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My Thoughts on Anime/Manga and Japanese Culture



So... Anime and/or Manga. There are so many people who are are absolutely obsessed with them, and after finding myself on yet another YouTube channel dedicated to reviewing and discussing it it made me want to talk about some of my feelings too the mediums.


Or are they genres? Honestly I kind of think they are something that is somewhere in between, perhaps "supergenre" or "metagenre" would be more appropriate. And honestly as much as the animation of Anime and sequential art of Manga are two different mediums, they do sort of share a common visual language and common tropes more then most any other. This is not even including visual novels and light novels and how they influence things, or the collection of video games that use a lot of the same elements.


Perhaps it would be better to define the whole thing more in terms of an art movement or a culture then any thing else. Perhaps not. Regardless of how you define it, I think of it as a set of art within a distinct aesthetic spectrum. It's a common mistake to think of it as more or less a single thing or a single genre. It isn't. All sort sorts of different types of stories and different types of art styles fit into the same general category. Cowboy Bebop is a much different kind of thing then Doraemon.


As much as I hate thinking in terms of national or racial divisions of culture, the most common and easiest to understand way of defining this sort of nebulous thing is simply to use the would "Japanese", but there are still a few edge cases that may or may not be included simply based on a whim. Should Avatar: The Last Airbender be included? Should Crayon Shin-chan not be included? It's really up to how people define it.


But all of this I think is kind of commonly understood at this point I think, because people have argued back and forth about what is or is not included in this category and why for decades. It should be noted that in Japan, "anime" and "manga" basically mean "animation" and "comics" in general. I think it's interesting that, in the USA at least, we think of "anime" and "manga" as distinct things independent of "animation" and "comics" even if they really sort of aren't.


And yet at the same time, they sort of are. Here is the thing... though I have mixed feelings about a lot of the stuff that can get lumped in the same nebulous category, I have to admit the style and imagination of most of it far outshines a vast majority of the stuff I see from what can be thought of as "The West". Most of this is just my personal sense of aesthetics. I hate how a lot of "western" style art looks. I hate "western" comic book style. I hate the over exaggeration of lips, I hate the smaller less expressive eyes, I hate the square jaws, I hate the proportions, ect, ect. And "western" cartoons seem to have evolved to vastly exaggerated and weird nonsensical lumps of shapes that look more like abstract art then anything recognizable. The common Japanese "Manga" style though? I like the simpler, more expressive art compared to comic books while being much less abstract and inhuman then "cartoon" style. Also Moe is cute. There I said it.


But... Even if I like the art style most of Anime/Manga style works and like a lot of the basic character archetypes and story elements, well... I don't want to be racist or anything, but there is so much about the Japanese cultural sensibilities that sneak into these works that frankly bug the hell out of me. And yeah, examining Japanese culture form the lens of Anime and Manga is often kind of like examining American culture form the lens of Hollywood. Which the Japanese totally do by the way, but that's besides the point.


Thing is, it's actually in my mind a totally fair thing to do, as long as it is done with the understanding that: 1. The perceived flaws in the popular culture of a race or nation does not imply that all or even most of the people of that race or nation share those flaws, 2. An outsider who has not grown up in that culture is more then likely not going to have all the contextual background needed to understand it, and 3. Culture is a nebulous thing that people may or may not prescribe too, and not all examples of trends in works equate to deeper cultural trends.


So, if people do happen to look at American popular culture and see a unfortunate implications pointing to Americans being bunch of gun happy, imperialist, xenophobic, racist, and sexist assholes who care about nothing but militarily, economically, or culturally dominating all other peoples, then, well, yes. Yes their are a lot of unfortunate implications to that effect. Believe me, there are a lot of us who are very very much aware of how screwed up our culture is.


Japanese popular culture though? Well... they have a different problem. And no, I am not talking about otaku culture or hikikomoris or NEETs. Those are just symptoms. I am talking about something much more fundamental to the "Japanese mindset". I am talking about shame culture and social pressure. Maybe it's just me who was raised in something closer to a guilt culture (and has formally rejected both, and every other, form of social control), but I find that sort of social manipulation of the individual absolutely appalling. Yet if you look at anime, it happens all the time, and is treated as a good thing.


What do you think all those "friendship speeches" are really about? In a nation where so much pressure is put on individuals to succeed in school and conform to a traditional lifestyle, it just really gets under my skin. And maybe that's not fair of me to say. But then again, if my interpretation of a particular anime is correct, at least someone agrees with me. This isn't of course the only problem. I can see a lot of undercurrents of sexism and xenophobia in anime as well, a lot of trivialization of social problems, a lot of collectively looking the other way whenever having to deal with things. The degree of how much this stems form shame culture, I am not sure. And it's not like it is any worse then any other problem that people have. I don't know.


Anyway, I am not going to judge a whole people for a few niggling moral concerns about the entertainment they produce. Just... a lot of anime really bugs me. I guess it's the same way Hollywood often bugs me. It's corporate produced and mindless a lot of the time and it often pushes a status quo which, if you really think about it, isn't exactly most people's ideal society. Oh well.


Bah... why do I get the feeling I am going to half to defend myself later? Oh well... That's just my gut reaction.


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I agree with basically everything here xp I'm not totally educated, but I have looked into Japan society quite a bit out of interest:


From what I understand, they're really kind of another version of the USA over there? There's a few different points, there's a kind of 'aesthetic' that doesn't really exist over here, but their entire culture is based on conformity. There's SO MANY rules to everything you do out in public and in your own home. Some people that move there say they grow to appreciate the rules and that it brings a sense of stability etc., and others find it stifling. I think Paranoia Agent, that you brought up, is one of the closest examples I've seen of what the society over there is actually like- Which paralleled America in a lot of ways.


So yeah, getting back to anime, I got into it myself knowing that there's going to be just as much corporate produced, shilled out shows there as there are in Western cartoons. Most anime isn't all that great, if you ask me, but I think the same thing applies to just about every mass-produced medium, and should be approached with a few grains of salt. Like anything else ya? ANYONE can make an anime, after all.


Oh, and I personally just go with calling 'anime' whatever animation that was originally produced in Japan. Things like Avatar: The Last Airbender I call 'anime-inspired cartoons.' Seems to save confusion a bit ^^;


I do also think it's funny that Japan is simultaneously the happiest country in the world, and also has the highest suicide rate. Just from observing, I think there's a lot of escapism in the culture, especially in the form of anime. There's a lot of encouragement and niceities, but that's because in Japan you're going to be working yourself to the bone your whole life, or risk being totally excluded. Shame society, yeah o.o;


That being said I do LIKE the culture, even if it's still xenophobic and sexist (tell me about one that isn't D;) and I love learning kanji, the language is really wonderful and conveys a lot more than Latin based languages can, I'd love to be fluent and ditch English, but still not sure if I want to jump on the bandwagon and move there... Only if I can live on Tashirojima, I'm thinkin -wink wink-

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Well, I donno about it being another America... they sound much different to me. Also I kinda like english as a language. It can be very pretty and convey a ton too... really I think of language the same way I think of programing languages. They can all pretty much do the same thing if they are complete enough, but they might have diffrent structures that are better or worse for particular things.

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Beeehhhh I mean in certain structural ways, education, parts of the government even though the box says Constitutional Monarchy, the nationalism, the consumerism, but when it gets down to the gritty it's night and day... Y'know that was a super general/broad/vague statement, it's not important <_>


I like how you put that though ;| In that sense I'd consider Japanese to be incredibly more efficient in conveying more with less, but I'm biased and I just plain don't like English and prefer everything else to it xp But, pretty.. Yeah, can't argue that one~ (Completely off the mark, but Italian has my vote for prettiest language overall, actually x3)

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From what I hear, Japanese has a tendency to imply or drop a lot of words. Can do English too. Just make sound caveman. :P This isn't to imply Japanese is more primitive then English, just that, from what I hear, it's language constructs and style allows that kind of thing more.


English on the other hand is very verbose and tends to have a lot of redundant large words and constructs layered on top of each other, no doubt because of it's origins as a bastardized fusion of anglo-saxon and norman french and how it even to this day tends to roll up words and language features like some weird language katamari.


And that is why I thoroughly enjoy it. English maybe much harder to make poetic, but when it is it's all the more wonderful for it. Not just musty hundreds of years old plays and works of dead poets either. No, even modern English can be wonderful. One of my favorite examples is actually Homestuck. People don't tend to notice or care about how wonderfully it uses the English language. Like this page for example. Or basically ever time Dave Strider is part of a conversation.

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I´ve only flown through Japan, never actually walked in it. But I was stationed in Korea for 2 years, which is now like Japan minus the manga and perverted stuff, and after hearing from Koreans, Chinese, and my Vietnamese Staff Sergeant, Japan is as wierd as they look. Other Asians make fun of them on it. Might be another reason why their conservatives are the way they are besides the culture.


As for the word Anime, it´s semantics. While anime is technically animation, that is not true in communication. When people say anime, they´re almost always talking about japanese animation.

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