re: Your Taste is Bad and So Are You


I’ve been thinking about Bobduh’s essay lately. Despite the trollbait title, it actually does provide a nuanced argument about how people consume media – at least as far as one’s personal politics goes. For those who haven’t read it, the basic argument is as follows: a little self-scrutiny goes a long way. Thinking hard about why you like certain things is ultimately a more fruitful avenue of discussion than hiding behind self-defence measures, like claiming “IT’S JUST FICTION” or assuming everything you like is “SODEEP”.

What struck me as most interesting is this idea that all media propagates messages, whether consciously or not, along with Bobduh’s claim that a message unexamined is a message believed. The latter is not entirely true in the strictest sense – not paying attention to the racist overtones in, say, H.P. Lovecraft’s works doesn’t automatically mean you’re a racist. If someone posed the question to you whether you condoned racism or not, I like to think you’d say no if you consider yourself as a decent person. But in not engaging with active criticism, you’re passively endorsing values you don’t agree with, or at least letting them go unchallenged.

I think this is particularly important in anime fandom, especially considering the realities of Japanese nationalism and soft power. In this post, I’m going to build on Bobduh’s argument that you should be engaging in serious critique rather than using your media solely to validate yourself, and I’m going to apply that to the broader political context behind anime’s production and consumption. I think it becomes easier to seriously examine your own personal politics when you zoom out and explore the macro-politics. (Because these are big, complex issues, don’t take my post as anything more than an oversimplification. The idea is just to get you thinking about how the personal and the political interact.)

Basically, your taste is bad and so are you and so is Japan and so is the rest of the world.

Whaaaaaat? How is anime political?

Everything I know about politics, I learned from the Legend of Koizumi
Everything I know about politics I learned from the Legend of Koizumi

Anime is political in the way all media is political. I think it’s easy to just think of politics in terms of parties and speeches. But politics is moved by people, which means it’s thoroughly intertwined with social values and culture. And that sort of stuff comes through our day-to-day actions and our media.

In the case of anime fandom, we’re dealing with the media products of a foreign country, so on the surface level it seems less relevant to what is going on with our lives. Yes, you’ll find some familiar ideas and themes relevant to your outlook on the world because the storytelling in anime is universal to a degree. But there’s more to critiquing anime than just identifying common elements and assuming they mean the same thing everywhere. People – and cultures – are more complicated than that. The assumptions fans make about anime and Japanese society at large are key here.

What I mean by this is how you interpret your media is more important than what the media actually is. There is no such thing as an “objective essence” to a media product, even if there are aspects which are widely agreed upon. Subtext, too, is fluid. How literary scholars interpreted the subtext in Shakespeare’s plays changed enormously when Freudian analysis came into vogue, and the accepted interpretations have changed even more since then. And, of course, people disagree with each other about subtext all the time, as the comments on Guy’s infamous post about Mahouka’s political subtext clearly demonstrate.


So the act of watching an anime and becoming a fan of it – which involves making the assumption that it has something special to say to you in particular – is significant because it decontextualises the media. The circumstances in which the media was originally created mean little and are outright ignored in most cases. Consumers see emotional truth in a story because it affirms something they have always believed, or they can read themselves into it.

Now let’s put this into context. Because fans create their own meanings for the media they enjoy, they’re not likely to adopt new ideas based on the political context of the work. It’s for this reason that the Japanese government’s attempts to wield anime as “soft power” yield limited success. The idea behind soft power is that by exposing global consumers to anime, they will like Japan better. This doesn’t produce controllable effects because a) there’s no focus to the goal (see: Murphy 2010) and b) Japan doesn’t actually care about accepting migrants or catering their cartoons to foreign tastes.

The latter is really oversimplifying things, of course, but that’s basically how the situation is. Besides a few notable exceptions (Space DandyUnder the Dog) the Japanese anime market caters almost solely to a domestic audience. So while the Japanese government obviously cares about promoting anime’s “cool” image, the philosophy behind it can be summed up as: “JAPAN IS SO UNIQUE AND SUGOI. I BET THE FOREIGNERS THINK SO TOO. LET’S TELL THEM HOW COOL WE ARE WITHOUT ACTUALLY COMMUNICATING WITH THEM.”

This basically sums up soft power in a single gif
Soft power is basically Japan speaking Engrish











(If you want to know more about the intricacies behind this, Josh’s articles on Chromatic Aberration Everywhere offer a great critical reading of soft power: 1,2,3,4.)

As for Japan’s policy on immigrants, the number of immigrants accepted into the country remains incredibly low, despite Japan’s plummeting birth rate. It really says something about the Liberal Democratic Party’s attitude on this issue that a high-ranking official would only speak up about accepting more foreigners on condition of remaining anonymous.

The motive for rejecting immigration is to prevent drastic changes from occurring in Japanese society and protecting the Japanese identity (whatever that may be). This, along with pushing for anime as soft power, points to a distinct political agenda: Japanese nationalism.

Modern anime trends make sense when they’re perceived through these lenses. Yes, they’re all about making money, but they’re also about crafting a national identity.  This is not limited to the anime industry – it shows across all of Japan’s cultural industries, including (but not limited to) enka, J-pop and manzai comedy. (See, for instance, Stocker 2001 and Yano 2002) Those bizarre, “that’s so anime!” moments which turn up in anime so frequently are part of a complex identity creation process. Anime is forever in the search of becoming more like anime.


While I highly doubt nationalism is being propagated through anime as a conscious right-wing campaign, there’s a degree of self-validation and conservatism inherent to the medium. This is particularly understandable given the context of Japan’s economic stagnation and its uncertain domestic situation. Nationalism is a powerful ideology that brings people together in times of trouble, but there’s a darker side to it too, because nothing brings people together like hating a common enemy. And in Japan’s case, the big enemies are China and Korea.

I’ve avoided using the word “otaku” so far, but I think it’s worth pointing out that there is a non-trivial link between moe otaku and right-wing nationalism. This is not to say that all otaku are right-wing nuts, or even that otaku are more overtly nationalist than other subsets of the population. With hate speech against Chinese and Koreans on the rise across all of Japan, maybe it’s inappropriate to point fingers against otaku in particular. But the fact that such attitudes are part of the mainstream is perhaps even more unsettling.


As seemingly apolitical most anime are, nationalist overtones do occasionally slip into the narratives from time to time. Code Geass is one example; Mahouka is another. I think it’s also important to think about what isn’t shown in anime, as far as cultural representations go. As I write this post, I can’t think of any popular anime featuring Koreans in prominent roles, aside from Akatsuki no Yona, which hasn’t even aired yet. There’s also the Winter Sonata anime, but that was based off the massively popular Korean drama. The sheer absence of Koreans in anime is really concerning – it indicates a desire to wipe Koreans out of sight and out of mind.

