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The Representation of Men in Japanese Animation

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Society’s values and culture define our ways of re-presenting the world as well as creating stereotypes of particular groups. As Dyer stated “Reality is always more extensive and complicated than any system of representation can possibly comprehend.” The patriarchal society, law of the father, that we all live in supports the male hegemony in different media industries as well as the animation industry.

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I am going to analyse the representation of men in Japanese animation which is also known as anime. Japanese animation started to become popular in the West in the 90’s however, the oldest surviving example of Japanese animation, Namakura Gatana (Blunt Sword), dates back to 1917. The first widely popular anime series was Osamu Tezuka’s Astro Boy(1963)[3] which had success in the West perhaps due to it conforming to the values of a patriarchal society where only men are in command. My hypothesis is that Japanese animation will follow the dominant representation of men which is that men should have certain abilities and qualities such as strength(emotional toughness, courage, self-reliance, rationality) honor(duty, loyalty, responsibility, integrity, selflessness, compassion, generativity) and action: (competitiveness, ambition, risk-taking, agency, volition.)

To find out if my hypothesis is true or not I am going to analyse anime posters that have the main purpose of attracting the audience’s attention in order to persuade them to either watch what is being advertised or buy it. They have to be exclusive and have a unique selling point which portrayed dominant stereotypes to give a strong message in a small amount of time as they have to get the attention of the passer-by. This is also done through the use of typography and the mise en scene elements as posters want to inform the audience about the narrative and genre with repertoire of elements such as guns or blood for the action genre.

The first text I will examine is the main poster of the action/drama anime ‘GANGSTA.’which was directed by Shukou Murase and produced by the studio Manglobe. Looking through Manglobe’s works I realised that the majority of the anime conform to the dominant representation of men by disempowering women through sexualisation. Gangsta was released in 2015 and the story is set in the town of Ergastulum and based on the subject of the Mafia.

Conventional to the genre, I am expecting to find a dominant representation of men who are represented as powerful.

The title of the anime is Gangsta which is contradictory to the way the characters are represented. Gangsta are urban criminals or a street gangs however, the characters are depicted as members of a criminal organisation and who are commonly called gangsters. I believe the title does not accord to the character gangsters on the poster as it creates an enigma code which would lead the audience to want to find out more about the anime. The title Gangsta connotes violence, this is stereotypical subject associated with men, as gangstas are known to be involved in violent acts. This aspect is suggested by the mise en scene components such as clothes and iconographic elements: guns and swords which are also reinforced by the red background and the blood spatters, which signifies the anime would in fact include violent scenes.The title is in white, which connotes pureness and innocency, which is the same colour of the main female character’s dress,this may signify that she is the person who might change the “gangsta” for the best.The title is in bold but some scratches have been left to imply that the pureness of the characters has been damaged by influences such as money which increases the ego of a person. The title is indeed bold which links back to action genre of the anime by implying that it will cover strong topics such as violence but it is also used to obtain the audience’s attention.

I can detect that the main protagonists are the two individuals portrayed in a long shot at the centre of the poster which is where the audience look at first. Tamana (19) said “I can definitely see that there is a traditional representation of men as they are portrayed as dominant, powerful, in control and violent this is signified by the facial expressions of the characters”.

Worick, with the eye patch, and Nicolas, with the sword, reinforce the traditional representation of men. Their masculinity is emphasised by their hairy chests and muscles which connote they are physically powerful, their smirks connote they are arrogant which signifies the duo is authoritative and confident. In fact this is reinforced by their body posture which is masculine as it looks as if they are walking towards the audience which make them appear more dangerous . This is emphasised by the direct mode of address as the duo is looking directly at the camera to intimidate the audience.The other male characters conform to the dominant representation of men as they have a beard another element of masculinity and suits which connote power.

Worick wears a black eye patch on his right eye and by looking at other Japanese animations and films that incorporate characters with an eye patch I can suggest that it is used to make the individual look more like a striking and dangerous character and also intriguing as the audience may be curious to find out why Worick is wearing an eye patch.Recognition is an important factor in the way in which we consume and approach media texts. This would create pleasure for the audience to recognise some elements. Indeed, there is an element of intertextuality as the outfits and the representation of the male characters are similar to the the film Godfather which also based on the same subject: the Mafia. Therefore, the suits and the arrogant and serious facial expressions are all elements that signify masculinity and power. Another reference to masculinity would be the Japanese Mafia, also known as the Yakuza, which are also represented in comic books that are the inspiration for manga and consequently, anime. Nicolas grips a sword which is called a “katana” in Japan, it was used to fight by samurais who used to follow “The Bushido Code”, a masculinity code, that has eight virtues which also include courage and loyalty. Likewise, Yakuza’s members ask for forgiveness by amputating their pinky finger which is used to hold the katana, doing so they have to rely on others members or the boss himself which is not seen as masculine.

Another key element is Worick’s gun which is conventional of action anime and masculinity, this supports the dominant representation of men being violent which is endorsed by Earp and Katz theory of Tough Guise as they declare that in the media the representation of men being violent is a reflection of the brutal behaviour of men in real life.

