Anime From the Left – and From the (Far, Far) Right

Anime From the Left – and From the (Far, Far) Right

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Anime from the left and from the far right
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Anime may be entertainment, first and foremost. But art is almost always political. Anime is no exception.

Anime may be entertainment, first and foremost. But art is almost always political. Anime is no exception.

Many of the most popular and beloved anime have explicit political ideologies. Sometimes they’re expressed overtly. Other times they lurk beneath the surface. In this article, I’ll be exploring some of those anime, from the Marxist to the fascist and everything in between.

“Left” and “Right”: Cross-Cultural Context Matters

Good art doesn’t force an ideology on the viewer. Along those lines, many of the shows I’ll go on to discuss in the article are up for interpretation, and often are understood in ways that are very different from what the author may have intended. For the purpose of this article, I’ll be examining the politics in anime that the original creators explicitly or implicitly intended.

Media organizations on a Japanese political compass. The two axes are Global Economy/National Economy and Pacifism/National Security.

While “left” and “right” refer to similar ideologies in Japan and the U.S., we can’t ignore the culture gap. This can be seen in one of the major themes that most casual viewers pick up from watching anime: namely, pacifism. Pacifism in anime is often seen in a hyper-realistic depiction of the evils of war. This is a far cry from idealized depictions of war that are common in the U.S. This gap may stem from the Japanese experience of defeat in World War II. It means that shows that idealize the military may have a more explicitly right-wing tone to a Japanese viewer than an American one.

Additionally, Japan’s history of imperialism and allyship with Nazi Germany has inspired a lot of anime to depict fascism. This includes characters and countries that are obvious facsimiles for either imperial Japan or Nazi Germany. Representing such a charged history is going to naturally give shows explicit or implicit political themes.

One important trend that I won’t be covering in this article is misogyny and sexualization. A lot of smart people have written about the objectification of women and the sexualization of children that can be commonplace in anime. (And Unseen Japan has tackled some of the objectification controversies surrounding anime and manga characters in Japan before.) While misogyny can be a part of far-right ideologies, it’s too much to unpack in this one article.

One last disclaimer: I’m not a scholar, so this is purely based on my analysis and research from both Japanese and English language sources. Without any further ado, anime from the left and right!

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Antifascist Liberalism

Shows that idealize the military may have a more explicitly right-wing tone to a Japanese viewer than an American one. Share on X

A common liberal-to-moderate-left leaning ideology seen in many popular and classic anime is what I’ll call ‘antifascist liberalism.’ These anime tend to have basic liberal values like portraying democracy as good and war as evil. They depict societies ruined by war and power-grabbing. The heroes fight against corrupt existing governments or conspiracies that use violence ruthlessly to achieve their goals. It’s a broad pattern that can be seen in anime ranging from Naruto to Grave of the Fireflies. It’s anti-war, anti-fascist, and pro-democracy.

The hit anime Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood (2009) is a great example.

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Eric Margolis

Eric Margolis is a writer, translator, and book editor based in Nagoya. His investigative features on Japan have been published in The Japan Times, The New York Times, Vox, Slate, and more.

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