And given the heated reactions that arise when Korean things are so much as even shown passingly in anime, it’s no wonder there’s an almost complete absence of Korea in anime – despite how heavily involved Korean animators are with the actual production side of things. There was a shitstorm on 2ch when the Sakurasou no Pet na Kanojo anime showed a Korean dish briefly in episode 6. This caused a number of viewers to boycott the anime and rate it one star on Amazon. A similar (though smaller) controversy happened with Hentai Ouji to Warawanai Neko, when a bit of product placement for a Korean artist was shown passively in the background.


But arguably the most virulent form of Korea hate in anime and manga comes through Kenkanryu, which literally means “Hating Korea Wave”. This manga, which was never translated into English (for good reason, no doubt) is about historical revisionism. It attempts to describe the “true history” of Japan’s actions during World War II. Those uncivilised Koreans ought to be grateful they were colonised by the Japanese! The rape of Nanking was just an exaggeration – it wasn’t that big a deal! The comfort women thing is just a conspiracy! They weren’t actually raped because they asked for it!

To sum it up, privileged young Japanese guys attempt to MANSPLAIN the world. Depressingly enough, Kenkanryu was a bestseller.

“So What Does That Have to do with Me?”

Realistically speaking, there’s not much you can do to change Japan’s conservative politics. Your taste in anime will not have a direct bearing on the situation, so you hardly need to worry about that.

But please, bear this in mind: when you glorify anime and describe it as somehow “unique” or “superior” to western media, you are buying into the Orientalist myth. Besides making you look like an idiot, being a weaboo has the serious consequence of stroking Japan’s ego. You are unconsciously affirming the unhealthy brand of nationalism I’ve described in this post.

Even if you do consider yourself a critical person and you are not a fan of anime just because it is Japanese or whatever, to claim neutrality would be beside the point. Form/text-based criticism overlooks the implicit values anime is propagating about the so-called “uniqueness” of Japanese culture. This is also a serious point of contention for scholars, not just “fans” in the typical sense. Iwabuchi (2010) argues that “being supposedly politically neutral will mean colluding overtly and covertly with the uncritical pragmatic uses of media culture”  for what he deems “brand nationalism”.

This is not to say anime is created and distributed for the purposes of EVIL, but the impulses which Bobduh criticises in his essay are just as relevant to a country’s politics as they are to English-speaking anime fans on the internet. Like the fans who adopt their media and use it to create an identity around how “special” they are, so too do Japanese consumers and content creators shape their identity alongside their media.

So what is the takeaway message from this? I’ve presented some of the ways anime is appropriated by the Japanese public and the government, but none of this is set in stone. Your own fandom activities (including reading this blog!) are a part of this complex process of cultural exchange and identity creation. And being critical about this whole process is a good thing, because by being aware of it, it’s easier to understand yourself and the part you play in it.

Don’t fall into the trap of just using your media preferences to validate your own worldview. Do question your preferences and why your favourite anime seems special to you. What does it mean to other people? What might it mean in its original context?

This is a pretty complex topic which I know I can’t do justice to, so feel free to ask questions and add your own input!

(Note: You can read this post as my response to my earlier post about the “otaku database”. I’ve been wanting to update that post for a while because I think it falls into the trap of romanticising otaku culture. While I do appreciate my own desire to be open-minded, I think it’s best to maintain critical distance.)


  1. You know, despite our earlier conversation regarding politics and my statements about my own lack of interest in engaging with them, there were a number of things in this piece that sparked my interest or memory—so much so that I don’t think putting it all in a comment would do the ideas (certainly not all original to me) any sort of justice. But putting together a blog post on this would take effort…

    I’ll have to think on this more, but as you should know, there’s no greater compliment I can give to a fellow writer than to say that your writing both sparked my interest and inspired me to write myself.

  2. I can agree on much here but I can’t say I see nationalism as a big problem. Preserving culture is a good thing in my opinion. I’m scandinavian and I really like viking culture but with the invasion of the christians almost all of that is lost, which I think is a big loss, we got something new instead, some scandinavian/christian culture, a hybrid of some sort. All ancient European cultures are practically extinct and it’s the same with native american culture. Nowadays, nationalism is mostly seen as bad and you’re called racist or nazi or something if you don’t like cultural mixing but I am really troubled over it, at this rate cultures risk getting wiped out completely to leave room for a huge mix of all cultures, and that is the worst possible scenario for me, that is by far worse than any dystopia ever.

    • Well, think of it this way. There’s no such thing as a “pure” culture. There never was, even in the past. Cultures are formed by people mixing and sharing experiences with one another, so the world has always been a huge mix of all cultures. We might have a sentimental attachment to older traditions, but culture itself never actually dies away. It just gets re-invented in new forms. So there’s no need to worry about culture “dying” or going away.

        • Yes, but where would you say culture “starts”? There’s no specific moment in time you could point to in the development of human evolution where you could say “these primates are human now, therefore they have culture”.

          As for globalisation, it’s not homogenising. If you think that, you’d be making the assumption that globalisation affects every country equally, which it doesn’t. Local cultures adapt foreign influences to their own context. This article should address most of your concerns:

          • I think I kind of understand where Gronbuske-san is coming from, though.

            The fact about cultures is that certain portions, elements, and traditions do in fact go extinct. I think the best example I can think of are “Endangered Languages” ( It’s true that culture is continuously evolving, but many people in the world are concerned about snapshot traditions and cultures that they currently find precious.

            Perhaps a more immediate example would make more sense. Once upon a time in the land of Europe, certain Saint’s Days were major holidays in different kingdoms accompanied with large festivals and religious celebration. However, over time, as the demographics of the land became increasingly more atheist (or populated with subscribers to different religions), these holidays and festivals became extinct. They are no longer celebrated. Of course, some other culture filled its vacancy, but it’s still a loss of some sort that will probably never be recovered.

            It’s for the same reasons why the name “Champagne” can only be used for wine produced in the French region of Champagne–it protects its economic interests in the face of market competitors that might drive the value of Champagne down. UNESCO exists to raise to value of certain cultural “incidences”. To be honest, there is little material value to most incidences of culture, just like there really isn’t any material value whether Polar Bears go extinct or not.

            But should we make an effort to preserve these things as we know it?

            As a closing comment, I should mention that Native American reservations in the United States would have vanished long ago if certain advocates acting on their moral instincts hadn’t taken the stand to protect Native American interests against the economic pressure of businesses and corporations.

            Things do and will continue to change; the main question is how should we approach it when you fear a loss of your own identity? When Coca Cola comes to colonize your country, will your children prefer aluminum can soda over the traditional drink of hand-ground barley tea?

