The Shinigami Behind You: Considering the Messages We Consume

A shinigami waits behind you, counting your limited heartbeats.

It’s not a comfortable thought, but one we must all face. We will die. This realization should govern our every action. Many times while watching a terrible anime, the thought strikes me, and I turn off the drivel. Each of us have a set number of hours to spend. We often spend them foolishly.

Many could argue watching anime is a waste of heartbeats. Escapism wastes time. Quite the contrary, good stories enhance life. Good stories allow us to explore different perspectives. They help us develop compassion and empathy for others. However, finding stories worth our time is difficult. Even though drivel consumed someone’s heartbeats to produce, but it may not warrant our heartbeats to consume.

Watching anime, or watching movies or reading books are all forms of consumption. They are food for the mind. The messages we consume form building blocks for our identities and world view, much like how food forms building blocks for the body. Eating poor food creates an unhealthy body. After all, it is hard to build healthy cells with poor quality amino acids, proteins, and sugars. Likewise, it is hard to build a healthy mental life with drivel, short-sighted messages, misogynistic messages, and other poor materials,. The limited nature of our lives doesn’t help matters. It takes time to find good mental building materials and sometimes we don’t know if those materials are good until after they are consumed.

All of this seems rather floaty and philosophical, but anime does change us. The messages and stories we consume either reinforces or challenges our current understanding of reality. In turn, that understanding impacts everything we do. People who consume anime with values centered on friendship, loyalty, love, understanding, and persistence will have those mental nutrients. Those who consume anime with messages of ownership, control, and sexual debasement of women will have those mental building blocks. This idea extends to all messages we consume.

The Internet makes it easy to cocoon yourself in messages you enjoy and agree with. This can distort your perspective. It makes you believe reality is thus when it can be quite the opposite. The limited time you have to live makes these cocoons all the more dangerous. The time spent to consume these cocooning messages cannot be retrieved, and it weds you to those messages. Few of us want to face the realization that everything we’ve believed in or thought was wrong after spending most of our lives with that perspective.

Otaku culture allows its own cocoons. As a guy, I am troubled by the proliferation of massive-breasted women and the messages of sexual availability. These fantasies target a sliver of fans who struggle with forming connections with women. The messages of sexual availability and the focus on serving male sexual needs whenever they arise form a perspective that is unhealthy and self-defeating. These guys only increase their issues with women by consuming these messages. The fantasy creates self-centered expectations and breeds resentment when reality can’t match the cocoon. Many prefer the cocoon to reality, but what will these fans think when a shinigami finally comes for them? What legacy do they leave behind with their final heartbeats?

As a Christian who also practices Zen, these questions needle me. I beat up on otaku culture, but the same idea extends toward American conservatives and American liberals. It extends toward Christians who insulate themselves from other religious perspectives. I used to be one of these. Cocooning creates small minds and reduces empathy. It is easy to ostracize those you don’t know. It is much harder to think poorly about people you speak with everyday.  I understand why many wrap themselves in fantasy and comforting viewpoints. I’ve done it. However, in the end, this stunts us as people.

Don’t feel singled out if you are an otaku. Anime teaches many worthwhile values. In many ways, otaku caterpillars have advantages over conservatives, liberals, and Christian caterpillars. Otakus tend to be more inter-culturally minded. Otakus also tend to be creative. Otakus tend to be open minded. These traits make the culture more receptive to rants like this post.

So the tl;dr:

The messages we consume, and how we choose to spend our limited time, have an impact on the world around us. How we think dictates how we act. Anime and other messages infiltrate our souls, so be careful of what messages you consume.


Ama: Japan’s Sea Diving Women

Ama come from a tradition that dates back over 2,000 years, and the tradition is dying. Today, about 2,000 ama dive off the coast of Japan, and fewer dive each year. Most ama are well into their 60s and 70s (LeBlanc, 2015; McCurry, 2016). Before we continue, I have to leave you with a disclaimer. This article contains nudity. Before the 1900s, ama dived naked except for a traditional loincloth. The earliest images of ama, naked from the waist up, appear in 18th century ukiyo-e. Ama have worn wetsuits since the 1960s (LeBlanc, 2015).

The Ama Tradition

No one knows exactly how women became deep sea divers. Westerners assume ama dived for pearls, but most dived to collect seaweed, fish, and shellfish to supplement their meals and sell on the marketplace. Ama are almost exclusively women. They dive in the cold sea without the aid of scuba gear, using only rocks to help them sink as far as 30 feet below the sea. Most traditional ama were wives of fishermen. They would dive so they can earn extra money while their husbands were away on prolonged fishing trips (Martinez, 2004; LeBlanc, 2015; Tanaka, 2016).

