The anime community is wide, varied, and growing all the time. Every couple of years a significant tentpole anime comes out that brings in a whole new crop of fans to the medium, whether simply to visit or make a more permanent stay within its bizarre and inviting lodgings.
And yet for as diverse as anime’s following may be as, you know, a medium, people are quick to resort to mob mentality and pretend as if the community can be divided evenly into two halves, or worse, that the “other” is so minuscule as to not even really be worth mentioning.
But if that were all that was needed to be said, I wouldn’t just be oversimplifying anime discourse. In all likelihood, I’d be oversimplifying humanity. No, anime is no stranger to controversy. Just as frequently as a new tentpole anime comes out to bring in new people, some shows kick all kinds of hornet nests.
[TRIGGER WARNING: The following post contains analysis of sexual assaults and other topics related to sexual violence depicted or hinted at in the shows that will be discussed.]
Every single time a controversial anime comes out, the community makes a lot of generalizations about the medium from whatever narrow perspective they have, based on their experience with it.
“It’s just a bunch of feminists getting pissed off, it’s not like they’re actually anime fans”
“Everyone who watches this show is an incel/ supports [sensitive subject matter]”
“You’re just a normie. You don’t understand what makes this show good.”
However, if I was to consider the last several anime to garner extreme outrage from the community, I find that my views on them shift considerably on a case by case basis. Almost as if each show is completely different and made by different creators and studios (who would’ve thought?). However, the same labels are thrown around, both of the shows and the people who discuss them. Chances are, I could be called a “snowflake” or a “normie” within the same space that I would be called an “incel” or a “misogynist.”
First, some background on yours truly.
I am a cis white male.
I am gay as fuck.
I’m fairly left-leaning, politically.
I consider myself a feminist and take a great interest in the analysis of and critique of media through a feminist lens. That is to say, I enjoy stories with themes of femininity or that touch upon topics related to gender and sexual equality, even subtextually.
I am also a huge anime fan. I’ve been one since the very beginning of 2014.
I have little issue with sexualization so far as it is either diegetic, has a clear purpose, or doesn’t belittle or demean the female characters portrayed to an egregious amount (and even then some would argue you should consider the purpose of scenes that do so).
That’s a wordy way of saying that I think anime girls with big boobs are totes cool.
I’m not often truly offended by media. I think people and their interactions with media are far more bothersome than most media that I either chose to consume or that I stumble upon. When I say “truly offended,” I mean having a physical revulsion to something or a deep internal feeling of anger, disgust, or simply shock.
I’m sharing what is practically a way too forward dating profile because when I say that a certain show “sucks” or that a certain show is “good”, I’d prefer any potential backlash to not be directed at an inaccurate caricature of who I am. If people are going to make blind assumptions about my morals, I’d prefer they make informed blind assumptions.
With that in mind, I would like to reflect on a few shows that I am aware have caused quite a bit of a stir in recent years and examine why they were as controversial as they were. Then I would like to share my thoughts based on my viewing of these shows and share whether I think the outrage is warranted (and how much). Finally, depending on how far I was able to get through these shows, I’ll tell you if I think they’re worth it.
I should also mention that all of the stories I will be discussing were controversial because of sexual content, either generally, or – more seriously – because of depictions of sexual violence. I will frequently be referring to works written that have discussed the ethics of writing about sexual violence in fiction and encourage you to read them yourself.
With all that said, let’s get the ball rolling.
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Goblin Slayer | Studio: White Fox | Fall 2018
The first of what I’ll call the “Four Horsemen of the Anime Apocalypse” is 2018’s Goblin Slayer, the first instance in which I witnessed an anime garner controversy of this level for its sexual content. The short version of the story is that debate spawned from the premiere episode’s depiction of a character being sexually assaulted by goblins.
For context, Goblin Slayer is set in a typical fantasy world in which the titular Goblin Slayer is a high-ranking adventurer whose risen ranks by only killing goblins, a race that is considered low-level. However, even the most low-level monsters can still wreak havoc, as a young group of adventurers finds out.
A healer known only as the Priestess joins the group on a quest to exterminate some goblins. These adventurers are overconfident and inexperienced, leading them to be flanked, outnumbered, and picked off one by one. The strongest one in the group, a female monk, is outmatched by a larger goblin, and the last thing we see before the Priestess retreats at the monk’s instruction, is her clothes being torn off. And then Goblin Slayer comes in and kills all the goblins because… I mean that’s what was written on the tin, wasn’t it?
There’s a lot to dissect, not necessarily because of what the scene entails but because of the care needed to discuss sexual assault in media to any degree. Perhaps you watched Goblin Slayer and felt uncomfortable by what was happening but still watched on out of some interest to see where it was going. After all, it isn’t as though all was lost. I mean, Goblin Slayer hadn’t even shown up yet, you can’t close the Google Chrome tab yet.
Whether you enjoyed the show or thought it was mediocre, perhaps the response from the community confused you. Why was the sexual assault so controversial? Maybe you didn’t think it was as bad as other scenes of rape in other media or maybe you excused it because, after all, it’s a grimdark fantasy. I mean, anyone can understand that rape is a serious problem, right? The difference is the degree to which we perceive that problem’s scope.
To say that sexual violence is a serious problem might be an understatement depending on who you are or where you live. RAINN’s statistics on perpetrators of sexual assault state that 995 out of every 1000 perpetrators won’t be incarcerated. These perpetrators are “less likely to go to jail or prison than other criminals.” A lot of times when people talk about the debate over sexual violence in media, people ask why the same isn’t asked of other forms of violence. The answer is a lot simpler than you might think. (RAINN)
“How many people do you know that have been beheaded, hanged, flayed, eaten alive by zombies, etc…? Or that fear the possibility on a daily basis? And now how many people do you know that have been victims of sexual violence, of sexual assault, of child sexual abuse, of sexual harassment, etc? Or fear the possibility on a daily basis?” | Priscilla, The Ethics of Portraying Sexual Violence in Media
Sexual violence is a common problem and there are lots of ingrained attitudes towards it and towards victims of it that makes it a complicated wound to heal. So it’s a kind of violence that will be far more relatable to a much larger percentage of an audience than any scene of a character being beheaded or blown up.
