How Japanese Animation Can Help Promote Cultural Diversity

How Japanese Animation Can Help Promote Cultural Diversity


Anime, or Japanese animation, plays a huge role in Japanese media and attracts viewers all over the world. Even though the first Anime were created in the early 20th century, themes and art-style of modern Anime differ hugely from its original form due, in part, to globalization and its increased global popularity. This essay will review how Japanese media may embrace more multiculturalism and cultural education. The author presents the Entertainment-Education strategy that contains three crucial characters to change the behavior of the viewers. Through this technique, consumers may be exposed to more diversified anime. It may also inform on the dangers of extremism and immoral mindsets and help promote prosocial behavior such as cultural education and inclusivity among Anime viewers.

Key words: Anime, Japanese animation, Social Cognitive Theory, Entertainment-Education, cultural diversity


Anime, or Japanese animation, is "a form of visual culture and media" that originated in Japan in the early 20th century. Some of its viewers consider it an "object of interest" while for others it can become "an obsession" (Daliot-Bul and Otmazgin, 2020, pp. 9.) Anime, as well as Manga, Japanese-style comics, form an important part of the Japanese pop culture industry. On top of that it keeps a non-negligible presence in the daily life of millions of Japanese people regardless of sex, age, social class or education (ibid.) Even though anime first appeared in the 1910s, it was only in 1960s that anime developed, diversified and adopted its current art style (Lu, 2008.) Indeed, with the US occupation of Japan after the Second World War, Japanese people came in direct contact with American comics. As a result, Japanese Media culture adopted western characteristics through the influence of comics (Ruh, 2004.) By the end of the 1970s, anime settled in television programs all over the world and was considered "an international phenomenon" (Hernandez-Perez, 2019, pp. 1.)

Since then, the popularity of anime expanded even more, making it become "an important cultural export" by the 1990s (ibid.) Even though it is a Japanese product in essence, additionally anime can be considered both as a product of multiculturalism, through its Western influences, and at the same time a promoter of cultural diversity around the world. Thanks to its pragmatism, anime managed to adapt to globalization and to a certain extent promote different cultures through its variety of themes such as history and politics. Famous anime directors such as Shinichiro Watanabe and Sayo Yamamoto emphasize the importance of multiculturalism in their works. As for today, anime is available for purchase in more than 30 languages, and its popularity continues to grow (ibid.) This essay will have the following structure: First it will present the Social Cognitive Theory designed by Albert Bandura with a focus on the Entertainment-Education strategy. Secondly, it will apply this theory to Japanese animation while observing the positive and negative impacts of anime. Finally, the essay will recommend ideas on how to shape future Anime to maximize their benefits and minimize the negative influence.

Social Cognitive Theory

Modern media has not only revolutionized our leisure time, it has also shaped our way of thinking. Interesting in this regard is the theory of Social Cognitive theory of Albert Bandura. According to him, humans can learn new abilities and information through different sources. His theory explains how people decide to adopt any behavior by consuming media. Bandura stipulates that human function is a synthesis of a dynamic interplay between personal factors, individual behavior, and environmental influences (Bandura, 1986.) This theory contains four important components. First is human agency which stipulates that individuals engage directly in their development. On top of that, they can control their thoughts, emotions, and actions. Through human capabilities, the second component, the person gives the cognitive means in order to influence their actions. Specifically, individuals engage in symbolization. This means that they give meaning to what they observe in their environment, create guides of action, gain information through reflection, discuss these symbols with peers and produce information that shapes the individual's reality (ibid.)

Through observational or vicarious learning, the third core property, the person can observe the actions of other individuals. If necessary, these observations can be internalized into the personal behavior. In order to reproduce observed behavior, the individual has to memorize these actions through symbolic coding and cognitive skills. The individual will have more incentives to reproduce the learned observation if the behavior is valued positively. If the anticipated outcome of the action is positive, the person will be motivated to engage in the exact or similar actions. If the consequences are valued negatively, the person is less likely to perform the learned observation.

Finally, self-efficacy is the person's assessment of performing the behavior at the correct level. Even if the person memorizes the behavior perfectly, there is the need to believe in the individual capability (Bandura, 1997.) Self-efficacy is mostly based on confidence and self-worth. People with more self confidence will be more likely to believe in their ability to perform correctly. However, individuals with low self-esteem will have more difficulties (Pajares et al., 2009.)

