Undressing Fan-Service

Examining anime's fan serviceI get it, some of you like fan-service, but fan-service has become a blight on anime as a whole. It’s fine when it appears in genres you fully expect to see it in: ecchi and hentai. Let it remain there. However, the mentality behind fan-service has leeched most categories of anime. Breast jokes have no place, nor are they funny, in an action anime like Bleach. They only hurt the storytelling in a series that already hurts for good pacing and plotting.

Fan-service appears to be simple on the surface, but like anime, it is a confluence of Western and Japanese culture mixed with market and media pressure.  Fan-service has become a part of otaku culture. Throughout this article I will look at the male side of sexual fan-service. Women like fan-service too; however, as a guy I can’t comment as readily on it. Male-oriented fan-service is also more common–warranting a more focused look.

Now, I realize those of you who like fan-service are rolling your eyes. This is yet another article that beats up on what you enjoy. I have no issues with nudity–I studied art in college and specialized in character design and animation before going to library school. I’ve drawn and seen a lot of nudity in my time. However, fan-service differs from mere depictions of nudity. In fact, it suffers from the same problem modern Western nude art suffers from: the proliferation of pornography. Nude art today is often little more than pornographic imagery dressed as art. The photography section of DeviantArt offers proof enough of that. Fan-service, as a Japanese cultural offshoot, has changed as porn’s imagery has spread throughout modern culture. Much of the imagery is a reaction to women’s changed status in society.

Nude art seeks to show the dignity of the human form. It seeks to tell a story and reveal human vulnerability. Pornography, on the other hand, seeks to arouse. It doesn’t tell a story or comment on culture.

What is Fan-service and Where Does It Come From?

Star Trek Next Generation Enterprise

Anime’s fan service has roots in Star Trek’s pans of starships and other technology-based fan-service.

Fan-service (also seen as fanservice and fan service) involves giving fans what they want. Fan-service comes in a few different types. Long pans of cars, mecha, or environments are considered fan-service within science fiction genres. Think about the pans of the starship Enterprise found in Star Trek. Most of the time, fan-service brings to mind sexual, objectifying views of anime girls. This includes breast groping, upskirt views, panty views of all types, swimsuits, accidental nudity, and similar scenes. Female-oriented fan-service exists too. This type objectifies men in similar ways, but for the sake of this article, I’m going to focus on male-oriented fan-service–its is the most common type, after all.

I’ve used to word objectify a few times. Objectification happens when we look upon something and reduce them to objects instead of seeing them as a person. Objectification involves visually possessing a person by violating their boundaries. Looking up an anime character’s skirt to see her panty’s design is a classic example. While the underwear design suggests her true personality, as opposed to her public face, this is a violation of her privacy and reduces her to an erogenous zone. Some of this comes from the Japanese custom of honne and tatemae, the division between how a person really is and how that person behaves in public.

Japanese culture has a different view of nudity than the West does, and this view confuses Westerners. We think the Japanese are either free wheeling or indifferent to nudity. Some of these impressions come from the idea of mixed bathing as a norm with a dividing wall minimally separating the genders. The small towel used for privacy and the custom of just not looking doesn’t seem to help much from the Western view. Nudity was commonplace in pre-World War II Japan. Some remote villages had adults go naked through much of the year. Women worse small skirts or aprons, depending on their age. People would work nude or partially nude in fields during Japan’s feudal period (Downs, 1990). All of this contributed to Western attitudes toward Japanese nudity.

Fan-service ties with early Japanese photography. In the 1850s, the port city of Yokohama was the export capitol for photography, and women were the most common subject. More than half of Kimbei’s catalogue–one of the most influential photographers of the period–featured women. Only 70 photographs depicted men as the main subject. This fascination with women in imagery goes back further to the woodblock prints of the Edo period. Some of these depictions involved incidental nudity and peeks we would call fan-service today.

Types of Nudity in Anime

Kobayashi Dragon Maid

It seems every anime needs to have a beach scene to show off some skin.

However, not all nudity is equal. In Japan, nudity has symbolic purposes. As any anime watcher knows, nudity associates with humor–especially for bathing scenes. Surprisingly, nudity lacks a major role in Japanese art, unlike Western art. When nudity appears, it’s in action: bathing, dressing, working, and having sex. The nudity itself was incidental to the action the artist wanted to show (Downs, 1990). Anime continues this tradition. Many fan-service scenes show glimpses as an incidental result of an action.

Nudity has three main purposes:

  1. Humor
  2. Sentimentality
  3. Sexual arousal

Fan-service revolves around the first and last types of nudity. It seems odd the say nudity can invoke feeling of sentimentality, but Japanese culture often uses nudity to make you feel sentimental toward family and motherhood (Downs, 1990). Nude humor appears throughout Japanese media and relates to someone being surprised while naked or with men/boys trying to see a nude woman when she think she has privacy. Downs (1990) writes: “Occasional scenes of high school girls peeking at male students do occur, particularly in manga and television comedies.” However, the nudity doesn’t make these scenes funny. Rather, the embarrassment does:

The Peeping Tom episodes common in cartoons, manga, television drama, and comedies suggest strongly that the Japanese do reserve to themselves a degree of personal privacy and that attempts to invade that privacy are often consider humorous, inasmuch as a nude person in the presence of a clothed person is at a social disadvantage.

