I recently got around to reading Beautiful Fighting Girl by Tamaki Saito (originally published in 2000 as 戦闘美少女の精神分析, lit. ‘A Psychoanalysis of the Beautiful Fighting Girl’). Despite its status alongside Hiroki Azuma’s Otaku: Japan’s Database Animals as one of the landmark publications on “otaku theory”, Beautiful Fighting Girl has made considerably less inroads in English-language scholarship, partly because the English translation only came out in 2011, and partly because Saito’s scholarship is very obviously flawed.
Nevertheless, I thought Beautiful Fighting Girl was a really fascinating read that helped stimulate my own thoughts about otaku sexuality. Saito’s argument that otaku culture is rooted in sexuality is something I find intuitively appealing, not least because I’ve made some similar observations in the past. So in this post, I’d like to critique Saito’s analysis directly, while also building on his more interesting ideas. In this way, I hope to develop a more workable theory of otaku sexuality, or Why Do People Love Their Waifus/Husbandos?
A Brief Overview of Beautiful Fighting Girl
Beautiful Fighting Girl was first published in 2000 and is quite explicit in its defence of otaku. This was in response to the public’s lingering negative image of otaku in the wake of the infamous serial killings by “otaku” murderer Tsutomu Miyazaki. If Saito comes across as too eager at times to convince his audience that anime fans lead “normal” (read: heteronormative) sex lives outside of their otaku hobbies, then there is a clear reason for that.
Saito’s basic argument is that the male otaku skillfully navigates between reality and fantasy through his ability to (put bluntly) masturbate to fictional girls. There is no easy distinction between the fantasy and the imaginary and the otaku is quite aware of this. Contrary to the stereotypes, you don’t need mental impairments or extreme social awkwardness to feel attraction towards 2D girls.
Our world is incredibly media-saturated these days, so it’s quite natural to moralise about it. What if we lose touch with reality and what makes us human? But so far in human history, that hasn’t actually happened. Sex and intimacy persist in technology-mediated environments, and otaku culture is merely another facet of this.
One aspect of otaku culture that doesn’t get commented on nearly enough is the community that it builds. Many geeky people might be naturally introverted, but they manage busy social lives through their hobbies. Of course, while Saito comments upon this, his primary focus is on deconstructing the “beautiful fighting girl” that captures the imagination of so many otaku.
Criticisms and Applications to Queer Theory
Here is where Saito’s analysis begins to get shaky. Not only does he argue that only Japanese can be otaku because of Japan’s “unique” attitude towards sex, he focuses entirely on the male psyche. He might mention that female otaku exist, but fails to incorporate them into his analysis. So while he writes critically about objectifying women, his analysis itself is very objectifying. His insistence that the objectification of anime girls is not related to the objectification of women in general comes across as rather unconvincing.
The scope of his analysis is also too narrow to have much of a broad application. His account of the development of “beautiful fighting girls” across time relies too much on Japanese particularism and ignores major factors like changing technology. I much prefer Thomas Lamarre and Hiroki Azuma’s more nuanced accounts in The Anime Machine and Otaku: Japan’s Database Animals respectively.
Nevertheless, aspects of Beautiful Fighting Girl remain extremely valid and have only become more relevant with time, which the translator J. Keith Vincent expands upon in his excellent introduction to the text.
Saito’s theories have interesting implications for queer theory. Specifically, he stresses the otaku’s process of consuming and creating his own narratives. He writes:
[Otaku] know that the objects of their attachment have no material reality … And knowing all of that, they still enjoy the game of performing for each other their passion. (pg. 19)
The word “performing” in this context should bring to mind Judith Butler’s theory of gender performativity. Loving your waifu or arguing about Best Girls are exaggerated actions, often proclaimed for the benefit of those around you rather than exclusively for your own benefit. One might even describe it as self-reflexively ironic. In this way, otaku “perform” a sexual identity while not being exclusively defined by it.
The fact that an otaku’s sexuality is often perceived as perverse also has connections with queer sexuality. While Saito stresses that most otaku are heterosexual in daily life, Vincent points out that Saito is not saying that it need be so. The otaku’s sexual interests are potentially radical and subversive on a broader scale. We just haven’t quite gotten there yet.
And finally, Beautiful Fighting Girl touches on the interplay between fantasy play and reality. What one might desire in the realm of fiction does not necessarily correspond to desire in reality. Vincent quotes the queer theorist Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick here: “Many people have their richest mental/emotional involvement with sexual acts that they don’t do, or even don’t want to do.” (pp. xix-xx)
I think that certainly helps explain the appeal of NTR, at any rate.