Nowadays, media can be seen as an important source of information gathering, observational learning and increasing self-efficacy. Media is described as the "means of communication, as radio and television, newspapers, magazines, and the internet, that reach or influence people widely" (Dictionary, 2021.) Viewers can be affected by media consumption and change their behavior depending on different factors. If the individual preserves a positive attitude to an observed character and possesses the sufficient self-efficacy, the viewer will potentially be motivated to reproduce the observed behavior. This result can have positive as well as negative impacts on viewers. For instance, the results of a survey in 2002 have shown that there is a positive correlation between viewing television and youth smoking in the USA, as television programs in the 1990ss were less likely to portray the negative consequences of tobacco consumption. The scholars inferred that the reduction of television may reduce youth smoking (Gidwani et al., 2002.) Another survey in 2008 has shown that college students viewing programs in which premarital sex was portrayed negatively, rated this behavior unfavorable manner. Furthermore, they harshly condemned those who engaged in such acts (Eyal and Kunkel, 2008.)

In the past, attempts were made to maximize the positive effect of media on viewers and to spur them to change. For instance, Entertainment-education (E-E) is a strategy to create media that promotes positive social behavior on its viewers, so-called prosocial behavior. E-E programs are attractive to the audience since they include three types of characters: First is the positive role model that internalizes prosocial behavior and as a result benefits from positive consequences. Secondly, the negative role model rejects the positive value and consequently deals with negative impacts. Finally, the transitional character

adopts the prosocial behavior and experiences positive impacts. The latter is important for the audience, as the viewer can identify with the seemingly doubtful and insecure character who is confronted with the new behavior. The audience will be incited to adopt the observed behavior since the fictional character benefits from positive rewards. The fact that they can compare themselves to the transitional model makes the media a success. Furthermore, the repetitive structure in certain E-E programs, e.g. in series, encourages the memorization process of decisive symbols and maximizes the observational learning for the audience. As a result, the viewer is even more motivated to adopt the prosocial behavior that is rewarded among the positive and transitional model and is less likely to embrace the antisocial behavior that faces punishment (Singhal and Rogers, 1999.)

Social Cognitive Theory applied to Japanese Animation

Since anime and Manga are a form of animation, and therefore a form of media, it can influence its viewers as Bandura has explained. Indeed, anime has had a lot of positive impacts on its audience that ranges from all over the world and that share different views, values, and cultures (Hassan et al., 2016, pp. 2.) The possibility to create an alternative reality helps to capture viewers all over the world (Fennell et al. 2012, pp. 441.) For instance, a survey that interrogated 247 Malaysian university students on anime consumption collected interesting data. Apparently 51% of the males and 37% of the females interrogated enjoyed watching anime (Hassan et al., 2016.) Moreover, anime increased in popularity thanks to its richness, variety, and selectivity. The characters portrayed in anime capture the mental traits of adolescents. In addition to that, anime helps young people to detach themselves from real-world problems and reduce psychological pressure (Sen and Rong, 2019.) This is clearly the case as demonstrates Syrian refugee Obada Kassoumah who translated the Japanese Manga classic Tsubasa into Arabic for children in need. According to Kassoumah, the main character Tsubasa was an inspiration to chase personal dreams. Indeed, Syrian refugee children in Berlin were more than happy when receiving these Manga. They perceived these comics as a type of "small escape from reality" (Illmer, 2017.) Finally, certain anime "cultivate the strong will of young people" (Sen and Rong, 2019, pp. 273) and emphasize the importance of cooperation and social interaction.

