The Toxicity of “Media Shaming” and Its Effects on Criticism in Anime

“Here we go again.”

It’s what I continuously say season after season when another discourse comes to light within the anime community. I don’t think it would necessarily be a problem if the discussions were fruitful and people were more understanding, a problem that I talked about back when responding to Irina’s article several months ago. That’s not to say that I think discourse is invalid or that I think that people shouldn’t be discussing how they feel about a particular show, but there’s a limit as to how you should do it and treating your debate partners with respect and understanding while doing so.

This has always been an issue within the anime community though, and while I don’t think my singular article about this is going to really accomplish much, I wanted to state what it looks like from an outside perspective as someone that’s only served as a point of observation in these recent debates, although I still think the issues being discussed are important to a high degree.

The most recent one would be the criticism surrounding Uzaki-chan Want to Hang Out. The recent discourse discusses Uzaki-chan as a character, relating that back to the quality of the show itself, and finally having the fact of watching the show reflect back on the audience as well. While there are plenty of things to say about all of these topics, I will briefly provide some common points and my thoughts about them, as there are discussions to be had beyond this singular anime and more about the mentality behind how we should treat others tastes in certain media.

So let’s skip over the question of “why did this discussion happen” (although I think that is a valid topic of conversation for another time) and move onto the more pertinent “what do people find so heinous about Uzaki-chan Wants to Hang Out?”. You may already know the answer if you’ve followed the discourse (especially if you’re aware that this isn’t the first time this conversation has been had), but it pretty much boils down to a few key factors. Of course, each of these factors have varying forms of validity to them, but more importantly, I want to discuss how those portrayed ideas quickly devolved the discourse into a worsened state.

The anime character Uzaki-chan has two traits that have created the base for this entire discussion: her personality and her body type. To basically sum up the entirety of the discourse in brief, as there’s a lot of angles that people have taken with this, Uzaki-chan isn’t a realistic character in terms of body type and her personality of being the stereotype of a Manic Pixie Dream Girl is one that creates fantasies and standards that aren’t realistic either. Of course, these two traits aren’t something that only the Uzaki-chan anime deals with, but it makes sense to point it out as the most recent example of these sorts of topics being discussed within the anime community. However, the main discourse isn’t about if these things should exist in fiction, as I think that most reasonable people can tell fiction from reality in these regards.

The topic continued to be pressed forward, not too different from how the conversation progressed in Japan when Uzaki-chan became the main topic of discussion during the Red Cross campaign late last year, although the tone that was taken on the Western side of things was a bit more poignant and more harshly criticized than the one that occurred in Japan. These conversations went beyond just simply discussing the overtly sexual nature of Uzaki-chan and if that should exist, and rather went into more personal attacks on those who simply watched the show, something that we’ve seen before with other highly controversial anime such as Goblin Slayer or Interspecies Reviewers

The problem with this whole Uzaki-chan discussion though isn’t that people are criticizing the shows in question for something that they believe is misrepresentative or harmful, but the criticism moves beyond that and into more personally fueled attacks against the viewer of the anime themselves. While I personally do not enjoy the story of Uzaki-chan nor any of the characters within the show, I have no reason to tell other people that they cannot watch the show because I don’t like it or don’t agree with what it’s portraying. I think that’s where the problem begins to arise when we get into these parts of media discourse.

This isn’t just an Uzaki-chan specific scenario either though and has been something common within the harem, ecchi, and even light novel communities for a while, as several other notable bloggers have discussed in the past. Frog-kun wrote an article about this in her “Why I Banned Kink-shaming On This Blog” post, discussing this exact same idea stemming from a similar issue she had with the way particular commenters treated fans of slavery-based isekai light novels. While that topic is obviously a bit more extreme in nature than overtly sexual body types and unrealistic personalities, the underlying theme should still be the same: there is no reason to personally attack people for enjoying a media type that may be seemingly harmful on the surface.

I think these problems begin to arise when people conflate the viewers of the show with having the mentality that those viewers endorse everything that a particular show does, even when particular nuances are given within the discussion. For example, just because I enjoy trashy harem anime doesn’t mean that I’m going to suddenly try to be the next harem king within my workplace or that I’m going to treat individuals as if they’re my next harem members. I think the majority of people know that fiction is merely fiction and watch what they enjoy, and people don’t necessarily agree with everything that a piece of media that they like does. This is something that B0bduh discussed years ago on his blog as well, stating that “Our relationship with media is complex – what we like doesn’t wholly define us, but it also isn’t completely apart from who we are.”. 

I think that the last part of that quote is the most important, because that’s the crux of this whole discussion at the end of the day.

If, for example, we treat anime as “just something we watch” and not a part of ourselves, then there’s no reason to get offended about this in the first place. Viewers of Uzaki-chan could just pass these criticisms off as “that’s just criticizing the media I watch, not myself” and not take it personally. However, I think that’s exactly why this sort of discourse can become so strong, because people do take it personally, and it has nothing to do with being sensitive towards criticism in general. It has to do with being a part of the media that they love, even if they don’t necessarily agree with every part of every second showcased in that media.

Going back to Frog-kun’s article about media kink-shaming, this resonated with me strongly when I read this article last year because I’ve had personal anecdotes with this sort of mentality of others. As a harem fan, I’ve had to deal with a lot of these criticisms within even some of my own friend circles in the past. It’s very difficult for me to be able to express my love for harem without feeling the unnecessary need to write it off as “trash” somewhere within that same statement. While some harem anime are, for sure, just “trash”, I also think that some of them really aren’t. I don’t think it’s necessarily right to criticize me as a person for simply enjoying a media type that I enjoy. I understand the problematic nature of the harem and the sort of mentality that it may invoke within some, but that doesn’t mean that simply because I watch these shows that I think that way. I think that’s presumptuous and rude if someone has that sort of mindset towards others that view particular media that way.

Frog-kun’s article also links a particular tweet in her post that I think captures the entirety of this discussion pretty well, as I think it relates pretty well to this discussion as well.

I think this tweet encapsulates the entire point of what I was talking about above. Thinking about things in this way begins to shape this sort of toxic mentality when we slap harmful labels on types of media, especially when others don’t necessarily understand the aspects that cause others to enjoy a particular set of media. The reason I say that isn’t because Uzaki-chan or harem anime can’t be depicted as harmful in some capacity, but this labelling tends to lend people thinking things such as “you’re watching a ‘bad’ genre, so you’re bad too”, without really understanding the nuances behind why that was said to begin with. 

It’s no surprise, in that case, why people get so verbally charged when people attach dangerous and misleading labels to media that others enjoy for reasons beyond the labels. It’s a normal human instinctual reaction to a point, and while I used to think that perhaps people were just being overly sensitive towards these issues, I think there’s really a point to what people are saying about these things. It not only may create a significant hatred towards a particular medium or art form, but it also may impact someone’s enjoyment of something they love, despite that enjoyment is harmless in nature to themselves and others.

As one final example, I would like to bring up another anime that perhaps many people have fallen victim to this sort of mentality, or at least I know that I have in the past. That anime is Sword Art Online, which isn’t a particular harmful piece of media by any means, but I think it fits the exact same criteria as some of these series above.

There are definitely some Not Great™ scenes in the Sword Art Online anime, some of which are pretty gross and definitely shouldn’t have existed. However, in the past, I used to immediately think back to those particularly gross scenes when people said “I like Sword Art Online”, and thought “How could they like something like that? What kind of person are they really?”. Stuff like labeling Sword Art Online as “sexist” and “grotesque” had gone past what I had thought about the anime at that point and had started to affect how I viewed particular individuals that simply liked the anime, creating a sort of toxic mentality towards those people.

In the past year or so, I’ve been realizing now that this feeds into that exact same mentality that I’ve criticized others for having, as explained above. Understanding this (and also having read parts of SAO: Progressive) has led to this change in mentality on my part, and while I’m not necessarily happy to admit my past wrongdoings, I think it makes for a good example in the context of the point that I’m making.

This could be applied to plenty of anime that fit similar criteria though, as an anime that may cause this effect across each person will be different. One person it may be School Days, the next person it may be Hand Shakers; it’ll completely vary from person to person. Perhaps that some individuals have come to the same realization I’ve had and thought about these things completely differently now. Either way, I think it’s definitely something that should be left for each person to reflect upon.

This article could have simply been boiled down into the main idea of “be respectful to others and their tastes”, but I don’t necessarily think that captures the right idea about what’s happened across the anime community, and likely other fan communities as well, at this point. It’s more than just respectfully criticizing someone else in a particular discussion in a verbal manner, but also doing so in a manner that doesn’t push your personal views onto someone else, especially when those views can be harmful in their own way to the other person. 

That’s not to say that criticism can’t be stated about these topics, however, as it’s more about how they’re framed in respect to the other person than the criticism themselves. “The Uzaki-chan anime is just watched by degenerates who want to ogle her” vs “Uzaki-chan has some problems with how it frames particular elements regarding her body” are two completely different ways to frame the same argument, yet one of them is promoting the sort of toxicity towards the people that watch the show for other reasons as well. This is the type of behavior that’s unacceptable in my eyes, as it can create a destructive mentality to those that enjoy particular subsets of anime for innocent reasons and perpetuate certain facts about individuals that can be untrue.

I think this is something we can all work on as a community, as we continue to critically enjoy the anime medium as a whole. The community is constantly heading in a more positive direction when it comes to these topics, however, I think we can still work to better ourselves in certain regards to our criticisms. It’s something that I’ll be working on as well, as we all continue the drive to create a respectable community that critically thinks about anime and related mediums.

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