Thursday, August 18, 2011

Geek Rant Topic 20: Anime Elitism

When All Else Fails begins, you know Mousa the 14 has an issue with something.

So some time ago in a comics sub forum, a fellow member was inquiring about what sort of American comics should he get his manga reading friend to look into. He said something that made me laugh outrageously loud and you'll see why in a second and if you agree with the statement you'll need to read this article more than you realize. Here's the actual quote....

And, regardless of actual content, she does argue that manga is better than American comics because they're "deep." This from the woman who said she gave up on American books after reading one Batman that she remembers nothing about.

What can I say? I like to think a lot of people are smart, and they probably are, which just makes me wonder how such ignorance could come about.

If I have to say it once, I have to say it a thousand times because some people are just too wrapped up in their own perceived superiority to understand:

Anime and Manga are not inherently superior to any other animated series or comic book. These things are exactly the same things. The exact same media just given different names based on their country of origin. In fact, we in the west shouldn't even be calling Anime and manga the names we've given them. Those are just the Japanese words for them. To them all animation is anime, including our cartoons. And to them, all comics are called manga.

Okay, instead of chastising the people with an elitism/uniqueness complex (even though they need to get their facts straight and get taken down a peg), I may as well come up with a reason why. I mean really, why is there a belief that Japanese comics and cartoons are better?

One possibility is the quality filter, a real life version of Sturgeon's law which states that 90% of everything is crap. When companies license something they tend to want to license things that are good or have a guaranteed audience so usually the anime and manga we see commonly on television or in our bookstores are, more likely than not, the good ones are at least the decent ones. This means in their country of origin there is a whole mess of schlock that we're not seeing. But there could be more to it than just that.

I can sort of understand the perspective of those that may think anime and manga are superior; exotic things can seem all unique and new and fresh. Mainly because they use a completely different set of tropes due to cultural differences, so when you see these tropes that are new to you they may seem all unique and deep. However, if you you watch and read enough or you pay attention you'll realize all that stuff from overseas is as cliche and overused as the stuff here.

Here's a better answer though: different standards. Americans and the Japanese have different standards. What they believe should be aimed towards kids we wouldn't even consider should be for children. The Japanese are not shy about characters being outright perverts, some sexuality, violence, death, stuff like that. In American cartoons, if the moral guardians got a whiff of any of that, the cartoon wouldn't even make the airwaves or get shunted to late nights with the rest of the Adult Swim shlock. And obviously since most anime are based off of manga this is true for manga. In America, once upon a time, superhero comics were the only comics allowed to exist thanks to the moral guardians of the time period believing comics of anything of a more graphic nature woudl be "corrupting the youth" like television before it and video games in the here and now. However with the onset of superheroes being allowed to grow up and other comics slowly and struggling to make it to the forefront, we've had many good, deep, humorous, complex, emotional, and enlightening graphic novels by amazing writers: Grant Morrison, Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman (Thus further proving my theory and bias that all the best writers are from the United Kingdom and Ireland), Geoff Johns, Jeff Smith, Chris Claremont, Brian Michael Bendis (My favorite by far, his work on New Avengers and Ultimate Spider-man are amazing.), Kurt Busiek, Mark Waid; Each a genius in their own right you should be reading up. Right. Now.

Now here's another quote from the aforementioned thread when we asked about the girl's tastes in manga:
So, just called her for more info on her tastes—she likes Dragon Ball, Dragon Ball Z, D.Gray-man, Code Geass (the anime, she hasn't read the manga), Ranma ½, and InuYasha (though she did confess it's a bit repetitive.)

Goodness, if this person was looking for "deep" or "complex" or even "meaningful" she picked the worst anime and manga for that argument except for maybe Code Geass (I haven't watched it but it's premise and all the discussion it spawns probably means it's worth something.). Most of that is shlock. Entertaining, funny, even decent, but most definitely shallow shlock. And don't get the wrong idea, I love Ranma 1/2 and Dragonball, but dear lord, at least I don't delude myself into thinking they're more than what they are.

In terms of anime and manga, there is so much shlock it's not even funny. I mean let's take a stab at just the stuff that's well known to people in the west like Dragonball/Dragonball Z, which is basically a fun romp across a magical mythological land with tons of toilet humor. A fighting manga that was almost making fun of itself. In fact, let's take a look at most of the anime and manga that become popular in the west like Bleach, Naruto, Voltron, Sailor Moon, Tokyo Mew Mew, and to a lesser extent, One Piece are all a bunch of Good Guys versus Bad Guys in escalating fights/ monster of the week that boils down to THE POWER OF FRIENDSHIP.

Beyblade and Pokemon? You need to be a nice good person that doesn't cheat to win and POWER OF FRIENDSHIP! Ranma 1/2? Mostly bad jokes and characters tied up in obligations they cannot commit to, it's a trashy comedy, a good trashy comedy, but a trashy comedy nonetheless. Digimon Adventure 01? An admittedly deep character study with amazing character development, characterizations, and interactions and while the plot was basic it still was a decent character piece. It's still basically about THE POWER OF FRIENDSHIP though.

I mean I'm not the only one who sees this, even major anime and manga fans know about this two. I mean GeekNights occasionally stumbles upon some crud anime. Anime World Order, a major anime podcast with a panel of self-proclaimed experts are all about differentiating the deep and complex from the mediocre from the shlock. The entire premise of the podcast, Dave and Joel's Fast Karate For the Gentlemen, is that they overview bad anime.

I can't believe that it's so hard for people to comprehend that there is no superiority or inferiority in media or country of origin. Anyone with a modicum of intellect can determine that you must observe everything on a case by case, individual basis. Declaring a whole sub-medium as inferior is maddening, horrifying even. It demonstrates a form of closed-mindedness that a trouble sub-culture like geeks do not need.

It's like saying videos on the internet are inherently inferior to videos on television. A lot of videos on the internet are actually amazing (Loading Ready Run) and far better than what's on TV (Jersey Shore) or in the movies (Battlefield Earth).

The moral of the story is quite simple, there is no such thing as a superior medium for entertainment, they all have their positives and negatives and different methods of conveying information. Furthermore, creating a further split by where this media comes from, east and west, is even sillier. One has to understand that 90% of everything is crap in every medium, you just gotta work at finding the 10% in them all.

-Good Bye, Good Luck, and Imagination is Your Greatest Power
Mousa The 14


  1. *slow clap*

    I hang out with a lot of anime fans, so I occasionally get this - though at least most of my friends are open minded, so I try to be too: I'm not a huge manga/anime fan, but the storytelling differences in the medias interest me, and I wish more people would see them for what they are - merely storytelling differences - and try to accept that people around the world have varying ways of telling stories.

    It's always irritating when someone tries to claim a difference from anime's conventions is a "flaw," when it's nothing but a different convention of a different style of story. And it's been getting on the rise as anime becomes more popular.

    But you must never lose faith, my friend. People prefer what they will, and sometimes they becomes so intent about it that they become derisive towards others, but always give them a chance.

  2. Nice post.

    As a big anime fan and I a minor Marvel comics fan, I fully agree with you. This kind of stupid elitism piss me off as well.

    Since I lime manga better then comics, I can list a few reasons for why I think Japanese comics are better then American ones as well as I can point a few glaring flaws at the standard mainstream American comic format over mainstream Japanese comics. But these are purely personal preference.

    I do think manga are 'overall' better then comics, but calling it 'inherently' better is just an statement of stupidity. There are some great American comic books and there are hundreds more of shitty Japanese manga.

    Anyway, I liked your post. Kinda ranty of course, but reased relevant posts. I guess I will backlogue a bit in this blog to see if there are more interesting stuff here.

  3. I can think of another reason for skewed perceptions: The import filter.

    In general, anything that gets translated and imported tends to have already been filtered through the general consciousness of the target audience. The stuff that's truly garbage - not the schlocky-but-enjoyable stuff, but the poorly-written, poorly-plotted, truly [i]bad[/i] stuff - has already been filtered out. Most of the time, anything that's coming over here is something that's already been successful in its place of origin.

    As such, when anime and manga fans (or at least those who don't read or speak that much Japanese) make such comparisons, they're really comparing the top 50% (if that) to the whole great mass of English-language works. They can see the garbage produced here, but not the garbage there, so they end up with a skewed outlook.

  4. Hi, I found this post via lurking on the TvTropes Comic Forums, and decided to put in my two-cents as a manga fan.
    I pretty much agree with you against the 'Anime=Deep' argument. And elitism of any kind leaves a bad taste in my mouth, and I know perfectly well that anime is inherently deep and better than American comics just because it's anime. Anime literally means 'Animations', the shows that falls in it's category is wide and diverse, from silly and funny to gritty and deep and everywhere in between. Just like an anime's quality can be lackluster to a masterpiece.
    That said, I can see where anime elitism can develop. From ages eleven to, say, nineteen, there is kind of a gap between what is considered children (like, I don't know, Kim Possible or Phinous and Ferb) animation and adult (Stuff like Family Guy or Simpsons) animation, in America at least. Sure, both can be good and funny, but if a prepubescent is looking for a story that can be both funny and with more complex characters and plot with out a M rating, they tend to be out of luck. That's why Japanese animations, which tend to mix bright and color elements with darker ones, can be so appealing to younger teens, who grow up less likely to look into American comics because of the stereotypes around them that makes some fans less then lenient to try American comics out.
    Thus, the elitism was born.
    'Course, this is just how I see it. No disagreeing with your article or anything, I agree with it's points (though it can feel a bit like a rant). I'm just putting in my experiences.
    Sorry if this got too long!