With the recent increase in violent crimes committed by children, adults have been looking for answers to what causes children to commit these acts. Researchers have performed formal studies, and other approaches have been taken to answer the question. Their ideas and perceptions have strayed far and wide, looking for a suitable answer; one such answer of the many they have uncovered is television, but especially television geared towards children: cartoons and animation. In recent years, animation has taken a more openly violent twist during the same time period that the unique and varied forms of Japanese animation have come to America; both have raised many parents’ eyebrows as articles and media coverage portray both, but especially Japanese animation, in a harsh and unfair light, depicting all series and movies as violent and only fit for mature audiences. The adults’ perception of animation varies greatly from the children’s perception, as many factors, such as media depictions, personal opinions, and even the standards of cultures, come into play on the decision of what is suitable for younger viewers.
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While it is not the first medium ever to reproduce violence for entertainment, television has certainly been the most notorious. However, television stations “do not air violence because they want to. They air it because that is what sells. The blame is upon ourselves for the large volume of violence, since they are merely responding to what we want” (Kim). This love for violence has filtered into nearly every television show aired currently. Virtually every television station airs shows, either live action or animated, that involve the characters fighting, arguing, or just acting in a malevolent way towards something or somebody else. The news always carries stories of what crimes have been committed during the day, daytime talk shows and soap operas often involve fighting and conflict, and even children’s television is starting to take a more serious, mature twist in its presentations. Shows such as the live action series Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers have been called into question because of the numerous fight scenes and injuries that they depict; however, Power Rangers is one show that does provide a message to children at the end, informing them that the fighting is not real and that they should not imitate the Power Rangers.
Despite this warning, children do imitate their heroes, hoping to emulate them and be able to stand as strong and powerful as they do. Parents see the television as a babysitter of sorts and let their children sit in front of it, absorbing everything they see mindlessly, while the parents do chores or work they must complete that involves not having their children distract them. This is when children receive the full force of the violence in television; studies conducted have shown that children either imitate their heroes or let the actions of these heroes influence their later, more aggressive actions. A study conducted by Albert Bandura with several groups of children, each watching a different form of violence, agrees with this and suggests that the type of violence a child performs is shaped by the type that he or she sees on television; “a person displaying violence on film is as influential as one displaying it in real life….televised models are important sources of social behavior” (Bandura, 126). Television has a strong influence on children from a young age, especially if adults give them many opportunities to watch and do not step in to remind their children that this is all fantasy, or to change the channel should the material be entirely too violent for children’s eyes.
Cartoons in America, generally aimed at children, also form a surprisingly large source of violence. Recently, more and more cartoons with violent themes have been released, but violence in animation has been around for decades. Perhaps the best-known examples of such violence are in the short Warner Brothers “Looney Tunes” cartoons, those that star Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, and Wile E. Coyote. These cartoons generally portray Bugs Bunny as the protagonist, finding quick and witty ways to save himself from the antagonistic Elmer Fudd, Yosemite Sam, or whoever the villain of the moment may be; Daffy Duck has been seen as a competitor with Bugs and usually ends up on the losing side. If Wile E. Coyote is involved, the Road Runner always manages to best him, evading capture and leading to Wile’s numerous falls off cliffs or collisions with them, due in part to the Road Runner and to Wile’s faulty Acme products. These ways often involve violence, mainly guns or running off cliffs, but the violence is portrayed in a humorous manner that disguises its malignance, thus fooling children: “The cartoon “Zipping Along,” featuring Warner Brothers’ Wile E. Coyote and Roadrunner, is a cartoon which contains 22 separate acts of violence, and is a mere 7 minutes in length” (Gulin). Children see and accept this violence without ever recognizing the truly violent content; “social audiences typically normalize the violent antics of Bugs Bunny, the Roadrunner, and other assorted cartoon characters. Because these characters execute violence within the animated lay frame of ‘make-believe,’ their attacks rarely are treated as heinous or deviant in kind” (Cerulo, 27-28). This acceptance has been present for over thirty years because Bugs Bunny and other Warner Brothers characters are seen as American icons, their cartoons thus, for the most part, unquestioned.
