Your name, our anime: defending the new and female otaku

It’s time for another episode of Old Fogies Take a Dump on New Anime. Mamoru Oshii’s done it, taking pops at Mamoru Hosoda, Hideaki Anno, and all currently-airing anime in general. Now it seems Toshio Okada, co-founder of Gainax and so-called “Otaking”, wants to get on the boat and rock it too. Except his unwitting victim is Makoto Shinkai’s your name.

Since Okada left Gainax in 1992, he’s been spreading his personal otaku gospel, writing books and giving lectures on otaku culture. Now, I’m all for that, as long as anyone presenting their opinions respects other creators and fans, even the ones who don’t conform to their own experience or share their viewpoint. Keep that in mind and perhaps you can see why Okada’s comments, made at a recent lecture in Kyoto, pissed me off somewhat:

your name. is a huge hit. There are a lot of women who are saying this film is a masterpiece, and it has me worried about the future of Japan. Come on, the film just uses the good parts of films and manga that’ve sold well in the past. It’s rubbish. As a person who’s been involved in anime, there wasn’t one second of your name. that I thought was interesting or moving. Seriously, the story and script are awful. Even comparing it to the artistry of Hayao Miyazaki’s films is a mistake.

Does that sound like it’s been dredged up from the swamps of IMDb, or is it just me? This isn’t the voice of a respectable expert. He doesn’t seem to recognise that Shinkai, as a fellow professional anime creator, deserves to be critiqued as Okada’s equal, whether he enjoyed his movie or not. While he’s at it, he manages to shrug off a significant percentage, if not half, of Japan’s anime fandom as unworthy of opinion, insipid in taste, and potentially destructive to the future of anime. Let me just blow up this pearl in Okada’s oyster of wisdom:

“A lot of women…are saying the film is a masterpiece, and it has me worried about the future of Japan.”

Image result for certain scientific railgun misaka

I know Japan’s social environment is different to ours in the UK, parts of Europe and the US, and I won’t pretend their ideas of gender equality are the same as ours either. But in shunting off Japanese women and their supposedly dangerous thoughts on what anime can be, Okada has broken through cultural boundaries of misogyny. Anime is becoming more of an international market year by year, and he’s suggesting that if we enjoy or support a show or movie that appeals to ‘feminine’ sensibilities – romance, dreaming, caring or agonising over love, all these things he feels are “rubbish” – we are destroying the very thing we invest ourselves in.

We have an intelligent and respectful community here, so I’m sure I don’t need to tell you how insulting the implications of Okada’s words are. As a woman and an anime fan, I count the romance drama NANA as one of the most inspiring and transformative shows – not just anime series, but series full stop – I have ever watched. It taught me that being sensitive and shy is not weakness, but having a dream and attaining that dream takes the strength to face your fears. The punk rocker Nana Osaki pushed through abandonment, heartbreak, loneliness, self-doubt, panic and pure despair to get that record deal, to be a star. And yet, some old man who could have no clue of the experiences of any woman who’s been uplifted by that show, or any other romance, has told us all that we are grinding a stain into the art form we adore. As someone who enjoys Ore Monogatari!! and One Piece, where am I on that slider scale between ‘acceptable’ and ‘scourge on all anime’? For that matter, where is Gen Urobuchi, writer of Madoka Magica and the first Godzilla anime movie?

If any of you have been hurt by his words, or thought for one moment that we might be wrong by seeing your name. as worthy of celebration, put it out of your mind. We are all worthy of opinion of the art we consume, like it or not, and any artist who can reach a wide audience with their work are just as deserving of admiration and respectful criticism. Okada’s dump on Shinkai is not criticism. It’s an attempt to lash out at something modern and popular, with a universal message of determination in love, by someone who has lost their passion and relevance in the medium that gave them their fame. I’d say let’s prove him wrong, show him what anime means to all of us. But with your name. still at the top of the Japanese box office, in consideration for the Oscars and about to make its journey overseas…aren’t we doing that anyway?

26 thoughts on “Your name, our anime: defending the new and female otaku

  1. The Otaking’s shtick is dismissing everything that has come after his glory days. He’s been at it for over a decade. He has to grumble and throw shade, it’s his chara.

    OT: Search youtube for Shinkai + CM. Theres a few wonderful short commercials that he had a hand in, one is a 2min echo of parts of “name”.

  2. He is looking at it in terms of issues that exist within his culture. And as women in the West are keen on supporting women in general, when they view and support in terms of Japanese produced entertainment should be considered in light of how women and children are treated in Japan. It is not to say you can’t enjoy it from your own cultural perspective, but it is socially conscious to look at the whole picture and being open being objective in that sense. Whether he is right or wrong on this one, I’m glad he is thinking about women in his country and some of the challenges.