The Politicisation of the Otaku Culture
The reality of otaku sexuality is, of course, more complicated than Saito has made it out to be. If the debate were as simple as “Does watching anime turn you into a serial killer?” then the stigma would be entirely groundless. But it isn’t groundless, because otaku culture quite literally treats women as objects to be consumed.
It’s similar to the ambivalence with which the public regards video games. No, video games don’t turn you into serial killers, but somehow they always get brought up whenever a serial killer happens to enjoy them. And on top of that, there is a growing body of feminist critique which points out that many video game tropes are sexist and that gamer culture is unwelcoming towards female gamers. Even if games are mainstream these days, all it takes is a single controversy for public opinion to sour (See: the aftermath of the Gamergate controversy.)
In terms of partisan politics, (male) otaku culture is in a double bind here. Conservatives don’t like it because it’s seen as perverse and morally corrupting, and feminists don’t like it because it infantilises women.
To what extent is the stigma deserved?
There’s a troubling undercurrent in English-language anime criticism that takes it for granted that Japanese society is “more sexist” than Western society. Where gamers kick and scream and send death threats to Anita Sarkeesian for daring to suggest that their Eurocentric games are sexist, English-speaking anime fans take it as a matter of course that the fanservice in Japanese anime is problematic, so much so that it hardly needs commenting upon.
For example, when Stilts commented on the chauvinistic bent of Danmachi, one of the top-voted comments said: “Anime tends to be a tough sell to feminists. While I understand your criticism, I don’t really see how that applies here more than to the other numerous-as-the-stars LN titles which pretty much round up archetypical women into a nice little garden for the male lead to pluck.”
Theories about the sexist tropes in anime often delve into amateur sociology. Otaku have a purity complex because the Japanese are patriarchal, because they are sexually repressed, because they can’t handle independent women, and so on. Even if there was some truth to such observations, all too often it’s presented as essential traits. Anime is weird because Japan is weird. This angle of interpretation completely ignores the many Japanese feminists, especially the ones that write about anime (e.g. Mari Kotani, Kumiko Saito).
On one hand, I take it as a positive sign that English-speaking anime fans tend to be self-aware about the potential sexist messages in anime, but on the other hand, the implicit cultural hierarchy on display really bothers me a lot. I can’t help but get the impression that some fans are quite willing to admit that anime is sexist because they see it as a product of a less enlightened culture.
Still, that doesn’t answer the central question – whether it should be socially acceptable for otaku to “consume” anime girls the way they currently do. And that, I think, remains an open question. Theoretically, it should be possible to love fictional girls ethically and responsibly, but in practice, that comes with inescapable cultural baggage.
Personally, I think of myself as a “feminist otaku” because I don’t think otaku are really all that strange or perverse. I think that destigmatising otaku sexuality is a necessary first step towards critiquing it usefully through a feminist point of view. Of course, many people I respect disagree with me on that count.
Contextualising Female Otaku Sexuality
Perhaps one of the reasons anime criticism is relatively more accepting of feminist critique is because female anime fans have had a considerable presence in the fandom for many years now (both online and offline). While still understudied compared to male otaku, female otaku have been receiving more and more attention in recent years. I’ve written my own two cents about yaoi fandom, identifying anime fandom as a place where women can safely explore and express their sexuality.
One of the most useful things about studying female otaku is that it reminds you that otaku sexuality is in no way a unique phenomenon. As I wrote in my post about K-pop, anime is a cultural hybrid. The pretty boy aesthetic is appealing in many countries outside of Japan, and slash fiction has its place in most fandoms (see, for instance, Star Trek and, more recently, Sherlock).
In addition, female otaku fandom is not homogeneous. Not all female otaku are into BL, for instance. (This is a rather pervasive stereotype.) And there is plenty of disagreement over whether the BL fantasy is empowering or if it simply perpetuates heteronormative gender roles through its strict delineation between seme and uke. Is it empowering to love one’s husbando? What kind of female characters are empowering figures? How does anime explore non-heteronormativity? While there is a tendency among users of social media to oversimplify these discussions, feminist critique is providing powerful new insights into the relationship between sex and the media.
When we theorise about otaku sexuality (or sexuality in general, for that matter), female sexuality should never be ignored. Male sexuality is not the default. It would simply be a lie to claim that women are not as interested in sex as men are and don’t have complicated relationships with their bodies.