Bare-chested women were common in prime-time Japanese television in 2001, but they weren’t treated as significant (Morikawa, 2001). Of course, nudity and eroticism link. Surprisingly, American media has more instances of explicit sexuality than Japanese culture despite nudity appearing more often in Japan. Japanese law prohibits explicit sexuality and full-frontal nudity of adults. Although this is hard to pin down because of the availability of pornography online.

Fan-service and Pornography

In a different world with my cell phone animePornography divides into two families: softcore and hardcore. Hardcore is what we typically think as pornography–explicit scenes of sex. Softcore is voyeuristic views of nudity and lacks explicit sex. Fan-service falls into the softcore category of pornography. In academic debates, pornography lacks a distinct definition. Some consider hardcore as porn and softcore as something else. Others consider video as pornography but not images. Recently, some researchers have defined pornography as “written, pictorial, or audio-visual representations depicting nudity or sexual behavior (Campbell, 2017).” This definition includes sexually-oriented romances and fan-fiction and fan-service. But this broad definition also includes paintings from the Renaissance.

I could find few studies on the affects of anime fan-service on viewers, but pornography is well studied. There are limits to how far we can take this. Anime fan-services are animated, fictional characters and this may not affect people as live-action depictions can. However, fan-service and porn share key elements that allow us to draw comparisons.

According to Gail Dines, a professor of sociology and women’s studies at Wheelock College in Boston: “Pornography is founded on human debasement, dehumanization, and cruelty.” In fact, male dominance is taken for granted in porn and sex (Lyford, 2017). Fan-service extends from a male dominant view and dehumanization. Now, I know many of you would disagree with this. Just consider how looking up an anime girl’s skirt is a violation of privacy and is taken for granted. Yes, the anime girl is fictional, but the method of thinking remains identical. Stories put anime girls into compromising positions and situations to show their assets off to primarily male gazes–an example of male dominance.

In porn, 88% of scenes include physical aggression toward women (Brosi, 2011). We don’t see physical aggression toward women–usually–in mainstream anime, but we do see standard breast groping scenes and other acts of unwanted physical contact. Both feature a male-dominance fantasy and mix unwanted attention with sexuality. Anime may do it to be funny, as we’ve seen, but again–and I know I flog the point–the humor comes at the expense of a female’s body autonomy.

Fan-service mainly focuses on straight males, just like porn does. Male porn use lowers female self-esteem, relationship quality, and sexual satisfaction (Newstrom, 2016). While this is speculation, I can see heavy fan-service consumption–ecchii, for example–having similar effects on a relationship.

Fan-service and the Perception of Anime and its Fans

Soul Eater Not - cute fan-service

Fan-service can focus on cuteness rather than nudity. This type of fan-service can still disrupt the story despite its innocence. Such scenes can offer a chance for character development.

Anime’s focus on fan-service creates a stigma around the genre. In an interview, a hentai animation director states (Mazurkewich, 2000):

Customers who buy [hentai] are afraid of real women so they tend to be interested in cartoon characters. I sometimes feel scared with the increasing number of people who are unable to communicate with each other.

The director paints with a broad brush. Not all hentai fans or fans with waifus are afraid of women; however, this idea that male anime fans who consume fan-service are afraid of women remains stubborn in many areas. And sometimes it is true.

Anime is a rich, wide genre filled with creative stories. However, fan-service blights mainstream perceptions of the medium. Rightly so in many ways. No matter how it’s examined, fan-service violates female privacy and her body autonomy. It takes a fictional character and places her private areas up for thousands to ogle. Yes, it is a drawing, but the mentality behind the ogling remains the problem. Companies make what sells. Fan-service reveals a troubling desire for many male fans to take their own pleasure at a female’s expense. Consider this against her willingly showing offer her assets to a character she likes (and no camera angles to make the audience into a voyeur). In this scenario, she retains her ability to choose who sees her body and who doesn’t–the interest but not the audience.

Other Issues with Fan-service

Asian booth girl

Anime fan-service spills into reality with booth girls and into cosplay. There’s nothing inherently wrong with revealing costumes, but fan-service behavior can link with costumes in the minds of some anime fans. Sadly, it’s not unusual for women (and cosplaying men) to have problems with unwanted approaches during conventions.  Photo by tenaciousme

Fan-service distracts from the story. It brakes the story at awkward times, and often appears at inappropriate times in the plot, such as high action or dramatic scenes. Fan-service also targets strong female characters; it seeks to make these characters more palatable by still subjecting them to the male-dominate gaze. She may be making a crucial point for the story when a wind comes in and kicks up her skirt. Some of the timing comes from the embarrassment factor of fan-service. It happens when least expected because the character’s embarrassment makes the situation funny, but for those of us in the West, the timing disrupts the story. We also don’t have the same type of embarrassment-humor.

Anime has a habit of contriving the story to service fan-service, such as the obligatory beach scene. I’ve seen anime that bends the story just so it can show off its girls in bikinis. While bikini-clad girls are fine in this setting (it’s one of the few settings where fan-service isn’t obtrusive), how they get to the beach–such as the random school trip–hurts the story. It’s rare for fan-service to not disrupt the storytelling and jar the audience out of the spell. You see, fan-service by its nature pulls the audience out of the story. It’s designed to arouse the viewer, which makes the viewer aware of their body once again. It breaks immersion–the goal of good storytelling. The best stories make us forget ourselves until the end credits. Breaking story immersion is, perhaps, the greatest sin of fan-service. Anime fan-service defeats the entire point of weaving a story, particularly with its frequency.

