Stereotypes of the U.S.A. and Americans in Japanese animation

By: Nipuni Gomes


Beyond being a form of entertainment, Japanese anime contains social and political statements aimed at a wide range of audiences, especially those within Japan itself (anime has long since become an internationally distributed media product, hence the last part of that phrase). A little known (or simply buried under history) fact about anime – Japanese animation – is that it emerged as a form of recruitment propaganda during World War II, initially begun as recruitment efforts for the war, which quickly morphed into anti-U.S. propaganda as well. Today, anti-American sentiments are still rife in anime, sometimes subtle but, more often than not, blatant.

Although there are shows that depict American characters as normal human beings rather than exaggerated embodiments of stereotypes, the latter description is most often fitting for American characters that form part of Japanese animated productions (which often stem from manga, or comic book series). In these cases, American characters are portrayed as irreverent, unintelligent, culturally ignorant, bloodthirsty, power-hungry, and violent. In select animated productions, there are, in addition to the aforementioned traits associated with American characters, references to World War II United States-Japan relations. While much work has been done in the anime fandom about generally stereotyped Americans in anime, most fail to point out the obvious WWII references in some productions. This project started out as another compilation of overly stereotyped Americans in anime, but turned around and took the track of pointing out World War II and U.S. global relations references in some animated productions.

The video, as a form of introduction – but before the introductory credits – starts off with a clip from 2008 animation Hetalia: Axis Powers, a production in which characters representing countries interact in a War-like setting (although no violence is actually depicted) in ways that are stereotypical for citizens/governments of those countries. The clip is from the beginning of the very first episode of Hetalia, where the character “America” is leading a “world conference,” encouraging everyone present to provide their honest opinions and work together to solve the problems at hand. “America” puts the first problem on the table: global warming, and proposes a ridiculous plan to combat it, proceeding to say that he will not take any objections to the plan. This is reflective of the view of the U.S. as a domineering global power that, contrary to its rhetoric about equality of opinion and the value of teamwork regarding global issues, expects the rest of the world to go silently along with what it wants to do. The next clip, after the introductory credits, is from Hetalia’s episode 7, where “America” is stuffing his face with hamburgers (American stereotype) while in a meeting, and pondering how to defeat “the evil Axis Powers” (WWII reference). When somebody tells him that what he is saying is unclear due to the fact that he is speaking while chewing food, “America” replies that the person posing the complaint does not understand because the latter is stupid – instead of admitting his own fault of speaking with his mouth full. He then continues speaking while noisily slurping on what seems to be a very thick milkshake (American stereotype).

The clip that follows is from the 23rd episode of Samurai Champloo, in which an American navy fleet lands in a small island belonging to Japan and immediately begins firing canons from its ship, demanding to speak with the “person in charge.” The commander of the fleet is a blonde, middle-aged, obese man with a short temper, claiming that the Americans have come to Japan to establish a trading relationship. When the village leader, a feeble, old man, tells the U.S. commander that he has been told to drive away foreign ships from the island, the commander raises his middle finger and cries out, “fuck them!” and a short bombardment follows. He and his interpreter then proceed to tell the scared Japanese villagers that they are not, in fact, making a request, but an order, and ask them whether they want to have a war instead. The American men see a villager in the distance bouncing a baseball in his hand, and make a loud, amused comment about how impressive it is that baseball exists in a “little island on the far East” filled with “savages.” Once again, this scene is a direct reference to World War II as well as U.S. – Japan economic relations – and also a common global stereotype of economic relations with the United States along the lines of: “if you can’t fight them, you might as well join them, because they’ll screw you over otherwise.” Furthermore, the Americans’ ignorance of foreign cultures is highlighted in their comment about baseball being played in the island.

Regarding cultural ignorance stereotypes of Americans, anime has a popular character trope reserved for Westerners by the name of “the Western otaku” – where otaku is the equivalent of “geek.” The Western otaku is an anime/manga geek who knows nothing about Japanese culture except what he or she sees in anime and manga. Hence, these characters are usually very invested in cosplay and sightseeing, as well as attending comic con-like events. However, they do not truly appreciate real Japanese culture. An example of this is included in the video in the form of a clip from 2006 anime series Lucky Star, in which Patricia Martin, a fifteen-year old exchange student from the United States begins working part-time at a cosplay café and displays overtly otaku-like behavior, extremely broken Japanese included.

The longest clip in the series comes from episode 23 of the 2016 animation Bungō Stray Dogs, in which the premise consists of characters who are representations of classical authors and have supernatural powers named after their famous works. In episode 23, Atsushi Nakajima and Ryunosuke Akutagawa fight against F. Scott Fitzgerald, a member of an American organization called “The Guild” that is threatening to bomb and annihilate Yokohama because the organizations running the city refused to let The Guild buy them out of their power. Fitzgerald’s power, “The Great Fitzgerald,” gives him super-strength equivalent to the amount of money he burns/spends (just like the U.S. military resources are equivalent to the amount of money the country has to spend on them). Along with introducing Fitzgerald’s power, the clip also depicts an intense conversation between him and his opponents, in which the former expresses his views about how money, power, and social status are important in life. When Nakajima screams that power and other things “do not exist to blow cities up,” Fitzgerald counters that “Strength does not exist to help the weak.” He argues that “The very essence of money-making is to extract value from the weak.” The dialogue in this clip is not only a direct reference to the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but also to the way some foreign countries perceive that the United States does business.

For the sake of some cringe-worthy humor, as well as to drive the point home, the video ends with a clip – the original source of which was not found – uploaded to YouTube here[1], that depict all the negative American stereotypes in the span of roughly 30 seconds: wearing the American flag and painting its design on every visible surface, eating massive hot dogs with tons of ketchup and mustard, using a curse word between every other regular word, being loud and pompous, calling everyone “cowboy,” and have scantily dressed cheerleaders in the background.