On Shima peninsula, ama once dominated. After World War II, 6,000 of the 10,000 total divers lived in the area. Today only 750 live there (McCurry, 2016).  Ama break with Japanese culture norms, particularly the ama of Shima. Since feudal Japan, women were relegated to a limited role, based upon class. In samurai classes, women were shut off from society and were expected to manage the household and raise children. The lower classes granted women more freedom, but she was still subject to her husband. Merchant class women, for example, were expected to help manage the household and provide help with the family business. Farming class women helped plant the fields in addition to her household duties.

However, ama in the Shima area flipped these expectations. In some situations, the husband assisted her. He would wait topside for her to tug on her safety rope. Then, he would haul her up and help with her catch. During the Tokugawa period, these women were seen as strong and a match for their husbands. Many started their profession as children to continue to dive well into their 80s (LeBlanc, 2015).

When the husbands were away, ama dived in groups. Each woman would tie themselves to a wooden bucket that acted as a float. Diving in groups helped reduce danger, but whenever you dive up to 30 feet in cold water for up to 2 minutes, people can die. In a typical day, these women dive 100-150 times (Tanaka, 2016). Ama developed a culture of beliefs and practices to help reduce this danger.

Superstitions of the Ama

Ama fishing villages feature a special temple for the women to pray before heading off and their own communal warming huts for when they return from a cold day’s work. They developed their own protective symbols. The seiman, or 5-pointed star, adorn their head scarves and tools. Written in a single stroke, starting and ending at the same point, the star represents their safe return to the surface. Another design, the dohman,  a lattice design that keeps danger away and represents watchfulness. Before each dive, the women knock on the side of the boat with their chisel and recite a short mantra (LeBlanc, 2015).

Ama diving. Photo by Fosco Maraini 1954.

Men ama divers exist, but the profession is dominated by women. Diving is done relatively close to shore. While men took trips out into open waters, women could dive nearby to help the family’s income. Men would take the best boats, while women could make do with less seaworthy craft. Women were also thought to be better at diving than men. First, women have an extra layer of fat that helps them tolerate cold water better than men (LeBlanc, 2015). Women were also thought to be better able to hold their breath and for longer than men (Tanaka, 2016).

Today’s Ama

Ama is a dying profession. Several reasons go into this. First, young women don’t have any interest in learning the special breathing techniques ama have perfected. Second, the profession doesn’t pay. While their staple crop abalone can net $80.00 for 2lbs, abalone are getting harder to find due to overfishing and environmental changes (McCurry, 2016). Ama is a sustainable fishing system. It allows the diver to be selective. While the lack of nets and other gear protects the environment, oceans face pressures from industrial methods that impacts the ability of ama to find their catches. The profession may soon disappear because of these factors.

Topless Diving and the Mysterious, Exotic Orient

I have to comment on the images I chose to use. For a good portion of Japanese history, nudity among women carried little shame, particularly for the lower classes. Nudity is natural. I selected these images because they are a part of history. It was a part of who the ama were. That said, these photos were often intended for Western audiences. Soon after Japan opened, postcards of the exotic East began to be sent by visitors. Geisha, samurai, and ama numbered among the topics Westerners considered strange. Topless women who dived in cold waters. How strange! How erotic!

Never mind they dived nearly nude for safety. Clothing could snag on rocks. Although after the 1900s, many wore cotton gowns.

The exoticness of Japan was fetishized by the West since Japan modernized in the late 1800s. Today, Japanese women face continued fetishes by many Western men. These photos are not intended to cater to either fetish. Rather, I decided to use them to give a glimpsed of the women called ama while pointing out how these glimpses need to be understood. Today we sexualize far too much.  The women you saw in this article felt the cold salt water on their skin. They knew hunger and joy. They were mothers and grandmothers. These photographs provide a small window in their lives, a window distorted by Western exoticism and by modern sexuality.

References

LeBlanc, P. (2015). UT professor studies group of traditional Japanese pearl divers. Austin American-Statesman.

McCurry, J. (2016) “Japan’s women of the sea hope G7 will boost their dying way of life; The ama divers of the Shima peninsula, who harvest shellfish from the seabed, see the nearby gathering of world leaders as a chance to promote their culture”. The Guardian (London).

Martinez, D. (2004) Identity and Ritual in A Japanese Diving Village: The Making and Becoming of Person and Place. University of Hawaii Press.

Tanaka, H. and others (2016) “Arterial Stiffness of lifelong Japanese female pearl divers.” Am J Physiol Regul Integr Comp Physiol 310.

Photos are by Yoshiyuki Iwase unless otherwise noted.


Dragon Ball Super: Dubious and Lacking Heart

Dragonball Z is perhaps the most iconic Shonen anime.  So, when Toei Animation announced a new Dragonball series helmed by the legendary Akira Toriyama, fans were no doubt excited.  I’m a little late to the part myself where Dragonball Z is concerned.  As I’ve mentioned before, I didn’t grow up with DBZ and didn’t really get into it until I saw DBZ Abridged on Youtube.  I was not a fan of the original cut of Dragonball Z, which was bloated with filler to the point of being un-watchable.

