Tag Archives: Anime

JapanPowered isn’t just about anime (even if the bulk of it is). You can find all different types of anime in this section.


Top 100 Anime. The Good, the Bad, and the Influential

Ah yes, another top 100 list. Every anime blog must have one right? While most anime lists include anime the writer likes, this one contains many I didn’t like at all. However, their importance and popularity demands they have a place. I have seen at least a few episodes or scenes from nearly every anime on this list. As with any top 100 list, there is a lot of subjectivity. Many more deserve a mention but without watching (or knowing about) them I cannot make a judgement. These anime are ranked by impact, popularity, and importance. Their representation for good and bad anime habits also influenced their rank. Anime has many bad habits that can be traced all the way to Astro Boy, filler being one of the main issues. Over time, anime developed its own stereotypes and tropes. I tried to include shows that best represent these bad habits and story-telling stereotypes. The worse they are, they better they ranked as a representation of the bad. I considered making a separate list for these, but everything needs to be understood in context, so I settled on combining them with the good. This list has a bias toward newer anime; I ranked them higher because more fans are familiar with them than anime from the 1980s and  1990s. This is an image heavy post.

100KekkaishiKekkiashi

Kekkaishi plunges us into the world of Japanese folklore and cake. You can’t forget cake. Kekkaishi starts slow with far too many cake jokes before it picks up. It’s world is interesting and features many monsters and creatures from Japanese myths and legends.

9911 Eyes11 Eyes

There is a trend in fantasy stories to pull elements from role playing video games. Overt mentions of experience points and leveling up makes you wonder if the anime is yet another world within a video game. 11 Eyes has some of this, but it is a case study in how execution and lack of time can hurt a story with potential.

98girls-und-panzerGirls und Panzer

Sometimes anime combines two of the furthest possible ideas together. Girls und Panzer takes school age girls and combines it with tank warfare. The ridiculousness of the idea illustrates how anime isn’t afraid to experiment.

97Red Data Girl IzumikoRed Data Girl

Shinto ideas sit at the heart of Red Data Girl. It is a fair watch, but like many high school anime it is hard to take the threat seriously amidst the high school backdrop.

96paranoia-agentParanoia Agent

Baseball bats and street assaults? Strangely enough victims of the attacks find their lives improved after the attacks. If you like psychological mysteries this is a show for you.

95Guilty Crown InoriGuilty Crown

Guilty Crown has a bold story and interesting characters. Sadly, action sequences fall apart into panned still images. Budget constraints have hurt many stories.

94mobile-suit-gundam-seedMobile Suit Gundam SEED

Mobile Suit Gundam SEED was my introduction to Gundam. SEED takes place when humans on earth, called Naturals, are different from those who live in space, the Coordinators. Like other mecha, expect a twisted plot mixed with philosophy and moral dilemmas. Gundam remains popular in Japan, and SEED introduces the franchise to a new generation.

93parasyteParasyte – the Maxim

Parasyte explores what it means to be human and the roles humans play in the environment. A race of creatures called parasytes begin to take over humans. They like to take over the human brain so they can completely control the host. Shinichi Izumi’s right arm is taken over by one of these parasytes. The characterization of Shinichi makes this anime stand out. He is believable and lacks the usual boneheaded shonen personality (impulsive, overly protective, and action oriented). Shinichi acts like a normal person with doubts, weaknesses, and resolve.

92Barefoot_Gen_1_DVD_coverBarefoot Gen

Barefoot Gen follows Gen Nakaoka and his family in Hiroshima during the last years of World War II. It is a look at what people endured (such as food shortages) and the after effects of the nuclear explosion that ravaged the city. Barefoot Gen was among the first manga (the anime came much later) that portrayed the horrors of war and nuclear destruction.

91KimbaKimba the White Lion

Kimba the White Lion comes from Tezuka Osamu, who is widely regarded as the father of anime. Kimba focuses on the need for understanding to bridge the gap between human and animal worlds. Disney is accused of drawing heavily from the story when they created The Lion King.

90ghost-in-shell-innocenceGhost in the Shell: Innocence

Section 9 is sent to investigate a series of murders involving gynoids, sex android. Innocence offers a tangled crime drama laced with references to Zen and philosophy. The movie proves anime can be mature, but its philosophical dialogue can be hard to follow. It challenges viewers to pay attention and think.

