U mad, bro? Fujoshis, Swimming Anime and Kyoto Animation

When I think about Free!, known and loved by all of tumblr and the internet as Swimming Anime, I find myself in a bit of a dreamlike haze.

What actually surprises me about the Kyoto Animation ‘fan’ ‘backlash’, if you want to call what Kyoto Animation’s hardcore male fanbase is doing (and, in general, how some males are reacting to this) is that they fail to realize a simple fact: Kyoto Animation is a company. All companies that aren’t nonprofits seek to profit (that is, earn more back than they put in) to everything they endeavour to do.

It’s not like this is a new trend, either; it’s a growing one. Manga Therapy notes the growing segment of the Japanese work force which is female, and Comiket stats in recent years show a phenomenal amount of Tiger and Bunny doujin being sold. There’s a fairly large, and mostly untapped by anime market waiting to be pandered to, and Kyoto Animation does nothing if not pander. Unlike Shounen Jump’s, Kuroko no Basuke, or even earlier, Prince of  Tennis, which had the occasional yaoi undertone (while still sticking to a majoratively male oriented storylines), Kyoto Animation is going to be one of the first companies doing this kind of anime specifically for females. And they are going to make themselves rich doing it.  With such strong fan support for a thirty second clip, they’d be stupid not to.

But they’re not upset about all that. As mefloraine puts it on twitter:

I finally figured out what bothers me about people complaining about swimming anime (besides the obvious).

— Keely (@mefloraine) April 26, 2013

It’s that they think they OWN kyoani. kyoani is OURS; kyoani draws cute GIRLS.

— Keely (@mefloraine) April 26, 2013

No one complains about Kuroko no Basuke or the like because it’s not from their PRECIOUS kyoani.

— Keely (@mefloraine) April 26, 2013

 

They’re upset because it’s Kyoto Animation. In deciding to create Swimming Anime, Kyoto Animation took women off their pedestal for these men, and they’re butthurt about it.  To these dudes, all women are ideals but especially the geek girl. For the otaku, most girls are impossible – they’re too girly, too chatty, too cute, too womanly, too whatever –  but the geek girl? He might actually have a chance with her.

The geek girl plays games with you, watches anime with you, has just as strong opinions on directors and studios as you. But, in the male mind, this girl also wears short skirts. Isn’t overweight. Is a model on the side.  Maybe a cosplayer. Probably an imouto. And obviously as heteronormative as can be, to the point of enjoying the twisted version of  ‘heteronormative’ displayed by most ero games and, indeed, by shows titled My Little Sister Can’t Possibly be this Cute. 

kirino-ore-no-imoto-ga-konna-ni-kawaii-wake-ga-nai-17469014-1920-1200

When confronted with the reality of a geek girl, they’re disgusted. Obviously, she isn’t their ideal. The excellent Neojaponisme describes this as the divide between Fujoshi – females who are anime fans in their own rights, and consume media directed specifically at them – versus Akiba girls, or girls who participate in male otaku culture, and may or may not be anime fans within their own right. Akiba girls = good, approachable, in the home court, so to speak. Fujoshi = bad, because who knows what they’re doing over there on Otome road? Whatever it is, it’s certainly not the same as the highly formalized, controlled, and safe interaction promised by the maid cafes dotting Akiba.

So what happens when their patron saint of studios, Kyoto Animation, starts pandering towards this kind of geek girl – the otaku ideal – that isn’t anything like their ideal at all?  When men themselves are sexualized and – gasp – the male ideal held by these women isn’t a wimpy, whiny, conservative otaku but  sexy boys with built shoulders and 6-packs and real interests?  That they find man-on-man action as titillating as some men find woman-on-woman? When they realize that even the one type of woman they were supposed to have a chance with doesn’t actually (in the aggregate) like men like him? Of course he’s upset, because the fantasy world he’s constructed around himself is revealed to be a lie. Women are, in fact, capable of a sexual gaze. Women do, in fact, chose for themselves the kinds of men they associate with, and no one calls you goshujin-sama in the real world. They realize that they can’t live up to the female ideal any more than a female can live up to theirs. And maybe, in the process, we all spiral back to some sense of normalcy in our little subculture.

16 thoughts on “U mad, bro? Fujoshis, Swimming Anime and Kyoto Animation”

  1. So, they actually did IT? As a man used to the “cute girls doing cute things” trope, which I deplore and enjoy in the same time, I found this complete inversion rather cheeky. In the good way.

    However, your analysis makes me think we may even be witnessing a shift of the whole otaku society. Despite not being the very target of this, I look forward to see how it will develop.

