The Yakuza have taken center stage in the anime universe with hits like “The Yakuza’s Guide to Babysitting,” “The Way of the Househusband,” “Backstreet Girls: Gokudolls,” “I Give My Virginity to Soushi Sazanami,” and more, transforming these mysterious people into sources of humor and lighthearted entertainment. But behind the smiles lies a darker, more complex reality of Japan’s infamous crime syndicates – a world where the true meaning of the Yakuza name runs much deeper than what meets the eye.
The glimmering neon lights of Tokyo set the stage for a fascinating yet controversial phenomenon: the romanticization of the Yakuza in anime. This captivating blend of gritty underworld narratives and vivid, imaginative storytelling has captured the attention of audiences worldwide. But as the line between fiction and reality blurs, we must delve deeper into the consequences and complexities of romanticizing the Yakuza in the animated world.
What Is Yakuza
The Yakuza, alternatively referred to as gokudō, are Japanese gangsters who belong to organized crime syndicates, which are officially known as “violence groups.” These syndicates frequently engage in various illegal activities. They also exert control over numerous businesses. However, the Yakuza represents more than just a criminal organization; it is a complex subculture with its own distinct customs, traditions, and codes of conduct.
Tracing its roots back to Japan’s Edo period in the early 17th century, the Yakuza initially comprised members from the Burakumin, the lowest social class in Japanese society. The Burakumin were forced to live in secluded areas and were deprived of their right to education. As a result of their limited means of livelihood, the children were compelled to either pursue the same path as their parents or engage in criminal activities, giving rise to markets that sold stolen goods and illegal gambling establishments. Subsequently, organized groups emerged to protect these businesses, eventually leading to the formation of the Yakuza. Interestingly, involvement in criminal activities allowed the Burakumin to attain a level of respect and status akin to nobility, following years of social exclusion.
Throughout the years, the Yakuza has transformed into a formidable and intimidating organization involved in numerous illicit activities. This criminal enterprise, now worth billions of dollars, generates revenue from illegal activities. Moreover, they have expanded their reach into legitimate sectors, including construction, real estate, and finance.
As reported by sources on the Mafia News, the Yakuza is not a monolithic entity but consists of multiple smaller gangs, each possessing its own territory and area of influence. The organization welcomes both men and women as members, although men predominantly comprise its ranks.
In recent times, the Japanese government has intensified its efforts against the Yakuza, leading to an unprecedented decline in the organization’s public perception. In 2003, the Japanese government formally acknowledged the Yakuza as a criminal organization, a classification that facilitated law enforcement’s ability to pursue and dismantle the group’s operations and prosecute its members.
As reported by All That’s Interesting, the Yakuza, surprisingly stepped in to assist after the catastrophic 2011 earthquake and tsunami that wreaked havoc in the Tōhoku region. Although they are typically associated with illegal activities, Yakuza members were among the first to reach various parts of Tōhoku, supplying food, water, blankets, and other essential items to help residents reconstruct their lives. They also acted promptly following the 1995 Kobe earthquake and even deployed members to the Fukushima nuclear reactor to mitigate the crisis. Adhering to the “Ninkyo Code,” the Yakuza’s guiding principle is to prevent suffering in others.
Lately, the Japanese government has implemented measures to curb the activities of the Yakuza. A law enacted in 2011 targeted the weakening of the Yakuza’s financial foundation, contributing to a decrease in their authority and sway over time.
The Evolution of Yakuza Portrayal in Anime
The way anime depicts the Yakuza can be traced back to the beginnings of Japanese animation. During the 1900s, creators of anime started to include crime and violence themes in their works, often featuring the Yakuza as a key element. In these early anime productions, the Yakuza were typically shown as merciless antagonists who participated in brutal criminal undertakings.
In contrast, the depiction of the Yakuza in anime has grown more intricate and sophisticated in recent times. They are no longer portrayed as one-dimensional villains, but as multifaceted and intriguing characters with distinct motivations and values. Their portrayal frequently emphasizes their code of honor and loyalty, which prioritizes the significance of family and tradition.
Take the well-known “The Way of the Househusband” as an example. An anime series that showcases the daily routine of Tatsu (the protagonist), a former Yakuza leader who quits becoming a househusband. Unlike other anime or manga works with Yakuza themes, which usually involve violence and solemnity, “The Way of the Househusband” offers a new and enjoyable approach to the genre. It comically portrays Tatsu’s day-to-day challenges as a househusband, as he undertakes domestic responsibilities with the same level of energy and earnestness he displayed as a Yakuza boss.
The Sugarcoated Depiction of the Yakuza in Anime
The portrayal of the Yakuza in anime has increasingly emerged as a prevalent theme throughout the past few years. This particular representation, however, has a tendency to paint a somewhat romanticized picture of the organized crime which led to many misconceptions and misrepresentations of yakuza culture, perpetuating harmful stereotypes and damaging the reputation of Japanese society as a whole. As a result, concerns have arisen surrounding the potential influence these portrayals might exert on the audiences who consume them, especially to the younger ones. To delve deeper into this phenomenon and understand the reasons behind the Yakuza becoming such a prominent theme in anime, let us explore a few possible explanations:
- Narrative convenience: One of the primary reasons that the Yakuza may be romanticized in anime is their frequent use as a plot device to generate tension and conflict within the storyline. By characterizing them as cool, sophisticated, and dangerous, anime can cultivate a sense of excitement and peril that makes the narrative more captivating and engaging for viewers, ultimately heightening their overall experience.
- Cultural fascination: For Western audiences, the Yakuza embodies a distinct and enigmatic facet of Japanese culture. Anime creators frequently capitalize on this intrigue to weave compelling, culturally rich narratives that hold a strong appeal for a diverse viewership. This allure can be attributed to the unique customs, history, and code of conduct that sets the Yakuza apart from other criminal organizations around the world.
- Stereotyping: It’s plausible that certain anime productions may fall into the trap of stereotyping the Yakuza as “not scary” in a manner that does not accurately or fairly represent the true nature of the organization. This oversimplification can contribute to misunderstandings and misconceptions about the actual workings and consequences of dark enterprises, perpetuating false impressions and potentially glamorizing a dangerous and harmful lifestyle.
For those who are interested in learning more about the Yakuza, here’s an intriguing video available of The Anime Man conducting an interview with a former Yakuza member in Japan. Throughout the interview, many of the misunderstandings and misconceptions surrounding the portrayal of Yakuza in pop culture are clarified.
In recent years, a growing debate has emerged surrounding the portrayal of the Yakuza as lighthearted in anime and other forms of media. Some contend that this representation is harmful, while others argue that it merely reflects artistic expression and creativity. Additionally, proponents of this portrayal suggest that it can serve as an essential tool for delving into complex issues related to power, identity, and social hierarchies.
Both sides of the debate present valid arguments. While it is important to recognize the rights of artists and writers to express their ideas and perspectives, they must also be mindful of the potential consequences of their work. The romanticization of the Yakuza can be detrimental if it normalizes criminal behavior or perpetuates harmful stereotypes. Conversely, it can also be a valuable instrument for examining complex social and cultural issues.
Ultimately, it is crucial for artists and writers to approach the portrayal of the Yakuza and other sensitive subjects with sensitivity, nuance, and awareness of their potential impact. It is equally important for audiences to consume media with a critical and discerning eye, understanding that what they see on the screen does not necessarily mirror reality. By engaging in open and respectful dialogue about these issues, society can foster a more informed comprehension of the intricate world around us.