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In a 2013 podcast interview, Paul Dini, creator of the DC Animated Universe, described how a stubborn refusal to move away from traditional marketing tactics spelled the end for the popular and beloved Justice League cartoon. Esssentially, because Dini had given the female characters of Justice League equal prominence and strong character development, the higher-ups who had planned their marketing around appealing to boys told the staff to cut it out. Girls should be on the sidelines, and never as good as the boys, because boys were supposed to buy the toys and merchandise, dagnabit. It’s a sad fact that proper marketing, trying to find the demographic that’ll give you the most bang for your buck, can often lead to things like happening, especially when so much money has been invested into a project and having things go not according to plan is seen as a nightmare scenario. Gendered marketing has been around for centuries, and it likely isn’t going anywhere soon.
I began thinking about this idea relative to anime, if only because anime and manga are known for gendered marketing. While anime does on a number of occasions portray strong female characters such as in the Precure franchsie, the primary audience is indeed young girls, even if a sizable male audience is willing to shell out some big bucks to get some DVDs and nice figures. However, there’s another side of anime marketing I’ve seen, one that seemingly both defies and reinforces gendered marketing, by placing idealized male characters for women and idealized female characters for men in the same space.
One such title I reviewed for an Anime Secret Santa a couple of years back: Acchi Kocchi: Place to Place. In it, I described the main couple as consisting of the small, moe girl and the tall, quiet bishounen, resulting in a combination of two popular yet often disparate archetypes in one relationship. Series such as Aquarion EVOL and Tytania have different artists on duty to design the male and female characters separately for maximum appeal/pandering. Perhaps nowhere is this more extreme than in the currently-airing Show By Rock, which takes the cute girl/handsome guy incongruity of Acchi Kocchi to a whole other level:
(This isn’t even taking into account the fact that Show By Rock is already a rather eclectic mishmash of styles that also includes CG cute animal anthropomorphs playing in rock concerts.)
So you have these series with various creative forces involved—Okada Mari (Lupin III: The Women Called Mine Fujiko) wrote Aquarion Evol, while Tanaka Yoshiki (Legend of the Galactic Heroes) is the original author of Tytania, for example—which means that different philosophies and beliefs are involved on various levels of production. Marketing is still at work, the creators are overall looking for you to buy their anime, and if not that, then to buy their products. Focused marketing, gendered marketing is still happening. And yet, why are these anime willing to try and bridge the gap so at least within a single work there are elements that actively appeal to men and women, boys and girls, even if it’s for the sake of hitting some basic desire buttons on the audience? And if the argument is that the merchandise is designed to reflect those gender differences as well, then why were the people responsible able to produce goods in such a way that the executives behind Justice League could not?
Of course, one recent example of a franchise that has tried to appeal to both men and women within the same films has been the Marvel cinematic universe. Thor and Captain America both have looks and personalities that garner admiration from men and women, heterosexual and homosexual, and marketing has capitalized on that. At the same time, there’s also been a bit of an uproar over the fact that what should have been a Black Widow toy became instead a Captain America one. If this were Japan, there would certainly be some figures of Black Widow, but there’s also a fair chance that those examples wouldn’t be targeting girls.
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As someone who likes to keep track of fujoshi characters in anime and manga, I also tend to keep an eye out for merchandise if only to see how much coverage these characters are getting. Aside from the manga and anime they come from, there tends to be not much else, but one thing I’ve noticed is that, over the past months or so, multiple fujoshi character statue figures have been announced or released… which might actually make 2013 the Year of Fujoshi Figures, but we’ll let that slide.
First up is Wave’s “Beach Queens Shiguma Rika” from Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai. A member of the “Neighbors’ Club,” Rika is a genius who is not only into homosexuality but also “mechasexuality.” All of the other female characters in her show, as well as from many other series, are in the Beach Queens line.
Next is Ryuusuke’s “Narumi Nakuru” (NSFW) from Mayo Chiki! A glasses-obsessed high school student, she gets her very own episode at the very end of the anime. This figure is not only expensive as all get-out, but it’s gigantic at a whopping 30+ cm in height. An important warning, this figure’s clothing is removable, so it may not be the best display piece.
Then there’s the “Excellent Model Limited Sazanka Bianca” from Aquarion EVOL. I wrote about her recently, and one thing I have to say is that in an interview with the writer of the series, Okada Mari, she mentions that Sazanka was meant to be a much more minor character but that she gained popularity after episode 4, which revealed her status as a fujoshi. Sazanka’s figure is an exclusive.
