Issue 2: Making Conversation

Split Bodies: The Construction of Women’s Character in Otaku Culture

This paper describes contemporary subcultural traits and reflects on the impact of East Asian otaku culture’s stereotypical construction of the female figure in online animation on the virtual body and the real physical body.

The first part describes contemporary subcultures by contrasting them with traditional subcultures against the backdrop of the history of contemporary globalization, which is dominated by new media and the culture industry. The second part starts from the ACG culture among subcultures and discusses the tendency of online anime to deviate from or even alienate from the mainstream consciousness in the construction of women’s image based on the East Asian environment. Reality-like anime as an entertainment medium as a whole behaves as an attachment to socio-cultural power; when the cultural product serves as an embodiment of mainstream ideology, the text refuses to go against the will of power. Finally, I will discuss the framework of narrative in my work.

The context in which contemporary subcultures are formed

“The history of capitalism has been characterised by an acceleration in the pace of life, while at the same time overcoming spatial barriers to the extent that the world sometimes appears to be intrinsically crumbling towards us.”

David Harvey

In his book “The Postmodern Condition”, the famous American scholar David Harvey puts forward a brand-new concept, that is, “time-space compression”.
This shortening of the cycle is due to a change in our perception of time caused by the rapid updating of technological means of production. The acceleration of the production process leads to an increase in the number of products, and since commodities become commodities only when their value is realised, only the rapid renewal of the consumption of products ensures the acceleration of the whole production cycle and the quicker multiplication of capital.
(David Harvey. The Postmodern Condition: an enquiry into the origins of cultural change, 2003).

Similarly, we can also sense a significant reduction in spatial scope, and the concept of the “global village” is an expression of this spatial perspective. This view of space is based on the fact that technological innovations have strengthened the links between different spaces and globalisation has eliminated spatial intervals, a change in the concept of space and time that not only reflects material processes but also influences cultural practices. In order to rapidly renew products, fashion trends have become the main means. The development and popularisation of new media represented by the Internet played a crucial role in the generation and dissemination of contemporary subcultures. Subcultures and their groups in this period happened to act as fashion pioneers distinguishing themselves from ordinary mass culture and entering the process of mass production of the whole society by leading the trend of cultural consumption. Contemporary subcultures rely on the Internet communication medium as the basis for their survival, using it to obtain or approach information outside the dominant medium of culture and to create and disseminate alternative cultural forms, experiences, and practices they appreciate through the Internet, thus dramatically changing the characteristics of subcultures’ existence.

Characteristics of contemporary subcultures

“The deeper penetration and homogenisation of capital on a global scale. These processes have simultaneously produced further cultural fragmentation, changes in spatio-temporal experience, and new forms of experience, subjectivity and culture”

Steven Best& Kellner Douglas

Steven Best and Kellner Douglas, in their book Postmodern Theory – A Critical Questioning, make the above point. The rapid development of communication media and consumer culture has brought some freedom and progress to subcultures in terms of form and style, however, in fact, the resistance trait which is the most important part of subcultures has been significantly weakened in the process of submission in the face of mainstream culture. The hybridised industrial civilisation has reinforced the depoliticisation of cultural products. “The original intensity of the shock has shrunk to a fancy, shallow fad, and the experimentation and transcendence by which it was made a claptrap has become increasingly trivial and boring.”
(Daniel Bell. The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism, 1989)
Subcultures have gradually become “symbolic resources” for building social identities. Correspondingly, the economic attributes of subcultures have become more and more prominent, and have gradually become an important part of contemporary culture and economy, while the political significance of resistance has been weakened.

At the same time, consumerism has become the mainstream to meet the needs of the market. Contemporary subculture has an obvious consumerist tendency. Mainstream culture in one place may become a subculture in another, and vice versa. Subcultural production, identity, and symbolisation practices are self-contradictory, and the self-contradictory nature is due to the fact that one of the qualities of subculture is its opposition to the commercial mainstream role played by the culture industry itself. Today’s subculture industry has a stable and favourable position in the culture industry, as evidenced by the alternative music, independent films, and underground comics in the mass consumer market, which has led to the constant destruction of the subculture’s core.