Priscilla of The Fandomentals wrote that “Sexual violence in media isn’t something to be done lightly. You can’t just pretend that this is a scene like any other, that it’s not real, because the repercussions for the audience will be very real. They won’t be over when the credits roll.” In Goblin Slayer, it’s a horrifying scenario that hits home how dangerous the threats of its world are. The danger that exists within the show is made explicitly clear.
You might ask: “but if it’s treated seriously, then what’s the issue?”
The easiest answer? Because rape is an overused and lazy writing tool.
“Because rape is widely acknowledged as a Very Serious Topic, there’s also a tendency to treat rape scenes as a means to be edgy or shocking. You know, as a way of creating really serious, mature content. […] One of the reasons that creators of media like to include rape in their work is specifically because it elicits strong feelings, even when divorced from all context and consequences. Think of it as a recipe for cheap drama: Take a story, add one rape, stir vigorously, and presto—instant emotional reaction! This is both incredibly lazy and incredibly callous, but it works, so people keep doing it.”Laura Hudson for Wired
None of this is to suggest that rape shouldn’t be discussed at all within media, because, like defenders of these kinds of scenes say, “it’s an unfortunate part of life.” But no one is asking not to have rape in stories. The goal is to ask writers to think more carefully about how to discuss rape through their stories. Goblin Slayer’s biggest offense could be argued to be that is a particularly loud perpetrator of a series of all-too-common tropes in fiction.
Anime is no stranger to rape.
Psycho-Pass is a show about a future where people’s brains can be scanned to sort them into the careers they are apt for so they can benefit society. However, it can also detect someone’s probability of being mentally willing to commit a crime. In the first episode, a man is on the run after his “psycho-pass” runs a high number and he ends up taking a woman hostage, going mad with terror at the prospect of his life being over.
In his growing insanity, he forces himself on his hostage, saying he’s “always wanted to have sex with a beautiful woman.” The scene cuts away and we hear her protest before we cut back to the main cast and the pursuit of the suspect continues from their perspective. So it isn’t as though rape is so rare in anime that Goblin Slayer was game-changing, nor am I saying that Psycho-Pass’s portrayal was significantly better or worse than what that show did.
[For the record, Psycho-Pass is one of my favorite shows of all time despite this scene.]
At times, rape is used simply to show how dark and fucked up the world is. Pricilla writes that there are three elements of the “grimdark” excuse for rape that contribute to how trite the trope has become. Firstly, because the sole objective is to convey the darkness of the world, rape becomes merely decorative. It’ll be shocking without “criticizing sexual violence or patriarchy or rape culture.” Secondly, the merit or meaning of scenes depicting rape for the sake of grimdarkness isn’t immediately apparent. What that means is that having rape as a consistent background element just reiterates how fucked up the world is or how evil an antagonist is when it’s already obvious.
“Third, sometimes this takes the focus from the victim. In those cases the sexual violence is about the setting or the villain. It’s a matter of making a point, instead of being about those affected by it. The victim is often nameless and silent, or soon to be forgotten. How can we have a meaningful conversation about the consequences of sexual violence if we take the focus away from the people who suffer those consequences?”Priscilla, The Ethics of Portraying Sexual Violence in Media
Goblin Slayer’s rape scene doesn’t exist to focus on victims of sexual assault. We never even learn the names of the women who were killed or assaulted. The woman who was raped isn’t even credited on the show’s MyAnimeList page. Now, in the story’s defense, this is primarily because the Goblin Slayer story doesn’t give anyone names. They are just D&D roles given a physical body and enough personality to occupy it with a mandated amount of panache. Still, even if the victim is listed among Anime News Network’s cast list, I honestly can’t tell if she was the character credited as “Fighter” or “Warrior.”
The final trope in which Goblin Slayer fits is the trend of what is called “manpain.”
“Manpain is not simply a man in pain, but when you harm, rape, or kill a (most of the time) female character only to give something for your male (and usually white) character to be angsty or revengeful or brooding about. Fridging is awfully common in fiction and has its own set of problems, but it’s even worse when there’s gratuitous sexual violence involved.” | Priscilla, The Ethics of Portraying Sexual Violence in Media
Goblin Slayer as a character is a man who has become broken by his desire to kill goblins after his older sister was raped and killed by goblins, an act he saw in its entirety from beneath the floorboards of his home when he was young. The unnamed sister and her pain are secondary to the main character’s. This is unfortunate because the victims and their stories are the most important. They shouldn’t simply be important because of their relation to a male character.
You might think I’m overstepping there and allow me a moment of clarification. I will likely repeat this same thought at different times in different ways throughout this piece, but if you watch any of these shows and don’t feel affected by these things, that doesn’t make you a terrible person. These kinds of narrative techniques aren’t inherently bad, primarily because execution can make a bad idea a great one. Secondly, what makes these tropes problematic to critics such as those I’ve quoted, is their repetition.
My goal is to explain why these trends or elements are unfortunate, in hopes that you think more critically about how media treats these topics going forward. Additionally, I want to draw parallels between these tropes and the real-life problems of sexual assault. So, on the topic of manpain, think of the number of times guys in real life talk about sexual assault through the lens of everyone but the victim. Saying things like “they were someone’s sister” or “mother” or “daughter.” There is a tendency to focus on the wrong things when talking about sexual assault. The one thing that should never be ignored in these discussions is the victim.
