More Smut

The title of this post has a slight double meaning. The first and obvious meaning is that I intend to discuss this topic even more. The second meaning is that the discussion topic will this time cover shows with either more erotic content, or else with more, well, sexual fanservice. This post is mainly a response post to comments I have received from readers on reddit.com/r/japaneseanimation.

Now, I had a few directions that I could have went with this post, so let me begin by clarifying what I am omitting and why. The first topic I will omit is asymmetry. The ways in which male and female anime characters are sexualized differently is a thought-provoking topic, but I lack the expertise to engage it meaningfully. Besides that, it’s just plain hard to see both sides of the issue as a person who’s only ever been a cisgendered male. The second topic I will omit is hentai. The reason is that I haven’t actually ever watched it. However, I’ve done image searches in the past which I found rather unsatisfying, so I’ll discuss a bit about why exactly I haven’t looked any further into it.

So, without further ado, these are the topics I will cover: discussing effectiveness instead of appropriateness, the Madonna-Whore complex and how good ecchi can subvert it, sexual beings as opposed to sexual targets, how the latter can masquerade as the former, and what we can learn from full-blown ecchi. There’s no pictures in this post, and it’s once again ended up being pretty long.

Effectiveness vs. appropriateness

Redditor (and guest-blogger) ranma observed that “Usually … you don’t see people discussing the ‘appropriateness’ (as opposed to the effectiveness) of a color palette or style of motion in-betweening.” This struck me as interesting on a philosophical level; what is the meaning of ‘appropriateness’ and ‘effectiveness’, and why do we choose to frame discussions of sexuality in the former when we choose to frame discussions of all other elements in the latter?

I think that in general, both non-appropriate and non-effective things are disliked. However, a non-effective thing is merely deficient, whereas a non-appropriate thing is fundamentally wrong. So when a scene is considered inappropriate, the judgment delivered by the viewer is that this scene doesn’t belong at all, and that it should be cut out. When a scene is considered non-efficient, it means the execution of the scene was poor.

So, here is my issue: calling fanservice inappropriate is basically a judgment against sexuality in anime. This strikes me instantly as rather unhealthy, a reaction on the same level as the reaction to Janet Jackson’s infamous wardrobe malfunction during the Superbowl halftime show. This doesn’t mean it can’t be inappropriate in certain scenes, it just means that it can’t be inappropriate overall. Saying “this series was ruined by fanservice” is immediately associating a negative value to fanservice.

So, thinking about it this way makes me feel that some of my discussion in the previous post was misguided. I frequently asked about a certain scene what the point of the fanservice was, and whether or not it was necessary. Sometimes the answer to the latter was “no”. However, the latter question is exactly the same as the question of whether or not such a scene is appropriate; it asks whether or not the scene should exist. I vaguely defended such scenes where the answer was “no” by criticising the complaints directed towards such scenes. However, what I didn’t do was outright challenge the validity of the question.

So, if the question is a question that implicitly presupposes the wrongness of sexuality, but we still wish to question a scene that contains fanservice, we need a new way to frame it that focuses on ‘effectiveness’. Let’s look at an example here:

We have a scene that is intended to express the sexuality of a character. The scene is here to show that the female character has sexual feelings, conscious or not, towards our protagonist. Our protagonist at the moment has at not reciprocated this interest. In this scene the camera zooms in on her butt, showing us how well-formed it is and how accidentally revealing her clothing is. Is this effective? No. This is camera-work to show us that she has a nice body, thus reducing her from a sexual being to a sexual target in this scene. From such a scene, we get no indication of how she feels. This scene would be a classic example of mistaking sexiness for sexuality.

Now, since we’re talking about effectiveness, that means there must be a way to improve this scene. Here’s my suggestion: the scene would be improved if it made her clothes intentionally revealing instead of accidentally revealing. Thus we know that she is trying to be sexy, and the scene zooming in on her butt would be letting us know that her attempt was successful. We still have not achieved full effectiveness, because we don’t know why she’s trying to look sexy. So, before this scene, we put in a scene showing her somehow trying to get his attention.

Now, the wonderful thing about my suggested improved scene is this: it actually lets us increase the fanservice. See, since her clothes are intentionally revealing instead of accidentally revealing, that means we can make the clothes more revealing than before. This means that the scene is both more titillating to female-attracted viewers, and that it delivers the intended message much more clearly.