When I finally got around to watching DBZ Kai, I was blown away.  The battles were tight and fierce, and every episode left you wanting more.  The pacing was spot on: seriousness was balanced with comedy, and action was balanced with periods of relative peace where the plot developed.  But what really made the show was the characters.  We saw Piccolo move from a villain to a hero, becoming more human along the way and learning about his own heritage.  Vegeta, too, moves from a world-blasting baddy to a father who is willing to sacrifice for his family.  Gohan moves from a frightened child to a warrior to a young man trying to balance his odd place as a half human warrior and his mother’s wish that he be a productive member of society.  And, of course, we have Goku, who is defined by his desire to constantly transcend himself but who also is a man who stands up for what is right and is willing to fight to defend his family and home.

There were some problems with the series, of course.  The Majin Buu arc was uneven at best, and the way that the power was scaled in the series got really over the top fast, undermining the plot points of previous arcs, along with the “scare factor” of previous villains.  Some of the battles got repetitive, even if they were pretty good overall.  Transformations became overused, moving from something of a surprise to something extremely predictable.  Overall, though, the good parts of the series outweighed the bad.

Given how good DBZ was, I had high expectations for Dragonball Super.  I’m about 30 episodes in, and I have to say that I’m disappointed.  On the surface, it looks like Dragonball Z.  There are epic battles and new enemies for Goku to face, and the Dragonball universe has been expanded quite a bit with all sorts of interesting new characters.  The art style has also been updated, and the series looks as good as ever.

The problem I have with Super is not with the surface elements but with the heart of the show.  It lacks the soul of DBZ Kai.  There are many reasons why, but the core of this issue is twofold.  The first part has to do with the power levels involved in the show.  The big new characters in Super are the God of Destruction, Beerus, and his martial arts teacher and caretaker, Whis.  To put it mildly, they are absurdly powerful.  Beerus at one point flicked Super Saiyan 3 level Goku in the head and sent him flying, and on more than one occasion Whis steps in to stop Beerus from going overboard, demonstrating that he is clearly the more powerful of the two.  This in and of itself is not necessarily bad, but what throws off the show is that, after their original battle, Goku becomes friends with the pair.

This is problematic in more ways than one.  For one, it sucks the dramatic tension out of the series.  At one point, Frieza returns and comes to Earth to get revenge on Goku.  At one point in the battle, Whis and Beerus come as spectators.  They do not directly intervene in the fight, but their presence still robs much of the tension because either one could destroy the antagonist with the flick of a wrist.  This is the same problem that DBZ had, but it is far more pronounced.  Nothing in the DBZ universe can compare with Beerus, which would be fine if he were looming over events as an adversary to be conquered, rather than a dubious ally who is so overpowered he takes the winds out of everyone else’s sails.  Even if the power scales were off in the old series, at least it was somewhat exciting to see the upper limits of each new villain and how Goku and his allies will overcome that limit.  Here, the upper limit is already defined by a character so absurdly powerful that he and Goku almost destroy the universe just by fighting in their initial battle.  And there’s a character already in the show who out classes even this monster!

This is closely tied to the second reason Super lacks the heart of DBZ.  There is no doubt that Beerus is a monster, who has committed genocide thousands of times over.  His disregard for life is casual and somewhat played for laughs, but no amount of yucking it up can override the fact that he is basically a force for evil who destroys on a mere whim.  Now on the other hand we have Goku, who has his own morality but is generally kind-hearted to a fault and concerned for the well-being of others.  He fought world-busting baddies and yes, many times it began as a way to test himself in battle but he also became righteously angry at the needless taking of life.  Goku fighting then befriending an enemy is a cliché of the show, but this doesn’t always hold true.  Frieza, for example, is portrayed as incredibly evil, and remains Goku’s greatest enemy, but in reality, his crimes pale in comparison to those of Beerus.  So, to my mind Goku being buddies with the God of Destruction, even if it is in line with the sportsmanlike part of his character, clashes uncomfortably with the part of his character that is generally good.  The show seems to lack the sense of morality inherent in DBZ, where even if Goku mostly wanted to test himself in combat, he still stood up for what he thought was right and fought for those who couldn’t protect themselves.  Instead, he has befriended the worst villain in the universe and trains with his teacher, who is complicit in his crimes by simply being indifferent to them and making no attempt to stop him.