To be honest, dating back to when the show was being discussed… fervently… on the internet, my reasons for disregarding the show had little to do with the rape. My reasons for passing it over was simply because it didn’t seem that interesting nor did the animation strike me as anything worth writing home about. What the controversy added to that was a feeling that the show was trying too hard to be edgy.
But that alone begs the question of how much is too much? That might be the most important question in this entire piece. Broadly, it can help determine what might have made Goblin Slayer seem too edgy. Specifically, it can help get to the bottom of what makes the actual sexual content so disconcerting.
Karandi of 100 Word Anime wrote a piece about shows that “try too hard” and how the criticism of something “trying too hard” is meaningless. Because if something is trying something, and the effect is undesirable, then clearly they are failing somewhere along the way. We shouldn’t demonize trying. As she says in her post, “I want them to. I want them to aspire to achieve great things and to tell their story with conviction.”
What we should try to do is explore exactly what they failed at to give us the impression that it was “too edgy” in the first place. Was the writing overly melodramatic or cheesy and therefore hard to take seriously? Was the animation or direction not adequate to elicit the proper emotional response that you believed to be the goal based on the music or the dramatic framing of an event?
Most importantly at this moment, did I find Goblin Slayer too edgy? And why?
Goblin Slayer treats its sexual assault as a major moment that more or less sells the tone for the series from there onward. While I was pleasantly surprised to find the music by Kenichiro Suehiro and the performance by Yuuichiro Umehara as Goblin Slayer to be engaging, I fully recognize that the use of sexual assault as a set dressing has been overused and could be done more thoughtfully with consideration for how prevalent sexual violence is in life.
With that said, Goblin Slayer’s depiction of rape wasn’t as terrible as it could have been. That could certainly be seen as a low bar, sure, but compared to other shows (that I’ll get to) Goblin Slayer’s biggest problem is its overreliance on rape as an element in the background to keep its world in a constant state of tension. Beyond that flaw, however, the show can be a competent drama.
I gave Goblin Slayer the ole’ three-episode test and concluded that it’s okay. I wouldn’t mind continuing it to see if it grows on me some more, or maybe see how the main character develops. If I may be transparent, another reason I held off on watching this was that a former associate of mine idolized characters like Goblin Slayer a lot, to an almost creepy degree. And because that person was a toxic asshole who treated a very good friend of mine like shit, that rubbed off negatively on the characters that they were creepily passionate about.
Is that a great reason to pass up a show? Not really. Is it a relatable one? I bet it is. I bet you’ve met people that put a bad taste in your mouth for a certain show, game, or film. And THAT might have something to do with why some of these shows are so controversial. People are quick to attach the content of the show not just to real-world topics, but also to the kinds of people they think are watching it. This is going to become incredibly relevant when we get to our next show.
The Rising of the Shield Hero | Studio: Kinema Citrus | Winter 2019
Not even two weeks after Goblin Slayer ended, the next big anime controversy hit the scene and started 2019 with quite the upset. Honestly, the discourse for these two shows was so distinct and huge that I am shocked to recall that one happened immediately after the other.
The Rising of the Shield Hero is about a guy named Naofumi who gets Isekai’d to another world where he and three other fellows are assigned roles as heroes. They are there to fight a demonic scourge plaguing a fantasy world. Once their mission is accomplished, they can go home. There are four roles: Sword, Spear, Bow, and Shield. Our boy Naofumi is named the Shield Hero which is technically the weakest one.
He’s not too happy about that and no one wants to be in his party. Well, except for Malty, the princess. She helps him get gear and shows him around town and then – oh fuck! She accuses him of trying to rape her and since she’s a princess he becomes a pariah. He is screwed and no one will believe him when he tells them it isn’t true.
As is later revealed, the church that is dominant in the kingdom has conspired against Naofumi because the Shield Hero has historically been an ally to non-human races that are discriminated against. Naofumi is essentially a casualty of a political hit by the church. He is at his lowest possible point by the end of the first episode and the worst part is, he can’t go home until the evil threatening the worst is destroyed. So he’s trapped.
You might have an idea of the first reason why this show was controversial. Ever since the MeToo movement went viral in 2017, the topic of sexual assault and misconduct allegations and how they should be treated has been a heated topic. People who have been critical of the movement have voiced concern about it promoting a culture based on hearsay rather than conclusive evidence. The truth is – as usual – more complicated.
A bit of background before I connect this to Shield Hero. The movement exploded the way it did after the allegations against film producer Harvey Weinstein came to light. Suddenly, women from all walks of life felt safe coming out and sharing their stories of abuse and mistreatment in the workplace. Not enough was being done to address these allegations behind closed doors or in the HR departments. In some cases, the power dynamic made victims afraid to come out. So when the movement gained traction, victims took to the internet and shared their stories.
So what does this have to do with Shield Hero?
… Not much, honestly.
I’m gonna be fully transparent. I love this show. I thoroughly enjoyed its direction, performances, and especially the score by Kevin Penkin. I had a great time and I completely understand the initial reaction some people have when watching a show with a premise like this. After all, if you’re wise to the MeToo movement, a show about a man being falsely accused may seem poorly timed. It’s like when Bruce Willis was in that Eli Roth remake of Death Wish that came out right after shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida. But does that reflect poorly on the show or its creators?
“Depiction is not endorsement” is a phrase that is crucial when discussing sensitive or controversial subject matter. Someone well-intentioned can write a story with the hopes of bringing light to a serious topic only to fail miserably at approaching the topic appropriately. The degree varies of course, but just because a writer depicts rape doesn’t mean they support it. I’d go further as to say there is no subtextual motivation behind Naofumi’s false accusation.