The Madonna-whore complex in anime

In psychoanalytic terms, the Madonna-whore complex is one where the man can only see women as saintly Madonnas or debased prostitutes. This complex was brought up by redditor shinkouhyou regarding moe and fanservice, and how they perhaps can fit in with each other to some degree. More to the point, the problem is with how for most female characters in certain anime, they are portrayed as either innocent moe virgins or else as sexually available. Now, in the defense of said anime, these sexually available women are often portrayed in a friendly light, being allowed a degree of promiscuity without shaming them for it.

An example that isn’t really fanservice-heavy but should still illustrate the point is the anime “Working”. In this series, there is only one character that seems to have relationships with guys, and she has enough of those to make up for the rest of the cast. Another example is in Sailor Moon, where all the protagonists are all dressed acceptably and the antagonists are provocatively dressed. Same thing in Saber Marionette, where the villains openly dress in revealing clothes and are even called “Sexadolls” in Saber Marionette R.

To be honest, it’s actually hard to speak of the Madonna-whore complex in anime, because we are usually not presented with very promiscuous females. I think the whole trope can not be revealed any more nowadays, except to invoke nostalgia. It’s too blatant to pass muster. Instead, we just get the “Madonna” part. Moe girls are almost always virgins. Most virtuous female protagonists are also assumed to be virgins. It is rare to have openly sexual characters in anime, though more mature shows often imply that a character with a boyfriend isn’t in a strictly platonic relationship. For example, in B Gata H Kei, the protagonists are virgins, but the female protagonist’s best friend has a boyfriend and is often asked inappropriate questions by the female protagonist about sexual matters. It’s a cute anime, I recommend it.

Anyways, the point is that unlike my description of the Kannagi incident, I don’t think the average otaku is a horrible misogynist who considers all women who have sex to be sluts. This might be the case in parts of the moe fandom, but I don’t think that covers a significant part of anime. Anime sexualizes good characters all the time even if it doesn’t openly state that they have had sex. Could anime be more proactive and subvert the Madonna-whore complex? Certainly! But, I have no requirements on a show to be activist. I enjoy such a thing, but don’t expect it.

Interestingly, the place where the Madonna-whore complex is most openly subverted is in ecchi shows. This makes a lot of sense actually. Sexual situations that are sufficiently arousing need a cause, and a good agent for this is a sexually aggressive female. So, we end up with lots of shows where the girls throw themselves at the guy, and they are portrayed in a positive manner. For example, an anime that can truly be called “smut”, Kiss X Sis, involves two sisters who try to seduce their stepbrother. There are tons of extreme fanservice scenes that are impressive in the fact that they were actually aired, yet even so, lots of the plot involve the sisters trying to help him out and generally doing good things for him. They are given personalities to some degree, and basically could never be degraded to “filthy whores”.

Beings and targets and psuedo-beings who are really just targets

This is going back to my discussion in the previous post on sex objects. I am switching terminology here, and from now on speaking of sex targets. I think by doing this, we can both broaden the scope while rendering it more precise. To understand how it broadens the scope, consider the fetishization of personality traits. This could not be considered objectification, but it clearly can be damaging in the same way. The one who is fetishized, regardless of what exactly is being fetished about them, is a sexual target. As for how it is a more precise term, consider the case of a woman who objectifies herself. She doesn’t consider herself attractive unless she loses 5 more pounds, her breasts are too small so she’s going in for surgery, that mole on her cheek is an imperfection and should be removed. This is interesting, because she is the one tying her worth to her sexual attributes, not a male. But, interesting as this may be, it does not make her a sexual target. Since we are specifically talking about fanservice, the idea of a sexual target is more relevant idea.

So, the reason I want to discuss this is to differentiate two different types of fanservice. We can go back to my hypothetical scene here. The first version zoomed in on her butt for no apparent reason, making her a sexual target of the viewer and little else. The improved version shows the character desiring to be sexy, and then indulges her wishes (though obviously mainly for the viewer’s benefit). This makes her a sexual being instead of just a sexual target.