In the age of the Internet, the qualities of the subculture are more complex and pluralistic, and cultural boundaries traditionally marked by class, stratum, age, race, etc., are constantly breached and integrated by forms such as interest, consumption, fashion, and images, ultimately leading to a dramatic change in the kernel of contemporary subculture, or the field of meaning.

“The new community does not have the hard and fast criteria of organisational forms that we are familiar with; it refers more to an atmosphere, a state of consciousness, and is perfectly rendered by the promotion of an outward appearance and a ‘formal’ way of life.”

Michel Maffesoli. the Time of the Tribes

Michel Maffesoli, a French scholar, first proposed the concept of “new ethnic groups”, which is used to explain that different social groups no longer identify each other on the basis of traditional structural factors, such as class, gender, religion, etc., but on the basis of a wide variety of common hobbies and interests, or ways of consuming, that are subject to change from time to time. The expression of a collective identity. The emergence of the concept of “new ethnicity” explains to a certain extent the rigidity of traditional subcultures in which various forms of groups interacted and transformed into each other, but it also exaggerates the uniqueness and clarity of earlier forms of subcultures (e.g., mods, punks, etc.), where style boundaries became increasingly blurred, mobility increased, and the significance of identity was gradually lost. The rapid flux of subcultures inevitably leads to their short-lived character, as they pursue improvisational impulses and instinctive resonance. As a result, unlike traditional subcultures with their distinctive political orientation, few subcultures nowadays have sufficient historical responsibility and social commitment, and more often than not, they only appear briefly as an alternative cultural phenomenon.

However, subcultures in the context of globalisation have contributed to the emergence of multiculturalism. Cultural symbiosis creates new cultural paradigms and cultural relations. As a typical cultural composition of contemporary society, subculture shows its unique way of existence in the global field, and encounters, collides, and integrates with various other different cultures, either dying out or being reborn, and thus achieves new cultural paradigms and cultural relations. Based on the subcultural context of East Asia, I consider the stereotypical construction of women’s image in ACGN culture from the otaku culture therein as an entry point.

Otaku culture

What is otaku culture?

It is a type of subculture that originated from Japanese ACG culture (i.e. Anime, Comics, Games), but in Japan, MAG (i.e. Manga, Anime, Games) is generally used. Although ACG culture is slowly growing in China, otaku culture is still a non-mainstream culture. It is interesting to note that in China ACGN has taken on different meanings, often being understood as a two-dimensional world or referring to those who enjoy two-dimensional images, animation, comics, games, and other graphic visual works. The original meaning of “otaku” is a term of respect for a person’s residence, but in the Chinese context, it has come to mean “house”, meaning someone who prefers to stay at home and does not like to go out. A new meaning has evolved, which refers to a person who has a certain level of in-depth knowledge of a particular hobby. But there is also another meaning, which is pejorative. Often the room of some stereotypical otaku is filled with a lot of anime elements as shown in the picture.

Pictures from the Internet
Pictures from the Internet

The Construction of Female Characters in Anime

“Stereotypes are memory presentations of the most typical attributes of a group and are defined as people’s common recognition of the typical attributes of a group “

Judd & Park, 1993

In China, obtaining entertainment through anime viewing has become an important way of life for the youth community, and the optimisation of media technology has given online anime an advantage in obtaining effective exposure. This has led to the increasing influence of anime, which implies the issue of gender construction, bringing about errors and even prejudice in people’s perception of women.
When the media, including anime, constructs social individuals, it inevitably has the problem of not being able to distinguish individual differences completely due to insufficient resources, and carries out some simple or generalised construction, thus forming stereotypes. When such “stereotypes” are repeatedly manufactured into cultural products and consumed, people will wrongly believe that all the culture of this group is the labeled content that is being represented, and the construction of “stereotypes” may be solidified as “truths” out of the context of the media. The construction of “stereotypes” may thus be solidified as “truth” outside of the media context.