I don’t think that Yusagi Aneko, the author of Shield Hero, meant this to be a harsh critique of the MeToo movement. For one thing, it was written back in 2013, before the movement gained huge traction and I don’t think anyone would have responded quite as negatively to this show if this adaptation came out before 2017. Granted, there are other controversial elements, but we’ll get to that.
Some people think that Yusagi Aneko might be a woman since the name seems like a pen name that the author is secretive about their identity. I’m not gonna put too many eggs in this basket. Women can be sexist too. Her being a woman wouldn’t be a competent refusal of claims of sexism. You’re gonna have to try harder than that. And to be frank, you won’t have to try hard.
I don’t think there is much in the story even before it’s revealed to be a conspiracy to suppose that the story is making any kind of statement about sexual misconduct allegations. At most, the situation is parallel, but that’s it. What spurs on these comparisons isn’t so much the show, but the response from defenders of the show and the idea of the person who enjoys it.
Sometimes, if I see a bunch of really shitty and deplorable people propping up the character in a story as some kind of icon, it starts to reflect poorly on the story itself. It gets hard to enjoy certain things when you know it’s being co-opted by incels. For those blissfully unaware, incels (involuntary celibates) are men who have extremely violent attitudes towards women out of a belief that they are evil and won’t date them because they’re ugly when in reality it’s because they’re incredibly sexist and keep making tasteless jokes. Look, I’m not gonna pretend that’s a 100% solid definition but it’s pretty accurate and I guarantee you’ve talked to someone like that or have an idea of who I’m talking about.
Now thankfully, Shield Hero wasn’t ruined for me, nor do I believe there’s enough of a toxic following to make this some huge incel flagship. In fact, given how much mainstream love the show has gotten outside of the controversy, I’m pretty safe in that assumption. I was already hooked and, having watched it all the way through, I fell in love with its gratifying tale of redemption. It’s inherently satisfying to see a character prove their innocence, like in any story where a character is falsely accused.
However, even I will admit that sometimes I read comments from others who enjoy the show who just can’t resist calling out the “SJWs” or the “snowflakes” who ragged on the series and I think “oh, dude, can we just… not?” If you want to praise something, go for it. If you wanna criticize it, go for it. You don’t need to co-opt the language of bigots to do it. If I hear you use any of the typical alt-right buzzwords, all that I’m thinking about is whether or not you hate women and unless I know you personally, I’m not in the mood to engage with you further to test my theory.
What made Shield Hero controversial first was a misunderstanding and comparing the quality of art to the loudness of its most unfortunate followers. Too many assumptions. Too much comparison between a topical political debate and the situation within a story written years before the debate’s popularity, without even the slightest agenda.
And I don’t want to validate the argument that Japan has no obligation to be sensitive to the subject even if there was an agenda. Some consider Japan’s cultural differences alone to be an invalidation of any argument about stories lacking tact when tackling these subjects. It isn’t as though Japan has no sexual misconduct. They might conduct their approach to these topics differently, but Japan also has female-only train cars specifically because of the amount of sexual harassment that occurs in something as basic as public transit.
Beyond the rape accusation, Shield Hero further gained controversy for Naofumi’s actions at his lowest point in exile. Because the Shield Hero status comes with the limitation that he can’t use weapons, he needs a partner to do damage while he provides support. But no one likes Naofumi, so he buys a slave.
Through the perspective of one already critical of this show (who sees Shield Hero as this role model for incels everywhere), going from a false rape accusation to buying a slave must look like the makings of a fucked up manifesto. I don’t think any rational viewer of this show will make excuses for Naofumi here. I certainly didn’t. It’s a morally dubious choice. He buys a half-starved demi-human raccoon girl named Raphtalia whose parents died when she was younger.
Then, he pulls a Tekken and trains her to fight the hard way because Naofumi spends the duration of the first half of the story broken, apathetic, and untrusting of others. And even then, he still treats her far kinder than others who’d partake in slavery. After all, a lot of Naofumi’s attitude comes off like a mask he’s wearing to hide a much kinder person. Regardless of whatever tough-sounding shit comes out of his mouth, he picks Raphtalia because she’s sick and malnourished and he pities her.
Ok so… maybe with the benefit of hindsight, I am making excuses.
I suppose context is key, and narrative direction, the latter of which Shield Hero accomplished very well. I was captivated by the end of the first episode. I wanted to see this “hero” earn that title the hard way, and I was impressed at the show willing to take such a risk by having the protagonist partake in something as awful as buying a slave. And then, seeing a relationship form between the two of them, it was no longer even worth calling it a matter of “master and slave”.
They’re a team.
One might point out the problematic history of stories in which master/slave dynamics have been romanticized by way of endearing the slave character to the master. I would argue, however, that Naofumi and Raphtalia’s bond is devoid of that historical context. By episode four, I didn’t believe that Naofumi even saw her as a “slave” because every scene between them showed that he genuinely cared about her.
I’m pretty defensive of this series because I think that Kinema Citrus did a great job on it. The pacing was (for the most part) good, and the music and directing turned it into a very emotional series for me, either for how cathartic it could be or because of its heart-tugging moments.
Controversy can stem from far more than just the content of a show. It can stem from the time it comes out or the toxicity of a fanbase. With Goblin Slayer, the controversy was almost solely tied to the story, its subject matter, and whether it was too edgy or not. But with Shield Hero, people criticized it because they saw an opportunity for the wrong kinds of people to be emboldened by the story.