Before I finish this post, let me make one observation about the performativity of otaku sexuality. Despite my asexuality in real life, I have always been drawn to anime girls. Ecchi and harem anime interest me in a way that pornography does not. After spending a great deal of time with female anime fans, I began to find myself more attracted to anime boys.
From my own personal experience, then, I can attest that sexuality is fluid and that anime culture provides its fans with ample opportunity to explore queer sexuality. I reject the simplistic moralising stance that otaku sexuality is perverse or that otaku should “grow up” and face reality. Tamaki Saito’s core framework in Beautiful Fighting Girl makes a lot of sense to me, even if I think his argument itself is deeply flawed.
Fodder for Future Posts (AKA stuff that didn’t make it into this post):
- The otaku purity complex: reexamined
- The meta-awareness and self-reflexive irony behind loving 2D characters (i.e. how does the otaku’s self-deprecating humour factor into their relationship with 2D characters?)
- Should we really be focusing on sexuality as a means of understanding otaku? #notallotaku
- Differences and similarities between Japanese and Western anime fans
- How has anime fandom changed since Tamaki Saito wrote Beautiful Fighting Girl? What is that text’s relationship with Otaku: Japan’s Database Animals?
Those will get written about some other time, but feel free to think about and respond to these ideas in the comments.
That’s all for now. Tata!
You basically lay down all the relevant points without actually stating this out right, but I really think you’ve pulled the inherent hypocrisy of female objectification to the forefront of this conversation.
If you triangulate the purity complex, the disenfranchisement of female sexuality in academic and fandom discussion, and the whole deal with acknowledging sexism in anime without really caring that it’s there, you wind up with a self-conscious system of objectification that insists women must be presented as either “sexy” or “sexual” or “non-sexual, but able to have sexuality applied to them from the outside” and, at the same time, insists that women cannot actually choose that sexuality for themselves. In more confusing but no less relevant terms, objectification insists on “sex” without “sex.”
It also seems to me that the awareness of sexism might also tie into this whole idea of the otaku with self-deprecating humor in a way that validates acknowledging it without doing anything about it or really caring at all (the quote you noted RC is a great example of this). “Oh, haha I watch sexist stuff. Yeah, I’m trash haha.” In other words, instead of or perhaps in addition to cultural hierarchy, acknowledging sexism becomes a way to do your “progressive duty” without actually having to engage with the dialogue between media consumption, ethics, and your own moral compass.
Yeeeeeeep. And to be a large extent, I’ve been guilty of this as well, so your point rings extra true for me.
I think that self-deprecating humour serves as a way for people to distance themselves from the harmful implications of their media. Yes, that can prevent people from grappling with serious issues, but it’s also partly the reason why most anime fans are harmless in real life. Fans tend to distance themselves from media by cracking jokes about it and having perspective about how they must look in front of other people. Arguing for a direct relationship between sexist portrayals and real-life behaviour would be silly because there are so many interfering factors, and ironic humour is one of them.
I know you’re not arguing something that simplistic, of course, but that’s why self-deprecating humour is a complicated issue. As frustrating as it is, it has its useful purpose.
In my opinion, if things are going to actually change, it’ll be through women involving themselves more in the production and consumption/criticism side of anime. That’s already happening, although for now there’s still an arbitrary division between male and female otaku fandom.
So yeah, no neat and easy solution, but that’s why we have to keep thinking about and critiquing these things!
Yeah, it’s most definitely not as simple as “don’t use self-deprecating humor anymore!” Personally, I’m not a fan of it and generally avoid using it (“Chinese cartoons,” etc) because, for me, it’s important to acknowledge that, yes, I am the kind of person who likes these kinds of things. Of course, there is the matter of also acknowledging that I am the type of person who likes shows despite their sexist or otherwise troubling messages. I’m able to reconcile that all without self-deprecating humor, but that’s just my way of handling things. For others, self-deprecating humor might be that coping mechanism.
The thing I always worry about, though, is that creating too much distance between oneself and one’s media choices can end up entirely separating a person from their choices (“I’m not defined by what I watch or say at all!”). There’s been a lot of discussion in the last few months about not identifying too closely with your media, but I think swinging too far the other way can be bad, too.
In other words, the best solution exists (as always) somewhere in the middle—meaning its complicated and that we just have to keep working at it.
