Anime: The Other Side of Starry-Eyed

Anime and manga, even the ones for children, aren’t simple minded (Izawa, 1998).

As a busy parent, you may not have thought twice about the Pokemon toy in your child’s latest Happy Meal. But Pokemon is often a primer for a child’s entry into the world of anime, which has a dark and even pornographic side.

A Brief Background

Anime, or Japanese animation, can be found nearly everywhere in the form of cartoons, movies, comic books, and video games–and it’s all available online.

Anime is rooted in Manga, or Japanese comics. Starting as pictures drawn on temple walls, then on wooden blocks, then finally published in books, manga became a form of stories and art. By the early 20th century, manga became the main form of literature for most of Japanese society.

When animated filmmaking arrived in Japan, it had a huge impact. In the 1940s, more than 40% of all domestic films in Japan were animated based on anime/manga. As these shows grew more and more popular, they caught the attention of networks in the U.S. In 1964, NBC syndicated Osamu Tezuka’s Tetsuwan Atom as Astro Boy and it became the highest rated syndicated show on television. Many other popular shows followed suit, such as Kimba, the White Lion; Marine Boy; and Speed Racer, to name a few.

Cause for Concern

Anime continues to grow in popularity for all ages. However, it is imperative to be advised of its darker side, especially in young people. Because there are numerous genres of anime, one can move from the typical fairytale to mature adult content very quickly. The transition to teen-themed anime is a particular concern. This is a very vulnerable time for many teens, who may identify with the characters they see: portrayals of being left out, unwanted, not fitting in, or being bullied.

Japanese animation does not shy away from sexual content or partial/complete nudity within its mediums. In Naruto, the main character possesses the ability to turn into (among other forms) a naked woman and uses this power to distract others.

Many female anime characters are drawn seductively with hourglass figures, skimpy clothing, and pretty faces. The sexual enticement factor within anime imitates real-life film, providing everything from the innocent to teasingly seductive to hardcore pornography.

Violence and death are prominent in the anime culture. Many distributors of manga and anime movies and television shows have even had to alter the original Japanese content to make it appropriate for a more conservative American market. A simple example of this is the end of a Sailor Moon episode. Two scouts die in the Japanese version, but in the American version the scouts are trapped and rescued.

A simple online search for anime can yield disturbing results. Because many characters look alike, it is hard for a child to know when they are entering a danger zone.

Criminal Anime

Sometimes the content of anime or manga may even be considered criminal for American audiences. Consider the cases of  David Scott Hammond and James  Corey Hammond, twin brothers who were charged with child pornography for possessing anime that depicted underage males engaged in sexual activities. Or the case of Christopher Handley, an Iowa man who was charged for possessing manga drawings of children being sexually abused.

Another questionably legal aspect of anime your child may stumble upon are “fansubs.” Usually these are brand-new shows, unlicensed in America, which have been given English subtitles, translated by fans. Fansubs are widely popular and have helped promote the popularity of anime, due in part to the audience-tailored subtitles. Some even feel that fansub translations are better than those professionally translated by the companies who originally produced the anime. However, fansubs are illegal. For the most part, fansubs go unprosecuted, but there have been lawsuits passed down for violations of copyright law.

Anime Subculture

“My 15-year old daughter started out on a Gaia website and was interested in drawing anime. This turned into cosplay,” or dressing up like a favorite character. This ultimately led to “anime pornography, complete with Japanese words for homosexual activities,” says Natalie, a mother who discovered how online anime and anime-related groups can quickly become inappropriate.

The Internet provides a huge platform for anime fans to express their creativity and to learn more about the art. You can easily interact through online clubs and forums, such as Gaia Online, with the ability to customize your own avatar as an image to represent yourself in these online communities. But with that comes the high probability that your kids will be mixing with individuals who may have a hard time drawing the line on what is acceptable and age-appropriate for viewing.

Additionally, your child’s participation in these online groups brings the susceptibility of being approached by someone with wrong intent. According to a 2011 Microsoft poll, 75% of teenagers have been contacted by a stranger via the Internet, and 23% of teens felt comfortable in making friends with adults online, which they normally would not do.

All of this serves as a simple reminder: you may walk by the TV or your kids’ computers and see cute doe-eyed characters, but are you truly informed about what your children are watching?

Anime: A Parental Primer

As with most things in life, there are good sides and bad sides. Anime is no different. It is a wonderful form of art that inspires creativity and imagination. There are strong themes of loyalty, friendship and good-versus-evil in many anime cartoons. Kids love anime and parents can use the “good” parts as a vehicle to have great conversations about life-lessons.

Here is a sampling of terms to be on the lookout for as you help protect your child’s online and offline interactions with anime:

Terms and Titles

Manga: Comic books

Mecha: Giant Robots

Kawaii (kah-wah-ee): Cute. Often used on its own when observing a situation or character having any distinct level of cuteness.

Shoujo (sho-jo): A girl or young woman

Shounen (sho-nehn): A boy or young man

Yaoi (yah-oh-ee): A male/male relationship, usually of a more sexual and explicit nature than shounen ai

Shounen Ai (sho-nehn ah-ee): A shoujo anime feature in which the plot concerns a romance between two males. Contains male-male relationships but not displayed as explicitly as in yaoi

Hentai: The Japanese word for “pervert” and is considered the catchall name for pornographic anime

Magical Girl: Anime starring a girl with magical powers. Examples: Sailor Moon, Sasami

Shonen: Anime for the young male, from boys to teens. Examples: Naruto, Ruroni Kenshin, Bleach.

Basic Categories of Anime

Action/Adventure: Many anime shows fall into this category and can contain martial arts action, sword and sorcery adventures, and battles between giant robots. Examples of these: DragonBall, DragonBallZ, Black Lagoon, Darker Than Black.

Historical: Many anime are inspired by Japan’s own past, featuring its history and mythology. Examples: Samurai Champloo, Samurai 7, Rurouni Kenshin.

Drama/Comedy: Shows revolve around coming-of-age and romantic experiences at school, both negative and positive. Examples: Ouran High School Host Club, Princess Jellyfish.

Adaptation: Anime created as an off-shoot of video games, comics, or other live-action productions. Examples: Slayers, Devil May Cry, The Dirty Pair.

Sci-Fi/Space: Anime in this category widely range from science-oriented to space opera (similar to soap opera, with romantic themes). Examples:  Cowboy Bebop, Ergo Proxy.