Fan-service and the Otaku Community

Yes, I know some of you like fan-service. Fan-service is a big part of the otaku community. There are blogs dedicated to waifus and fan-service artwork. We should consider what this means for the community. On one hand, the artwork is similar to Western classical art, yet it also often shows the influence of pornography in the poses and situations. Modern nude art of all stripes show the hand of porn in the same way. When porn websites have grown from 900 in 1997 to over 2.5 million in 2012, we should expect porn to effect art (Newstrom, 2016).

As I’ve pointed out pornography has negative effects–it increases infidelity and lowers commitment; it fosters false beliefs about rape and increases rape acceptance (Brosi, 2011; Newstrom, 2016). Fan-service may share some of these negative effects too. Although waifuism does counter some of these issues.

Okay, I know I’ve droned on for a while. The long and short of it: fan-service hurts anime when it appears outside of ecchi and related genres. It fosters a male-dominate view that comes at the expense of women’s body autonomy, and it hurts storytelling. Of course, my Western perspective colors my view. Japanese culture’s view of nudity, particularly in terms of social embarrassment as the focus of humor, doesn’t resonate with me. Leaving this cultural flavor in small (small, being operative) doses will help keep anime’s flavor. But this can be done in ways that do not hurt the immersion of the viewer. Fan-service works fine when it exists within a story and doesn’t pull the viewer of out the story, but when the story has to conform to fan-service, the anime suffers.

References

Brosi, M. W.. Foubert, J.D.. Bannon, R.S. & Yandell, G (2011) Effects of Sorority Members’ Pornography Use on Bystander Intervention in a Sexual Assualt Situation and Rape Myth Acceptance. The Research Journal of the Association of Fraternity/Sorority Advistors, 6(2). 26-35.

Campbell, L. & Taylor Kohut (2017) The use and effects of pornography in romantic relationships. Current Opinion in Psychology 13. 6-10.

Lyford, C. (2016). Clinician’s Digest. Psychotherapy Networker Magazine, 40(4), 11-12.

Mazurkewich, Karen (2000). The Dark Side of Animation. Far Eastern Economic Review. 163 (32). 56-57.

Morikawa, K. (2001). Television in Japan: no longer reflects cultural heritage but still remains quintessentially Japanese. Television Quarterly, (1), 24.

Newstrom, N. & Steven Harris (2016). Pornograpy and Couples: What Does the Research Tell Us? Contemp Fam Ther. 38. 412-423.

Wakita, Mio (2009). Selling Japan: Kusakabe Kimbei’s Image of Japanese Women. History of Photography. 33 (2) 209-223.

Recovery of an MMO Junkie and the Dichotomy of Offline and Online Life

Recovery of an MMO Junkie - reviewWhen I first saw Recovery of an MMO Junkie on Crunchyroll’s list, I wasn’t terribly excited. MMORPG-focused stories have become a genre to themselves ever since Sword Art Online became huge. However, Recovery pleasantly surprised me as a slice-of-life story that followed a 30-year-old woman who had enough of corporate life. The story itself isn’t anything groundbreaking and Moriko Morioka, the protagonist, falls into the rather tired spazzy character archetype. However, the story is solid and provides some interesting commentary about our modern life. She is a hikikomori, but nowhere near as neurotic as Sato in Welcome to the N.H.K..

Throughout Recovery, Morioka attempts to separate her real life from her online life. She plays a male character on her favorite RPG and poses as a male university student when her guildmates attempt top squeeze some personal information from her. She uses the game to escape her discontent with life and enter a world that allows her to have more confidence. She quickly finds she can’t keep her online and offline lives separate. This is, perhaps, the most important lesson of the story. Anonymity is an illusion on the Internet. As soon as you connect, there are corporate gazes watching you, even if they only see you load the browser Tor and all of its proxy bounces. Tor, if you didn’t know, is a web browser designed to make it harder for people to track you. It was intended to break through China’s firewall and other filtering systems.Everything you do leaves a trail, and it’s possible to always remain in character as Morioka discovers. Our true personalities eventually show. Online and offline life bleed into each other through social media and inevitable human interactions online.

Introvert social reaction - MMO Junkie

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had this thought as an extrovert drones on.

Morioka can only keep up the role-playing for so long before coincidence and mistakes add up and her guildmates begin to suspect her gender. Luckily, her actions online help her establish friendships offline. For most of us, we don’t get to meet those we play alongside online, but sometimes, the relationships we form through our screens spill out to offline space. In fact, our actions online increasingly affects offline life. What you post on Facebook, Twitter, 4chan, Instagram, etc can hurt your career chances, depending on what you post. Companies can (and will) research your online life. From a Christian standpoint, your offline and online life should be the same. Of course, role playing is okay, but you can’t bully people on an MMO on Saturday night and be a Christian on Sunday morning. One of those yous is a lie. Online life reflects who you are inside. After all, the lack of a human face and the fact the pixels represent a stranger you may never see makes it easier to act selfishly.

Recovery touches on this fact. Morioka’s actions online better represent her true self than her socially awkward, shy real life appearance. She is considerate and capable, but suffers from social anxiety that blocks her ability to express herself. In her case, online life lets her be truer to herself than offline life. For many people, this is true, especially for introverts and those who suffer from social anxiety.

