Focal Point – Acting Out Anime
Sorry for being late with this editorial. It’s the end of the school year, so that means finals to grade, report cards to tabulate, classrooms to clean out, and if you think teachers drink heavily DURING the school year, you should see what we do to celebrate the end of it!
When tragedy strikes, most people will try to find a scapegoat; it’s human nature to point a finger and blame someone or something, rather than chalk it up to chance or luck (even saying it’s “fate” or “God’s will” is giving a reason for why misfortune occurs). But when other people with specific agendas (i.e. politicians, and sometimes a lawyer) shift the focus of blame to a particular entity YOU like or are a fan of, then problems arise.
Movies, video games, and anime have been targeted as the reasons for school shootings, the corruption of youth, and even public massacres, like the recent one in Akihabara, and when such atrocities happen, many FANS who enjoy the unjustly accused medium of entertainment rise up in its defense, crying out, “You don’t know what you’re talking about. There’s no evidence that watching something violent will make you violent! Don’t take away our entertainment, because some idiot who likes the same things we do did something stupid and tragic.”
What I have a problem with is that these FANS only care about losing their precious entertainment, instead of examining and acknowledging the individual behind the tragedy and the actions needed to be done in order to maintain a smoothly running and orderly society.
I first read about real-life Death Notes 3 years ago, when schools in China were banning the manga due to the implications of teenaged students writing down names of people in a notebook designed to look like the titular piece of stationary as some sort of immature adolescent stress relief, since said action gives them a pretense that they had the power make people die. At the time, there was a lot of outrage among fans and FANS over the ban, and I must say that I agree with said righteous indignation (banning books is never a good thing – at least the U.S. got past all that after some idiot tried to ban Huckleberry Finn for historically and accurately containing the word “nigger”).
3 years later, and with a dub version of Death Note airing in the U.S., SEVERAL similar events are happening here, which (I must say as an aside) is a powerful testament to how awesome the Death Note series is, with its challenging morals and themes that connect enough with today’s youth to make them take action. I mean, if I had such power to influence young people, I would make a show about studying hard and respecting your elders, but that’s just me (although, I have to admit that it has to be a really slow news day to report on how everything has returned to normal after a real-life Death Note incident).
What surprised me, though, considering that there was no report on any of the U.S. schools banning the manga (just that the students who made the Death Notes were being punished, suspended, and/or expelled), was that some reactions defended the students. Some argued that the “kids didn’t know any better,” while others reasoned, “it’s a good way for them to relieve their stress. Would you rather them actually go and kill the people they wrote down in their Death Notes?” However, all defensive arguments could be summed up in, “It’s fictional and not real. What’s the big deal?”
Death Note and Jigoku Shoujo have a lot in common…
Any child psychologist will tell you that playing out one’s imagination is an important part of childhood. The ability to act out a fantasy world either originally concocted or based on something in reality is crucial in helping a human being develop into a fully-functioning, socially well-adjusted adult. The problem is that (like anything) this idea can be abused, and such abuse can easily intersect with anime, known for its fantastic fictional settings that draw many FANS to act them out in the real world.
One type of this abuse involves a child acting out something that is considered inappropriate. It can be funny when a child unwittingly does something not befitting their age. However, children do not necessarily understand the implications and severity of their words or actions, and as such, they may engage in an activity that can be considered morally and/or socially unacceptable (you have to wait until 1:40 in that video), if not just downright offensive.
Do these girls REALLY understand what they look like?
The problem is further exacerbated when a child BELIEVES they understand the consequences of what they are doing, but in actuality, being a child, they do not. I could go into a spiel about the desensitization of sex, violence, and death in the modern age, but instead, I’ll simply point out that kids (and especially teenagers) often just don’t know any better. Before Death Note was even an idea in Tsugumi Ohba’s head, school children have been writing death threats in schools in one manner or another (it’s rather ironic that only in today’s entertainment-fueled media that such events make the news). After all, it’s human nature to wish ill on one’s enemies, and following that thought, many children wish death on those they hate, because “there is nothing more pure, honest, and cruel than a child” (by some wise man). Again, they don’t know any better, which is precisely why we educate them:
“No, sweetie, you don’t pick your nose in public.”
“No, honey, you don’t push people who are waiting in front of you in line.”
“No, dear, you don’t write down the names of people you want dead.”
This effectively counters the defense of “oh they don’t know what they’re doing – they don’t know what it REALLY means to wish someone dead – just let them be – they’re just kids.” After all, if we let such children grow up trivializing death, they will not be socially well-adjusted. On the other hand, I will grant you that maybe some young people DO know the severity of their desires, but that’s all the more reason to correct them! Either of these scenarios potentially results in a society full of impulsive individuals who take brash action at the emotional drop of a hat:
“You short-changed me.”
“Sorry, sir, let me…”
Do we really want people growing up with the notion that it’s okay to want to kill anyone they hate or even dislike?
