Anime Vice News

What HIGH SCHOOL OF THE DEAD Says About Sexism in Anime

In the first installment of a series reassessing the anime of his youth and its potentially dangerous attitudes about women, Sam takes back his earlier praise for the undead horror-comedy.

You’re all about to get more Sam Weller in your lives. Remember, this is all just MY opinion. I don’t presume to speak for anyone but me. My hope is to spur some healthy discussion for our Vicers!

I’ve wanted to talk about the way that anime has affected me for a while now - - what it’s telling me about culture and characters and otherwise. I wanted a chance to talk about anime beyond its entertainment value and try to analyze - - in my amateurish way - - how it's changed my opinion as I’ve gotten older.

So I figured I’d start with the ladies of anime.

It’s important to note that I enjoy the entertainment value of sex in anime (if the harem episode of the Vice Pit is any indication). I’ve admitted to friends (not family) how “hot” certain characters are, and how that has greatly improved my enjoyment of a show. Sex sells, and by all means, I was buying.

So for these reasons, I was initially really excited about a show I watched recently: HIGH SCHOOL OF THE DEAD

I made the wrong call on this show, and I’m sorry about it. But let’s start from the beginning...

On that Vice Pit episode, I talked about how my friends and I would gleefully watch the adventures of the sword and gun toting (possibly back-pain suffering) protagonists of HOTD. Short skirts, inventive camera angles, and a great deal of over-the-top cheesecake and blood kept these girls safely within the realm of self-aware grindhouse parody.

Sure, they were sixteen-year-old's with impossible cup sizes... but it was funny, and ridiculous. The tone of the piece in places made it okay to laugh at their peril. In other words, I didn’t take it too seriously. Just like I had done with most sexy high school anime girl shows in the past. The action against zombies was the centerpiece, and while their mammaries bounced with abandon, characters like sword-swinging Saeko kicked ass as much as they showed it. It was okay for them to sexy as long as they had a Xena: Warrior Princess swagger!

But then the fun stopped for me about midway through the series. I considered how many times these women are yelled at, slapped, and in Saeko’s case, literally had their breasts twisted and mangled in a complete out-of-character shift by the main character, Takashi. There was a lot of it.

My jaw dropped. I could not believe how brazen and blatant Takashi’s misogyny became. Episode to episode, his motivation shifted from friendly to violent for no reason other than to have him beat on a woman. When Takashi’s friend Saya is lifted up by him in one heated scene, the camera angle switches so you can possibly mistake his action as him choking her...

Why the sudden shift in tone? Why did this show have to show this kind of violence towards women?

Takashi ostensibly does these outlandish actions to “snap the women out of it” and force them into action. Of course, he chooses to inflict violence instead of inflicting a cognitive discussion. More hurtful is the idea that Takashi is the character the audience is supposed to identify with as the leader and “hero” of the whole story. Blegh.

I stated that this show was “under-appreciated” in the past (this was before I finished the show) and I now wish to recant that statement. What this show actually is.... is misogynist and offensive. It's insulting not just to women, but also to me as a viewer.

But this sort of violent, “Hey women! Shut up!" attitude has been around for YEARS in certain places of anime. The scenes with Saeko and Takashi unfortunately brought to mind something similar that happened in FIST OF THE NORTH STAR; an equally macho show that was once one of my absolutely favorites as a fledgling anime fan.

In this clip, Rei attempts to pull Mamiya - - who has been shown to be a warrior in her own right - - away from an oncoming battle simply because she is a woman. And when words fail to sway her, he takes more direct action...

Setting aside the misguided YouTube comments that extol Rei’s “gentlemanly virtues” I couldn’t view this clip as just “how things were animated back then." Too much of what I find potentially offensive in classic anime still exists to this day, and it troubles me.

After watching HOTD with my friends (and my girlfriend) I came to feel embarrassed - - like all I'd done was reinforce the sterotype that anime is all big-breasted women jumping around and getting violated. I had done a disservice to myself and anime in general!

But how is it I’m only just now feeling a little sick about it? Haven’t bad representations of women always been around in anime? I had to seek out the truth. I had to find out if my attitudes towards women were just ignored in the past in the anime I liked, or if I wasn’t even aware of what was wrong in the first place. So I’m going to dedicate at least two more columns to this topic. I'll try to figure out if I’ve been a little sexist in ways I might not have noticed before by going back through some of the anime of my past.

