‘Metamorphosis’ and the Meaning of Hentai

“In many ways, it was both a tragic and a preachy story, but I wanted ‘Metamorphosis’ to be about seeing the charm of a girl who is going through genuine misfortune” – ShindoL, ‘Afterword’ to Metamorphosis

People like to uphold a firm line between ‘art’ and ‘porn’; there is a difference, they will say, between ‘erotica’ and mere pornography. The former is sexually explicit in a way that conveys some kind of recognizable artistic merit; the latter has no such merit to speak of. But in the maelstrom of stories and drawings and bits of film that seem to serve little other purpose than titillation, like needles in haystacks, we often come across works marked ‘porn’ that strike us as something else by the end.

Pornography occupies a space in media that rebels against the idea that a story needs narrative themes and fleshed-out characters. In traditional narratives, every element combines to serve the audience’s immersion into what will happen next, and the possible greater meanings of what’s happening now. In porn, we know what will happen next – characters will fuck, or be fucked, to engage in some other activity to stimulate the voyeur and make them satisfied with their fantasy. Everything is supposed to serve this end – any narrative matter is just foreplay, or something to encourage the viewer to seek out this kind of fictional fulfillment again. These are the rules, the patterns we trust when we come to enjoy some ‘me time’ with this material.

ShindoL’s Metamorphosis doesn’t play by the rules. Continue reading →

Is Your Anime Illegal? The Trouble With the Miller Test

Amidst memes of the FBI raiding your house for watching a cartoon, there’s a general anxiety about the place of lolicon media in the West. In some states of America, being in possession of ‘obscene’ doujnishi can land you with a prison sentence, as Iowa resident Christopher Handley discovered after he was put on trial for ordering ‘drawings of children being sexually abused’. Neil Gaiman spoke out against Handley’s imprisonment in his onine journal:

You ask, What makes it worth defending? and the only answer I can give is this: Freedom to write, freedom to read, freedom to own material that you believe is worth defending means you’re going to have to stand up for stuff you don’t believe is worth defending, even stuff you find actively distasteful, because laws are big blunt instruments that do not differentiate between what you like and what you don’t, because prosecutors are humans and bear grudges and fight for re-election, because one person’s obscenity is another person’s art.

Because if you don’t stand up for the stuff you don’t like, when they come for the stuff you do like, you’ve already lost.

Continue reading →

Peepoodo & The Super Fuck Friends: How To Talk About Perverts

“An educative series for children over 18 years old, Super Fuck Friends explores sexuality without taboos and in all its forms, including dicks and nipples. A positive sexuality, that is unrestrained and totally ignores prejudices… culminating into one single message: tolerance.” – Bobbypills

There was a time when suggesting Boku no Pico to someone looking for anime recommendations was considered comedy. Nowadays it’s hard to make anyone on the internet surprised by the depths of depravity that media can go to. The idea that Japan produces, shall we say, ‘questionable’ content is more or less common knowledge: streaming services like Crunchyroll have helped this further by listing popular (mostly-)safe-for-work anime alongside bizarre farces like Eromanga-sensei. But as much as the average person knows more about the existence of taboo pornography, when it comes to talking openly about it there’s been a lot less progress.

Some shows have tried to tackle the silence around sexual taboos: Shimoneta’s liberal stance on pornography, and its criticisms of what censorship can do to the knowledge of sex, made its comedy strong. But when people see the perversions of otaku – particularly those who choose to devote their lives to virtual characters, because they’ve lost hope in reality – there are far more judgements flung around than attempts to understand matters from the perspective of the ‘pervert’. That’s why the sixth episode of Peepoodo & the Super Fuck Friends, a French parody cartoon directed by comics artist and animator Yves ‘Balak’ Bigerel, is a breath of fresh air. Continue reading →

No, Anime News Network, Rising of the Shield Hero’s Premise Isn’t Misogynistic

After casually running an advert for a dangerous far-right Japanese cult, Anime News Network has returned to the realm of controversy with their preview guide for Rising of the Shield Hero, an adaptation of Yusagi Aneko’s isekai light novel. The story follows ‘somewhat otaku’ Naofumi as he’s thrust into a video game-like world that’s on the brink of annihilation, unless he and three other heroes become strong enough to fend off the apocalyptic perils that have been prophesied. Naofumi thinks he’s a hot shot, but his reputation soon crumbles to ruin as he finds himself the recipient of a false accusation of sexual assault. Continue reading →

Censorship: Won’t Somebody Please Think of the Pixels?

Life is much easier for artists who don’t even think of venturing into obscenity.  As popular as pornography is to the masses, so too is the public sentiment of moral outrage. Opinion columns, comment threads and social media echo chambers will never cease to be free of reams of outbursts against the latest film that went too far, or how a certain video game has sexual content that isn’t completely consensual between the characters. What is permissible in fantasy seems too often down to what people will be willing to shout about, rather than the taboos in question being examined with care.

