The Weeaboos Were Right: How Japanese Anime is Superior to Western TV
by Max Vader
No, this title is not disingenuous clickbait meant to get as many views as possible – this is A3K, not Kotaku. I can understand how one would get that impression, though. After all, we on The Other Side have spent quite a lot of episodes lambasting Japan for it’s self-evident faults and making fun of the pocky-chomping morons who worship it simply because it produces their favorite nekomimi kawaii animes. However, I think it is important that we occasionally remind ourselves that japanese society does have a few virtues. Nothing is ever black and white, least of all an entire country. While Japan as a whole is quite repressive, it does have a few freedoms that do not exist – or at least not to the same extent – in western society. For simplicity’s sake I’m going to use the good ol’ US of A in this comparison, but basically everything I say about the west can be applied to Europe as well.
Two steps forward, one step back – The West
It certainly seems odd that I would say Anime has something over all of western TV in this day and age. After all, in many ways the shows we have available are better than ever. You can point to garbage like Jersey Shore or whatever else all day long, but the fact remains that quality shows have gone from “good” to “holy shit that’s awesome”. Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones, Mad Men, Dexter (at least initially), House MD, Burn Notice (except for that fucking ending) and many others have shown that when it comes to nothing but pure quality as a criteria for shows, things like Cowboy Bebop have long ceased being the only game in town. It’s also unusual to lambast lack of artistic freedom when western shows get away with more things than ever before on average. Well, this is where we get to the main subject of this article and the thing where all the aforementioned shows despite their otherwise almost impeccable quality have catastrophically failed: Female characters.
As if all the best western shows had somehow been hit with a voodoo curse, their writers all seem completely incapable of writing women. If you examine these shows on their own, it is completely mystifying. Once you take a step back though and examine the creators and the milieu in which they work, everything falls into place. Vice Gilligan, creator, head writer and a ton of other things for Breaking Bad publically stated that the intense dislike for Skyler White, wife of the meth-cooking main character is due to nothing but sexism and that people only hate her because “she ruins Walter’s fun”. Why people liked Walter’s brother-in-law Hank Schrader so much then, even though he was by far the biggest obstacle for him in the entire series, is something he conveniently forgot to explain. Joss Whedon, the man who got turned into the Nerd-Pope by TV Tropes after making some show named after an insect, praised the internet’s favorite scam artist Anita Sarkeesian to high heavens and posted her videos on his twitter. House MD had an entire episode centered around teeth-grindingly bad hypocrisy and double standards so massive, they’re probably filing a complaint with the ACLU right now for being fatshamed. It centered around Dr. Chase (or, as several female characters call him, “whore”) being on the receiving end of a shitton of federal crimes by a woman he rejected once for not wanting to have sex with him soon enough and being roundly mocked for it by everyone. The culprit reveals she was “pranking” him and just giving him some “negative reinforcement” (apparently the writers are too dumb to use google because that’s not what that means). He is totally okay with it and even asks her out like every other character suggested without even a hint of irony. She rejects him while still having her shit-eating grin. Either way, everything was his fault and things like identity theft, doctoring people into nude photos and trying to ruin their reputation with them as well as stealing 2500$ for wedding gifts from their credit card are just harmless jokes that he totally deserved. (The episode is called “Carrot or Stick”, by the way. Just in case you wake up one day and think you might not be pissed off enough.)
“People feel removed from Fascism. But there’s no fuzzy middle ground. You either believe our nation should be secure or you don’t. It’s that simple.”
Throw in tons of other, similar things occurring in these shows and the fog is beginning to lift. It’s not a secret that Hollywood and the media in general aren’t exactly bastions of right-wing christian fundamentalist gay bashers. No, they are very, VERY liberal. And what is one of the favorite causes of radical left-wingers? Feminism.
Yes, Feminism. Call it modern, radical, third-wave, fourth-wave or whatever, but it is the cause for this. Nowadays, the media are practically tripping over themselves to either praise the newest “empowering” and “progressive” work by some fucking hack (see for instance Buffy and The Hunger Games) or to blast some poor shmuck back into the stone age due to some sort of percieved sexist anything at all. Since a lot of writers, directors and so on are mired in this kind of hyper-progressive environment, they subscribe to a lot of modern feminist ideas. The problem is that the ideas they accept are as factually wrong, hypocritical and laced in double-think and hatred as the mad cult they spawned from. The end result is that even otherwise skilled writers become completely incapable of writing women because they can’t separate them from their delusional ideology. Since they see women and the world they inhabit though a warped lens, everything they write will similarly be tainted by it. Nowadays you can’t chuck a metaphorical stone though the internet without it hitting yet another insipid list of tropes about women in refrigerators or similar nonsense. Consequently, we’ve gone from writing women in stereotypical ways to only being able to write women in ways that are ideologically approved, no matter how much the final product will suffer for it. This is where Japan comes in.
