Top Controversies in the Anime Fan Community
The anime community is usually a positive one. There's a lot of solidarity and cohesion in the air when you go to a convention. But we have some things we have strong opinions about, like anyone. Since people who follow anime tend to be very passionate about it, they're also very passionate in their discussions about certain issues. Specific anime series can cause a ruckus, but this list will be focusing more on community issues than on any specific anime or manga. I wish everyone could get along, or at least respect people they disagree with. But even I feel passionately one way or the other about some of these arguments. But as a journalist, I want to be objective and fair, and acknowledge the multiple points of view that exist on everything.
Manga vs. Anime
Because it's incredibly time-consuming to follow either, some fans exclusively tend to read the manga (comics) for a series, and some fans exclusively watch the anime (cartoons). This is a matter of personal preference; I prefer anime to manga. That doesn't mean I dislike manga. Anime adaptations of manga are sometimes not as good as the manga, or do not show a complete story relative to the manga. But, if I only read manga, I would probably miss out on some great stories adapted from light novels or that are anime-first or anime-only. I like anime that are experimental and different, and not being adapted from a manga source allows them to play creatively. For example, Flip Flappers, Neon Genesis Evangelion, Puella Magi Madoka Magica, and Kill La Kill, all some of my favorite anime, were all also anime-first. I like animation as a medium, with its color, sound, and often fast-paced movement.
I never experienced "bad blood" between anime watchers and manga fans. Usually, it's just an "agree to disagree" kind of thing. But I have noticed times when our differing preferences for one or the other has hampered conversation. I know a manga-only person who frustrates me by mispronouncing things, because well, if you never hear the Japanese words out loud, you're going to be likely to do that. And I'm sure manga-only people get frustrated with me because I don't often review manga, and when an anime adaptation clearly doesn't have the entire manga story, I get frustrated. Maybe I should make incorporating more manga into my anime diet a New Years resolution.
Fan Fiction Flame Wars
Some fans get a little too attached to fictional characters. Other fans think it's funny to subvert the innocent purity of fictional characters by writing/drawing graphic erotica about those same fictional characters. The problem is, some people who want to preserve the innocence of fictional characters actually get mad at people who want to sexualize them. This issue also came up in the My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic fandom and others. It's weird that some people get mad about erotic fan fics. I mean, we laugh at them, but some people have gotten genuinely mad at fan fic writers for tarnishing their "waifus".
Luckily, most of us are sane enough to not literally believe in the fictional characters. Most people don't get upset if their favorite fictional character is "misrepresented" by the writers. But sometimes, either someone believes sincerely that their favorite fictional character is literally their wife or girlfriend, or they think the character is their "head mate" as in literally living inside their minds. So, that is less of a real "controversy within the fandom" as much as a few deranged people, extremely lonely and confused people with a weak grip on reality. Versus everyone else who has to deal with their behavior online or at conventions.
Fan art and fan fiction sometimes do generate controversy in terms of copyright, disrespect to the original creators, and inappropriately sexualizing minors, which anime itself is also sometimes accused of. Another issue that comes up occasionally is some people take issue with yaoi and yuri fan fics specifically, as those authors tend to read homosexual subtext into many platonic friendships and innocent things. This is especially hated by some when it involves pre-pubescent children.
For example, some fans really don't like calling the girls of Puella Magi Madoka Magica "lesbians" even as a joke, because they don't like sexualizing the middle-school aged characters. But there is a lot of homo-romantic subtext in the show, and a Madoka/Homura relationship is pretty much accepted as canon. Basically, people project their own weird hangups, insecurities and sex-negativity onto the world of fan fiction at times. And then some people push back in an equally negative way, by turning every conversation about a show sexual, or spamming people with erotic fan art in an attempt to force their beliefs on others. I have seen it cause an internet squabble or two.
Dear God, the people who take their waifus (fictional characters they consider their imaginary wives) way too seriously. It's creepy and pathetic, but these people are more sad than anything else. They're harmless, they fit the "nerdy and can't get laid" stereotype, so they have an imaginary girlfriend or wife. Anime offers a rich variety of character types. So if you like someone hostile and bitchy but with a hidden sweet side (the tsundere), a raging psychopath who'd kill for love (yandere), a goddess, a queen/princess, a bookworm, even exotic choices like cyborg and centaur, you're in luck. The anime industry thrives off waifu obsessions, because merchandise makes a lot of money for the studios.
There are some problems with waifus. One is, sometimes a person will want to claim that only they can be that character's partner, like some dude did with Twilight Sparkle once. A fictional character cannot be monogamous, and it's unrealistic for any one person to be able to claim them as such. Also, when a waifu character has her purity compromised, by dating someone, hinting at sexual feelings, or even when one character just hinted at having had an ex-boyfriend in the past at some point, some of these people go nuts.
But what really causes the "get the popcorn" internet moments? When people argue over which waifu is better than others. I'm sure if I listed my favorite female characters (I'm bi, so I like to pick waifus and the male counterpart, "husbandos" in every show) in my favorite shows, someone liking rival characters would fly into the kind of nerd rage that only nerds can rage. Let's all get along here! People should take a "live and let live" approach to who fantasizes about what character, it's not really any of your business what other people like or don't like. Get over it.