 

89fairytailFairy Tail

Fairy Tail is one of the most popular series in recent years. It doesn’t break new ground, but it shows how fantasy stories still have a place in modern storytelling.

88soul-eaterSoul Eater

Soul Eater’s unique art style makes this anime come to life. The strangeness from the moon to the character designs shows how anime can break expectations. Not to mention the characterizations and storytelling have interesting twists on common anime tropes.

87berserk-1Berserk

Berserk’s dark feel shares similarities with the Dark Knight. Set in feudal Europe, this series is a welcome respite from anime’s focus on high school and teens. It provides a nice diversity away from Japanese centric fantasy based on samurai or futuristic police.

86rurouni-kenshinRurouni Kenshin

Rurouni Kenshin is many anime fan’s first exposure to samurai and Japanese culture during the Meiji Restoration. Fill with good fights and good plot (canon plot anyway), Kenshin leverages its setting in ways that make it feel authentic. However, Kenshin, like many anime, suffers from filler arcs that hurt the story and characterization.

85Yu-gi-ohYu-Gi-Oh
Yu-Gi-Oh popularized its namesake card game with American children. For many, this series was among their first exposure to anime. Like Pokemon,Yu-Gi-Oh ran on Saturday morning and after school cartoon line ups. This allowed the show to be seen as a cartoon rather than an anime. This association allowed Yu-Gi-Oh to avoid some of the negative ideas the word “anime” may have had for some parents. For a long time, anime was associated with extreme violence and sexuality. Yu-Gi-Oh proves the ability of anime to be a diverse way to telling stories.
84digimonDigimon

For many Digimon appears to be a knock-off of Pokemon. Digimon proved to be popular in its own right. Like Yu-Gi-Oh, it provided exposure to Japanese art styles and animation styles for many young Americans. Pokemon,Yu-Gi-Oh, and Digimon are the modern “gateway drugs” to an interest in anime, much like Speed Racer, Astro Boy, and Voltron did in previous decades.

83cardcaptorCardcaptor Sakura

The magical girl genre, since Sailor Moon made it widely popular, often comes off as stale and formulaic. Cardcaptor Sakura breaths new life into the genre. The series targets an audience often forgotten in the West: girls. However, Cardcaptor’s story and characters offers a little for everyone, much like Disney movies are watched by all genders and ages.

82arpeggio-of-blue-steel-ars-nova-submarineArpeggio of Blue Steel

Arpeggio of Blue Steel features a storyline centered on battleships and submarines. Quite a difference from the usual big robots. Each ship’s AI system is represented by a cute girl (after all ships in the West are female in gender). Arpeggio deserves a place on this list because of how it could be loosely called a mecha (without the robots) and creates a plausible world without international trade.

83Porco_Rosso_(Movie_Poster)Porco Rosso

Studio Ghibli takes a human cursed to be a pig (and who happens to be a pilot) and tells a story set in the 1930s. The time period between World War I and the rise of Hitler is often glossed over. The story is human: trying to let go of the past. Porco Rosso is often forgotten in the list of Studio Ghibli films. It is well worth a look.

80maria-virgin-witchMaria the Virgin Witch

Maria the Virgin Witch has many, many problems. But it is on this list because of how it plays with Western ideas of witch craft. Maria is a young witch loved by those who know her, feared by those who hear of her, and hated by the church. Maria’s resistance to the church and the will of heaven (represented by the archangel Michael) speaks to our modern relationship with traditional religion. It handles this rather ham-fistedly, but it still has an interesting story and perspective.

 

79kikis-delivery-service-posterKiki’s Delivery Service

Most of Studio Ghibli’s films lack world-shattering stories. Instead, they focus on a single person. Kiki’s Delivery Service follows Kiki on her flying broomstick as she grows into adulthood. The theme has been trod many times, but we each have to go through the same transition. Kiki’s Delivery Service gushes with Ghibli’s vibrant animation.

78slamdunkSlam Dunk

Slam Dunk is one of the most popular series in Japan during the 1990s and early 2000s. The story helped popularized basketball in Japan. Like many anime, this is a high school coming of age story.

77nanaNana

Nana tells the story of two women with different personalities who become close friends. Nana is one of the rare josei Western releases. Most anime aims at high school and college age audiences. Nana and those like it aim at older adults.