This phenomenon exists in a large number of East Asian ACG cultures. In most East Asian anime, female characters are gentle and beautiful, playing the role of the rescued, and in East Asian subcultures, cuteness has become an important aspect of male erotic manga. It even divides female characters into specific types: lolita and otome. The former is more often used in ACG culture to refer to petite girls, while the latter refers to young women who are more mature or taller in appearance, personality, and temperament. Double ponytails and glasses have also become representative elements of these two types of women.

Stereotypes in European and American sports are represented by the fact that women are expected to engage in gentle and quiet activities such as studying ballet and playing the piano, while men are expected to engage in intense sports such as playing football and baseball, and that women are more passive in sports compared to men who are active in sports. Brownlow and Durham (1997) analysed and compared X-men, Iron-man, Spiderman, Battletech, and Battletech, to name just a few. Spiderman, and Battletech, found that male anime characters were more likely to be aggressive and adept at using scientific knowledge, while female characters were less likely to engage in active aggression and more likely to appear in supportive or passive roles with emotional caring qualities.

The development of East Asian anime has led to the emergence of female more characters that are not only characterised by their physical appearance, but also by their stories and traumas that add to their qualities, events, and scenarios that are the decisive factors behind the construction of more characters. There are also some works with independent female characters. However, there is still a tendency to add elements to the characterisation that appeal to the male audience, such as overly revealing clothing and skirts, which allow women to conform to society’s expectations of elegance in terms of appearance.

The “trouser suit” remains the most significant difference between men’s and women’s dress. In the nineteenth century, with the rise of the women’s affirmative action movement, “trouser suits” became a means of public expression of power for women’s rights activists, and the object and target of clothing reform (Fischer, 2001). However, in the social perception at that time, “trouser suit” still belonged to the inherent symbol of masculinity, and women wearing trouser suits across the border went against the outward expression of femininity in the social perception, and trouser suits became a symbol of male power to a certain extent. Therefore, trouser suits have been given a symbolic meaning of equality between men and women in the women’s affirmative action movement, with the role of “choice” and “individuality” (Einwohner, Hollander & Olson, 2000). Clothing is thus a product of socialisation, reflecting not only the differences in physical appearance between the sexes but also the stereotypical construction of gender roles and traits in society.
Female and male characters in anime are sometimes constructed in a way that is completely antithetical to stereotypes, with men being feminine and women possessing all the masculine qualities, often resorting to rude language and even physical violence. Women are “de-feminised” and men are reconstructed as a new paradigm of free text writing that hides their masculinity while liberating their femininity. This “anti-presence” construction challenges the stereotypes of traditional culture, and at the same time, it can also meet the psychological demands of the “new woman” or “neuter” subculture that is developing in society; and the “anti-presence” constructed by this “anti-presence” can also meet the psychological demands of the “new woman” or “neuter” subculture that is developing in the society. This constructed ‘virtual reality’ in turn helps to legitimise the ‘new woman’ in society, as the constructed woman becomes ‘hyper-real’ through frequent textual encounters (Baudrillard). “(Baudrillard, 1993: 73), and the audience becomes a captive of the symbolic female text.