Morioka's social exhaustion and flip out

I sympathize with Morioka’s fretting over social faux-pas and social exhaustion.

Throughout my late high school and early college, I used Diablo II in the same way. I spent far too many hours playing the game with strangers and friends as a way to connect socially because of my social anxiety and awkwardness. It was in the dial-up days of the Internet. But I felt more capable in the game than I did outside the game. It was similar to Morioka’s comfort in her MMO of choice. And that comfort can be addictive if you aren’t careful. It can also give you common ground that allows you to establish connections with people you may not be able to easily connect with otherwise. This is what happens in Recovery. Morioka’s MMO allows her to connect with several people and establish ties she likely wouldn’t have otherwise. It acts as an ice breaker for conversation.

Let’s return to the idea that the online self is more real than your offline self. Online conversations appear to lack consequences. After all, you can just block someone or sign off after trolling. On video games, you often won’t see the same players with regularity. When you have these brief encounters, there doesn’t appear to be a consequence to selfish behavior such as name calling and trolling in general. When you have a void of lasting visible consequence, your true behavior can come out. If you treat them poorly, that shows how such behavior resides deep within you. If you treat them generously, that too reflects positively on you. Morioka finds a positive atmosphere on her MMO, which builds her up in the story. You see, you can never tell how your actions will impact the person on the other side of the screen. Sometimes a comment from a user named XX_PWN_you_XX can cut deeper than you suspect.

While that is partially your responsibility to let comments slide over you (easier said than done sometimes), it is also XX_PWN_you_XX’s responsibility to be compassionate too. I place more responsibility on perpetrator than victim. But in either case, behavior comes from deep within you. The less important it seems to be good, generous, and compassionate, the more important it is to be just so. Those small, seemingly unimportant events online are tests to character. They can create habits of behavior.

MMO Junkie- g!aming is life

Recovery of an MMO Junkie doesn’t pontificate these points. They are all hidden under the romance and awkward social behavior it focuses upon. You can enjoy the story for what it is–a fairly adult love story that uses an MMO to get it moving. Or you can see these interesting trends in how offline and online life interact with each other. It’s a short anime at only 10 episodes. Morioka’s spazzing grated on my nerves. I know its meant to be funny in its over-the-topness, but the trope is tired. Anxiety is rarely so overt, which is what makes anxiety so insidious, but aside from that, I found the story charming and worth a watch if slice-of-life is your thing.

Anime Virtues: Quiet Confidence

Some characters in anime provide good examples of quiet confidenceI’ll admit it’s odd to associate quiet confidence with anime. After all, anime teems with loudmouthed, impulsive heroes. However, if you look beyond protagonists, you will see the strongest type of confidence: quiet confidence. Why do I consider this type of confidence the strongest type? Well, confidence describes the state of being self-assured and comfortable with who you are. This lets you act decisively and stand up for those decisions. Most people in the United States associate confidence with ego. Ego has little to do with true confidence. Ego involves a self-focused world view.

Egotistical people look at their selves and what they can prove, achieve, or gain. In many cases, this involves being loud or opinionated (like my articles on JP!) in order to draw attention to themselves. This proves their self worth. Confident people lack the desire prove themselves. They don’t need to. That isn’t to say all loud people lack confidence. Personality types play a role. Loud confidence proclaims a goal to others. It doesn’t necessarily seek to feed to ego (but it can), but rather to combat the disbelief others have for them. Look at Naruto. He loudly proclaims he will become the leader of the Leaf Village. He announces this as a way to combat the stumbling blocks in his way. Many resist his goal, so he challenges them with his announcements. This isn’t to prove he can achieve his goal as much as a method of moving forward with that goal. His antagonists see his statements as bluster and disregard him. And this disregard leaves them open for him to attack their expectations and beliefs.

We struggle to tell the difference between loud confidence and egotistical bluster. Not to mention loud confidence gets annoying fast. Quiet confidence, on the other hand, is non-combative. It doesn’t challenge. It prefers to be its own thing. The quietly confident don’t talk about goals. They do them. They skip the combative stage of the loudly confident. The quietly confident fly below the radar and work against the noisy norms of modern society. Because of this, quiet confidence is mistaken for being passive, submissive, and weak. Quiet confidence resembles water. As Bruce Lee states:

You must be shapeless, formless, like water. When you pour water in a cup, it becomes the cup. When you pour water in a bottle, it becomes the bottle. When you pour water in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Water can drip and it can crash. Become like water my friend.

Water appears passive and submissive, but it is not. It can cut steel when focused. Quiet confidence shares this power. Jesus spoke of the quietly confident inheriting the world. He used the word “meek,” which is read today as being a doormat. But meekness is a state of humble confidence in ability, your own and God’s.

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

Matthew 5:5

One of anime’s best examples of quiet confidence also comes from Naruto–Hinata. At first, Hinata lacks confidence altogether. She doesn’t begin her journey until Naruto inspires her with his loud confidence. You see, quiet confidence needs watered to grow. Naruto shocks her inner seed, but Hinata must water it. And water it she does throughout the series. Hinata lacks the physical power of Naruto and others, but she has her own inner strength. Several times throughout the series she takes on challenges she cannot hope to best. She does this to protect Naruto and others she cares for. It takes confidence to face certain defeat. In fact, it takes more confidence to face certain defeat than a reasonable chance at victory. She must have confidence in her beliefs–and her faith in Naruto–to risk her life time and again. Yet, you don’t see her flaunt her confidence. She remains soft spoken compared to her comrades.

