anime films and series follow the trials and tribulations of student
life. Such series include Maison
Ikkoku and Battle
Athletes . A good education
is important in both American and Japanese cultures, but American
TV shows and anime document different aspects of school life. American
shows (Head of the Class, Welcome Back Kotter, early
episodes of Beverly Hills 90210, or Saved By the Bell)
seem to focus more on "popular" kids trying to pulling
various scams and pranks to accomplish something. I've never had
much of a taste for such shows, but they all seem to have basic
theme elements in common. Some anime may do the same things as the
American shows, but some document the struggle of the mediocre (Maison
Ikkoku), and yet others feature a character's lust for greatness
(Battle Athletes). Where might these differences in theme
be coming from? Understanding the impetus for such motifs, requires
a basic comprehension of the idealized Japanese national attitude.
The School System
typically go through four stages of school starting around the age
(or grammar) school (6 Years)
2. Middle school (3 years)
3. High school (4 years)
4. And roughly four years of college.
usually go through the following regimen:
school (6 years)
2. Middle school (3 years)
3. High School (3 years)
4. College (4 years)
In order to
get into college, Japanese students have to take intense comprehensive
entrance exams, nyuugakushiken.
These exams are somewhat similar to the SAT, but cover a wider range
of subjects, are much harder, and more of a determining factor in
one's admittance to a school. High school students often attend
"cram schools" in preparation for entrance exams. If a
student fails his/her exams, they don't go to college. It's that
simple. Consequently, entrance exams are a stressful part of student
life. The first episodes of Maison Ikkoku follow Godai-san,
that has failed his entrance exams the year preceding the story,
and his battle to study for college entrance exams.
Japanese and American Attitudes
Athletes the principal character, a young girl named Akari,
spends much of the each episode admiring her peers, and yearning
to be the #1 student in her school. Of course, this is not (at least,
should not be) an uncommon ambition but why is it that an ambitious
dreamer such as Akari is the main character in Battle Athletes,
whereas the Powerpuff Girls are an arguably cocky trio of young
superheroes? For the previously discussed Godai-san, what is the
driving force behind such constant self-imposed agony, and how is
the pressure succeed in Japan any different from America?
Lower Self Concept/Self
of students taken in 1983 indicated, that Japanese students were
generally less satisfied with themselves than American students.
This attitude of lower self concept seems to be a common trait amongst
characters. Individuals like Godai and Akari acknowledge that they
are not the greatest, and the shows chronicle their quests (in Godai's
case) to deal with their shortcomings or (for Akari) to overcome
them. In contrast, attitudes of characters like the Powerpuff Girls,
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Superman, Batman, and the X-Men is
one of supremacy. Rarely do these heroes ever question themselves
or show weakness. The different development of characters reflects
aspects of the beliefs and values held by the two cultures. American
characters portray a lot of the confidence and audacious attitude
that has come to be a part of the American experience; in contrast,
characters in anime often appear less self-assured.
Beliefs and Values
many cultures, parents are a major motivational factor for their
children. In American shows, parents usually serve as authority
figures that appear once in a while to dole out advice and discipline.
The protagonists usually spend some time trying to avoid confronting
parents about whatever issues they are dealing with. In anime, characters
seem to treat their elders more respectfully and are more likely
to look to their parents for guidance, rather than acting and receiving
"what have we learned from this experience" lectures from
their parents at the resolution of a conflict. Confucianism may
be a factor in these attitudes portrayed in anime. Many Confucian
values - belief in the family, importance of diligence, loyalty,
filial piety, and harmony -- are widespread throughout most Asian
societies. These beliefs influence the story-telling and inherent
message within each show; this is similar to how American television
and movies promote individuality.
A part of Confucian
teachings, humility deserves a more in-depth exploration. In the
case of Jubei-chan,
the heroine, Jiyu, inherits the powers of the Japan's greatest samurai.
Given these powers, viewers of shows like Superman, Powerpuff
Girls, or any other (super)heroes might expect that Jiyu would
relish and use her powers liberally. In fact, Jiyu denies having
special abilities and resists using her power as much as possible.
She avoids acknowledging her hidden capabilities, preferring the
life of a typical 13-year old girl. Coming to terms with the responsibilities
inherent with having such vast power is a major self-conflict explored
during the course of the series. Jiyu's reluctance to understand
her uniqueness is in large part her desire to simply be average.
Her desire to be normal is a function of her humility, she doesn't
want to show off or be exiled by her peers. Jiyu's desire is quite
the opposite of an episode of Powerpuff Girls in which Blossom
finds out she has the ability to create ice with her breath. Blossom
flaunts her newfound talent for a time and in time learns that she
must restrain herself from using her power too much.
There are many
differences between youth-oriented American and Japanese entertainment.
Attitudes and portrayal of the characters varies widely. A quality
common in many anime characters that isn't typically found amongst
American counterparts is they are insecure. The characters spend
a lot of time trying to better themselves as opposed to characters
like Powerpuff Girls, Superman, and casts other youth-oriented
shows. I think the difference is due to the way the people of each
culture behave, and shows that TV and movies sure signs of art imitating
Colin Mackerras Culture and Society in the Asia-Pacific New
York: The Open University 1998.
Ikkoku - an anime about school life in Japan
Until recently in Japan, the
success of college graduates in landing a job depended almost
completely on what university they attended. Grades and field
of study were not as emphasized as much as the prestige of
the student's alma mater.
for entrance exams can be very stressful!
Shirow is one of the top students in his school. Even so,
he is soft spoken and rarely brags. He even blushes when he
thinks about a girl.
Jiyu dons the Lovely Eyepatch, which grants her the powers
of the greatest samurai
In Jubei-chan, the Lovely
Eyepatch grants its wearer the powers of Yagyu Jubei, a historical
samurai who has spawned many legends and semi-fictitious stories.
Because of these fantastic stories, Yagyu Jubei is often compared
to Don Quixote.