As I make this journey, I encourage all who read this to make one of their own. Come to your conclusions, disagree with me, discuss among yourselves... however you want to express it.

Thanks for reading, and remember, it’s just MY opinion. Ganbatte.

NEXT WEEK: CUTEY HONEY, OR THE HENTAI EFFECT

Sam Weller is a writer and actor who's scribed for shows like FIRST EDITION, GEEK THERAPY, and most recently BATGIRL: SPOILED. He also really likes anime. To know what is going to happen next, follow @cravesam

Turambaron Oct. 20, 2012 at 8:12 p.m.
@sickVisionz said:

My bad, I should have said "I was more upset that the only Japanese person who doesn't look the least bit Japanese and looks 100% like a black dude in the entire series was a psycho rapist."

I dislike making anime to manga comparisons, but I think this relevant since you seem to be addressing authorial intent.  The HOTD had plenty of frames showing overtly nationalist Japanese (who looked distinctly Japanese by the way as opposed to the majority of any anime/manga characters that just look white) as rabid murderers.  If the author had any real social message in there, it certainly wasn't on black people. (Or am I misremembering that?  Anyone wanna fact check me?)
 
Additionally, he doesn't look black in the slightest.  That character would be an insult to tanned Okinawans before Africans if we want to talk about physical resemblance.
thekokapellion Oct. 20, 2012 at 10:16 p.m.

@Turambar: I hardly think either HOTD or Fist of the North Star is comparable to classical Greek epics or Shakespearan plays. Also, keep in mind those were written several centuries ago, so you can't really hold them to the same standards of sexism or racism as something produced in our own day and age. HOTD and Fist of the North Star are fairly contemporary, so what's their excuse? Also, having racist or sexist characters or stereotypes doesn't necessarily make the work itself racist or sexist. It's all in how it's presented.

The problem with HOTD, aside from the dumb, directionless writing, is not in that the protagonist is a misogynist, but in the way the show presents it. We are obviously supposed to root for the protagonist and see his bad treatment of the female characters as a necessary wake-up call, or even an inspiring moment. The whole thing feels like it was written by a fourteen-year-old who has never interacted meaningfully with any actual women, and what's more, has never been told that his writing sucks.

That being said, I still kind of like that show. God damn it, it's entertaining as hell. I guess that's just a guilty pleasure for you.

Turambaron Oct. 20, 2012 at 10:43 p.m.

@thekokapelli said:

@Turambar: I hardly think either HOTD or Fist of the North Star is comparable to classical Greek epics or Shakespearan plays. Also, keep in mind those were written several centuries ago, so you can't really hold them to the same standards of sexism or racism as something produced in our own day and age. HOTD and Fist of the North Star are fairly contemporary, so what's their excuse? Also, having racist or sexist characters or stereotypes doesn't necessarily make the work itself racist or sexist. It's all in how it's presented.

The problem with HOTD, aside from the dumb, directionless writing, is not in that the protagonist is a misogynist, but in the way the show presents it. We are obviously supposed to root for the protagonist and see his bad treatment of the female characters as a necessary wake-up call, or even an inspiring moment. The whole thing feels like it was written by a fourteen-year-old who has never interacted meaningfully with any actual women, and what's more, has never been told that his writing sucks.

That being said, I still kind of like that show. God damn it, it's entertaining as hell. I guess that's just a guilty pleasure for you.

Have you by any chance read any of the classical works I cited? The Odyssey is a story with Odysseus as the protagonist who, on his journey home, sleeps with every woman he comes across while his wife fends off suitors for two years. Taming of the Shrew sees our protagonist taming a feisty woman to be a proper submissive wife. Merchant of Venice features our protagonist facing off against Europe's favorite racial punching bag: the Jews. Presentation does not suddenly diminish the inherent tone of the work.

Fist of the North Star was produced as an anime in 1984. The same year, the United States Supreme Court was still in the midst of clarifying which higher education institutions were allowed to discriminate based on sex and gender (and the Cold War was still a thing). Calling it "contemporary" based on modern gender equality standards is quite ignorant, lest you wish to contest with me on how commonplace the phrase "women belong in the kitchen" still is today, making some of the classics cited above quite contemporary as a result. The Odyssey could easily serve as the poster child for the double standard of men sleeping around being players and women sleeping around being whores.

