kaigou: (1 Izumi)
[personal profile] kaigou
One of the oddest by-products of watching anime and/or reading manga comes from the issue of whether animanga-style illustrations show white/anglo faces or asian/japanese faces. Ever since the neighbor asked the almost textbook question, I've been thinking about my own first exposure(s) to anime.

First there was Spirited Away, which I never even thought in terms of race (as in, "are these characters ___") because the story itself was so incredibly, unquestionably Japanese, swamped in folklore in nearly every frame. I couldn't watch it and not say, "this is a Japanese story."

Having watched that, I went back to the classmate who'd recommended, and asked, "what else?" And he sent me onto FLCL and Rurouni Kenshin. The former, again, I never even thought of raising the question of "who are these characters (in racial or cultural context)" because I was too bloody busy going, what the hell is going on, here? The latter I watched, somewhat ambivalently, while it was broadcast on Cartoon Network, but even with the English-language soundtrack -- and the random odd haircolor or facial feature or clothing -- the story remained unquestionably Japanese: the backdrops, the clothing, the cultural references, and so on.

But the next major-length anime I watched from start-to-finish was Gundam Wing, and that's about as far from the previous as you can get, especially when you raise the issue of racial identities. The characters are canonically given (or fanonically, where canon goes silent) a variety of cultural/national connections, so visual-style I'd learned to associate with "this means Japanese" was being re-associated with "this one is American, and I simply have to accept that even if otherwise he generally looks the same as the one being identified as Arabic, or even the one identified as Japanese." In fact, what leapt out the most at me was that the only character in that series who gets major racial identifiers that I could reasonably peg was the Chinese character (and no, I'd say I didn't miss the racial/cultural implications of that detail).

Watching the various animes -- because later, there was Saiyuki* and Cowboy Bebop and then Escaflowne and then Serial Experiments Lain -- and the latter two on DVD and thus finally with subtitles -- I couldn't not associate the stories as Japanese, couldn't un-see them to see them as non-Japanese. If I ever slipped for a second, there was the dialogue to remind me that I was watching another culture's story. If I saw anything that for a second made me think, "hey, that's like me," the dialogue would remind me: this is not a character "like me," except insofar as this might be how someone else, in that other culture, might see someone "like me".

* I watched Saiyuki in English because I didn't like Son Goku's Japanese seiyuu (and still don't; he sounds like he's whining his way through a perpetual headcold), but again, like Kenshin, it's so rife with Eastern references and symbolism and of course the base story anyway that there's no way to forget that the story is not American-created and -produced. The visuals take the place of the language, as a constant reminder.

Makes for a strange anthropological-observer kind of mindframe, but at the same time, I think the reliance on dubs has a by-product of letting the viewer forget (especially in stories where it's not otherwise a major factor, like Cowboy Bebop and its SF kin) that the story was written and produced in Japan. The language factor, then, removes the last prop of that cultural/racial reminder. Maybe that's how people feel safe assuming the characters must also be white/anglo, because the language seamlessly mixes with visuals that are either non-culture-specific, or so broadly global enough that it's no longer culture-specific, like the crew of Cowboy Bebop eating ramen, just like any of a bazillion low-income college students in the US.

Unless you're watching a period drama (like, say, Rurouni Kenshin) or any storyline infested and infused with Japanese cultural references (like, say, Inuyasha or the more recent Nurarihyon no Mago), you can easily turn off the part of your brain that recalls this story was Japanese-origin. You can see it as just one more cartoon, if an unusual visual style. And even "unusual visual style" isn't all that much to process, seeing how The Simpsons were an unusual visual style when first introduced, at least to those viewers who'd never read Life is Hell.

Side-tangent: I don't get why some people react like processing Japanese-animation visual-style is such an incredibly tortuous and difficult procedure, omg, the pain, the suffering! It's not like the entirety of American animation is identical; we can watch The Simpsons and Watership Down and The Little Mermaid and never once suffer cognitive dissonance at the notion that all of these qualify for the moniker of "American". For that matter, we can watch The Hobbit (1977), Wizards, or Samurai Jack and have all three exist in our brains under the heading of "American-produced/created animation" without having the tops of our heads explode. So why in hell do Americans insist on acting as though Japanese visual-style animation is this incredibly bizarre and outrageous thing? (Well, I've got a pretty good idea of why, but since this is a side-tangent, I'll leave it as a partially-rhetorical question.)


