Anime is often accused of having way too much sexualization to truly take the medium seriously. So what do I think, having been invested in this medium for so long? Well, I take to this topic the same stance I have on most discussions about representation and content in media. Sexualization itself is not the problem. The problem, if you feel there is one, is in the execution and frequency of said sexualization.
I’m of the mind that sex appeal is a necessary part of media because sex and the wide array of emotions tied to it make it a great emotional appeal in a narrative. Of course, it has other, more obvious uses as well, but I don’t think we should be afraid of sex in media, we should be afraid of not having enough variety in our media to balance out that sex.
Part I: Introduction
Vote With Your Wallet
If you hate sexualization in Anime, the solution should not be rallying together and saying “let’s get rid of it.” Rather, it should be “I’m not going to watch this show” or “I’m going to support shows that don’t have that thing I don’t like” or maybe even “I’m going to support shows that do it better.” When a producer of content does something you don’t like, sometimes the best policy is to vote with your wallet. Besides, it’s not like you don’t have options.
I’ve heard a couple accounts from women who watch Anime that they want to get into more shows but are turned off by a large amount of fanservice. The few that wrote editorials I’ve read made it seem like there weren’t enough good shows to watch. To this, I disagree. Maybe this has to do with the types of shows I typically watch, but given that Anime has been on the upswing lately and that more and more people are watching it, I sincerely doubt there aren’t good shows you can find quickly that don’t have lots of sexualization.
If you like action shows, you can go watch Bungou Stray Dogs and Kekkai Sensen, two shows with minimal fan service and some awesome female characters. Like romance? You can go watch my favorite Anime of all time, Akagami no Shirayukihime, which has the strongest female character I’ve ever seen. Hell, most popular sports shows are very fun with minimal fanservice and are basically shonen action shows but in high school and with no death. The point I’m trying to make is that while at times Anime is criticized for becoming stagnant and having too many tits, there are tons of good shows out there that don’t rely on it. But what about the shows that have a large focus on sexualization?
The Key Offender
Most times I get the appeal of these shows, even if it isn’t my thing. Hell, I was 14 once, albeit with an interest in men. For a teenager, a simple high school plot with maybe a hint of sci-fi or fantasy and a wide range of hot female characters pining for the love of the main character is an adolescent goldmine of entertainment that they will envelop themselves in until they get halfway through high school and start watching better shows.
I harbor no ill will for shows that so unashamedly pander to their audience in that way because the audience of early adolescent males will either leave satisfied or disappointed and move on. As a gay guy, I can say it’s the same for Yaoi and that appeals to women so I’d say the playing field is pretty even. For more on this kind of trash, I direct you to the majesty that is YouTuber Demolition D of the YouTube channel, DouchebagChocolat, who in addition to covering To Love-Ru, also sums up most ecchi shows.
So we have addressed the big titted elephant in the room known as trashy ecchi shows and that there are plenty of good shows to watch if you are dissatisfied with fan service in your Anime, but I think the biggest issue to tackle is when sexualization is present in shows commonly agreed to be good, as there are some series I love that have fanservice. This begs the question as to what those shows did better so that I wouldn’t mind it as much.
Part II: What is Acceptable Sex Appeal?
In this next part, I am going to address what I consider to be acceptable sexualization. I understand if my followers- especially female followers- have different thoughts on this and I wholeheartedly request that you share your thoughts in the comments. And remember, like or don’t like what you like or don’t like. I’m not here to convince, only to provide a perspective for others to discuss.
Sex As Part of a Character
I have a feeling most of us can agree that sexuality can be most universally acceptable when it is a part of a character. Think of a strong femme fatale like Faye Valentine or a cut, confident and hilariously sex-obsessed girl like Suruga Kanbaru from Monogatari.
Even Motoko Kusanagi, one of the best ladies in Anime is a very sexual person because despite having no obligation to assign her soul, or “ghost” to a female prosthetic body, she feels attached to the same model. Her sex is part of what makes her who she is. There is actually a word for when stories come up with ways to make sexualization make sense.
YouTuber Digibro describes ideal sexualization as sexualization that is “diegetic,” meaning it makes sense within the context of a situation as to why certain characters would be, say, in a state of undress. A beach or pool episode, or a scene of characters talking in a locker room, for example. Even a character taking a shower.
Sexualizing characters during a filler arc or at a point of no dire importance is far more passable than during the main plot unless the main plot itself makes it diegetic. For example, both the male and female leads in Psycho-pass each have a scene at the beginning of two different episodes where they are sexualized.