Mild spoilers ahead. Later on in the story, her quiet confidence provides an anchor for Naruto. When he loses his confidence early in the story, when he has to fight Hinata’s powerful cousin, she helps him rekindle his flame. Late in the story, she becomes his partner in life and in combat. During the Fourth Shinobi World War, she encourages Naruto’s confidence after many of his allies die, and she also fights beside him, sharing some of his chakra. She grows into quiet confidence through her faith in Naruto and her faith in herself.

How Do You Develop Quiet Confidence?

Hinata doesn't have confidence at first. If you watch Hinata’s progression, she moves from a quiet, shy girl who doesn’t think much of herself to a quiet, confident woman who is willing to risk her life to protect those she loves. The journey to quiet confidence takes time. In American society, people mistake quietude for being a doormat. Quietude is a personality trait quite different from shyness. Shyness comes from a lack of self confidence–usually confidence about social skills. Quietude, on the other hand, values silence and words. Quiet people prefer to use words sparingly and meaningfully. A Zen saying comes to mind: “Do not speak unless it improves silence.” Quiet people feel secure in themselves and with silence where other people find silence uncomfortable. In fact, silence can be used as a weapon because so many find it uncomfortable. Typically. those people need silence the most. Silence allows us to order our thoughts and learn who we truly are, and that requires us to face our ugliness. Any wonder why most people today want to avoid silence and self reflection?

Okay, so quiet confidence requires us to use words sparingly and well. They should be used to uplift others or take a stand. Faith in your beliefs underpins confidence. You need to understand who you are and what you believe. Hinata understands she is far from being the strongest shinobi, yet this doesn’t stop her from making a stand for what she believes in: persistence and self-sacrifice for those she loves. Later in the series, she even gives up her career to be a mother and a sanctuary for Naruto when he needs to escape the challenges of his station.

Loud confidence often takes the lead. Quiet confidence takes a background role. In American culture, the background role appears to be inferior. However, an army can’t march and fight without background support. You see this with Naruto as well. Without Hinata’s background support and confidence in his abilities, he would have failed at key points in the story.

So how do you cultivate quiet confidence?

  1. Become comfortable with yourself. Learn your strengths and weaknesses and accept them.
  2. Learn to use words wisely. Speak less, but speak with more meaning.
  3. Learn to be comfortable with silence.
  4. Support others. Kind words of encouragement go a long way.
  5. Know what you believe in, why you do, and stand firm when challenged.
  6. Be patient. Confidence takes time to develop. It is a practice.

Knowing your limits and accepting them doesn’t mean you don’t try to improve. Hinata knows she cannot be as strong as her comrades, but that doesn’t stop her from trying to be as strong as she can be. Develop both your strengths and weaknesses, strive to be better rounded. Focus on your strengths in order to achieve mastery. Focus on your weaknesses in order to enhance your strengths. Most of all, be patient and gentle with yourself. I have a habit of being harsh and unforgiving with myself, and while it motivates me, it also grinds me down at times. You will have setbacks, but the effort (not the end result) matters.

Hinata develops quiet confidence throughout the seriesOften, we get too set on making it to some destination, and we forget to enjoy the journey. Some of my best experiences when I travel is the journey and it’s discoveries. When I visited a cavern system with my brother, for example, we stopped at a charming small town library and passed through about 15 different tiny towns. The caverns were nice, but I remember the towns and that library more fondly. If we had focused on our destination, we would’ve missed them. Personal journeys work the same way.

After a certain point, you will realize you have achieved quiet confidence without knowing it. But that doesn’t mean the process ever stops. As your roles in life changes, such as Hinata becoming a mother, the process will begin again.

Hinata provides a good role model for the shy and the quiet. She embraces her quietude but overcomes her shyness. She becomes the most important supporting character in the series. Because supporting roles enable to hero to do their work, she becomes one of the most important characters in Naruto. She also becomes the most important person in Naruto’s life. That is the strength of quiet confidence.

Anime Virtues: You Don’t Need a Reason to Help Someone

Bleach teaches several good moral lessonsStories shape how we view the world and how we treat other people. While I’ve gotten into anime too late in life for it to really shape my morality, it has changed how I think about some topics. In this article, I will pull from Zen and Christianity (and indirectly from Judaism) in addition to anime for my illustrations. Why just those two? Because that is what I am familiar with. They are my practice. While I’ve studied Islam and read the Koran, I don’t have enough knowledge to comment on how Islam teaches the morals we will cover.  Zen can be found throughout anime because of how Buddhism and Shinto have mixed in Japanese culture. Because JP is a blog, I can’t write in depth about either Zen or Christianity. That would take a book! (No, I don’t have one in the works on this topic. At least, not yet.) So in some virtues, I will have to simplify some of the explanations. I’ll do my best to keep to the core of it and also not make it too boring.

Although some would argue they already have the stories necessary to teach morality–the teachings of Buddha and Jesus for example–anime provides accessibility these stories often lack. Entertainment helps messages sink in and help with remembering them. For kids, Naruto inspires more than the usual depiction of a stodgy, bearded Jewish man (I don’t see Jesus as stodgy, far from it, but that is one of the traditional depictions). We might as well understand this appeal and use it.

