What The New York Times’ anime article gets wrong

EDITOR’S NOTE: Please see the bottom of this article for updates on the dialogue following its posting. You’ll find an open letter I sent to Glenn, a Twitter thread where Glenn reached out to me in response to said open letter, and a link to a second article I wrote with final conclusions on the matter that I would appreciate if you read. Thank you.

 

If you’ve been following the anime community in the past week then you’re probably aware of a column in The New York Times that garnered controversy for its implied coloration of anime as perverse. If not, give it a quick read (to make things easier you can skip down to the bottom few grafs as that’s where anime is discussed). I’ll be responding to this here.

But before I do, it’s important to clarify what this article truly is: an advertisement in all but name for a new streaming service focused on Western cartoons. Glenn Kenny (the author) starts out by disguising his article (advertisement) as an evaluation of the artistic merit of animated films with footnotes about animation in the 1930s-’50s. However, he then changes gears into what is ostensibly a sales pitch on Boomerang (the streaming service in question, based on the cable TV channel of the same name). This segment literally reads like a press release as he attempts to sell you on the service’s features, using his prior anecdotes as justification as to the artistic quality of its content. Kenny then uses Crunchyroll as a foil which caused the stir within our own community.

In either a failure to do his due diligence as a paid writer or as an intentional smear of Crunchyroll and anime, Kenny singles out Akashic Records of Bastard Magical Instructor. He points out a scene in the series where Glenn (the main character who ironically shares a name with the article’s author) walks into a bathroom of half-dressed girls. To us who understand anime trends, it’s quite obviously the expected antics from the type of light novel school battle harem etc. series we see at least one of every season. Even those who enjoy these types of shows would admit that they’re not bastions of artistic integrity or intellectualism, and as such not the standard by which the medium should be judged. But further, it’s a small percentage of the 50 or so series that air every season. As such, using it as a sole example of the content available on Crunchyroll is disingenuous and I’m being generous here.

Chances are that Kenny went to Crunchyroll’s “Shows” tab which highlights the most popular series on the service at any given time. As you can see in the image below it’s currently ranked eighth but generally jumps to the top spot after a new episode airs, something commonplace for popular simulcasted series.

Screen Shot 2017-05-20 at 2.57.21 PM.png

This is complete speculation but let’s assume that Kenny took note of this ranking and gravitated to it. At a glance it should be obvious that it’s far sleazier than the other series on display by their cover art, thus making it an outlier. There’s also the matter that a series like Dragon Ball Super would have better fit with the old style of cartoons that Kenny focused on elsewhere in his column. This negligence is unacceptable for someone who’s getting paid to write, but again that may have been the point given the advertisement tone of the article.

What’s particularly frustrating is that Kenny goes on to state that his slant against anime by means of singling out Akashic Records of Bastard Magical Instructor is ultimately a tangent and that his main goal is “to report on the pleasures of streaming movies, so I’m obliged to say that cinema is pretty thin on the ground at Crunchyroll.” It’s true that Crunchyroll’s film offerings are slim compared to its series offerings, but it’s still incredibly disingenuous considering that Boomerang’s service has, at the time of this writing, a grand total of 14 movies available, one of which is live-action. I’ve added a screenshot of this below as future-proofing.

Screen Shot 2017-05-20 at 3.08.35 PM.png

While Cruncyhroll doesn’t offer a listing of its films to my knowledge (and I think it should), I can guarantee that it has a greater selection on offer, especially when you include live-action films as one must do when comparing it to Boomerang’s offerings. Not only this, but Kenny is flat-out incorrect when he states “Crunchyroll offers only the subtitled version of the [Fist of the North Star].” As you can see here, Crunchyroll clearly offers the film in both subtitled and dubbed variants. Again, a screenshot is included below for the sake of future-proofing.

Screen Shot 2017-05-20 at 3.14.25 PM.png

It may seem like I’m splitting hairs here but Kenny’s portrayal of anime exemplifies the problem with outsider opinions: they’re rarely based in reality. In fact, it’s articles like Kenny’s that drives this misinformation and as such are necessary to debate and debunk.

There are, as I mentioned earlier, around 50 anime airing every season and of that batch will be a wide swath of subjects and quality. One doesn’t have to dig deep for what are considered to be the best series of the modern day. Just from this year: Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu can rival the best dramas available anywhere, My Hero Academia feels in many ways like a byproduct of the lessons of decades of shounen series, and Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid is both a stellar comedy and a mature depiction of a gay couple. That’s only the tip of the iceberg as well. Plus, Crunchyroll offers many older series that would appeal to fans of the classic cartoons offered by Boomerang, including Cowboy Bebop and the original Lupin.