Recently I was bored enough that I found myself re-reading The Bourne Identity, a book I do love for its twists and turns, and I followed it up with re-reading The Bourne Supremacy, while idly wondering why I don't have the third in the series. Hmmm. So I read... and by about a third of the way into the second book, I'm starting to remember why I stopped here. What I hadn't noticed before, but did this time, felt like the same kind of 'noticing' that I'd never done with American television but did start doing with Japanese animation. That is, for most of my life I've watched American (and less often, British) television, and never really gave any thought to who was on the screen: the visuals, that is, and more specifically, the racial or cultural visuals.

I noticed when a cast was predominantly non-white, or non-American, but to be honest, that's because a lot of times those shows were being loudly touted as being chromatic and/or ethnic (like Margaret Cho's sitcom). It wasn't until BtVS, uhm, season seven (erm, I think?) that someone hit me over the head with a very simple statement: that the introduction of Kendra (a vaguely Caribbean-ethnicity character) was the series' first major PoC character. I felt like I'd been taken out at the kneecaps, not by the realization so much as by the sense that I should be taking myself out at the kneecaps for having not noticed. What the hell was I doing with my eyeballs, just accepting what I saw? Why hadn't I ever stopped to ask, why are all these characters white?

Roughly concurrent with the end of BtVS, I was watching GW and going through the maneuver of what amounts to "watching another culture watch my culture and rely it back to their culture and thus back to me". I started noticing the few black characters (or more precisely, the near-absolute dearth of black characters); paying attention not just to the skin-tone of characters, but how they act or others react to them. By Escaflowne, where the good guys do have a black crewman, I learned to associate -- correctly or no, I'm not sure -- that when a Japanese animation includes a character who's clearly of African ancestry, the message is either that this is a global animation or that the culture/world being represented is diverse, cosmopolitan... and, in a way, "not your usual Japan presentation" of homogeneity.

(I'm not saying Japan is homogeneous in reality -- my understanding is that it's not, not really -- only that Japan's pop-culture presentations of itself lean hard towards a presentation of homogeneity in much the same way that you might think US entertainment does given the prevalence to total domination of white faces in its entertainment.)

By the time I got around to watching Eureka Seven, I'd learned to twig immediately on a series that has a multiple of skin-tones, and how it presents those variety of skin tones. I learned to not expect characters with darker chromatics to be the lead character -- that's a little too much to expect, though I continue to hope -- but this didn't stop me from preferring/expecting that secondary darker-chroma characters be at least given agency, respect, a voice of their own (rather than being some nameless crewman who's nothing but the obligatory symbol that "dear [Japanese] viewer, you aren't in Kansas Osaka anymore". In that respect, Eureka Seven (the series, NOT the OVA, oh hell no not the OVA but that's for another post) scores really high both on the "female character comma strong" scores and does fairly decently on the "chromatic character comma with agency" scores... though only adequate at the "chromatic character comma non-stereotypical" seeing how Matthew's idea of fashion looks strongly influenced by American basketball players (though I can't recall ever seeing him play, or even discuss, basketball). So, a few complaints, but mostly good, enough to give me hope.

Getting back to Ludlum's book, The Bourne Supremacy, the first thing that struck me was his attempt to represent non-English dialogue. This is hard. Very hard, really, and I respect anyone who's willing to try, and I do like seeing how authors handle it. I mean, it's not like you can expect all your readers to take "Spanish in Three Days" tapes, nor is it all that much fun to read if you're looking at sixteen lines of non-English dialogue that's then translated in the narrative (or worse, not at all). And while CP likes to say that Clavell learned only three words of Japanese and used them over and over, in hindsight I think that's not such a bad way to do it; readers see the "hai" instead of "yes" and think, "okay, this conversation is happening in Japanese, not English" -- which can also act as a reminder that the reader understands and the non-Japanese speaking character does not, a detail that can be of great importance lest you leave the reader thinking the character is bloody stupid for "not getting what's going on".