While a good number of cartoons do contain violence in them, many others do not but are mistaken to because of mislabeled stereotypes. These generally come about from people who, upon hearing rumors, immediately latch on to these rumors’ messages instead of substantiating and proving them true first. Perception plays a big role in this; many people share the common flaw of developing an opinion on some subject based on untrue or biased information they receive and frequently holding stubbornly to it, however twisted or untrue their opinions are. This has occurred time and time again with cartoons, but recently this wave of conflicting opinions between adults and children has risen due to the rise in popularity of Japanese animation in America.
Japanese animation, also known as “Japanimation” or “anime,” the Japanese word for cartoon, composes a major portion of the entertainment industry in Japan. It is a distinctive animation style, involving more detail and precision in making the human characters generally more realistic in appearance, behavior, and movement. In addition to the human characters, anime boasts a rather unique and rather large set of nonhuman characters, such as talking cats, aliens, high fantasy creatures such as elves and dwarves, androids, and many more, all of which are equally unique and unusual. The plot lines express equally unusual characteristics; “a robot can search for the meaning of its existence, a pop singer can save the galaxy from annihilation with the simple power of her voice, or a world of demons and man-beasts can unite with the human world. Anything can happen, and it usually does” (Dubois). The storylines also generally contain more serious or philosophical themes that make adults and children alike think; some anime exists to argue for a cause or belief, such as Hayao Miyazaki’s Mononoke Hime, or “Princess Mononoke,” which contains strong themes of environmentalism and the need to cooperate for mutual benefit.
While people may categorize it as a genre, anime is better described as an art form, as it is present in television series, movies, graphic novels, and comic books called “manga,” which is Japanese for “comic book.” Each anime has its own distinctive soundtrack as well, with vast instrumental scores composed and performed or with famous symphonies and western classical pieces as major themes representing characters or situations. Some of Japan’s most popular music groups also step in to sing either opening songs, closing songs, or individual characters’ “image songs” for different series; these vocal songs have climbed to the top of Japan’s popular music charts. A very large market for anime merchandise exists, as fans can find items such as action figures, model kits, trading cards, keychains, posters, video games, clothing, and much more. The companies owning the rights to the anime have generally made large profits from the popularity of the merchandise not only in Japan but in America as well.
In recent years, anime has risen in popularity in the United States as more and more series surface into mainstream culture. The beginning of this new wave of anime fandom in America began in the mid-1990s with shows such as Ronin Warriors and Teknoman being aired and publicly advertised on American television; the Sci-Fi Channel began having “Saturday Anime” mornings, showing a different anime movie each Saturday morning. Even before those, some stations were airing anime more subtly; Cartoon Network held “Saturday Japanime” several times, during which an anime movie was shown at midnight Saturday. Currently, Cartoon Network plays an assortment of anime; it airs several series during the week and has a time slot allotted for anime Sunday mornings. Many stores selling various forms of media have sections devoted to English dubbed or subtitled anime videos and merchandise; smaller stores such as Duluth’s House of Anime specialize in imported merchandise. Nationwide, conventions are held where anime fans, known as “otaku,” may meet, buy merchandise, attend anime showings, and even dress up as the characters and participate in skits portraying the characters; this “dress-up” is called “cosplay,” the Japanese borrowed term that is short for “costume play.” These stores, conventions, and other gatherings of anime otaku have served a large role in introducing American fans to other series and thus promoting anime fandom in America.
