Recently, Funimation posted a survey for fans of the anime series Princess Jellyfish (Kuragehime) that asked various questions regarding what fans might like to have as bonuses in the release (I believe the survey is still active, and it's worth spending 15 minutes to have your voice heard if you love the show like I do and plan to buy it). Most of the questions dealt with nuts-and-bolts stuff like the preferred release format for the special edition, as well as what included special items and available merchandise viewers would prefer (the short version of my answer - ALL THE THINGS).
There were also a few questions that asked the respondent to describe the reasons why they enjoyed the show. Those of you who've read my site know that the things I enjoy the most about the series are its sense of humor, the way in which it features a cast of female fans/geeks, and its ability to reconcile the worlds of fandom and pop culture in such a way that our geekish aversion to the latter is shown as the prejudice that it is. The survey ended with a text field and an invitation to mention anything else.
So I did.
Having been continually frustrated by both Funimation's recent license acquisitions and some of their advertising campaigns, I sent them what was essentially a harshly-worded letter asking them to consider the demographic range of the anime fan market, one which, if attendance at any of the conventions I've visited lately is to be believed, includes quite a few women and even a small-but-significant group of older adults (who aren't just there to play chaperone!). I realize that the sale of anime is an uphill climb right now, and that a couple of bad business decisions might spell disaster for some of the companies trying to sell the media to an increasingly apathetic market. My opinion, though, is that most companies, Funimation included, aren't really even trying to court a wider audience and, by playing it safe and only setting their sights on series that appeal to the hardcore (and primarily male) otaku market, are allowing the market to contract even further as those of us who aren't being treated as a valued audience get frustrated and leave for greener pastures (for example, torrents of great series that, for whatever reason, will never be released Stateside or anywhere else outside Japan. Yup, I went there).
I got into some internet trouble (read: I got a verbal lashing from an angry reader) when I reviewed the first episode of Sekirei way back when (I won't bother linking to it - if you want to read it I'm sure you can run the search yourself. Needless to say I think my writing has improved somewhat). To sum it up, my impression of it was that it was just another fetish parade which happened to, in this case, focus on breasts. I don't want to come across as body-snarking - I realize that there are people of all shapes and sizes in the world, and it already sucks enough for women who are generously-proportioned since I'm sure they have to deal with all manner of unwelcome leering on a daily basis and my comment isn't meant to contribute to that. I'm thankful that this is a problem that I don't really have. But to say that a series like this was made to celebrate different body types would be idealistic at the very best; the show is, like so many other things, using ideally-proportioned women's bodies to sell a product. This product might be very watchable otherwise - I've been told that the first season of the show has a decent story - but the fact is that any narrative quality is undermined by the grotesque and leering display of boobflesh that, to me, is like a big sign hung outside the reads "NO GIRLS ALLOWED" or "TITS OR GTFO."
I've previously mentioned my philosophy that the creators of a TV anime (or any piece of media) are doing nothing wrong by trying to aim that media's appeal towards a particular demographic. Got a show that appeals primarily to mecha fans? That's cool. Got a nice high-school romance for the teens? Go ahead with your bad self. One thing that I love about anime is its sheer variety of genres, most of which aren't aimed at me at all (especially as the White, non-Japanese person I am). What sticks in my gullet, though, is that there is an abundance of series court the audience of the hardcore male otaku, and as a result seem to think that it's fine and dandy to be as insulting and degrading to women as humanly possible because, hey, no women will be around to see it anyway! While Sekirei may not be at the most miserable end of the spectrum (that area is populated by gems such as Manyuu Hikenchou and Eiken), it does seem to buy into the same philosophy as so many other fanservice series; women who fight are A-ok as long as their skill and dignity is undermined by the fact that they're made to be little more than sexual objects to the audience.
I've given all of this background because Funimation ran an ad campaign for their release of this series that set my blood to boiling. The tagline for their ad campaign was "Boobies For the Win!" which ignored virtually any other aspect of the series and embraced its one most visually-impactful trait - female characters with big breasts. I'm not against using humor in advertising, but in this case I was absolutely disheartened by the fact that it seemed to be not just jovial and permissive towards leering and ogling, something which - guess what! - many of us have to deal with in real life on a fairly frequent basis and which makes us extremely uncomfortable, but that it seemed to embrace and celebrate the fact that they were using a female body to sell a product. I would guess (and hope) that the majority of the people who caught sight of this pathetic and gross advertising stunt (and it was all over the place for a while - I recall a fairly massive website theme on Anime News Network that was part of the campaign) would know better than to take it to heart, but advertising works for a reason - it's influential. Media can influence attitudes and beliefs, and this is no exception; this anime's first printing sold out in a relatively short amount of time.
It's cases like Sekirei, as well as Master of Martial Hearts which had a pretty snazzy ad campaign that made light of the fact that the OVA series was vile misogynist tripe, that make me feel marginalized as a female anime fan. I understand why this stuff sells - it's lowbrow (by which I mean it doesn't take a lot of brain power to comprehend boobs, butts and violence even if the product is from another culture) and it's permissive towards things which "those nagging harpy feminists�" are continually asking people to shun as inappropriate. As an anime fan and frequent user of the internet, I've read some pretty terrible words from people who have really nothing positive to say about "3D" (read: living, breathing, real) women. These people are by no means anywhere near the majority, but the idea that any number of people are seeing these ads and thinking nothing of them or even agreeing with them really bothers me. The fact that banner ads plastered with water balloon boobs continue to be created and used only reinforces the idea that boobs are all in good fun and are owned by the people who look upon them; it's "The Open-Source Boob Project" all over again.
The point of all this is that I think companies with influence in this fandom, Funimation being one of the very biggest, has a certain responsibility to be respectful to the fans of the products they sell. The series that they acquire, dub and release, as well as their advertising copy, have clout in the fandom. The more they succumb to the promise of a cheap and easy buck that banks on exclusion, either blatant or suggested, of wide swaths of the fandom, the more the anime fandom shrinks as fans outside their narrow target demographic get fed up and leave it for other more inclusive spaces.
I haven't completely lost hope, yet. The fact that Princess Jellyfish has been a surprising success as both a streaming series and, potentially, as physical media release should demonstrate that there's an audience for anime series that have non-sexualized female characters in prominent roles. Funimation also has gems like Summer Wars, one of the most easily-recommendable anime films to come around in quite some time, Rideback, which is a story about a female character's personal growth, and Soul Eater, a shounen series with a female lead character. There are plenty of other titles in their library that don't make me cringe. But it's so disheartening to see things like Sekirei, Master of Martial Hearts and Heaven's Lost Property get attention lavished upon them, when there are so many other series out there that aren't fundamentally insulting to a major portion of the audience and which deserve a chance in the spotlight.
Funimation, you have my money with Princess Jellyfish, hands down. I think it's safe to say that you'll have the money of many of my friends, both men and women. Why keep wasting energy marketing series that exclude half the anime fan base, when you could be putting your considerable clout behind other series that don't intentionally set up barriers to the enjoyment of others? Having a variety of series in your library doesn't have to mean pandering in a way which further contributes to the objectification of real-life women, and the frustration of those of us to would dearly like to call anime fandom a safe space. Seriously, I'm an anime fan, too.