76no-game-no-lifeNo Game; No Life

No Game; No Life adds to the trend of video game based stories. Both main characters are intelligent and calculating, which is a welcome change over the usual hotheaded impulsive heroes anime favors. Some of the anime’s oddities (such as the too close relationship between brother Sora and sister Shiro) may turn off some fans not used to anime’s proclivities.

75Crayon_Shin-Chan_AnimeShin-Chan

Shin-Chan is what happens when a kindergartner mixes with Family Guy. Full of sexual humor and childlike innocence, this anime is a funny romp on the playground. The art style is straight out of a 4 year-old’s drawing book and may be off putting for some. But the style lends a childish flavor to the antics. Don’t expect high humor or satire here.

74final-fantasy-vii-advent-children.11228Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children

Final Fantasy VII stands at the heights of video gaming for many. Advent Children revisits the characters and breaths stylized realism into blocky polygons of yesteryear. The level of detail and realism contrasts against Western computer animated films targeting children. Animation lends itself to fantasy better than live action.

73gunslingergirlsGunslinger Girl

Gunslinger Girl takes teenage girls and makes them into cyborgs and gives them guns. The anime could fit into the world weaved by Ghost in the Shell. What sets this anime apart is the use of classical music to convey the feelings and thoughts of the characters.

72totoroMy Neighbor Totoro

My Neighbor Totoro is one of those rare films that doesn’t use conflict and threat to move the story forward. It leverages exploration and situations. It has life-like little girls and human situations. Its sense of wonder and magic returns us to childhood for a time.

71summer-warsSummer Wars

Summer Wars raises modern concerns about computers and artificial intelligence. Well written and full of humanity, the story contrasts a vibrant virtual world with a vibrant family life.

70The_Girl_Who_Leapt_Through_Time_posterThe Girl Who Leapt Through Time

The Girl Who Leapt Through Time is yet another coming-of-age story with imagination and pleasant design. Makoto, being a fairly typical teenage girl, uses her powers to travel through time to help her get perfect grades, avoid being late, and other little things…until she learns her actions can hurt others.

 

69ghost-shell-sacGhost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex

Ghost in the Shell tells of a future that is more plausible than Star Trek. Theft, rape, and murder continue with technological twists. At its heart, Ghost is an adult crime drama similar to NCIS and Law & Order. For many, it stands at the pinnacle of what anime can do with adult storytelling.

68madoka-magicaMadoka Magica

Magical Girl anime typically do not feature dark themes and death. From its inception Madoka Magica was meant to be something different. The developers went out of their way to disguise the dark themes in the expected innocent, frilly magical girl facade. Madoka deconstructs the magical girl genre in similar ways that Neon Genesis Evangelion deconstructed the mecha genre.

67lupin-thirdLupin the Third

The longevity of Lupin speaks for itself. The manga released back in 1967, and the story in print and on screen remains strong today.

66Fruits_Basket_Box_SetFruits Basket

Fruits Basket relies on characterization to keep fans interested. Their emotions and desires shine through the artwork. Fruits Basket, like many shojo, provide a alternative look at the action heavy anime the West usually sees.

65trigunTrigun

Trigun is one of those strange mash ups. Science fiction and the wild west. The mix proved more popular in the United States than in Japan.

64Requiem for the PhantomRequiem for the Phantom

Child assassins are a favorite anime theme. Requiem for the Phantom adds another favorite: amnesia. The anime is based on a visual novel, Phantom of the Inferno. You can read my thoughts on it in this review.

63slayersThe Slayers

The Slayers is one of the most popular anime from the heyday of the 1990s. The art style may not be to many modern fans’ tastes, but the Slayers is one of those a student of anime need to see.

62FLCLFLCL

FLCL is less a show and more an experience. The layers stuffed into each short episode attempts to capture the complex frenzy of modern life. You need to be well versed in Jungian psychology to catch all the symbols stuffed into each scene.

61escaflowneThe Vision of Escaflowne

The Vision of Escaflowne flopped in Japan but was a worldwide success. The anime suggests a disconnect between Japanese tastes in stories and the rest of the anime market during the 1990s.

60ClaymoreClaymore

Most of the time female warriors wear skimpy armor. Claymore bucks this trend(Clare’s is form fitting, though). Claymore has great action: sudden and violent without the yammering anime is prone toward.

 

59monster-animeMonster

Monster is a complex story with good pacing and still avoids the nonsensical tangle complex anime fall into. Series like Monster show how anime is a great storytelling medium.

58moribitoMoribito

Moribito tells a story of motherhood. Balsa is an older woman with experience behind her. This dynamic is a welcome change from most fantasy stories.

57The Sacred BlacksmithThe Sacred Blacksmith

The Sacred Blacksmith is best described as middling. What it does right: avoid running the breast jokes into the ground. The anime doesn’t break ground, but it provides an example of where anime stagnated in recent decades.

56The Melancholy of Haruhi SuzumiyaThe Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya

The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya was one of the most popular anime back in 2006. It sparked an online phenomenon of parodies and other videos. The anime revealed how storytelling is two directional.

55Spirited AwaySpirited Away

Spirited Away has grossed more in the box office than any other anime to date. Popularity cannot be underestimated when it comes to importance and impact.

54perfectblue1Perfect Blue

Perfect Blue gets into your head. This psychological thriller follows Mima as she poses nude and as rape victims for magazines. The story has a distinct Hitchcock flare. It shows just how good anime can be when it sheds its high school immaturity.

53Mazinger ZMazinger Z

Mazinger Z popularized the giant robot genre back in the 1970s. It is the first time a character piloted a giant robot from a cockpit. It was also the first time a female robot appeared. The anime laid the foundation for later mecha anime.

52macrossMacross

Macross is a mecha series that tries to avoid black and white thinking. It’s antagonists are not inherently evil unlike other mecha at the time.

51Ghost HuntGhost Hunt

Do you like ghost stories? Ghost Hunt is TAPS (Ghost Hunters) with a Japanese twist.

50Beyond the BoundaryBeyond the Boundary

Beyond the Boundary is a fair anime that provides another look at how anime plays up male fetishes. On a positive side, it handles small gestures well and has a female lead with steel in her character.

 

49Dusk Maiden of AmnesiaDusk Maiden of Amnesia

Anime ghost stories can be gripping when done well. Contrast is the key, and Dusk Maiden of Amnesia uses anime style humor to accent its dark moments well. The cinematography of this anime lends to the creep factor well. Some of the shots have a distinct Hitchcock feel.

48burst angelBurst Angel

Burst Angel would be a much better anime if it modeled itself after crime thrillers like Ghost in the Shell rather than mix in teen-angst found in mecha focused anime.

47sword art online 2Sword Art Online

People either love SAO or hate it. Sword Art Online helped popularize the trapped-in-a-game genre. If anything, this new genre shows the importance of video games in modern culture.

46Akame Ga KillAkame Ga Kill

Akame Ga Kill straddles the fantasy and trapped-in-a-game genres. While most of the time it stands firmly in fantasy, some of the battles and dialog come from video games. The humor of the series comes at terrible times and clashes rather than accents the dark themes present in the story.

45Shuffle!Shuffle!

Harem series like Shuffle! flirt with the outright ridiculous. However, Shuffle breaks from the pack with a heartfelt story. Some of this is because it is a seinen anime as opposed to an ecchi or shonen harem story.

44School RumbleSchool Rumble

High school love triangles within yet other triangles and comedy antics mark School Rumble. It is a fluffy show with heart and decent humor.

43howls moving castleHowl’s Moving Castle

Based on a children’s book, for many Howl’s Moving Castle is Studio Ghibli at its best.

42Mushi-shiMushi-shi

Thought provoking best describes Mushi-shi. Episodic is another word. The story looks at the relationship we have with the natural and spiritual world we often do not see.

41The World Only God Knows - CastThe World Only God Knows

A harem with a heart describes The World Only God Knows. Watch as an aloof, awkward video game dork is forced by a demon from Hell to break out of his shell and use his skills in dating sims to cast out evil spirits.

40Lavie, Alvis, and ClausLast Exile

Last Exile is a great story set in a rusty steampunk world. With superb visuals and pacing, what more can you ask for?

 

39Nausicaa of the Valley of the WindNausicaa of the Valley of the Wind

Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind was written by Hayao Miyazaki. The movie cemented Studio Ghibli’s place as a major player and even inspired chocobos in the Final Fantasy video game series.

38ChobitsChobits

Cute female android. Check. Awkward situations with a horny but good-hearted college man. Check. Chobits leads the viewer on a journey to discover love and humanity.

37Wolf's RainWolf’s Rain

Thought provoking dystopia best describes Wolf’s Rain. The story is complex (and confusing) but the dark themes and music by Yoko Kanno are excellent.

36Ergo ProxyErgo Proxy

Dark themes and menacing artwork brings this dystopian story alive. It is gothic like a cathedral: darkly beautiful but also vibrantly lit by the sunlight of its characters.

35Hellsing UltimateHellsing Ultimate

Forget Twilight and sparkly vampires. Hellsing Ultimate is a trip over the edge of psychosis. It bleeds with violence to the point where the story becomes secondary. Much of its brutality seeks to highlight to darkness of bored immortality.

34Ellis and Nadie El Cazador de la BrujaEl Cazador de la Bruja

It isn’t often you see an anime set in Mexico. The focus on female protagonists and a believable Wild West feel sets this anime apart.

33barakamonBarakamon

Stories without violence come as a relief. Barakamon follows a stereotypical dramatic artist on his journey to a small rural island to rediscover his muse. The focus on simple life and relationships makes this story a nice watch.

32gurren-lagann-simon-niaGurren Lagann

Gurren Lagann handles suspense right. It’s story is clear and comes with great twists. Surprising for a mecha. Add in a coming of age story that doesn’t involve high school and you have a winner.

31one-week-friends2One Week Friends

Friendship can be difficult and in today’s society it is a commodity. One Week Friends shows just how valuable friendship and relationships are and how much work they can take.

30Bleach Friendship Meme QuoteBleach

Bleach has become a Goliath in the shonen world. Despite its problems, it is a solid action anime in the same vein as Dragonball Z. Bleach suffers from character bloat, filler, and breaks in tension thanks to poorly timed comedy and flashbacks. Despite these problems, it has engaging characters and is worth a look.

 

29Code GeassCode Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion

Code Geass takes mecha themes and doubles down on how mecha questions power and the conflict between ends and means.

28RobotechRobotech

For many, Robotech was the first exposure to mecha and anime. Robotech helped the popularity of anime grow in the US during the 1980s.

27GundamMobile Suit Gundam

Gundam fever strikes many as one of Japan’s strange interests. Mobile Suit Gundam remains one of the most popular anime series in Japan, inspiring giant robot statues and more. It set the standard for all mecha to follow.

26Naruto Anime BlondeNaruto

Naruto remains one of the most popular anime series in the United States. Its popularity has helped make anime legitimate and a staple in American childhood.

25attack_on_titan_wallpaperAttack on Titan

The popularity of Attack on Titan surprised many. It is one of those few titles that appeals to those who avoid animation.

24Welcome to the NHKWelcome to the NHK

Hikikomori becomes more common as relationships become more difficult. Welcome to the NHK examines the trend through the eyes of a sufferer.

23Space DandySpace Dandy

Space Dandy continues the family of Cowboy Bebop and Samurai Champloo. Space Dandy suffered from too much hype, but it continues the episodic antics Bebop and Champloo popularized.

22grave-of-the-firefliesGrave of the Fireflies

Grave of the Fireflies is a hard movie to watch. It tells a story of what happened to many Japanese children during World War II. It shows how animation can be serious and heart wrenching when done well.

21Princess MononokePrincess Mononoke

Princess Mononoke was the first animated film to win the Japan Academy Prize. Many consider the film as a landmark in animation because of its quality and complex, adult script.

20akira-movieAkira

Back in the late 1980s, Akira first showed how animation can carry adult themes. Akira sparked renewed interest in anime in the United States during the 1990s.

19Dragon_Ball_Kai_Poster_ArtDragonball Z

DBZ, as Dragonball Z is often called, is the father of modern action anime. While some get tired of hearing this, DBZ set the standards for action anime that followed. DBZ Kai does away with filler and holds to the original story.

18 

kill-la-kill-ryukoKill la Kill

Kill la Kill tackles anime’s bad habit of fan-service and transforms it to a symbol of a strong woman. Kill la Kill is a satirical look at our relationships with clothing.

17Host-Club-ouran-high-school-host-clubOuran High School Host Club

Ouran High School Host Club makes fun of otaku culture, yaoi, yuri, and other aspects of anime culture. It is a great piece of satire.

