Anime and manga have had a strong, pervasive and lasting impact on the Japanese culture in particular, and the global culture in general. The characters are a representation of the fantastic, larger-than-life and vibrant world they inhabit.
Anime characters have distinct characteristics like large and glowing eyes, vibrant-hued hair, enormous busts and bulging muscles. They battle auras and energy novae, and use magical and overstated weaponry. They typically wage wars against a range of villains including humanoids, other-world creatures, militia, vampires, strange animals, and conniving humans.
It is undisputed that anime has made a strong impact on fans of anime. Anime and manga have an almost addictive power, where fans binge watch and find it difficult to stop with one episode or series. There is also massive popularity for superhero merchandise like apparel, cosplay stuff, houseware, collectibles and novelties like the dva body pillow.
Many anime and manga depict strong and powerful male protagonists, who profoundly influence and shape fans’ characters and personalities. Here, we look at how the male audience reacts to the overreaching influence of anime and Japanese culture.
One of the most powerful themes in anime and manga is strong and almost sacred friendship. Friendship also depicts the Japanese emphasis on collectivism, where it is important to work for the collective good rather than individual success.
Friendship is seen as the strong supporting foundation from where the hero launches into other pursuits, whether it is revenge against wrongdoers or rampaging aliens, or fight against inner demons and weaknesses.
This theme also brings to fore the need to identify with people who share your beliefs and passions. Boys who have grown up enjoying anime and manga will be more likely to be part of a group of friends who will not hesitate to make sacrifices to make friendships work. Loners and withdrawn people view anime as a common bond, helping them form new friendships and communities.
The innocence and purity that’s seen in friendships in anime, manga and shounen have profoundly influenced fans. Shounen is aimed at boys in the age group of 8-18 and depict friendships that help the characters overcome obstacles, challenges and hardships. Shounen characters almost always have supernatural powers that get stronger over time and most problems fade away in the light of the sheer spirit of the heroes. For example consider Naruto Uzumaki of Naruto, Monkey D.Luffy of One Pice and Goku of Dragon Ball Z.
Manga and anime for kids and tweens focus on proving that no difficulty or loss is too much to overcome if you forge ahead with teamwork. The recurring theme is that when you overcome obstacles, you emerge stronger. There are not many Western equivalents in animation that focus on ordinary people who band together to reach a common goal against a mythological backdrop.
Friends are of two types in anime and manga – they can be tomodachi or nakama. Tomodachi is a friend or your gang of buddies who you hang out with most of the time. They can be your colleagues, classmates, neighbors or childhood buddies. The gang of girls in K-ON and Sakura and her gang in Cardcaptor Sakura are examples of tomodachi.
Nakama denotes deeper and a more sensitive bond. Nakama can be a friend who you haven’t seen for years, but will be the first person to call you up or be with you in bad times. Examples of nakama in anime and manga abound in Naruto, Bleach, One Piece, Cowboy Bebop and Haruhi’s SOS Brigade. Nakama need not necessarily like each other and can be bound together only due to similarities in values, beliefs and goals. Though they do not particularly like each others’ habits and eccentricities, they are always there for each other in times of need.
Family themes are less prevalent in anime and manga than romance or friendship. But they are popular and uphold the Japanese ideals of conformity, obedience, loyalty, honor and sacrifice.
The goals and aspirations of the family come before anything else for the anime and manga characters, and the individual dreams and passions always matter less than the collective good.
The aftermath of the nuclear bombing had a profound impact on the early anime and manga, with several characters depicted as separated from their parents or as orphans. They depend on themselves and find their way through hardships and tears, often in the company of other youths like them. The theme of alienation, longing for family and loneliness also runs through several early Japanese anime.
Family encompasses within it a wide range of relationships. Fruits Basket is an anime that gained a lot of popularity since its release in 2001. The 23-volume manga explores complex relationships between siblings as well as the grief experienced on losing a mother figure. Family theme is centric to anime like Clannad (2007-08) and Wolf Children (2012).
Most anime and manga are aimed at young people who long to belong, feel loved and be accepted in their family. Popular anime stress on the importance of forgiveness, respect, love and acceptance in family relationships. Male readers learn to appreciate the delicate nature and complexity of family relationships through these anime.
Romance is, as expected, one of the most popular themes in anime and manga. High school and teen romance is depicted in Toradora, Kaichou wa Maid-sama, Ao Haru Ride, Shuffle and Your Lie in April.
In many anime, women are depicted as either damsels in distress, or strong women who later realize that they must return to the weaker/gentler ‘normal’ state and be submissive to the male protagonist. Examples include Maison Ikkoku and Choujin Locke.
In more recent manga, females are portrayed as ideal foils to the male. The male is usually the central character, but is complemented by the smarter and more balanced female protagonist. They also have mutual respect for each other. Super women raising the male protagonist to their own level is another recurring theme in manga as seen in Natsuki Crisis and Gunnm. The male does not strive to change or transform the female and tries to better himself.
Sex and sexualization is part of anime and manga now, with several works also having strong undertones of homosexuality. The global appeal and popularity of the genre has made anime succumb to the demands for themes that emphasize Western sexual ideology.
Audiences have now come to expect some amount of sexualization of characters even if it does not fit the overall ideology or spirit of the anime. Disproportionately voluptuous female bodies and increasingly macho male characters are all offshoots of this cultural shift. The negative impact of this trend includes a dip in the quality and the originality of anime as a whole. People who are not familiar with anime view the typical sexualization as norm and observe anime as explicitly-sexual in content.
The impact on men from sexualization of anime is hard to assess accurately. But, it does give rise to a whole lot of anime that have good plots, evocative ideology and strong characters, but still pander to male audience by overtly sexualizing women and caricaturing them as mere sex objects. The negative impact will not spill into men viewing women derogatorily, but it will definitely spoil the art form that anime and manga is.
Anime and manga are, without doubt, among the most popular cultural exports from Japan. They have proved that captivating plots, innovative storytelling, fantastic settings, and powerful characters always make for bestselling books, popular games, and blockbuster television programs. With anime gaining popularity, it won’t be long before Roy Mustang and Toua Tokuchi are household names all across the globe.
Photo Credit: Getty Images