Brent Allison is a graduate of the University of Georgia. He completed a dissertation about the impact of Anime fandom in the United States on the informal education of Japanese culture. He is also a contributer to the book The Japanification of Children’s Popular Culture: From Godzilla to Miyazaki edited by Mark I. West. Within this book, Allison writes a chapter centralized on interviews that he conducts with a total of twelve anime fans of ages 13-18 at different fan conventions across the United States.
Allison discusses several different aspects of anime with these teenagers including the social interaction that results, their emotions that result, preferences within anime, and other entertainment factors. However, he also asks them if and what they learn about Japanese culture from viewing anime. Some of the responses he receives are as follows:
“You can learn that women are sometimes on a lower status in Japan. ‘Women need to be quiet,’ and ‘Men need to be a little louder,’ but especially back in the 1990s, it was still considered, you know, the woman being the silent type..”
“They [Japanese women] need to be more demure and more, I dunno, how should I say this? They have to be quiet. And I guess that’s why I like the stronger women in anime because most of them, females in Japanese anime, are told to, like, cook and clean and basically be the perfect housewives.”
“Well the whole tea ceremony things are in a lot of animes… [We] once went to this Japanese arts school kind of thing. We went through a whole tea ceremony and, like, origami and calligraphy. I mean I walked through stuff like that and everything.”
While it is evident, that these statements are given by teenagers, it is also evident that there is some learning taking place about Japanese culture while kids are watching these movies and/or shows. They are picking up on gender roles in Japanese society and comparing it to our own society. They are also taking the initiative to learn about some of the practices they are viewing by going out and experiencing it for themselves.
Allison also posed the question of whether the viewers preferred “Subs” or “Dubs.” “Subs” being the original Japanese version of anime films which contain English subtitles for the American viewer and “Dubs” being the version of the film in which the original voices have been dubbed over by English-speaking actors for the American audience. The response he recieved substantially surprised me. The majority of the viewers said that they preferred “Subs.” Some of their responses were as follows:
“I hate dubs because they just, they ruin it. Like, for example, in ‘Tenchi,’ I love the character Aeka in Japanese, but then, like, when they dubbed her in English, they gave her this old lady voice. And, I mean, I’m sure their actress is a good actress. I mean, I understand that they don’t really wanna look at the Japanese because they won’t get their own feel for the character. But I just hated the character Aeka in the dub, but I loved her in the sub, so I was kinda torn.”
“Um, subs are better just because dubbed just kinda sounds bad, you know?… They’re just not into it. They’re all like… ‘Even though I’m from Japan, I have a Southern accent.’ Please, god it sucks!”
“The voices don’t fit the characters or they get the timing wrong, or there’s something not quite right about seeing your favorite characters speak English, so I prefer subtitles, but I’m also not opposed to dubbed.”
According to these statements, the majority of kids actually prefer reading while they watch TV. This is probably one of the most beneficial things that could come out of a television series. In order for kids to keep up with reading the subtitles and watching their favorite shows, they have to learn to read quickly, which whether they realize it or not is giving them a valuable skill in their education as well as for use later in life.
This may not be the case for all adolescents who are avid fans of anime, but if some are learning about other cultures and picking up practical educational skills in the process of something they enjoy, then I’d say that anime is successful as well as beneficial. This is a good and fun avenue for kids to be exposed to other regions of the world.
[A list of Allison’s credentials can be found at http://www.animefandom.org/cv.html]
[Also to read more from this book, check your local library or visit http://www.amazon.com/Japanification-Childrens-Popular-Culture-Godzilla/dp/0810851210 to purchase it]