Anime & Professionalism – A Curious Crossroads

It’s no understatement that I’ve taken a tremendous degree of criticism and skepticism in more recent years for my professional career in terms of my association with anime.

Personally, it’s a difficult road to traverse purely because there’s so many stereotypes that are associated with the label in general that it makes you the immediate subject of non-verbal assumptions. Some cases were more verbal; some, violently so.

I’ve been refused more than one job opportunity in my life on behalf of anime; some of which, without the receiving end having ever seen or communicated with me in person. Multiple vendors have outright refused Otaku Central service as soon as the word” anime” entered the equation. Some business entities wanted nothing to do with OC as soon as they found out who we were; more than one outsourcing opportunity was flat-out denied over anime for us.

While the journey has been pretty rough in this regard, I’ve found some methods over time that have helped me considerably in terms of “mellowing” out the reaction that a business association with anime can often elicit. In the spirit of aiding those in a similar craft (or for anyone who’s been bit by some of the aforementioned situations), I’ll put together what I know as a resource for others to draw from.

Here’s hoping that it helps you in a similar fashion to how it’s helped me.

The Issues – Getting Things Out In The Open

For starters, why does Japanese animation carry such a predominantly negative connotation in American society today? While the vast majority of reasons are based on presumptions, there’s some legitimate concerns that should be lumped together in the pool as well.

That pool contains, but is not limited to, the following:

  • Many people equate anime and hentai as being the same thing, and hentai is understandably lumped into the same class as pornography.
  • A correlation between anime and “furries” is commonly made by those who aren’t well-informed on what either really is.
  • The majority of the anime fanbase resides either in the low end of the middle-class living bracket, or in the lower-class to poverty-class brackets. This fact often brings on the non-verbal assumptions that are made about those brackets in general.
  • Enough people use anime as a way to “retreat from reality” that it’s begun to bear the stereotypical label for garnering people who don’t want anything to do with the world or the people around them.
  • Some of the more news headline-making members of the anime group, in typical news headline fashion, were on the extreme far end of the spectrum in terms of why they turned to anime, and weren’t indicative of the populace as a whole.
  • Many animations carry a degree of sexual content, and this has passively caused many people to lump all animations into this category when in reality it constitutes less than 20% of anime by volume.

Another consideration that deserves a categorization of its own is that I’ve often jokingly referred to anime as a “gateway drug” for many people, but there’s an element of truth to this statement. It’s often placed in a stereotype fueling category in that it’s sometimes accompanied by one or more noteworthy “personal problems” created by it, and this has been shown to the public in enough media cases to the effect that people are often blanket-statement profiled as having those personal problems without any further inspection. Further assumptions then ensue.

In the end, a tremendous degree of flak has been generated by anime by looking at the far side of it, without considering for a moment that there’s actually a pretty “normal” aspect to it as well. For example, the current prime minister of Japan, Shinzo Abe, has commented publicly on multiple occasions that he appreciates animations that highlight many of the historical aspects of Japanese culture. Many people would share his perspective, myself being one.

Anime, at its core, is a media platform. It’s not a demographic label, and isn’t even really a cultural phenomenon. While Japan certainly showcased it and made it what it is today, many other national entities have adopted it to tell stories that would have been more difficult to convey using live-action film. Examples would include the United States, Canada, Mexico, France, China, Malaysia, and Russia.

Admitting That There’s A Problem Here As Thing Are Now

Regardless of what some people in America today would attempt to argue in respect to freedom of speech and freedom of expression, there’s a definite time and place for everything. Realistically, you can only “push the line” of societal norms and societal standards so much before you begin to take some blowback for doing so.

​As an example, you see this commonly expressed by some of the far left-end “weeaboos” who wear their life-encompassing passion for anime out on their sleeves, many times, literally. For some of these  tendencies, while they aren’t inherently wrong and aren’t hurting anyone around them, showcasing them out in the open (many times in an arguably offensive manner), doesn’t help with the general populace’s perception of the community as a whole.

Putting your hobbies out in the open like this, many times with social media being involved, makes it pretty easy for you to be profiled by a huge range of people. Potential employers, law enforcement, business associates, and more distant family members now have a birds-eye view into aspects of anime that they can now stereotype you off of, as well as make inferences on the anime community in general.

