For those unfamiliar, anime refers to the animation (or cartoons) of Japan, manga refers to the graphic novels (or comic books) of Japan and doujinshi refers to the small self published comics of Japan. Now that the basic terminology is out of the way (though more to come), before discussing anime, it would be prudent to remember cultural relativism. For instance, a previous post on this blog entitled, “For the Anime (lovers) Among Us…” by Mary Casteen discusses the use of male host clubs in the anime, “Ouran High School Host Club”. An American typically wouldn’t know what a host/hostess club is, or might think is a sex club of some sort. It isn’t a sex club (though Japan does have plenty of those too), rather it is a place where men or women pay to have attractive people talk to them and drink expensive alcohol. For more information, “The Great Happiness Space” is a great documentary on the subject.
Image source- Anime Vice
Women in anime have a variety of roles and in fact, many women write manga and anime. For instance, the aforementioned, “Ouran High School Host Club” was written by Bisco Hatori. Naoko Takeuchi wrote, “Sailor Moon” (picture above). Although there are others, these women all wrote manga/anime that were shojo, meaning there were marketed towards young women. Women tended to write for girls, however, some women have written popular shonen manga/anime, marketed to boys. Rumiko Takahashi wrote, both “Inu Yasha” and “Ranma ½”. Hiromu Arakawa wrote “The Full Metal Alchemist”. Each of these series was very popular both domestically in Japan and internationally. Also women didn’t turn away from typically masculine themes. “The Full Metal Alchemist” is a bloody and violent manga. Both “Inu Yasha” and “Ranma ½” didn’t shy away from repeated female nudity. Studio Ghibli films prominently feature young girl protagonists, like the popular movie “Spirited Away”, “Kiki’s Delivery Service”, “My Neighbor Totoro”, etc… In Japan, many women and girls read manga and watch anime, so it would make sense that women would hold interesting and respectable roles.
However, as mentioned, women fill many roles in anime, not all of them universally positive. In the popular Harem genre, women are nothing more than objects of desire that fawn over the usual generic protagonist. The women fill stock character roles such as a tomboy, wealthy girl, smart girl, etc… “Love Hina”, “Tenchi Muyo!” and “Negima: Magister Negi Magi” are examples of this genre. It’s largely a sexist genre meant for the viewer to self insert himself in place of the generic often socially awkward protagonist. True enough that the depiction of women’s affection for the protagonist isn’t sexist in and of itself, but the harem genre’s exploitation of otaku (negative term for an obsessive geek) power fantasy is.
In the 2000s’, the anime market started to take a dip, so manga publishers doubled down on easy sells in moé characters. Moé is not a strict definition, but is typified by the embodiment of cute, prepubescent or early adolescent girls. “K-on” is an example; it is a manga/anime about young girls in a band with the main character acting as a cute, clumsy, and scatterbrained comedic foil. Some fans feel the genre is overused and chooses theme over substance. The larger issue is it tends to fetishize young girls.
Popular mangaka (manga creator), Rei Hiroe defined his distaste for the moé genre when he critiqued it in his interview in volume 8 of Black Lagoon. He felt that no matter how tough the woman was, people tended to put the heroines below the men. Before anyone thinks he is a white knight of women should know the truth is less so. In the same interview, He defined another genre as“bitch moé” which is to say it features strong, vicious, and violent women. On its own, not a terrible thing, but this is coupled with the fact that his anime puts several of the same strong women in costumes such as a maid, nun, and stereotypical Chinese dress. This only makes it more odd juxtaposed against the gritty story beats including: neonazis, political assassination, counterfeit money printing, gangster warfare, suicide, etc… and honestly the series includes even darker parts. Below is a clip of the show, showing off the violent and volatile nature of the show juxtaposed against the female characters wearing fairly sexist outfits. As such, with the cursing and violence, the clip is not safe for work.
So all and all, how should women feel about their portrayal and sometimes exploitation? Well, I’m not here to speak for women but, I would argue that they shouldn’t feel too bad. Why? Well, the harem genre is popular with males but “Ouran High School Host Club” was a popular harem manga with the female as the protagonist and the males as the stereotypes. What about moé? Well, yaoi or BL manga is a popular genre amongst women which features effeminate homosexual protagonists in relationships which tend to be on the younger side as well. What about bitch moé? That point is harder to argue. Many anime that feature strong, fairly masculine women still put them in skimpy outfits. For instance, Motoko Kusanagi in Ghost in the Shell is a strong, masculine woman who is the commander of a military group which takes down terrorists. However, she typically wears a revealing outfit and is featured explicitly in an all female sexual encounter. As the author put it, “I drew an all-girl orgy because I didn’t want to draw some guy’s butt.” Okay, maybe women should feel a little exploited.
 Image of Sailor Moon . (n.d.). Anime Vice. Retrieved October 2, 2012, from http://www.animevice.com/sailor-moon/11-702/all-images/84-48429/sailormoona3/83-498154/
 Hiroe, R. (2009). Black Lagoon, vol. 8. San Francisco, Calif.: Viz Media ;.. Pg. 191