Coming from the Winter 2012 season is the Nendoroid Koujiro Frau from the popular Robotics;Notes. A programming genius, Frau (real name Furugoori Kona) is something of a recluse, and talks in real life almost entirely in internet slang. Might we expect a full-size figure of her at some point?
Finally, if you want to count it, there’s this “Gray Parka Service’s Homoo.” Homoo is an ascii art-based character from the mesageboard 2ch, and is meant as a parody of fujoshi and their behaviors. It (she?) crawls around on all fours, exclaiming “Homoo!”
So all in all, kind of a crazy year if you happen to be into fujoshi characters and you enjoy buying figures. That said, I have to wonder why there’s this increase, at all. Sure, there was the Ogiue figure from 2007 (which I gladly own), and some Ohno figures before that, but there seems to be an unusually high amount, likely because we’re seeing more fujoshi characters appear in these ensemble cast anime. With more shows out and on the horizon, I would not be surprised at all to see a figure of, say, Akagi Sena from Ore no Imouto ga Konna ni Kawaii wake ga Nai.
Name: Bianca, Sazanka (サザンカ・ビアンカ)
Relationship Status: Single
Origin: Aquarion EVOL
Sazanka Bianca is a teenage resident of the planet Vega and a student at Neo-DEAVA’s Holy Angel Academy, which trains pilots in order to fight against invaders from the planet Altair. As a fujoshi, Sazanka is particularly fond of her classmates, best friends Cayenne Suzushiro and Shrade Elan, the two of whom together are responsible for many of her fantasies.
As one of the many pilots capable of operating the mighty robot Aquarion, Sazanka possesses a superhuman “Element power.” Specifically, she has the ability to corrode physical materials through her “Fushokuryoku,” or “Humicane from Rotten Girl.” In addition, though not an Element power, Sazanka is extremely adept at taking photographs, seemingly able to photograph anyone in any situation, and sells her photos of both guys and girls to her fellow students.
At one point Sazanka and her fellow classmates were given armbands which shock the wearer whenever their heart rate rises above a certain amount. Placed in the same group with Cayenne and Shrade, the interactions between the two friends ended up electrocuting Sazanka many times over.
Introduction: I attended Otakon this year and got the chance to interview mechanical illustrator and designer Tenjin Hidetaka. Responsible for box art from various series including Gundam and Macross, his latest work can be found in Aquarion Evol. His official website can be found at http://www.studio-tenjin.com and his Twitter is @TENJIN_hidetaka.
For the sake of consistency with the rest of this blog, Japanese names are last name first.
OM: How did you get started working in the anime and toy industries?
Tenjin: My very first anime work was Macross Zero from Satelight. I can’t remember what year it was, either 2002 or 2003, but my first anime was Macross Zero.
OM: How is it like working with Kawamori Shouji? How did you meet?
Tenjin: I met Mr. Kawamori Shouji because I had been illustrating for a Macross fansite. I was drinking with a few friends of mine I had met through the fansite and Mr. Kawamori Shouji also attended the event.
But even before I met Mr. Kawamori Shouji I had been working as a professional illustrator, so when I had a chance to meet him I showed him my portfolio, and he gave me the chance to start working with him.
OM: Does the fansite still exist?
Tenjin: The fansite no longer exists. I deleted it right away. But I think some archive of it still exists. Some very hardcore fans from the past still hold onto their precious archives of the past.
OM: I can understand that. So you work both in fantastic designs such as robots as well as more realistic designs such as planes and other vehicles. As an illustrator, do you use the same philosophies and concepts in drawing the realistic vehicles and the more fantastic ones, or are there more significant differences you have to keep in mind while drawing them?
Tenjin: I think about the practical purpose of the vehicle, how it’s used. For instance, with a Gundam it’s a weapon, an instrument of war. So I picture what a tank would be like, and I take the heavy texture of paint and use it for the Gundam. But on the other hand, for something like a Valkyrie, it’s basically a plane so I try to use lighter textures and try to focus on thinner silhouettes.
OM: I actually have a question related to that as well. When it comes to robots, we mainly hear about mechanical designers such as Katoki, Okawara, and Kawamori, who are all about designing the robot from various angles, but we rarely get to hear from someone who’s a mechanical illustrator. What are some of the unique advantages and some of the things you have to consider while drawing mecha without necessarily having “design” in mind?
Tenjin: The difference is, when there’s already a design, I need to think about what the designer had in mind. Even with something as simple as a single line, I have to think about what its purpose is. I need to focus not just on the design in front of me, but other designs that the designer has created because what I am trying to portray through my illustrations is not just the mechanical design or that one item, but the worldview of the designer, the fantastic world that the designer is trying to communicate.
