you might want to watch the first OVA of Cyber-City Oedo 808 instead. I guarantee that it’s more coherent than my essay. Be sure to turn on captions in your language, but listen to the original Japanese voice actors.
If you’re not willing to watch any more anime, you might as well read the essay.
The argument goes like this:
1 – The characters in the anime are extremely recognizable, in part because of use of racial stereotypes. But these racial stereotypes are just what the viewers expect to see, not reality.
2 – (As William Graham Sumner taught,) humans organize their lives in terms of recognizable ingroups and outgroups. Humans stereotype everything to reduce experience to recognizable patterns.
3 – Human history is likewise composed of recognizable stereotypes rather than perfectly verifiable facts. The racial stereotypes in history are just what the students of history expect to see, not reality.
4 – We must try to transcend our stereotypes.
First you should look at some screenshots and understand the characters.
Sengoku, the obvious heroic protagonist, is is an extroverted, charismatic alcohol-drinker who is interested in witty banter and human personalities. He is a mixture – 80% Mongoloid with 10% Europoid and 5% Negroid genes. He has mass appeal – a large cross-section of the Japanese audience can identify with him. He is mostly like a hard-driving, masculine Japanese man of the 1980s. His crimes include murder, assault, weapons possession, disturbing the peace, endangering public welfare, forgery of currency, bonds, and data, computer-fraud, database violation, and resisting arrest. He is pursued by an ideal potential wife, but he plays hard-to-get; he is an ideal military officer, politician, or celebrity. Japanese sci-fi fans who feel stable and fairly comfortable in Japanese society, but who feel tormented by unsatisfied ambition, will identify with him. His action sequences resemble those of a two-fisted, duster-wearing gunslinger more than those of a two-fisted film-noir Knight In Sour Armor.
Yanagawa – with 59% Mongoloid and 38% Europoid genes – might be mistaken for a female gymnast or acrobat, because he wears cosmetics in a “visual-kei” style, but his voice is deep, his demeanor is masculine, and his allusions to astrology seem to be more like medieval fatalism than feminized pop-culture astrology. His white hair and red eyes mark him as a “god of death” stereotype; possibly the Europoid ancestry was included in his character simply to make his “god of death” albinism more plausible. His crimes include murder, assault, forgery of currency, bonds, and data, forgery of identification, embezzlement, damage to public property, space flight violations, and other criminal law and regulatory violations. His action sequences resemble the one-on-one duels, gravity-defying leaps, erotic-poetic dalliances, and narrow escapes of the “chivalrous ninja” stereotype that Japan’s theaters have been refining for centuries.
Gabimaru – with 60% Mongoloid, 10% Europoid, 20% Negroid genes – is a “dekabutsu” “genius bruiser” with cybernetic eyes and an introverted personality, good with technology and overt violence. He is not suited for intrigue, gaudy displays of subtle social dominance, or hedonism. His crimes include murder, assault, destruction of public and private property, weapons possession, disturbing the peace, and violations against city bylaws and criminal regulations. The story includes hints that he is a widely-read, multi-lingual deep thinker. His personality is easy-going, loyal to comrades, and self-sacrificing – an ideal soldier or team-mate. Overly-bookish, under-socialized sci-fi fans, perhaps burdened with thick spectacles, who have a taste for physical brawling, but not for insults, will identify with him. His action sequences resemble block-buster action movies, right down to the John-Woo-style white doves and Jerry-Bruckheimer-style vehicle crashes.
Sengoku, the 80% Mongoloid, appeals to the kind of Japanese man who feels that Japanese virtues would be good enough if only they were pushed forcefully. His Europoid and Negroid genes indicate that charismatic forcefulness. The fact that he is not a 99% pure Mongoloid underscores the sci-fi atmosphere; it suggests that essentially Japanese masculinity will persist even if 900 years of high tech civilization have led to some amount of interbreeding. Yanagawa, the 59% Mongoloid, is a beautiful “chivalrous ninja.” His 38% Europoid admixture appeals to the large segment of the Japanese audience that considers “whites” attractive and wouldn’t mind interbreeding with them. Gabimaru, the 20% Negroid, appeals to the stereotype of that all blacks are two-meter-tall ultra-heavy-weight male boxers; this stereotype is easy to sell in Japan, especially to audiences who mostly see male blacks on television, and who never see female blacks.
Second, you should understand ethnocentricity from an anthropologist’s standpoint, as a matter of ingroup and outgroup. Regardless of whether humans are genetically related, we tend to live in groups, tribes, hunting-bands, etc. We tend to believe that the people we live with are somehow part of us, even if there is no genetic or historical evidence to that effect. Humans are loyal to their kin – but most kinship relationships are based on imagination, not blood or marriage.
Thus when people with white skin regard themselves as a “white race,” it’s just an imaginary distinction, just like the many disparate East Asian races that get lumped together into a supposed “Han race.” From a genetic standpoint, white people are too diverse for one category. Finns, Turks, Jews, Saxons, and Icelanders are too diverse to be considered a “race.”
Even with that in mind, we can’t just throw up our hands and refuse to think about anthropology, so we have to go back to the basics, namely the research of two Yanks:
and one Brit:
Sumner defined ethnocentrism as “the technical name for the view of things in which one’s own group is the center of everything, and all others are scaled and rated with reference to it.” Merton elucidated the notion of the “self-fulfilling prophecy.” And Dunbar introduced the famous “Dunbar Number,” a.k.a. the Monkeysphere Limit. People inside the Monkeysphere get the benefit of the doubt; they are at the center of everything, and everyone else is rated with reference to them. People outside the Monkeysphere aren’t really people – they are hostile outsiders.
We evolved to be tribal thinkers; we were evolved to use stereotypes in a stereotype-friendly society. We still use stereotypes in all of our thinking, even though we no longer live in paleolithic tribes which were genetically and culturally coherent. Thus when we think about race, we think in terms of our Monkeysphere’s culture. But our Monkeysphere is not necessarily genetically or even culturally coherent.
Now that we have reviewed the Monkeysphere, I hope the relevance of Cyber City Oedo 808’s characters is a little more apparent. Those characters are identifiable. The viewer can put them into his Monkeysphere, at least as long as the viewer is watching the show. The stereotypes are refined to be easily digestible, like highly processed junk food.
Editor’s comment: zhai2nan2’s original post promised a 4th section to his argument, regarding how to transcend stereotypes. But in fact he got side-tracked into discussions of other anime shows.