There has been a lot of recent discussion centered on a new original project announced by Crunchyroll last week. And by “discussion” I mostly mean angry, whiny videos that have whipped up the reactionary YouTube crowd. I’m not going to name names if only because I don’t want to be directly responsible for giving them attention. They are all bigger than us and easy to find if you really want to, so Google if you must.
To start from the beginning, Crunchyroll put out an announcement that they were opening a new studio for the purpose of creating original, hand drawn animation and that their first project would be called High Guardian Spice. A behind the scenes video accompanied the news in which they proudly talk about the series being primarily created by women and how they hope that will bring a fresh perspective to the project.
Naturally, this fired up the “SJW’s are ruining everything!!!” crowd but that kind of open hate is easy to spot and deal with however you choose to deal with it. It makes me angry and I don’t want to downplay it, I just want to highlight something that I think is more dangerous. What has really bothered me are some other bad arguments that seemed to stick with a lot of other people: the implication that working on this initiative will somehow take resources away from Crunchyroll’s other projects, and the question of whether they should be making “Western” animation in the first place.
At face value, those complaints are easily debunked. Do you know what happens when a large, successful company makes a lot of money and decides to invest in a new project? They hire more people and buy more equipment so they can do two things at once. Maybe even three! The idea that this has any impact on getting new features like an HTML5 player is such a laughably stupid argument that I think it’s safe to just move on.
A more vague complaint is the fact that the new project looks to be catering to “Western” tastes, an argument rooted in this idea that anime is magically more special if it’s created by people with Japanese DNA. Hey folks, you know what Japanese people call Western cartoons? Anime. It’s all just animation. Sure there are some common visual style differences, but those are ultimately subjective and I don’t think are the real issue. If that were the case, we’d probably see a lot more people complaining about Panty & Stocking being on Crunchyroll despite looking like R-rated Powerpuff Girls and arguably more “Western” than this new project.
Given how obvious that all should be, it seems like there are bigger issues at hand. In the past, Crunchyroll has funded and produced dozens of other series without much complaint, including the series Urahara which they also hyped up for having all women as key creative staff. What is the difference in this case? I think it’s because they put out the video.
I can almost picture these angry men watching that video. They see women who they think fit their mental caricatures of a feminist. They see the key art with characters that don’t fit the usual anime girl mold. They start thinking, “this isn’t anime, this doesn’t belong, and I hate it.” The anti-“SJW” crowd are more open to admit this, but the majority seem to move on to the rationalization process. They’re thinking, perhaps subconsciously, “I can’t possibly be the problem, it must be something else”. And so they look for more logical, acceptable excuses for their anger. Eventually we arrive on really dumb complaints like the ones above.
If there’s any doubt about what’s really going on, I find it noteworthy that the most high profile complaint video says something to the effect of “Crunchyroll is wasting their money on making Tumblr: The Anime” and that probably tells you all you need to know. Playing along with that reductive statement for a moment, it hasn’t occurred to them that some people might actually WANT Tumblr: The Anime, or anything else that isn’t designed to appeal to them. The true heart of their complaints is gatekeeping the anime boys’ club, plain and simple. Someone is daring to make something that doesn’t fit their idea of what anime should be and now they will throw their toys around in the crib until someone comforts them.
Unfortunately that seems to be what Crunchyroll attempted to do with a follow up news post. They assured fans they are listening to feedback and that new features like the HTML5 player are on the way soon. Personally, I think this was a mistake. I’ve seen a lot of suggestions to the effect of “Crunchyroll needs to do a better job explaining how the business works so this doesn’t happen” and no, they don’t. The crowd that hates this project will just find other excuses to mask their sexism and a response just lends legitimacy to their complaints.
I’d love to conclude with some magical solutions for all this, but unfortunately it’s just another example of the overall reactionary nerd culture writhing around in its death throes as the world slowly changes around them. All we can do is continue to draw attention to the issues when these things come up and hopefully over time, as people grow up and mature, maybe some of them will change. That’s about as optimistic as I can possibly be.