(And I should amend CP's joke, because Clavell actually learned about twelve Japanese words, and used them... okay, that much is true: over and over and over.)

What Ludlum does was, at first, a slightly different tactic: he highlights word-repetition. The problem is that I don't know Cantonese, so I don't know if word-repetition is a major aspect of that language; I only know that I can't recall any significant lessons on word-repetition when learning Mandarin. (I mean, the biggest point driven home in Mandarin was that the more you can say with the fewer words, the better, so instead of "I don't want to buy a new house" you'd just say, "not buy" or "not want" or "not new house" -- it's not cryptic, just telegraphic.)

When I say 'word-repetition' I mean like what you might see in Japanese: doki-doki is one that always springs to my mind. It's most often seen/heard in alliteration or onomatopoeia, a kind of poetic sing-song like saying "ring-ring" for a telephone instead of just "ring" or "knock-knock" instead of just "knock". The only repeating sound that I can think of (in Mandarin) is that the word for "thank you" is a repetition of "xie" to get "xie-xie".

So here I am, reading and wondering what's in Cantonese that an attempt at word-style to imply Cantonese-being-spoken would result in word-repetition like "you need to speak to the head-head man". Then along comes a piece of dialogue where a character says, "thanks-thanks", and I nearly tripped head-first into the book out of a combined sense of shock and dismay. A kind of, OH LUDLUM NO. That would be the moment of "wait, when you include darker-skin characters, what are you trying to tell me about your story?" but in this case it's, "when you bastardize someone's language and try to represent it in English, what are you telling me about, well, your view of that language (and possibly by extension, the culture or people)?"

The key isn't, I think, in whether or not there are other non-white characters or other examples of wierd "this is not English" attempts, but what the non-non parts are -- that is, the parts that stand in for whatever we think is the main viewer/position/character. In Japanese animation, the default point (the non-non) would be 'a Japanese character/viewer', and in Ludlum's book, it would be 'an English-speaking character/reader'. Slightly shorter version: to understand the representation of a non-white or non-base-language representation, it must be compared to a non-non or base-language usage in the same context: and that's when it struck me that Bourne, ostensibly speaking Cantonese, Mandarin, and whatever else language called for, doesn't duplicate his words. He speaks perfectly legible and reasonably grammatical English, even when he's supposed to be speaking non-English.

In other words: the use of an affectated-English to represent a foreign language is not, in fact, really representing a foreign language. It's representing that those who speak the foreign language are ill-educated and stupid.

After all, our main character is known to be well-educated, a scholar versed in many languages, so we expect him to speak any language with that language's proper grammar and syntax. That's represented in the way he speaks, at all times: good grammar, good vocabulary, good syntax. Yet the very people he's speaking to -- who are supposedly native speakers, of a variety of social classes and ranks from low to very high -- are all represented with this quasi-pigeon ungrammatical small-words small-vocabulary way of speaking. Even characters you'd think are quite educated are given one-syllable dialogue.

Okay, I was willing to let that go. Well, not "let it go" in terms of condoning it, so much as -- with writerly hat on -- giving the author a few points for at least trying (to tackle the difficult non-English-in-English writerly skill), then subtracting a good chunk of that for completely missing his own racial/cultural bias. Also known as a verdict of, "the intention was good, but the execution left a great deal to be desired."

Then I got to the part where Bourne's wife, stuck in Hong Kong (and, I should add, without any of her husband's linguistic abilities), is in hiding from Brit/US intelligence forces who may be the bad guys, or at least not clearly the good guys (as befits a thriller, you're not supposed to be sure at any given point just who's on the wrong/right sides of anything). So Marie, the wife, is hiding in a neighborhood that I gather is along Hong Kong's waterfront, or, uhm, something like that. (Even in the 80s, when the story was written, Hong Kong was hardly a sleepy little provincial village, so, geography? Who knows. The city is massive.)

In that way that characters must all have random moments of utter stupidity, Marie decides to take herself for a walk. A tall, red-headed, Western woman in a neighborhood that's 99.99% Chinese ethnicity; she trots down to the water and completely ignores the signs (that she can't read, anyway); a crew of young quasi-police-vigilante types accost her for trespassing and rough her up. Setting aside the eye-rolling notion that all young borderline-vigilante types of non-white persuasion will always automatically think, "woo! rape!" when confronted with a white woman, it's what follows that made me sit back and stare at the walls in shock for several seconds.

Okay, so other villagers rescue Marie, replace clothing torn by the young hoods, and send her on her way -- but wait, there are suddenly white soldiers (read: US or UK marines) appearing in the neighborhood and heading for Marie's hiding spot. She gets away! She uses her husband's tricks! ... she is now a 5'9" (at least head-height to several inches taller than the average Cantonese man, and definitely at least a head taller than the average Cantonese woman) -- red-headed, did I mention being a red-head? -- white woman attempting to hide amongst a population where, well, no. Just no.

However, instead of continuing to use her husband's tricks of stooping or finding a reason to sit down (so height can't be pegged) or whatever, instead -- the entire neighborhood conspires to help her escape! Because they felt so guilty that she'd been attacked by teenaged thugs! After trespassing onto waterfront property with clearly posted signs that she'd ignored because she can't read Chinese characters! (Not that I'm saying anyone deserves to be raped/assaulted, but if she'd only been assaulted, arrested, and detained then I'd say she fully deserves it because hello, big sign, the fact that you can't read it or be bothered to find someone to read it to you does not make you innocent of trespassing. Well, unless you're a Western, upper-class, well-educated, white woman. In which case, I guess all bets are off, or whatever metaphor applies here.)

And off we go: a group of Chinese women out shopping manage to stymie one Marine. Several men wheel their bikes or food-stands into the line of oncoming UK/US white guys. Another group of Chinese snag Marie and pull her into a shop, give her less-obviously-Western clothing -- hell, they even sweep her into a salon and have her hair stripped and dyed into gray and streaky white. And not a penny from her, nor even any clue as to who she is, other than "western white woman who randomly appeared in our neighborhood".


I didn't throw the book because I was too busy trying to think of a possible realistic reversal. Of any possible example I could formulate, any realism was predicated upon these requirements:
  1. The locals must be of a low-enough strata that they might feel compassion towards the stranger (that is, not see her as non-human by virtue of being too far below them).

  2. The locals must, at the same time, be of at least high-enough strata (class, culture, etc) of privilege that they can afford to bestow such good will on a stranger AND that they don't fear authority-backlash for giving such good will.

  3. The locals must also hate those performing the search (the UK/US marines, in Ludlum's setup) more to a greater degree than their neutrality towards the stranger.

The third hinges on the second: if the locals live under threat of police violence, they're not going to go out of their way to protect a stranger (when, by inference, they probably struggle enough protecting themselves from police violence already).

The locals must have enough privilege on their own to know they don't risk a backlash if they get involved and they must also have something invested to be reward for risk and where the risk is equatable to the gains ("I can hide you an hour for $100 but no money is worth hiding you for six hours")... or those they're trying to stymie must be so loathsome that the locals do anything and everything to stymie regardless of whether a stranger is involved. If the locals simply always let the air out of police tires, just on principle, it could just so happen to benefit the non-local trying to get away, and then the author's avoided relying on the kindness-of-strangers ploy.

What made me grate my teeth considerably was the combination of the language as a quiet undertone and reinforcement ("Chinese speakers are ill-educated, lower-strata" implications) and the expressed motivation of the Chinese locals to helping this white woman: because they felt obligated, indebted as a result of her being attack by young hoodlums. (What? If the hoodlums were that bad, why wouldn't the locals have remonstrated the kids previously -- I would think that when you don't have random white women wandering through your neighborhood, these hoodlum-characters are going to settle for the next crime of opportunity, which would be your own young women. So if it's not enough of a situation to be up in arms about your own women being hassled/attacked, why suddenly do you feel guilty when it's a white non-native female, instead? Uhm. This is a logic that only works if you're the white non-native female who benefits, but it's highly offensive to the non-white native female NPCs, if you ask me.)