In episode two, Akane Tsunemori wakes up and takes a shower, and we see what a typical morning is like for her in this futuristic world. Similarly, Shinya Kogami begins a later episode working out without a shirt on, pouring a bottle of water over himself to cool off and then smoking a cigarette while observing a cork board filled with leads to a case he is working on. Both are diegetic in the way they flaunt the sexiness of the characters. (The clip below is the latter scene. I couldn’t find the former online)
Want an example of non-diegetic sexualization? Here is the hilariously bad K Project, by Studio GoHands. I’ll admit that I thought the first season was good but the second season was a trainwreck and the icing on the cake was Seri Awashima, an allegedly strong-willed policewoman who’s sexualization clashes with her characterization. Any chance of taking the show seriously goes out the window in the very first scene of the second season when this happens.
It comes right in the middle of a battle between two of the shows main factions. She already didn’t have much of a character, but this just made her seem like a joke. Even as a gay man I love boobs but the art style and the way her boobs are animated aren’t even attractive or realistic. Maybe if the style was better I could at least say they accomplished their goal of making her sexy but she just looks gross. It is the same reason I find shows like Maken-Ki so gross. Ultimately, If there isn’t a character for me to admire beyond their appearance or aesthetic then I’m not gonna be too crazy about their tits flopping about.
One common complaint about sexualization is that it objectifies characters. There certainly are bland, sexist portrayals of Women in Anime, as well as in all writing, but in Anime with sexualization that I like, I don’t really get the sense that the women at the epicenter of it are really objectified at all. When I get right down to it, a well-written character will win my approval regardless of the outfit they wear or if they were clearly designed to be sexy.
If you want to assess the quality of sexualization in a good show, ask these questions. What is the goal of this scene? What was made known about that character before this scene? Do I like this character any less because of their portrayal in this scene? How does the scene treat the character? Finally, How does the character react?
Let’s apply these questions to this scene from Kizumonogatari I: Tekketsu-hen.
[Turn on Closed Captions]
The objective of the scene is clearly to be comedic and I think it works, mostly because this movie is gorgeous and while the “oh no I’ve accidentally seen a girl’s panties” cliche has been done to death, this movie does it unashamedly with some truly gorgeous visuals. I have to kind of admire the dedication to making good fanservice.
Fans of the Monogatari series know very well how strong of a character Hanekawa is, but to newcomers watching this movie, which is a prequel to everything, this being her first scene might set off some flags, but it is in Hanekawa’s reaction that the fanservice proves to be that much more meaningful.
In this scene, Hanekawa responds to the accidental upskirt by trying to immediately strike up a conversation with Araragi. She wants to try and take the opportunity to become friends with this fellow student of hers, directing attention away from her embarrassment. In turn, she actually makes Araragi more embarrassed for seeing her panties than she is for having her panties seen, giving her all the power.
Yeah maybe not all the fanservice in Monogatari is as meaningful and it has gone overboard at times but I’ll take it over the ecchi shit we discussed before because at least Monogatari gives a shit about characters, story, and good visual direction. Sure they make unbelievably beautiful women and take every opportunity to flaunt how gorgeous they are, but is that really the problem here?
In Defense of Creating Sexy Characters
I tend to dislike the notion that having sexualization at all implies a sort of sinister or pornographic agenda by the creative team. I don’t think there is anything wrong with designing a character with the intent that they will look attractive. My reason may sound silly, but having spent a good deal of my free time drawing in the past and coming from an artistic family, I’ve picked up on the fact that the human body is practically begging to be drawn.
There is something truly gratifying about creating a drawing of a person and being able to see some semblance of sexuality within it that is a great satisfaction to an artist. I’m not saying this as an excuse for all animators and illustrators, merely I’m saying that is what helps me to appreciate sexuality in illustrated art rather than be critical or grossed out by it.
Part III: Do I Even Care That Much?
I don’t want to sound like I’m policing fictional media or anything and yeah I get that we are talking about fictional, illustrated characters that aren’t real. And yeah, you are absolutely right. I don’t REALLY care because I don’t watch ecchi shows or shows with lots of fanservice. But when I like a show, and someone else doesn’t, I want to know why. Hell, when I like Anime and someone else doesn’t, I want to know why.
So I took those complaints to heart and spent a week trying to put into words what I think about sexualization. Its presence in certifiably good shows and thus the ways that sexualization is acceptable or unacceptable, in my own opinion. I want to try and stop people giving Anime a bad name by assuming it is all sexist or some shit like that and I want to give credit where credit is due when it comes to proper implementation of sexual themes.
It is like I said before. If you are anything like me, there are plenty of good shows from talented creative teams out there. You just need to look. Besides, with the Anime community growing larger and the market expanding here in the west, I don’t think you’ll have a hard time finding a show you will love.
I think this is the longest that I have ever worked on a post for this blog. I’m glad I stuck with this topic cause God knows I had a lot to say about it. I would love to hear your thoughts on sexualization in Anime so please leave a comment. Thank you for reading and as always, see you next time.