16Edward Elric Fullmetal AlchemistFullmetal Alchemist

Although Fullmetal Alchemist doesn’t follow the manga, the characters break away from the standard shonen type. Edward uses intelligence more than brawn. In Brotherhood, he falls back into the standard impulsive meathead shonen stereotype.

15Chūnibyō_Demo_Koi_ga_Shitai!_BD_&_DVD_volume_1_coverLove, Chunibyo, and Other Delusions

Love, Chunibyo, and Other Delusions looks at chunibyo, or a reluctance to grow up. The anime is full of heart but avoids being overly sentimental. As these stories go, it is well balanced and worth the watch.

14Astro BoyAstro Boy

Astro Boy deserves a place here as the first anime. Astro Boy started some of anime’s bad habits, such as filler. Despite this, Astro Boy has its place in history.

13Death Note's MisaDeath Note

Death Note dominated anime for a time with its popularity. It spread across the internet through fanfictions and garnered a cult-like following. Its dark themes and questions about morality (such as the question of ends and means) hit home with many.

12Spice and Wolf 2Spice and Wolf

Economics doesn’t get enough attention as a plot device. Spice and Wolf sometimes delves too deeply, but the adult relationship and banter between Holo and Lawrence elevates this story. Sadly, it looks unlikely the anime will be concluded.

11Fullmetal Alchemist BrotherhoodFullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood

FMA: Brotherhood remakes the first series and follows the manga closer than the original. Brotherhood provides an accessible entry point for those looking to start watching anime.

10Ed from Cowboy BebopCowboy Bebop

Cowboy Bebop remains a classic. It is the best anime to introduce the medium to those who have doubts. Many who hate anime like Cowboy Bebop.

 

9Eureka SevenEureka Seven

Eureka Seven shifts the mecha genre while retaining tradition. The bright colors and surfer theme break from the usual dark colors and themes found in most mecha. While the story retains the grandiose plot, the relationship between Renton and Eureka is the focus.

8Rose of VersaillesRose of Versailles

Rose of Versailles is one of the most important stories for women’s roles. In the story, Oscar François de Jarjayes takes a role typically reserved for male characters. She doesn’t lose her identity to her male love interest like other stories of the time period the story released.

7Samurai ChamplooSamurai Champloo

Samurai Champloo stands as the spiritual sequel to the classic Cowboy Bebop. It’s strange mix of hip-hop and Edo period Japan. In many regards Samurai Champloo surpasses Cowboy Bebop.

6Shoujo.Kakumei.UtenaRevolutionary Girl Utena

Revolutionary Girl Utena breaks expectations of female leads. Utena wants to become the Prince instead of the princess. It is a deconstruction of shojo stories and introduces girls to a different perspective of femininity.

5Neon Genesis Evangelion Asuka Langley SoryuNeon Genesis Evangelion

Love it or hate it, Evangelion changed anime and mecha. It deconstructs and examines the mecha genre. It then rebuilt the pieces into a story people still analyze and debate.

4sailor-neptune-uranusSailor Moon

Sailor Moon is the Dragonball Z of the magical girl genre. It set the standards for every magical girl that followed. Sailor Moon showed young girls they too can be powerful and heroic.

3Inuyasha_trioInuyasha

I have a soft spot for Inuyasha. It was my first exposure to anime (unless you count Voltron). Inuyasha is well paced and avoids most of the pitfalls of anime, such as filler. It introduces you to Japan’s deep ocean of folklore and legends.

2One Piece

One Piece captures childhood for many. It is the best-selling manga series in history. Popularity creates impact, and few stories have had more impact than One Piece in the lives of fans.

1Pokemon
pokemonAside from Astro Boy, Pokemon is the most important anime. This is especially true of the United States. Pokemon may have begun as a video game, but it jumped mediums to television and books without any problems. For many Americans Pokemon defines childhood. Its messages of friendship, perseverance, loyalty, and hard work appeals to parents. Its bright colors and cute characters appeals to children. People around the world recognize Pikachu. What makes Pokemon significant is how it isn’t considered anime. It is simply a cartoon. This shows how anime has gone from being a niche market to a part of the American childhood.  Pokemon remains the most popular anime franchise. It opens doors toward mainstream acceptance of the medium and raises generations on the art style. This makes Pokemon a gateway for more interest in anime.