Looking back, the harsher critics might have missed the point. Shield Hero is a story about a man bitter and looking for redemption after being falsely accused, yes. But it’s also a story about a man learning to trust people again with the help of some powerful young women. These same women are constantly being gaslighted by the antagonists, told that they’re being brainwashed by Naofumi or that they don’t know better.
Because Rising of the Shield Hero was a competently produced, epic fantasy tale with a captivating premiere and tons of publicity, positive or negative, it gained traction like few other shows that year. I think that the love for the series has transcended whatever toxic following the critics of it feared would flock to it. They’re still there, mind you, but why let shitty people ruin a good thing, right?
Interspecies Reviewers | Studio: Passione | Winter 2020
This show might be the strongest on the list because if you read about this show on forums or talk to people who have seen it (and liked it), you might be led to believe that this show was pretty controversial. And by definition… yeah, I can see it, but I don’t think it was outrageous in the same way that the others were. Not even close.
Interspecies Reviewers is a raunchy comedy about a group of adventurers who get into your typical NSFW fantasy world discussion: “what fantasy race is the best to bang?” They can’t agree, so they decide to hit the brothels, supporting their local sex workers, and writing reviews of their experiences. And that’s pretty much it.
It was licensed by Funimation and it premiered on the 11th of January, 2020. It even got an English dub for like two episodes. But then, Funimation took it off their service, releasing the following statement:
“After careful consideration, we determined that this series falls outside of our standards. We have the utmost respect for our creators so rather than substantially alter the content, we felt taking it down was the most respectful choice.” | Funimation
Soon after, Amazon Prime Video took it off their service as well at the beginning of February. It made sense considering that paid Amazon Video releases tended to be directly from Funimation. Even in Japan, the show rustled some feathers. Tokyo MX canceled it. Sun TV in Kobe canceled it. By the end of February, Gifu Broadcasting and Biwako Broadcasting picked it up and KBS Kyoto was still airing it. Amidst all of this, the “unedited” version was being streamed on AT-X, “Tokyo’s anime satellite channel” according to Anime News Network.
Why all the fuss?
I mean, it was porn. Like, legit. And I’m not even judging I’m just calling it like it was. It was porn that casually found its way onto the Winter 2020 airing schedule. To me, it’s more surprising that Funimation or anyone else licensed it to begin with when there is promotional material, source material, and the fucking production committee you are licensing from to tell you if it’s gonna be porn.
People gave Funimation all kinds of shit for canceling it but how did they even license it in the first place without knowing what they were getting? The worst thing Funimation allegedly did was hold onto the license, preventing it from being legally streaming in the US. The MyAnimeList doesn’t even list a licensor anymore so it’s hard to say how long they “held it prisoner” as some accused.
Apart from the pre-existing bias against the company, I’m not even sure why Funimation got this much shit beyond the silliness of licensing it at all. Is it really surprising that they would decide that porn wasn’t exactly true to their brand? And before someone mentions that the TV version was censored, come on. Was anyone interested in the censored version? If I may be so crass, a TV censored version of an ecchi show whose story is laser-focused on sex scenes is practically pointless.
Some people have tried telling me that this show wasn’t that much of an irregularity in the anime industry. I… vehemently disagree. I’d say I’ve been pretty transparent so far so fuck it: I have indeed watched this show or, eh, parts of it. I discovered that after its cancellation, the uncensored version ended up on Pornhub, unsurprisingly. Full episodes to boot.
I told a friend about the controversy and he was curious so we watched it. And it was pretty funny. But even my friend agreed that this wasn’t in any way “typical.” A show with this many legit sex scenes at fairly decent production quality could hardly be called normal for seasonal TV anime. If it was, I don’t think it would have been talked about nearly as much.
The impetus for discussing this show among the others is two-fold. First, to exemplify how a preexisting bias creates the illusion of a larger controversy or agenda. People already harbor a grudge against Funimation for their hold on the market, the quality of their subtitles, the quality of their streaming service, the quality of their dubs, etc. Amidst all of that, people continually accuse them of having an agenda with their content.
There is an idea that Funimation just LOVES to constantly change the meaning of scripts for certain shows to match political viewpoints. There are only a handful of examples that people bring up to support this notion whenever it comes up. Two of them are dubs by ADR director and actress Jamie Marchie, who infamously changed lines from the original script for Prison School and Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid.
Oh, look it’s a transparency disclaimer again. I do think that drastically changing the dialog’s meaning entirely is weird and she shouldn’t have done that. However, translation is more art than science so I truly believe that 99% of the official subbing and dubbing industry does a good job of conveying the overall meaning of dialogue. I suppose my only reason for bringing this up is because I’m tired of dudes on Twitter picking the same three examples every time Funimation’s scripting comes up.
My second reason for discussing Interspecies is to touch upon how there is a double-standard between violence and sexual content. We as a species can excuse all manner of content involving people shooting, stabbing, exploding, and mutilating other people. However, we shy away from sexuality in media a lot.
Hold up! This sounds a lot like a point I previously tried to refute back in my section on Goblin Slayer. Allow me to clarify. I think the general community needs to be more comfortable with depictions of sexuality in storytelling so that we can have more open conversations about it and so writers can get better at depicting it. HOWEVER, there is a big difference between sexual content and depictions of sexual violence. The former can be used for a myriad of reasons, notably sex appeal, emotional appeal, comedy, or drama. The latter is a highly sensitive subject for the reasons I explained earlier and needs to be handled with a certain level of tact.
I have absolutely no issue with Interspecies Reviewers existing based on what I’ve seen of it. It’s a raunchy comedy with a decent budget that through some kind of dark magic found itself a spot among the other big names of the season and was unsurprisingly talked about for its lewdness. I completely understand why a company like Funimation would be hesitant to have a show like this on their platform, knowing they’d be expected to release the uncensored version on Blu-ray.
