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Is Anime Misogynistic? I Examine 5 Shows in Particular

Recently, I was watching a video by a YouTube user by the screen name of Raging Golden Eagle. He quoted a Crunchyroll executive (acting in an individual capacity, not as a Crunchyroll representative), who was speaking in favor of some kind of feminist anime-related Kickstarter project. Basically, what he said was that he had known women who claimed to have liked anime a long time ago because of positive feminist-themed shows like Sailor Moon and Revolutionary Girl Utena, but who have since "withdrawn from anime" because of "negative experiences" they've said they had with recent and current anime shows.

But I had to ask if these women existed, and if so, if they were living in the same dimension that I am, because I seriously think that anime has no issues with misogyny. Now it can be said that certain specific manga, anime, and light novel stories are sexist. Anime is a big industry with a lot of creators, who represent a diverse range of opinions about gender roles.

But one thing that's positive for women is that many of these creators are women, with the gender ratio for male vs. female manga artists being about even. To me, a big draw of anime was that it offers so many shows that have strong and positive female characters, so many shows with female leaders, and so many shows with girls who kick ass. Compare that to the hyper-masculine western comic book scene (although this has gotten better since I was a kid), and you can see why anime is more appealing to girls.

Anime is made for many different demographics, and its creative choices will most likely inevitably appear misogynist if it's intended for men and boys, and misandrist if it is intended for girls and women. As a whole though, anime is neither against men nor against women. As a whole, it doesn't have a gender script. What it has is a wide spectrum of viewpoints on gender, but with an overall tendency to see people as human first, and male and female second.

Let's examine five recent or current anime series to talk about this issue in more specific terms.

1. Keijo!!!

The show:

This show is a silly "ecchi" or mildly sexual series. Girls train to play the titular sport which involves using their breasts or bottoms to knock their opponent off a floating disk into the pool.

How it might be misogynist:

Like most shows of it's type, Keijo!!! is about fanservice, about sexually exciting the audience. There are shows that appeal to the straight female gaze too, but this definitely appeals to the straight male or lesbian gaze. They are completely unapologetic about it.

How it might be positive for women:

Arguably, the girls themselves don't see what they're doing as sexual. It's actually refreshing to me to see that they treat this as a serious sport. They don't do this because they're trying to please men, it's like a martial art; they do it to feel stronger. The anime is about setting goals and accomplishing them, without worrying so damn much about being sexually self-conscious. I like that.

2. Prison School

The show:

When a school that used to be all-girls decides to admit boys, some of the students object to that. A gang of girls decides to make it their secret mission to torment these boys into quitting school, or trick them into failure.

How it might be misogynist:

Well, like Keijo!!! it is heavy with fanservice aimed at the straight male gaze. And the women in the show, while powerful and intelligent, are vicious, sadistic, psychopathic, and misandric to an absurd degree. And even with many girl-on-girl conversations, I don't think it would pass the Bechdel test, since all they ever talk about are the boys.

How it might be positive for women:

If anything though, it's mostly just sexist against men. Male sexual lust is treated as something dirty, a sin that boys must atone for, that even a grown man (the principal) must be ashamed of. There's a double standard here, where girls are seen as innocent and pure, even when they beat the ever-loving crap out of boys. Even when the girls have very perverted ideas, they simply aren't judged or punished as harshly for their actions as the boys are.

Even if you see them as wrong though, the girls in this show kick a lot of ass, they're not the passive flowers you see in other anime.

3. Kill La Kill

The show:

Kill La Kill is an epic battle anime where fiery young woman Ryuko Matoi goes after the establishment at her school to find answers about who killed her father.

How it might be mysoginist:

The characters basically have to wear stripper outfits to fight.

How it might be positive for women:

There is a good reason for that. Clothing is a huge symbolic theme in this anime. As the girls become more naked, they become more capable of violence. The connection between nakedness, shame and "original sin" is discussed in the anime, inviting viewers to think about the meaning of clothing in a symbolic way. In this show, clothing represents a kind of fascist oppression, and nudism becomes a means of escaping oppression. Throwing off the shackles of the oppressive "life fiber" clothing represents asserting one's own freedom in an unfree world.