But what really capped it for me was the absolute and total lack of self-aware irony on the character's part, let alone the author's part. Not once did it occur to either Marie or the narrative that, say, maybe this isn't the way things usually work? It's taken for granted that this unspoken privilege would allow Marie to take advantage of "the kindness of strangers" and never once questioning that she has, or even has the right to have, such privilege. Of course random locals who don't even speak her language are going to rise up and impede US/UK soldiers on the grounds of all banding together to help the helpless non-native way-tall red-headed stands-out-like-sore-thumb white woman.

(I mean, I could see a way you could include such a scene and really drive a hole through the character's cultural and racial assumptions -- and probably not a small number of readers, too -- by having it turn out to be a trap. Then afterwards, another character point out: did you just assume they'd help you, what on earth made you think you they'd want to go out of your way to help you... at some point, the Marie-like character would be steered into realizing it's because, being white, she just assumed that people would help her, that she could trade on that white privilege and be protected, and because she was an un-self-aware privileged white female, she got taken. In other words: to use the character's -- and readers' -- deep-down quiet racism against them. Or maybe I'm just kinda mean that way, because I think that sounds like a great thing to do.)

Thing is, in some ways it's as lazy as coloring in a character's skin to be a little darker, just as a simple statement, that "this isn't your mother's Tokyo" kind of thing. Clearly the storyline (in re Marie) called for Marie to be hiding from the good-bad guys, and for the sake of tension she can't yet be captured, so we can raise the stakes a bit more. But we've already established that she doesn't speak the language, only knows some basics of counter-espionage, and physically stands out just from height and hair-color; all of that pretty much guarantees that having her do it all on her own is going to be hard to believe, because she wasn't written with the resources that allow doing it on her own. That means she's got to have help.

And in the absence of any specific help, or for the purposes of tension where specific help becomes difficult or out-of-reach or some other thriller-style complication, then the help has to come from somewhere else... and the privilege comes into play, I think, by letting this scenario play out completely unironically. Okay, she needs help, so obviously if she's shown to need help, the non-white non-English natives can do the job, rise up and hide/help her, and send her on her way with new clothes and hair and name, etc etc and so on.

I think the crux might be in the lack of questioning that goes on: when it's a single Canadian character offering help, it's viewed with suspicion, even within the narrative. The Western characters (and even many of the better-educated or higher-ranking Chinese characters) are given the ability to be more than one thing at a time (ambiguous, that is). If you just went by the treatment of named speaking parts, then you might get the impression that the story is mostly fair to all concerned. The problematic part comes in when the story has a significant plot-point that requires the non-intervention of named characters, thus the intervention of faceless background characters.

What characters give aid, and why, and what do they get out of it? A named, non-backdrop character who already has a role in the story is going to be assumed to have some kind of motivation (whether in the narrative or laid on top by the reader), where an NPC can come in, provide aid, and drop right back out again... but that doesn't mean that, in general, characters of that NPC-type would not, in general, have their own prejudices, reactions, and motivations, on some kind of basic cultural, classist, racial, or national level: my eyebrows would be going up if an author tried to convince me that, say, a group of NPC Greek Cypriots would aid/abet an unknown Turkish Cypriot, or that a random neighborhood of unnamed Irish Catholics would automatically band together, without massive discussion and potential dissension, to hide and help an Irish Protestant.

I'm not saying it wouldn't happen, only that the most basic set of information given -- working-class Cantonese neighborhood on the waterfront of Hong Kong -- carries with it a set of racial, cultural, and social luggage that can't just be tossed aside for the benefit of the story. When the 'benefit' of the story really boils down to the 'benefit' of a rich white Western female, then all that's really happening is yet another racist rewrite of NPCs, because it means ignoring that the NPCs on their own -- outside of the plot demands -- could not, to any reasonable degree, be assumed to likely react the same way.

Back with my learning-writing-hat on, maybe that's one area that deserves attention if the objective is to treat another race, or culture, or ethnicity, or what-have-you, fairly. Treating individual, named, plot-impacting, agency-filled non-white or non-Western characters as well-rounded with their own motivations... that's good, yes, and gets beyond tokenism. But what about the unwashed masses, the generic backdrop characters of X ethnicity or Y class or Z race?

