Saturday, April 24, 2010

Media Monday: Anime

Anime (Japanese animation) and manga (Japanese comic books and graphic novels) are very popular among children with AS, but should be approached with caution. Most anime and manga use as themes many of the difficult and maladaptive behaviors with which children with social deficits struggle, among them:

  • lack of discipline

  • difficulty prioritizing (everything is a crisis)

  • good sportsmanship

  • confrontational behavior

  • being in a social hierarchy where they are not in charge

  • an innapropriate approach to sexuality (especially for girls)

  • overly simplistic vocabulary and verbal interactions (for teenagers)

Part of the reason that all of the above are a problem is that a significant culture gap exists between the intent of the Japanese animators and the perceptions of American viewers. For a Japanese audience, anime is mostly adult programming and is viewed as satire. Japanese culture has many strict rules of behavior that are socially enforced (by American standards, at least), and the behavior of anime characters often involves the exact opposite of Japanese social mores. Japanese viewers (young and old) know this and are able to laugh at it.

Such is not necessarily the case for American viewers, especially the young ones. I have personally observed avid anime viewers with AS adopt the speech patterns and social behavior of their favorite anime program. It is not a good social habit and is, quite frankly, counterproductive to the teaching of social skills.

Children with AS often have difficulty reaching out of their own sphere. It can be difficult to empathise or interpret the intent and behavior of others, and very easy to assume that the world is out to get you (especially if you have prior experience of being bullied). Thus, prioritizing people, things, and activities can be very difficult; frustrations abound; competitive behavior can be taken to an extreme; and hierarchy can seem like mass persecution. Programs that treat the resulting poor behavior as normative can therefore be a very bad influence.

Since anime is largely intended for an adult (male) audience, the appearance and behavior of female characters is often highly sexual. A ridiculously exaggerated figure is a normal appearance, as is idiotic behavior. For the AS child (especially teens), the abundance of sexual imagery in American culture can send a lot of mixed messages that don't need to be compounded by unhealthy stereotypes. And girls on the spectrum are often easily drawn in to a highly sexualized image of female behavior, both because it gives them a false sense of popularity and because it allows them to manipulate men (or feel that they are doing so). Female aspies can also be easily seduced by the apparent social acceptability of ditsy behavior, an image promoted by many female anime characters.

Most importantly, though, is the innately adult intent of Japanese animation. Japanese people of all ages watch anime and read manga, and some forms of anime can be very serious (dramatic) or sexually explicit (even pornographic). Entering the world of anime puts one in very close proximity to extremely adult content. In fact, by doing an image search for "anime" two images on the first page of search results were distinctly x-rated. While these things are generally inappropriate for children and teens, they are especially complicated for children and teens on the spectrum who may not fully understand the implications and consequences of sexual behavior.

Overall, I think that Japanese animation must be approached with extreme caution, bearing in mind the cultural context of the imagery itself, the maturity of the viewer, and how confident the parent is of his ability to discuss any resulting issues with his child.

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