Now, the argument can be made that Beerus is a God of Destruction, and his function is to balance out the creative propensity of the universe.  This is pretty much struck down in the beginning of the season by something the Elder Kai said, where he more or less refuted the Grand Kai who argued the same thing.  That isn’t the point anyway.  The point is that DBZ made a point to show how evil Vegeta was for destroying planets and committing genocide to sell planets to the highest bidder.  It depicted Frieza as an evil ruler grinding a large chunk of the universe under his proverbial boot heel and showed how cruel he was by destroying the Saiyan home world.  Cell was evil for taking hundreds of thousands of lives to make himself stronger and for wanting to destroy Earth as well.  Then there’s Maijin Buu, who destroyed planets wholesale and killed gods.  They were clearly marked as being evil, but Beerus for some reason gets a pass due to the fact he’s a god.  It clashes with the spirit of the original series, this sense of good struggling mightily to triumph over evil, and it doesn’t sit well with me.

A third aspect of Super doesn’t sit well with me.  Comedy of varying quality was always part of Dragonball Z, but generally the original is serious in tone.  Super feels like it is going out of its way to be a comedy.  Goku comes across as a buffoon, and Vegeta is almost disgustingly servile toward Beerus.  The balance between comedy and dramatic tension that generally held up well in DBZ is completely off in Super.

So, what is my verdict on Super, overall?  It might sound like I despise it, but that isn’t the case.  DBZ Is great, while Super is merely ok.  It lacks much of the dramatic tension that made the original such a joy to watch, while also lacking the heart that made DBZ touch so many people.  It relies too much on dubious comedy, while repeating tropes of the series that were old when DBZ was young.  All in all, my impression 30 episodes in is that it’s interesting in terms of world-building, but mediocre in terms of plot and story.  I’ll watch it, but it’s probably not going to be one I’ll watch over again like DBZ Kai.


Your Lie in April. The Impact We have on Others.

Most of us struggle with feelings of meaninglessness. Life feels like a grind to gain money. Then we die. We lose touch with why we live, and we fill our time with escapism like anime and manga and video games. Depression’s claws cut deep and hold on. Yet despite this malaise of despair, some souls shine.

They inspire and pull people out of despair. These people have their own problems and wrestle with depression, but they truck on. What’s more, these people are unseen. And guess what, you are one of them. You just may not know it. Enemies and friends can inspire us to be more and do more. Enemies can push us to try harder and break out of the daily grind. Friends provide support and push us to face our enemies. Enemies can be people, pianos, a difficult game, or anything that challenges us. Friends help us remember the importance of small moments.

Amidst the feeling of meaninglessness small moments shine. They break through our mistaken view of life and the feeling of meaninglessness comes from this mistaken view. The anime Your Lie in April touches on the idea of friends and enemies breaking depression.

Your Lie focuses on how loss can make even things we love feel meaningless. Kosei Arima losses his mother and his interest in playing the piano at the same time. Without music, he becomes a shadow of himself. All of that changed when he meets Kaori Miyazono, a female violinist that forces him to return to the piano. After she pushes him, Kosei encounters two competitors who wish to beat him as pianists. Kosei’s ability to play as a child inspired his two rivals to take up the instrument.

At the core of the story is Kosei’s mistaken perception. He begins to place all of his focus on Kaori. He uses her as a crutch to avoid his feelings of meaninglessness, guilt, and sorrow for his mother. This isn’t fair to her, nor does it work. Mistaken perception is rooted in skewed expectations. The ideas we have of life — much like Kosei’s ideas about music–cannot match reality. Reality cannot compare to the expectations we form. Reality is messy, and basing perception on what we think should be creates issues. Kosei doesn’t want a world where his mother withered and died, but death is a part of reality. I agree that no one should have to die, but everyone must die. You must. I must. This reality can make us feel as if life is meaningless. After all, everything we strive for will mean nothing. Money and fame mean nothing to us after death.

Such thinking is mistaken. It comes from expectations that what we do lasts. It comes from the mistaken idea that money and fame matter. In Your Lie, Kaori’s focus is to make music that will touch people. She wanted to live on in the hearts of those around her. The influence we have on those around us is what gives life meaning. Fame and money and similar things are just distractions. Reality is harsh. Our physical selves must die, but the music we make while we are alive, the melody we leave in the hearts of those we touch, continues. As people continue to influence each other, we continue to be passed on.

The meaning of life is simple. Too simple for our expectations to grasp. After all, expectations enjoy grand things. But the meaning of life is to live. How we live creates music, for good or ill. As a Christian, serving God is a part of that music. While I cannot make actual music like Kaori and Kosei–I am terrible at anything like that–I try to make spiritual music that helps those around me. We all want to reach someone. Touch someone’s soul. We only lose our way sometimes. In Ephesians 5:19, Paul writes:

…speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord.

While most Christians use this verse to support the practice of singing in worship, the verse goes deeper than this. Psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs can be sung through actions, not just words. Singing and making melody in the heart doesn’t involve the lips. It involves how we view the world around us. It involves how we reach out to people and resonate within them. The verse demands Christians have a singing heart for the world around us. It is beautiful, after all. Beautiful because of its flaws and struggles, not despite them. The verse calls on Christians to share that singing heart with other Christians and with God.