Anime has a somewhat lengthy history, with only a portion of that history filtering across the Pacific Ocean to the United States. The first anime ever made was Astro Boy, syndicated in 1963. Others soon followed, the most famous of those being Speed Racer in 1967. No American viewers realized that these cartoons were Japanese, and several years later these first series had fallen into obscurity. In the 1970s, the second wave of anime came to America, bringing series such as Battle of the Planets, Voltron, Robotech, and Star Blazers; with this new wave of anime came discreet censorship, editing out more violent content and making the shows seem American in nature. Star Blazers was the only anime of that time period to claim its Japanese birthright; “the names were changed and such, but the company openly stated it was Japanese” (Dubois). The third wave began in 1995 with the aforementioned series and movies entering mainstream American society instantly; this is the longest-running wave to date and continues, stronger than ever. This third wave has also received the most press coverage and general attention of any of the waves. However, the views presented in the articles and publications, while generally neutral in their basic descriptions, reveal a negative bias towards anime. A recent example of this can be found in an article at Family.org, a Christian-oriented site aimed at promoting good influences for families and warning against questionable ones. The article claims that “many anime movies also feature graphic brutality, ferocious language and intense depictions of the occult. This callous exploitation of sex, violence, profanity and spiritual counterfeits raises huge red flags over the entire genre” (Isaac). While the article does mention, very briefly, that some anime exist that do not contain such content, the author sums up the point he strives to make in the last sentence of the article: “In reality, many of these morally corrupt products constitute one of America’s most dangerous entertainment imports” (Isaac). This article is representative of the view of a good portion of adults who have at least heard of anime but have not taken any opportunity to watch more than one or two, if any, series.
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A major factor to consider when judging the decency of a volume of anime is the view the Japanese animators and viewers have in what is considered acceptable. While Japanese culture is in some ways much more conservative than American culture, the Japanese do not hesitate to show what Americans try to hide. Casual nudity is accepted by all ages; a person going to a traditional Japanese public bath would encounter no less and is used to it. Anime in general also has more serious and thought-provoking layers and overtones; “the classic American villain-wholly evil, and not very believable-gives way to complex characters with whom one can partly sympathize. Anime is often thought-provoking and provides an excellent foundation for raising important issues with your children” (Pfaffenberger). America’s more Puritanical beliefs play a large role in the people’s acceptance of what is considered the norm elsewhere in the world. While some people do share the views of the more open cultures worldwide, the majority of Americans refuse to accept it, deeming what is a fact of life elsewhere to be dirty and unfit for children here.
As previously mentioned, anime consists of dozens upon dozens of varied themes in the contents of the different movies and series. As with any movies or television shows, certain shows are targeted towards certain audiences. Pokémon, the now-popular show involving 150 cute “pocket monsters” and the famous catch phrase “Gotta catch ’em all,” aims towards and receives a good portion of its profits from children. On the other hand, Urotsukidoji, the name translating to “the overfiend,” is a notorious anime known for its pornographic nature. It fits into a category of anime titled “hentai” or “ecchi,” both words roughly translating to “pervert.” Perhaps a major cause of the adults’ opinions on anime is that the only shows they hear about are the ones truly aimed towards adults. According to The Right Stuf International, an international anime distributor, pornographic anime has been shipped to America with more tame, decent series, thus causing those who mistakenly view the pornography to group all anime under the “hentai”-esque category. The Right Stuf International also suggests a cause for the beginning of anime’s dirty reputation; in the early 1990s, an anime titled Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water became wildly popular among anime fans, creating a strong following at 1991’s AnimeCon, an anime convention, and an unexpected chain of events:
“Many things happened at this convention…and one of those things was the fallout from Central Park Media’s [an anime translator] announcement of Minna Agechau … and the media’s outrage regarding this “scandalous” title. That Minna Agechau (‘I Give My All’) was a softcore title no one will doubt (still, it is a VERY tame softcore title). What is surprising is when the US media finally discovers anime, it is portrayed as the logical extreme of pornography….Interviewing attendees at this convention did nothing to dispel the concept that this entire genre was filth.” (The Right Stuf International)
This would explain why, when the stronger wave of anime began to permeate American television, it was instantly regarded with contempt; one bad example and inadequate action to guard against it has set off a chain reaction of refusal of acceptance. Once again, though mildly skewed, the reason for this backlash against anime stems from opposing perceptions of violence between countries and between generations.
Today, animation on television is not necessarily aimed at children and any assumptions made should follow this way of thinking; however, the animation specifically made for children to watch, whether it is of American or Japanese origin, contains more violence than it has in recent years. Culturally, this does not cause a problem elsewhere in the world, but in America, where parents shelter their kids from anything remotely hazardous, this has caused a problem. The complaints against violent television for children come about mainly to try and pinpoint a reason for the rise in crimes committed by minors, though this violence has existed for years in television and the many mediums presented on it; perhaps a reconciliation of sorts may come about to decide once and for all what is right for children to watch and what the adults in American society truly believe.
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