I don’t mean for this to hypocritically be an advertisement for Crunchyroll– I actively support the service as a means of watching anime legally but can understand some of the misgivings others have with the platform– but rather to show that Kenny’s depiction of the medium by way of it is inaccurate. Anime appeals to a broad audience and to undersell or neglect such a fact is to do a disservice to both its community and the article’s readers. I’m making an example of Kenny here but if we don’t fight back then we allow these misconceptions to fester and when that happens we effectively alienate the medium from potential new fans.

The impetus is on us to counteract outsider opinions with our own as to why the medium we love is great. Don’t be afraid to make your voice heard.

 

Update 5/22/17: I wrote an open letter to Glenn Kenny which you can read here.

Update 5/23/17: Glenn has reached out and we will be talking further in the coming months.  See the exchange here.

Update 5/24/17: I’ve given my final words on this saga in a post you can read here. I would greatly appreciate anyone who’s been following the events to read this. Thank you. – Tim

28 thoughts on “What The New York Times’ anime article gets wrong

  1. This is a really interesting article. Thank you for writing this- I wasn’t aware of the New York Times article. I also wasn’t aware that Boomerang now has a streaming service.

    I agree completely with what you said. He really has no right to degrade all anime and Crunchyroll just based on one anime. Not all anime fall into the genre, and if you make it past the first episode of Akahsic Records, the fan service lessens a great deal.

    Thanks again for writing this and defending anime 😀

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Zeria

    Writing about anime when you’re an outsider is a hard line to walk, but it’s pretty clear that the writer fell on the wrong side of it here. It’s almost hilarious that the trashiest of LN genres is focused on in the article, though the fact it’s coming from a major publication is less funny. Still, I think we should be careful not to go overboard and prevent any outsiders from writing or talking about anime. This really seems like the big issue here was both poor research and the fact that Crunchyroll was only being used in order to bolster another service. As long as they’re being fair, I think it’s totally fine for outsiders to talk about anime. It just so happens that there wasn’t any fairness in this case.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I have no problem with outsider opinions when they take the time to do the research (and it’s actually part of why I changed the original title of this post to reflect that). Commenting without factual or intellectual basis helps nobody, though, and can actively hurt the subject of such opinions.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I hadn’t read this article or heard about it, but I clicked over and had a look. That is poor journalism at the absolute best. One show as an example to essentially dismiss the entire Crunchyroll categlogue and quite clearly not what the majority of top streaming shows are like (your image alone confirms that even if common sense didn’t). Certainly he’s free to voice his own opinion but he really needs to make it clear that it is a very uniformed one about the service Crunchyroll offers.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. See, his “freedom to voice his own opinion” is less so when he’s both paid to do his due diligence and has a platform with such wide reach as The NYT. He should be expected to be factually accurate, y’know? Yet my dialogue on Twitter with him (in which he said “I forgot how butt hurt you fans get.”) shows a complete lack of professionalism. Pretty piss-poor journalism.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I’d go so far as to say that outsider misinformation is one of the biggest dangers to the anime community and industry. It feeds into the misconception already held by many and makes the majority of the medium that isn’t trashy fanservice that much more socially inaccessible. While Crunchyroll has some issues, they’ve been working hard to make anime as accessible and easy to get into for newcomers as possible, and it seems to me that the community is thriving more than ever before. However, these ignorant writers who continue to characterize the community and anime in general as being perverse (even though anyone could tell just by looking at the Crunchyroll website that that’s not the case) just to fit their angle, especially with the amount of visibility that they have, could potentially negate all the progress that has been made.

    Plus, the guy obviously has no idea what he’s talking about and his conclusions are based on false preconceptions, incomplete data analysis and probably a dash of good old dishonesty, and that’s important to bring to light in of itself, even if I didn’t have a personal interest in the matter.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yeah, my personal interest here is second to the need to expose the inaccuracies and dishonesty of this article and others like it. I don’t want to make a habit of these tear-down responses but I feel it of great importance to the health of the medium that we’re constantly rebutting falsehoods.

      Liked by 2 people

  5. I read the NYTimes article before this and more or less shared the same views as you do.

    It’s yet another outsider article that misrepresents the medium and the fandom to horrendous levels. It was poorly researched, if at all and was full of inaccuracies.

