Thursday, January 5, 2012

America: the land of crime, arrogance, and women ... according to manga

(NOTE: I am by no means claiming the manga artists I'm going to mention, nor Japanese people in general, are racist. This is just a fun little blog about things I notice about how Americans, and America in general, are portrayed in manga I've read).

OK. So, if you read a lot of Shonen manga, you may have come across some characters that are American, and you may have noticed that these characters are probably some of the most different characters in their respective manga. In this post, I'm going to talk about American characters in Shaman King, Soul Eater, and Eyeshield 21; and address the stereotypes and cliches apparent with those characters. However, this is by no means a rage topic; it's just that these stereotypes of America and the people there are something I can't help but notice, and I just feel like talking about them because I find some of the stereotypes a bit funny and others just comically insulting.

Well, let us begin with Shaman King and the character of Joco (Chocolav in Japan), who is African-American and hails from New York City. Joco is a great character, but its his past that I find just very cliche (despite, admittedly having some truth to it). You see Joco lives in the ghetto and his house was broken into on Christmas Eve where his parents were murdered when he was about 8 years-old. Afterwards, Joco becomes the ruthless leader of a gang with his fellow black gangster members. Now, it is important to note here that Joco is still only 14 years old here. Why? Because its ridiculous! You got this 14 year-old kid terrorizing people with a freakin' gun, and on top of all this, he murders a man. Not just any man though; nope. Joco murders an upper-class white-man on his way home on Christmas Eve with presents. What's Joco's reason for killing him? To quote Joco himself: "I hate Christmas".

OK. So yeah, what's the problem here? Well, it's not the actual story, which is tragic, and Joco's pain is understandable. My problem, however, is simply this: Joco is the one black character in Shaman King, which contains a wide variety of multi-ethnic characters. But why did Takei (Shaman King's mangaka) have to give the one black character the most cliched "black guy" story ever!?! I mean, it covers all of the bases: he lives in New York, he lives in the ghetto, his parents are the victims of murder, he becomes a gangster (fully decked out with a gun and leather jacket) as a teenager, and he murders a guy by shooting him. It just feels like Takei just said: "OK. I've got a black character. What kind of story can I give him? Well, I'll base him in New York, that place is full of black people. NY is also full of crime, so I'll make his story revolve around that. And since he's black I'll put him in a gang. Yeah! This is perfect. It'll really help show the cultural background of New York and the black people who live there." I know, I know; that was harsh. And I'm sure Takei didn't have that thought process. I just find Joco's story so cliched, and, as a result, kinda funny. I mean is that all mangaka think New York has? Lower-class black people, upper-class white people, and crime? I mean, c'mon, don;t be so short-sighted; even if there is some truth in his story. Oh, and everything turns out good for Joco in the end, even if he does get his just desserts when he is killed by the children of the man he killed.

This leads to the next story: Liz and Patty's past in the manga Soul Eater. This one is shorter but no less cliched. Liz and Patty hail from the Bronx in New York, where their mother was a prostitute, gave birth to Liz and Patty and abandoned them in the streets. Liz and Patty grow up as criminals who terrorize the city and take what they please thanks to their powers. So, yeah, once again we have mangaka focusing on the absolute worst in American society. Why did Liz and Patty have to be the daughters of a prostitute? Why couldn't they have been abandoned by a rich family, or maybe just lost their parents to illness at a young age? Oh well, at least Liz and Patty aren't black too.

What I'm getting at here is simply to ask: why do these two mangaka focus on just the worst parts of American society? I rarely see any back-stories like the ones above for other characters. I mean, every place in the world has crime and prostitution; so why only give such terrible back-stories to American characters? Are the only things these mangaka, or maybe even the general public in Japan or the rest of the world, think about when America is mentioned is stuff like crime, gangs, guns, and prostitution? I'm sure there are characters in other manga that have bad backgrounds and aren't from America, but those probably aren't Shonen manga for a young audience like Shaman King and Soul Eater are. So why give such grim stories to Americans? Is that who you think we are? Are we a bunch of gangsters and badasses?

I'm not going to answer my questions. I'm just trying to make a point.

Well, with crime and deviance out of the way, lets move onto how Americans act. In Eyeshield 21, there is a football team of American players. The coach of this team is arrogant, upper-class, and racist. He looks down and verbally abuses the one black player on the team (who also happens to be from the ghetto of New York), has a pride so big its thrown in your face, and he is constantly preaching about the superiority of the "white man" over the Japanese. His personality is just so in your face that it's impossible to ignore. It really comes off a very strange, especially considering no other character acts the way he does; well, except for another American character. This other American character is a black professional football player in the NFL who wears tons of "bling", is stinkin' rich, and always has women around his arms. This is another situation where is just makes me say: "Really? Really!?!". Do you think Americans have no dignity? That we have no respect for our fellow human being? That we are arrogant and believe ourselves to be superior? I mean, sure, like the other examples above, there is some truth to the situation, but do you really need to show Americans this way? If so, why? Are you trying to antagonize us? The main characters all have a deep respect for the other teams, both before and after games, so why is the American team antagonized.

But, wait, there's more! At the end of the series, the main team goes up against another American team. This time there is no antagonizing coach; rather, the players are the ones who are just cliched messes. First off, our introduction to the American team is done in a strip club. Why are a bunch of 16 year-olds in a strip club? Because this is America! And we do whatever the f*%# we want! But, seriously, this scene was just weird, and felt so forced in creating this image of what Americans were like. Oh, and one of the members of this American team is the president's son and always has women around his arms.

Overall, it just feels like the mangaka of Eyeshield 21 is just antagonizing Americans; even if not everyone on the team is made to look bad. I just find it strange how Americans get portrayed in this manga. The same goes for the American women. There are several strong, independent Japanese women in Eyeshield 21; so why are the women of America nothing but objects. They're either wrapped around the arms of some big, strong man or just there to be all "Look! Hot American women!". Why? Why make America look like this?

Well, on that note, I guess I can move onto appearances. This doesn't come from any particular manga, but just things I see in general in manga/anime. First off, when showing someone from America, it's easiest to show a black person for some reason. It's not like there's an entire freakin' continent full of black-skinned people. Also, at least in Eyeshiled 21, black men are big, muscular, and just superior athletes (Oh! And black people have huge packages too). American women, well, they're all blonde and busty, of course. It's just how we breed 'em here I guess.

Like the other topics I discussed; I can see a basis for where the mangaka are coming from. And its not as if we Americans don't forge our ideas of what people look like in other countries based upon stereotypes either. It's just that I'd expect a little better from mangaka who are making such pieces of art.

The things I've mentioned in this post I don't see as a bad thing; like I said, it's pretty understandable where their coming from. It just feels like Americans are objectified a lot as "bad people" and our society "bad". Sure, we've got crime, especially in our major cities, but it's not like the mangaka have to focus on cities like New York as a home for their American characters; America is a big country. Then again, that just may result in a character from Texas; most likely a character like Tina from Dead or Alive.

So, where is this all leading to? No where really. I mean, I could go on for a while more if I brought up Americans in videogames. I just noticed this ... I wouldn't call it a trend, but just a sparsely-used foundation for American characters in manga. I just hope mangaka understand that there are other ways to portray that a character is from America without making them black, blonde, or busty.

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