​We’ve all done it before. I’ll admit that I’ve done it before. The moral of the story is to strive to do it less, or if you choose to do it in public, do so in the most socially-acceptable manner possible.

For those that disagree with this view, what I’m going to suggest now might be considered to be highly controversial, but give it some consideration:

It’s not a matter of “well, I have the right to do this”, or “the law says people can’t profile me because of my beliefs in this area”. People will profile you anyway, and discriminate against you anyway – they’ll just be more subtle as to voicing the reasoning behind why. 

At some point, you’ve got to admit that in a high-crime city in America, a woman can only go out so late at night, alone, wearing increasingly more provocative degrees of clothing, before something happens. While she could easily make the argument that she wasn’t the one who broke any laws, and she’s not wrong, my counterpoint would be that if she genuinely believes she wasn’t in error of any kind, she has a lot to learn about human nature and about herself.

If a business is considering several different vendors for filling an outsourcing role, and one particular vendor is very vocal about the fact they’re a minority-owned company, that business is now going to have to be incredibly careful (and in some cases, even “cave” to the minority-owned company just to try and avoid legal complications) about selecting a vendor simply because there’s so much lawsuit blowback with racial discrimination surrounding these types of circumstances today. Legality has been distorted in the face of these situations, yet from a business perspective, profiling in this area is commonly accepted as the secret “norm”.

The point I’m getting at is that you can argue until you’re blue in the face that the world shouldn’t work this way and it’s illegal for America and other countries to work this way. They still will. Why? Because they’re comprised of people, and this is simply what people do.

Caleb – are you really suggesting that I wear two different faces depending on my environment when it comes to how I communicate my love of animation? Yes, I absolutely am.

Otaku Central’s mission in the world today extends far beyond simply providing an unrivaled anime streaming experience. The reason we are who we are is that we wanted to help improve the lives of the thousands upon thousands of workers in this industry who are struggling financially to make ends meet. We strive to prove the point that animation is a commonality among many people that brings us together to help make the world a better place, and this is expressed through the countless environmental, humanitarian, and charitable aid causes that OC supports both on our home turf, and around the world.

The best way to convey that message across borders is to be mindful, respectful, and courteous of others’ norms, standards, views, languages, religious beliefs, and personal choices. It’s what enables us to be who we are, do what we do, and be received with open arms by many of the groups we engage with.

An Informed Decision Is Half The Battle

A phrase I’ve commonly used regarding one’s awareness of what all life comprises is: “The world’s only as big as your perspective.”

You’ll find that there’s a very real sense in which this is a sword that cuts both ways.

​I never want to arrive at the point in life where the accusation of “well, he’s just too set in his ways” or “an old dog like him can’t really learn new tricks” can be made of me. To that end, I strive to be in a constantly state of learning and adapting more to the world of today as my knowledge of it grows. It’s part of the reason you’ll find me buried in books with so much of my off time; learning is a lesson for life, and I don’t expect to ever achieve the rank of master in it.

Why do I mention this? Well, one of the things it’s taught me progressively more over time is that the world isn’t black and white, and there’s always a cause and effect tradeoff to everything. This is a lesson that surprisingly few people today truly know to any great degree. Many minds gravitate towards wanting the world to be black and white in an effort to try and make it easy to understand – that their minds don’t have to constantly adapt and grow to the breadth of what the world really contains.

It’s pretty easy for a far right-sided conservative fundamentalist in America to look at me and say: “anime is disgusting and vile, it’s nothing but a trash gutter for young people’s minds, and everyone who appreciates it will never amount to anything in life”. Believe me, I’ve heard a version of this statement more times in recent years than I’d have confidence in admitting.

While the world is comprised of many people’s perspectives, and I want to understand and be courteous of that to the greatest degree possible, such a view is excessively black and white to the point that it ignores a plethora of criteria behind what animation really is, and the relative good that it brings in the world today even prior to Otaku Central ever being a “thing”.

