Youth and Idealization/Agency in Anime and Manga

Why are the main characters in anime and manga almost always young? This is a question that is commonly brought up among many overseas fans of anime and manga.

This is actually a trick question–If you look at the wide breadth of material from Japan, it won’t take for you to notice that there is actually a huge amount of material that revolves around characters that are adults. But the perception that anime and manga revolves around youth is something that needs to be examined carefully, as this is an enduring stereotype.

It is my belief that many in the West have a hard time appreciating and understanding the Japanese preoccupation with school day youth in fiction. While it may not dominate the media landscape as some would believe, the fixation is there and it is widespread.

I was born and raised in Japan. I only went to Japanese public school for three years but I lived in Japan through-out the 1970s to the 1980s. I have many Japanese friends and I spent a lot of time with them. I would like to think that I have a relatively good understanding of the cultural attitudes that are shared by many in Japan.

As such, I would argue that, for many Japanese people, life during the youth school days hold a uniqueness spot—One unrivaled as one full of potential and agency.

This isn’t to say there are other aspects involved here, but for many of us in Japan, people romanticize life between grades 7~12 as days when you have more agency over yourself than any other stage in your life, or the potential to have agency seems more pronounced.

Japan is a society where social pressures are very powerful. Conformity and peer pressure can be very oppressive. It is a lot hard to imagine how an adult person my cast aside their family and society obligations to pursue something extraordinary. This is the case in school as well, but youthful transgression allows many to fantasize about how they might do thing differently if they were given the opportunity. Many feel their lives are severely constrained but people romanticize about the school days as when you “could” break from the system due to your youth.

The (Western) ideal of an independent, self-sufficient individual is not unknown in Japan. But for many Japanese, we are constantly reminded of our affiliation with various different organizations (employment) or roles (gender, parental, etc.)

Let us assume there was a Japanese anime revolving around a giant robot show with Japanese characters set in contemporary Japan. If the main character is a professional pilot, then we tend to ascribe the worth of the individual based on their affiliation with the professional career, not on their personal merits. The personal merits are important, as those are the things that allowed the person to hold the position he or she holds, but trust worthiness and social reputation is usually closely associate with the successes that come about from teamwork and working within the system.

Let’s now make the main character be a young male or female, and then their ability to pilot the giant robot seems more special, more unique to their own personal attributes. It also makes it easier to have a story where the main character is in a moral dilemma. A mature, professional pilot facing a difficult moral situation is certainly worthy to be a good story, to be sure, but some in Japan would find it too realistic and the sense of wonder would be diminished. It’s harder for many Japanese to entertain the idea of a mature, righteous person fighting the system.

This is not to say there are no stories like that–I can think of many many anime and manga titles that revolve around mature characters fighting the system. But many of these anime and manga titles rarely see the time of day outside of Japan.

Therefore, I would have to counter the argument that “anime and manga only features young, cute characters” needs to be qualified much better. Yes, anime and manga does feature a lot of adolescents, but that’s more about which titles are being translated and released overseas.

Finally, I would also like to note that the Japanese perception regarding youth and agency is culturally rooted, but does not preclude enjoyment from mature, independent minded characters–A lot of Hollywood movies with more mature character are popular in Japan.

Many Western narratives hold a unique position within the hearts and minds of the Japanese audience, in my humble opinion. Because the stories and characters are grounded in localities outside of Japan, audiences do not project as strong Japanese social expectations upon them.

It may seem strange for some Westerners that the Japanese have different sets of expectations regarding agency, self-determination and moral guidelines. But this is not something uniquely Japanese. People’s expectations and perceptions are dependent on the setting/actors involved.

Talking about expectations, value systems, morality, and “individuality” is very interesting but needs to be reserved for a different occasion. It would nice if I can find the chance to take up that subject in a later blog entry.

(This blog is based on a thread of observations and analysis I conducted on Twitter in Janurary of 2022.)

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Translation and Human Learning

No one is born with the ability to appreciate memes nor speak masterfully. It’s all learned. If it is learned, it means it can be shared to others at a later time.

To be sure, cultural context and shared knowledge has a huge impact on the efficiency of the translation. It’s difficult to translate words and concepts related to computers if the target audience has had no or little contact with computers. But the words and concepts can still be translated and shared, if the audience is willing to understand and learn.

A translation might be clumsy, it might not always be snappy. But I believe anything that is learned can be translated and shared to audiences beyond the original target group.