That said, I think that double-standard applies here and I don’t necessarily agree with their decision. It’s a byproduct of an attitude towards sexuality that is hard to break. Although with Japan being as comfortable with sex as it is, you’d think that would rub off on the anime industry here. Baby steps, I suppose.
Redo of Healer | Studio: TNK | Winter 2021
And so the last of the Four Horsemen approaches. I never thought to name them up to this point. I suppose Shield Hero would be Conquest. It was undoubtedly the most successful of the four and the most satisfying. Interspecies would probably be War. That word probably describes all of the controversies honestly, but instead of being the community divided, it seemed to be “whoever gave a shit versus Funimation.” Goblin Slayer would likely be Famine, if only because it doesn’t sound as harsh as Plague, and I didn’t really hate it at all. But I can think of no better title for Redo of Healer than Plague.
I didn’t quite like this show.
And I had to talk about it, but I knew that if I did, without comparing it to the other horsemen, I would be likely bombarded with people saying things like…
And so the last of the Four Horsemen approaches. I never thought to name them up to this point. I suppose Shield Hero would be Conquest. It was undoubtedly the most successful of the four and the most satisfying. Interspecies would probably be War. That word probably describes all of the controversies, but instead of being the community divided, it seemed to be “whoever gave a shit versus Funimation.” Goblin Slayer would likely be Famine, if only because it doesn’t sound as harsh as Plague, and I didn’t really hate it at all. But I can think of no better title for Redo of Healer than Plague.
I didn’t quite like this show.
And I had to talk about it, but I knew that if I did, without comparing it to the other horsemen, I would be likely bombarded with people saying things like…
“I bet you hated Shield Hero too, you faggot.”
“You know it’s a dark fantasy right? Rape happens, get over it snowflake.”
[I don’t know, something about Goblin Slayer]
It’s surprisingly difficult to come up with the kinds of comments that would be written by swine when you aren’t one, so two examples are the most I can conjure at the moment.
I first heard of Redo from a friend who prefaced it by saying “yeah this is gonna piss people off.” I was told that the show had lots of torture and rape and that the main character was driven insane. Perfect for the whole family. I watched the teaser and suddenly had flashbacks to Goblin Slayer. This show doesn’t look that great, I thought. The character designs, the animation, and the color design weren’t looking super promising.
Sure enough, after like three or so episodes had aired, it was certainly starting discussions. It was controversial enough that – of course – a lot of people were going to check it out. Cue articles about it being a huge seller and defenders rushing to the scene to declare that it selling well must mean that it’s truly a misunderstood masterpiece. Because that’s never bitten anyone in the ass. Having only heard about the show in Discord calls from friends who were watching it, I was asked if I wanted to see it.
I said yes.
And I only did that much because I’d just finished binging and reviewing Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon?, a show that I loved and probably never would have otherwise watched if not for my friends’ recommendation. I felt like I owed them one, you know? They asked if I wanted to watch the censored or uncensored version. I chose the latter.
That’s a very good question.
See, I’m of the mind that if there is a censored version, it isn’t what the creators intended to show the audience. So if there is an uncensored version, it is likely what I’ll watch to critique the full experience. And so began the viewing.
The premise is as follows: A guy named Keyaru gets the ability to use healing magic. In this particular fantasy world, being a healer is incredibly valuable. In Keyaru’s case, he can use healing magic to completely heal injuries no matter how serious. However, this also takes a toll on him. At first (I can’t emphasize that enough), I thought this was an interesting take.
Certain fantasy stories like this fixate on a particular part of the world-building and then make the protagonist specialize in that one aspect to the point of being overpowered. Goblin Slayer got strong by only killing goblins. Shield Hero can’t use other weapons and can only use different variants of magical shields. And the Healer does healing shit, but with the added benefit of stealing powers like Rogue from X-men. I don’t like that it’s an apt comparison, but if the shoe fits…
Anyway, the first episode ends and practically nothing terrible happens. So that’s a good sign. The show wasn’t going for an “episode 1” controversy. Instead, it was going for an “episode 2” controversy. Judging the premiere on its own, if it weren’t for the promise of the oncoming shock and awe, I would have probably dropped it after the first episode. It was very boring for me. Though there was a spontaneous sex scene that was unintentionally hilarious for how sudden it was and at least it was consensual (foreshadowing).
The second episode is where things suddenly kicked into high gear. See, in the first episode, the main character was taken from their village by a princess who wants to make use of their healing magic for the benefit of the kingdom and its heroes. He’s like “yeah, sure that sounds neat.” And at first, it seems like a sweet deal. People wanna sleep with him so they can get the benefits of his healing magic.
But whenever he heals serious injuries or even missing limbs, it puts a serious strain on him. Since he’s the healer (and a powerful one at that), the state abuses him for his magic because the benefits outweigh the costs, which only affect him. Once again, this is a cool idea, but it’s not the clearest in how it goes about presenting it. I should mention that the entire plot setup is the main character’s second time going through these events.
You see, the main character has already experienced horrendous torture at the hands of this princess and the kingdom years before, but by the time he became strong enough to get revenge, it was too late. So through some bullshit, he turns back time. He wants to have a second chance at life, but rather than… I don’t know… getting the fuck out of there, he wants to get revenge. I’m not saying it doesn’t make sense, I’m just saying that it’s not what I would have done.
But then he just gets caught again. He’s drugged, tortured, and raped for his healing magic. Like, he reloaded his save file and then just fell into a trap again. So that… sucks. Practically the entire second half of the second episode is the protagonist, having completely been broken, breaking free, and then confronting the antagonist, the princess.
He tortures her and then rapes her for half an episode.