Kaori and Kosei likewise share their singing hearts: the bittersweet pain of love and loss, the pain of coming to terms with reality. Singing within cannot always be joyful, but it is always beautiful. Singing hearts often feel isolated. We cannot know if others are listening. We can only have faith that they are. We can only have faith that the messages our lives express are heard.

This idea of faith is found throughout Your Lie. Kaori and Kosei make music with the belief that someone, anyone, might hear and feel touched by the soul producing that music. So too Christians have faith that our actions, our silent psalms. are heard by those around us. We cannot see the impact we have on others, but it is there. Have you been to a funeral where dozens of people file in, people you never knew, to pay respects to the deceased? Sometimes death is the only way to see what lives have been touched by a person. In life, we can be unaware of our impact. In Your Lie, Kaori wasn’t fully aware of her impact upon the characters around her.

A life cannot be lived in isolation. We affect those around us and are affected by them in turn. Even when we are unaware of it, our words and actions matter. Each of us needs to decide what songs we play, what feelings we leave behind. Our audience listens.


Are You Addicted to Anime?

Most articles about anime addiction tend to be comedic lists about how everything has to be in Japanese and how you lack money because of all the merchandise you bought. Let’s have a serious discussion instead. We toss around the word addiction in ways that belittle the term. Liking something and enjoying something isn’t addiction. In order to be addicted, your interest has be be destructive to your health, social life, or ability to function (Alter, 2017).  For a long time, addicts were considered weak-minded people who can’t control themselves. Most of the time, addiction is associated with substances like heroin, meth, and other drugs. However, behaviors are addictive too. In fact, some researcher believe even substance addictions are behavioral addictions at their core (Alter, 2017).

The Nature of Addiction

Addictions build off of our natural reward systems–systems that everyone has. Substances hijack those systems, and behaviors short circuit the triggers within the brain. Dopamine, the chemical that makes you feel pleasure and happiness, sits at the center of addiction. Anything that encourages the brain to secrete it can be addictive. Even love can be an addiction, which is why some people jump from one toxic relationship to another like a heroin addict looking for another hit.

Addiction is, essentially, “an extreme dysfunctional attachment to an experience that is acutely harmful to a person, but that is an essential part of the person’s ecology and that the person cannot relinquish (Alter, 2017)”.  The experience component of addiction is the key. Addictions have a strong association with environment and memory. Environment triggers memory, which triggers the addiction. Lee Robins studied returning heroin addictions from the Vietnam War. Around 19% of veterans admitted to having a heroin addiction. Normally, heroin addicts relapse at a rate of 95%. These veterans had a relapse rate of only 5%. Robins, along with other addiction researchers, discovered the relationship between environment, memory, and addiction. To break an addiction, a person must leave the environment–the people, places, and memories–where they practiced their addiction. Few veterans returned to Vietnam, so their addiction didn’t return (Alter, 2017):

Addicts aren’t simply weaker specimens than non-addicts; they aren’t morally corrupt where non-addicts are virtuous. Instead, many, if not most, of them are unlucky. Location isn’t the only factor that influences your chances of becoming an addict, but it plays a much bigger role than scientists thought.

Addictions often center around negative coping methods, ways of handling pain, regret, loneliness, and other negative emotions. Any behavior that triggers dopamine and eases emotional pain can become an addiction, including Internet use and anime. I wasn’t able to find any studies that dealt directly with anime addiction. However, studies on Internet addiction provides us with useful parallels.

Internet Addiction

Even Dracula has his addictions.

Internet Addiction is one of those umbrella terms thats shades a variety of problems, from social media addiction to MMORPG addiction and online gambling. Anime would fall into the category too. Otakuism has a strong online component–anime is watched online. Otakus share fanfiction online, discuss anime online, blog, and enjoy other online activities. Internet Addiction is seen as a preoccupation with the Internet that causes impairment or distress (Stavropoulos, 2017).  Internet Addiction, or IA, links to health problems, academic failure, emotional problems, and behavioral problems (Zhou, 2017). Addictive behaviors in your teen years carry into adulthood, mainly because they become coping methods.

People use the Internet to avoid negative feelings–think about your last Tumblr binge and how you were feeling. Teens who use emotion-focused coping methods instead of problem-focused coping methods have a greater risk of IA (Zhou, 2017). IA appears to feed existing addictions; it provides easy access to rewarding and pleasurable activities. Remember dopamine’s role in addiction? Online activities make your brain squirt the feel-good chemical.

Most game addicts are men, for example; most social networking addicts are women. Interestingly, research suggest people with Internet Addiction keep to certain activities instead of bouncing between various addictions. A gaming addict usually isn’t addicted to Facebook (Starcevic, 2017).

Online gaming and social networks feature all the elements that create addiction: inconsistent rewards–which excites the brain more than regular rewards–and notifications of new content, which makes the brain release dopamine. Think about that happy feeling you have when someone likes a Facebook or Tumblr post (Hormes, 2014). Think about that feeling of pleasure when you plunk off someone with a headshot. That’s what the research is talking about. Research also suggests those who use the Internet heavily, particularly social networks, show signs of impulse control disorders and lack of emotional self control. I’ve seen gamers rage at the smallest things, and I’ve done it myself.

Addicted to drama…and potato chips.

Online video games and social media were designed to be addictive. MMORPGs have a particularly addictive design. They boast immediate gratification and satisfaction from conquering gradually increasing skill level of challenge. They trigger high emotional involvement too because of the social ties they forge, increasing the need to spend even more time online. They help players feel as if they are fulfilling their talents and potential, a feeling reality often lacks (Stavropoulos, 2017).

Online game addiction is something I know well. I was an addict in my high school and college years. It was consuming. World of Warcraft was something I avoided because games like Diablo II hooked me bad enough. Even now, I have to be careful, or I will fall into my old patterns of behavior. Remember how research spoke of memory being a trigger for addiction? PC gaming triggers my addictive memories. Luckily, gaming no longer offers me feelings of self-actualization which helps blunt my risk of relapse. I now tightly regulate my gaming. My last all-day binged was scheduled–the release of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, but I digress.

Traits of Internet Addiction

Beyond impulsive behavior like obsessive-compulsive disorder–constantly checking your Tumblr or Twitter feed, for example–or feeling anxious when you can’t read the latest fanfiction or play a deathmatch online, IA associates with other personality traits.  It’s unknown if the Internet stimulates these traits, but people with certain personality disorders may be drawn to the Internet because of what they feel they lack in real life. IA is most common among college students.  Males with IA showed higher rates of narcissism; females showed higher rates of narcissism and avoidant behaviors than those without IA.  Women show a higher need for assurance and less autonomy (Wu, 2016) . Both men and women turn to the Internet for validation. This sense of fulfillment the Internet offers takes us to the relationship between anime and addiction.

Anime and Addiction

Okay, let’s recap. Behaviors can be addictive; Internet Addiction centers around online behaviors that give us a hit of dopamine, eases anxiety, and provides a feeling of fulfillment. Anime addiction lacks clear research, but using the research into Internet Addiction, and the nature of behavioral addictions can help us understand anime addiction. Yes, you can become addicted to anime just as you can become addicted to gambling, sex, love, online gaming, texting, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and anything else that fills an emotional need.

Anime can become a coping technique, a way to escape, which is fine until it becomes destructive. When anime watching damages your relationships, consumes your thinking, consumes your money, and becomes a craving, you may well be addicted. However, we have to be careful not to blindly fling the word addiction at anime fans. Otakuism appears to be an addiction to outsiders because it is an alternative culture (Azuma, 2009):

The otaku choose fiction over social reality not because they cannot distinguish between them but rather as a result of having considered which is the more effective for their human relations, the value standards of social reality or those of fiction. For example, they choose fiction because it is more effective for smoothing out the process of  communication between friends, reading the Asahi Newspaper and then going to vote, or lining up with anime magazines in hand for an exhibition. And, to that extent, it is they who may be said to be socially engaged and realistic in Japan today, by virtue of not choosing the “social reality.” Otaku shut themselves into the hobby community not because they deny sociality but rather because, as social values and standards are already  dysfunctional, they feel a pressing need to construct alternative values and standards.

Otakuism provides an alternative to the social culture of mainstream society. It allows people to connect to each other in a different way that feels more affirming, but therein lies the danger. Drug culture often has similar trappings. Think about the New Age movements during the 1960s and the wanton use of substances and sex many of the movement had–LSD, heroin, and other drugs. Now, the otaku community uses anime, manga, and other consumer-culture products as their “mind-altering” substances. I know, I look to be stretching a bit but stay with me. Otaku behaviors, particularly the social behaviors like conventions, collecting, and discussing, are the addictive substances. Of themselves they are good, but when taken to extremes–that is, they become damaging and consuming–they become addictions. Anime conventions for otakus are the equivalent to Woodstock for hippies, only smaller and more frequent.

Woodstock was a music festival that attracted over 400,000 people and became a symbol of the counter-culture of the time.

Of course, watching anime can be a compulsive addiction. It’s similar to compulsive gambling, Tumblr reading, and other compulsive behaviors. Anime may ease your anxiety, but the association, if you aren’t careful, can create anxiety. Your mind begins to crave the escape anime offers, making you feel anxious when you don’t get a hit. It’s similar to nicotine addiction. Contrary to popular belief, smoking doesn’t ease stress. Rather, it adds the stress of physical cravings on top of your already present stress. The feeling of relief smokers feel when they take a hit is the easing of that physical craving and the comfort of the behavior, but neither has much impact on the baseline stress level. Behavioral addictions add stress to the baseline rather than reduce it. Meditation, mindfulness, moderate exercise, and other healthy behaviors–anime watching can be healthy–reduce baseline stress.