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Dealing with Realities

The world is a confusing place. When we are young, they try to shield us from the chaos.

As we grow older, we must learn to work with this cacophony as it is part of human nature and free will.

Do not expect “reality” to adhere to your reality. There are many realities out there. Some of them are more convincing than others. But popularity does not equaite to validity.

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8th Panzer Regiment at Air Comiket 2

Hello everyone! The WordPress editor changed everything so bad, I’m having a real hard time figuring out how things work. I would like to make a brief announcement regarding the participation of my doujinshi circle, 8th Panzer Regiment, as Air Comiket 2, which is a virtual version of Comic Market. Air Comiket 2 is taking place on Dec.30~31st, 2020.

I have posted information regarding the books that my circle has prepared for Air Comiket 2 on pixiv. Please checkout the link below.
I manged to get two books ready this time. I’m glad that I’ll be able to avoid the situation where I had no books for the entire year of 2020.

I’d like to work hard to make 2021 be a very fruitful year. Please look forward to what I’m doing.
I hope everyone can enjoy a happy New Years!

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The Slow Japanese Response to COVID-19

Through out the first three months of 2020, there was fear that the 2020 Tokyo Olympics might have problems. Scandals after scandals followed after Tokyo was named to be the host city. The stadium costing too much, the stadium looking too mundane, the lack of volunteers and how both business as well as school seemed to be co-opted into helping it. The list goes on and on. While there were many who looked forward to the games, others were bitter about the cost the event was inflicting upon Japan, both financially and socially. The cost overruns are something many expected, but the Olympics were pushing aside regular everyday life in Japan on an unprecedented level and people were not happy about how holidays were being re-worked, convention centers being closed-off, and how authorities were warning that the congestion might be so bad that parcel delivery services might not function very well while the games are taking place–Their suggestion was people might want to avoid using mail order while the Olympic games were going on.

But the biggest question that dogged the 2020 Olympics was not the games itself, but how the organizers of the games seemingly adamantly denying the threat posed by a massive pandemic originating in China right next door to Japan.

As the world witnessed how the contagion made life in Wuhan, China extremely difficult with the forced lockdown and severe restriction on everyday life, there was concern the disease, now know as COVID-19, might spread like wildfire when the world assembled together at Tokyo in late July for the Olympic games. The Olympics put on a brave face, saying contagion prevention measures will be in full force, and there was nothing to worry about coming to Tokyo. Well that became a moot point. By early March, it was clear COVID-19 was having a detrimental impact on Europe and could severely hit the US as well.

And yet, in Japan, closing down schools and stamping out clusters of cases appeared to be having relatively good effect, at least up until the first half of March. Authorities asked citizens to reduce social interaction and events were strongly requested to postpone or to cancel. This was all being conducted without any legal justification–After all these were requests for self-restraint. In the meantime, the 2014 Act on Special Measures for Pandemic Influenza and New Infectious Diseases Preparedness and Response (a.k.a., New Influenza Special Countermeasures Law) was revamped so that the law could be invoked for the current epidemic of COVID-19 just in case if things got out of hand. This took place on March 13th.

In a nutshell, the New Influenza Special Countermeasures Law allows the national government to declare a state of emergency and empower local governments to pressure, but not ban, certain everyday activities. Prefectural governors would dissuade businesses where the risk of contagion was real to suspend operations and such. If the businesses did not comply, then the governors would be allowed to publicly shame the businesses by publishing their names to the public. Buildings where contagion took place could be shutdown and traffic into said buildings could be restricted. Resources needed for the treatment of diseases could be commandeered and land could be unilaterally seized to place medical facilities or emergency shelters.

These are relatively tame powers when compared to the disease prevention measures that are available to many other Western nations.

And yet, the Japanese government hoped that the New Influenza Special Countermeasures Law would not have to be invoked. Tremendous uncertainty over how to navigate an unprecedented situation, the fears of an economic slowdown accelerating, and the hope that the situation could resolve itself were most likely caused great hesitation. I have talked about some of the background here.

By late March, it was very clear COVID-19 could not possibly be contained by the coming summer. On March 25th, the day after the 2020 Tokyo Olympics was postponed, Japanese citizen were advised against going anywhere overseas. On March 28th, the broad guidelines for how the New Influenza Special Countermeasures Law and the state of emergency was finally released.

And yet, it took until April 7th for the actual declaration of the state of emergency to take place.