This show is also positive for women because almost all the major characters are female, to where it barely even passes the reverse Bechdel test. The friendship bond between Ryuko and Mako is a central focus of the plot of the anime. Furthermore, it has some of the best and most complicated, interesting, and well-developed female villains of all time in Satsuki, Ragyo, and Nui.

4. Attack on Titan

The show:

In Attack on Titan, humanity keeps getting terrifyingly close to being completely wiped out by large human-like monsters called titans. There's something very strange about them. Is there a plan or pattern to their attacks? The show follows the lives of three teenage military recruits: Armin, Mikasa, and Eren. Are these teens the last hope of humanity, or will they just end up as more casualties of humanity's ongoing war?

How it might be misogynist:

Well, when Anita Sarkeesian talked about Jade from the video game "Beyond Good & Evil" (Source) as a positive female character, arguably Mikasa from Attack on Titan is not as positive. While she is strong, people might call her just another dark, brooding anti-hero who happens to be female. Her personal history is tied to that of the protagonist, and we don't see a lot of events through her perspective, as there is a lot more focus on Eren and Armin.

The savage violence of the show might also be problematic for feminists. Some of them have criticized how the "Action Girl" character type really just enforces the violence of the narrative. Girls participating in combat is desirable, but they would argue that a true role model would not revel in taking part in violence the way some girls do in Attack on Titan and other survival and fighting anime.

For example, Alice from Pumpkin Scissors is probably a better example of a female soldier heroine, because instead of fighting the actual war, she's working to rebuild her country after the war, and she deals with her own privilege as an aristocrat in the process. Showing girls who fight isn't really that new or ground-breaking anymore, but showing girls (and boys) who help heal rifts and stop evil without using violence is.

How it might be positive for women:

However, the role of female characters in Attack on Titan is still very important to the plot. Scientist Zoe Hange (who is non-binary, without clear gender in the manga, but is female in the anime (Source)) is a major player in the ongoing quest by humans to figure out the titans. She shows more compassion for titans than most people in the military (whose hate for them is pretty reasonable though), and genuinely seeks to understand them rather than to merely fight them in a brutish way. This can be simply because understanding one's enemy makes you better at fighting them, but she also seems to genuinely care about the comfort and well-being of her test subjects, two small captive titans that she named and ascribed human personality traits to.

The manga also does a lot more than the anime to show female characters' back stories and relevance to the efforts of the military. While the anime focuses mainly on male characters (Eren and Armin), the manga format allows more time to be devoted to the stories and perspectives of more of the female characters.

Plus, even though more screen time and more lines are given to Eren and Armin, Mikasa is still crucial to the plot, highly competent as a soldier, and she saves the lives of Eren and Armin more than once. She reminds me a bit of Motoko from the Ghost in the Shell franchise, and that's a good thing.

5. Puella Magi Madoka Magica

The show:

Young girls are granted their heart's truest desire by a mysterious alien ferret-like creature called Kyubey. In return, they must serve him as magical girls, who must fight "witches", who are responsible for many kinds of suffering.

Why it might be misogynistic:

It could be accused of reinforcing gender stereotypes. Young girls are seen as easy prey for Kyubey because they're seen as emotional, irrational, and driven by silly, self-serving desires. If girls had smarter wishes, or asked more questions, the whole system would have collapsed long before modern times. This clearly shows girls as ridiculously trusting and naive. The magical girl concept seems like victim-blaming, even though the girls are manipulated into doing what Kyubey says by not being given adequate information on which to base their decision to transform into a magical girl. No one told them not to sign a contract without a lawyer present!

Sayaka's story might also be problematic from a feminist perspective. Sayaka chooses a wish based on her desire for a boy to like her, and when he does not return her feelings, she goes insane with depression, unable to be saved even by Kyoko's best efforts.

