A while ago I called upon some outside help to better understand female representation in anime. I compared the fantastic & empowering sports anime Taisho Baseball Girls to the cross-dressing comedy series I My Me! Strawberry Eggs, and got one of my closest friends, Frida, to answer some burning questions about how such an anime are perceived by the fairer sex. “Can you empower female characters while also making them the target of fanservice?” and other questions like that.
It was a jolly good time, but since then my beloved friend has become corrupted. She one day began reading some manga and before I knew it she had a massive backlog of anime planned and was digesting them by the season. In fact, this week’s review of Grimm’s Notes was entirely unplanned, until it became Frida’s main obsession and she strongly recommended I watch it.
It’s a show I never would have sought out on my own, but her glowing recommendation enticed me to look it up anyway… and I really, genuinely liked it. Reviewers hated it, the average user score is just barely a 5/10, but this anime newbie saw past all of that and found a special little show. We often let professional reviews, anime veterans, or the common consensus guide the discussion on anime, but there’s something pure and unfiltered to the perspective of a new or casual fan.
With that in mind, I got Frida to come back on for another interview. This time around we’ll be talking about her experiences with getting into anime and her views on some of anime’s touchier subjects.
Q: To start with: what got you suddenly so interested in delving into anime & manga?
A: The state of the world, I mean, look at it. No, but seriously. I love books, reading, perusing a book store and throwing my money at an author and their worlds. Stories and storytelling are magnificent pastimes, but over the last few years some of the joy of taking part in such activities dwindled. I’m slowly rediscovering that joy, but I wanted to step out of my comfort zone to discover new modes of storytelling. Anime and manga were easily within reach, especially after your corrupting influence and talks about the constant ups and down of the multitude of drawn universes. I also realized I was being rather small-minded and prejudiced in dismissing a whole medium based on lazy generalizations about it being filled with fan-service and hentai.
Q: You were very excited about Grimm’s Notes, so what did you think/feel when you saw it was critically panned and widely criticized by more veteran anime fans?
A: My knee-jerk reaction was that I must be dumb, missing something that more advanced fans were picking up on, and therefore made the show bad. Then I realized they were dumb for not liking the show. I feel like part of the reason for why I liked this show is because it relates to my usual haunts: literature, fiction, books, fairy-tales, myths, legends, sagas and what-nots. And seeing so many people disregard it or dislike it made me genuinely sad, as it struck me as a rather good first bridge to cross from novels to anime. It did also make me feel somewhat more determined to seek out anime (and manga) that the general audience might not think too highly of.
Q: Are there any tropes or other assumed knowledge that you struggled to figure out when first getting into anime?
A: A lot of the tags on Anilist. The function that briefly tells you what they mean is precious. They are a great way to learn some new words in a different language, but it seems like the best way to actually learn what they all represent is to watch/read a product that is representative of it. Also, in case of some series, figuring out where to actually start to watch (or read) something, with all its spinoffs, sequels, prequels adaptations, OVAs, one-shots etc., is a task. Which is why I’m rather blessed to be able to pick Casper’s brain for clues.
Q: We talked about fanservice in relation to female empowerment in our first interview, but how do you feel about fanservice in general?
A: I feel like I’m going to burn myself answering this question, but I don’t mind fanservice in a general sense. If the point of the show is to be fanservice-y, sure, but if fanservice-inserts begin to disrupt the flow of the plot in a story not based on that exact plot device to attract attention, for me, it then just turns into bad and lazy storytelling.
Q: Actually, let’s dig a little deeper. Based on what you’ve seen thus far, how do you feel about female characters in anime and their design?
A: I want to throw my money at whatever or whoever manufactures these characters’ (sports)bras. Seriously. The staying power is immaculate. Maybe Armor Shop for Ladies and Gentlemen is the place to go? So far the variety in base character design has been low – and I will seek more stories out as I learn – but I am impressed by the magnitude of costume design for a lot of characters. Cardcaptor Sakura with Kero’s costume/episode breakdowns are really interesting, a good henshin is always welcome, and Eniale & Dewiela are fashion icons. Perhaps I’m demanding, but I’d love to see female characters as they’re portrayed in the graphic novel series Monstress, by Marjorie Liu (writer) and Sana Takada (artist).
Q: Are there any deal-breakers in anime, be it tropes or entire genres, that would make you drop or avoid an anime entirely?
A: This is pretty translatable from any other medium I consume. Age gap in combination with a child cast and any sexual content can go take a hike off a cliff and into an active volcano. Racist stereotypes, misogyny, discrimination fueling the storytelling is a big no. Queerbaiting resulting in a kill-your-gays-plot? Also big no. I’ll watch most genres at least once, but horribleness will have to go to sleep in my DNF-cauldron.
Q: The sexualization of young characters is often a topic of fierce discussion in anime, with even mainstream hits like Monogatari and Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid featuring semi-erotic depictions of kids. Many think that it’s weird, but acceptable because it’s animation (and thus not real) or because Japan has different social norms than us. What is your take on this?
A: Did I watch Kobayashi? Yes. Was it awkward? Also yes. There is a question that sticks out to me in connection to this: Where does the sexualization come from? The creator or the viewer? Does that even matter? I don’t know enough about Japanese social norms to have an opinion on what they are like. In the end, I don’t really have a better answer than that my take on this is that the sexualization of kids need to stop. It shouldn’t have to be a take; let kids be kids.
Q: On a more positive note: is there anything in anime that you are particularly excited about discovering?
A: The Girl from the Other Side feature-length animation, hellloooo. Which, to be fair, is sorta already covered, but I need it in my life, okay. I am excited about discovering more great stories, especially fantastical in nature or in the style of Kiki’s Delivery Service, Little Witch Academia, Witch Hat Atelier, Magus of the Library, or anything magical slice-of-life with characters in jobs like apothecaries, smiths, waiters, where not the hero is in focus, but the typical supportive characters around the hero.
Q: Perhaps the most controversial question of today, but you are a fantasy expert… should catgirls and other half-human characters have human ears as well as animal ears or should it only be the animal ears?
A: If they’ve got twice the ears I feel like I should be careful not to speak too loudly. I mean, having the extra set of ears just seem like a boon to me. Besides, the animal ears usually just look like someone glued a headband with ears on the character’s head. Also, not a fantasy expert, nor a genetics expert.
Q: To end on a classic: do you prefer anime subtitled or translated to English, or perhaps even in your native language?
A: The only anime I can remember watching in my native language where I kinda prefer it, would be Pokémon first generation. Otherwise I prefer to watch subtitled. I accidentally put on the English dub of Somali and the Forest Spirit the other day and it was quite jarring. Using subtitles forces me to engage with the story on a different level, I can’t just put it on in the background while I go do other things.
That’s all for today! Thank you once again for joining me Frida and for sharing your unique perspective on all these topics. Now we have a request to all you lovely readers out there. Do you have any recommendations for anime & manga that an anime newbie should absolutely check out? Please let us know in the comments or through the contact form.