Remember at the very beginning of this editorial, when I mentioned how I rarely am truly offended or shocked by something. Maybe I underestimated how hard it would go in portraying the rape but I was feeling sick to my stomach. This is the one show, of all the shows I talked about, that I could not get past the second episode. I had to walk away before the episode ended.
I could talk about why the scene itself disturbed me compared to something like Goblin Slayer. I feel like it shouldn’t have to be explained yet I was uncertain how to put it into words for a while. Plus, the discourse surrounding the show seems to have made the explanation a necessity. For now, I want to tackle the biggest question.
Why does anybody watch this?
Is it for the protagonist?
On one hand, it’s a revenge story. The catharsis of revenge should – in theory – be the motivator. Yet, to me at least, this story feels like a protagonist being turned into a villain himself.
He was tortured to the point that he turned back time to relive the torture just for a chance to give his jailer the same punishment he’d received. A kind of punishment that no one should go through. By any other storytelling metric, this is a tragedy in which the “hero”, if he ever could be called one, becomes a villain.
He lowered himself to the level of his opponent and got revenge. So the story is finished. Or at least, I would expect it to be. From what I was told by my friends who witnessed the end of the episode, there is something of a cliffhanger hinting at more people for him to get revenge on. Even if I could stomach the rest of the second episode, I don’t think anything could have convinced me to keep watching.
When I watch any show, there are several questions at the front of my mind regarding my investment and whether I want to continue but I think these are the essential ones:
Am I having a good time?
Is there someone I can root for/ am interested to see develop?
Is there an end goal or sustainable thesis for the show?
None that I am interested in seeing.
So what is keeping anyone watching?
Because if the show is just about him continuing to take vengeance on the world, I don’t want to watch him continue to do terrible things. If the story is going to try and redeem him, then I do not have the patience to wait for that to happen. And worst yet, if the story is just going to continue, are the characters just going to ignore what happened in these first two episodes?
The protagonist was a victim, but their revenge was not anything that any hero worth giving a shit about would do. I’ve had people propose to me that he didn’t enjoy raping her because he had to keep using magic to give himself an erection and it’s like… he still did it. That means nothing. Maybe it’s just the Batman fan in me, but the “line” for a hero should typically be drawn back farther than the villain right?
If he just killed her and then marked her name off of a list of other people to get revenge on, then I could maybe foresee how someone would be able to sanction watching more. It would still have been boring, but at least I could understand how someone could justify watching more. The only thing to elicit an emotional reaction from me while watching was the rape scene. It is inherently there for shock value and perhaps the only thing drawing people to the show.
I’ve already explained why that’s lazy and trite. When it’s the only thing there, it doesn’t make me respect art more, it makes me respect it less. I understand the subjectivity of me personally being unwilling to give him a chance to redeem himself, but it isn’t as though the character reflects on their actions or fesses up to them.
The protagonist rapes the villain and then wipes her memory and, in fact, actively changes it to make her forget about the rape and fall in love with him. He hasn’t solved anything. He didn’t erase what happened. He’s still the same soulless victim-turned-rapist that hurt her. The only difference is that she has now been altered by magic to forget it and love her abuser. I don’t even want to entertain the notion that “she deserved it.”
Anybody who tries to make that argument sounds disgusting.
That should not be up for discussion.
Allow me to make a bold statement regarding the most vocal defenders of this show and many of the shows I’ve talked about thus far for that matter (but mostly this one). I don’t think they actually like this show. They might like it, but I don’t think many genuinely love it for what it is. I think they enjoy watching “snowflakes” and “SJWs” get triggered by the show.
I can’t even completely fault them for that alone. After all, I liked Shield Hero and I can be very defensive of it, so seeing it become successful and get renewed for two more seasons is awesome. Seeing people who you believe are over-reactive not get what they want can be cathartic in all manner of situations.
All I’m saying is that I really can’t foresee any other reason why someone would continue watching this show besides that allure: to piss people off by supporting something controversial. And hey, perhaps the show beyond episode 2 is a bit tamer. But I don’t get anything out of watching “snowflakes” get triggered. Because very often, the people who get excited by that and are vocal about their enjoyment of that, are the same people who are frequently intolerant and toxic. So I was judging this show based entirely on its story. And it was appalling to me.
Way back before, I mentioned how “depiction is not endorsement.” In this particular case, while it might not be an endorsement, it certainly looks a lot like it. I watched the uncensored version because my friend who watches this show said it was the definitive way to watch it. I agree with that notion. Now I definitely know that it’s not for me.
There are all kinds of socially conscious reasons to think more carefully about sexual assault in media. There is also knowing how to present it in a dramatically effective way, without glorifying it or sexualizing the victim. I mentioned Psycho-Pass before, a show whose episode one rape showed very little while staying effective. Goblin Slayer was more direct and showed more provocative imagery that was unsettling, yet still knew when to cut away. From what I understand, there isn’t an uncensored cut.
But Redo of Healer presents its prolonged, unnecessarily involved rape scene in a way that shows that a lot of budget and effort went into making it titillating. I’m not saying that the creators condone rape. But it certainly can’t be denied that their goal was to make something that was attractive. And given the context, and the story, and the voice acting by Ayano Shibuya, I find that to be utterly disgraceful.
Still, allow me to offer a counterpoint to myself.
I was contemplating whether I wanted to broach the subject, but I may as well. There is an idea that because this show is blatantly a revenge hentai story, that it shouldn’t be treated much differently from those kinds of doujins. This admittedly does sound reminiscent of my defense of Interspecies Reviewers. I called it porn and I don’t think less of it for that.
However, I would like to remind you of the point I made earlier that there is a difference when discussing sexual content versus sexual assault…
However (again), there is a lot of pornography be it filmed, animated, written, or drawn, that portray taboo subject matter. And A LOT of people tend to excuse consumption of it because of a separation of reality and fiction. This is a loaded topic if ever there was one.