Another factor that reinforces the traditional representation of men is how women are portrayed in the poster. One of the reasons why the audience will watch the anime is not only for entertainment and escapism (Blumler and Katz) but also for a pleasure of sexual arousal.The main female character is sexually objectified as she only wears a short white dress which emphasizes the size of her breasts. The white connotes pureness which may signify she is an innocent character who will make the audience feel pity towards her for any unhappy events that may happen to her. The positioning of the main female character is mediated to attract male audiences who will consequently see the entire poster and might decide to watch the anime as a strong binary opposition between men and women is presented. However, it has to be taken in consideration that “The sexualised image of woman says little or nothing about women’s reality, but is symptomatic of male fantasy and anxiety that is projected onto the female image” which means a female perspective was not included.

The representation of men in the poster ‘GANGSTA.’ is dominant as it reinforces the hegemonic ideology of men being in command and women being vulnerable. Nonetheless, I was not expecting to find an underrepresentation of women as one of the female characters has a serious facial expression but it can be debated that she is still portrayed as feminine as she is wears a dark coloured lipstick.

Mirai Nikki,directed by Naoto Hosoda and produced by the studio Asread, is an action anime with hybrid of psychological thriller anime genre and conventional of the genre it will represent men in a dominant position. However, the representation of men would be more sophisticated as in a psychological thriller anime not only physical strength is important but also the character intelligence which is considered as one of the most important masculine factors in Japan which is well known for its competitive society.

The English version of the title, “Future Diary”, does not conform to the dominant representation of men. In this case, I assess that Yuri is not portrayed as masculine as in society, teenage girls write diaries to express their feelings however, if teenage boys convey their feelings into a diary, it seems they are showing their sentimental side and they do not follow the standards to be a masculine man hence why they are called metrosexual men.This is reinforced by the white colour used for the title which signifies pureness, it reflects his innocent personality which is also due to his age as in the teenage years, an individual is new to many aspects of life, therefore the audience might feel sympathy towards the character.

His outfit can be seen as quite childish as he is wearing a beanie, shorts, high boots and shirt with a jacket, it seems like he is ready for an adventure, this might be again due to his age. His facial expression which informs about his personality, as he does not look directly to the camera, conventional of posters, a character who does not engage with the audience through a direct mode of address is represented as weak. Behind him, the girl is smirking which signifies she has a controlling role between the two, this is visible through the reflection that might show her real personality which is being smart. This quality is usually attributed with the main male protagonist however in order to portray the male character as vulnerable the director decided to depict the female character as the astute person between the two. The girl is behind Yuri which can be detected as a way to express the dominant position of the male character. However, Yuri’s personality is presented through the usability of the blue low key lighting which symbolises innocence, purity and virginity, the low key lighting connotes that there is a dark side of the anime. Through a male point of view, Yuri is portrayed as not a charming character who lacks physical attractiveness and personality skills such as confidence. Jamie(16) said “I would watch this anime but the male character does not appeal to me, I prefer the Gangsta anime”.The reason why men, in this case Yuri, is being represented as weak and not confident to audience is because the director wanted to challenge the audience by offering an alternative perspective.” Mass culture generally assumes there is a fixed, true masculinity beneath the ebb and flow of daily life. We hear the ‘real men’, ‘natural man’, the ‘deep masculine’ “. However, through the changes in society there have been changes in the representation of men as well, being more specific, a new representation of men has been introduced in society and in the media: the metrosexual men who is “not gay but he is often confused with homosexuality”.

I asked my focus group to give me their opinions about the two posters. By looking at the Gangsta poster, Malia(18)who defines herself as a feminist, said “If men are not muscular or don’t have perfect body then they’re classified as weak”. She also strongly affirmed ”I would not watch the anime as I dislike the way women are portrayed”. In our society is clearly visible that double standards apply to women but many forget that there are double standards to men who have to appear and behave in a certain way to fit the society. About the poster “Mirai Nikki” the responses were different as there is an alternative representation of men. I asked if they would still watch an anime where the male character is portrayed as weak, Suraj’s(19) response was “If the character appears to be more of a pushover and he is harmfully introverted he would appear weak to me”. I believe this is because as a male audience he wants to look up to the character for personal identity( Blumler and Katz).On the other hand, Rebecca(19) stated that she would prefer an anime like Mirai Nikki as majority of the time in media, women are oppressed. This focus group gave me the opportunity to understand that the responses of the members depended on their gender.

The representation of men in changing in Japan as the phenomenon of Soushokukei Danshi in,which is also known as the “herbivorous man”, is emerging in the Japanese society. Due to competitive economy and culture an individual, especially men, has to conform into society.

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Overall, various factors such as the codes and conventions of the genre, the male producers, the industry which is mainly powered by male and the purpose of the poster which is to address the genre and narrative of the poster are all factors that will surely affect the type of representation being portrayed.When analysing the representation of men in anime, it is important to consider that the majority of the anime producers are men and they incorporate their values in their works which allows the audience to see the animation through a male viewpoint. As a Marxist theory explains that “How one relates to and interprets the world is largely coloured by how the media informs us.” In animation, we find a dominant representation of men as it reflects the media values of the Western society, this allows to the Japanese animation studios to attract a wider audience to then increase their profit, in fact big studios such as Toei Animation conform to the dominant representation of men.

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