  3. Now that it (your name) won best animated film in Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards and pretty likely got an Oscar nomination, we can have the last laugh. Just sayin.

  4. It’s pretty freaky on how I can relate to this post. I saw a lot of similar sentiment on the western side of the fandom. i know it’s not the same, but somehow feel similar. A lot of people were complaining about how more and more anime were made for girls/fujoshit (I remember it’s on 4chan). It’s pretty sad and honestly, cringey.

    1. It’s terrible, just as we feel we’re getting ahead of this mindset, you see a load more people who believe so deeply in their discrimination that they can’t see it as such. There was no issue with so much being made for guys for so long, now it’s starting to show signs of evening up, however… 🙄 So fragile in their illusion of dominance.

  5. The irony of this is that Studio Trigger, staffed by ex-Gainax members and arguably Gainax’s spiritual successor, has made anime before that has kept classic Gainax sensibilities while treating feminine sensibilities as valid, You have Little Witch Academia’s focus on dreaming big and Space Patrol Luluco’s treatment of teenage girl crushes as valid. Trigger has been contentious for their male gaze fanservice, but even Kill la Kill has important messages about the importance of friendship as “the family you make yourself”, especially the bonds between women. While not often talked about, Trigger recruited female staff members that weren’t animators to make a series of shorts called Turning Girls, which was a rather humorously cynical take on societal expectations for women in their late 20s-early 30s in Japan and what it looks like when they’re broken…by genuinely awful people. It’s a kind of humor that you don’t often see often associated with women, though female-oriented comedy in general discredited often enough to begin with.

    If Trigger can make anime that fits within what I assume would be Okada’s sensibilities while not rejecting feminine sensibilities? This guy has no excuse compared to what Trigger has already done. You can still have anime with more “oldschool” flavor while not diminishing the female audience and values that appeal to them. Old otaku yells at cloud.

    1. Absolutely, it’s not like such themes are forbidden ground by any means, nor should it be. Turning Girls sounds like it’s an interesting watch, I’ll have to make a note of that on my already heaving to-watch list. I want to know more about expectations of women and ideas of empowerment in Japan, so I’m glad you mentioned it.

      It’s essential that more anime start treating the ‘old school’ and inclusive characters, stories and themes as aspects that aren’t mutually exclusive. No matter who we are, we have dreams and our teen loves belittled, they’re not ‘girl troubles’ by any means. The friendships, especially in nakama terms, shared by women are no lesser in importance for that. It’s great that Kill la Kill explores that bond equally between women and men. I really need to give that show a rewatch.

  6. I personally haven’t watched your name. yet but your post resonates with me for many other situations. It actually pisses me off a lot so I’m not even go there.

    I just want to thank you for this piece and hope you continue to defend us girls and your own personal views, even when it feels futile.

    Stay strong 😉

    1. I feel you, this one incident is an example of discrimination against women that eeks into every aspect of our lives. It’s all too real and affects every one of us in some way. This piece just came from me feeling pissed off, and at least sharing little things like this can add up to us feeling a whole lot stronger.

      Thank you, and I will.

  7. This is a great read! Well-written too! It’s unfortunate that he’s made such a misogynistic comment. In light of politics today (specifically what’s happening here in the US) it’s hard to just brush it off and let it go when we feel as if society is heading backwards. I’m probably just ranting and off mark with my comments but anyways. I’ve been wanting to see ‘Your Name’ but not because of the storyline- but because of the director and the fact that usually it’ll be a visual masterpiece like his other films. You’re right it’s success will prove him wrong! Thanks for sharing this!

    1. Thanks so much 😊 It does feel especially prudent with the current political climate in the States not to stand for hateful speech of any kind. When somebody’s saying that women’s opinions might destroy a country, it’s not a far cry from bringing abortion laws into question. We’re all going to see the movie anyway, and we’re going to share our opinions and call it a masterpiece if we want. So he can suck on that 😜

  8. Why does anyone listen to the guy? You want to talk about a total has-been, Okada is it. He bailed on Gainax when they hit financial rock bottom and was never a talent to begin with, just in charge of finances.
    He’s just an irate washed up producer complaining about the distinct lack of the 80s in modern media as I see it.

    1. Gee, what a stunt to pull on the studio that gave you a career. I don’t know who’s kept him afloat this long, nobody seems to be taking him seriously on this.

  9. I respect the right for him to say what he likes as I also my respect my ability to ignore his opinion entirely.
    Thanks for highlighting this as it really is a problem when someone expresses the thought that listening to the opinion of women is going to ruin an industry.

  10. Definitely agree. The implications of his words are not only insulting, but potentially damaging. I’ve not seen Your Name’ yet, but I thought that it looked stunning, and it remains on my ‘to watch’ list. As a side, as much as I like Oshii’s work, how anyone could take pops at Mamoru Hosoda is beyond me (to me, Hosada’s work is everything that I expected to find (but generally didn’t) in Ghibli).

    1. The capacity of some people to see something beautiful and smear it with hate is astounding. Who sees a sweet romance like your name or a beautiful family drama with wolf cubs (wolf cubs gosh darn it!) and thinks “I need to write a speech about how offensive I found this”? Dear me. It boggles the mind.

      1. I do wonder if some of it is due to insecurity: they themselves are no longer the biggest names, and so they attack those that are rising to take their place for the current/next generation. It’s a shame, because they all have plenty that they can contribute to anime.

        1. It seems like it. It’s a shame, because as soon as you give in to hating on others rather than creating something yourself, you’re lost.

  11. Okada can say whatever he likes. The film’s performance is speaking for itself. Older icons rejecting the legitimacy of newer work is a common phenomenon across most entertainment channels, so I’m not surprised at all to see t here.

    If he wants to distance himself from the direction that anime and anime fans are going, best bet is to pay him no mind. Your Name, and female anime fans worldwide, are doing just fine without his support.

  12. Although I do find it frustrating, I still feel there’s a lot of context I’m not seeing. But I definitely agree that his commentary seems to come from the side of a frustrated individual on the brink of losing relevance. It’s quite easy to create a commotion if only to receive some momentary attention. He IS the guy who considers himself THE “otaku” after all.

    But I’ve heard similar condescending notes from members within the “upper echelons” or “elite” of otaku society, which I believe is some construct created by those who identify themselves as the “original members” of the Anime subculture. There’s a whole anthropological theory behind it, but the simple version is that there will inevitably be people who identify far more strongly with their media, and they tend to sound like the “old fogies” that you describe who pine for a bygone age of golden anime. Perhaps the only thing that gives them “authority” is their tenure and years spent in the hobby, but does that really translate to weight in terms of passion and validity of opinion?

    Again, interesting thoughts on the matter. We’re entering an age where the old and the new are as divisive as ever, and criticism for anything popular is just bait for attention. That’s not to say that criticism is never warranted, but I think it’s clear from the get-go that Okada is being an elitist prick.

    On an unrelated (or sorta related) note I’m going to be watching Your Name. next Thursday. I personally do not pay attention to “box office hits” or “nominated for Oscars” labels, because in the end, you as the viewer are the final arbiter. We’ll see if the title holds up to its reputation, but even if it doesn’t, the very least we can do is gracefully state our opinion and give constructive criticism — not this kinda bullshit from Okada.

    1. I’m sure he’s feeling the strain of seeing his past livelihood move ahead of him, it must be painful for so many of the elite anime artists and directors. But as you’ve said, that gives him no right to be a prick about something new and successful. Enjoy yourself when you go see it, and good on you for not letting the star ratings and nominations cloud your viewing experience. That’s the best way to go about it, see it fresh and form an opinion for yourself.

      1. Update on the film: I watched it, and at first I felt it was a little over-hyped, but after analyzing it in light of Shinkai’s previous works, a lot of it made sense. In the end, it was a superb film. On the surface, it can be appreciated as a sappy love story, but its puppy-dog exterior belies a more challenged response towards the cynicism previously brought up in 5cm per second and even the Garden of Words. I was thoroughly impressed. If it weren’t for some hiccups in pacing and character development, I’d say this movie was pretty much perfect.

        1. That’s great to hear. It does seem like all of Shinkai’s films so far have been in preparation for this one somehow. All the emerging elements of his filmmaking have come together, and he deserves to be celebrated for it, he’s come a hell of a long way since Voices of a Distant Star.

          Gah, I want to see it! We’re crossing our fingers that somewhere near enough to us will be showing it come January.

  13. Wow, what a great post 😀 Totally agree with everything you just wrote. It’s too bad that there are people out there who think themselves important (and maybe kind of are) and as such think they can pretty much say anything. It goes to show that he probably is so ignorant that he maybe does not even realise it is a very insulting comment. Honestly in my opinion, it is not an only insulting but very stupid comment. I can’t judge on the movie itself, as sadly it is not available here yet, but when there are this many people that enjoy it, something definitely is good about it. Ofcourse a movie is always personal, but it goes without saying that you should always be respectful in how to comment on something you don’t like. This just isn’t respectful at all, and just as you said so yourself is a pretty insulting comment to women and the anime community in general. Luckily, nobody seems to care about his opinion, as the movie is so very succesful. It would be even better if it would become a contender for the oscars: that would really shut him up lol 😂😂 Anyway….enough of my ramblings, but truly a terrific read this one 😀😀

    1. Thank you. He really does need to get off his high horse. Trying to make himself sound like he’s still important to the anime industry…just isn’t working. I’m hoping it gets that Oscar too, contrary to what Okada might believe, I’m sure this movie deserves it. And I can say that without having seen it as well 😆

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.