TV | Wide Angle

Anime Feminist: Tackling anime's gender bias

by Matt Schley

Contributing Writer

Over the past few years, there has been more mainstream recognition of the idea that discourse is better served when it is expanded outside the sole realm of heterosexual, white, cisgender men. That’s true of major forums, and no less true when it comes to niche media, including the world of anime fandom.

Now, a site called Anime Feminist is tackling Japanese animation from a new angle — and in the two years since its launch, it has gained hundreds of dedicated followers who have kicked in tens of thousands of dollars in support.

It’s the brainchild of U.K. native Amelia Cook, 35, who describes its mission as “providing anime analysis through a feminist lens.”

Anime might not seem like the most obvious choice for a feminist reading. Though the works of directors like Hayao Miyazaki (“Spirited Away”) and Sayo Yamamoto (“Michiko & Hatchin”) have been praised for their strong, complex female characters, the medium as a whole is often associated with the stuff of stereotypical male fantasy — submissive girls with gravity-defying underwear and the like.

Cook acknowledges that many series fall under the category of what’s referred to on the internet as the “problematic fave,” which is more or less what it sounds like. That’s where the site comes in, providing analyses of anime that help identify which elements align with feminist values and which do not.

“We’re always careful to say, ‘it doesn’t matter if you like it or not, it’s not good or bad, the point is to explore, to discuss,'” Cook says.

From the start, Cook wanted to use writers and editors from underrepresented backgrounds and pay them a fair amount for their work. Funding comes through the crowdfunding site Patreon, which was bringing in hundreds of dollars just two months after the site launched. Clearly, Cook wasn’t the only one interested in this kind of content.

“The most common bit of feedback is, ‘I’ve been waiting for a site like this.’ A lot of people use it for vetting: to find something to show a partner who isn’t into anime, for their children, or just stuff that avoids the tropes anime tends to fall into.”

Support for Anime Feminist has only grown: The Patreon account currently pulls in roughly $2,000 a month, and a one-time crowdfunding campaign in December 2018 to overhaul the site, transcribe its backlog of podcasts and pay its growing staff netted $24,100.

The site is now at a crossroads — to become sustainable and offer workers better pay it is considering ideas like an online shop selling items designed by aspiring animators. But hosting ads from anime giants like Crunchyroll or Netflix is a nonstarter: Cook wants to retain the ability to criticize them without bias.

Cook, whose passion for anime drove her to earn a degree in Japanese and spend a year in Kanazawa, Ishikawa Prefecture, describes being the public face of the site as “a mixed bag.” Like many publications of its kind, its writers have faced criticism and harassment, though this has died down since the site first launched.

But there’s plenty of motivation too. “The best feedback,” Cook says, “is when people say they were able to become anime fans again because of us.”

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