The word ‘otaku’ is riddled with subliminal meanings and decades of context from when it entered common use in Japan. Thankfully, that’s not what this week’s Editorial Tuesday is about. As ‘otaku’ has become part of the common language in the overseas anime communities to refer to a dedicated anime fan, many choose to identify themselves as such. In such an environment, there is more interest in what being an otaku is actually like and how they can be further categorised.
However, there are a host of problems when one approaches the issue from the point of gender and sexuality; assuming that anime as a hobby can be distinctly categorised between male and female is a practice leading to broad generalisations that offend more often than enlighten. As such, today’s article serves as a discussion of why anime viewers cannot be clearly split between the ‘otaku boys’ and ‘otaku girls’, and instead touches upon how the broad range of available genres encourages talk of differences in fans to be based on other aspects instead.
Outlining the Assumptions
Anime fans outside Japan have no trouble understanding what shounen and shoujo anime are. Both target the ‘young male’ and ‘young female’ demographics as a defined feature of their genres and have spawned shows that have become iconic of the anime medium itself. One could easily get the impression that anime as a whole comprises shows and films that can be pigeonholed into the categories of ‘anime for guys’ and ‘anime for girls’, which may indeed be how creators and production staff sees the situation when considering their target audiences.
Watching a long-running shounen TV anime show is a time-tested way of getting anime fans into the hobby, and such is the case for countless teenage boys who are right in the strike zone of the genre’s target demographic. The appeal of such shows lies in being able to find characters that one can think of as their idol or as a reliable friend, letting us root for them through their failures and eventual, hard earned success. The stereotypical young male otaku is enamoured with this kind of storytelling, and there’s a wealth of shows with all kinds of settings, character types and plotlines to make it work for almost every preference.
On the other hand, shoujo anime are a dime a dozen, more often than not rehashing the high school setting. There is an intense emotional attachment to character drama that cannot be experienced anywhere other than the shoujo genre, especially considering how petty some of the conflicts might’ve been after taking the time to think the events through. Just like how romance movies hit it off well with the girl crowd, the fantasies of ideal romantic partners or hoping for the fulfillment of an unlikely couples are the
As the differences between these genres are relatively clear-cut and lack in overlap, there is definitely merit in understanding that there is a split teenage anime viewership at least in terms of how each of the two genres above develop their popularity. However, to extrapolate further than the fact that there are two defined genres that have very particular target audiences is a dangerous line of thought. In order to show why this is, we will proceed to look at how certain fanbases are in more specific genres.
The Flexibility and Specificity of Anime Subgenres
The same understanding comes into question when the sub genres of anime, which are also significant features of the current anime landscape, come under scrutiny. Are mecha anime and mahou shoujo shows really dedicated to a specific audience?
Let’s first consider the former. Mecha anime is probably best understood in terms of its largest franchises, namely Gundam and Macross. While Gundam series are no doubt quality shows that convey meaningful (if admittedly questionable) messages about the problems of war and human conflict, they are also largely driven by hordes of mecha anime fans who have developed a deep appreciation of the intricate robot designs of the franchise’s signature robotic war machines and form a consumer base for the model kits and toys made of them. This particular subset of viewers is definitely dominated by males.
However, the very same Gundam franchise have also spawned shows that have hit it off with the female demographic for various reasons. Consider the relatively recent Mobile Suit Gundam 00; the show has garnered an enormous female fan base because of the appealing bishounen character designs for the show’s main Gundam pilots. In fact, voice actor Mamoru Miyano became so popular for his role as Setsuna F. Seiei, the show’s protagonist, that he remains to date as one of the most loved male voice actors among dedicated female otakus in Japan. The Gundam franchise is a prime example of how genres in anime do not exist categorically; there are crossovers and overlaps for the vast majority of shows that leads to them appealing to a much broader range of audiences. Moreover, creators within established franchise are probably motivated to take a more flexible approach in their storytelling in order to attract newer fans in order to promote even more growth.
The Macross franchise further complicates issues as it is as well remembered for its romance as it is for its mecha. Although, yet again, the franchise produced memorable mecha designs with every new shoes, iconic works such as Macross: Do You Remember Love is just as (if not more) loved for its memorable songs and romantic plotline, which is appreciated from both sides of the gender spectrum. Anime as a hobby, and probably along with many other modern media, has many aspects that do not divide between male and female. In fact, anime as a whole garners fans from so many different backgrounds that differentiating between gender seems to be meaningless.
Ending off this section, let’s take a brief look at the mahou shoujo genre. Best known for spawning the now legendary Sailor Moon franchise, it is difficult to argue against the idea that mahou shoujo shows were originally meant to appeal only with female pre-teens. However, as the genre gained traction and Sailor Moon itself became a respectable love story with surprisingly ground-breaking themes for a TV show for kids, mahou shoujo evolved beyond its target audience. In fact, this evolution tips off an important aspect about the possibilities of anime that makes it difficult to regard the medium’s fanbase as split between male and female, and almost inane to think that ‘shounen’ and ‘shoujo’ (and the adult forms of either genre) covers everything that anime has to offer.
Gender is the Broadest of all Differences
The current season of anime has over 40 series airing on TV. This is not counting those that began from the previous season, the films that are scheduled to air within this time nor the series that will be released direct-to-video. This has happened for four seasons a year for many, many years leading up to where we are now. There is a lot of anime available to us that we can easily tap into.
Having said that, let’s refocus on the issue at hand: how do we consider the viewers of all these anime, and does being a boy or a girl have much, if anything, to do with that. The genre labels seem to suggest so, but also otherwise when looking at just how different some of the shows can be within specific subgenres. There are some shows that are clearly aimed at either boys or girls, but also shows that can appeal very well to both. What’s going on?
The core issue of this problem is not one that lies within anime, but in the question being asked. A common assumption about anime, especially with newer fans, is that there are a lot more commonalities between all anime series and films than there really are. This leads to further assumptions that the people who consume anime also have a lot in common when that is not necessarily true. These assumptions come from a preconception that anime is, in one way or another, a genre of animated works. This is not true. Anime is a medium pertaining to animation produced in Japan, nothing more and nothing less.
As the medium has evolved to bring us such a variety of TV anime series and anime films, there are countless combinations of anime that a single anime fan can have. The term otaku may be considered to have a specific definition when used in English, but its use in Japan is often specified even further (such as mecha otaku, military otaku…) just so that it becomes clearer what group of people exactly are being referred to. Ghibli family-friendly works are anime, provocative ecchi shows are anime and even social commentaries such as Hataraki Man and Shirobako are also anime. There are so few commonalities between their fans that it makes more sense to discuss their differences based on the genres of the anime, the topics they discuss or even their creators. There are many differences between anime and their viewers, some meaningful or thought-provoking and some less so because of how arbitrary they are. A difference based on gender is about as arbitrary and general as it can get.
In essence, asking for the difference between otaku boys and otaku girls is about as meaningful as figuring out the difference between male and female movie watchers or the differences between male and female newspaper readers.
Although anime has been around for a long time now, there are many misconceptions are assumptions that are still around. It is important to make use of what one knows well to figure out how differences between anime and its fans happen, rather than to let those assumptions go out of control. Anime as a medium has spawned shows targeting either male and female audiences, but also shows that appeal to both and have been received in similar ways by all genders. The number of variations of how a show can be received numbers more than there are shows themselves, and this is something that cannot often be understood as a matter of male and female differences.
As such, we at Honey’s Anime invite you too to think about some of these differences. Let us know in the comment section below what significant differences you feel there are about anime or its fans.