Weekly Round-Up, 11-17 January 2023: Kawaii and Race, Majora’s Mask Crunch, and First Nations Characters in Vinland Saga

By: Anime Feminist January 17, 20230 Comments
A girl hugging a fuzzy digital pet

AniFem Round-Up

Kaina of the Great Snow Sea – Episodes 1-2

A bit stiff with its characters, but the environments are striking.

The Fire Hunter – Episode 1

A beautiful late entry to the winter season.

What would you like to see from Anime Feminist in 2023?

We want to keep growing and providing better content.

Beyond AniFem

The Mixed-Race Fantasy Behind Kawaii Aesthetics (Catapult, Erica Kanesaka)

Examining mixed-race identity and the influence of whiteness on the growth of post-war kawaii culture.

Although Japanese popular culture became mainstream in the US by the early 2000s, the racial fantasies that appear in kawaii continue to confuse American spectators. Many Americans see Licca-chan or anime characters like Sailor Moon, with their blonde hair and big eyes, and wonder why they do not appear more Japanese. I remember my white high school classmates laughing at how funny Sailor Moon’s live-action reinterpretation looked with a Japanese cast. “But Asian girls have short legs!” they said, referring to the anime characters’ long, slender limbs, which they perceived as a white feature. Such responses to kawaii’s racial ambiguity trouble me because they can endorse the truthfulness of racist caricatures. Underlying the question of why anime characters have such big, adorable eyes, I sometimes hear the unspoken assumption that Asian eyes must be small and squinty.

In this way, stereotyped ideas of Asian people still lurk behind America’s newfound love of cute Japan. Orientalism stays fixed in place even as kawaii’s globalization has replaced racist cartoon images of slant-eyed, bucktoothed Japanese men with lovely, starry-eyed Japanese girls.

At the same time, there is some truth to the idea that kawaii favors white aesthetics. Kawaii’s rise after World War II is linked to Japan’s defeat and disarmament, reflecting the nation’s forced embrace of a childlike and feminine role in global politics. During this time, kawaii became an aesthetic ideal in Japanese society that centered around the innocence and playfulness of girls and young women. Concurrently, Western children’s fantasies—from classic storybooks to Disney movies—became popular with Japanese audiences due to the authority of American power. Their pretty blonde heroines shone bright in the fantasy lives of Japanese children, as they eventually would in my own ’90s American childhood, and influenced the development of today’s kawaii aesthetics.

Take, for example, Hello Kitty, Sanrio’s cute white cat character, created in 1974, who evinces kawaii’s Western influences. According to Sanrio, Hello Kitty is not a cat, but a British schoolgirl “born in the suburbs of London.” Her last name is “White.”

Konishi Hiroko: The Anime Voice Acting World is the Abode of Demons (Unseen Japan, Jay Allen)

Translation of an article Konishi wrote in 2019 about harassment she faced in the voice acting industry.

My experience above isn’t a shameful episode of a man entering a bath. Rather, it’s one where they intentionally created a setting in a facility known for its mixed baths and attempted to take advantage of group psychology and our weak position as subcontractors to almost force us to bathe together.

There’s no direct employment relationship between the production side, including the director, and the actors, like me. However, the consolation trip brought together people in similar circumstances. The organizer may claim that “participation is free” and “mixed bathing is not compulsory.” But if you refuse, you may endure some kind of unfavorable treatment, such as losing work or being despised. Some people are concerned that the production will treat them unfavorably if they refuse to take part in the event. Actually, it may be more likely that they feel so cornered that they can’t even reject the proposal.

On Lizzo, Megan Thee Stallion, and Black Nerd Girl Culture (Teen Vogue, Stitch)

Visible Black celebrities who are vocal about their fandom, and how Black fans are excluded from fandom spaces.

Scholar Rebecca Wanzo writes in the introduction to her 2015 article “African American acafandom and other strangers: New genealogies of fan studies,” that there is an absence of Black fans’ presence in academic fan studies. “One group of scholars who often could be categorized as acafans but who do not claim the name are many black scholars of popular culture,” she writes. “A number of scholars who study black popular culture have, for all intents and purposes, been acafans, with an intimate knowledge of the black community that has often been essential in fields where black histories have not been addressed. A rich critical history of black fans and black acafandom exists, although the latter is never described as such.”

Black women fans are largely erased from the cultures of fandom we are active participants in. As Wanzo points out, there are and have always been rich cultures of Black fandom. However,  these fans aren’t exactly counted in the conversations we have about what fandom looks like and what kinds of people become fans. Across nerd history, the average nerd – be they an anime expert or a science fiction superstar – is assumed to be a bespectacled white geek, socially awkward, but passionate about whatever they’re into. Rarely, outside of Black fandom spaces — which are carved out by Black fans to protect themselves from harassment including racism — is the typical fan a Black one, much less a Black woman. That’s all due to the ways that nerd cultures generally exclude Black people by default, starting with the assumption that we’re not smart or curious enough to be into nerdy things unless we’ve got an agenda or are trying to pick up a partner.