For example, for classic model art for the package or box art, something I focus on is the background. By putting a lot of details in the background, I try to express the storyline of the world behind the design.
OM: You worked on Aquarion as well as its sequel Aquarion Evol. It’s been a few years between those projects. What do you feel you’ve learned between Aquarion and Evol in returning to the franchise?
Tenjin: Something I improved in is weathering texture, introducing weathering to express just how old a vehicle is within the world of Aquarion and Aquarion Evol. But with Aquarion, there are two time periods, the present and 12,000 years ago. I don’t think I was successful in depicting how things would change in 12,000 years.
OM: Related to Aquarion, it seems like 3D modeling is increasingly used to animate mechanical designs, and figures such as Mamoru Oshii have talked about how there are fewer and fewer people who know how to work with 2D designs without going to 3D models. As an illustrator, what do you see as the potential for 3D modeling for mechanical designs in anime?
Tenjin: When I first entered this industry, 3D animation was just at its start. You were seeing the very first examples of 3D animation and, to be honest, the quality was very low. But these days 3D is used very frequently in Japanese animation and very naturally and so the techniques have improved enough that you don’t really notice the differences between 2D and 3D animation. So, I don’t think there’s anything to worry about in that respect.
OM: I just have one more question. I noticed that there quite a few works in that slide show [Tenjin had in front of him an iPad displaying various examples of his box art] from VOTOMS. Do you have a particular fondness for VOTOMS?
Tenjin: [in English, without the need for a translator to explain my words] Of course!
Warning: Spoilers for Aquarion EVOL in this post
Amidst fears that a television series starring the matron saint of anime femme fatales would be mired in an inescapable well of sexism, Lupin III: The Woman Named Mine Fujiko manages to assuage those worries through extremely sharp characterization. Say what you will about nudity or Fujiko as an object of sexual desire, but the show makes it clear that they all have the skills and the smarts to succeed in their mutual world of thievery. Even if trust is at a premium (as is often said), there is no shortage of respect between Fujiko, Lupin, and the rest, and with mutual respect comes a sense of equality.
I’m not about to decry anime and manga as being polluted with unequal male-female relationships, as I can think of many examples to counter that idea, enough so that they don’t collectively turn into “the exception that proves the rule,” but this very idea of representing gender-egalitarianism has me thinking about what goes into portraying such relationships. For example, if a boyfriend and girlfriend each alternate being “dominant,” then is that “equal” or is it merely just multiple instances of inequality? Does breaking things down for comparison defeat the idea of equality between a guy and a girl by putting too much emphasis on haves and have-nots, or is ignoring it a bigger mistake?
As far as recent anime goes, the other show besides Lupin: Fujiko which has me really considering the concept of equality among opposite sexes is Aquarion EVOL, particularly that of Yunoha and Jin, the (literally?) star-crossed lovers who seem to have taken Pixiv by storm. Yunoha is an extremely quiet girl whose very shyness translates into her power (invisibility), and when she meets Jin (an enemy spy whose power is to keep others away), the two form a bond which gradually grows stronger.
Between Yunoha’s diminutive size in multiple respects (in a series full of toned and busty girls, her proportions are significantly more subdued) and her personality, Yunoha can seem to carry a potential problem that is similar, yet in a certain sense opposite to that of Fujiko in the sense that she can come across as the girliest girl, harmless and pleasant and easy to dote upon. Yet, despite the awkwardness of some of her interactions with Jin which can come across as her being dominated (notably the part where he tries to kidnap her out of love so that she can be the mother of his children and save his woman-less population from dying out), I don’t get that sense from their relationship.
While Yunoha can seem weak, and even her willpower and inner strength aren’t particularly impressive, Jin in many ways seems even weaker despite the basic idea that he’s an extremely skilled pilot and a deadly fighter. There’s something to his personality, perhaps a combination of naivete and extremely subtle yet numerous emotional scars, which make even his “domination” seem weak. In that sense, I find their relationship to be a very equal one, but in the sense that the two seem to grow to understand each other, a resonance between similar, yet complementary individuals.
One of the big ideas I keep running into when it comes to portraying a character well with respect to their gender is “the right to be a weak character.” By that, I mean how weakness (mental, physical, emotional, etc.) is generally thought of as a trait which makes one character “lower” than another, and which implies that their appeal is in their “lower” status, but at the same time that weakness can resonate on a more “equal” level with those who perhaps find themselves similarly weak. I think this is probably part of what makes arguments over moe so volatile, but let’s leave that for another time.
(Please don’t argue over moe.)