"Casuals" vs. "Hardcore" Fans
It doesn't come up that often, but I don't think us "hardcore" anime fans should be bashing people who only like one show, or only watch whatever is the most popular, or who don't know much about anime outside of the one or two shows they like. The fact is, all of us started out like that. Stop judging! By the same token, "casuals" can get a little judgmental of us hardcore fans too, because they associate us with a lot of unflattering nerd stereotypes. We could use more bridge building and less bridge burning here.
Old vs. New Anime
Fans tend to put themselves into groups based on what era in anime they like the most. This often leads to debates where older fans endlessly bitch about how "new shows are just a bunch of vapid moe girl BS" and younger fans will insist that older stuff is unwatchable garbage with "bad animation", because there were harder-to-overcome technical limitations for animation in the past, especially for shows that wanted to make an episode per week. Anime also had budget problems in the past, because there was less demand for it in the past, and fewer platforms and sources of revenue for shows. Traditional animation was more expensive than digital animation, which saves labor. And yet, these setbacks didn't stop there from being excellent shows in the past, but not all of them were brilliant.
Nowadays, anime is saturated and commercialized, and easy to churn out quickly. There's more of it getting made, so that means that the truly excellent shows are outnumbered by mediocre to awful ones. But nostalgia-driven fans insisting that ALL new shows are bad are obviously wrong. We worry about homogeneity and a lack of originality, but each new season is still a mixed bag, and it's been that way forever.
Is "Avatar the Last Airbender" Anime? What Counts as Anime?
This is an issue that often can start a big fight among anime fans. I don't know that much about the show, to be fair, but I would say it's not. The definition of the term "anime" is made wonky by the fact that in Japan, it refers to all works of animation, and only outside of Japan does it mean "animation from Japan or with a Japanese style". But defining what is and isn't anime comes down to questions about what it means for a cartoon to have a "Japanese style" or aesthetic. Samurai Jack isn't anime, but it clearly has elements borrowed from the Japanese storytelling style, and has a samurai as a main character, who personifies Japanese philosophies. Avatar: The Last Airbender is called anime-like or anime-style. While not being produced in Japan and not having a Japanese creator, it is heavily influenced by anime. The effect of anime on western animation is extensive.
Whenever any anime comes out, fans will write fiction and draw pictures depicting numerous "ships" or imaginary romantic and sexual relationships between characters. Shipping is not an activity limited to anime fandom, but it is a huge part of anime fandom. The problem is when different ships become rivalries, where shippers who ship different characters will cyber-bully each other over it. Not cool!
Subbed or Dubbed?
The main arguments come in the form of "subtitled only" purists who assert that the dubbed version of any and all anime is inferior as a form of experiencing the anime. They believe that the Japanese voice actors and actresses are simply superior, or that the dubbed version is less culturally authentic. In the case of certain child-aimed anime, mostly dubbed by companies like DIC and 4Kids, there were in fact problems with anime being heavily censored and changed for the purposes of localization. These efforts are now heavily ridiculed by anime fans. For example, they often changed Japanese names to American ones and notoriously converted Japanese rice balls into "jelly donuts". They also changed the opening songs, and used a lot of censorship of anything having to do with violence or even mild sexual themes. This led a lot of 90s anime fans to hate on dubs, because at that time, there were a lot of terrible dubs, and you had to score the real thing directly from Japan if you wanted to experience an anime story authentically, especially if the anime in question was targeted at kids.
But what dub purists aren't acknowledging is that dubs have gotten much better since those dark days. Largely through the efforts of animation distribution company Funimation, anime dubs nowadays are a significant improvement in terms of translations that make sense while keeping the work's "Japan-ness" intact. Now, anime is no longer trying to pretend to be American, they're not censoring out concepts unique to Japan. Dubbing has become more serious and a lot of talented American voice actors have created some very good, very memorable anime dubs.
Pirate Anime or Nah?
The issue of anime piracy causes a heated debate among anime fans. There are those who think:
- Piracy does not really hurt the anime industry, and/or is not morally wrong.
- Piracy is evil and no one should ever do it, even to watch anime that aren't available in your country by legitimate methods.
- You should TRY not to pirate anime, but it's ok if there is no officially licensed version available in your country.
I tend to believe the latter, meaning that I try to experience anime through legal channels first, and rely on piracy strictly as a back-up only for anime that aren't legally stream-able in the United States. I do think anime fans should always try to support the studios, but if there is no affordable way to stream a show in my country, that's the studio's fault and not mine, and they have to work at making the show available in the U.S. if they want my money. But, as a critic, I also feel somewhat entitled to piracy because it is for the purposes of analysis and criticism, and my articles may increase revenue for studios if I get people to like certain anime. Anime piracy is a serious problem, but the studios also have to meet us halfway by making anime accessible.
The anime fan community is wracked by controversies, ranging from anger that someone talked smack about a character you like, to a discussion of more serious problems like anime piracy and questions about cultural authenticity. It's great that we have these discussions. I just want everyone to be respectful of each other and get along with people they disagree with. Happy arguing on the internet about Japanese cartoons!
© 2018 Rachael Lefler