Even if your argument on media age and societal standards wasn't, for a lack of better words, wrong, it still bears little relevancy to my central point: one's inability to distinguish between aspects of the media that should be admired and aspects that should be admonished, and choose instead to paint the entire thing with one single brush, says more about the viewer than that the media.

sickVisionz moderator on Oct. 21, 2012 at 9:14 a.m.
Calling it porn may have been too much for some but I stand by the assertion that it's a poor example of how your typical anime treats female characters due to its genre and entire purpose being raunchy content that is significantly more extreme than the norm. It would be like watching a soccer anime and making an argument that anime as a whole is devoted to or really focused on soccer.
Marshal Victoryon Oct. 21, 2012 at 1:17 p.m.

@sickVisionz said:

Calling it porn may have been too much for some but I stand by the assertion that it's a poor example of how your typical anime treats female characters due to its genre and entire purpose being raunchy content that is significantly more extreme than the norm. It would be like watching a soccer anime and making an argument that anime as a whole is devoted to or really focused on soccer.

But but you said here..

http://www.animevice.com/profile/sickvisionz/every-anime-ive-seen-to-completion/121-1096/?page=4

2. Highschool of the Dead

I finished this and for some reason didn't add it here. Nothing mind blowing but it delivered what I hoped it would, which was Dawn of the Dead with anime characters, and I looked forward to it's release every week.

maybe ya should take ya own advice here?

5. Cat Planet Cuties

10/21/2010 I originally wrote the show off but it ended up as good example of why you should never judge a book (or anime) by it's cover (or press release photos).

That or your trolling .Which is as uncool as assuming some ones race by what they wear.Clothism or clothists are the next big politicaly corect targets you know!

sickVisionz moderator on Oct. 21, 2012 at 2:15 p.m.

@Marshal Victory: I don't understand the point you're trying to make by pulling from my list and quoting me. What point are you trying to make? Are you saying that because I enjoyed them that I shouldn't be calling them raunchy? That there's some type of contradiction and that it's impossible for someone to enjoy something raunchy, therefore I must be trolling because I've said both?

I'm just confused at what you're trying to get at. I enjoyed Sora no Otoshimono (you should have pulled that one from my list) but it is ultra raunchy and it is a bad example to use as how your typical anime treats women.

rodre1on Oct. 21, 2012 at 3:15 p.m.

I was just curious, which anime is the second picture from? I don't think I've seen it.

sickVisionz moderator on Oct. 21, 2012 at 5:14 p.m.

@rodre1: Persona 4: The Animation... I think.

AURON570on Oct. 21, 2012 at 5:34 p.m.

The problem with this post: the title is misleading. A more accurate title would be "HOTD: Thoughts about sexism and anime."

In order to even begin to give a fair evaluation of "Sexism in anime", some things we should consider are:

  • Japan's socio-cultural context in which "sexist" anime is produced
  • What counts as "sexist", which might differ from person to person and is further influenced by cultural context
  • Our own socio-cultural context and how this informs our expectations watching anime
  • A general survey of anime, and to what extent each anime is "sexist"

As a result, even touching on this topic raises questions about: the nature of sexism, gender roles in society, the concepts of masculine and feminine, the representation of sex in media, how standards of representation differ in different cultures, how different anime seem to treat characters of different sex.

Even if you just restrict yourself to analyzing a single anime, and a single characters from that anime and what it says about sexism and how it does so, there is already a lot to consider, for example:

  • The direction of the story as a whole
  • How the character is represented
  • How the character's sex affects the way he/she interacts with other characters (which might differ between characters of same or opposite sex)
  • To what extent the character's sex affects or contributes to the overall direction of the story

And then, whatever answers and evidence you give for the above points, would be interpretations and would be arguable. Which is why, again, I think this post would more accurately be titled as "HOTD: Thoughts about sexism and anime." You cannot take a single instance of sexism in anime and somehow conclude that it "says something" about all sexism in anime.

Also it is just bad practice and redundant to frame things with "this is just my opinion." Assuming you do not plagiarize, whatever you write is going to be your opinion.

Edit: While we're on the topic of sexism, it is important to note that while it is convenient and intuitive to talk about things as male/female, we have not even considered the problems that come along with androgyny and intersex, and representation of such characters in media like anime. This would lead us back into questions about personal identity, to what extent one's sex contributes to one's identity, and to what extent this is influenced by socio-cultural context.

Marshal Victoryon Oct. 21, 2012 at 6:44 p.m.

@sickVisionz: Raunchy could be fair . Porn tho not so much less it is in your eyes.Then thats what you consider porn.An thus we must look at what that means... time for the music!

So for this i shall look upon http://www.thefreedictionary.com/

mostly because its free.. an lacks the word urban in front of it.

porn [pɔːn], porno [ˈpɔːnəʊ]

n & adjInformal short for pornography, pornographic

Oh my we must go to http://www.thefreedictionary.com/pornography

pornography [pɔːˈnɒgrəfɪ]

1. Sexually explicit pictures, writing, or other material whose primary purpose is to cause sexual arousal.

2. The presentation or production of this material.

3. Lurid or sensational material

second um entry here...

n1. writings, pictures, films, etc., designed to stimulate sexual excitement

2. the production of such material Sometimes (informal) shortened to porn, porno[from Greek pornographos writing of harlots, from pornē a harlot + graphein to write]

Now if it is for you um what ever floats your boat.For the rest of us it is.. de·ni·a·ble. adj able to be denied; questionabled eniablyadv

No reason for me to quote what ya said on Sora no Otoshimono.What ya said on those two then was enuff.Specialy judging a book by the cover part.Porn for some people is a skirt above the ankles or a female not covered head to toe .Far be it for me to determine what is or is not for some one else.But the reverse should hold true.Fair enuff?

Eyzon Oct. 22, 2012 at 2:09 a.m.

Yup.

Pretty much it.

sickVisionz moderator on Oct. 22, 2012 at 4:54 a.m.

@Marshal Victory: I have no clue what point you're trying to make in relationship to what I've posted.

What ya said on those two then was enuff.Specialy judging a book by the cover part.

Judging a book by it's cover? You're aware that you pulled those from a list of every series I've seen to completion, right? Do you know what that phrase even means? Making a judgement based off a work's entirety is literally the opposite of judging a book by it's cover.

Raunchy could be fair . Porn tho not so much less it is in your eyes...
pornography [pɔːˈnɒgrəfɪ]
n1. writings, pictures, films, etc., designed to stimulate sexual excitement

For a final bit of confusion, you say they aren't pornographic then post definitions of the word pornography that are so broad that the shows mentioned undeniably would be pornographic, which is what you've been arguing against from the get go, correct? Unless you're of the opinion that a couple in BDSM outfits getting spanked, full screen panty/breast shots, etc aren't "designed to stimulate sexual excitement"... which would be nonsense.

ReiKaion Oct. 22, 2012 at 9:06 a.m.
I have yet to finish the series myself in both Manga and Anime, and while I can understand some of the frustration about what occurs within the series, perhaps I am just looking at it a bit more objectively. While Takashi may be the protagonist we are supposed to identify with, I believe it is also expressing how people can change drastically in a stressful situation. Can we really ever conceive of how people would act in a true zombie apocalypse?
 
It also has to do with upbringing. Most guys're taught not to hit girls for any reason, yet we have laws and women fighting for equal rights. Guys will slug other guys who piss them off and taken as ok. Yet hitting women is bad, and when a woman hits a guy, you're made to just "Take it like a man" and not do anything about it. There are many different angles and ways of looking at this, and while personally people believe that striking a woman for any reason is wrong and the depiction of it in anime or manga is degrading, you can't deny that sometimes, whether the character is Male or Female, a kick in the ass or a punch in the face is what they need.
 
That is not to say it is appropriate or that many will agree with that mentality. However, in HOTD, we must try and understand what it would be like in that situation, when as far as you know, the whole world is screwed and the only survivors are the ones you personally encounter. It's all about survival, not being nice. Words alone and a heartfealt speech aren't going to get people moving who're in shock of watching friends and family being torn apart by flesh eating zombies, or watching the same betray their fellow man and send them to their deaths to save themselves. It is a horrifying situation that stomps all over the human psyche. How much suffering and insanity are a group of teens really supposed to take.
 
Regardless of any personal belief I may have about the idea of hitting women in fiction, I will say, in respect for other peoples opinions and views, that HOTD did its job it not only providing us with entertainment, but didn't hold back with niceties and trying to conform to how others felt a zombie-apocalypse horror should be done. It is supposed to be nitty, gritty and with every ounce of your morals and humanity tested, bent and snapped. And I feel the focus on Teenagers was more because they're not Adults who have a fixed view on the world. Younger people tend to be more flexible and emotional, both vulnerable and resilient to otherwise maddening situations.
 