Is it wrong to make a sexual target and not a being? I’d say this might be the case in the real world, but anime can make it more hazy. For example, a poorly developed character might not seem like a being to begin with. And, of course, the targetification can simply be an expression of our protagonist’s urges, which is acceptable. That said, targetification is much more prevalent than it ought to be in anime, and this is concerning. This goes hand in hand with the whole innocence fetish. She wasn’t trying to be sexy, she just accidentally happened to be! The message is: don’t be sexual, but be sexy.

Once again, and this may be repeating my last post, but I want to drive the point home here, western works don’t get a free pass just because they make themselves sexuality explicit. I’ve heard it claimed that stuff like Girls Gone Wild empowers women because it enables them to be sexual in public. Such nonsense is simply disguising the sexual target as a sexual being. Do these girls have hopes and fears? Do they show any emotions besides horniness? Whatever they really are, to the viewer they are just targets of our gaze, one after another, to be forgotten as soon as they’re off-screen. Efforts to portray male-pandering beingless media as feminist are really as silly as “mew mew, I’m a sex kitten, all I want is sex, you’ve freed me from those puritanical jerks!”

The most perverted stuff you can find on television

I’ve already discussed how series like Kiss X Sis subvert the Madonna-whore complex. However, there are plenty of extremely ecchi anime that somehow manage to only sexualize pure hearted maidens. For example, Strike Witches is a series where actual sex is never hinted at, yet no female characters wear pants. The camera leers around like a horny teenager, making sure to inspect everyone’s panties and record every erotic moment. Despite this, the series develops characters quite well, giving a familiar trope of the military genre of maturing through combat, though the protagonist being female gives it a slightly different twist. In the end, it felt like a good and proper execution of a cliché, but just with this heavy sexual element constantly present.

What can I say about series like this? The fanservice serves no purpose to character or plot, it takes up a good portion of the time, and treats the characters as sexual targets (despite not dehumanizing them). If you aren’t the type to be aroused by this fanservice, then at best you can only find the anime to succeed despite the fanservice, since the fanservice works against the other elements. On the other hand, if you are the type to find such fanservice arousing then it might very well improve the viewing experience.

Part I: Smut.

Advertisements
This entry was posted in Long Posts. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to More Smut

  1. Pingback: Smut | The Dragorol

  2. Manta Ray says:

    Great post, and I think your effort to tackle a more concise range of topics paid off here. As usual, your writing is entertaining and thought-provoking.

    I have only one small quibble:

    “…consider the case of a woman who objectifies herself. She doesn’t consider herself attractive unless she loses 5 more pounds, her breasts are too small so she’s going in for surgery, that mole on her cheek is an imperfection and should be removed. This is interesting, because she is the one tying her worth to her sexual attributes, not a male.”

    The first two sentences, as part of your argument, are fine; however, the last sentence made me pause. Why is it relevant that “she is the one tying her worth to her sexual attributes” rather than the male that she aims to attract? Both sides of the story ought to be considered. Yes, in this hypothetical example, she evaluates her body with an eye towards “improvement” in the name of increasing her sexual attraction. However, why is she even doing this in the first place? It is highly unlikely that the male gaze never entered into the equation at some point in this woman’s life. It matters not whether its appearance was in the form of a male romantic interest, or merely the pervasive effect of the male gaze on portrayals of women in media. The point is, her critique of her physical appearance is hardly independent of her environment, one which is almost certainly affected by males in some way.

    (Apologies if this was an unintentional error in wording, but I wanted to offer my opinion on what seemed to be an odd thing to say)

    • bricksalad says:

      In addition to male gaze, there is judgment of peers, as well as plain old delusion. The point I was trying to make however was that even though there may have been male gaze in the past, at this moment, when she stares into the mirror, the only one judging her is herself. The point was more about objectification than gaze however, so let me try putting this a different way to make it clearer:

      An objectification of a female by the male is done inside the mind of the male. He looks at her, and only sees her physically in sexual terms. This is bad once he either alters his behavior or somehow presses his views forth. Hence Madonna-whore; an object is below a being.

      An objectification of a female by herself is more akin to self-flagellation, where even though society may have encouraged her to do so, she is in fact the one doing it. I actually believe this form of objectification is more harmful, pervasive, and difficult to counter. It’s also less reducible to gender binary, i.e. “you’re objectifying me you bad man!”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s