Anti-Semitism in Combat Baker & Automaton Waitress?


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    Greetings! This is my first time posting here.

    Reading The Combat Baker & Automaton Waitress, vol. 3, I'm disturbed to find a character named Shylock, who just so happens to be a wealthy, influential, and corrupt businessman from an ethnic minority.

    Now, I haven't finished the volume, so maybe it's going to subvert the first impression it gives off. Maybe Shylock isn't as bad as he appears, or anti-Semitism or its equivalent is plainly condemned, or something. I don't know.

    I'm also uncomfortable with having the literal SS show up, but at least they seem to be portrayed as unambiguously evil. The portrayal of Shylock so far doesn't have any excuse, though. Anyone who has read all or most of the available volume of this series: does this story continue playing into standard anti-Semitic tropes?

    I loved vols. 1-2, but I've barely been able to stomach vol. 3 so far, so if this is a taste of what is to come, I'm going to have to drop the series.

    Thank you for your input.


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    @Jeskai-Angel - is it intentional antisemitism though, or a Japanese writer not realizing what they are doing? I haven't read volume 3, and it sounds like you gave up before finding out yourself so I honestly have no idea which one it is.

    Sometimes it's clearly racism, like Smartphone's author and the Chinese (aka "Yulong"), sometimes it's just done out of ignorance at how offensive a misuse of a stereotype is. Some people find the Blaxploitation portrayal of Barrett in FF 7 offensive, but I doubt that creators were intentionally trying to stereotype, my guess is they just saw some random imported movies and thought they were cool.



  • I am not reading Combat Baker so I don't know the context or how prominent the element is in the story, but as anti-Semitism is not a significant thing in Japan, to the author it may just be an homage to Shakespeare's character Shylock in The Merchant of Venice. So it depends whether you find casual treatment of an issue you find important intolerable enough to drop a series.


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    I don't know how to reply without spoilers, so I'll wait for the OP to reply with how much they want to be spoiled on this particular topic.


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    @Jeskai-Angel I wouldn't jump into antisemetism just yet. I haven't seen very many mentions of religion at all in this story, and that's with one of the side characters being a nun. Combat Baker's Shylock seems (to me, at least) be based on the character of the same name in William Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice. Willie's version is a lot less likable, a lot more antisemetic and receives a rather dramatic defeat in the end. This one seems to have some redeeming qualities, like having a soft spot for his grandson.

    This Shylock was not very likable at first. I think that was intentional by the author and the choice of his name helps that. Thanks to the Bard's version, that name is viewed very unfavorably. Unlike some other unlikable characters though, this one isn't really played against the protagonist for humor. I think we're going to see more of this character as the plot progresses.

    All that being said, this story does have a rather large amount of nationalist prejudice and discrimination, so I can't say that your observation is wrong. It's definitely poking at Europe a bit.


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    @unsynchedcheese I don't care about spoilers, so reveal whatever you think necessary as part of your explanation. Thanks!


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    @Jeskai-Angel said in Anti-Semitism in Combat Baker & Automaton Waitress?:

    Reading The Combat Baker & Automaton Waitress, vol. 3, I'm disturbed to find a character named Shylock, who just so happens to be a wealthy, influential, and corrupt businessman from an ethnic minority.

    Given that Shylock is an anti-Semitic racial slur and the character is clearly supposed to represent Jewish people in this alternate WWII Germany, it kind of threw me for a loop when I first read it too. It kind of threw me too because he is basically described in a way that Germany used to justify the holocaust (Jews are greedy opportunistic un-patriotic war profiteers that gained wealth by exploiting post-WWI Germany while only helping each other).

    If you keep reading, though, Shylock as a character isn't nearly as bad/unlikeable as he first appears to be. They also attempt to show that a lot of the negativity surrounding him is more of a misunderstanding/prejudice than caused by himself (though he is not faultless).

    I'm not sure if the use of the name Shylock itself was just that it was the most Jewish sounding name the author could think of w/o realizing that it was also a slur or if it was a little bit of a clumsy attempt at commentary. If it was done on purpose and was meant to be commentary/subversive I can see what it was kept, if it was unintentional, it probably should have been localized to something else.


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    @Jeskai-Angel If I recall correctly (I'm going by the version on Bookwalker), it should be explained somewhat by the end of this volume, but it might take a couple more volumes before the full story is revealed.


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    @db0ssman said in Anti-Semitism in Combat Baker & Automaton Waitress?:

    Shylock is an anti-Semitic racial slur

    it probably should have been localized to something else.

    Top definition on Urban Dictionaries just gives it the meaning of "loan shark" without any racial connotations.
    And, tbh, almost any word can turn out to be a slur in some circles if you dig deep enough, so policing and censoring language from them would just end up bad for everyone as it'll just end in different words taking the meanings of "bad" banned words.


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    @Wellwisher said in Anti-Semitism in Combat Baker & Automaton Waitress?:

    And, tbh, almost any word can turn out to be a slur in some circles if you dig deep enough,

    I'm not sure why Urban dictionary is considered an authority on anything, but all you have to do is google "Shylock Racial Slur," and you will find articles and op-eds going back decades about it. This isn't some like super obscure term that four people on Tumblr started using last week.