Personally, I think fiction can tell us a lot about reality. We can learn things and connect with people and ideas, so to completely disconnect the two seems irresponsible. Is there a way to respect that connection while still understanding the necessity for disconnection? Perhaps you could argue that the implied purpose of the media or one’s use of it is indicative of the necessity for separation of fiction and reality.
For instance, when someone labels something “porn”, do you think that person truly values that something for its narrative or artistic merit? Perhaps if they’re referring to an element of art as being “like porn,” they could. Terms like “gun porn” or “food porn” are perfect for this. But most times, it feels like people label something as porn because it’s not meant to be taken seriously or treated seriously. It’s meant to be indulgent.
Can something be indulgent and artful? I’d say, yes. The Monogatari series is infamously indulgent and I love it. But there are always going to be pieces of artwork or film that people will look at purely as indulgent, and they will get pleasure from it, dissociating it completely from reality. The ethics of what dissociations can be made and to what degree will vary and will be hotly contested for eons, likely long after I’m dead.
With all that said, is Redo of Healer passable as simply smut?
Assuming we were to give Redo of Healer a pass as porn (and I’m not saying we should) I think it takes itself too seriously. This is just me, but if I was the kind of person to have taboo fantasies of being taken advantage of, I feel like the presentation of this show would be a little too serious for me. More than anything, I think this show is treated by its defenders as far more meaningful than it is.
To my friend who showed me this show, who may very well read this: I’ve known you long enough to know you aren’t a horrible person. None of this is a backhanded way to call you out. My issue is with people who act like this show is really deep or brilliant. It’s not. If the rape were taken out of it, the entire thing would be a very boring fantasy. The fact that its only emotionally engaging element is a disturbing rape is the problem. It means the story has little going besides it.
Going back to my piece on Goblin Slayer, this is an example of a show that I would consider too edgy. It’s just as Laura Hudson of Wired said about rape as a formula for drama. If it weren’t for that, or the outrage that came after, no one would have watched. I’m not surprised it’s selling well either. That’s what happens when something is made this controversial. Controversy draws people’s attention.
What Am I Even Doing Here?
Redo of Healer came out just this past Winter 2021 season. It’s had some serious competition. I would consider Mushoku Tensei to be a far superior fantasy tale in its first episode alone, with far more palatable sexual content. Meanwhile, Wonder Egg Priority has tackled heavy subject matter in a loud and socially conscious way that puts focus on victims of trauma. Both of those shows are also aided by exceptional animation from Studio Bind and CloverWorks, respectively.
Final disclaimer of the night: a big reason I wrote this was to talk about Redo.
“But why? You didn’t even finish it?” You might say.
You’re right. I was so uninterested, unimpressed, and unhappy that I ditched it after barely two episodes. But in my defense, I never said this was a review. I never labeled it at all, to be frank, but I would call this a long-winded First Impressions of Redo of Healer and why I felt the need to talk about why I don’t like it.
Because I wanted to make the point that it’s possible to be indifferent towards Goblin Slayer, love Shield Hero, find amusement in Interspecies Reviewers, and STILL, call out Redo of Healer for being kinda gross. The only thing I hate the idea of more than being accused of hating all of those shows is the idea that any of the above-mentioned are similar to each other.
The next time that you want to divide the anime community into easy-to-label buckets to avoid thinking critically about a show, remember that I, a gay male feminist anime fan, thought that three of the four most controversial anime of the last four years were fine or great. I won’t judge anyone for enjoying them.
Most of the reason I wrote this wasn’t even because I felt it was imperative to talk about a show I didn’t like and didn’t finish. I wanted to write this because I knew that I was grossed out and offended, but I wasn’t completely sure why. I wanted to look inward and ask myself why I couldn’t handle this while being able to handle so many other shows. More than anything, I wanted to educate myself on the ethics of portraying sexual assault in media and share what I learned.
After long discussions with friends about this very post, I can’t say that Redo of Healer doesn’t have a right to exist or that the people who watch it are terrible. That would just breed needless ill will and it wouldn’t help anyone. Now that I think about it, even if this show is complete dog shit in my eyes, there is some value to it.
While there will never be one right way to tell a story, there will always be numerous wrong ways. If I’m gonna take this critic gig seriously, I have to know how to enunciate why things don’t work. Redo of Healer, more than any other grimdark fantasy, underdog redemption story, or indulgent raunchy comedy that I have watched, struck me as especially distasteful and gross.
And hopefully, what I’ve written has given you the idea as to why that is. So no, I did not finish Redo of Healer, nor do I plan to ever finish it. There is a saying that the ending to a story is paramount, but a beginning has the responsibility of bringing someone in and convincing them to stay. For me, the show failed at just that, and – more than that – caught my eye for all the wrong reasons.
Everyone has their limits. Maybe the value of Redo of Healer was showing me mine.
Glass half full I guess.
Doesn’t taste any less bitter though…
Goblin Slayer is available for legal streaming in Sub and Dub from FunimationNow and on Blu-Ray from Funimation.
The Rising of the Shield Hero is available for legal streaming in Sub and Dub through FunimationNow and Crunchryoll. It’s also available on Blu-Ray through Funimation.
Interspecies Reviewers is not available for legal streaming nor physical release at this time. However, Right Stuf Anime has licensed the show for a Blu-Ray release sometime in 2021.
Redo of Healer is not available for legal streaming nor physical release at this time.
Man, this is the second post in a row tackling sensitive subject matter. This was another post that I’ve been thinking about for a while and I suppose this just felt like the right time. Thank you for reading and, as always, see you next time!-