Although anime cartoons are not Asian American per-say, they are still a large part of American culture, and are therefore important in further understanding Asian American culture and “socio-aesthetics.” In general, anime characters are portrayed as White instead of Asian, or even any other race. This suggests Asians, or at least the Japanese animators who create these images, respect White people and want to look white themselves. Therefore they project their fantasies onto their cartoons, which hurts Asian Americans because it forces them to be absent from the media and become less accepted in American society.
“Strategies of an Asian American filmmaker” by Loni Ding reflects upon the impact of Asian American’s absence in the media. Ding believes “the subtext of media absence is that the absent group ‘doesn’t count,’ or is somehow unacceptable,” (MI, 47). In addition, psychologically “it affects our sense of self, our feeling of being agents who act upon the world,” (47). By not representing Asians in anime, Ding would argue Asians become non-existent in American culture. According to Ding, the camera, or in this case animated figures, has the power to engage its audience (48). It forces viewers to see and gives them a sense that the figure on screen has power and therefore is important.
Peter X Feng’s introduction to “Screening Asian Americans” reinforces the impact absence has on people when he asserts there is racism in the form of role segregation in U.S. films “wherein white actors can portray non-whites, but non-whites can never portray whites” (8). This is because American culture “enjoys sampling exotic flavors while denying the subtle transformations that attend their ingestion” (8). In other words, while it is acceptable to know Asians and Asian Americans exist, it is not acceptable to actually show they exist. American culture’s popularity has grown since America has become more powerful, which means American culture heavily influences many countries worldwide. Perhaps in the case of anime, Japanese animators felt they would be more successful if their characters represented the “popular race.” According to Feng, globalization produces “new identity formations that situate Asian Americans as citizens of the world [that] are increasingly reflected in Asian American aesthetic production” (14). The same goes for Asians. By placing Whites in heroic fantasy roles, they romanticize and flatter whites, which currently dominate globally in terms of power and economy, in order to make themselves more appealing globally. Lastly, Feng writes the “cinematic representation of Asians in their bodily materiality reveals the ideologies that police national boundaries” (15). Looking at Asians and anime, this could be interpreted as a Japanese ideology of wanting to be White.
A perfect example of anime’s use of White heroic characters is “Sailor Moon.” “Sailor Moon” is a series about a group of young teenage girls in junior high who transform into Sailor Soldiers (each representing a different planet) whenever need be to save the world. There are four main Soldiers, and each one is tall with long legs, long faces and big eyes. In addition, the protagonist Sailor Moon, who is also the Moon Princess, is a white girl with long blonde pigtails and expressive blue eyes. These images do not in any way look Japanese, yet the series was quite popular in the U.S. in the 1990’s and it was widely known to be a Japanese creation. Because the characters are pretty and heroic, many young girls in America admired them and wanted to be Sailor Soldiers, which made Japan more popular and well-known among the younger generations. However, by not creating any Asian-looking characters, Sailor Moon alienated Asian Americans because it did not give them space to exist in anime culture. In virtually every anime series such as “Pokémon,” “Trigun,” “Gundam,” and “Naruto,” all the characters are white. Although all these cartoons are Japanese-made, this forced absence of Asians does not allow them to be fully accepted in American culture; they are merely “sampled.”
Furthermore, the ability for the girls to transform into Sailor Soldiers and use magical powers, such as “Moon Tiara Magic,” “Jupiter Thunder Crash,” “Mercury Bubbles,” “Venus Crescent Smash” and “Mars Fire Ignite”, shows the appeal of a fantasy world mixed with reality (typical teenage girls’ lives). Perhaps this reveals another ideology of Japan: the desire for power and the need to feel important in today’s world. Power projected onto the girls in Sailor Moon reflects power Japan wants, not in the sense of domination but rather in having enough power to be considered important to the world. This mirrors Asian American’s desire to have enough power in America to be accepted in society.
By looking at anime with a “socio-aesthetics” perspective, one can see that although anime characters are visually pleasing, they prevent Asians from being truly part of the media and they depict Japan’s ideology to be a vital factor in the world. This is significant because it supports Feng’s donut theory, which states in “Chan is Missing” that each character holds a doughnut and must bite from it to get to the center to fix his or her own identity (SAA, 209). Likewise in anime, each aspect-whether it is the character’s appearance or the fantasy world facet-represents the smaller doughnut that must be analyzed and bitten in order to discover the true effect it has on Asian American identity in the center. Only two aspects have been investigated in this paper, but there are many more characteristics to be considered, such as all the pornographic websites dedicated to “Sailor Moon” featuring sexual images of the Sailor Soldiers. Other features of anime to be explored are romance and sexuality.
Ding, Loni. “Strategies of an Asian American Filmmaker.” Moving the Image: Independent Asian Pacific American Media Arts. UCLA Asian American Studies Center and Visual Communications, Southern California Asian American Studies Central, Inc.: 1991.
Feng, Peter X. Screening Asian Americans. Rutgers University Press: 2002.