    The main reason you localize things is that there might be offensive/confusing content in the new region that isn't in the region of origin. So it's really more about not accidentally giving off the impression that the author intends on adding a lot of anti-Semitic content. That can especially come off in this case since there really is no equally extreme counter to show how ridiculous that view would be. Even then, I only said if it was unintentionally using a racial slur, it should probably have been changed. If it was used knowing it, then ok, carry on.


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    @db0ssman said in Anti-Semitism in Combat Baker & Automaton Waitress?:

    all you have to do is google "Shylock Racial Slur," and you will find articles and op-eds

    You can google "banana racial slur" and you'll get pretty much the same thing. Should we now ban all usage of word "banana" as a food?
    Urban dicrionary is just a quick way to check which slang meanings are used the most since it is big and popular enough to be more or less accurate.

    The main reason you localize things is that there might be offensive/confusing content in the new region that isn't in the region of origin.

    And it can be a slippery slope. Even if we exclude all international english audience (including UK), US alone is big and diverse enough to justify different localisations for different states. What is/isn't offensive is different for everyone. If we censor things just to be on a safe side or to "correct" what we think author did wrong, we'll really soon get back to the age of 4Kids "localisations" and any glimpse of bare girly skin will be censored (oh, wai...).


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    @Wellwisher

    It is true that slang, in general, is used more or less depending on the region. I happen to be from an area with a very high Jewish population, so Shylock being an offensive stereotype/racial slur is just common sense (for here). I know that people who aren't from an area like that/aren't Jewish probably wouldn't think about it. So it's very likely the translators as well didn't really think much about it when they translated/edited it. On the flip side to that changing Shylock to something like Hershel would remove the connotations and really wouldn't affect the story, so it's not like those who didn't know it was a slur would suddenly not get what's happening.

    I Googled banana racial slur as you suggested seems to be popular in China, so if there was a localization in China where a Chinese character who liked western culture was named Banana, I would suggest to change it to something else for the localization. Unless, of course, it is specifically meant to be offensive for some reason.

    That's probably a better comparison than just using the strawman/slippery slope of saying making an artistic change to improve clarity/conserve atmosphere means you have to change everything all the time.


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    @Wellwisher said in Anti-Semitism in Combat Baker & Automaton Waitress?:

    @db0ssman said in Anti-Semitism in Combat Baker & Automaton Waitress?:

    all you have to do is google "Shylock Racial Slur," and you will find articles and op-eds

    You can google "banana racial slur" and you'll get pretty much the same thing. Should we now ban all usage of word "banana" as a food?

    This isn't just garbage, it's stupid garbage.

    I think 99.99999999999% of the world can be trusted to know that a banana is a common fruit and that it is very hard to talk about that fruit without using the name. IOW, there are lots and lots of times when you're talking about 'bananas' to refer to the fruit in a normal context - I'd argue an overwhelming majority.

    A Practical Banana Promotion by Anna Russell

    'Shylock' is a specific character in a Shakespeare play. All references to 'Shylock' ultimately trace back to this single character, who was indeed a nasty anti-semitic caricature. You can't talk about Shylock without referring to either the character himself or a broader social meme derived from that character.

    That doesn't mean all 'Shylock' references are bad; the Combat Baker one wasn't handled as well as it should have been, but was arguably meant well. (The character was a deliberate supervision of the original reference and becomes a valuable ally to Lud and Sven.) But it does mean that all 'Shylock' references point back to the original anti-semitic character.


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    @Wellwisher

    First, the idea of citing Urban Dictionary as an authoritative source is risible. Urban Dictionary is not a remotely respectable authority on this topic. And even if, in some hypothetical parallel universe where Spock has a goatee, Urban Dictionary is a valid source to cite, it's still ONLY ONE SOURCE. And one source doth not an argument make.

    Second, you ignored everything else I said by focusing solely on the word "Shylock." But my OP doesn't say "I'm so offended that there's a character named Shylock!" does it now? No, I expressed concern about "a character named Shylock, who just so happens to be a wealthy, influential, and corrupt businessman from an ethnic minority." I also pointed out that this character exists in a context based on post-WWI Germany, in a place where the literal SS exists. In other words, this book's use of "Shylock" has CONTEXT that amplifies the known anti-Semitic connotations of "Shylock."

    I will add, as a point of concession, that it's debatable whether the "original" character, Shakespeare's Shylock, is actually meant to be read as anti-Semitic, or as a sympathetic critique of anti-Semitism. Many actors and scholars have pointed out that Shylock's nominally "Christian" opponents in The Merchant of Venice are rather scummy, something the play makes no attempt to hide or excuse. Meanwhile, Shylock gets some of the best, most sympathetic lines in the entire play. Consider the following:

    "I am a Jew. Hath not a Jew eyes? hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions? fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer, as a Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed? if you tickle us, do we not laugh? if you poison us, do we not die? and if you wrong us, shall we not revenge?"

    That said, regardless of what Shakespeare himself intended us to make of the character, the word "Shylock" has historically been used for anti-Semitic purposes. In light of the word's history and the "evil money-grubbing Jew" tropes with which the character is introduced, it's entirely logically to perceive it as anti-Semitc. Now, @unsynchedcheese and @db0ssman have indicated that subsequent developments in the story suggest the author is not, at least intentionally, trafficking in anti-Semitism. I'm glad for that. But that doesn't mean my initial distaste for the portrayal of LN's Shylock was misguided.


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    Let’s not make this personal, keep it on the facts of the topic, not on anyone personally.


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