Come Hell or High Standards: Why Anime Hasn’t Ruined “Real Girls” For You

So there I am on Friday, worrying about what to write for this week’s blog post  (you know, as you do) when I got a very interesting tweet from E to tell me that someone had come to one of my articles (my one on worst “regular” anime jobs) after searching for something on Google.

Not a particularly unusual event, perhaps. But what was unusual was the search string the user had entered into Google.

“Anime ruins girls in real life.”

I immediately had a jumble of reactions.

Reaction 1, The Angry Feminist

Oh joy, some person is shocked, SHOCKED, and upset that women do not live up to some fictional ideal of womanhood. Because we all know that we only exist to be adorable and likeable.  Troo-da-f***ing-loo.

Reaction 2, The Sympathizer

Well, I suppose I can understand… I mean, god knows I bitterly resent the entire male gender in RL for not having more angsty broody swordsmen with troubled pasts and long, beautiful silver hair… certainly has contributed to my permanent singlehood. *shifty eyes*

Reaction 3, The English Major

Wait, is that “ruin” meant in the active sense or self-reflective sense? Do they mean, “Anime ruins my appreciation for girls in real life, i.e. gives me impossibly high standards,” or “Girls watching anime tend to be ruined in real life, i.e. become squealing fangirls?” What subject is this transitive verb affecting? WHAT DOES IT MEAN?!?

(I eventually decided it was the former, but even now it still has me pondering if I misread it and should be writing a panegyric to squeeing fangirls instead.)

Reaction 4, The Lazy Blogger

Ooh, fodder for Monday’s post!


Whether this anonymous Googler was actually serious in his/her quest to seek out deep philosophical tracts about the nature of anime and its detrimental effects on the perceived awesomeness of the women in his/her life, we may never know.

But sadly, there are probably a few men (and women) out there who genuinely have this viewpoint or its gender-flipped equivalent. I’m sure none of you regular GDGers think this way, but there’s always a chance that one of you might or that you might have a friend who has espoused a similar attitude.

If this sounds familiar to you, let’s see if we can help broaden your mind a bit.

(Note: while most of this article focuses on men judging women by anime standards, many of the same points are true for women judging men, men judging men, women judging women, etc.)

The first step is admitting you have a problem.

There are a few obvious points that should be made at this juncture, and for good reason: most of them have to do with the fact that women (and men) in anime/movies/fiction are fantasies. They are often crafted to maximize appeal and eliminate faults, and as a result it is unfair to real women (and men) to expect them to be anything like their fictional counterparts.

This is especially true of female characters and women, as there are a few layers of cultural ideals and extra stereotyping that get layered on top of all of this. While stereotypical male characters can be pretty flawed, stereotypical female characters are often presented with idealized spirit and sweetness and their personality weaknesses are glossed over.

Newsflash: Women have flaws.

And I don’t mean necessarily the “stereotypical” female flaws, like obsessing over smelly candles or shopping or arguing in a passive-aggressive manner (some women do these, but some men do too!) We burp. We fart. We scratch our groins when no one’s looking… and sometimes when they are. And when someone headshots us in Call of Duty, we can nerdrage with the best of them. We’re gorram human beings just like you (hypothetical you), not pictures or sculptures or animated forms of The Ideal Girlfriend. Holding us up to that perfect standard is going to create nothing but frustrated people of all genders.

If you find yourself falling into the trap of comparing the entire female gender to MAI WAIFU AYANAMI SAN and having them weighed, measured, and found wanting, take the following steps.

1. Get it into your head that there is a good, healthy gap between fantasy and reality, and that there’s nothing wrong with having JUST a fantasy.

No one is saying that you are a horrible person for having a secret thing for sailor-skirted meganekkos who make you tea and blush whenever you talk to them, as long as you realize that’s your own little ideal fantasy in your head that you can retreat to whenever you like. It’s when you start wanting that sort of thing in reality that things start to break down. Yes, sometimes there may be overlap, but the point is that you shouldn’t be trying to shoehorn one set of standards into another. Cultivate both a good fantasy life AND healthy, realistic desires/needs in a real relationship.

