Comedy, Carnivalesque, and the Naked Body in Anime: Why the issue of ‘Fanservice’ is more complex than it first appears


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Japanese culture has long been viewed as a curiosity, from the period of European colonialism when The Orient was a place of exotic otherness, to modern day society where Japanese popular culture is viewed as extreme, perhaps hedonistic, as opposed to the more refined tastes of the west. When viewing anime, it is possible to see how it, as a cultural medium, promotes an orientalist view of Japan with its astonishing visuals, along with the numerous exotic and strange creatures and creations. Part of the exoticism within anime is the explicit use of nudity, and more revealing situations where male and female characters are seen in their underwear, or in a more exposed, even fetishistic light. Read more of this post

Outbreak Company – Cultural Imperialism and Development


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In my last post about Outbreak Company I explored the dissemination of mass culture as a form of soft power, a way of maintaining political, and cultural power within a globalised and changing world. Outbreak Company presents us with an example of Japan using its cultural wealth to create political, social, and economic links with another country. Shinichi acts as a ‘Moe Missionary’ so that Japans government can use this element of popular culture to their own advantage and help cement important relations with a country that no one else currently knows about. There are clear similarities here in the way western anime fans have come into contact with Japan – indeed, many bloggers and fans may only know about Japan through their limited knowledge gleaned from watching anime, reading manga, or playing games. There is much more to Japan than the national cool of anime culture, and most foreigners will never penetrate the barriers of language – we just have look at how poorly anime comedies, and those shows that focus on specific cultural and social aspects of Japanese life can be treated – and culture well enough to see Japan as the average Japanese sees it. Read more of this post

Outbreak Company and the dissemination of mass culture


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The premise of Outbreak Company seems a little odd at first – developing good relations with another nation (in this case one in a fantasy world) through the use of popular culture. However, once we look a little closer at this series whilst also exploring real world examples we can see that such a premise has been used before on multiple occasions, and is arguably central to the Japanese governments attempt to enhance its standing in today’s globalised world. Indeed, culture – be it political, religious, or social – has always been one way for a country to strengthen its position with its neighbours, or perhaps in a foreign country. If we look at the process of imperialism throughout the 17th-20th centuries we can see how elements of the conquered nations culture were supplanted by the conqueror. Culture can be used to rebrand a countries image, change how it is perceived in the world, and recreate a powerbase that was once lost. Read more of this post

The complex nature of anime


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There are many anime series every season that are labelled as ‘bad’, or ‘rubbish’, with numerous bloggers, or people on twitter talking about how stupid they are, and how boring characters or stories may be. I do think that many anime are often mislabelled, with people taking their lack of cultural understanding to mean that a series is badly written or directed. Perhaps people forget that anime is Japanese and therefore incorporates aspects of the countries history, culture, and social norms. This may seem a little odd since it is fairly obvious that anime is Japanese, but perhaps western audiences have become so used to watching anime, that the notion of a culturally and socially embedded medium is either ignored, or never springs to mind. Read more of this post

Construction of gendered identities within the school environment


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As I have pointed out in previous posts, anime provides a dream world where the audience can escape from their everyday lives in a world of fantasy. Some anime may take the fantasy element literally, with series set in magical worlds, or in futuristic science fiction settings or dystopian landscapes, but others present a more subtle form of escapism, one where the escape is into the everyday. This everyday is often highly idealised and romanticised, and predominantly takes place in or around school grounds. One of the central themes that most recent anime share (at least those series set in or around school) is the position of school in the central characters lives, and how comparatively little importance is placed upon formal education and all that it encompasses. Instead, the school grounds become important as a space where ‘family’ relationships are created and reshaped. Read more of this post

The ‘Family’ in School Centric Anime


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The world of dreams and fantasies that school centric anime portray further allows them to explore the complex nature of the Japanese family and its place within Japanese society. The ‘Japanese Family’ is full of diversity, with differences and differentiations depending on social class, historical cultures, legal cultures, and economic conditions (White, 2011). There is not a single, all-encompassing ‘Japanese Family’, although the Meiji Government (1868-1912) attempted to create one with their reinterpretation of the ‘ie’ household (extended family based on patrilineal descent). This version of the Japanese family became a matter of state concern in the establishment of a modern nation, but it only exists because of the force of ideology and power promoting it; it is a dream of what a family should be, rather than what it is (White, 2011; 129). The family is often viewed by the state as a continuation of its power, ideology and morals, a unit that recreates social and cultural norms and can pass down a sense of belonging to something substantially larger than itself. It is therefore essential to have a solid family structure in place in order to create society, and to engender the moral imperatives of honour, self-sacrifice, and pride. Read more of this post