One Punch Man Impressions

one-punch-man Who knew boredom and apathy could be so entertaining? One Punch Man, so far, has plenty of all three.

Saitama approaches superheroing as a hobby. What’s his main problem as a part-time superhero? Outside of supervillains attacking during grocery store sales, Saitama struggles with being too powerful. One Punch Man explores what happens when a superhero attains the apex of power and is no longer challenged. I’m watching the series on Toonami, and I haven’t seen every episode yet. So these impressions may change.

Anime heroes strive to become stronger, faster, and better. But what happens when they can’t get any stronger? What happens when they get powerful enough to kill Superman with a single punch? What happens when there is nothing to strive toward? One Punch Man answers with boredom and apathy. Saitama gets more excited about a sale than a villain appearing. Although he hopes one villain, some day, will provide the rush only a challenge can bring. Throughout anime, shonen heroes pit themselves against villains and obstacles in order to prove their power level and to feel a rush. Saitama no longer has villains that can do this. One punch ends it. He avoids the contrivance we see in Dragonball Z and Bleach of holding back power and slowly increasing it. Those shows use that method to build tension. In One Punch Man, villains follow this contrivance and expect Saitama to do the same. Only Saitama lacks hidden power reserves. He’s power incarnate. He also scoffs at the verbose speeches shonen characters love. Despite his boredom, he can’t turn a blind eye to crime, but he lacks the protection instinct we see in shonen heroes. He doesn’t proclaim  he will protect people. He simply does it, but he does it on his own terms and cares little about the fallout. Apathy stands at the core of his character.

saitama

For someone like me who has grown tired of shonen tropes, One Punch Man stands apart. At the core of it, superheroes are rather ridiculous. They don spandex and face impossible creatures. I knew One Punch Man was something special when I saw the first villain: a lobster man in underwear. I know, I know. Superheroes are meant to be fantasy, but they struggle with power creep that leads them to ever-more ridiculous scenarios. One Punch Man reveals this with its quirky events and mashed up freaks.

When you look at classic fantasy, the heroes rarely achieve god-level powers. Yet, when they do, the story twists in a way that makes those powers worthless. Take the Wheel of Time for example. Rand slowly gains stronger abilities in the story’s version of magic. He eventually wields the strands of reality itself. But despite having these god-level powers, he finds himself faced with a foe he can’t vanquish. Namely, because he shouldn’t.  Superheroes, on the other hand (and I’m mostly looking at shonen heroes), rarely find a villain they shouldn’t vanquish, as opposed to unable to vanquish.

I’ve never been much of a comic book superhero fan. I do, however, enjoy shonen heroes to a degree. Shonen heroes are made, not born like most comic book superheroes. I prefer the communal effort of shonen heroes. They become heroes through their effort and the help of their friends. Saitama, like American superheroes, is self-made. He trained to become powerful, but unlike Goku and other heroes, he trained alone. He achieved his power in the American way (more or less) than the communal Japanese way.

one-punch-man-punchDespite how much I beat up on superheroes, I enjoy American superhero movies (but not the comic books), but comic book heroes are predictable. They will win. When they die, they don’t stay dead.  After all, their properties are too valuable. One Punch Man satirizes this with a few lines of dialogue here and there. Death is one of the best parts of shonen. When a hero dies, they die. DBZ notwithstanding. The finality of this increases tension and shocks the reader. In some cases, this would the equivalent of Superman dying, and DC announcing there will be no new Superman comics. Ever. One Punch Man pokes at this through its lack of tension. Saitama will always win. The story lacks any type of struggle. Sure, Superman will struggle a little, but in the end, he too will always win. Even when he loses and “dies” he still returns in a later installment. One Punch Man takes this lack of tension inherent in the structure of most superhero comics and runs with it.

Okay, this post has meandered quite a bit. I’ve gotten away from writing personal posts like this, so I thought this would be a good break. While I enjoy satire, it proves difficult to discuss because discussing it makes satire lose its impact. It becomes dry and dull.  I could tell you how Saitama pokes fun at superhero and shonen hero tropes in various scenes, but it’s better for you to watch it for yourself. If you are a fan of shonen like Bleach, give One Punch Man a watch. If you are a fan of American superheroes, give One Punch Man a watch. It may not be for everyone, but this is one story that points out just how ridiculous the modern hero narrative can be.


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

 


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.


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!