    I’m not against outsider articles, they can sometimes provide a unique perspective, but when they’re as poorly researched and full of as much inaccuracies as this, it makes me blood boil.

    Then again, maybe I’m just “butthurt” like the rest of the fandom supposedly is. We’re easily butthurt after all.

    Thanks for sharing this. This deserves to be spread!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yeah, I’m not necessarily against it either… provided there’s effort put into learning what a medium is about and why people enjoy it. Even if you don’t come to the same conclusion as others (as I’m not saying everyone needs to agree with me on anime), the amount of effort you put in shows and Glenn Kenny clearly put in next to none.

      And yeah, him calling us butt-hurt on Twitter was hilarious but also super disappointing. I’d expect better of a paid writer from a major publication.

      Liked by 2 people

  6. Pingback: Mel’s Round-Up Week 34 – Mel in Anime Land

  7. Freeman

    Akashic Records isn’t necessarily a bad show with which to represent modern anime, what with battle harems being some of the most ubiquitous and popular series out there, but I have to join you in objecting the author’s bringing up only that show. While I feel no particular need to evangelize for anime in everyday life, it is annoying being afraid to broach the topic with others lest I be met with the eye-rolling “Oh, you mean /that/ stuff” reaction that comes so frequently from those who thinks trashy ecchi harem shows are all the medium has to offer. Glenn Kenny chooses a low-hanging fruit and an easy stereotype, rather than representing the medium sufficiently to substantively compare it to these early cartoon shorts he loves so much. As it stands, the article would have been better had the comparison with Crunchyroll and anime had not been made at all.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I agree with pretty much everything you said here except the sentiment that Akashic is a fair example of anime. With the amount and variety of series getting released every season I don’t believe any one anime can represent the entire medium. It’s admittedly a bit of a double standard: if he had come out and praised Rakugo then this problem likely wouldn’t have occurred, so his usage of a lowest-common-denominator series was definitely the instigator, but I think the deeper point is as I mentioned: one work can’t represent them all. Anyway, it seems like we’re ultimately on the same page here.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Freeman

        Being a “fair example” does not necessarily mean that it can fairly represent the whole medium. As I noted, it was remiss of him to mention only that show, though he did specifically mention Fist of the North Star in a positive light earlier on. Yet, since it is so popular, Akashic Records does to some degree represent modern anime and one of its best viewed genres. Thus, I can’t really bring myself to say it was an intentional smear of him to choose that show in particular.

        I also think some – not necessarily you – have been hypocritical in calling Glenn out for using a skewed example in Akashic Records, but then saying that he should have mentioned Rakugo Shinju instead. In many ways, Rakugo Shinju is a much less representative example than Akashic Records: it wasn’t very popular when it aired, and neither its subject matter, tone, nor overall style are typical of most anime. If you select one of Crunchyroll’s shows at random, you will be far more likely to get an anime like Akashic Records than one closer to Rakugo Shinju.

        In summary, I don’t like what Glenn did either, but I think the overall fan response to it is lacking in consistency.

        P.S. Sorry for resurrecting this comment thread so late, I only just realized I haven’t been getting email notifications when I logged on to make my latest post. Hope you don’t mind going back to this topic, as I think it is important.

        Like

      2. Well, I wholeheartedly disagree that any one series can represent modern anime (a sentiment I’ve been entirely consistent on). As I said, the double standard of how this situation wouldn’t have occurred if he covered a higher quality show absolutely exists and I completely acknowledge that, but on principle I still believe that he should have covered a spectrum to counteract that he looked at for Boomerang.

        As you can probably understand this really isn’t a topic I’m looking to drudge up again so I’m going to keep this short. Ultimately, Glenn and I will be sitting down to discuss this further.

        Like

    2. Upon re-reading the context of the Akashic Records section, it’s obvious that the author didn’t even need to include it. If the point of the article is to showcase a variety of cartoon-streaming sites, the previous paragraph that introduces Crunchyroll is sufficient. No need to showcase one anime or another because no single one can be representative of the medium.
      In summary, poorly-written article, low-hanging fruit, cheap shot–basically agree with what was said above.

      Liked by 3 people

  8. Intent is a powerful thing. Even when a swing doesn’t connect with your jaw, the fact that a swing was taken can invoke all manner of reactions. That begs the question, though. Was the swing aimed at you?