School centric anime and their importance in current day Japan


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As Goodman (2011) points out, the Japanese education system provided a clear connection for both male and female workers between success in education and the quality of the jobs they could secure (Goodman, 2011; 52). Generally speaking Japanese school children are made aware from an early age of the direct correlation between the size of a potential employer and the job security, salary, and status that employer would be able to offer. From the early Post-War period onwards, top employers would choose their new workers from top universities, which in turn chose their intake based on high school hierarchies, that in turn took students based on scores of the high school entrance exam that everyone sits when they are 15. The entire education system of Japan is based on a meritocratic structure that engenders high competition amongst students, and produces what Ronald Dore (1976) describes as a ‘very expensive intelligence testing system with some educational spin-off, rather than the other way around’ (Dore, 1976; 48-49). Read more of this post

Samurai Society: an exploration of Japaneseness in post-war Jidaigeki


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Post-war samurai films, or ‘Jidaigeki’ (period drama) represented a renewed interest in the cultural foundations of Japanese society, and are part of a broader search for national and cultural identity that embodied notions of Japan’s unique place in history a newly globalised world. The samurai in such films, while fictional figures, are nonetheless grounded in a version of Japan’s historical past that has been embellished by oral traditions and isolated from the problems and insecurities of an unfamiliar period, thereby elevating them to the level of myth (Silver, 1977). Jidaigeki, like The Samurai Trilogy, present us mythical, often tragic heroes who both push against authority, while also conforming to widely held cultural and social norms. The reality of historical figures, such as Miyamoto Musashi, is replaced by the legend of someone who is seen to embody essential elements of ‘Japaneseness’, and who helps to demonstrate the true power and prestige of the Japanese people. Read more of this post

‘Animating’ society


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Anime is a fascinating cultural artefact, with over 50% of Japanese studios producing animated works instead of live action, thus demonstrating a shift in the Japanese studio system from live action films of the 1950s and 1960s to one focussed on anime as its primary product. This shift to the animated medium means that anime is arguably one of, if not the best way with which we can explore Japan’s depiction of its own society and culture. The wide variety of anime, ranging from early morning children’s shows through to late afternoon/early evening series focussed for families and then onto edgier, often darker series for teenagers or those in there twenties is astounding. Such wide variety of series and anime’ broader appeal puts it in an important place within contemporary Japanese culture; whereas traditional culture such as Sa-do, Kyu-do and Ka-do have been refined over centuries and are the very basics of Japanese culture, anime is a relatively recent phenomenon, starting in 1963 with the release of Osamu Tezuka’s legendary Tetsuwan Atomu (Astro Boy). Furthermore, whereas traditional culture is often focussed on the self, a form of meditation and a path to Zen enlightenment, anime provides a fascinating and important means with which we can view Japanese society and culture, along with the issues that are important at any given time. Read more of this post

Does anime promote an orientalist view of Japan: or, a case of ‘lost in cultural translation’? – Part 1


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When viewing anime, it is possible to see how it, as a cultural medium, promotes an orientalist view of Japan with its astonishing visuals, along with the numerous exotic and strange creatures and creations. Anime as a Japanese cultural commodity incorporates elements of the country’s history, society, and culture into its myriad stories and settings that range from the historical through to contemporary scenarios, and near future, along with fantasy settings that take their influence from a mix of traditional Japanese culture, dystopian and cyberpunk settings. It is therefore a very broad medium, and one that has become increasingly popular in the west, with films like Akira and Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi (spirited Away) garnering significant critical acclaim (Ebert, 2002; Maslin, 1990; Mitchell, 2002; Horwitz, 2002; Turan, 2002). It has been argued that Japanese culture is ‘odourless’ (Douglas, 2002; Koichi, 2002), one without cultural or social roots, a form of ‘soft power’ that can change its form or shape depending on where it is. Koichi (2002) argues that anime doesn’t look Japanese, describing this aspect of Japanese culture as ‘mukokuseki’ (something or someone lacking any nationality), thus implying that anime lacks racial or ethnic charactertics and therefore cannot be culturally embedded (Koichi, 2002; 317). If the characters within anime are a part of mukokuseki, then there is a necessity to add something else that embeds anime within its culture and society. The use of historical events (in the case of Akira), or cultural artefacts (in the case of Sen to Chihiro) can be viewed as an attempt to ground these films in a very specific time and place. Sato (2004) suggests that, according to Japanese intellectuals, Japanese traditional beauty, which ‘resides in subtle layers of mysterious darkness is being wiped out by the flood of bright electronic lights of western technology’ (Sato, 2004; 343). This attempt to regain the ‘harmony of Japanese culture’, and a unique Japaneseness further reinforces animes’ promotion of an orientalist view of Japan by highlighting the essence of the orient in western imagination (Sato, 2004; 341). Anime emphasis Japan as a place of romance, exotic beings, and haunting memories and landscape, while also further stressing the distinction between Japanese culture and that of the west (Said, 1978; 1). Read more of this post

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