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.
Before the show had begun to air, ANN’s Editorial Director Zac Bertschy exclaimed on Twitter that the premise of a false rape claim should be ‘toned down’, and that it signified that the story was for ‘viscous, regressive misogynists’. He misrepresented the story as being about ‘getting revenge’ on Myne, the woman who accuses Naofumi, and went on to condemn Crunchyroll for their involvement in such a problematic show.
Bertschy’s rants were warning shots: ANN’s Nick Creamer (or ‘Bobduh’) who also blogs at Wrong Every Time, livetweeted some of his disdainful thoughts on the double-length first episode. Towards the end of his experience, he exclaimed that “whole plot is based on a false rape accusation that everyone immediately believes, something that virtually never happens in real life, and which is only an epidemic in the minds of paranoid misogynists”. In his ANN review of the episode, Creamer asserts that it’s ‘tone deaf’ to establish a story upon a false rape accusation, because ‘vastly’ more rapes are going unreported and the oppression of female victims makes it incredibly hard for them to speak up about their experiences. Theron Martin agrees with his own vague words: “given what’s been going on in the world lately, the timing of this premise probably couldn’t have been worse”.
ANN readers are supposed to simply accept that basing a story on a false rape claim is taboo, and that anyone who sympathizes with the protagonist victimized by the accusation is a misogynist who believes that the accuser is a stand-in for all women. Clearly, the only progressive thing to do is condemn the show for daring to suggest a woman could abuse a justice system that gives the accused no due process.
If we want to discuss how ‘problematic’ it is to build a story upon a premise like this, our first recourse should be in the facts.
While it is difficult to gain an exact figure for the number of rape reports in any country that have been ‘fake’, in his Encyclopedia of Violence, Margaret DiCanio explains that estimates are generally placed at the 2-10% range, and we see this supported by numerous studies over the last couple of decades. This is not a trivial figure. This is not ‘virtually never’. If Creamer believes victims of false rape accusation to be a ‘statistical aberration’, what must he think of the victims of more specific kinds of hate crime? The FBI’s 2018 annual report shows that hate crimes towards trans and gender-nonconforming people only occupied 1% of the 1249 bias incidents reported. Are we supposed to treat those crimes as less important because they’re a minority in comparison to crimes targeted at other groups? Would a story based around transphobic violence be considered ‘tone deaf’ because it diverts attention away from hate crimes against gay men, which occupied nearly 60% of 2018’s bias incidents?
Perspective matters: we should be supporting those affected by hate crimes no matter how much of a majority or minority they are. The same should go for those involved in accusations of rape. Rapists should never go unpunished. False claimants should never go unpunished.
Unfortunately, false claimants can sometimes do a lot worse than simply escape without consequence.
If ‘context’ is so important to Creamer, shouldn’t he be aware that Japan’s conviction rate is over 99%? Granted, this figure is greatly affected by around 95% of sexual assault cases going unreported, but this does not undermine the fact that an accusation constructed with enough evidence can turn a man’s life upside down. The acclaimed Japanese film ‘Sore de mo boku wa yattenai’ (I Just Didn’t Do It) takes a real-life example of this: the protagonist is falsely charged for groping on a train, and he is detained and eventually convicted of the crime. At the end of the film he appeals: in real life, the ‘hero’ only won his freedom after a five year legal battle. In the last few years there’s been a boom in interest in insurance against false claims of groping on public transport, so the film’s example is hardly an isolated case. With rape much more under-reported in Japan than the West, it is certainly a blessing for victims to have a system that almost always guarantees punishment for offenders that they manage to get prosecuted. But believing this system isn’t at all open to abuse isn’t progressive – it’s blind naivety.
In the context of Japanese society, Shield Hero’s premise is understandable: how could it not be a concern for men that their lives could be ruined by a woman abusing the justice system, or dragging their name down in public? Foregrounding this in a story doesn’t signify an author’s hatred of women, or a belief that they generally have a desire to lie and have the police ruin men’s lives. The hatred is directed towards the system itself, of which women who falsely accuse are as important as the corrupt court of law. The summoning of the heroes is entirely non-consensual, and the corruption of Shield Hero’s world is emphasized frequently throughout the episode: if Merlomarc is a matriarchy, why is the queen’s seat in the throne room empty?
This correlates to the thoughts of Yusagi on what it’s like living in the 21st century:
It is preferable to have morals, but we’ve made a world were the strictly ethical can no longer survive. There are a lot of people out there that simply don’t respond to ethics–in the face of people like that, what option is left besides emotionally insisting on your place and your views?
Yusagi’s premise isn’t about men going up against women: it’s about those with good ethics going up against an unfair system, and being unable to look ethical in the process. Our protagonist is forced to play the ‘loser’ class, and he contradicts what the legend says about him, so everyone looks down at him from the get-go. The accuser is the first girl he meets, the girl who’s typically ‘The One’ in isekai stories. He makes the right decision by not drinking with her – many other pervy isekai heroes would have jumped at the opportunity – but his reputation is destroyed rather than strengthened. In the audience’s eyes he knew his boundaries and didn’t get carried away, but Merlomarc must see him as filth.
Naofumi is also quick to blame Motoyasu as well as Myne, so the notion of this plot point being about women specifically and an ‘epidemic’ of false accusers is absolutely bunk: “these people are all dirty, disgusting filth”, Naofumi says. He hates the world, not simply the girl who accused him, and his ‘punishment’ is that the world will hate him: that’s the paradigm that the rape accusation establishes. So when the trader tries to mess with him, he messes with the trader back. As Yusagi says in the above interview, in the face of enemies who don’t respect ethics, “we often have no choice but to launch a counterattack”.
In addition to disregarding the context of Japanese culture for Shield Hero, Creamer seems to have no interest in the story being told in front of him. He ignores clear and reasonable explanations in favour of one that will allow him to dunk on the awful ‘misogynists’ he’s run into online, and the author who apparently ranks among them.
It’s not like we’re flooded with anime predicated on false accusations of rape: isekai stories vary greatly in how their worlds are developed and how their heroes navigate them. Shield Hero’s starting point is a rarity, which explains why Creamer cannot correlate it to any other works of its genre – he only makes a comparison to ‘several paranoid conspiratorial memes about feminists I’ve seen online’ in his review. He gives precedence to what misogynistic trolls say about women online (only in the English-speaking sphere, of course) over the culture of the actual country of origin for the media’ he’s discussing, and that says a lot about how much he cares about ‘context’. His polemic also reeks of the same rejection of support for male victims that saw Earl Silverman’s shelter for male abused victims forced to shut down, leading to Silverman’s suicide.
In the West, mainstream media outlets have often preferred to emphasize the rarity of false rape accusations, rather than offer closer insights into the effect that these rare occurrences have had on their victims. In 2015, a seventeen year old boy committed suicide after being falsely accused of rape: his mother also killed herself a year after his death, because she couldn’t imagine a future without him. Many publications refused to acknowledge that the claim had been false: a note beneath The Telegraph’s article explains that “an earlier version of this report wrongly described the rape allegation made against Jay Cheshire as ‘false’. In fact it was simply withdrawn. We apologise for the error”. The BBC and The Guardian have a troubling history of ignoring cases of suicide after false rape accusations outright. These people must feel like even more of a ‘statistical aberration’ when media outlets refuse to give them full and fair coverage.
We should always keep everything in perspective: none of these issues are as pertinent as the under-reporting of rape and the oppression of victims into silence. But a terrible precedent is set when we turn a blind eye to those who are harmed by the system being abused. Building a story upon a false rape accusation isn’t ‘tone deaf’ and shouldn’t even be seen as controversial: such accusations may happen rarely, but the stories of those affected are still worth telling. Rape victims need more support than victims of false accusation, but that doesn’t mean the latter group can be ignored entirely.
Will Shield Hero build upon its premise in a productive way? Having not read any of the source material, I have no idea. If it handles the subject poorly, let’s criticize it for that, and not for the premise itself, unless we want to encourage a harmful taboo that further damages the ability for male victims to speak out. With a new year of anime only just beginning, let’s save the screeches of ‘controversy’ for something actually problematic.
The article has been edited to provide additional information/clarity/citations/etc.
A huge thank-you to Alice McKenzie for becoming a $10 Patron!
2019 is underway, and as support for UEM! grows, I can keep growing the site and its content. If you like this article, please consider helping me take my work further. Thank you!