Bleach contains many virtues such as loyalty, dedication, and community, but let’s look at the core moral found throughout Bleach: you don’t need a reason to help someone.   I am going to assume you are familiar with the anime, if not you can read a few of our reviews.  While Bleach has fallen in popularity, it still appeals to many people. A simple search on Google shows how fans are still making fan art and fan fiction.

The Nature of Suffering

Ichigo endures much to help his friends avoid sufferingThroughout Bleach, Ichigo and friends rush to help people in need. The need to protect people, not just family members and friends, drives the story. As Ichigo states:

I’m not superman, so I can’t say anything big like I’ll protect everyone on earth. I’m not a modest guy who will say it’s enough if I can protect as many people as my two hands can handle either. I want to protect a mountain-load of people.

But what does it mean to protect people? Sure, you work to keep them from being hurt, but it also extends to protecting them from suffering in general. The urge to avoid suffering and help others do the same comes naturally. Buddhism enshrines this idea in the Four Noble Truths: suffering hurts, suffering comes from clinging to things, suffering ends when we stop clinging, there is a way to stop clinging to things. The Four Noble Truths state suffering comes from how we view reality. Our expectations can’t be met by reality, therefore we hurt. If I would drop my favorite teacup–the one my girlfriend bought me for Christmas–and break it, my expectation that I will always have it would make me hurt. This is clinging.

In a larger sense, suffering comes from expectations driving people to hurt each other. For example, religious fundamentalism has a certain set of demands (expectations) that adherents force upon others. In most cases, the adherents can’t even keep the demands! But these shape how they view the world and creates suffering for both themselves and those they force. Christianity, Buddhism, Islam are all guilty of this at one time or another.

The Drive to Help

Ichigo is driven to help others, but he doesn't go looking to do so like Superman does.

Okay, let’s come get back to ground level. It’s natural to want to take away a loved one’s pain. It’s a virtue to want to take away a neighbor’s and an enemy’s pain. Bleach teaches this virtue is natural to being human. As Ichigo puts it:

I ain’t such a saint that I can promise to risk my life for strangers. Neither am I scum enough to sit quietly by while people are getting hurt before my eyes.

Normal people don’t go about seeking situations to risk their lives. However, good people also don’t stand aside when someone is getting hurt. Jesus spoke about this in the story of the Good Samaritan. Here’s the story, to refresh your memory (Luke 10:25-37 ESV):

And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”

 

He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?”

 

And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”

 

But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

 

Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denariiand gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?”

 

He said, “The one who showed him mercy.”

 

And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.”

Let’s look at this story briefly. The people who avoided the beaten man were religious people: a priest and a Levite. Levites assisted priests in worship. As such, you’d think these men would stop to help someone in need. However, according to Jewish Law, touching a corpse would make them ritually dirty (Numbers 19:11). So to avoid this they passed by without checking on the poor man. Samaritans are a branch of Judaism that only accepts its own ancient version of the Pentateuch, or first 5 books of the Hebrew Bible. Without regard to his ritual purity, the Samaritan stops and helps the man. For the Samaritan, there wasn’t any hesitation toward helping the poor sod.

For Ichigo, what the Samaritan did is a natural action. The Samaritan didn’t go out looking for people to save, but he also couldn’t turn a blind eye. The fact we have these stories points to how we don’t follow this virtue. Protecting people underpins much of shonen, and it is equated with strength. In Ichigo’s case, it drives him to seek power. He wants to protect people from suffering. It takes inner strength to overcome selfishness and seek to help people. The greatest strength comes from when you realize you can’t protect everyone and the cost compassion demands of you:

Unless I grip the sword, I cannot protect you. While gripping the sword, I cannot embrace you.

Sometimes a person doesn’t need protection. Sometimes they need a listening ear and a hug. These moments of frustration test our fiber. Some enemies can’t be cut. The hardest moments come when the sword needs to be put down.

You Don’t Need a Reason to Help Someone

Ichigo provides a good human example of the fact we don't need a reason to help others.Throughout Bleach, Ichigo doesn’t need a reason to help someone. He simply does. In Buddhism, some people vow to become bodhisattvas–beings who are reborn until all living things escape suffering–just because they want to protect people from suffering. The Good Samaritan doesn’t ask anything of the man. He simply helps and goes on his way. We don’t need a reason to help other people. Of course, you could argue being human is reason enough. This virtue forms the core philosophy of Bleach and drives Ichigo throughout the story. He will go out of his way to protect friends and family. But he doesn’t go out of his way to help others. He doesn’t fly around like Superman to help all those he sees. In this, Ichigo is quite human. But when faced with suffering, he naturally seeks to help. This too is human.

Anime, like all stories, affect us. They shape how we view the world even though they are fiction. The dialogue we surround ourselves with everyday becomes our internal dialogue. While I write often about anime’s problems–fan-service, incest, harems, and the like–anime has many stand out messages. In fact, most shonen and shojo stories contain good messages. I’ve been beating up on harem stories, but many have a good heart underneath the antics and objectification of women (although objectification should never be overlooked). Anime like Pokemon prove time and again that the medium on the whole is better than the direction American TV (even children’s shows) has gone in terms of moral lessons. Perhaps I’m being biased and a prude, but despite anime’s problems I find it far more watchable than shows like Game of Thrones (I disliked the books). It’s possible to tell a gritty and dark story without falling into smut (Oops, there’s my prudishness again!).

