The Death of Anime?

It’s all around us, wherever we go. Otaku should know that more than anything, because of all the news items that pass us by like passing thunderstorms, storms that nevertheless herald a great typhoon.

Recently, the Indian Ministry of Information and Broadcasting banned the hit anime Shin-chan from airing in the country, no doubt causing a lot of heartbreak among fans of the series, for whom this is no less than a body-blow. With this, all that remains of the anime market in the country is the Sony Entertainment-run Animax channel, which has hitherto avoided the censor’s axe by showing ‘tame’ anime, i.e. non-controversial anime, which has no objections before it. And, even though some Production I.G. anime tend to be somewhat bloody, they have thus far successfully evaded the scanner. This is more than what can be said for Shin-chan, whose incredible actions and uncouth behavior has clearly raised eyebrows in all quarters.

At the same time, in what can only be seen as a clear case of copycatting, the Russian government decided to “keep close tabs” on the anime series Great Teacher Onizuka (GTO in short). This rather foolish attempt to pass off clear censorship has not gone unnoticed in several quarters, where it has been thoroughly criticized.

But even so, the fact that anime shows are being actively singled out and persecuted is an evidence of something fundamental--the death of anime, as it were. Active censorship is always a sign that something that is considered harmful to the majority of the public citizenry is exorcised from the system. This recent spate of bans on anime serve to reinforce a common dread held by many otaku-that anime is increasingly being looked at as the Enemy.

Why should it be so, one wonders? Is it because anime as a genre is losing its grip on itself? Or is it because public morality is undergoing a continental shift, as it were? Though the questions seem open to debate, I will nevertheless present my outlook on both points mentioned above.

Therefore, let us consider the first question: is anime ‘losing grip’? There is no doubt whatsoever that the subject matter of anime is now miles away from what it used to be when Oppinger wrote of it. Anime can now be said to mirror real life in the same way as a stone mirrors the place where it was born, that is, very little. Real life is accepted by anime today, but only as a great-grandson recognizes his great-grandmother, faintly, as if by racial osmosis. Crazy witches and pink-haired moe girls have taken it over.

The efforts of studios like Production I.G. signal a dying effort to resuscitate the golden days of anime, when Gundam was synonymous with God and Astro Boy was even more famous than Mickey Mouse. Yet even there present-day anime fails, for I.G. defeats it very purpose by creating anime that are either too ‘brainy’ (Ghost in the Shell) or too ‘crappy’ (Blood+). Ergo, the proliferation of moe anime with what are obviously too shallow plotlines and flimsy characterization.

Of course it would be unfair to say that all present-day anime is bad, for it does not explain why stalwarts like GTO or Shin-chan should get the axe. Rather, it would be fair to say that some anime have caused such distaste among our ‘responsible elders’ that they have responded with a blanket ban on all anime. Sure, GTO is violent, but are we all angels in high school? Definitely Shin-chan is of poor taste, but then which 6-year-old tyke has ever conformed to the level his parent wants him to conform to?

But, as the argument runs, aren’t they vulgar? And there lies the sore Achilles heel that we have been fighting over. The elders view anime as a vulgar pastime that doesn’t even conform to the idea of entertainment. Putting aside the entirely emotional response of ‘Hypocrisy!’ we can think of several cases where it has been rationally concluded that anime has become more and more vulgar. The host of papers published in academic journals is ample proof of this conviction.

The normal accusations have by now become rote, and deserve no recapitulation. But some of the new ones include the objectification of women (a feminist perspective, not completely wrong), the particularist perspective (a groundless claim) and the biased outlook (a subtle but well-placed hole in the defenders’ defenses). Of these, the first and the last ones are the only ones to be taken seriously.

That brings us to the second question. Are the accusations leveled at anime just that, or are they evidence of a far more fundamental change in the public morality? If so, are we seeing a new age of Puritan simplicity, the Rousseauian return to nature brought to life?

I think it’s hardly that simple. Rousseau’s ideas were laughed off as soon as they were propounded by him, and the Puritans, all said and done, are remembered only as the institutors of Thanksgiving. Rather, I’d say that the reasons for this knee-jerk reaction are something more psychologically oriented.

In short, we are seeing 9/11’s butterfly effect reverberating off the hitherto placid shores of popular culture.

It would be superfluous to say that 9/11 did not shake us to our very roots. We were jolted into awareness by that attack, and became all too painfully aware of our precarious position amidst an unstable mix of democracies and their effluents: state terrorism. Al-Qaeda’s presence did not just augur badly for our nations, it was also a barrier to our enjoyment of foreign pastimes.

For that one attack shook to the core our conception of a united world, headed for one goal. We found ourselves fighting the enemy in our own backyards, and found to our shock that they knew far more ways of getting into our backyards than even we did. This shock translated itself, slowly and steadily, into a keen sense of discrimination. We tolerated foreigners less; in fact, found ways to torment them, so they’d leave us alone. We began categorizing them all, and began treating apples as oranges. Thus every attack on Indian soil became a Pakistani semi-invasion, and every swarthy face in the streets of the States became an Al-Qaeda sleeper.

Reports show that racially derogatory phrases and words have begun to be used far more than ever in the years after 2001. Especially hard hit is the East, which has taken most of the blame. The Japanese have become ‘Japs’ again, and even the most polished man on any posh neighborhood may refer to any passing Asian as a ‘Chinkie’ or ‘Chink’. Of course, this statement quite excludes Indians and Pakistanis, who have been most hard-hit, even losing their lives in the turbulent riots that followed. But this derogation of Asia has evidenced itself clearly in the field of popular culture, including anime.

Ask any Indian in his 40s or 50s about his or her conception of the Japanese, and they reply, “Hardworking people, all of them!” But it is a completely different story among the youth, for they’ll tell you about anime-and how it shows you ‘awesome babes’ or ‘some sexy stuff’, or maybe even ‘cool fighting styles’. It is precisely a reaction to this innocent expression of the partial truth that compels many parents to form an impression of anime and its creators, i.e. the Japanese, which is far lower than their previous impressions. As a result, they begin actively lobbying for a censorship on all anime, in accordance with the adage “Where there is smoke, there is fire.”

Anime is like every other product of human design, in that it can be used both for great good and incredible evil. Recently, anime has often tended dangerously towards depicting a very wrong kind of idea, one which has garnered it many enemies. But with all due respect, it is simply not true that a few examples of it-nor an irrational fear of all foreign things-should lead us to hunt it down like a contamination. We have, surely, come a long way from the Salem witch hunts; it is time for us to grow up, and accept the objectivity of another race’s view on life. It is the only way we can heal the breach. And surely anime as a source of teaching kids the way to live is invaluable? Let us not sound the death-knells just yet; this exotic media surely has some way to go before it falters.