Posts Tagged ‘anime’

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Batman: Gotham Knight

August 31, 2008

If you enjoyed the depth of Dark Knight Returns, you’ll probably also dig Gotham Knight.

An animated movie of 6 chapters, with different directors and writers, but connected, Gotham Knight manages to hit the best kinds of Batman stories and surprisingly gets deeper than what I expected. All of the chapters manage to avoid the #1 pitfall to a Batman story- making it all about the villains. These stories manage to swing the focus back to the real relationships: Batman to Gotham and Batman to himself.

The first two chapters focus on the people of Gotham living and what Batman means to them- skater kids bragging to each other about seeing him, detectives arguing about the morality of a vigilante on the streets. After that, we swing into questions about Batman’s morals, and even throw some grey areas on him (Bruce keeps a gun collection – “Know your enemy. Though I never fired one, I can see the appeal…”).

The best of the chapters is written by Brian Azzarello (of 100 Bullets fame). “Working through the Pain” where we get a flashback to Bruce traveling to India, seeking the training to overcome pain.

Whereas this could have been a simple cultural appropriation montage, instead, we see him get rejected by the Fakirs (“He said you were not being honest with him. You’re not here for enlightenment.”) and instead, learning from Cassandra, an Indian woman (British raised? Hmm. Maybe.) who had to steal the knowledge because she was forbidden to learn the techniques herself. She’s hard, and real, and neither subservient nor a romantic interest- she’s her own character and pretty badass. And she doesn’t spend the chapter spouting mysticisms either. By the end of the story, you even see how broken Bruce is- that which makes him strong cripples him at the same time.

The other thing- all 6 chapters are surprisingly well done in terms of representation- tons of POC (which makes sense if you go with the Gotham = Chicago idea) and they’re not criminals, nor victims. (ETA: also, they called out the corruption of gentrification through “redevelopment”. Nice.)

Overall, this gets 4/5 from me, for being an awesome DVD, and well worth picking up if you’re a Batman fan.

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“Why are they all white?”

April 28, 2008

There’s this interesting question I hear a lot of times in regards to manga and anime- “Why are all the characters white?”

This question always fascinated me, because there’s so much anime with POC characters in it. Oh, sure, there’s Sailor Moon and a disproportionate amount of blonde haired, blue eyed characters in both manga and anime, but definitely not much different than what I’d expect from Japan post WW2 and occupation (see also…oh, Latin America?!?). No, what always gets me about the question is that the people asking it are almost always coding ALL the characters -as white-.

The usual point most of these folks like to bring to the table is that all the characters have big eyes. At the same time, none of these people turn and ask of American comics, “Why are they all steroid/silicone breast enlargement junkies?” Oh, that’s right, they’re able to parse and comprehend that this is a style factor of the genre, not a literal representation.

But why is that?

When I look at American comics and cartoons, I see the fact is that all POC are very clearly defined, both in appearance and role. Panthro, Barbecue, Roadblock, Jazz, Blaster, Quickkick, Power Man, Black Panther, Shaman, Warpath, The Mandarin, etc. All simplifications, all filling easy to identify roles- “The black one”, “The asian guy”, tokenized in concept from the get go. (Pixar’s Cars had shown even in 2006 we were going to fall back on easy stereotypes.)

Certainly, though, cartoons and comics are built on the idea of simplified roles- good guys and bad guys are clearly marked, characters are generally as they are portrayed, though it’s interesting to see genre conventions and ethnic markers are put in the same category. This is, in part, because in America, the story being told is from a white perspective- of course the other ethnicities are “roles”, they are spokes added onto the hub of the white narrative which is the assumed heart of the story. The whole affair basically says, “There’s a place for you (in these narrowly defined roles)”.

Coming back to manga and anime, naturally the roles aren’t going to fit, because the Japanese aren’t exactly coming from the same place (though certainly they’re informed a lot based on the white narrative, as keeps cropping up with their images of black and NDN folks). I mean, for step one, very few characters actually fit the asian stereotype of the quiet submissive character. Yet, in many stories, the majority (or entirety) of characters are Japanese, appearances notwithstanding.

Second, it became clear to me over these conversations that for many of these people, if a character wasn’t brown, and otherwise wasn’t clearly marked “asian” (via stereotypical images), they defaulted to white. Nevermind that asian people DO dye their hair “these days” (these days being a couple generations now).

Even with the really fucked up throwback images coming out of Japan, they still produce even non-Japanese POC characters who exceed American standards for breaking stereotypes. The case was, basically that manga and anime remains one of the few places you can find a brown character who is brown NOT to fulfill a stereotype, but simply as a character. In other words, the characters either fall into the worst of stereotypes or not at all, and the latter is so rare in US media I find it nearly impossible to find.

For example, Robotech remains one of the few cartoons (or shows in American television period) in which you had interracial dating AND a relationship of equal power. Many stations cut scenes between Claudia and Roy Fokker, because, in 1985, clearly we couldn’t have our kids minds tainted with the idea of miscegenation. The Japanese would do us one better in 1989 and embrace a brown Egyptian heroine as a beloved tv series icon in Nadia, Secret of Blue Water… While it’s 2008 and Disney is finally getting around to having a black princess.

For me and a lot of my friends, it was a great time to grow up- anime and manga just hit while we were in our teens, and suddenly we had a wealth of stories that involved asian folks who existed outside of sex fetishes, submissive workers, nerds, or martial arts masters. We actually had characters who, like us, came in all types. By the time the later 90’s hit, more and more anime and manga started including brown characters, not enough for sure, but at least they existed outside of being defined by physicality, “sassy” attitude, or violence.

It is sad and pretty damning that foreign media can provide better options in terms of coding than our “melting pot” which only seems to put the heat on one way. Maybe part of the boom is that white folks can code the characters as white, while asian kids can code the characters as asian.

Are the characters all white? Maybe that depends on who you ask. Sort of like this country, maybe it’s not as white as you think.

Update:

This article from Nichi Bei Times echoes the issue re: the Speed Racer movie.