In any case, helping people involves more than giving money. In fact, offering money to those in need can be the worst course of action. Ichigo and the Samaritan get personally involved. I’ll admit that I struggle with this virtue. I am standoffish and guard my personal time jealously. I have turned away from strangers in need. I’m present for those close to me, but I struggle with personally helping strangers. Virtues take time and work to cultivate. After all, it takes time for Ichigo to develop the power he needed to protect people. Striving matters.

Violet Evergarden and the Lost Art of Letter Writing

Violet Evergarden AnimeI’ve never received a letter. Most likely, you haven’t either. Our digital age killed letter writing with email and social media. Is it odd that I feel nostalgic toward letters? I spent a good bit of my teen years hanging out with WWII veterans. They told me of their excitement when they received letters from their girlfriends (most married and stayed together for 50+ years). Most still had the letters with the elegant penmanship of the time.

Seriously, it seemed everyone in the 1930s and 1940s had elegant handwriting. Of course, some letters weren’t for my gaze. Where else do you think the Internet got some of it’s raunchiness?

I remember the wives’ grins as they spoke of the anticipation and worry. They spoke of elation when the letter finally arrived, and how letter writing helped them fall in love over distance and time.

So when I saw the anime Violet Evergarden, I was all in. The story takes place in an alternative world during their World War I. The country falls into such dire need for manpower that they take to training war orphans. Violet is one such orphan. She becomes attached to her commanding office, who is a father to her. But during a mission he is wounded and she loses both her arms. When an artillery shell strikes the building they are in, they become separated. Violet survives and wants to find him.

One of the Major’s war buddies takes her in and arranges for her to have prosthetic arms. The arms work much like Fullmetal Alchemist’s automail. They are beyond the technology of the time, but I didn’t find it any more jarring than automail. Well, she begins work as an Auto-memory doll, women who write letters for people.

The new job requires Violet to travel around the country (setting up the anime’s episodic structure), and it requires her to face her brutality and suppressed emotions about herself and the war.

Violet and the Letter Writing Crew

Violet and the Letter Writing Crew

As you can guess, letters shape the main structure of the anime. Much is said about the power of letters in people’s lives. And from what I’ve seen with my now-passed friends, it’s true. Perhaps the Internet and the proliferation of immediate writing has blinded us to the power of writing.

When you think about writing, it is a miracle. I can write or type squiggles that put at least a portion of my thoughts into your mind. It’s like telepathy or mind-melding. But immediacy is the problem. As Violet Evergarden suggests, it takes time to perfect a letter. My friends admitted to taking time to draft a letter. It wasn’t something they dashed off. Even when it was, the act of writing with a pen on paper forced them to sort their thoughts in ways we can’t do with our keyboards.

You’ve seen how some of my blog posts here are garbled. That’s even after I re-read and revise. Good writing takes delay, and most of our problems online would dissolve if publish buttons didn’t immediately publish. We need a time delay–like the time it takes to write a letter with pen and paper–for online writing.

Most of my articles here wait in the queue for at least a few weeks before you see them. Some wait for months. This bit of time lets me approach them with a fresh look and gives me time to reconsider some of my touchier topics. Likewise, I believe social media posts, tweets, shares, whatever should have a delay timer. Perhaps 15 minutes. After you hit the publish button, the system will wait 15 minutes before asking you if you are certain you want to publish the post. This gives emotions a chance to cool, such as waiting for a letter gives some distance between replies.

The world Violet Evergarden paints unfolds slower than ours. I don’t want to cast the past in an ideal light–it had problems we do not have now–but the slower pace would do us well. We cannot slow down and savor in our instant world. I’ve written about how anticipating can help us enjoy anime better. Well, anticipation can help us enjoy our relationships better too. Letter writing and the waiting it requires allows us to slow down. In my own life, I find absence does make the heart fonder.

Violet from Violet EvergardenAbsence allows us to overlook people’s foibles easier. They aren’t so grating. In fact, we see this a bit in Violet Evergarden. Some of Violet’s coworkers chafe with her presence, but as she travels more, they begin to miss her. They also see her internal changes more clearly. That’s the rub. When you live around people daily, you become blind to them. It’s much like how you can drive the same street for years and never notice that small book shop.

While I’m a technologist in addition to be a librarian, I believe we need to unplug and slow down more. At least, I know that I need to do so. But it takes effort. Unlike Violet’s world, we have instant choices for communication. They are not wrong of themselves, but if you are like me, you don’t use them in healthy ways. I’ve mindlessly lost many hours in Facebook, Tumblr, and the Internet at large.

Letters have an intimacy that social media lacks. Handwritten letters are human. You can see handshakes in the writing, tears staining the page, excitement in the way the pen gouges the paper. Typed letters, particularly on a typewriter (Do you know how to use one? I had to write reports on mechanical typewriters) are a little less human, but they are still friendlier than a computer-printed page. Computer-generated text is just too perfect, too sterile. It lacks many of the human errors that give items life and character.

Of course, I’m waxing nostalgic here. Typing on a mechanical or even an electric typewriter can be a pain, especially if you are a poor typist like me. But the tactile feedback is wonderful.

Violet Evergarden is a great anime you should watch. It’s not without problems. Sometimes it lays the emotions on too heavily. Violet’s relationship with the Major sometimes feels more like a relationship with a lover than a father, leaving you feeling uncertain which the story wants to show.  But on the whole, I enjoyed the story, but I’m a sucker for Data-like (from Star Trek: The Next Generation) characters. You should also consider writing letters or, at the least, writing a journal. A journal is just a letter to the future you. Consider ways to slow down and unplug, even if it means watching less anime online.

Christian Parental Concerns and Anime’s Fan-service

Christian parents and their anime fan-service concernsAnime’s fan-service makes many Christian parents hesitate for good reason. Many in the anime community share the reservation of parents I’ve spoke with. Fan-service is a blight on anime, and it’s a negative reflection on the anime community. It doesn’t help storytelling. Let’s look at how fan-service and Christian ideals clash and whether or not Christians can safely watch anime containing fan-service. Fan-service involves scenes and situations that shows off a character’s body. Typically, it focuses on female characters and showing their breasts, bottoms, legs, and other body parts. It can involve scenes of accidentally grabbing a breast or seeing up a skirt. Fan-service can reverse and focus on men in similar ways. Finally, fan-service involves long camera pans of technology like tanks, mechs, and other technology.

Fan-service titillates and panders to the audience’s desires. It’s used to make strong characters, usually female, appeal attainable. Upskirt views, swimsuit displays, cleavage shots, and other forms of objectification allows the audience to visually possess a character and build a fantasy around that character. Waifuism often uses fan-service as a part of its fantasy. Other types of fan-service exist, but the sexually-focused types, which are the most common, concern the parents I’ve spoken with so that is what I’ll focus upon here.

Christianity teaches against objectification and lust. In 1 Corinthians 6, Paul states sexual immorality goes against God’s intention for the human body and urges Christians to flee sexual immorality. Jesus states lustful thoughts are the same as the act of adultery (Matthew, 5:27-28) and tells Christians to remove such from their lives. However, lust is different from momentary titillation.  Titillation is a fleeting response to something like fan-service. Lust, on the other hand, is a self-focused state of mind. It is a craving that consumes your thinking and drives you to attempt to sate it no matter the consequences (only to have it return). Many today, however, believe lust involves the momentary sexual desire we feel when something sexy appeals to our senses. Lust goes further. It is a habit, a state of mind, that goes beyond the moment. Lust comes from embracing momentary self-focused desires whenever they arise. This waters the seeds of lust. Fleeing from it–because we really can’t resist them–waters a different type of seed. Lust involves seeking these fleeting moments instead of fleeing.

The end result of a male character ogling

The end result of a male character ogling

Anime’s fan-service constitutes as lust when we seek it out and dwell on it. Momentary titillation is a normal part of the human body. It’s hard to look at a good-looking person, plate of food, and other physically appealing things and not feel desire. The body is wired to want such things, and the momentary wanting isn’t necessarily sinful. It’s automatic and makes us seek things like food that we need, but when it rules our every action, that’s where lust comes in. Selfishness sits at the heart of the problem. Now, anime fan-service seems harmless. After all, fan-service is just drawings of people that do not and cannot exist. However, it creates a habit of self-focused titillation that can morph into the habit of lust.

Of course, all of this depends too. I don’t feel titillation whenever I see fan-service in a story. I feel annoyance and even anger at mishandling a character. Christianity leaves room for individual differences, but it also cautions us to be careful not to delude ourselves about our strength. Fan-service may not affect me, but it may affect you. If so, Paul would urge you to flee. It takes self-awareness and a desire to pursue other, longer-lasting types of self fulfillment. However, there is pressure from sections of the otaku community to consume fan-service and to think in selfish ways.

I want to be clear. Not every aspect of the anime community encourage lustful views or other views contrary to Christianity. Much of the community is warm and positive. Likewise, waifuism doesn’t always have sexual components to it. For many, waifuism is a way to step out of self-focus. It allows people to learn how to step outside their views and into that of another. Of course, it can also foster self-projection. Everything can be used by God to pull people closer to Him, but sin can also distort those tools too. Waifuism can encourage compassion or encourage lust.

Christian parents have their own balancing act to perform. Teens compose anime’s main audience, hence the rather tired high-school setting. Forbidding anime wholesale will only encourage the teen to go behind the parent’s back. It also prevents the teen from accessing anime’s stories that can be uplifting or help the teen through a rough patch. Anime often addresses teen-identity problems and problems in friendships in helpful ways. Fan-service can also be used as satire to point out problems within anime and how we view clothing. Nudity can also be used as a character trait–showing innocence of a character–such as Holo in Spice and Wolf.

Our lives are formed by the stories we live within. For example, we live in a world that believes in the story of resource scarcity, and it impacts how we view life. Likewise, anime and its fan-service can impact our views of the world–for better or for worse. Fan-service is designed to appeal to our base instincts rather than cultivate a more God-focused perspective. But fan-service can allow for a teaching opportunity, such as this article. I’m not a parent. I can’t offer any true advice. However, a shared interest in anime can allow parents and their children to bond and discuss issues like fan-service and the nature of lust. The stories we consume shape our thoughts. Many people downplay anime as mere entertainment, but it contains messages that we consciously and unconsciously add to our characters. We do the same with movies, books, and the stories people tell us. Anime, like all stories, has positive and negative messages. It’s up to us to decide what messages to consume and which we need to flee.