The forces of censorship acting on different forms of media – books, film, television, anime, video games, online spaces – are not disparate: they are connected by common threads of government pressure and moral panic expressed by the public.  Those who choose to perform thorough research on the value of prohibiting the sale of ‘obscene’ films, images and video games are more often deemed suspect rather than significant. But while lines of acceptance can be easy to draw for one’s self, drawing them for a community requires an appreciation of everything that’s at stake. Continue reading →

Mind Games: How Psychonauts Crafts its Characters

It can be hard to find video game characters that speak to the player as specifically video game characters. Many collections of polygons given lines of dialogue are simply an attempt to capture a cinematic figure. Games, as a medium, are about interaction. Dialogue trees and skippable side-quests can give the player the feeling that they are actively choosing to develop one character over another, but it’s rare for the entire gameplay experience to function as a method of constant characterization. We shoot the bad guys, we collect the secret items, and we wait until the next cutscene or dialogue snippet to get more of the story, and more ‘flesh’ for our cast.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

Continue reading →

Rotten Chivalry: The Role of Women in Goblin Slayer

(note: this article is from an anime-only perspective, and is primarily aimed at anime-only viewers)

Medieval fantasies often have trouble with the agency they give to women in their worlds, from societies over-populated with passive princesses to ‘strong female characters’ that have little complexity beyond being, well, strong and female. These stories are always under the shadow of period of history that saw the height of a patriarchal social structure and the treatment of the ‘fairer sex’ as little more than property. Modern writers should feel encouraged to subvert tropes and cliches in order to find new room for characters other than knightly men to flourish. Yet, one show this season has stumbled when it comes to handling a large part of its cast. Continue reading →

Yuru Camp: Out of the Clubroom, Into the Campfire

Many shows have their blissful moments, but some anime dedicate themselves entirely to bringing the viewer to a state of peace. Iyashikei, or ‘healing’ anime, build themselves upon a foundation of wanting the viewer to feel stress-free, and better in touch with themselves and the world around them. It was no surprise that Yuru Camp, one such show about a group of young girls finding fulfillment by camping in the great outdoors, proved to be hugely popular when it aired. But Yuru Camp goes beyond mere bliss in what it can inspire in its audience, and in how it encourages us to break down the limits we can set around finding peace in our own lives.

Continue reading →

What Manga Tokyo’s ‘Redefining Otaku’ Article Gets Wrong

A few weeks ago, anime fansite Manga Tokyo launched a new column with its first article, Redefining ‘Otaku’ in the Modern Era. Within it, columnist Tim Rattray (who also writes for Crunchyroll, and his personal blog) takes aim at the stereotype of otaku as extremely anti-social, which he claims is still prevalent in how ‘otaku’ are discussed. He believes that the English-speaking sphere of the anime community needs to take responsibility in ‘redefining’ the word that has been loaned to us, and that we likewise need to set an example for the future of ‘otaku’ worldwide: “Let’s show the world why being otaku is great”.

Tim’s more recent article for this column asserts simply, and correctly, that when it comes to talking about otaku from as an ‘outsider’, “the fine line comes down to but one thing: respect” – but I don’t think Tim’s discussion of “Redefining ‘Otaku'” is respectful at all. Continue reading →

Lolicon: Where Do We Draw The Line Around Drawings?

Recently, popular Twitter user Bardock Obama has made it his mission to ‘bury’ Digibro over his tweets regarding Patreon’s new rules about what artists funded on their site are allowed to draw:

I hear has instituted new rules banning illustrated incest, bestiality, and loli porn. Um… why? What does Patreon stand to gain by shunning artists based on the fetishes they draw? If they think this is a moral line in the sand, I’ve lost a ton of respect for them. (https://twitter.com/Digibrah/status/978050277713555457)

When some people began to insinuate that he was personally insecure about losing the ability to support these kinds of pornography, Digibro went on to explain that he had been a fan of lolis – a ‘lolicon’ – for a long time:

Where do I get these new motherfuckers from? Do you even know who I am? I’m pretty sure I’ve been loudly proclaiming my love for lolis for like 15 years where the fuck have you people been? If you think I’m going to be embarrassed by being called out you know dick about me. (https://twitter.com/Digibrah/status/978345008481886209)

In response, Bardock tweeted out that people shouldn’t let ‘children and now pets near this dude’. This progressed to him getting in contact with Crunchyroll, Funimation, VIZMedia, Toei Animation and Anime Expo in order to have Digibro boycotted or blacklisted by these platforms – apparently, one has already accepted this request (UPDATE: this tweet has now been deleted, suggesting it was false information). He wants this to be the ‘end’ of Digibro’s career. The harassment Digibro then received from Bardock’s followers led to him feeling the need to go private. Continue reading →

