Oy Vey Anime!

Oy vey zmir!

It's no secret that I'm a proud, yarmulke-wearing Jew. I've made it obvious on multiple occasions, like when I discussed Yuri Bear Storm a while back. I pray at least twice a day, keep Kosher, observe the Sabbath and Jewish holidays, and I've been to Israel three times. I have a loving family and community that are also devoutly-Jewish. And while I have no family who are Holocaust survivors, I'm well-connected via a local geriatric centre. Essentially, Judaism means a lot to me.

I normally wouldn't dive this personally into my life on Infinite Rainy Day, but I have to make an exception this time. See, there's this show about a computer addict called Recovery of an MMO Junkie that recently aired in Japan. Despite not seeing it, I've heard it's quite accurate in its portrayal of addiction (something I can also relate to.) I've heard lots of praise for it in the Otaku community, hence my curiosity has been peaked. Unfortunately, that all came crashing down when its director, Kazuyoshi Yaginuma, was outed as Antisemitic. I'm not sure what the statistics are when it comes to Japanese Antisemitism, but it's a unsettling given Japan's history with WWII and The Third Reich.

I'd like to point out that I have nothing against Japan because of this. Nor do I have a grudge against the creative team behind the anime in question. This is merely a critique of the show's director and his awful outlook on Jews, as well as some ancillary remarks on how anime portrays Nazis. Keep that in mind.

Anyway, like many Jewish Otaku, I too am upset by Yaginuma's Tweets. His most-prominent ones are about the validity of the gas chambers, though he's also thrown around the word "goyim" (the Hebrew word for non-Jews) like it's candy to alt-right Twitter handles. And while he's been using Google Translate for his English Tweets, the Antisemitic intent in his content suggests he's no friend of mine. Yet instead of being offended, I'm more confused than anything.

Allow me to explain.

There are definitely parts of this that do offend me. His liberal use of the word "goyim", which has become synonymous with self-deprecating Antisemitism, smacks of typical alt-right behaviour. And his slamming of Israel, a country that garners a lot of unfounded ire from both the left and the right, is equally troubling. With a few tweaks to his writing, he could easily pass off as an American Antisemite: add a frog and a glass of milk to his Twitter handle, and he's another Richard Spencer. Add a cross and a Tiki torch, and he becomes another David Duke. These are all worrying as a Jew.

I think his slamming of Israel is especially offensive. Like I said, the country, while not without its faults, gets unfairly criticized by Antisemites on both the left and the right. The left criticizes it for its settlements and "apartheid" practices, not realizing that the former are controversial in Israel and the latter ignores the nuances of the conflict. In contrast, the right views it as a country that controls the world and wants to overtake the white race, which is nonsense. This is garbage I'd expect from the West, which has had significant exposure to Jews over the last 3000 years, so seeing it from the East is worrisome. Especially since the Jewish presence in Japan is minimal, clustered in select cities and remaining mostly-invisible.

The reason why Yaginuma's Tweets don't offend me as much as many other Jewish Otaku is because I'm not sure Yaginuma comprehends how destructive his language is. Not that I'm excusing it, since Antisemitism isn't an exclusively-English phenomenon (the term originated in Germany), but I don't see it as anything more than an extension of the Japanese imperialist mentality. Keep in mind that Japan was on the side of the Nazis in WWII, and that sentiment doesn't disappear from the public conscious so quickly. If you want proof, Germany's AfD, a modern Nazi party, currently has seats in the Reichstag. And let's not forget Japan's prime minister, Shinzō Abe, a man itching for an excuse to satisfy his militaristic tendencies.

So yeah, this is pure ignorance. Which begs the question of whether or not that's actually worse than Antisemitism in a Western country. That's tough to satisfactorily answer, especially given Poland's recent anti-Holocaust bill, but Yaginuma isn't an anomaly in his country. Anime has routinely glamourized Nazism and shafted Jews over the years. Hellsing Ultimate has an OVA where a Nazi vampire major gives a rousing speech about how he loves war and bloodshed. Fullmetal Alchemist: The Conqueror of Shamballa draws a parallel between the soldiers of Amestris and the Nazi uprising in Germany of 1923, to the point where sympathetic characters in the show, like Maes Hughes, have unsympathetic counterparts there. And while I've yet to see it, the head writer of the aforementioned penned an OVA in the 90's linking the Jews to a global conspiracy.

In other words, Japan's understanding of Jews and Nazism is shallow at best. The country knows the atomic bomb well, something the West will never fully-appreciate, and has made it the subject of several acclaimed films, but its comprehension of The Holocaust is minimal and embarrassing. So embarrassing that it was the focus of the story of Hana's suitcase, which is itself worth reading about. For Yaginuma to espouse Antisemitic rhetoric is upsetting, but it's not as if he has much to go on. Especially when the country he comes from has war pride.

Still, I have to draw the line somewhere. Even if Yaginuma's knowledge of Judaism is minimal, it doesn't excuse his behaviour. Antisemitism's still Antisemitism, regardless of whether or not it's in English, German or Japanese. If I wouldn't tolerate the same rhetoric in my Lingua Franca, then for sure I wouldn't tolerate it in Japanese. Google Translate be damned!

Does this mean Recovery of an MMO Junkie is garbage because its director is garbage? No. As much as I can sympathize with those who'd refuse to watch it, especially in-light of Hollywood's predator situation, it's important to remember that talented people are often awful people. I know that's a generalization, but if Clint Eastwood can be a celebrated actor and director despite his open racism, then I can let Yaginuma's behaviour not ruin a beloved anime series. I only have so much I can let get to me before I disavow all art.

But if other people don't want to watch the show, well…that's their right. Remember, I'm one Jew of millions. We're not all-alike, and we frequently disagree. So if Yaginuma being Antisemitic is a tipping point for another Jew, that's fine. We need to be sensitive to other people.

Kazuyoshi Yaginuma's definitely still a jerk, however. That much can't be denied.


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