Japanese animation peaked in the 1980s during the “bubble years” of the Japanese economy, and the portrayal of female characters in animation was even better than that in many newer animations today, due to the economic and cultural interactions, and the further development of feminism in Japan during this time period. in 1970, a new women’s liberation movement called Women’s Freedom emerged in Japan. A new women’s liberation movement called Women’s Freedom, this movement was in sync and interconnected with many other radical feminist movements around the world, catalysing the revival of the feminist movement after the 1970s. This movement comprehensively criticised the male-dominated nature of modern Japan and advocated fundamental changes to the economic system and culture of Japanese society, emphasising sexual liberation. In 1979, the United Nations General Assembly adopted The Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women, CEDAW, which was adopted by China in 1980 and ratified by the Japanese government in 1985. Prior to this, animated imagery in East Asia had been heavily influenced by European and American culture, from the many science fiction-style worldview constructions to the blonde, blue-eyed, and distinctly Caucasian characterisations. By the 1980s, in the midst of Japan’s wild real estate boom, the country began to develop its own style of drawing, and as a result, a large number of excellent female cartoon characters emerged during this time period, who were more independent, more mature in their image design, and no longer intentionally pleasing to the male audience.
In cartoons that are not in a social context, such as historical and mythological cartoons, women are even in a more active position and are separated from the male-dominated discourse system, indicating that under the premise that the image of women in the real society has been solidified, people make virtual compensation for women’s significance through unrealistic media to realise the ideal of feminism. Previous studies have found that feminists are usually detached from the daily work and recreation that women engage in and often participate in virtual public space activities (Lind & Salo, 2002), further validating the feminist ideal of performing feminism concretely in a non-realist world. This mutation of the image of women in surreal anime reflects the media construct’s social stereotyping of the challenge and alienation.

This construction of feminist ideals even transcends the biological divide between males and females. Human males and females share similar psychological projections, with the male having a female factor, the anima, and the female having a malefactor, the animus, in their psyches. “The female anima is the camouflaged appearance and the male factor is the hidden background of her character, which needs to be revealed through deeper penetration (Jung, 1966: 189). Thus it appears that the reality-like anime as an entertainment medium as a whole behaves as an attachment to socio-cultural power, and when the cultural product serves as an externalisation of the dominant ideology, the text refuses to go against the will of the power, and thus there are contradictory character traits in the women. This may be a result of the anime text as an industrialised product, compromising and introspecting in the narrative of cultural conflict, avoiding excessive promotion of the so-called reality or rebellion, and challenging the audience from all sides of the social ecology. This contradiction is ultimately attributed to the pluralistic and heterogeneous narrative framework on the construction of real women.

Jingjing Ma, DOLL001, 2023

Technological Development – Variations on the Female Body in Otaku Culture

It is like a second origin for man, something that takes him away from his primordial nature, which is the origin of all kinds of remedies, substitutes, drugs – in short, a second origin. The second origin belongs to external contingency; it is not part of man’s nature; it happens to him from outside”


Stiegler argues that technology is not external to the human being, but is embedded in the process of humanisation that makes the human being human, as a “second origin” distinct from the biological origin of the human being. The biological origin of the human being is the first origin of the human being, while the so-called second origin refers to the moment when the human being learns to use technology. The second origin opens the way to the long-term symbiosis and evolution of man and technology. In Stigler’s view, technology, though external to man, dominates the path of human evolution. Stiegler borrows the myth of Epimetheus to explain his view of technology, that is, human beings have no innate essential properties and must use technology to “constantly invent, realise and create their own performance”. “The surrogate is placed in front of the human being, that is to say: it is outside the human being, face to face. However, if what is outside constitutes the being itself that it faces, then that being exists outside itself. Human existence is existence outside itself.” It can be argued that in Stiegler’s eyes, technology fundamentally resides in an ontological, rather than instrumental, position. It is the equivalent of technology as a prosthetic limb, the “non⁃organic organs” of the human being. With the help of technology, man resists death, and words, signs, etc. are the body’s resistance to ultimate nothingness.

As more and more avatars are created, what is the significance of the desire for corporeal existence when humans, with the help of technology, have transcended the physical body? As with the rise of AI painting, none of it can be achieved without the concerted efforts of the entire team behind it, and even the viewer as the recipient. Since the elements AI acquires are all already present at the moment, its creation is too figurative and lacking in originality. It is a tool to reflect the creator’s thinking. But it does have a huge impact on traditional painting, it makes creation easier and less expensive. In the process of training the AI, I learned that in order for the AI to draw the image and style that the manipulator behind the scene wants, it needs to have a clear text description or provide the AI with a large number of images of the same type. Secondly, I browsed through the highly viewed AI drawings on Chinese social media and although there were good AI drawing artworks at the same time I found that under the influence of otaku culture, the images showed a lot of juvenile soft pornography, so I started to look at the desires of the creator behind the AI reflected in the AI’s creations.

