Watching Accel World recently has brought up quite a surprise for me as an anime fan. The issue of minorities (though I believe the issue itself is anything but minor).
Anime, like other forms of popular culture (I speak in terms of being popular in Japan more so than here), rarely portrays issues such as obesity well, if at all. In fact, it’s far more common for that body type to be ignored. Which is what made Accel World’s hero so unexpected. And it was also handled fairly well. The issue of bullying, not the obesity, was the main point. Meaning that Haruyuki was more than his body type as a character.
But weight isn’t the only thing often ignored in anime. Different races/nationalities are often discarded as well. And just as with overweight characters, if these issues do come up, they are used for comic purposes only and their own personal feelings/struggles are left out of the equation. Americans are stereotypically idiots, French people are stuck up and so on.
Part of the reason for the race/nationality thing may be lack of exposure in some cases. After all, Japan was isolated for a large part of its history. However, when it comes to more recent shows, this excuse begins to wear thin. The major reason is, as mentioned above, anime is a reflection of Japanese popular culture. And, like most popular cultures, minorities of any kind are seen through a stereotypical lens, if they’re seen at all. Look at pretty much any popular TV show in America. Yeah, they’re stereotypical aren’t they? And although anime isn’t as big here (though most people know what it is now. A change form the early 90s era), it’s definitely popular in its home country. And popular usually means meeting the status quo and not attempting anything beyond that.
So while the show certainly didn’t set out to make a big wave in anime, Accel World has props for taking on what so many shows avoid. And doing so with respect. Here’s to hoping a few more shows will take on minority issues in the future and do so with reverence. I can’t be the only anime fan tired of every “different” character being subjected to comic relief prison…