Stereotypes in the Japanese Anime industry


Mibu Tako

What comes to your mind when you think of the country Japan? Sushi? Cherry blossoms? Wagamama? OR “My Hero Academia”?

Over the last decade, Japan’s unique culture of anime has become widespread across the UK and many other Western countries. You may have heard of cartoon titles such as “Pokémon”, “Attack of Titan”, “One Piece”, or “Your Name”. Currently, the popularity of anime is greater than ever, and this is primarily due to the increasing focus on foreign exports of the Japanese animation industry. The large variety of programs seem to attract many adults as well as teenagers, who have been enchanted by the unconventional world of Japanese anime.

Whilst anime is rarely put into the same category as other animation movies, it is vital to critically examine its characters and plotlines from the aspect of stereotypes and gender roles. Many traditional animes such as “Dragon Ball Z”, reflect the conservative social standards in Japan. The stories are often dominated by powerful male characters, whilst women are portrayed as rather secondary, as in the position of supporting their male partners.

In another anime called Doraemon, a number of outdated jokes are introduced, where the girl protagonist Shizuka’s skirt frequently gets lifted because of the strong wind. This is a common joke involved in multiple Japanese animations, which is only accepted by someone who is used to the old-fashioned anime clichés.

When it comes to the controversy over race, anime can be extremely complicated. One example for this is the lack of variety in skin colour. Whilst the recent Disney Pixar films (Mulan, Raya and the Last Dragon, Soul) show their strong emphasis on diverse cultural backgrounds, Japanese animations hardly include foreign characters (e.g., “Kuroko’s Basketball”, “Haikyu”, etc.). Even when a different culture is introduced, it is common to have a white male character with the stereo-typed features of Westerners (tall nose, blond hair, blue eyes). This shows how Japan is still attached to the conservative stereotypes, strictly against the worldwide current anti-racist movement. Some argue that Japanese animation should become more inclusive in its range of characters, whilst others argue that everyone should accept and enjoy anime as a type of culture which should not be altered by the hands of ‘outsiders’.

So, what do you think? Should we remain to be amused by the rooted nature of Japanese anime in the way that it has always been? Or should we act to change its way of portrayal when referring to gender and racial equality?