So this has been a post I’ve been trying to string together for a while. This topic is one I’ve thought long and hard about…so my apologies in advance if I skip steps or forget to explain something; I’ve been working at this for so long that I’ve probably assumed you know some things I just don’t bother to explain. The concept is about how close anime and video games actually are.
Reading this over, I realize how much passive voice I’ve used. Screw it though. It’s 1:30 AM and I’ve spent a couple different mornings working on this.
Anyways, the fundamental reason I’m writing this post is because I’ve noticed a very strong trend in Western media: video games and anime typically don’t get a lot of recognition as an art or explored medium. And it almost purely seems to be the two. I mean, the two seem to get a lot of flak for any nudity, violence, and more. They aren’t given respect as a medium. They sometimes deal with mature subjects, but aren’t treated as if they can competently grapple with such topics. Yet transpose such stories to literature or film…or even some live action TV settings and they can get lauded for dealing with a tough story or situation. I mean, Black Swan gets away with a literal scene of “Milas Kunis eats out Natalie Portman” and gets cheers for the whole movie being creepy. Don’t believe me? Ask TVtropes. Heck, at one point acclaimed film critic Robert Ebert decried that video games could never be an art. He later changed his tone, saying that it really isn’t possible for him to judge, but you get the idea of how industry really does feel about games in general.
I’m rambling again. Let’s redirect this topic: if we tried to add the same sex scene into a reasonably melodramatic game for, to keep the parallels similar, adding a level of “creepiness” to the game, I don’t think it’d fly very well. I don’t mean “add sex for the sake of sex” in anime or video games. I mean adding it for a good reason in story. I’m honestly scratching on the order of 1 game which has ever tried that (Red Dead Redemption) and really didn’t get decried for it. Well, maybe if you’re looking at smaller and less observed games, visual novel fans may point me to Katawa Shoujo, but let’s keep it at big title games as I’m not sure if moral guardians are trying to smoke out visual novels too much. Actually, that reminds me, I should go try that out at some point…oh, how my “must try” list keeps getting longer and longer as I get older. Unfortunately, I see similar tones come out about anime.
At this point, I will again highlight that this is strongly an indicator of Western media and should not be misconstrued how others may view anime. I can’t speak to that as strongly. However, Western readers…please take a second to think about how anime is viewed by the typical person you know. Think about what happens if you said you, again, tried to add the same for artistic reasons. Then tell your non-anime fan friend. Tell your neighbour. Tell critics. I don’t think you’ll get the same response.
Now, I think this may be a bit unclear, since there are legitimately some people who probably do think the Black Swan scene is over-the-top, so let’s try another example and just cut it down to the barest elements. Let’s tell someone you’re making and artistic [blank] with nudity in it. Tell a hundred random people you’re making an art house style novel. You’ll probably get a quick question, but people understand it. Heck, people jump to Game of Throne’s defence when they say it has too many breasts in it, saying it’s just being fair to the literature source material. Nobody complained about that. Actually, this works on two levels, since this reflects both our ability to accept mature themes in both live action shows as well as literature. Literature, especially, is recognized as a traditional art medium. Heck, after a little cleaning up, On the Road is considered a classic. If that doesn’t define pure art and its ability to utilize odd and somewhat controversial elements, what does?
At any rate, follow this up by asking some people about making artistic movies with nudity. Again, a few questions, but it’s perfectly accepted. I mean, I started off with an example of a fairly unusual sequence which people seem fine with. Heck, what I was talking about above utilized sex as a strong fundamental point in a movie.
For full effect, now try asking about making artistic video games using nudity. Again, ask completely random people. I’m sure many of you will get questions as “what exactly IS that?” or laughs if you tell them it means adding in tasteful nudity for effect. I mean, this is the same genre that has is infamous for the God of War 3 scene, am I wrong? And that is one of the most famous examples of sex in video games to come out of the recent era. Extra Credits did an excellent video on how immature nudity is handled and this story keeps getting reflected back when you think about video games and sex.
Finally, tell them you’re planning to add nudity into an anime project you’re working out. Once you explain what anime is, I suspect your response will be along the lines of “oh, you’re making hentai”. Cue your eyes rolling and wishing I had never sent you on this journey.
Just great, isn’t it? So, why all this disconnect? I mean, it’s not like artistic games and artistic anime don’t exist. If you’re like me and collect these sorts of shows and games over time, you start building a unique collection of creative and unique medium to enjoy. Heck, even anime or video games recognized as artistically valid rarely change these opinions. Spirited Away won an Academy Award in 2001 for best animated film and it’s STILL not recognized widely as an artistic medium. So what’s up?
It’s all about acceptance and appearance in my opinion.
What do you think of when you think book? I personally imagine a well established organization, one who has shown to be a mature, understanding genre. Same with movies. There was a time in which they were worried about violence, but that’s slowly died down in favour of video game bashing. When these mediums get their hands on controversial matter, people don’t start attacking them and saying that they are overstepping their limits. It might not always happen that they deal with it properly, but people are willing to give them a leash. As an artistic medium, as the Extra Credits video above discussed (should you have watched it), it has earned that right of passage by showing that it can competently deal with it on a reasonably consistent basis.
And this is where I feel video games and anime have been lumped together by Western society at large: both anime and video games are not given proper respect in Western society with regards as artistic mediums in part because they don’t do enough to defy common conventions.