So what has happened since then? Governors of affected regions immediately called upon certain classes of businesses to shutdown, highly recommended people to work from home, and for the most part, the public followed suit. It was a haphazard affair, but as the gravity of the situation become more and more clear, social pressure and fear compelled large segments of the public to adhere to quarantine measures that were only possible via martial law in some countries.

Cases spiked in mid April, but they have come done and stabilized by the end of April. We won’t know for sure if Japan’s approach was success, but by in large, the contagion is vastly more limited in Japan and life is better organized than in some Western countries.

We do not know if this situation will continue.

It’s easy to say Japan should have pushed through centralized testing, conducted mass medical screenings, mobilized the military to help provide logistics help, as well as aggressive state intervention into everyday people’s lives be carried out in order to stem the contagion, but something many commentators seem to be blissfully ignorant of what happened in Japan prior to 1945.

Even up until the 2000s, Japan was still dealing with the after-effects of leper colonies, forced sterilization of those with hereditary disabilities, and other public health policies that went disastrously wrong. The practice of these policies were continued well into the postwar economic boom of the 1960s.

In Japan, there is a strong hesitation over governmental overreach. There is fear that authoritarian tools, even legislated and monitored by a democratic legislative process, may not be good enough to stop the abuse of power by the majority against those in the minority.

This is not to say overreach into people’s lives do not take place. There are numerous quasi-public and voluntary organizations, industry self-regulatory groups, and other types of local community elements  that exercise influence over individuals, either through subtle pressuring, cultural influencing, and/or regulatory powers. Some might argue that governmental control is conducted via proxy by these organizations, but it is important to note that many of these organizations and regulatory schemes date back many years and sudden changes through legislative or executive mandates are very hard to implement through these means, as they are rooted in long running social acceptance and maintained semi-autonomously.

Japan is still a community orientated society, where consensus is highly sought, and social peer pressure can be relentless. Hierarchy and difference to authority figures is practically hard-coded into the language. While independent thought, diverse degrees of individualism and the indomitable rebel spirit are all very much part of Japan, the cultural, sociological, and linguistic norms and standards do have an considerable effect, both consciously and subconsciously.

These power moors of social structure make their presence known in a wide variety of situations.

Some businesses have been targeted for harassment as people will incessantly call them to ask why they are still open. Neighborhood interactions can grow awkward very quickly if a family is considered to be flaunting the social pressure to self-restrain. Teachers may even dissuade parents from giving their children Kindle tablets because it gives some children an unfair advantage (in their view.)

Even agents of the government can do subtle things to compel those who engage in legal activities to feel pressured. The police have been patrolling streets in pleasure districts, asking people why aren’t they home. Civil servants have frequented businesses that remain open to request them to shut down.

Scholars have pointed out that Japanese morality and values are less about personal conviction as opposed to adhering to cultural norms and social expectations. This is not to say that individualism is rare in Japan, but rather, individualism is not as strong as it is in the United States. It must be pointed out that, by in large, these norms and expectations in Japan have become more liberal and diverse over the course of the 75 years that have elapsed since the end of WW2, but nevertheless these norms and expectations can still be relentless.

While liberalism and human rights have become major cornerstones of Japanese civics, the average Japanese citizen rarely has an opportunity to understand how Japan embraced militarism and authoritarianism before and during WW2. Furthermore, while regret and apology over what happened in WW2 is common place, discussions over how to improve state institutions are encumbered with the debate over Japan’s history and its assessment.

There is no doubt that improvements and reevaluation over Japan state structure is needed, but any suggestion of changing the status quo creates a such a tug of war between traditionalists and progressives that, in the end, only incremental reforms are pushed through while powerful conformist forces in the wider sociological and cultural landscape have been left to fester and evolve unchecked.

There were many things that Japan could have done much better, as I have been advocating for a “if you can’t use a stick, then use sweets (use financial incentives to clamp down on businesses if you can’t penalize them)” for many many weeks now.

Granted, things may change a lot in the future. I still argue that historical, sociological, cultural, and political issues must be kept in mind if you want to realistically debate about what Japan can or cannot do in 2020.

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On the Edge of the Unknown–Japan and COVID-19

This is my personal analysis of the situation in Japan as of April 2nd, 2020.

We all heard the meme–“Japanese Prime Minster says Japan is on brink of contagion, but continues to claim it is not yet the time to invoke emergency declaration–even after weeks passes.”

The following is what I think is going on. This is only my personal opinion. Nothing more.

I am not interested in engaging in a blame game. I am simply trying to do my best analysis of the social and historical dynamics that might be in play right now in Japan, and thus better understand the situation. This is a thought experiment.

The Prime Minister and others around him seems to be deadlocked about what to do–The contagion is spreading, but the situation is fluid and there is no clear consensus regarding how society should react. This pandemic is creating major challenges for all national governments regarding how to balance the need to maintain civil rights, to uphold economic security, as well as maintain the best levels of public health. But in the case of Japan, the legal framework for restricting people is uncharted territory for Japan since the end of WW2. Japan has never conducted massive curfews, etc. for about 75 years. This is not about restricting particular industries or addressing a specific region, it’s about the entire nation, its economy and its people.

While many governments instituted rationing and/or restrictions on the freedoms of its people once World War 2 erupted, Japan actually went into war footing very early. In 1938, as Japan become deeply invested in war on the Chinese mainland, war mobilization was instituted in 1938. Many of the frameworks of post-War Japanese society were actually constructed as result of this mobilization and its effects left a lasting impact.

I believe those in leadership in Japan right now are afraid of being blamed of restricting citizen’s rights and causing economic harm. They are very very afraid of going too far, for overstepping boundaries that have been constructed since WW2. These boundaries helped Japan maintain social harmony and prosper by leaps and bounds. Since there are no precedence for governance in a situation like this in living memory, they are afraid and confused. While the circumstances are different, the last time Japan’s government wield such great power was 1945.

If the contagion is left unchecked, large scale economic harm will occur, but in some respects, leadership and society can deflect the blame on ‘bad actors’ rather than themselves more easily. The argument of “This contagion is the result of the irresponsible people who spread it about!” will seep into the collective consciousness and therefore help make it possible to avoid the tricky question of why the leaders were paralyzed at the helm when the nation needed them to act decisively. It will absolve the public at large “because most people practiced self-restrain.”

I think once the contagion becomes so extensive that people start dying in large numbers, then Japan will belatedly start instituting some restrictions, but by then it will be too late for many people and the blame will be attributed to everybody and nobody.

To some degree, this is what happened to Japan immediately after WW2. Saying Japan was collectively responsible is apt, but it can also contributing into absolving the misdeeds of specific actors for the actions they took that brought about the disastrous decisions–decisions that many questioned its validity even back then.

Note that while the democratic systems is fairly well entrenched in Japan, the “group-think” mentality and subservience to society/authority is very powerful still nonetheless. Even among those that position themselves as opposition leaders and/or minority groups, many have their own small hierarchies.

This collection of multiple and overlapping hierarchies and consensus orientated communities may sound oppressive, but it can be much less authoritarian than you might think, especially for those who were born and raised to accept it as being the norm. By allowing the status-quo to function largely unimpeded, regular people are not drawn into protracted democratic processes nor have to worry about renegotiating everything. The strikes that sporadically crippled Japan have largely disappeared since the 1990s. Large scale student protest movements have died down since the 1970s and the Japanese Red Army and their sabotage attempts have been non-existent for decades.

In Japan, precedence and authority is king, and once you grow old enough, most can hope to enjoy its benefits in one way or another. By adhering to the group and by meeting minimum obligations, you can do your own thing with little worry.

Japan needs strong leadership and decisive decision-making right now, but it also needs the strong institutional countermeasures that can restrict abuses of power. So far, both the leaders and those who check their power are happy with relatively reserved use of power since it is less straining and does not rock the boat. This allows for extremely bad decisions, indecisiveness, and/or lack of action who’s consequences slowly fester and explode, but in the mean time, harmony (or the facade of it) makes living more tolerable.

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しかし2002年に米国最高裁はヴァーチャル児童ポルノを違法化を試みた1996年のChild Pornography Prevention Act(児童ポルノ防止法)に対して違憲と言う判断を下しました。しかも9人いる判事が6対3という割合で違憲と認定した事は当時随分話題になりました。この時に最高裁は色々な観点から実在する未成年者を含まない児童ポルノを全面禁止するのは過剰であると指摘しています。


この2002年の最高裁の判決に不満を持つ人は数多く居ました。半年もしないうちに新たな法律が連邦議会で可決されて、2003年にブッシュ大統領の署名をもってProsecutorial Remedies and Other Tools to end the Exploitation of Children Today Act(「今日をもって児童の搾取を終焉させる為の検察的解決策とその他法」)と言う法律が設立されます。






































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