2. Similarly, repeat after me: (FAVORITE ANIME GIRL) is a series of paint strokes. Real women are human beings like me.

Too often, when thinking about relationships, it’s easy to think of the other party in abstract terms. You see them only as they relate to you, rather than the hero of their OWN story. Once you stop thinking of women as “characters” in your life and more as equals with their own lives to lead, you may find a lot of your disappointment falling by the wayside.

3. Ask yourself, with brutal honesty, WHY anime girls have ruined real women for you.

How did you even reach the conclusion that anime women > real women? Be specific. Was it a physical thing like hair or breasts or body frame? Are there things that real women do which annoy you? Do you just find it hard to find anime personality types in real life?

Once you have a really solid idea of why you prefer paint to flesh, apply a bit more of that brutal honesty, read point 2 again (and again and again) and ask yourself if your attitude is really fair. How much, if any, of your dissatisfaction is reasonable?

To be honest, some of it might be; you may conclude that you don’t like a particular personality type or physical trait and can take that into account in the future. On the other hand, you may find that some of your complaints are shallow or unfair… doubly so if they are some variant of, “women are bitches,” “women like stupid stuff,” or “MOAR GIANT TITS PLZ.”

4. On the flip side, ask yourself what it is about anime girls that you like so much.

Make a list, then once again run it through the filter of #2 and ask yourself why you like these things and whether in the end, they’re things you really want in a flesh-and-blood relationship.

Trust me, a lot of things you like about anime characters might drive you NUTS in a real person. Tsunderes are cute and all, but are you genuinely comfortable with that kind of antagonism in a relationship, with waking up with it day after day?

If none of this is working and you still find yourself wishing real women were more like the fake ones, try this thought experiment.

DVD extras for the soul

Go stand naked in front of a mirror. Think about who you are as a person: your strengths, your weaknesses, your quirks, your likes, your dislikes. Your kind heart. Your temper. Your strange penchant for knitting Doctor Who scarves. Your unending hatred for the Star Wars prequels. Your relationship with your parents. Your uniquely funky body odor. Your mole on your butt. Your grudging respect for that Grade 2 teacher who pushed you a bit too hard but ended up inspiring you to greatness. Your dream of owning a tropical island and stealing away all the Valve developers to work on your game concept.  Your shameful desire for a Storage Wars anime.

Now answer me this: Is there any way that all of this, all of you… could be covered in 26 episodes?

No, there isn’t. No matter how much character development “you” would get, there would still be parts left out, large chunks of your character and life left out.

Don’t you think the same is true for anime characters, particularly those female characters you idolize? Do you think their series is showing all that this “person” really is? No, it isn’t. We don’t get to experience Haruhi Suzumiya’s killer morning breath, or Asuka Langley’s contentious relationship with her Kindergarten teacher, or Mai Takano’s secret hobby of collecting teddy bears (well, not sure on that last one). We’re given a very quick cross-section of their existence, barely a snapshot of who and what they really are.

Contrast that to meeting a real woman (or man) who isn’t on a time constraint of 26 episodes or a 2 hour movie. There’s no editing, there’s no crafting, there’s no, “Wait, will this character trait help us sell plastic figurines?” It’s all the extras, everything that has ever gone into them.

Think of it this way. When you meet a real person, you’re not getting an anime character from a 26 episode series. Rather, you’re getting that… plus a ton of DVD extras. All the commentary, all the weird asides, all the deleted scenes, all the bloopers, all the stuff that wasn’t quite “good enough” for the final product but is still part of the story, still informs the character and the world. You know, all that bonus material that geeks absolutely love.

Some of it will be boring. Some of it will be annoying. But it’s all still part of making that person and their story. And who knows? Perhaps once you immerse yourself in that person’s story, you’ll find that they make a great anime heroine or hero in their own right…

So instead of bemoaning the fact that the apple of your eye isn’t like your dream anime character, embrace that fact. Embrace the facets of real women, of real men, and in them, celebrate your own.

Have anime or fictional characters “ruined” your appreciation for the real thing? How would you snap someone with that attitude out of it? What do you like more about fictional characters, and what do you like more about real people?

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