    (condolences to English)

    1. I wouldn’t say a massive shift, but perhaps a balancing? Things have been very strongly tilted towards the ultra-geeky otaku male side of things for about 7-8 years now. So much so that the bottom has fallen out of quite a few genres: Shounen Jump has failed to pump out a meaningful successor to the soon-ending Bleach and Naruto franchises, Ribon has lost nearly all competitiveness in the shoujo market (with again, no real, strong successor). The only part of the anime market which is showing enough growth to invest time in is the heavy otaku markets – so the moe-otaku of Akihabara, and the fujoshi of Ikebukuro.

      However, thus far, the fujoshi have flown under the radar of most anime producers, with any series catering to them doing so as an afterthought to a male-oriented story (Kuroko no Basuke, currently running in Jump, is the best example of this I can think of). So creating something specifically for that market, and not as a secondary element to a male market could potentially be huge. So I think we’ll see more of this in the future, as companies struggle to stay afloat.

  2. I suppose I have less of a passionate view of this whole thing, but I’m pretty excited to see Kyoto Animation going against the grain like this, even if what they’ve done is essentially head in the polar opposite direction.

    What this does highlight to me, at least, is how it utterly validates Hiroki Azuma’s theory on the modern otaku (of both genders) being database animals. Narrative doesn’t seem to matter any more, it’s all about the bishounen here, or the (lack of) bishoujo in Aku no Hana. Do we even need story any more? I mean, it’s remarkable how pervasive the Swimming Anime has become when you consider it’s a mostly nonsensical 30 second short.

    1. Agreed. I think particularly in the case of KyoAni, it’s very much a databased set of tropes which need to be fulfilled.

      Owen started an interesting conversation on twitter about “what will they do with the obligatory beach episode”, which spiralled off into mentions of the obligatory class trip, onsen episode, etc. I think a part of the grating point with many of these moe shows for me was the fact that they endlessly loop through the same stock episodes (which, in turn, made things like Hyouka’s ending episodes all the more poignant).

      I imagine the effect of Aku no Hana not playing into these tropes, as much as anything, is what grates viewers about the anime. Truthfully, even with its original style in the manga, Aku no Hana was always going to draw fire, because it takes these database entries and spins them on their heads. You said something to this effect in your last post on the series, but this is effectively what makes Aku no Hana so brilliant: all whilst appearing to be a ‘normal’ manga, it’s anything but.

  3. “no one calls you goshujin-sama in the real world” +1

    Excellent article. Maybe if people didn’t cling so tightly to THEIR KyoAni, and THEIR ideals of female otaku, we could all get along and this wouldn’t be such a big blow to some people’s fantasy of entitlement.

    1. Fantasy of entitlement indeed.

      Honestly I was completely unaware there was a backlash of any sort until I logged into twitter this morning. Previously my experience with swimming anime involved 10,000+ tumblr reblogs on a 30 second video, some excited fangirl squeeing and gif sets. As far as I could tell everyone was just excited by the prospect of KyoAni doing something different.

      I hear the backlash in Japan is actually more significant than in in the west, but I think there’s considerably more entitlement amongst KyoAni fans there than here.

      1. “I hear the backlash in Japan is actually more significant than in in the west”

        I wouldn’t bet on that. The communication between western and Japanese otaku communities is like a chinese whispers game, with several links in it that can be intentionally exaggerating a random troll’s acts for shock value.

        There is also an interest in making a narrative out of how WE are “the mature and classy Anime fans” would only be interested in narratives and art, while the “creepy japanese otaku” are taking the industry away from us.

        I once wrote about this here (http://animeseptember.wordpress.com/2012/04/29/the-anime-elitists-paradox/), about how it’s basically just an excuse for the paradox that anime is already trying to appeal to it’s core fandom instead of some dirty “mainstream”, so when 90% of works still end up inevitably being bad because of Sturgeon’s law, and even some good shows can fail, the kind of elitists who like to blame “the other” for failures, are turning the japanese otaku into an “other” compared to us.

  4. I watch (or at least start) KyoAni shows as a rule. I expect this show will live up to their high production standards; no worries there. But I DO wonder what my reaction will be. Will I give it a shot and find myself not interested, though I watched every episode of K-ON? In other words, I wonder how much having cute girls on a show really matters to me. I guess I’ll find out.

    1. Quite an open-minded approach! I have to admit myself, I wouldn’t have followed the situation this closely if there wasn’t boys with rippling six packs involved. I’ve (on more than one occasion) had trouble watching or refused to watch shows about otaku boys (Genshiken, Bakuman, etc) because frankly they’re kimoi and gross and terrible on the whole, and I can’t bear to watch that. So I’m as much a victim of titillation as many moe otaku fans are, I guess.