What Maturana and Varela are trying to tell us is that living organisms do not perceive the world by feeding back images of the external world, as representational modeling theory suggests, but that, on the contrary, life activities are always the product of interaction between the internal structure of the system and the external environment, and that living organisms are “enaction”, always interacting with the environment. The living body is “enaction” and always interacts with the environment. It should be noted that the virtual body, as a social and spontaneous organisation of an anthropomorphic life form, is not just an empty form made of digitally constructed objects. The virtual body has a commodity nature and is more dependent on the socio-cultural environment, just as the gameplay becomes more and more open and varied.
On the one hand, the virtual body is individualised, a product of the physical body externalising itself, based on the desire for the infinite; on the other hand, the virtual body is also collective, surviving in the clusters of the network. And the attention invested by the participants constitutes the life and death of the body. Whereas Stiegler is pessimistic about the virtual body, I prefer to think that the virtual body is not negative and homogenous, because it is always open to virtual creation, and participants can co-create.

Anna Uddenberg, T-Top Tummy Tuck, 2022

The body and gender have also been running themes in my work. And she explores performativity through the use of sculpture and performance as visual platforms. Her practice integrates gender approaches while acting as a space to reflect on taste and class, appropriation, and sexuality, pushing these issues into new material realms. Udenberg’s work continues to confront female identity in consumer culture.
Showing me how body culture, spirituality, and self-performance are intertwined with the mediation and production of subjectivity produced by new technologies and formal cycles, and how one element connects all creations.

Kouno Mizuno

My work is also based on cosplay culture, the cosplay scene has seen a trend in the last few years of head coverings for secondary characters called Kigurumi. my work features two wearable head coverings made from styrofoam, with a hollow center in the middle of the head covering. I was uncomfortable with the idea of my favourite anime characters appearing in real life in such an incongruous way but was also interested in conveying the discomfort through exaggerated colours and imagery.

And Mizuno Kouno created this work that takes parents as objects, skinning their dreams and wearing them on their respective bodies. Some special, non-traditional sculptural techniques are employed. First, the foam was sculpted to draw the bodies, and then the cloth was put over the bodies of the figures like a straitjacket, and the surface was reinforced with a resin coating. This is the beginning of my exploration to find my own way of creating with different materials, which is still in the stage of experimentation.


In addition to stereotypical female characters, in the context of solidified images of women in real society, there are still creators who have made virtual compensation for the meaning of women through non-realistic media information experience in order to realise the ideal of feminism. The contradiction in female characters in anime reflects the submission and resistance of media cultural products to the power of the social context, and the anime text first gives in to secular culture, which is why soft pornography is prevalent in AI drawings. The text refuses to go against the will of power when the cultural product acts as an externalisation of the dominant ideology. So I am also exploring the idea of combining real history with the virtual to create a third-party narrative. Historical videos often have a disorientating authority and are always seen as a means of providing reliable evidence. Care needs to be taken to examine the breaks, seams, and differences in the evolution of history. What is more important to me in this narrative is the contemporaneity of the thinking. Thus creating a virtual archive of my creations
that broadens the narrative space of the image while challenging the real authority of video in constructing history.


Anna Uddenberg, T-Top Tummy Tuck, 2022. Available at:

Jingjing Ma, DOLL001, 2023. Available at:


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About the author

Jingjing Ma investigates how the body, gender, and subculture intersect with and influence the circulation of new technologies and media on subjective agency and objectivity. She graduated from MA Fine Art: Computational Arts in 2023. Her work incorporates a gender perspective while reflecting on the ecology of subcultures and the space of bodily and carnal desire under the blurred boundaries of virtual reality. Ma Jingjing’s work continues to confront female identity in consumer culture and explores visual creativity using sculpture, installation, video, and sound as visual platforms. She also creates a form of third-party narrative by combining history and the virtual in the narrative aspect of the image.