Otaku culture tends to attract certain personality types, some of which may be in danger of addiction. However, the culture isn’t any worse than other cultures. For example, sports can also create addicts. Think of the super-fan–I like to call them sportaku–that drops out of family life during their sport’s season. Their identity revolves around the identity of their team or favorite sport. For that matter, think of the neighborhood cat-lady or cat-man, or dog-lady and dog-man. Their lives center on their animals to the point where they live in a dangerous, unhealthy situation that precludes anything else. See what researchers mean when they say any behavior can become an addition? You also see addicted runners, crafters, and other apparently healthy hobbies.

Behavioral addictions are tough to see because they often appear healthy. After all, who would argue running or walking isn’t a healthy habit? But when that habit becomes destructive to your health and social life, it becomes an addiction. Enjoying anime and manga is healthy….until it becomes disruptive and destructive. Likewise using Tumblr, Facebeook, Twitter, fanfiction can be healthy, until it becomes consuming and anxiety inducing.

Besides the problem of seeing a behavioral addiction like anime is the fact you can’t avoid the addiction. There is a behavioral addiction known as the empty inbox. People feel anxious if their inbox isn’t empty (I sometimes catch myself feeling that way), but we all know that’s an almost-impossible ideal. It’s not like we can avoid using email. It’s a central part of modern life, yet its similar to expecting someone with a drug addiction to return to their environment and not become addicted again.

Breaking an addiction requires mindfulness. You have to be aware that a behavior like anime binging creates anxiety when you can’t do it. In the articles I’ve read, behavioral addictions have a detox period similar to substance addiction (Alter, 2017).  You also have to change your environment. For an anime addict, that means reducing or avoid conventions if that’s your trouble spot. That also means changing your binge environment and habits.

Are you addicted to anime and the otaku life?  How can you tell? I’ve repeated the criteria several times, but the distinction is important enough for me to repeat one last time: addictions come down to disruption and destructiveness. If your anime watching and involvement in otaku life disrupts your ability to live, that is, work and socialize, you may have an addiction. If you don’t have any hobbies outside of anime and otaku-related hobbies, like cosplay, you may have an addiction.

Behavioral addictions rewire the brain in ways similar to drugs. It takes time to undo this wiring, and even then the memory–and the behavior–remains. Enjoying anime and otaku life isn’t the same as being addicted. The word addiction is tossed about too easily. Let’s save it for when the word actually applies: when somethings becomes all consuming. When you are “addicted” to an anime, say something like “This anime has hijacked my life.” It had an element of temporariness to it that addiction lacks, but it still has the hyperbole people today like to use. Addictions are serious, life disrupting problems. Let’s not belittle them with poor word choices.

If you or someone you know struggles with anime, video game, or other online addictions, the reSTART addiction center can help.

References

Alter, A. (2017) Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked. New York: Penguin Press.

Azuma, H. (2009). Otaku: Japan’s Database Animals. University of Minnesota Press.

Hormes, J., Kearns, B., Timko, A. (2014) Craving Facebook? Behavioral addiction to online social networking and its association with emotion regulation deficits. Addiction 109: 2079-2088.

Starcevic, V. & Billieux, J. (2017). Does the construct of Internet addiction relect a single entity or a spectrum of disorders? Clinical Neuropsychiatry. 14 5-10

Stavropoulos, V. & others (2017) MMORPG gaming and hostility predict Internet Addiction symptoms in adolescents: An empirical multilevel longitudinal study. Addictive Behaviors. 64 294-300.

Wu, Jo Yung-Wei, Ko, Huei-Chen, Lane, Hsien-Yuan (2016) Personality Disorders in Female and Male College Students with Internet Addiction. Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease. 204 (3) 221-226.

Zhou, Yueyue and others (2017) Big fiver personality and adolescent Internet addiction: The mediating role of coping style. Addictive Behavriors.  64. 42-48.


What Makes Anime Superior to Hollywood Movies?

We all know anime is better than Hollywood movies (okay, okay. some movies are good), but why is anime better? Actually, in all seriousness anime has advantages over the typical Hollywood movie.Let’s take a look at some of these advantages. I’ve touched on them before in various articles, but they are worth taking another look. Let’s start with Hollywood’s fetish for sequels.