The Turtle rules, the Rabbit drools – Japan
I don’t think it can be denied that Japan has a problem with women. However, since Japan has never really experienced feminism – or at least not in the way the West has – it has consequently never had to deal with third-wave feminism either. The anime industry couldn’t give two shits if something they produce is sexist or not as long as it sells. If an American had made Kill La Kill, he’d have been burned in effigy for it (or maybe not in effigy if he’s bad at hiding…). For all its negative consequences, Japan’s disregard for women compared to the West means that they can (and will) write female characters however they like. The results of this can be garbage as well as every single harem show ever demonstrates, but it also allows the true masters of their craft to make female characters with actual depth, flaws and humanity – something that imbeciles like Whedon never could.
“Who made her outfit, a teenage rapist?! And she acts like she’s a man with breasts! Also Male Gaze, Ms. Fanservice, Never A Self-Made Woman, TROPES TROPES TROPES”
JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure has a lot of great female characters, but the Stone Ocean story arc is especially noteworthy for its three main characters who all happen to be women (and most of the story taking place in a women’s prison). Amusingly enough the main antagonist is a black priest with homosexual tendencies. Part 2 had Lisa Lisa, the teacher of Joseph and Caesar who could go toe-to-toe with the villains and effortlessly dispatched entire mobs of vampires. Fullmetal Alchemist had Izumi and Olivia who, even though they were pretty dickish occasionally, were never hypocrites about it and the world didn’t bend over backwards to constantly prove them right. Plus they were two of the strongest characters in the series. Of course there is also Cowboy Bebop which hardly needs any elaboration on how great its characters were, female or otherwise. WataMote’s main character is incredibly pathetic on several levels and thus would have never existed in a western TV show. A male Tomoko could exist without problems though, and I’ll get into why that is later.
Finally, let’s get to one of the greatest examples for an anime that has female characters who easily blow everything in the aforementioned western shows out of the water: Black Lagoon. This is doubly funny because the show (and manga) quite clearly has a ton of western influences. And yet, a lot of the characters have aspects and things about them that even the most celebrated TV Tropes icon over here couldn’t get away with. Revy’s backstory, for example. Or that one soldier who got taken out by Roberta in a scene that is just begging for an accusation of “rape culture” or some nonsense like that. As for Balalaika, take your pick. Either she’s just a guy with tits, or she is being oppressed because she’s a woman in the russian mafia or her scars are sexist or what have you. And let’s not even get into Hansel and Gretel who are obviously transphobic and god knows what else. Oh well. Maybe if Revy had a bob cut that doubled as a technicolor dreamcoat, was completely incapable of doing anything and also wore some hipster outfit while making indie games, she’d be an ACTUALLY empowered character. We can dream…
“It’s You Guys’ Fault I’m Not Popular!” – Conclusion
The main character of WataMote is completely and utterly pathetic. In addition to that, it seems fate has decided to make her it’s punching bag, which is why she often ends up in situations (both due to her own fault and not) that highlight even further how much of a failure she is. Because of these two reasons, you will never see a major or even main female character like that in any Joss Whedon production. The reason for this had actually been summed up fairly eloquently in a YouTube comment, of all things. The reason you don’t see women in these roles is because nobody cares about men. Not even men themselves. As an aside, a study found out that men wil put women first and women will put women first, so this is literally true. See, there are no well-funded organisations, pressure groups or tumblr lynchmobs who will raise a stink if (white) men are portrayed a certain way. This is one of the reasons so many main characters in different media are men: You can write them however you want without causing a shitstorm of sexism or god knows what else accusations.
Pictured: Pure oppression.
Men can be brutalized, killed, humiliated, be the butt of jokes and everything else under the sun without anyone raising an eyebrow. One of Disney’s most popular characters is Donald Duck, both because of his personality and because he is so much of an underdog. A lot of his stories involve him failing at things because of his personal flaws or have him experience painful or humiliating things, be exploited by Scrooge for incredibly cheap work and many other things. Now imagine for a moment that Donald and Daisy switched roles. Suddenly, such a character would be completely unacceptable to our modern sensibilities. His misfortune would not be seen as funny but instead as offensive and characters like Scrooge would be seen as downright monsters for treating him so poorly. If you really want to know what stories involving a female – or should I say “feminist” – Donald would be like though, there is already a character that exemplifies it: Mickey Mouse. When written poorly, Mickey is the Superman of the Disney universe: Flawless, always right, hypercompetent. Maybe he’ll be given some sort of small flaw to pretend he has depth, but that’s really it. And that is the exact same way Whedon and everyone else like him write women. They feel like they have to make up for sexism in bygone ages by turning female characters into caricatures with no real flaws (which makes them quite similar to Bella Swann, amusingly enough). All that accomplishes however is making your story worse in order to pander to an ideology. Just look at any oppressive regime and look how much quality literature, film and so on are produced there and get the approval of the government if you want to see the end result of this mindset. This is why I feel that we actually have some lessons to learn from Japan. Restricting artistic freedom in any way has never been a path to better art.
“Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.”