Many people with PTSD use animation as a way to “quiet the mind” from some of the hardships they’ve experienced. Others see anime as a comedic outlet for stress relief from a hectic day. It’s a more affordable pastime for those who live in a lower income bracket or work odd/long hours to the point they don’t have free time to enjoy other hobbies. Even the most controversial aspect of animation, the side that’s sexual to the extent that it borders on hentai, is an outlet for some that actually lowers the probability of domestic violence from certain demographics. On top of all this, it provides a moderate degree of “fuel” for many aspects of our nation’s economy and global market presence.

I’m not attempting to justify some of the more publicly-flaunted extreme cases of passion for anime, but rather am striving to illustrate that broadening one’s perspective to see the “bigger picture” reveals that animation fills a pretty needed role in society today, similar to video gaming as a whole.

But, even in light of all these things, there’s only so much one can do.

I’ve sat in vendor calls before where I could barely finish my opening sentence of what Otaku Central is before the question was immediately asked:

     “Is this an illegal site or service?”

After assuring the representative that we are legal and offering to present a sanitized copy of some of our signed contract statements to prove this, she immediately fired back with:

“Ok, but you do understand that we’re an industry leader in our area and we’re not going to cut you some kind of ‘mom and pop-style’ sales deals for what you want, right?”

Again, I conveyed that this wouldn’t be an issue as long as the rates were competitive, and we were willing to pay the first six months up-front as a gesture in this area. Still, the suspicions continued:

“Our normal contract length is three years, and you’d otherwise have to buy out the remainder of the contract if you choose to terminate it early. Is that acceptable? Are you sure?”

At this point, it’s been pretty bluntly conveyed as to what she’s getting at: because I’ve voiced my association with anime, she’s immediately assumed that I’m up to no good, I have absolutely no money, and can’t be depended upon.

Needless to say, when this vendor finally turned their quote around to me, the dollar amount was nearly five times the total of what the next most-expensive company quoted me for the same service. Otaku Central didn’t use this vendor. “Message” received.

If someone’s made up their mind that anime is evil and because you appreciate it as a platform, you’re evil, too, you may just have to leave it at that and move on. I’ve never allowed someone’s disagreement with my life in this area change the fact that I wanted to improve the world for the better, and it doesn’t make sense to start now. It’s just…   well…   saddening that it comes that. On both sides of the fence.

Let Your Accomplishments Silence The Accusations

There’s simply no substitute in life for living well.

​A case study I observed some time ago showcased an individual who was a passenger aircraft pilot, and was licensed on a wide range of airplanes, including the massive Boeing 777. He’d been all around the world as part of his job, was well-respected by his peers, and took home a six-figure paycheck.

It subsequently came as a surprise to some when he commented to his associates that he watched anime from time to time, and had an appreciation of a number of animated series. His logic behind this hobby was that he was traveling so much that he couldn’t be in one place long enough to “put down roots”, and wanted something intangible to entertain him that he could easily bring from locale to locale. Anime fit that bill pretty nicely.

He took a minimal degree of criticism from his peers for this hobby compared to many others in the anime demographic as a whole. Why? Well, because of his status and what he’d proven about himself through his life and career, almost all of the anime stereotypes that are blanket-statement slapped on others couldn’t be applied to him. On the contrary, it made quite a bit of sense that he enjoyed what he enjoyed.

I’ve slowly gravitated into a similar situation over time as my career has started to really get off the ground. The advent of services such as LinkedIn makes it easy for someone to “scout” who you are prior to a vendor call, and after looking over my work history and achievements, it’s difficult to judge me on a professional front purely because of what I’ve done with my life. It shows to many that “if someone like him wants to take an industry-redefining approach to animation, he must have a decent reason and plan for doing so”.

That’s not a bad groove to get into, regardless of who you are. Building yourself and making yourself better can only really help you in the long run. It also bears the passive side-effect of improving the standing that others hold you in, both inside and outside of the industry.

If you want to change the world, that change has to start and end with you.

That’s why Otaku Central exists. It’s why we do what we do.

​And, it’s a tune we can all dance to.

Caleb
Caleb Huggenberger is a 31 year-old systems engineer, owner of the non-profit animation streaming service 'Otaku Central', and Eastern culture enthusiast. Outside of long work days, he enjoys electronics engineering, cast iron campfire cooking, and homesteading on his acreage in the Indiana countryside.

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