    I read both articles, yours and Kenny’s a few times to try and wrap my mind around what I was looking at. This is because your post, though you don’t say anything incorrect about Kenny’s piece or paint him in a negative light, made me mad at Kenny right off the bat. Why did I feel that way? Was it your tone? Was it the many ways in which you showed Kenny was wrong? Was it his incredibly childish retort to you via Twitter?

    I did a mental reset as much as humanly possible and went over to his article. The first thing that struck me is exactly what you mentioned – nearly half the article sounds like an advertisement for Boomerang. He teaches film language and it sounds like a lot of the material he’s familiar with can be found on Boomerang. So sure, he’s got plenty to talk about there.

    Kenny’s understanding of anime feels very high level, and the only bit that shows any kind of effort to dig deeper was maybe the half episode of Akashic Records he watched. I don’t expect him to drop an anime resume in this article, but there were certainly better examples of self-consciousness he prefaces the article with.

    That said, he doesn’t really say anything unwarranted about that first episode of Akashic records. He doesn’t say anything positive or negative about the content. He simply states what happened, makes a note about the absurdity, and moves on. The scene he’s talking about sounds like it aims for that very same absurdity.

    What then is the slight? Why did this article actually generate controversy? Were anime fans upset at seeing 50% of the anime discussion in this article (meaning 1 example) aimed toward a silly battle harem show? Were they upset that he chose a silly fanservice moment as its representative content? It sounds like the show itself does that itself with that first episode, on purpose. The answer to this question still escapes me.

    Understanding it is where intent comes in. To me, there’s two possibilities here:

    1) Kenny knows about anime,and doesn’t like it. He chose Akashic as an easy target to blast an entire film medium.

    2) He’s a total ani-noob but wanted a representative look at modern animation options, so he clicked on the first thing he saw at Crunchyroll.

    If he was being malicious he could have done worse, so I’m leaning toward the second route. If that’s the case, his complaint about butthurt fans is a little closer to appropriate for what he sees as an overreaction to what he wrote.

    Honestly what really threw me off most was his reasoning behind moving off the subject of Akashic and anime series in general. That his point was to talk about animated movies, of which he found very few on Crunchyroll.

    I didn’t get when became the point of his article. Even most of the stuff he talks about on Boomerang are shorts or single episodes. He uses that cue to briefly mentionFist of the North Star and concludes his article talking about remotes.

    Really, I don’t know what he achieved, or hoped to achieve with this article. State that Boomerang and Crunchyroll exist? He doesn’t really talk about film. He doesn’t talk about animation.

    He talks about shows you can find on Boomerang. That’s really it. His article doesn’t make me mad. It just makes me wonder why I bothered to read it.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. Eheh… too much?

        I didn’t have anything really critical to say about your post. I just wondered what it was that made me dislike Glenn before I even read his article. I think you did a perfectly fine job of pointing out the faults in his work, but I don’t know exactly what it was about the original article that got people on edge.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Perhaps I misspoke & projected. Your response had me reassessing & self-critiquing my own writing and, while I stand by everything I said, it was an important exercise given how polarized the community’s response to this has been.

        Liked by 1 person

  9. Michael

    Since you mentioned that Glenn Kenny shares a name with the protagonist of Akashic Records, I can’t help but notice he also shares one with Fist of the North Star. One is coincidence, but two?

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Reading the original article from the NYT again, I’m convinced the author did not do much research into the subject matter. And if he did, he did not present them in it. It’s quite possibly one of the most tone deaf think pieces I’ve ever read about anime or general arts topics.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Rubi

    It’s listed lower on the shows page but it’s the fourth thing listed on the front page and the first three are second seasons/sequels so my guess is he didn’t bother to check if the first three shows had earlier episodes up.

    Like

  12. Kenny opens that article showing other examples of films where the sex appeal of women and animal-like lack of control of men are in emphasis. Then he selected an anime series and described a similar scene. If he wasn’t denigrating the image of film, then he wasn’t with anime either, specially after pointing out some good influence anime has had on American film.

    The point of this article is hard to grasp because he never states a thesis. However, to me the idea is to make people aware that there is animation available for streaming. He did seem to be kinder to Boomerang than to Crunchyroll though.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. I didn’t think Millennials read the New York Times?
    That is more of a mainstay for Baby Boomers.

    Whenever we go to Art Fairs we always see the
    NYTimes both trying to sell those subscriptions.
    Its 2017, people get their information online. lol

    Like

  14. Pingback: Thoughts That Move’s Greatest Hits, Volume 1 – Thoughts That Move

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s