Lately, we’ve been buried in sequels of sequels to the point where it seems as if Hollywood doesn’t have original ideas. Some of this is because of the high cost of marketing. Sequels are easier to market. Brands and characters are well known. Aside from marketing, sequels have a built-in audience, and this makes them less of a risk. After all, movies are expensive to make, and as a business, studios have to carefully balance profitability and storytelling. Not all stories will create profit. Anime shares these same concerns, and anime also suffers from sequelitis. However, anime still tends to take more risks than Hollywood films. That is why we often see off-the-wall stories like Dagashi Kashi with its focus on Japanese junk food. It helps that anime is generally less expensive to produce than Hollywood films. The lower cost allows studios to experiment more often because the bar for profitability is lower. Beyond cost, anime taps into manga as source material, and manga offers a diverse range of stories to pick from. Hollywood may be tapping into comic books for stories, but American comic books lack the diversity manga enjoys.

And sometimes CGI can do what animation cannot. Gollum was amazing in the Lord of the Rings series.

Tapping into comic books for stories helps and hurts. It helps because movies can tie into each other, but it hurts because story arcs lack definitive endings. Movies and television tend to milk stories until they shamble along as zombified shells of themselves. They lack definitive endings. While anime can do the same–ehem One Piece–most anime stories have definitive endings. They have a story to tell in a certain number of episodes and that’s it. Hollywood has used the same mechanism in the past. For example, the Lord of the Rings movie series set out to cover each book within a single movie. They had 3 movies to tell the story. Recent superhero films, however, reboot and stutter over the same story threads. Look at how many times Batman has been rebooted. Anime has more in common with Lord of the Rings than Batman’s constant reboots. Most anime never sees a reboot. Most anime ends after a certain number of episodes, even if that number happens to be in the 300s. When the story ends, it ends.

These set lengths and definitive endings allow some anime stories to be superior to Hollywood and television stories. Knowing you only have 52 episodes to tell a story keeps writers from padding. Yes, Bleach and Dragonball Z, and other anime are stuffed with filler, but that actually supports my argument. It is better to have a set number of movies or episodes. This gives writers a goal to aim toward when adapting a manga series, which gives the series better cohesion and pacing. Padding and filler kills tension. Sometimes. an anime benefits from reordering a manga series as well–which can only be done with set episodes. Manga and anime have the nasty habit of killing tension and suspense with an ill-timed flashback, something Hollywood rarely does nowadays.

That isn’t to say anime doesn’t use CGI too. It can be just as jarring as live-action if not done right, but it is a bit easier to blend CGI into animation.

I spoke about the expense of movies keeping Hollywood from taking risks. Much of that expense come from CGI. Live action has limitations that only CGI can get around. Animation, on the other hand, doesn’t have real-world limitations. You can draw and animate anything you want. Animation allows the audience to believe in things like giant robots more readily than live-action. And this is why CGI budgets drive up the cost of movie-making. The suspension of disbelief is harder for CGI to achieve because we know what real-world objects look like, so CGI must look perfect; otherwise, we can be jarred out of our film experience. Because of this, animation is better suited for some types of stories more than others. Sadly, American audiences still equate animation with children or with comedy. So it will be a while before American animation studios tackle the same adult themes and stories anime has tackled for decades.

Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy are good examples of Hollywood’s golden age.

Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy movies. I relish settling in for an evening of classic films from Hollywood’s golden era. But sadly that era has passed. While Hollywood occasionally cranks out a movie in the same pedigree as Raisin in the Sun or San Francisco (I adore movies from the 1930s-1950s)these are rarer than they should be. I also don’t wear blinders when it comes to anime. Anime struggles with drivel as much as American television. Perhaps even more so with all the harem stories and fan-service ladened garbage out there. However, anime retains the strengths the golden age of Hollywood enjoyed: bold, experimental stories, set length series, and a reliance on storytelling rather than special effects. In fact, special effects could be one of the chief factors behind Hollywood’s decline in storytelling. Audiences want to be wowed and stimulated rather than lost in dialogue and personalities. Movies try to fit in more explosions and increasingly intense action sequences to keep a jaded audience interested. And this makes budgets balloon. On the other hand, anime can ratchet up the action with less of a hit to the budget and without hurting storytelling as much. Animation lets your take liberties live-action simply can’t–such as pausing an explosion for some expository dialogue. Live-action movies that use CGI to do this come off as jarring and unrealistic. Although, I have to say anime really shouldn’t do that; the point is, it can.

In the end, it comes down to profit. Hollywood will make movies people want to see. Anime studios do the same. The best way to change trends we dislike is to vote with our wallets. Tired of superhero movies? Stop going to see them in theaters and buying their DVDs. Tired of high-school anime? Stop watching them and buying their DVDs. Instead, use your money to vote for stories you want to see. Go out and watch the rare original Hollywood film. Buy that set of Moribito DVDs. In the end, we consumers decide. Hollywood’s weaknesses are our decision. Likewise we decide Hollywood’s –and anime’s–strengths.