      1. Without going into details, I would actually highly recommend Genshiken and I think you’d be interested to know that the second generation (after most of the original main cast has graduated) entirely shifts to a focus on fujoshi. It was announced a little while ago that the second generation is getting an anime so I’m really excited for that.

  5. Personally, I think the reason they’re so butthurt is because this is time and money KyoAni could be spending on them by providing new waifu material. If we’re to take most of the male otaku audience at their word, they have no interest in “3D” women.

    1. Hah, a good point. But as I mentioned, KyoAni is a company, and they will go where they smell money. So while they’re butthurt that KyoAni is no longer animating waifus for them in favor of animating husbandos for the ladies, they have no right to be upset that KyoAni is doing this – it’s a company first and foremost. It always shocks me that as soon as the waifus get involved people seem to lose sight of the idea that anime is a business, and business sense is needed.

      1. Just because something is a business, it can still have a consistent style and brand image.

        Pixar shows will always be whimsical adventures, SHAFT is always making surreal animation, Apple products are going to be slick and user friendly, and Bethesda is making epic open-world RPGs.

        It’s not just about the waifus, people would be just as hostile about Bethesda making a modern military shooter, or Pixar doing a violent summer blockbuster.

        Just because something is a business, doesn’t mean that it has to mindlessly imitate whatever happens to be the most successful fad of the moment.

        Not that this applies here to begin with, fujoshi shows are a niche, KyoAni isn’t just following safe money here they are taking a huge risk, potentially for the lulz rather than in preparation for the inevitable Fujoshi Onslaught.

  6. Your post coincides nicely Rob Lazebnik’s lament of the Hollywood arms race where male actors, who once could get away looking doughy, realized they need to get six packs and cut bodies to stay in the game. That seems to suggest that the phenomena of men feeling threatened is a pretty universal problem, even beyond the anime sphere.

    My favorite quote, which I think could apply as well to otaku: “It’s almost like we American men are experiencing the body-image issues that have so long been the bane of…American women. The indignity!”

  7. You have a bit of terminology mixed up here

    Fujyoshi are women who enjoy male on male romance. Within the umbrella term ‘fujyoshi’ they are divided between those who like original boys love stories (‘June’) and those who pair up characters from non-fujyoshi manga and anime (like Prince of Tennis, which has spawned generations of fujyoshi).

    There are plenty of ‘otaku girls’ – girls who are general anime otaku – it doesn’t mean they’re part of the ‘male oriented’ areas like playing eroge and watching pantsu anime just to seek attention from men. Some girls love fangirling over hot anime guys would hate to be called ‘fujyoshi’ if they didn’t like BL.

    I think the ‘akiba-kei girls’ you are describing, the kind of girls who work at maid cafes in Akiba but only do so to get the attention of men, are more of a niche group. Guys who go to maid cafes regularly are considered more like idol otaku. Some of these guys like underground akiba idols as well.

    Also a lot of hardcore anime otaku in Japan tend to dislike girls who say things like “I just started watching K-ON, I’m such an otaku!” to make themselves seem more approachable to guys since its just a way to get attention and uses the anime as a means to an end.

    As for Free!, i think a lot of otaku feel betrayed since KyoAni is synonymous with high quality moe-blob, male oriented anime, and now it seems that they’ve done a complete turn around. moe-blob loving KyoAni fans can’t deal because these guys care more about cute girls being cute than if the anime could possibly have a good plot or not.
    Animation studios doing female oriented anime is nothing new btw, there are always a few per year. Uta no Prince-sama, Black Butler and Tsuritama are very recent examples.

    That’s just a Japanese perspective anyway.

  8. Wow, this is a great, saucy opinion that really puts someone in their place. Thank you so much.
    First of all, let me say that I had no idea that there was even such a controversy over swimming anime until 30 minutes ago; the only thing I knew of was that Kyoto animation was considering dropping it, which cause an uproar.
    After having learned about it, and reading a few bloggers’ posts, I have to say that I completely agree with you on all fronts that males who have been complaining about FREE! are doing so in an act of jealousy of these characters in the sense that they have are the ideal, sexy fantasy to women, including their ideal otaku girl (which you said was akiba, right? lol), which just so happens not to be them (generally speaking).
    I can totally see that. I mean, what other reason is there, really?
    I personally think the idea behind FREE!, being female fan-service, is so awesome and different. I’m very happy that they decided to go ahead with this anime!

    I’ll be making a post about this in my blog soon, do you mind that I quote this post?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *