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.

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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.

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While the cartoon may not be well known, particularly to audiences outside of France, the people behind it are far from nobodies. Balak is one of the creators of Lastman, an acclaimed ‘French manga’, and he helped Marvel editor Joe Quesada set up Infinite Comics, a Marvel imprint for publishing stories specially designed for digital reading. Peepoodo, the titular protagonist, is voiced by Brigitte Lecordier, the French VA for Son Goku. On their twitter account, the creators describe themselves as “an animation studio in Paris full of depressive, beautiful, fucked up people making cartoons for depressive, beautiful, fucked up people”.

Every Super Fuck Friends story fits snugly in a few minutes of screen-time, and they tackle subjects ranging from understanding male and female bodies to appreciating the social issues that arise around sex. In one episode, a game of basketball turns from an exercise in letting go and enjoying yourself – even if you aren’t very good at something! – into a lesson on how to stimulate a vagina to orgasm, because the protagonist becomes accidentally trapped in one. Another sees the principal male characters transformed into penises after a woman they were ogling turns out to be a witch: they only break the spell once they accept how their treatment of women is toxic, though the episode also does a great job of quickly emphasizing that empowered women mustn’t reciprocate the culture that oppressed them.

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The sixth episode – ‘Barubaru-chan’ – is my favourite. The episode begins with Peepoodo ignoring his friends playing basketball because he’s engrossed in a bishoujo dating simulator. Tuffalo, the most excessively masculine character in the cast, immediately worries that he’s become a ‘fucking otaku no-life’, but an open-minded Kevin assures him that it’s okay as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone or spiral out of control. Of course, it does: Peepoodo quickly acquires a VR headset and a Fleshlight-like toy that syncs up with Barubaru-chan, allowing him to become a continuously-masturbating zombie until he’s orgasmically sucked into the game himself.

The solution to Peepoodo’s imprisonment doesn’t come from an outsider lamenting the woes of pornography. While the protagonist is technically Peepoodo, it’s Dr Pussycat who tends to save the day each episode. She’s a radically sex-positive medical professional: a body-positive embodiment of the idea that knowledge is power, and the main agent for educating the audience of Super Fuck Friends . To save Peepoodo, Dr Pussycat sends Tuffalo and Kevin into the game under her control, using them to beat up Barubaru-chan with the help of her experience playing at ‘SNK tournaments’. She downplays her expertise, but it’s clear that she’s a seasoned gamer, and her game of choice is a fanservice-heavy fighting game, not something as mainstream as Street Fighter or Tekken. As in every episode, she’s the example to follow: we can devote our lives to exploring and enjoying ‘otaku’ pleasures so long as we don’t endanger ourselves in the process. It’s even better if we use them to help each other out, instead of shutting ourselves away.

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Super Fuck Friends is amazingly nuanced for such a short cartoon: when Dr Pussycat exclaims that it’s unhealthy to fall in love with fictional characters, the ‘camera’ snaps back to emphasize the male characters who ogle at her, comically stressing that no cartoon can feature an attractive character without normalizing and validating attraction to them. It’s clarified quickly that the danger of Barubaru-chan isn’t that she’s an eternally desirable bishoujo. When Peepoodo proclaims that his love is ‘real’ and calls the others ‘jealous’ that they don’t have a girlfriend as perfect as her, Barubaru-chan’s love-meter skyrockets. She’s heard him proclaim his love out loud, outside the game, and fully understood him. She isn’t limited to the game-world she’s coded into, which becomes even clearer once she sucks Peepoodo into her domain. Rather than  outright condemn pornographic video games, Super Fuck Friends stresses that what really matters are boundaries. Because Barubaru-chan doesn’t actually have any, it’s too easy for Peepoodo to lose all of his too.

It’s important to note that Barubaru-chan is three-dimensional, modeled by Ciara Jackson (creator of the webcomic Gwendy & Ghost): Peepoodo sees her 3D-ness the same way many otaku see 2D as distinct from ‘reality’, but audiences have to be confronted with her being very ‘real’ as a 3D figure. Her name may even have been chosen because ‘baru’ (ばる) is a suffix that can be used to emphasize persistence for something, since she’s a parody of how media can take over an impressionable person’s life if they allow it to force itself beyond its boundaries. Peepoodo loses everything for Barubaru-chan: he shuts himself away from all his friends, names himself ‘Barubarufan68’ on Youtube, and doesn’t even use a toilet any more. While some otaku in Japan devote their lives to fictional characters because their experiences have disillusioned them towards the ‘real’ world, Peepoodo had no such stimulus. By completely rejecting his friends for a virtual woman, he hurt them while he was hurting himself.

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Super Fuck Friends likes to comically undercut the ‘moral’ of each episode, but at the end of ‘Barubaru-chan’ the message is clear: feel free to have fun with weird shit, but know when to say ‘enough’. Mainstream media outlets love to scaremonger when it comes to pornographic media, as if every viewer of it is passive to its power of addiction, but all we have to do is take control of what we indulge in: remember that we’re playing the game, and not let it play with us instead.

With Tumblr’s pornography ban setting an alarming precedent for the future of social media, it’s important to highlight artists who are going above and beyond to be frank about sex and sexuality, and especially perverts and the media they love. Super Fuck Friends isn’t only open-minded about otaku: Peepoodo is shown to be bisexual in ‘Peepoodoo is in love’, and in a later episode Kevin transitions into Evelyn (which sticks for the rest of the series). It says a lot that this quick-fire cartoon treats the subjects it covers so well, but we shouldn’t be surprised. Sex is a bawdy thing, and farcical media will often understand it best.

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You can officially stream Peepoodo & the Super Fuck Friends on Blackpills. The creators also uploaded an animatic for ‘Barubaru-chan’ on Youtube, if you want some behind-the-scenes insights!

Thank you once again to my Patrons – especially Dilbert, UEM!’s most recent supporter. We reached our first funding milestone recently, which has given the site a fresh new domain, and no more WordPress ads!

 

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 →

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.”

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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 →

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 →