        • I think the big difference from the past isn’t that culture used to be more “pure” – it’s that it used to be more “diverse”.
          Middle ages: moving from place A to place B could take months, and transporting information was pretty much as fast as moving actual people with horses (you just don’t sent parchment books through pigeon). The only momentous occasions which would revolutionize a place’s culture and shuffle it up were invasions or big changes of rule. For example England being conquered by the Normans. But still, cultures would tend to slowly sediment and naturally change throughout space.
          Now: moving anywhere around the world can be done in less than one day, and exchanging information can be done instantaneously. Hence the rate at which cultures blend together and influence each other is incredibly faster. Which doesn’t mean that there aren’t any cultural pockets any more – some things still are rather local, you don’t see people eating the same things, wearing the same things, liking the same sports everywhere anyway because these are powerful shared experiences that need physical presence to be enjoyed with friends and therefore they will not blend unless we could travel literally everywhere for free. But the variety will diminish, true.
          But it’s pretty much inevitable. It’s a natural consequence of being able to communicate; of having stuff like the internet that you are using to argue with froggy-kun all the way from Scandinavia to wherever he lives, after reading his post. Which I assume you read because you watch Japanese cartoons. Congratz! By watching those and inadvertently bringing the seeds of the ideas they contain with you in your daily life in your country you’re already contributing to the destruction and metamorphosis of your country’s original culture.
          The concept of purity of a culture is too fuzzy to define, and the only thing we could do about it would be arbitrarily set its boundaries and protect it from external influences by cutting off our own links with the outside cultures – that is, making our lives more miserable, precluding ourselves travel, communication, and useful ideas, for the sake of artificially preserving something whose time has come.
          I think the best approach to this problem is the same as it is to life: enjoy beautiful things while they last, and when they end, let them go and create new ones. No matter how good your time in high school was, you won’t relive it if you dress in a uniform and go back to a classroom when you’re 30 years old – you’ll just look sad and grotesque. The same applies to nations trying to artificially bring back their glory days. It’s not wise and it’s not healthy, like everything that has to do with the unholy practice of resurrecting something that’s dead and buried.

  3. Wonderful post that reminded me of an issue I often forget when watching anime without overt politicized messages.
    Your point that we Western consumers can’t really affect Japanese national policy reminded me of an excerpted Noam Chomsky interview I recently read: he stated (among other things; it’s a useful read) that most people don’t trouble to look deeply into politics and world events because on some level they realize that those things are beyond their control/influence and thus their time might be more usefully spent elsewhere.

    Also, how do you feel about political messages in Aldnoah.Zero and Zankyou? My friend contented that they were stark, albeit simplified reflections of current events, and while I’m inclined to agree I wonder how intentional that was/is, particularly in Aldnoah’s case.

    • Do you have a link to that Noam Chomsky interview? It sounds interesting!

      I definitely see the 9/11 parallels in Zankyou. That said, I interpret the story’s gradual shift from a psychological thriller to a B-grade suspense film as an indication of the story’s unwillingness to be too pointed with the political commentary. Also of note is how issues of race and ethnicity are ignored in Zankyou’s depiction of terrorism.

      Aldnoah’s politics are more derivative from other mecha series and less topical. But like all war stories, it does draw from widely accepted ideas about war and conflict, which are definitely relevant to today’s world. Its handling of the political scapegoat struck me as the most interesting aspect of the story, philosophically speaking.

      Basically, I agree with you that these stories draw from today’s politics, but I also think they’re neutered of any elements that could link them to real-life organisations. I think the writers are playing it safe in that regard, and probably for good reason. That’s what makes them seem simplified, but only at first glance. Both stories are probably a lot more complicated than we viewers like to give them credit for.

      • Interview link:

        Also, while Aldnoah seems dubiously likely to actually throw a major message at us before it ends, it almost feels at times like it wants to make the point that “Oh, you like mecha war series that glorify war/battle? Well, maybe reconsider that or continue to be a pleb, idk.”
        Granted, this idea stems more from Urobuchi’s involvement and the fact that whenever Aldnoah starts really getting interesting (in the sense that it appears to be trying a non-derivative approach; it’s entertaining enough as is), it backs off.

        (And thanks for replying.)

        • The Noam Chomsky interview caught my attention. :3

          Personally, I was much more receptive to the political messages in ZnT than Aldnoah.Zero. I’m not sure what current event you’ve connected A/Z to; am I missing something? A/Z seems pretty conventional to me.

          Zankyou no Terror resonated politically with me because it questions the definition of a terrorist and our automatic assumption that terrorists are bad. In American culture, I’ve had too many conversations with conservatives who say, “Let’s bomb the shit out of Palestine b/c Hamas is a terrorist.” It’s easy to call someone a religion-brainwashed evil psychopath on the basis of his/her actions, but there’s so little consideration that goes into the MOTIVE of terrorists and deviants who stand up against the accepted norms. What message do they present and what makes them so desperate? Every human being is reasonable, and there is no black and white in human nature. Each side that participates in a conflict believes that they are respectively fighting for justice, good, a better future, etc, especially when such conflicts occur on a national/ethnographic scale.

          While I have great respect for Chomsky, I think the comparison that he draws between sports and politics isn’t accurately portrayed–it’s true that Americans are particularly invested in sports, but for a bulk majority of “fans”, it isn’t calculated intellectual analysis that leads a common American to support a particular team. Sports rivalries are intense in the United States; the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees being an infamous example. The mere victory or loss of one team can lead to rioting, mobs, breaking windows, and injuries. All fans are extremely knowledgeable about the sport (as Chomsky noted), but that doesn’t stop the irrationality of conflict. It’s a miniature form of state nationalism extended–when we adopt an external entity as part of our identity, an insult on that entity because an insult on ourselves.

          Anyways, while I don’t mean to sound elitist, to me intellectualism is about learning to take criticism, take it constructively, and consider it as rationally as possible without personal feelings blaring at a perceived insult. In that sense, I defend intellectualism. I kind of shiver at the thought of nuclear weapons in the hands of popular vote. I distrust the emotional and capricious Man. True popular democracies aren’t really my thing.

  4. I’m not sure what to think. Speaking as a Malaysian whose country has been mistreated by the Japanese in WW2 (there’s SO many historical account that describe the atrocities committed by the Imperial Japanese, especially to the Chinese), I can’t say I have any negative feelings about Japan in particular. Sure there’s problems but I don’t think the Japanese have anything against us Malays, Filipinos, Indonesians, Bruneians, i.e brown Asians. I think.

    An uncle of mine had a foreign exchange student from Japan who stayed with him years ago, she visits every Eid El Fitr despite the fact Eid El Fitr’s date is inconsistent every year. Never had the impression of anything going on there. She’s a sweet girl, wears traditinal baju kurung here, even wears proper hijab despite the fact no one tells her to.

    From what I’ve heard from others, I think there is a sense of elitism from Japan that ‘pours into’ anime. Really, that’s clear from certain animes like Highschool Magic Shock Therapy. I haven’t watch Mahouka Kouko, but the Objectivism I could smell a mile away due to my experiences in an underwater city with no gods or kings, only men.

