The Book Wars are about halfway done with their month-long focus on graphic novels and picture books. Interestingly, the focus has been way more on picture books and non-traditional graphic novels than graphic novels by the big Comic Publishers and manga. And in a way, I’m glad. I really don’t think I can get behind encouraging YA readers to get into the whole manga thing. I felt kind of inspired to go on this rant for awhile, but the post on CLAMP dug up some old memories for me of one of the first few anime I saw (click the link and support TBW to find out what it was!). I got to rib my then-girlfriend about why that girl was naked and crucified and being torn apart by razor wire while she swore up and down that the comic was better. Good times!
Once upon a time, and up until fairly recently, I used to be a big fan of a lot of manga and anime, but I really just can’t enjoy it anymore because “oh, god, are there any mainstream series that don’t sexualize children?” While I’m sure there are some titles out there that are just peachy-keen, making children into sex objects is so endemic within the medium that it really seems hardly worthwhile to bother looking. Sure, there are still some good titles that absolutely do not do this, With the Light being one of the best examples I can think of off the top of my head, but the presentation of women and children as nothing more than objects of sexual gratification is a huge problem in the medium.
In some ways, it might be something of a cyclical problem, largely because until Dragonball Z and Gundam Wing started showing on Cartoon Network presented as kids shows Anime was primarily marketed in america based on its sexual content. Who can forget all of those commercials for $50 VHS mail orders warning “These are Not for kids!”, promising lots of lurid violence and celluloid sex? There are a few ‘big name’ titles from this era that many people would list as their introduction to anime (I’m not going to list them, but let’s just say they were the ones that weren’t Akira).* One of the selling points of anime/manga in the US has always been the promise of graphic content which the US comic market had never delivered (and in many ways, the US comic market may be trying to catch up).
Anyway, the drawn graphic medium is ideal for the objectification of women. These drawn women are literally objects who were created for the viewing pleasure of (by and large male) audience. And because these aren’t real women with thoughts, feelings, dreams, goals, personality, etc., one can get away with doing anything one wants to them, right? A LOT of horrible things happen to women and girls in manga, and it’s generally played for laughs. How often is molestation and sexual abuse a gag-line in manga? Way too often. And how often are underage girls in mainstream titles treated as objects of sexual gratification for male characters and male readers? Way more often than is okay! Oh, but it’s fine, because they’re not real, right? That’s something of an echo of the ‘women are not people’ quips one still hears today. It becomes easier to objectify women in the real world when people become accustomed to objectifying them in graphic art. So that’s why I’m done with manga. I’ll grin and bear it for Batman (to a point) and probably bitch about it later, but for now I’m done with what manga has to offer.
Here are just a few examples from popular titles:
Bleach – The diversity of the female cast in Bleach is less about portraying a wide array of different characters and more about the ‘offering something for everyone’ approach that anime/mangas with large ensemble casts use to give more ‘types’ for male fans to latch onto. While the soul reapers are all of various implausible immortal ages, Orihime is supposed to be 15 or something.
Gundam – In the older shows, not a lot of sex happens, but there is a fair amount of out of place nudity of the “Oh, how embarrassing, the main character saw me naked! *v*” variety. In the first two series, nothing would’ve been lost with these scenes’ omissions. We may not have got the Isle of Kukurus Doan on the ‘uncut’ dvds, but we did get to see all three of female crew members topless.
Love Hina – Compared with some of the stuff that’s on manga shelves these days, Love Hina seems incredibly innocuous and tame. Still, being a manga by Ken Akamatsu, there’s going to be lots of panty-shots and undetailed nudity. While the characters ‘grow up’ and are mostly in their early 20s by the end of the series, many of the girls are highschoolers at the start of the series.
Negima – Despite the high fantasy tropes, Negima is unabashed and unashamedly pornography. It should be noted that almost all of the female characters are middle-schoolers.
Neon Genesis Evangelion – Lots of nudity going on here, largely from characters who are supposed to be 14ish. Of course much of the show is about psychoanalysing the sexuality of pubescent teenagers and can almost be seen as a literalist interpretation of Deleuze & Guattari’s Anti-Oedipus on top of the Kabbalistic occidentalism. But at some point, you need to take a step back and realize you’re watching a show about kids awkwardly (and sometimes graphically) coming to terms with their sexual desires and gratifications.
One Piece – I’m not as familiar with this one, only having seen an episode or two, but it takes a ton of space on the shelves at Barnes & Noble, and the thing I notice most about it are that the girls are pretty much sticks with giant boobs.
School Rumble – This is a pretty fun show/manga, and there’s really not a lot wrong with it, especially compared with other romantic comedies, but the characters are highschoolers. At some point, one needs to break away from one’s desire to relive highschool. Especially when it comes to romance. It doesn’t grow up with the reader, which can be a problem with long running series that stay focused on the crushes and obsessions of teenagers.
And yes, some of the titles I mention above I used to really like but I finally just had to say ‘damn!’, put on the breaks, and take note of just how fucked up so many of these things are, especially when taken into account of our already highly pornified culture. And after taking note, I can say “I am done with manga and anime”.
*: I don’t know if it’s true or not, but there’s an urban legend that producers originally pressured to add pornographic scenes to Project A-ko because they were afraid that it wouldn’t do well in the US without them. Supposedly, this is also the reason for the rape scene in Mezzo Forte.