[AniFemTalk] Socially conscious stories

All media shapes our sense of the world and how we understand and empathize with each other, but some creators are more conscious in their attempts to address serious issues: ones where the main themes are about inequality in media or society, or are dedicated to focusing on lives and identities not found in most popular media. And because they aim so high, they can wind up being very hit or miss.

  • Which series do you think have attempted to challenge sexism/racism/homophobia/classism/etc and succeeded? Which have failed?
  • Are there some topics that seem to be more successfully tackled than others?
  • Do you prefer real world or fantastical/allegorical settings for these types of series?
  • Do you prefer that an author try to address social issues/representation and fumble, or not attempt it at all?


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  • It’s almost impossible for me to think of any series dealing with important societal issues that doesn’t fumble at all. But I don’t think that means we shouldn’t make more or else there won’t be any opportunity to improve.
    Ayashi no Ceres frequently undermined the otherwise solid commentary on sexism and feminism by having Aya or side characters tolerating or flat out embracing predatory or unacceptable behavior from the “good” male characters of the show, while trying to condemn very similar types of behavior in the “bad” men.
    Yurikuma’s critique of queer representation in anime gets muddled when the show follows the same patterns of the gazy, fetishizing, and reductive yuri series it’s calling out.
    Both are a mess, but at least a step in the right direction. Hopefully these shows will gradually be replaced by more and more progressive ones, but for now, I think I’m just happy that people keep trying to improve, even if it feels way too slow for my liking. Progress is progress.

    That said, some series definitely are too problematic to have redeeming value. Some of my least favorite series of all time claim to be social commentary to justify the otherwise inexcusable elements.
    KonoSuba was about feminism, apparently, between the jokes about sexual assaults.
    Elfin Lied gets defended as some vague type of commentary on an even vaguer concepts about evil and human nature.
    Both shows have been incredibly detrimental and, in my opinion, undid some of the progress accomplished prior to their existences.
    So I guess I’d say as long as a series is actually trying to say something important, I’m glad for it, even if it makes mistakes. But toxic series that hide under the loose guise of social commentary to justify themselves can shove off.

  • Aidan Long

    I can’t really think of a series that I think tackle any of these issues directly and does so well. That probably just means I need to see more shows that do so.

    As for whether I prefer real world or allegory for addressing these issues? I’m of two minds about it actually. On one hand, I think that we need more stories directly talking about these issues. I don’t mind using allegory, but I find most stories that use them do so in the laziest way imaginable. My thought is if you want to tell a story about racism against black people, don’t just replace black people with elves or something. For one thing, you could easily end up employing some kind of derogatory symbol that you didn’t mean to. For another thing, I’ve always found this approach lazy and even a bit cowardly. Racism is a big complicated structure that was built through years of dehumanization, socialization, and objectification that worked so well that many see them as normal. Just doing something like having your elf character get kicked off a “Human Only” bus tends to oversimplify a very complicated issue and by that point, it would probably be better to just tell a story about real world segregation. I prefer the approach Zootopia did by taking elements of real-world racism, but putting it in a different context. None of the animals in that movie really work as direct allegories to real-life groups, but the way some of them are stereotyped and socialized is very much like what we have in the real world. What I’m trying to say is, if you want to tackle discrimination in a fantastical context don’t just rip things from the real world and try to force it into a different context, take a good hard look at the structures that allow discrimination to happen in the real world and think of how they would be built in yours.

    For the last question, I’m of two minds again. My knee-jerk answer is yes, I’d love for more authors to tackle these topics. However, the more I think about it the more I recognize that while stories about these topics can be incredibly helpful when done well, they can also cut deep if done poorly. I suppose the compromise I can give is that I think more authors should try to tackle these subjects, but they should also be very careful while doing so.

  • Blusocket

    For me, Shinichiro Watanabe is the first person that springs to mind when I think of socially conscious anime. I don’t know that Samurai Champloo necessarily challenges social injustice through its themes, but Watanabe has talked about how intentional he was in the design of his characters, incorporating Japanese historical ethnic minorities and speaking out against purist, imperialist Japanese nationalism. He also directed Terror in Resonance, which–although it was debatably less than well executed–is relentlessly political and indicts many players on the global political stage through the questions it raises about terrorism, modern society, and government.

    • He also addresses racism in Kids on the Slope. Sentaro is the son of a Japanese mother and an American G.I. father, and is shunned by his grandmother and stepfather. There’s additionally a scene where a drunk American gets angry at Sentaro’s jazz band for playing black music. While these issues never play a central role in the story, the discomfort of these racial topics remains throughout, and perhaps the lack of resolution is purposeful and significant.

    • Joseph M Roberti

      i thought about him too but I didn’t want to bring him up here just because most his series suffer from a gaze camera and Space Dandy, while being a brilliant show in regards to existentialism, can be regressive in its objectification of women. None of this is to take away from the fact his shows are amazing and socially relevant, I just wish he understood women’s social issues better and treated them well.

  • Austin Sebben

    In the anime Akame ga Kill, (havn’t read the manga) there’s a character, Mine, who is of a racial minority in the vast, monstrous, empire of the setting. This character joined the group of protagonists to aid in a rebellion to destroy the oppressive empire, but her experiences are not shown. As for the Empire, we don’t know much about it, except the people who we meet who are part of it are mostly irredeemable, absolute monsters. I think this has to do with our protagonists being assassins (though most of the things we see them doing are the shonen-style multiple-episode extended battles, with trickery rarely thrown in), and needing to firmly establish the protagonists as heroes. This sometimes overshadows the mundane ways the systems Empire fails its citizens, but neverthless, ithe Empire’s failures are many, and visible. Tatsumi, the well-meaning, slightly bland main character, & one of the assasin protagonists, is from a poor, starving village far from the capital who left home with friends to try making money for their village. Horrible things happen to his friends, and the perpetrators are protected by the Empire. Tatsumi joins an assasin group affiliated with the Revolution, convinced there is not aby other path to justice. The show contains lots of flashy magic weapons, the resultant scenes of people explaining to the people they’re fighting how they work, and Akame, the title character seemed much more interesting than Tatsumi. It doesn’t go deep into how the Revolution wishes to exact change, only that it does, and I wish ther’d been less fighting and more plot, but overall, it seemed entirely earnest when it made a statment, though a bit short on details.