Maybe that's the part that I've not been able to put my finger on when it comes to assessing a work as respectful of another culture. So long as (in critiquing or reviewing or just fannish discussion) we're paying more attention to the characters with speaking parts, confirming that there are enough PoC or female or non-Western ethnicity who get agency of some sort, what we're doing is just seeing and critiquing the trees, and missing the forest.

But it's the forest that determines the quality of a work's respect for the Other -- the representations of language, of the roles/behaviors in the help/hinder plot-assignments -- and where it's actually loaded with privilege. From where the author sits, it makes sense to treat named, plot-impactful characters with respect, but how do we treat the people whose names we never know?

Actually, now that I put it that way, it reminds me of someone's comment (where, beats me, just that it stuck in my head) that on a personal level, one-to-one, the vast majority of decent people are not going to show racist behaviors. We're too busy seeing the other person as-a-person, so we open the door for them, we say thank-you, we exchange hellos on the street, and that's where you get the left-handed insult-compliment of "gay people are all ___, but not you, you're different". It's on a nonpersonal, generic level that mainstream America teaches us to be racist, to be classist, to be sexist, to be xenophobic, even; that we can meet and befriend someone from Mexico City but it's all those unnamed, distant, generic "people from Mexico City" immigrants who carry the burden of all our negativity, and meanwhile we can define ourselves as non-racist (non-sexist, non-classist, etc) because what has the impact on us is that 'one friend' from Mexico City.

If you ever take a journalism class, you may get a lesson that's similar to what fiction-writers are told: the individual has more impact in a story than numbers. You're told that for a powerful lead, you don't start off with "fifty thousand people lost their lives in a freak hippopotamus riot at the zoo", you start off with little six-year-old Cindy who was trampled to death while still clutching her stuffed kangaroo toy. We can relate to and sympathize with little Cindy as a representative of those fifty thousand people trampled by raging hippos, and maybe that's because part of being human is to relate to humans on a personal level, or maybe it's got something to do with how many 'friends' we can hold in our head/heart at one time, or something else. I got theories (I always do) but the bottom line is that if given the general and given the individual, we're going to lean towards and relate to the individual, every time.

Except that when it comes to racism, we're doing it in reverse. Instead of seeing little Cindy as sweet and innocent of any guilt when it comes to random hippo rages -- and then drawing from that to conclude that the other forty-nine thousand nine hundred and ninety-nine people were equally sweet and innocent of causing the hippo riots -- we instead make that single connection work to our favor.

Example: we might say, "people from Mexico who move to the US are all illegal immigrants who don't believe in using soap", and then we say, "I met someone from Mexico City who uses soap and is well-educated and pretty cool"... we don't then (it seems to me, as a general thought-process) conclude that maybe we were wrong about the other three billion people who live in Mexico City. We don't realize that maybe our new friend is not an exception but just might be the rule, unless this is the movies or fiction and then suddenly the whole thing becomes a Moral Lesson to teach us Everyone Is Okay, but that's movies and not life. What more often happens is that this one friend becomes the exception that proves our rule: that we're not racist.

Thus you get the whole "I can't be homophobic, I have a gay friend." Or, the authorial version: my story can't be racist, I've got major respectfully-treated speaking parts for characters who are One of Them. It's the literary version: "I'm not ___-ist, see, I have a ___ character." But you can have a gay friend and still be homophobic (or be racist and still have PoC characters), so long as you're using that gay-friend-exception to prove your rule ("I'm not homophobic") instead of disproving an entirely different rule ("gay people are bad").

That, I think, might be a path to looking at (and writing) fiction wherein the author genuinely wishes to respect other cultures, classes, races, ethnicities, sexes, orientations, religions, and so on: do the named characters get treated as an exception to the rule, or are they exemplars of a range? Do those character-masses who are Other get treated fairly, even without the benefit of name, occupation, backstory, clear motivation? Or are they shoved back into the box of "all X are ___" and brought out only to act as contrast to the foreground characters of otherwise similar sex, race, religion, etc? Are the backdrop characters made to look particularly bad or vicious (or even, in Ludlum's case, excessively and uncharacteristically helpful) to highlight how good or westernized the foreground characters are?

Meanwhile, I continue to watch animanga, fascinated by the changing roles and behaviors (and foreground/background positions) granted to characters of non-Japanese ethnicity, of non-male sex, of non-light skin tone. Science fiction continues to lead the way, it seems, regardless of culture, because that's where I keep finding the strongest female and non-light skin tones, excepting outliers like Fullmetal Alchemist... or maybe Arakawa's an example of someone finally incorporating the lessons of SF into non-SF storylines, or maybe she's going to be slotted into being the exception that disproves yet another rule: that her success with non-Japanese, non-male, non-light-toned characters having strong roles to play just underlines how much it's a crucial detail for anyone else to manage the same level of success.


Date: 6 Aug 2010 03:08 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
"Nadia: the Secret of Blue Water" has a POC main (not major, but THE main) character- unusual for not only anime but western animation as well. I'm seeing more POC characters in anime (most recently, Freedom Project), but I don't know if that's because more POC characters are being used or if I've just seen more anime than most people I know.

Date: 6 Aug 2010 03:59 am (UTC)
tyger: Axel looking off over the sunset (Axel - into the distance)
From: [personal profile] tyger
*here via Network*

This was really interesting, and yeah, though-producing. Definitely something to keep an eye out for, so to speak...

Date: 6 Aug 2010 08:54 am (UTC)
From: [personal profile] whatistigerbalm
I enjoyed this whole entry and I absolutely love the way you brought it to an analysis of our view of "one X" vs "all X" both in terms of representation and the assurance that "I'm not homophobic" or what have you.

From personal experience (immigrant to a country whose government and press, and hence the populace, are not crazy on immigrants; plus, immigrant of the currently trendily problematic kind in terms of origin) I'd say it's a bit more complicated because there's a third component besides "the X I know" and "all X" which is "what the X want" or "what the X are doing" (rather than "what the X are (like)") and the lack of information or, more commonly, the prevalence of misinformation on the effect of X on the wider society is what tends to - ironically enough - inform the mainstream public's opinion, and that's what makes it hard for people to apply knowledge of one X to thoughts on all X.

For example, "they're taking our jobs" is the problem here even more than "they don't speak our language". If somebody meets me and sees that I can handle English, and I tell them that where I'm from we learn foreign languages like crazy and English is no exception, this may help their perception of us X as people who aren't just babbling weirdoes. But how am I to convince anyone that just because I'm not using my minority status to compete unfairly with the locals for jobs and housing (never mind that it's legally impossible; pointing this out and backing it up with official sources never works), other X are just as scrupulous? It's that difference between what X are like by themselves and what X will do to others ("us", as it were) - "you eat smelly food" vs "you're a thief", "you're effete" vs "you're a sexual predator" - that makes some prejudices easier to dispel than others on the basis of knowing somebody from group X.

I loved the bit on conveying the use of foreign languages in books. I roll my eyes a little at any solution that is not "keeping foreigners' conversation in the language of the book and without embellishments" because if Brazilian Name and Another Brazilian Name are speaking, especially if they're in Brazil, I have enough brain to understand they're not speaking in [language of the book that is not Brazilian Portuguese], unless it's explicitly pointed out that they're speaking in English or Cantonese or whatever else the plot requires them to use.

Opening markets

Date: 6 Aug 2010 10:11 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
I read a lot of manga and watch a lot of anime. The impression I get from the stories and the way they are told in manga and anime is that they are narrowly focussed on their primary market which is Japan and the Japanese people who are mostly insular and xenophobic. Sales to Western markets are not really taken into consideration when the writers plan their stories for publication.

As for overt racism in anime I think the series Niea Under 7 gives you the best bang for the buck -- the storyline involves aliens from space who are refugees in Japan, an immigrant underclass. The focus alien character is Niea, the lowest caste of the alien race which is itself stratified to the point where they deny Niea's caste level even exists (shades of the Japanese burakumin caste). To add to the racism/immigrant fun there is a recurring Indian character, another immigrant to Japan who is portrayed as a seat-squirming parody complete with turban that would not seem out of place as thick-lipped Rastus in an American 1930s comedy. But that's not all! The producers topped this confection off by adding a live-action clip at the end of each episode where a real Indian immigrant talks to camera in very accented Japanese about living in Japan, just to give the Japanese viewers another outsider to laugh at. Deary deary me.


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