Ask John: A Lesson about Disparate Impact

When I was in high school, I wrote a paper about Title VII discrimination based on disparate impact. Welcome to America’s Black  History Month, folks. It’s also where I first learned about this “liberal” concept. And it appeals to my sense of fairness.

Actually, more like, welcome to American Ps going to Japan to celebrate iM@S month, since I’ve been really busy working on it. But here’s a segue into John’s post, which feels more like a troll post (like many of his notable columns in recent years):

In a word, “No.” America’s 2008 anime industry collapse was caused by a number of interconnected circumstances, but fickle female anime fans were not one of those factors. In order for female otaku to have significantly destabilized the domestic anime industry with a sudden emigration, they would have had to have been a substantive supporting audience in the first place.

Kou is the best

I think the easy, take-home lesson that John failed to grasp is that girls love shounen anime. And it’s not just him. A lot of people don’t understand that girls love shounen anime. I mean, just look at One Piece. The other takeaway is that nobody buys shoujo anime. Shoujo manga is basically a quaint, dying art form in Japan. It lives on (and will forever so) as an aesthetic, a style, a genre, a bundle of tropes, a few rows in an otaku’s database; but it’s near death commercially. It’s like cyberpunk as a literary genre.

As for anime, there are few shoujo anime to begin with, percent-wise. After 1997 that % plummets to abysmal levels. Most shoujo anime fall into the category that Precure is in–mainstream kids franchises. Licensing them internationally is a serious endeavor with real costs, nothing that even mid-bubble American industry could have really approached.

So John could’ve just said what I just say and be totally PC. But he would still get point #1 wrong. To his credit, the question he was asking wasn’t asking about the impact of shoujo anime, so he tried to use the sales of shoujo anime as some kind of support to his premise that few girls buy anime to begin with. Well, I have no idea if that’s true or not, but that’s like me saying nobody buys shoujo anime–it’s only true in the aggregate at best. For example, Fruits Basket sold gangbusters, and it’s as shoujo as it gets. But that is still just a drop in the bucket compared to all that DBZ FUNi sold. So John may very well be right about girls not buying anime, it’s just there’s no substantiation on this point. Plenty of guys bought Fruits Baskets, FWIW. I did just for the omake. So for all we know more boys buy shoujo anime than, say, a show like Penguindrum (which is kind of in a grey area) or Twelve Kingdoms (which is …technically shoujo but not manga).

Actually the worse thing John demonstrated is a total blind spot for shows like Kurobas, No. 6, Gravitation, and Free. Those are not “shoujo” either. Or maybe I should say, can we blame fangirls for the lack of financial support for Oofuri? Maybe in some MRA dream world.

What does this has to do with disparate impact? The concept, for those unfamiliar with it, is about how certain discrimination-neutral practices once implemented, gives rise to a systemic result that equals discrimination based on whatever that is discriminating. In the race case, it could be, say, a poll test, because one race of people are less educated than another race due to past discrimination patterns. The test itself is not a factor that discriminate based on race, but the result may very well be the same as a racially discriminating device.

So it’s easy to think that “hey anime that shamelessly pander to women is way rare compared to every other kind of anime, so fewer women watch/buy anime.” Except that’s just bullocks. It doesn’t mean anything, because these marketing labels (shoujo, shounen, seinen) are meaningless in this context. As in, the way to prove disparate impact is use numbers, and really numbers only. Maybe this is more like reverse disparate impact, like you hire by race and the result pool matches the general local demographic. Kind of like limiting the Asians admissions of Ivy League schools to keep the old boys club going.

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