    But since I don’t know any Japanese people personally, I think I’ll reserve my judgement before making any proper opinions on it. I am very interested about this topic and it’d be great if you write more about it. Heck, why not an article on Mahouka? I’d be interested in reading that.

    • There’s little chance of me writing about Mahouka since I dropped it. Sorry!

      Anyway, I do address some of the ideas you brought up in my reply to kumori-chan, so I’ll just copypaste a bit of what I wrote here: “My argument would have been completely different had this post been written in Korean or Chinese. I would have emphasised how much Japanese nationalism is reactionary to Chinese and Korean nationalism. It really doesn’t help international ties when your country constantly brings up the war whenever Japan does something that mildly slights you in this day and age. Part of the historical revisionist movement in Japan has been fuelled in response to China and Korea’s insistence on painting Japan as the evil empire that would probably try to take over the world again if it could.”

      So… there are definitely more sides to the whole nationalism/elitism issue than my post implies. This is coming from the perspective of someone who does know quite a few Japanese people personally.

  5. It is really interesting to see where your line of thinking has evolved in the time you’ve been blogging, and also the way you’ve started dealing with these types of arguments. I see a little bit more than critical distance creeping in here though – I think you now are starting to look at otaku the same way otaku look at weaboos. There’s also looks to be an increasing shift in focus towards social issues and representation through a medium rather than the ways in which a medium can allow fans to create them. Or am I just reading too much into this? ;)

    • Hmmm, interesting you think that. I’ve noticed the changing focus as well. I don’t think this particular post attempts to invalidate or sublimate the ways which fans create their own politics, but rather I argue that it doesn’t take place in a vacuum. I feel I should reread some of my older posts again, but my feeling is that it’s a shift in emphasis rather than a total paradigm shift. My ideas then still apply now.

      As for my feelings about otaku, that’s a lot less straightforward. I’ve always been ambivalent towards them, and it’s true I criticise them in this post – or at least the loud, vocal minority. That’s not the same thing as blatantly stereotyping all otaku as creepy manchildren or whatever. This is a pretty important distinction since I consider myself a geek/otaku too. Take my arguments as being reflective of a self-critical otaku, who freely acknowledges the problems in the subculture and would like to see things improve, rather than the ramblings of a riajuu ;)

  6. “The sheer absence of Koreans in anime is really concerning – it indicates a desire to wipe Koreans out of sight and out of mind.”

    Think about it for a moment. In anime, the nationality of a character can never be identified at a glance lest the artist 1) use some stereotypical visual clues 2) bring special attention to the fact through dialogue/story developments. I dare say 1) is one of the very things people bring up as a sign of tacit racism, while 2) immediately makes it seems like the anime is actively trying to push for one political side of the spectrum or the other. Entertainment has the right not to focus on the issues of nationality if they are not relevant to the story – that does not make it racist.

    This neutrality could be seen as problematic if anime went out of its way to avoid bringing up nationality in contexts where it should be a natural part of the story. This does not seem to me to be universally the case, though. One context where nationality comes up naturally is sports, and we have plenty of shows within the genre featuring complex foreigners: HIkaru no Go (Koreans), Ping Pong (Chinese), Chihayafuru (second generation foreigners with various roots), Saki (Chinese, Korean-French half). It’s not like I had to look those up – I’m sure a Google search for good Korean/Chinese characters would bring in plenty more. On a side note, one of the team captains in Saki comes from Georgia. I can’t remember important Georgian characters popping up in American (or Polish, for that matter) works at all, but I don’t think either of the two countries wants to “wipe Georgia out of sight and out of mind”.

    Not that I’m denying that a problem exists in general. It’s just that insufficient screentime for Korean characters is flimsy proof of racism.

    • > “Entertainment has the right not to focus on the issues of nationality if they are not relevant to the story – that does not make it racist.”

      I agree with this.

      How many American shows feature Canadian characters? I can’t think of any. Does that indicate a prevailing attitude of Canadian-hatred among Americans? I don’t think so.

      Not thinking about something doesn’t mean you wish it would go away, or that you hate it.

      I don’t know anything about Japanese nationalism, so there may well be a problem there, but I don’t really buy the idea that liking anime constitutes tacit endorsement of racism.

      • How many American shows feature Canadian characters? I can’t think of any. Does that indicate a prevailing attitude of Canadian-hatred among Americans? I don’t think so.

        I think that’s true as far as most representations of foreigners go in anime. Most of the time, I would say absence indicates ignorance, and that absence in itself does not mean an awful lot. It definitely does not indicate racism.

        In the case of Koreans, though, there is plain evidence of viewers (I won’t say otaku, because I’m not sure if it’s just otaku doing this) vocally complaining and writing negative reviews just because Korea is represented at all. I wouldn’t have made the argument that the lack of Korea indicates negative feeling if I didn’t know about this context.

        I don’t really buy the idea that liking anime constitutes tacit endorsement of racism.

        That’s a pretty deterministic way of looking at the whole issue. Anime isn’t “racist” in the reductive sense. Sure, it’s shaped by ideas of race and nationalism, but that’s not the same thing as saying it’s racist. Glorifying anime as “uniquely Japanese” or “superior”, though, is what I identify as the tacit endorsement of racism.

        • Fair enough. So if the gist of this article is “don’t be such a weeb, Japan is not as cool as you think it is, there’s actually some messed-up stuff going on here” then… okay. This was all pretty informative. But am I supposed to start fretting all the time now? “Damn, another episode of another anime with no Koreans in it. That whole problem’s not getting any better, is it?” As eelsaremanatees paraphrased Chomsky above, I can’t do anything about that issue, so honestly I’m not inclined to spend a lot of time thinking about it.

          Not that nobody should bother to think about it. Obviously some people are deeply interested in the topic. But I’m not a weaboo, nor even an otaku. I’m a filthy casual. I enjoy anime on the surface level, and I enjoy investigating such themes as I can detect in it, but it doesn’t define me. I’m not really sure what your article is exhorting me to do, other than feel bad about something I enjoy.

          • Please don’t feel bad about something you enjoy! Actually, if you identify as a casual fan, this post wasn’t even aimed at you. The audience I had in mind was people like me – fans who are very immersed in the medium and who identity with it to some degree. I’m not telling you to worry about the particulars of Japanese politics. I’m telling you to think critically about identity politics in general, with Japanese identity politics as an example of where this plays out with regards to anime. I hope that makes sense!

            • Does “Doing nothing” is equal to “Being neutral”? If the point that you brought up is focuses on the Otakus, then asked this question: Where does people like you usually express these features? The Net. And we all know it’s all about talking and debating for our own ego – It doesn’t change anything. The wise ones wouldn’t jump in these kind of situations and get themselves pissed with no purpose. Thy would prefer to stay out of this.