However, anime can also have negative impacts on the viewers. Even though, this media can be an escape to reality and release of pressure, it can become a source of massive addiction. Moreover, anime contain scenes of "violence, blood and pornography" and "negative themes, including hatred, pain, jealousy, resentment, sadness, some pictures and even sexual abuse" and may influence the audience that "blindly consumes" (ibid., pp. 274.) Certain content may also "impact on the morality and actions" of a young audience and "lead to the growing number of disturbing social disorders" (Yusof et al., 2021, pp. 8.) Finally, consumers that prefer watching anime containing themes of actions and pornography "show greater endorsement of paranormal beliefs" (Reysen et al., 2017, pp. 333.) The greater exposure might even reinforce the paranormal belief system

Since anime can have negative impacts but also massive positive influence on its viewers, future content should adopt the E-E strategy to further prosocial behavior. It is believed that themes such as "militarism, radical nationalism, and even New-Nazism" appeared in anime and furthered violent behavior among younger viewers (Sen and Rong, 2019, pp. 274.) However, anime has the potential to do the exact opposite and educate people on the danger of extremism, blind hatred and violence. For instance, the popular anime Attack on Titans contains interesting values. Its core message can be interpreted as that war is a zero-sum game and that hatred has a massive destructive potential. Moreover, the actions of the main character and negative role model Eren Yaeger lead to inevitable negative consequences such as depression and extremism. Viewers are motivated to not adopt the behavior of this character. On top of that, the anime stresses the importance of peaceful dialogue and cooperation between people of different ethnicities and so emphasizes the necessity of cultural diversity. Other findings suggest "anime viewers have higher level of general knowledge comparing with the non-anime viewers" (Alsahlly, 2021, pp. 143) and that they are more openminded, "multicultural…, imaginative and creative" (ibid. 153) Furthermore, "if anime includes representations of other cultures, it may propagate the appeal of those cultures" (Fennell et al., 2012, pp. 442.) Anime has therefore the potential to promote cultural diversity.

Despite the product being Japanese, most of the characters portrayed in anime have Caucasian traits making them seem Western or European (ibid.) However, there are many popular anime such as Naruto, One Piece, Bleach or Cowboy Bebop that contain non-white characters making it a promoter of racial diversity around the world. On top of that the recent Netflix-anime Yasuke contains a Black main character which indirectly helps promoting inclusivity. There is also a wide range of anime containing historic themes which shows the importance of global history and cultures. For example, Golden Kamuy deals with the lifestyle of Japanese Ainu minority, Descending Stories: Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju depicts "Rakugo", the traditional Japanese form of storytelling, Vinland Saga displays the brutality of the Viking era and Rainbow illustrates the difficulty of Japanese society in adapting to pacifism after the Second World War.

These anime, and many more, can have an educational purpose since the viewer might in future engage in personal research to learn more about different ancient or current cultures. There are also famous directors such as Shinichiro Watanabe and Sayo Yamamoto that produced works that contain variety in the cast in order to show the different faces of the world. On top of that, considering that anime constantly keeps growing, it gets in touch with people from different cultural groups. Hence, the product will in future adapt to touch a more various audience. For instance, there is the Japanese-Saudi Arabian animation The Journey that takes place during early Islamic era in Mecca. The purpose of this anime was to appeal to an Arabic speaking audience. Such collaboration may be more common in the future as it is a strategy to attract new viewers. Crucially, these type of anime need to contain the three forms of characters of E-E programs in order to promote prosocial behavior such as cultural education and inclusivity. Finally, positive behaviors such as open-mindedness and knowledge can be promoted while negative behaviors such as hatred, racism and violence can be reduced. Alongside all the positive impacts of E-E programs implemented within anime, Japanese animation may also help spread the country's culture to a globalized and diverse audience, while still being influenced by the multicultural origin of its viewers.


According to literature, anime originated in the 1910ss but has had massive changes over the course of time. It was also only until the 1970s that anime became popular globally. The Social Cognitive theory of Bandura with its four core concepts human agency, human capabilities, observational/vicarious learning and self-efficacy explain how media affects its viewers. While anime may have negative impacts such as addiction and disturbing social disorders, it contains many positive points including open-mindedness, escapism, and education. The E-E strategy, however, may help reinforce positive narratives such as cultural diversity and inclusivity while reducing negative impacts such as hatred, violence, and racism. Additionally, by anime reaching viewership all over the world, it may help promote Japanese culture to its globalized and diversified audience while at the same time, it may be influenced by the multicultural background of its viewers

By Amine Meharzi

Supervised by Dr. Hassan Fartousi

Assistance by Marc Enzo Belligoi

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