Why it might be positive for women:

For one, there's a lot of misandry (which I'll probably talk about in another article later on misandry in anime, but that's a separate issue). The school's teacher is a raving, unapologetic man-hater. The show doesn't pass the reverse Bechdel test, because the only conversation two males have with each other consists of one having a straw misogynist type of rant about his girlfriend, and that pisses of Sayaka, who overhears them on a train. The only noteworthy male characters are minor; Kyosuke is just a love-interest object there to create a tense rivalry and conflict between Hitomi and Sayaka (sort of the reverse of the "woman as temptress" trope). Madoka's father, a house-husband, appears on screen and says a few things, but Madoka primarily turns to her mother for parental advice.

Speaking of that, Madoka's mother Junko is portrayed positively as a career woman with a stay-at-home husband who takes care of the baby. This is in contrast with career women in other anime, who are often seen as greedy, narcissistic villain types (like in Princess Jellyfish). Career women are also sometimes portrayed in anime as sluts (like Misato in Neon Genesis Evangelion). Puella Magi Madoka Magica in contrast seems to be speaking out about this trend by showing Junko as a positive (although somewhat imperfect) career woman.

Kyubey as a character also seems like an indictment of men and/or capitalism, as critiqued by feminists as profiting off of women's subjugation and suffering. I talked about some of the sex-based symbolism in Madoka here. When Kyubey talks himself up as "rational" and claims he can't really understand the humans he preys on for being emotionally sensitive, it mirrors how one might see men talk about women in the real world.

So, whether this show is about how girls are whiny, irrational, emotional, and easy marks because of their idiotic, infantile sense of entitlement, or about girls' gentle and good natures being taken advantage of by a Satan-like figure is really just a matter of personal interpretation. The show doesn't go out of its way to tell you what to believe.

Conclusion

So the whole question of "Is anime misogynist?" is not a simple one to answer. Anime is hard to even label and define as it is. Creators can make different anime shows that are as different as Neon Genesis Evangelion is from Sailor Moon, and so the more you know about anime, the less you can generalize.

But there are some things I've noticed:

  • Anime still seems to have more prominent female characters, even in shows targeted at boys, than equivalent western comic books and cartoons.
  • Anime shows a diverse range of female body types, personalities, abilities, and professions, including having many female characters who are "Amazons" or who are in some kind of traditionally male profession (like Winry being a mechanic in Fullmetal Alchemist or Motoko being a crime-fighting cyborg in Ghost in the Shell).
  • In a lot of anime, boys are portrayed as crass and dim-witted, while girls are portrayed as mature and rational (like in Fairy Tail and Inuyasha, and many other examples).
  • There are also a lot of positive female characters in leadership roles, such as in Akame Ga Kill. Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood also had an important female general.
  • There are also girls who don't sacrifice their femininity to fight for what they believe in, and their femininity is not seen as weakness or frivolity, but instead as a source of strength (this is the case in most played-straight magical girl shows).
  • There are a lot of anime heroines who fight for their own sense of honor and justice, such as in Rose of Versailles, Revolutionary Girl Utena, Shangri-La, Kill La Kill, Pumpkin Scissors, Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, etc. just to name a few.

Are some anime shows misogynistic? Yes. And if I find an anime or manga misogynistic, I just don't watch or read it. Simple. But there's still plenty to choose from if you're concerned about the roles of female characters in fiction.

I don't think merely having sexually suggestive content in anime is enough to indict the entire industry as "sexist". In fact, there's also plenty of shows that have attractive male "eye candy" too, and I don't see visual displays designed to titillate the viewer as inherently evil. If anything, it makes me see the anime characters as more human and life-like, because real humans have and want to have sex (more or less all of them). Negating a healthy, normal part of life just because some people are Puritanical or squeamish about it is not what I think the industry should do, and it only infantilizes the viewers. I prefer if content creators recognize their audience's maturity and ability to handle language, violence, and sexual content, without treating us like babies. But if you don't like that stuff, anime is a big enough world, and you can certainly find shows, manga, and light novels that are up to any standards of purity.

Just don't expect the entire anime business to change to suit your particular ideals any time soon.

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Comments 2 comments

Cyong74 8 days ago

I think overall, both Anime and Manga reflects the Japanese mentality. It's not exactly misogynistic, but women are still expected to conform to certain stereotypes and roles.


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RachaelLefler 6 days ago from Illinois Author

What do you mean specifically by "expected to conform to certain stereotypes and roles"?

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