Earth-chan, VRChat and Becoming the Bishoujo: More Reflections on Moe

More than a year ago I wrote a long piece on moe, an otaku’s response to cuteness which has been frequently discussed but rarely defined. While that article served as a place to unpack many of my thoughts, it was also a reactionary piece to an article from The Mary Sue, and became mired as a result in a kind of ‘anti-feminist’ discourse that got me a few too many rabid ‘these women want to kill all men grrr’ followers as a result. A lot of them have since lost interest in this blog given that I’m not actually interested in their ‘feminism is cancer’ perspective.

Granted, I was bitter towards how such an interesting affective response was being portrayed by The Mary Sue, and how Galbraith’s work had been glossed over as ‘misogynistic’. I was especially jaded by how the female voices in his studies – which while being fewer had brought some brilliant observations to the table – had been sidelined rather than drawn out. There’s still a pervasive myth that otaku spaces are a men’s world, and that moe is a man’s code for a misogynistic, infantilizing view of women, which ignores how moe is used by fujoshi and the strict division of most otaku between the virtual and the real. But one quote from Galbraith’s The Moe Manifesto, from voice actress Momoi Halko, has stuck with me throughout my musings on what moe means to many different people:

“More than a desire to date a cute girl or anime character, it is a desire to become her.”

Continue reading →

Perfecting Anime: What Makes the Difference?

I’ve never seen someone talk about a ‘perfect’ piece of art except as an exaggeration. Even when we’re totally ‘satisfied’ by what we’ve watched, we’ve already accepted that after a certain number of rewatches we’ll come to find something in what we’ve seen that sticks out as a fault. Still, as much as true ‘perfection’ in art is an illusion, it’s something every creative person thrives for: the exact execution of what they have in mind.

But with a process as multifaceted as anime production, how can all these individual visions flourish in the way they want to? Continue reading →

How Eromanga-sensei Made its Mark: Masochism and the Modern Otaku

There are few things the Western anime fandom can agree on, altogether. It’s hard to argue that Neon Genesis Evangelion wasn’t an monument of the medium, or that Berserk 2016 looked okay. But even when we unite on one opinion, we can still end up deeply divided.

This year, Eromanga-sensei was labeled ‘trash’ by both fans and haters, and rightly so. It goes beyond the idea of simply ‘trashy’ media (trash-like, sharing-qualities-with-the-idea-of-trash) and blatantly basks in its identity as a piece of garbage. For its devotees, it was one of the highest quality pieces of animated defecation the ‘idiot otaku gets surrounded by hot chicks of questionable ages and also his sort of his sister and fucks none of them’ genre has delivered. But among its critics, there have been some remarkably unfair judgements. In framing the show as one of his most hated of the year, Super Eyepatch Wolf did more than express his dislike of it: he didn’t believe that anyone could have been passionate about it. Continue reading →

Confusing Desire: The Trouble with ‘Traps’

Last week, Youtuber and PC gaming personality TotalBiscuit sparked controversy when he took to Twitter to call for the removal of an attendant of CoxCon, a privately-run convention for fans of Jesse Cox. The man’s offense? During a panel fielding questions from the floor, he asked “are traps gay?”.

Opinions are split on how ‘insensitive’ it was to throw this internet meme into a public space where many identifying as trans would be in attendance. Two extremes were erected; either the question was harmless, and trans people just need to learn about the context of ‘traps’ online, or it was incredibly offensive, and those who disagree just need to learn about the contexts of trans history that render it that way. I can find sympathy with both positions. While the idea of a ‘trap’ in anime fandoms is indeed not supposed to refer to trans people, those who defend the meme have a habit of refusing any discussion of trans issues that explain why ‘offense’ was taken Continue reading →

Defining ‘Anime’: A Linguistic Look

Thanks to Netflix’s Castelvania and the Internet’s unrelenting desire to argue about everything, the ‘but is it anime’ controversy has been reignited in full force. A few months ago, Mother’s Basement attempted to cash in on the debate by proclaiming that “Avatar is an anime. F*** you. Fight me”. Now that one of his sponsors has begun to co-produce anime – a project for which the music video of Porter Robinson’s Shelter may have been a test-pilot – it’s important that we continue to think about how the West has defined anime, and how that definition is becoming problematic. Has it ever been productive to think of ‘anime’ as only what the Japanese make?

In all senses of form, style and subject matter, Castlevania has screamed ‘anime’ to everyone. It’s only the production credits that hold some stubborn voices back from accepting it into the ‘anime’ sphere. If this is anime, they ask, then how do we draw the line between it and cartoons?