But fandom, for Black women and femmes, is more complicated than many people are willing to reckon with. For Dom, who’s been in fandom since they were a child, the meaning of fandom has shifted across the years. “When I was younger, fandom to me…it meant endless possibility. A well of ideas that never ran dry,” they tell Teen Vogue. “As I’ve gotten older, I’m not sure what fandom means to me, now. It’s been a gateway to meeting some of my dearest friends. Fandom still means connection to me, in a sense. But it’s also become quite the minefield, the more aware I’ve become of fandom’s flaws.”

Majora’s Mask’s most infamous line is actually all about crunch (Eurogamer, Ed Nightingale)

This includes the line “you’ve met with a terrible fate.”

In one of those magazines, Zelda creator Shigeru Miyamoto said: “A lot of people ended up working overtime due to the sheer volume of work that had to be done… Suffice it to say, this was one tough year, I assure you… As long as it was finished, anything was acceptable.”

Even director Eiji Aonuma pulled at least one all-nighter and didn’t even play the game in full ahead of its release.

The game’s script writer Mitsuhiro Takano noted that many of the NPCs are speaking for the development team.

“We put our feelings into the mouths of Termina’s residents,” said Takano.

Japan’s gender inequality reflected by attacks on women who speak up on social media (The Mainichi, Yuki Noguchi)

Comments from public figures who received threats for critiquing sexism in advertising.

“In 2022 Japan, sexualized female illustrations are grandly shown as ads at a station exit…” So posted Kanako Otsuji, 48, a former House of Representatives member of the main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, on Twitter in late November 2022. She was commenting about advertisements for an online game on display at JR Osaka Station.

The illustrations feature manga characters dressed up as bunny girls or wearing bathing suits and other clothing that exposes skin. They can be classified as “moe-e,” which are used in manga, anime and games to elicit feelings of affection and desire. Otsuji’s post criticized the display of the many sexual illustrations in a public space.

The post drew a large reaction, and has been retweeted over 14,000 times as of Jan. 16. While there are users supporting her view, others have also commented things like “You’re just viewing it sexually,” and “This is why you lost the election.” She also said that she directly received messages threatening to kill “crazy feminists.”

Otsuji commented, “Even though I only questioned whether it’s OK that the gateway to Osaka is like this, the attacks are never-ending and draining. Am I not being deprived of my right to criticism?” She has apparently reported some cases to the police, as they threaten her physical safety.

Holding Game Developers Accountable for Half-Hearted Representation: Thoughts on Ertal Games’s Apology & Reflexion (Blerdy Otome, Naja)

Discussion of ethnic stereotypes in the BL VN Night & Day and the developers’ response to critiques.

So, it seemed odd that this bit was included in the “apology”, it’s the equivalent of someone dismissing claims of racisms because they “have Black friends.” The essay goes on to give a brief history of prejudice Romani people experienced in WWII and how that relates to Gilles as a character, which doesn’t really add much to their argument and detracts from the “apology”.

Ertal then claims that their characters “aren’t representation”, but exist solely within the context of the story they are trying to tell. Now, I find issue with this statement because contrary to what Ertal says, by their very existence in the game, both Gilles and Ferdinand are in fact representation. Ferdinand is a fictional representation of a Haitian immigrant and their experiences in Paris in 1950. Gilles is a fictional representation of a Romani man and their experiences in Paris in 1950. Even the game’s setting is a representation of Paris, France in 1950 and the issues that existed during that time. By their existence in this fictional world they are representation.

If Gilles and Ferdinand are not meant to be representation then why include their ethnicity? Why is Ferdinand Haitian? Why is Gilles Romani? Why not just make them White French men? Why is it important to include these ethnic heavy narratives in Night & Day if you’re claiming they aren’t meant to represent the stories of these very real groups of people? It’s surface level character representation like this that creates the most harm. This is the self same “representation for the sake of it” that Ertal cautions against in their “apology”. Because it appears based on the author’s own words in their ‘Apology & Reflexion’ the ethnicity of both Gilles and Ferdinand is inconsequential to the narratives they are trying to tell.

But, the most difficult part of the “apology” to swallow is that Ertal seems less concerned with how their characters are perceived and more concerned with blaming critics for stifling their creative freedom. They regress into their own victimhood in the face of legitimate criticism instead of using the feedback as a chance to grow as a creator. In a time when fans are being more critical of authors and creators, as seen by the backlash against JK Rowling and Harry Potter in the face of the author’s bigoted stance towards transgender individuals, it’s difficult to excuse messages like this from creators.

VIDEO: Trans reading of the Pokémon franchise.

VIDEO: Shoujo recommendations if you like X shounen series.

TWEET: Comparison of two statements about the nudity in the first episode of Urusei Yatsura.

TWEET: Notes about the inclusion of the Mi’kmaq first nations people in Vinland Saga.

AniFem Community

Thanks for the feedback, AniFam! Feel free to keep it going!

We Need Your Help!

We’re dedicated to paying our contributors and staff members fairly for their work—but we can’t do it alone.

You can become a patron for as little as $1 a month, and every single penny goes to the people and services that keep Anime Feminist running. Please help us pay more people to make great content!

Comments are open! Please read our comments policy before joining the conversation and contact us if you have any problems.

%d bloggers like this: