Anime is a comparatively new form of culture in Japan as compared to traditional art forms such as sadou (tea ceremony) and ikebana (flower arrangement). Yet, we understand that Anime had taken Japan by phenomenon, especially in recent years. Hence, we will explore how fantasy is used as a platform to discuss prevalent issues relating to the Japanese society.
In broad sense, fantasy is anything that does not take place in this world. However, we feel that to deal with fantasy more specifically, we will be looking at classical fantasy. Classical fantasy deals with fantastic themes that usually involve magical creatures and happenings, imaginary characters, often with supernatural powers, sometimes inhabiting exotic imaginary worlds.
For this presentation, we will be looking at themes such as gender, protectionism, sense of belonging and how it relates to the Japanese society. Therefore, to study fantasy anime, our group will be exploring four anime and they are chosen deliberately with Tsubasa Chronicles and Scrapped Princess being serialized anime while Spirited Away and The Cat Returns are films by Miyazaki.
Table of Contents
Synopsis of Anime
[The Cat Return]
This movie is about a spectacular animated journey to a world of magic and adventure. Haru, a schoolgirl, saves the life of a cat which is a Prince from the Cat Kingdom. Out of gratitude, the Cat King rewards her good deed with presents and also proposal of marriage to his son. The King is so bent on the marriage that he kidnapped her to the Kingdom of Cats where she waits to be saved by the Baron and Muta. She adopts a more passive attitude and relies on Baron and Muta to rescue her.
Chihiro’s parents are turned into pigs as they are traveling to their new home in the suburbs. In order in order to break the spell, Chihiro must work for a witch named
Yubaba in a bathhouse. She is helped by a young apprentice, Haku, to Yubaba to achieve her goal. Haku risks his life to protect her and help her escape from Yubaba’s hands.
On a fateful night, Sakura has lost all her memories as a result of a conspiracy to obtain her powers. In order to regain her memory, Syaoran, her childhood sweetheart, escort her to other worlds to collect fragments of Sakura’s memory. They meet with two other characters, Fye and Kurogane, both from different worlds, who help them in the quest.
Pacifica Cathule, the scrapped princess, was prophesied to destroy the world at the age of 16. To avoid world destruction, Pacifica was hunted by countless assassins, sent one after another. Her adoptive brother (Shannon) and sister (Raquel) vowed in the name of their parents, who were the ones that found her, to protect her at all costs.
We all know the standard storyline for fantasy anime; a prince in shining armor would arrive on his horse and protects a princess from a fire-breathing dragon. Although the storylines and characters might differ, the framework is usually the same.
The issue of protection can be seen especially within the fantasy realm of anime. There are many different types of protection, for example protection of the family, protection of a loved one or friend, protection of their homeland, community, protection of their own livelihood etc.
Protecting someone else, someone whom they love or in and ideal they believe in, gives the individuals motivation and strength to carry on, to fight on and not give up, even if they might be facing insurmountable odds. This specific motivation and strength is seen especially in fantasy anime as the characters seek to gain more power so as to have the abilities to protect someone else.
This can be seen in the following clip from Scrapped Princess where Shannon the elder brother meets an enemy whom he finds too strong to defeat. He then seeks to attain more power and strength so as to be able to defeat that enemy and protect Pacifica, his younger sister.
As we can see, the strength is gained to protect his younger sister, and the difference in his fighting prowess can be seen immediately as he is able to fight on level terms with the enemy now.
This clip sees a scene from Tsubasa Chronicles and we see Syaoran seeking to find a way to help and protect Sakura, while her elder brother, the king, protects her with his sword and fighting skills. The king also entrusts his sister into the care of Syaoran, trusting that he would protect her from harm.
[clip: highness leaves sakura to sr]
The next 2 clips we will see are from The Cat Returns and the first clip features a standard scene of how a hero protects the female protagonist. Two palace guards appear to attack them, and the Baron gets Haru to step back, placing himself in between Haru and the danger of the palace guards, so as to protect her.
This other clip is taken from the ballroom scene within the Kingdom of Cats. The king is having a dinner for Haru with many invited guests. The Baron appears during this period of time to save Haru from despair and losing her sense of being and self. He tells her “Don’t lose yourself” and “Learn to be yourself” helping her to maintain her belief, and not be overwhelmed within the Kingdom of Cats. He also attempts to help her prevent her transformation into a cat and maintain her humanity.
We see a strong correlation between the male and female protagonist, the way in which they have been portrayed, giving us an indication of how the gender roles are viewed. The male is always seen protecting the female, and my project mate will now proceed to elaborate further about the gender issues within fantasy anime and Japan.
Gender Relationships in Fantasy Anime
In fantasy anime, gender roles are very stereotypical. As my project group mate has said, there is usually a male and female protagonist and the former is often the protector or savior of the latter. We believe that the stereotypes in anime can be seen in some sense as a reflection of the Japanese society.
Traditionally, like most cultures, Japan has tended towards idealizing male dominance and female submissiveness. For example, we can see that male chauvinism is very apparent in Japan’s modern society. Japanese men tend to speak gruffly and use their wives’ first name at home, while their wives are generally expected to use more polite phrases and to obey their husbands. Japanese men usually have a higher status in society and are often expected to support the women. The women on the other hand, are usually given peripheral roles in society.
Before we take a look at how some of these gender stereotypes are reflected in our chosen anime, I’d like to point out that, according to our studies, we have found that the relationships of male and female characters in anime mainly fall into four categories. However, after analyzing some anime, we find that characters from the fantasy genre generally fall into one of the categories only. The category being, an unbalanced relationship between the male and female lead; where the male is cool and powerful while the female is weak and dependant.
Now, let us take a look at some of the examples we have found in our chosen anime.
In Spirited Away, Haku is the male protagonist of the story. He is the one that helps Chihiro regain her parents and return to the human world from the spiritual world that they have been trapped in. From the start, Haku shows a lot of care and concern for Chihiro and wants her to escape even though they do not seem to know each other. He tells her what to do in order to survive in the spiritual world and he wants to protect her from any harm.
Later in the story, he is willing to sacrifice himself in order to help Chihiro return home with her parents.
As you may realize, their relationship clearly falls into one where the female is dependant on the male as Chihiro would have not known what to do to survive. And the male is usually one who has a higher status and is reliable.
Next we look at the Cat Returns. In this film, we can clearly see some changes in Haru, the school girl’s, character when she enters the fantasy cat world. She becomes more reliant and submissive. At the start, she wanted to avoid troubling the Baron for help.
[clip: haru tries not to bother baron]
However, once in the cat kingdom, she becomes very dependant on him when he comes to save her.
Once again, we can see that the relationship is very unbalanced. Haru was a character that was courageous at the start when she saved the cat prince from oncoming traffic. However, she turned to become a submissive princess-like character when she entered the fantasy world. It shows that characters in a fantasy world tend to become very stereotypical.
This is even more apparent in the other anime. For Tsubasa Chronicles, we see a princess who has lost her memories. She is weak and helpless and often requires protection from others. At times, she wants to help but is unable to battle. All she can do is to help to support the others in her own means.
Here we see how a weak character makes up for her inability to fight. Women in Japan are similar, they make up by supporting their spouses and taking care of the family.
In the Scrapped Princess, princess Pacifica knows that she is extremely vulnerable and helpless without the help of her protectors. She always sees herself as a burden to them but is unable to learn to fend for herself. In the next clip, we will see how another princess who always believes in independence and fighting for oneself reacts to Pacifica’s actions and choices.
On hindsight, we find that a lot of female characters in fantasy anime are portrayed as weak characters that are not able to fend for themselves. However, they are usually given some special power or ability that makes them so important to the story. And because they are so important but weak, it gives reason to why they must be protected so badly. This is probably why a strong cool male character is always there to support them. Therefore, even though the female heroines may take the lead and appear to be in control of the situation, ultimately, they are portrayed as mere females whose strength as well as willpower is ebbing away. At these crucial moments, the heroes appear and render help and support to these women, often strengthening their beliefs and restoring their strength. These male characters are usually physically or mentally stronger in order to fulfill their jobs of protecting or supporting the women. More often than not, it appears that without the men, the missions will fail.
When we look back at Japanese society, we find that all these characters in fantasy anime often adhere to the prevalent stereotypes in the society. Historically, men were the warriors who protected the family and country. Even in present times, the men are the breadwinners and main support of the family while the women are often portrayed in peripheral roles. The women’s most important job is to take care of the family, prepare meals and take care of the house. But the difference in Japan is that women are never disregarded in the sense that the men usually look towards returning home to spend time with the family. We had taken into consideration that this might be slowly evolving, but we felt that it is still true to a large extent that the Japanese society is primarily male-dominated.
Sense of belonging to the community
Both Male and Female have strong sense of belonging in the Japanese society.
Japan is a group-oriented society. Since young, Japanese learn to become part of a group. Most Japanese feel that being part of a group is more important than individual. They will become emotionally invested in the social group and willing to sacrifice themselves for the group they belong.
Japanese feel very much attached to their family too. They are willing to sacrifice in return for the well-being of family as a whole. They believe that the condition of the family is more important than individual.
It can also be seen that Japanese will always want to return to where they belong, eg: their home. This can be shown in their spoken language. For example: when a Japanese wants to leave his house, he will say, “itte kimasu” which means that “I am going out and will be coming back”. This shows that they will want to get back home even though they are leaving for a while.
We can see these points in the four fantasy anime.
Part of the goal of these anime is that they want to return back to where they belong and in the ending of each anime, the main roles will go back to their own homeland, the reality place where came from. It can also be seen that the group-oriented mindset is being shown in these anime and how the characters are willing to sacrifice themselves for their family or the group they belong to.
I will now further illustrate my points by showing u two of the anime.
The first clip is from Tsubasa Chronicles. In it there is this character named Kurogane, one of the guy who follows Syaoran and Princess Sakura, traveling from world to world to search for Princess Sakura’s feathers. In this clip you can see that his will to go back to his own world is so strong that he is willing to sacrifice his favorite sword.
The next clip I want to show how unattached Kurogane is from the group in the beginning of the anime and thus his unwillingness to help them. It also once again shows his strong sense of belonging where his will to go back his own world is unwavering.
Although in the second clip Kurogane seems to be unwilling to help but as time passes, we can see that Kurogane grows more attach to the group and starts to help them. In the third clip, Kurogane teaches Syaoran how to use a sword, so that Syaoran can improve his fighting skills to protect the princess from the evils. He also shows concern for Syaoran that he might hurt himself or his love ones if Syaoran does not use the sword properly. Hence, he ties Syaoran’s sword tightly against the sheath.
The last clip that I want to show is from Spirited away. In this clip, we can see the determination of Chihiro to save her parents. Although she may be facing a lot of hardships, she is willing to endure and find ways to get her parents and herself out of the world. This shows that she has mentality that her family condition lies before her own.
It is seen that fantasy anime can also be an effective medium for conveying essential values and ideas in the Japanese society. We can gain a more in-depth understanding of the functions of the Japanese society and culture, for example, the gender stereotypes as well as their strong sense of belonging.
Fantasy can be a form of escapism: an avenue for release, detaching oneself from the worries and troubles of the real world and casting aside the iron chains of reality. Yet at the same time, the audience is still able to relate to the anime as it encompasses many values and ideals that the audience can empathize with in the real world.