We need to revisit ‘anime’, as a loanword, in the wider context of how definitions develop. Continue reading →

Girls and Gears: The Problems with Male Mechaphilia

 

“This is a male thing […] With man stuff, the bigger the better. That’s been understood since the dawn of time. You’ve no business messing with our tradition.”

Squad Leader Charles Brenten, Dominion Tank Police

Being a man in a fanbase affords you some privileges. You’re the gender often assumed for random people online. You’re much less likely to be sexually harassment by other random people online. When you’re into something technical or technological, many would see it as natural; that there’s something ‘manly’ about science and such. From hobbies to career paths, a lot of people still look down on women taking ‘boys toys’ into their hands.  Continue reading →

The Pleasures of (Re-)Reading: Spoiling Stories for Better *And* Worse

A few days ago, Super Eyepatch Wolf released a video asking, “Do Spoilers Ruin Stories?”. It does a good job capturing the situation internet culture has led itself into: the seemingly closed case of spoilers ‘ruining’ what we watch, contrasted against the ease with which they flourish on social media. The older the tale, the less of a damn we give.

While many strive to keep themselves unspoiled when it comes to new shows airing each season, we’re comfortable with ‘spoiling’ what we regard as some of the greatest stories ever written. My own handle, ‘JekoJeko’, is derived from the ‘Jekyll Jekyll Hyde’ song of an episode of Arthur, which condensed the plot of Stevenson’s novel into a three minute parody piece. When I eventually came to read The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, I recalled the song before I began, and realized I had lost something valuable. Continue reading →

Omote, Ura and On: ERASED, Hanasaku Iroha and the Mother-Daughter Conflict

Families in fiction can feel like something universal. Loving your parents, and caring for your children, can strike us as things essential to our humanity; faulting them, likewise, can be monstrous.

But when we look across cultures, there is no single idea of ‘family’ that unites the world; household relationships are as much a product of our culture and society as the stories we tell about such structures. The families we see in anime are often readily understandable as though they were from the West, but there are details that become exposed when we tackle these stories with sensitivity to the way Japan thinks about its own families and social codes. Continue reading →

Dragon Maid and the Dissociative Imagination

The Western anime fandom can be rather reductive in how they consider ‘otaku’. Whenever they’re a point of discussion, the ‘otaku’ is usually figured by the community as male, casually perverted and distinctly out-of-touch with the world around them. Most of all, they’re billed as a pretty elitist group. As accurate as this may be in some cases, it’s overall inconsiderate in the picture it paints, as much as anime frequently reinforces that image. This season has seen something fresh come to our screens and streams, however: Kobayashi san Chi no Maid Dragon has been a bizarre and sometimes overwhelmingly adorable indulgence in the kind of ideal isekai otaku disconnect themselves into living within.

‘Cute girls doing cute things’ shows are known for their presentation of virtual, idealistic, accessible and fundamentally comforting worlds. Yet, Dragon Maid presents deviations from even the norms of this ‘genre’, depicting a mature Japanese salarywomen alongside a cast of widely varying age. Between Kanna’s elementary school and Kobayashi’s workplace, the high school which moe centers its sense of nostalgic escapism upon is missing. Episode titles are undercut by their subtitles, and over-exposure in the explicitly signified ‘fanservice’ episode is shunned rather than lauded. On the surface, these aspects of Dragon Maid promote a closer look at what kind of ‘world’ the show is drawing upon and modelling for its viewers. It’s not keeping in step with the trend of otaku-centered stories (thank God, there’s no light-novel MC), and it looks at itself with a sideways glance too. A closer comparison of what Dragon Maid presents against a wider idea of how otaku view and consume their media should therefore be productive. Continue reading →

Misunderstanding the Mukokuseki: Why Fanservice Is Not On the Fringe

“What is perhaps most striking about anime, compared to other imported media that have been modified for the American market, is the lack of compromise in making these narratives palatable.”

– Susan Pointon

“…what appears to be be the single most asked question about anime in America, “why is anime so full of sex and violence?” is an inquiry that, while betraying an ignorance of the complexity and variety of the art form, is still significant in that it reveals the bewilderment of Western audiences in confronting so-called adult themes within the animated medium.”

– Susan J Napier

I’m sure my country’s recent ban of various sex acts in pornography wasn’t on many people’s Christmas list. Not because of any particular fetishization of any of the practices listed; it’s alarming due to the sense of a growing trend journalistic fans of anime should be all to familiar with. The practically Victorian belief that our media must be purged of any images we (that is, the social elite that stand to represent and essentialize us) find morally unsavory, and the result being dominated by a limitation of the expressions of women in media, to serve as a condemnation of the ‘patriarchy’, the ‘male gaze’, and so on. Continue reading →