Now, there’s nothing wrong with emotionally venting out one’s frustrations at life (many would argue it’s better than keeping it all bottled in). However, a certain level of mature discretion is necessary in order to remain perceived as some one who is just pissed off, as opposed to someone who is about to commit a crime. Imagine if someone came up to you and said in hushed tones, “I hate our boss,” and compare that to if said disgruntled employee cried out, “I FUCKING HOPE HE FUCKING DIES!!!” while slamming his fist into the wall. I would wager you’d feel a bit more uncomfortable with the latter scenario. Even if you don’t believe that this postman-wannabe would actually go through with it, there are specific socially accepted ways in which someone is allowed to express their rage (case in point, take the second scenario, except this time the person is completely plastered with alcohol – MOST people would be more understanding then…except the boss).
Arima from Kare Kano: “I am in emo angst, because I keep all my feelings bottled in…”
What is specifically ironic and rather contradictory about the defense that some young people are “mature” enough to understand what it means to write a Death Note (even to point of acknowledging that it’s merely a way for them to vent their frustrations as opposed to actually carrying out any action) is that typically, they aren’t “mature” or “smart” enough to go about it so that they’re not caught. If you hate someone so much that you need to wish them dead IN WRITING, then have some common sense and put that stuff in a non-descript diary with a lock or something so that no one will be able to read it. Brandishing a black notebook with the words “Death Note” emblazoned on the front is just asking to have an eye-brow raised. It’s stupid to think that SOMEONE won’t recognize the cultural icon and what it stands for. And let’s not kid ourselves: writing a Death Note is very much like writing a death threat; no one in their right mind would not want to find out the reasons for their name (or the names of their children) being written down in such a manner.
“But it’s just playing out some fantasy! The students know it’s not real, so it’s not really a death threat.”
For a mature individual (even, dare I say, an adult), acting out anime or anything fictional falls on wide spectrum from “you must live in your parent’s basement” amusing to downright grisly and disturbing. Cosplay and cosplay skits are probably the most socially acceptable forms of acting out anime, but who hasn’t cosplayed and felt the bewildered if not critical stares of “normal” people? When someone engages in an imaginary activity that involves HARM on someone else (with the exception of all parties being aware and/or fully participating in said imaginary harm), then we’ve crossed the threshold of propriety. Can you really imagine two fans of anime being okay with one of them writing the name of the other in a Death Note?
Fan #1: Subs are the best!
Fan #2: Sorry, but I like dubs better.
Fan #1: That’s it! I’m SOOOO writing your name in my Death Note!
Fan #2: Hahah! That’s funny.
*Fan #1 pulls out his Death Note*
Fan #2: Uh…you actually have a Death Note? Um….what are you doing?
Fan #1: (mutters to self as writing) …dies by choking on Pocky…
What if someone acts out Higurashi no Naku Koro ni?
The worst part of people who act out anime too far beyond the borders of acceptability is that they ruin it for the rest of us. This can be as simple as bad cosplay, where all that happens is the blinding of anime fans, but there are so many agendas out there with opportunistic politicians ready to take up a cause and blame the whole of society’s problems on one single thing. I mean it only took one man to change the Japanese meaning of the word “otaku” from just a socially awkward and introverted hobby enthusiast to a dangerous and deranged deviant. As mentioned earlier, the Chinese school ban of the Death Note manga was not the best response, but it’s perfectly understandable why they would implement such an initiative in order to help students and faculty who were disturbed by the real-life Death Notes feel more secure. And the U.S. punishment (suspension/expulsion) of students who wrote real-life Death Notes is unquestionably justified – undesirable actions require consequences in order to correct and educate. You’re not going to stop such reactions, so why do something to generate them in the first place? I guess some FANS really need an outlet for their emotions by acting out some anime, but if this comes at the expense of having anime fall under even heavier political and social scrutiny, I find such an act incredibly selfish.
I was on staff at an anime convention, and around 2 AM, I was roaming the halls near the video games room. A rather large fellow was walking around with no shirt on, having a grand old time, smiling and posing for pictures with people touching and handling his “man-boobs.” In addition, he had terrible body acne, which is just unfortunate, but people did not need to be forced to see that. Another staff member and I looked at each other, and I decided to go over there to ask FTG (Fat Topless Guy) to put on his shirt.
FTG: “I’m security, it’s cool.”
Me: “Can I see your badge?”
*with a scoff and an arrogant face of “I told you so” he showed me his security badge*
Me: “Well, I’m pretty sure you’re not wearing cosplay, and there’s probably a rule somewhere anyway saying people can’t be topless.”
FTG: “Show me the rule.”
Me: “I’ll do something better. Let’s both go to the Head of Security. I’m sure you know him, since you work for him. We’ll ask him if it’s okay to go around the convention topless.”
FTG: “Fine, ruin my fun.” *puts the shirt back on*
Fun at the expense of others is not fun.
who makes fun of his students performing Naruto moves in the classroom