              On the other hand, it’s a Domino effect. I wouldn’t put it in a sense like 1984 and Brave New World, but all these Mass Media plus the Internet (with its feeling of anonymous) have been encouraging people to establish and vocally pronounce their belief (often pro- or anti- with the mainstream accepted idea of the time) without thinking first.

            • I get what you’re trying to say since I’m deeply immersed in the medium as well but I still feel that anime is uniquely Japanese.

              I think that while it might be true that there are a lot of sub textual implications that it might have, anime will remain something I completely attribute to Japan.

              Also, since we’re discussing interesting political implications, anyone consider the implications of the Fuhrer and the government in Full Metal Alchemist or Full Metal Alchemist Brotherhood?
              I found that insanely well done. It was so intricately weaved in with the alchemy plot. True masterpiece that.

  7. As a person of Chinese heritage, I grew up in an environment with my parents expressing a general disapproval of my reading of Japanese manga. World War II remains close enough in time to sit in the memories of my parent’s generation (having been raised by my grandparents) enough to produce a general vibe of distrust from my parents. I mean, think about all that loli-culture, harems………

    Japanese culture isn’t the most tolerant or egalitarian out there. You talk about “feminism” in anime, but in reality it’s a reflection of Japanese social climate.

    This social climate extends to its views on other countries. China and Korea is one thing, but surely you’ve also noticed the allusions to the US Military (being the big bad guys!) in Zankyuu no Terror, SAO (spoiler for next arc), etc. Oh wait. You’re Australiain (lol), so this doesn’t extend to you. In either case, I find it interesting to see Americans squirm in their seats as they watch certain series portray the American government/military in a brutal light. No one feels particularly comfortable when their country is made the antagonist.

    I mean, many countries do it. The Chinese have been making anti-Japanese WW2 films and television dramas for decades. In the United States, you had Cold War-era fiction and film. In the past decade, with the rise of the Chinese economy, we have the temptation in American film to portray China as the invading aggressors who start WW3 ( while American heroes save the world……. this sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

    What I’m trying to get as is that Japan isn’t alone in stereotyping cultures and foreign peoples in media. In Western film, how often is the male and female lead white? What about the disney princesses and television shows? What nationality is the terrorist or drug dealer? The rich businessman and banker?

    • Yep, you’re spot on. Actually, you saying you’re Chinese reminds me of something. My argument would have been completely different had this post been written in Korean or Chinese. I would have emphasised how much Japanese nationalism is reactionary to Chinese and Korean nationalism. It really doesn’t help international ties when your country constantly brings up the war whenever Japan does something that mildly slights you in this day and age. Part of the historical revisionist movement in Japan has been fuelled in response to China and Korea’s insistence on painting Japan as the evil empire that would probably try to take over the world again if it could.

      My post, as it is, could probably be used as anti-Japan propaganda, which definitely is *not* a help for solving the issues with nationalism. But different arguments apply for different audiences, and this post just focused on challenging the Western perspective. I’d definitely like to address the Asian side of things too some other time!

  8. Like how some French are pissed that Netflix is now offering service their country. I hate to generalize your article, but could it be said that all media is created with this dash of nationalism of its origin country? Or maybe that soft power comes as a side effect when consumed by foreigners? Idk…

    I like reading your articles because I don’t get too critical with my anime, but I think it’s important and I’m not eloquent like yourself. :3

    • I definitely agree that all media contains elements of nationalism. Being critical of Japanese media has really helped open my eyes to some of the ways cultural appropriation works with others forms of media as well. Hope it’s the same for you!

  9. Huh, the descriptions of the right-wing otaku in that Neojaponisme article sound exactly like their 4ch/Reddit counterparts that have been highlighted this past month, except that instead of being characterized by any sort of NEET/Hikikomori image, the western faction is characterized by the actions they’ve taken against their targets of hate, sending hate mail and hacking things and doxxing, etc. In Asia, such acts of sabotage are more characteristic of jealous fangirls, while even jilted wota over “unpure” idols/seiyuu tend to focus more on inciting the industry to punish them, than attacking them directly. Perhaps it is because otaku/wota have more direct access to commercialized objects marketted specifically to them, so they treat them as defective products (e.g. no longer buying them) whereas western geeks are raising actors or creators into icons, into roles that are not obligations of their original jobs, so they cannot cause the regular modes of authority to act on their behalf.
    (Both groups have been also characterized by their buying power, although the West is trying to show how much their faction does not represent the majority, vs. how otaku are the overwhelmingly dominant customer base for otaku media.)

    Obviously, western geek culture has been massively impacted by Japanese geek culture, through the origins of video gaming and the import of anime, and some critics of the aggressive geek faction in the west have pointed out how many of the attackers had anime avatars. (or anime-style VG character avatars) One could argue that some of the western sexist attitudes were exacerbated by the exposure to lolicon culture. (There used to be a post here with an opening image contrasting the 3d Bitch to 2d Loli-goodness, but I can’t find it anymore. The only post reference I can find that’s been deleted is a “Why Moe is Good For You” post. Anyhow, that image exemplifies the previous sentence) While lots of anime can be interpreted gender-positively, that hasn’t applied in terms of anime’s influence on western media, which has been solely on an aesthetic level. (The Matrix, Pacific Rim)
    But has there been any influence in the opposite direction? There’s a perception that the franchise faces of western-developed gaming haven’t gained as much traction in Japan, although I can’t speak for MMO gaming. And anime otaku don’t seem like they also consume much imported western media, much less genre works. So the direction of influence seems one-way.

    Of course, there are large swaths of western geekdom that turn their noses up at anime and the like for its perceived relative femininity to “true” geek pursuits, so it’s more likely that it’s the “simulated ethnicity” mechanism that is causing some of these fits of lashing out, rather than any specific cultural or media influence. Haters gonna hate, etc.

    • It all comes from the same place, of identifying too strongly with one’s media-consumption and turning it into a core part of your personality, so any and all perceived attacks on it, or calls for it to change are met with incredibly hostility.

      There’s no real difference between sports fans, or “fans” of a political party, or anime fans, or gaming fans, or of a particular franchise. But it also goes in reverse, not just the political party’s “fans” are engaging in a political endeavour, but anyone who turns something into part of their identity.

      • Yes, it all does come from the same mechanism of overidentification, but I do think it’s interesting to see how the content of the thing identified with may shape who those feel threatened by, and why.
        Sports may promote a specific image of masculinity or a type of brand loyalty to causes over-zealous sports fans to hate on other teams or sports, with lack of masculinity as their insult of choice. Combined with the regional ties many teams have, and it’s easy for nationalism and racism to creep in, as well.

        Similarly, the content and constructed culture around some geek pursuits seem complementary to or reinforce the right-wing tendencies of certain otaku and gamers. The previous “enemy” of the geek used to be the bullying jock, so when did that change for these people, into SJWs or whatever, and why? The mechanism of over-identification is the same as others, so what about their environment or the media they over-identify with, has made these particular targets into threats to them?

        • I think it’s because geek pursuits have largely become accepted in mainstream society. This means that many people are involved in the hobby now whom one would not typically associate with the image of the classic geek: women, PoCs, etc. When a mostly homogeneous group suddenly absorbs new types of people, it’s a psychological self-defense mechanism to lash out at the newcomers and to create false hierarchies establishing themselves on top.

          The so-called “SJWs”, a good many of whom are involved in geek pursuits themselves, directly attack the more problematic aspects of geek culture. Some of this extends to personal attacks against geeks: “Get a life and stop picking on women, you manchild!” So yes, in a sense, they are the enemy, and not just a self-imagined one. Considering how antagonistic the discourse has been in recent times, it really is no wonder that SJWs have been made into targets.

          • So it seems to be a growing pains thing.
            In which case, I wonder how much the course of history has also affected things.
            The older the sport, the more entrenched its more zealous factions are, and the less strong opposition they meet. Some of it seems to be because these things grew up into the mainstream during eras when “boys will be boys” arguments were considered valid, and so while now there are people who shake their heads over ensuing violence, they won’t address the root of the extremism, allowing the structures to remain in place, assuming that they’re okay in moderation.

            It would be great to study the three phases/types of over-identification and how they may correlate to the age of the fandom, the type of media, the age of the person, how long that person has been in fandom, the contrast to their non-fandom life, etc. Especially as fandom culture is being increasingly legitimised, and what is considered immature and mature behavior is changing, and how our civilizations, societies, and especially technologies are vastly outpacing our biological evolutionary development.
            Was over-identification, and defensive behavior of it, originally a useful survival tool? Which instincts and which outlets have been replaced by fandom? (Oh man, I never thought I’d be considering Virilio’s speed critiques in the context of fandom.)

  10. So, what if we turn the table around and think of something in term of Anarchism – Including Anarchist Communist, Trotskyism and Proletarian Internationalism? What if we truly make something that actively supported it, how many percent of people would openly admitted that they like it?

    Like I have put on Josh’s blog before, one of the limit of commercial movie and anime is that no one would even dare to make something that is actively political leaned. However, that make this kind of situation: Imagine you are born in a Communist country like Vietnam. If you make something that has a “propaganda” value, you would not always blankly present your idealism, and when you do, people would recognize it as well as you – you consciously know when to stop, what to adjust,… But if you don’t, you must present something neutral, in that case, you’d try to influence “everything”. And that easily make you fall into extremeness.

    (It’s my personal experience. My (in writing) work about the Vietnam war, I have to balance and to avoid over-glorifying the NVA side (of the protagonists), even to the smallest details: Their habituals, the surrounding,… – That is why having multi-protagonist is always a good choice for anime/novel/movie about war.).

    • You bring up a good point. It’s not just anime which seems politically neutral – most forms of mainstream entertainment seem like this regardless of their country of origin. It seems there’s an unspoken agreement not to mix politics with entertainment.

      I think part of the reason behind this is that such entertainment is a great way to take the viewer’s mind off politics. Viewers don’t necessarily want to be loaded with heavy messages and it’s easier for a government to control a population that is preoccupied with things other than involving themselves politics. I think that could explain why China has such a thriving entertainment culture scene despite the communist regime. The government pushes China’s pop culture forward to make out how open and accepting the country is, but that’s not really true in reality.

      And yeah, it’s probably like you say. People know when to stop. They self-edit and self-censor. Even on this blog, I self-censor a lot of my own political ideas, because I’m always wondering to myself, “Is this stance too confrontational? Does it seem ignorant? Will I be criticised for saying this?” Unless you’re writing for people who agree with you, in which case, your opinions would be seen as entirely normal and matter-of-fact, you’re not going to showcase your ideals unless you’re prepared for the backlash.

  11. What makes things disturbing is that even anime for children has negative implications. Case in point: Future Card Buddyfight and Cardfight!! Vanguard: Link Joker-hen. Both of these anime has one evil side that exclusively uses one clan, which reeks off racism in my mind. This is despite that the protagonists are diverse in nature. Why not make the antagonists using card types of the same kind with that of protagonists to show that there are good and bad people in all human races?

    To me, it is we who consume media, not media consume us. To be more precise, we form ourselves through media, not by them.

    However, I disagree with your idea of neutrality, for the reasons that I consider the famous phrase “When you are neutral with acts of oppression, you are siding with the oppressor” a dangerous idea. Neutrality always exists no matter what and have good reasons too: to avoid extremism from both ends. It is how it manifests that counts.

    In the end, it’s our willpower to stay to the ideal self counts.

    • While I agree that people should seek to avoid extremism, I think you may be conflating neutrality with being moderate. What counts as “moderate” is hugely subjective and changes a lot with context. The “moderate” of one generation may be the “conservative” of the next.

      Now, I agree that people have the right to remain neutral in a dispute, rather than being forced to pick a side. In this case, being influenced by Japanese propaganda doesn’t necessarily mean that Japan is an aggressor or that we are victims. There are no straightforward, easily identifiable “sides” to this issue. But being aware that there is national branding in anime allows you, the viewer, to come to a more informed decision about what values you wish to accept and which ones to reject. This is much more preferable to believing yourself to be neutral because you have not come to any conscious decision on the matter.

  12. I actually read Bobduh’s essay and posted my own response post last week XD You can read it here if you haven’t already:

    I pretty much just gave my opinion on what he discussed in the post, but I like how you took a certain aspect of it and expanded on it very thoroughly. I sort of knew some of the things you described about nationalism in Japan already, but many things I didn’t know. When I was a younger fan (and person for that matter) I used to have the typical “Japan is so cool!” mentality, and while I of course still love the country now, I’ve wised up in terms of assuming it’s so much better than any other country. Every country has its flaws (and good things hopefully!) and there are certainly plenty of things in Japanese society that could use fixing. But that has nothing to do with my love for anime. I love anime for the good stories, well written characters, and engaging animation, regardless of the country it came from. If another country like Korea or Italy produced all the anime I know and love, I would have taken up an interest in those countries instead XD But again, I wouldn’t let it blind me to any disturbing facts about that country.

    • Yep, I read your post before I started my own. I don’t have a lot to add to what you wrote – I agree with the general points and I think you’ve pretty much nailed the main takeaway from Bobduh’s essay. So I wanted to try a slightly different tack with my own response. I’m glad you appreciated the result!

  13. The whole talk about nationalism make another idea pop out of my head: Could any other country in Japan create their own distinctive anmation industry, no matter how heavily influenced they was by anime? Or more exactly: What define one country own entertainment industry?

    Until now, people still argues about whether a nation unified because it comes from the same genetic source, that is because of race, or is the participation in the organic nature of the “folk” culture self-fulfilling?. Although anime and many other form of entertainments have became a lot more ‘internationalist’, successful examples have always established a sense of “national uniqueness” to them – A.K.A Bollywood with their dance,…

    However, the point above might not be fit to anime, since anime rarely steps out of its drama-romance-fantasy triangle.

    • One could argue America already did, with Disney and Warner Bros. defining cartoons. Anime’s giant eyes and lolicon arguably found its original roots with Betty Boop.

      Considering how much anime and even western animation is done in Korea now, I’d say they could make a go of it, with the right marketting and a distinct visual style.
      Legend of Korra is animated by Korean studios, (although bits of Season 2 were done by Studio Pierrot, HAH) and Korean studios have also done most of the recent DC animations, like Young Justice, and all of the direct-to-DVD movies. Even the MV for Britney Spears’ “Break the Ice” was done in South Korea.

      Also, there’s there a difference between Nationality and Ethnicity. The latter is more defined by genetics, but the former is defined by land-based borders. While some countries strive to make the two the same, prompting ethnic cleansing, or calls for independence, (as Scotland and Catalonia are now doing) many 1st world countries no longer link the two, and focus mostly on nationality only.
      In the past, there were differences between ethnicities and race, as well, such as discrimination of other white ethnicities against the Irish or the Jews.

  14. For much of the anime fandom (including myself until very recently), this media is consumed voraciously and pretty absent-mindlessly with regards to recognizing any political subtexts. When it comes to criticism and analysis of anime, anime fans find no trouble in extracting far-fetched notions of a show’s “hidden message” or the subtle nuances that make it so interesting or well-constructed. Froggy-kun provides clear evidence for this through is multiple posts that scrupulously analyse elements of SAO, even if he is tongue-in-cheek about the whole matter and it really produced for a comedic value. But the fandom makes a grave mistake in assuming that these rich subliminal meanings are somehow exclusive to anime. This could be a result of anime’s branding as a form of entertainment that is incredibly unique, and therefore deserved of this special treatment. But when attempting to analyze anime from a somewhat objective lens, it becomes pretty evident that most of this stuff is poorly written, unimaginative and immature trash. Through this kind of objective criticism, I began to ask myself an important question; so why do I like this stuff so much? Whilst I don’t think there is a good definitive answer to this question, I certainly think it has enhanced my anime-viewing experience after delving into a bit of introspection.

    I’ve gained many things from trying to objectively criticize anime, but I believe the most important aspect is viewing anime less as an unadulterated form of entertainment, but more as a product. created with the primary aim of generating money or publicity. Therefore, anime, like almost any other form of media, is influenced by external factors such as the political climate in which it was created and the demographic that will consume it. When bearing this in mind, the subtle nationalism that pervades anime becomes evident and understandable. I don’t think Japan is particularly more active in promoting itself whilst belittling its enemies than many other developed nations. The USA is probably the best example of this. Whilst I certainly think that it is foolish to fail to acknowledge this fact, I don’t think it’s more necessary when criticizing anime than any other form of media.

    • When it comes to criticism and analysis of anime, anime fans find no trouble in extracting far-fetched notions of a show’s “hidden message” or the subtle nuances that make it so interesting or well-constructed.

      This is a really great point. Fans can be really attentive readers and they’re great at noticing subtle details, from the shonen fan who notes down every special ability used in the story to the shipping fan who pays attention to all the subtle cues in the relationships between the characters. There’s nothing inherently wrong with consuming your stories this way, but it can be limiting when that’s your only framework of interpretation.

      It’s funny that you mentioned my posts on SAO, because I know when I set out to write those posts, I’m thinking to myself, “Okay, time to put on my fanboy goggles!” I enter a different state of mind when I write those, and it’s kind of a way of showing that there are a bajillion valid ways of approaching a work of fiction.

      But when attempting to analyze anime from a somewhat objective lens, it becomes pretty evident that most of this stuff is poorly written, unimaginative and immature trash. Through this kind of objective criticism, I began to ask myself an important question; so why do I like this stuff so much?

      Yeahhhhh, no two ways about it. I definitely can’t believe the people who say that anime stories are “mature” – most of it is derivative and geared for a young audience. Ultimately, I think it’s the culture that fans build around anime – discussions like this, for instance – that ultimately mean just as much (if not more) than the content itself. At least, that’s true for my own experience with anime. The stories themselves aren’t any more special than what you can find in other mediums, but the personal experiences I’ve had through this platform? The people I’ve met? Yes, those are special.

      As for the nationalism stuff, to me that’s all a reminder that anime itself in isn’t special – it’s part of this broader social fabric, along with its fans. And yeah, I definitely agree that all media is nationalistic too in their own ways. The great thing about critiquing anime is that the skills can be applied pretty much everywhere.

      Great comment, by the way :)

    • This is very interesting.
      I have never even considered the thought that anime is a special and unique thing. I thought that the depth Japan went with it was just their thing just like how america likes to make films and that it was just another medium of entertainment that was really nothing special. Just slightly different to western mediums. I’ve always thought of anime as something in between a book and a film and that it was merely a visual representation of books. I liked the concept and usage of anime a lot more than films and dramas so I went with it.
      I’ve never actually seen anybody (irl) even consider the idea that anime is so very unique and that only anime uses subtle hints and symbolism. Maybe I just haven’t been paying enough attention to other anime fans. Books and films obviously use those as well.

      Its rather strange now I think of it. Why would you consider anime as something special and unique? Its not that strange of a concept and I’ve always seen it as a normal thing.

  15. Ugh this was an interesting read but it makes me feel horrible. Must I bring nationalistic ideas and politics into anime? Its all very depressing and I would rather not think about it.
    Anime is not and never has been superior to films. I hardly even consider the fact that anime is Japanese. I just like watching it as simple entertainment. Of course I ask myself why I prefer certain anime over others but I never think about it politically.
    Even though anime may have given me interest in Japan I can hardly put that in a positive light. I feel far more negatively about Japan now than I would have before watching anime.
    What really worries me is whether I would be forced into this mess simply because I identify myself with anime (in a similar sense to how a book addict identifies him self as a book worm). Is it really impossible to look at anime without considering the fact that it is Japanese? I really want to stay neutral and avoid politics.
    Maybe this is the attitude that you detest the most? I’m not exactly sure and I will need to read the article again. I do feel quesy about this topic but I do feel as though I need to think about this a bit.

    • It depends on the direction from which you approach it.

      1. The business standpoint: the financial support of certain anime may also help its creators support their own political points of view. This is why people were boycotting Ender’s Game, in light of learning its author’s political opinions.
      2. The interpretation standpoint: The political context or subtext of anime should be considered, in that they may reflect the values with which the viewer is resonating with, and why they enjoy it. It’s simply another lens with which to examine your own media preferences.
      This also includes politics in an anime that you disagree with, but that you enjoy watching anyways. You can read and enjoy Lovecraft while acknowledging that the man was racist, and that the work reflects that sometimes. It’s that self-awareness and reflection which is important.
      The reason most of the articles on this topic have been written have been to examine why we react the way we do when other people criticize the media that we watch. By having done similar analyses itself beforehand, we can say “Your argument that this anime is political in this way is valid, but does not reflect on my own identity, therefore I can read it without being offended by it.” instead of flying into a rage because we perceive that critique to have unfairly painted us as a bad person.

  16. I disagree that there was any real nationalism subtext in mahouka. With the latest volume 14 coming out, that argument is just getting destroyed over and over. I don’t want to rain on anyone’s parade but really, the people accusing mahouka of being nationalistic or being a power fantasy has truly not spent enough time to understand what the story is trying to show. I can assure you, it’s not a shonen battle story.

  17. “It really says something about the Liberal Democratic Party’s attitude on this issue that a high-ranking official would only speak up about accepting more foreigners on condition of remaining anonymous.”

    I think this says less about the LDP and more about Japanese attitude towards the issue of immigration in general.

    It has become a bit common in the west as of late to sort of stereotype the LDP as a far-right political party. After all, the LDP is the more conservative of the two main Japanese political parties (the other being the Democratic Party of Japan, or DPJ), and certain LDP leaders have been prone to making inflammatory remarks or stunts such as visiting the Yasukuni Shrine.

    On the other hand, the LDP is very much a “big tent” party. After all, we are talking about the political party that has almost completely dominated post-war Japanese politics. Within the LDP are nationalists, industrialists, union members, farmers, teachers, what have you. The rise of the DPJ has perhaps made the LDP tent a bit smaller, but we are still speaking of a party that represents a large portion of the nation.

    Anyways, to get back on point, there are multiple points of view within the LDP and they don’t all necessarily get along. There is definitely a far-right nationalist line of thought within the LDP, and whether the party leaders themselves are nationalists or not, they certainly have been willing to pander to that part of the tent. On the other hand, there are many economically-minded figures within the LDP, particularly high up in the party. Visits to Yasukuni Shrine and attempts to revise Article 9 of the Constitution might make the international news more often than such things as monetary policy, but the LDP has introduced several economic reforms to try to revive Japan’s long sluggish economy, many of which run contrary to some of the more conservative lines of thought amongst their base.

    It is clear to pretty much every impartial observer that immigration is necessary for Japan’s economy. The LDP knows this, and it is a bit ironic that despite their nationalist bent, the LDP has probably done more to try to increase acceptance of the idea of immigration to Japan than any of their rival parties. Of course, their only significant rival party is the DPJ and the DPJ only held office for a few years, but I suppose my point is that the fact that LDP leaders have to speak in secrecy about immigration in my view shows that they (at least some of them) are more favourable to the idea of immigration (if mainly for economic rather than social reasons) than not just their own party base but the Japanese electorate as a whole. If the LDP did not have to worry about public opinion, I think they would likely enact immigration policies that are more liberal than what the majority of Japanese citizens desire.

    • Absolutely. And thanks for clarifying all that. I actually felt a bit guilty after I wrote this post because I knew I was writing about Japan’s politics in a very reductive manner, just to get my larger point across. As much as I said that there’s no right-wing conspiracy going on here, I don’t feel as if I emphasised enough how ambivalent the issue of Japan’s identity politics is among the Japanese. Sure, there are the crazy right-wing nuts, and Japanese society as a whole may lean towards conservative politics, but there’s so much debate and criticism going on at so many different levels of society, and that’s certainly reflected in the makeup of the LDP.

      In fact, nationalism itself is a very ambivalent notion, in Japan and elsewhere. Anime is not propaganda in the typical sense. The idealised Japan in anime is aimed more at domestic viewers than foreigners. And you definitely can’t unpack a consistent ideology from anime wrt to nationalism. So it’s very simplistic to argue that anime viewers could be passively endorsing right wing politics. That being said, those elements are still present, and anime isn’t made in a vacuum.

      So yeah, thanks again for shedding some light on the issue!

  18. Frog-kun:

    You’re digging into this too selectively. Coming from an eastern culture that hardly likes Japan, I could easily say the same thing for most of western media. My favorite thing to point fingers at is Lord of the Rings. Oh sure, I can enjoy it just as much as everyone else, but as the foundation of most modern high fantasy, it smacks so much of racism which is passed down to everything from books to RPGs to tabletop D&D:

    Westerners are inherently honorable and good. Easterlings (Turkic cultures) and Southrons (Arabs) are naturally evil. Maybe we should just call the whole Third Age War of the Ring a “Crusade”.

    We see the same trend in many aspects of media. Western FPS makes it seem okay to shoot anyone so long as they’re wearing a turban. Western movies writes it as only democracies could have good-intentions while all other forms of government are naturally evil or at least socially retarded. Western RPGs paint most non-human races as either kind (those usually whiter in skin) or violent (those greenskinned orcs and the black dark elves) in nature, etc etc.

    Nationalism? Japan’s media is nowhere as bad as America’s. World Police F@#$ Yeah! <_<

    Honestly, it exists in every culture. Having read a number of Korean mangas, I can also tell you there's a distinct lack of Chinese or Japanese people there, despite all the intermixing these days. Hollywood is used to dealing with a melting pot society (and they still repeated screw up). Given the Japanese audience whom the studios actually care about, it's hardly a surprise that they paint in certain colors only.

    • Ah, yes, I had some reservations as I was writing this post because I knew I was making an unnecessarily strong claim. Of course, by being critical of Japanese nationalism, that doesn’t mean I’m ignoring the nationalism of other countries. The reason I focus on the Japanese example here is because, well, this is an anime blog, not a blog about general politics.

      But yes, there are bigger fish to fry than Japan in the scheme of things. And consumers have very limited control over any of this. So the strong arguments I put forward in this post about consumers bearing partial responsibility definitely deserves some questioning. That’s something I’d like to address sometime down the track. Thanks for the insightful comment!

  19. Finding hidden messages in anime is my favourite pastime =)

    In my opinion, everyone shouldn’t be troubled too much by some hidden messages that contradict your world-view. If you found a message that distasteful to you, then just drop that anime. You do not need to lead a criticism crusade against that “misguided author”. Most anime makers aren’t having impact outside otaku community. And most of them doesn’t know much about the world outside of Japan (directly, not by what their government said), so it’s not their fault to blame. And do not stone other fans for liking a show because they didn’t know about “that disturbing hidden message” or they ignore it, it is not like that they agree with it anyway. I pretty much agree with what Froggy-kun said.

    The Wind Rise of Hayao Miyazaki is heavily criticized in Japan, because he is a big name that capable of influencing the mass, his film is watched by millions. They don’t care about what an otaku might say in his little anime.

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