I don't expect others to agree or disagree with my view, but I don't feel bad saying that I have been enjoying the series for what it was and not what some feel it was trying to portray.
ltcolinsaneon Oct. 22, 2012 at 12:58 p.m.

"and in Saeko’s case, literally had their breasts twisted and mangled in a complete out-of-character shift by the main character, Takashi. There was a lot of it."

I'll freely admit i didn't particularly like that scene, i much preferred the manga version of that scene instead of violently grabbing Saeko's boobs he merely wraps one arm around her and tells her to live. While if memory serves me his arm did go across her chest he didn't grab her boobs it was a more tender action.

rodre1on Oct. 22, 2012 at 4:11 p.m.

@sickVisionz: I don't think so, I've seen the anime and never saw a scene that's in the picture.

AURON570on Oct. 22, 2012 at 4:26 p.m.

@rodre1: It is fan art, which is why FoxxFireArt in an earlier comment objected to the use of it in this article. It is fairly easy to dig up fan art which objectifies women. Thus it would be misleading to use such fan art in an article that purports to talk about "sexism in anime" as if to imply that Persona 4 is sexist, or that the picture is representative of sexism in anime, which are both gross generalizations.

DocHauson Oct. 23, 2012 at 11:45 a.m.

People on the Internet get surprisingly angry about cartoons these days.

thekokapellion Oct. 23, 2012 at 1:59 p.m.

@Turambar: I wasn't really interested in arguing with you, I just think it's inaccurate to compare Fist of the North Star or HOTD to something like the Odyssey or Taming of the Shrew. If you still insist that they should be held by the same standards and refuse to see why they shouldn't, there's no point in arguing with you. I'd just end up repeating myself and getting frustrated. I really shouldn't have even replied to you in the first place, what you said just struck me as being in need of clarification, and I also think you might have a bit of a temper. It's not like I was trolling, all I said was, in essence, "I think you might be oversimplifying it." But really, it's disprespectful to both the aforementioned works to even mention them here. They don't belong in remotely the same conversation. I'm willing to buy that you might have read them, but I think you might need to take a second look at them. Obviously I need to get a life and stop going on anime forums.

thekokapellion Oct. 23, 2012 at 6:02 p.m.

It's kind of surprising to me that so many people here seem so quick to defend HOTD against (very fair) accusations of sexism. I mean, it's obviously misogynistic. Even aside from the really, really, over-the-top, intentionally trashy fanservice, which I honestly don't have that big of a problem with, it has a lot more to do with the way the female characters are written. Although to be fair, the male characters are also very poorly written, but there's simple bad writing and then there's misogynistic writing, and HOTD has the latter in spades. I mean, if you like it, fine, that doesn't necessarily make you a misogynist. I've admitted to liking it and I consider myself a feminist, that's one of the reasons I consider it a guilty pleasure. I say if you like it, fine, like it. But no grand tradition is being disrespected by calling out a sexist show on its sexism.

AURON570on Oct. 23, 2012 at 6:55 p.m.

@thekokapelli: I don't think anyone here is doubting that HOTD is very sexist. The problem is that you seem to stop at that and say, 'sure it's okay to like something sexist'. This is exactly how the article begins, Sam says he initially liked HOTD, but is now having second thoughts about why he liked it because it is so sexist. But the article goes further than just labeling HOTD as sexist, because, according to the title, Sam wants to question and consider his own experiences with 'sexist' anime and what these experiences say about sexism in anime in general. Of course once we start considering sexism in anime in general, we can't just simply look at HOTD or stop at simply labeling certain anime as sexist, others as not, but look at the bigger picture.

The problem is not that Sam is wrong in labeling HOTD as sexist, but that simply labeling anime as sexist or not, does not really lead to a better understanding of sexism in anime in general and why sexism in anime has gotten to the point that it has. In order to get at a better of understanding of such, we would have to consider broader questions about society, culture and gender, the likes of which could hardly be done justice in an online forum discussion. Which is why I think Sam's article would be better titled as "HOTD: Thoughts about sexism and anime."

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Highschool of the Dead is manga/anime series that takes place during a zombie apocalypse. Takashi and his friends fight to survive as they go in search of their families.

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