I keep referring to the Extra Credits video, but I feel there are huge comparisons you can make between anime in the West and video games in this respect. When the mediums started out, they were a blank slate. For years, they have both dealt with them at only the barest of levels: fan service. I mean, anime was well-known by the ’90s as being the medium of drawing pretty, perfect girls…long before it became nearly standard practice. And, hell, this was the decade where Lina freakin’ Inverse could be at the butt of breast size jokes (which, when artists realized this, has led to a really funny trend in recent years in her art).
At any rate, let’s continue. Anime and video games developed a pattern really quick of handling sexuality in really immature ways. The common exports of the ’70s to ’90s were often shows aimed for younger audiences (ranging from Pokemon to Voltron) with the extremely rare exceptions outside of that. Unfortunately, the adult medium permeated as well. This led to quite the market of adult materials playing alongside it. What this leads to in both mediums is the concept, whether right or wrong, that they simply aren’t a full-fledged artistic medium because of the fact that there isn’t proper handling of mature subjects yet. And, as such, they aren’t really treated well with the aspects of their medium which actually do a good job dealing with it. When you hear the words “sex” and “video game”, we don’t think of well handled topics. You think of hypersexualization and treatment of characters more as sex symbols than all else. Similarly, when I think “sex” and “anime”, my mind typically wanders in all the wrong directions in its handling, from the pointless (even when compared to the manga) use in High School of the Dead to the ever-present representation of moe character design to flat-out hentai. I don’t go to scenes like the one used in Gundam SEED where, the longer and harder you think about it, the more you realize it’s really creepy what’s going on and how it really shows how mentally shattered the characters in the scene are.
But this is the killer, and the part I want everybody to take away. It’s the biggest reason why I don’t think the mediums are respected artistically: the mediums of video games and anime do not do enough to defy conventional thought about the medium. Of course, this comes with the assumption that people are rational beings.
Oh look, I jump a couple of steps there, didn’t I? Well, here’s exactly what I mean: if people are rational, then they will change their stance if evidence proves them wrong on a basis frequent enough to challenge their current beliefs. In this case, if video games or anime continually deal with mature subjects in a mature and meaningful way, then the public will change its mind to fit the new reality around it. As the Extra Credits video easily identifies, the fact that this doesn’t happen confirm the current beliefs and further leaves the medium in a whole it seems unable to scale out of.
While I’ve spent a lot of time talking about sex, this applies to many other subjects as well. Race and culture for example. While it’s a video game example, I’ve always thought the character of Elisa from Tokimeki Memorial 4 is a brilliant example of the subject. Elisa is a character pretty much purely written as a critique of Japan’s extremely xenophobic tendencies: even if you are a Japanese citizen, you’re not going to be treated as one unless you look the part. As a brief summary so you get the point: Elisa is a Japanese citizen who isn’t treated as such purely because she doesn’t fit the fairly homogeneous look of Japan.
And this is why I so strongly identify with Miyazaki’s comments (talked about previously): I really do think anime can be a legitimate and defined medium alongside film and literature. The same goes with games. They are mediums which can offer extremely quality and unique insights into the reality we inhabit. Games can provide a unique interactive medium, something that can strengthen certain messages. A common example is to heighten the powerlessness the protagonist may have. But that’s more of an aside…the highlight is that these genres have something that can they can provide to the culture at large much better than they do today.
However, the culture which people see must change with it. The public in general needs to see and understand that anime/games are more than what they think they are. Again, when you challenge perception, the perception needs to be changed to accommodate the new information. But the problem is, and this hold greatly for anime, that the fans are becoming more and more exclusive and the companies are acting to direct to favour that. As I expressed in my last post, the direction of industry seems to be more of one to favour fans who are comfortable with the culture already, creating a dedicated but niche group of fans. In fact, this is perpetuating the already existent stereotype of anime fans. As such, there is very little challenging of the original belief.
Now, I’m not saying we should take every fan service laden show out back and shoot it. Far from the truth. I might not like the shows (as I have a fairly low tolerance of fan service before I roll my eyes), but that’s quite the wrong way to go about it. The bigger step is to have aspects which challenge it, much the way Gundam SEED did in its day by showing a character having sex (for a mature intent from artistic points of view).
From hereon out, I’m going to lead more into a “how we can go about this” discussion. It’s not terribly important to this connection that I’m trying to draw, but I feel it’s relevant enough that I want it down. I’ll also limit my discussion to anime.
Now, this kind of leads me into the second part of what I really need to say and where I begin to diverge from Extra Credits’ well done video: I don’t think it’s up to the companies to change. Companies, in my mind, are nothing more than machines designed to generate money. Separate the customer from their money as cleanly and efficiently as possible. Anime companies are just another group of individuals looking to do this separation by looking at how much we enjoy animated cells moving around.
To this end, I would suggest that to change anime, there needs to be a grassroots movement to want this sort of medium. The simple concepts in supply and demand suggest that if people showcase a high demand, the production (assuming all else is fair) will try to fill the demand.
So, this turns into the following conclusion:
In order for anime to be respected as a legitimate artistic medium, fans need to treat it as one by showing this desire with their wallets. This will lead companies to shift production in that direction, challenging common stereotypes of anime.
Of course, it’s also important to note that first part:
In order to make change and get anime respected as a medium, we need to put our wallets on the line.
And I guess that is my challenge to you: if you want to see anime respected, put money anime which represents the direction you want to go.