, no staff members, no one. One of two things happened I guess, either the party didn’t happen, or I was at the wrong beach! Either way, it didn’t happen for me. Saturday night did bring us Tea Time with Deadpool, which was the highlight of Saturday, and the highlight of the entire convention.


Miyazaki cosplayer


Walt Disney cosplayer! Shame I didn’t get a picture of he and Miyazaki together

Earlier I had mentioned that there was only my group that attended the Nerf Wars due to a low number of people at the convention at that time. That being said, it seemed like attendance was very low this year the entire weekend. Even Saturday, which is the busiest day for any convention, seemed like low attendance. Maybe it was because Maumee is bigger than Salt Fork that created the illusion, but this year’s attendance even seemed like it was less than Year 1’s (I’d almost bet anything this year’s attendance was MUCH lower than last year’s). Even the Tea Time with Deadpool event, which normally fills a room over-capacity, was barely half full this year. Maybe I’m totally wrong and attendance is actually up this year, and it certainly looked lower.

One thing that could attribute to low attendance was the lack of guests. Midoricon 2013 brought us Mr. CreepyPasta, a well-known CreepyPasta Narrator and YouTuber. Midoricon 2014 brought us the guys behind Marble Hornets. While both of these guests are not huge, they both seemed to draw in a sizable amount of people.If Midoricon wants to continue, the convention needs to procure some actual guests (somehow).

I will give the convention props on both the Dealer Room and the Artist Alley. In both areas, either there were less vendors, or the spaces were set-up differently than last year, which made it MUCH easier to actually walk around and browse through stuff without much of a fuss about blocking walkways or anything.

While my group DID have fun, I mean c’mon it’s almost impossible to not have fun at a convention, we are tentatively holding off making plans for going to Midoricon 2016 unless something decent is announced . Unless the convention grows a little, or brings in something to draw us back, we may not be returning. This is a real shame as this was our favorite convention.

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