Did you bring up Azuma’s Database Animals JUST so you could put the DATABASE DATABASE JUST LIVIN IN THE DATABASE tag on this? At least have some shame and use an actual Log Horizon gif, Froggy :P
Anyway, I think the most interesting bits for me were the ones I relayed to you over twitter – of proclaiming loving waifus as an exaggerated performance piece, and deep sexual fantasization of things you don’t ACTUALLY want to do, as parts of otaku identity.
The example I used was my outspoken desire to be stepped on by my Winter 2015 waifu Kato from SaeKano (you don’t need to look far on my twitter profile to find at least a few tweets from the past week on this subject.) Being stepped on itself sounds painful and not very fun IRL, but the connotations of a boring and ordinary girl like Kato performing an act as sexually dominant as stepping on me is exciting in a very theoretical sense, if perhaps not in application.
And then there’s the performance aspect – intentionally hamming things up becomes like a bizarre peacock feather display in otaku communities that I see again and again, and which I very much participate in myself (next time you get on the chat, ask Nova about what happens when I crash the Moon watch calls.) I think being an otaku, and I feel like this is also true of other kinda geeks, in part means performing and entertaining those around you. Shitweeting, memes, jokes, puns, outrageous statements are the default mode of communication I see, at least on forums (real life seems to be a different matter – people tend to be a lot more natural because this can be a lot harder to pull off in real time.)
On a side note, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed your pieces on anime academia that’ve cropped up recently. I’ve found myself a lot more engaged in the humanities and the arts as a result of feeding on anime-related media like this – thinking about sociology after reading your writing on Azuma and Saito, and a deeper interest in art after getting interested in the designs of Takashi Murakami after seeing his influence on Mamoru Hosoda’s Internet work (Digimon: Our War Games, the Superflat Monogram commercial for Louis Vitton, The Summer Wars.) (I’ve been waiting to find the right time to buy my own used copy of Murakami’s Little Boy artbook after I found a copy at the arts & architecture library on campus; it’s such a gorgeous book!) This isn’t stuff I encounter from my friends or my schoolwork, since I’m a MechE student with mostly other STEM friends. I really appreciate it.
Thanks, Garlock! I’m glad these more academic-style posts have resonated with you. As a geek, I have a very complicated relationship with media and fan communities, so writing these posts feels like a necessary thing to do in order to understand myself and those around me. Doesn’t hurt that I’m a geek about academia as well!
Performance and entertaining others is definitely a big part of being a geek. I find that when geeky people are with their other geeky friends, they tend to be pretty theatrical and gregarious. Put them in a room full of strangers and it’s a different story. A large part of geek communication relies on in-jokes and shared references, and when you take that away that common language from social interactions, you immediately strip away the performance. Even if there was no stigma around declaring love for your waifu, I doubt that many people would actually do such a thing in public – because people just wouldn’t get the joke .
I can’t help but think that the performance is grounded in one’s desire to feel special and appreciated. It’s an understandable human urge. That’s why I think it’s always a good idea to keep remembering that anime fandom isn’t unique and that it’s broadly similar to many other communities and subcultures. That, I think, should be the ultimate purpose of anime academia.
I still have to thank you profusely for posting the upload of that Kumiko Saito article a while back. It really helped crystallize my personal favorite fandom whipping post.
I would love to get to read BFG. Azuma was interesting, and I loved some of the applications of his model, though I disagreed with some of the implications and origins he found, and Hikikomori was just a disappointing read, in that there was nothing new to learn, targetted as it was towards non-otaku. But coming from idol fandom, where there’s much less veneer about sexuality not playing a role, (“I like it for the story/animation/explosions/etc.”, though you get the “I’m in it for the music” sometimes) and the purity complex is pretty much shoved in my face every day, that aspect has always played a huge role in how I view fandom activity. For example…
(As you’ve noted, there are people for whom sexuality does not personally influence their consumption of media, but in that everyone else has constructed modes of fandom expression based around sexuality, they are still affected by those structures.)
whether it should be socially acceptable for otaku to “consume” anime girls the way they currently do
It comes down to the trends. There’s nothing inherently wrong with ecchi and fanservice and hentai, and every example examined individually can generally be found okay. However, when certain trends and tropes are so pervasive and normalized within the medium, that indicates something about the makers and/or audience. Even more troubling is when fans take acceptance of certain tropes as a gatekeeping requirement, which is going beyond making it socially acceptable to consume in a certain way, but impressing that mode upon others.
To that end, I think that defenders and attackers of current otaku consumption have a different idea of what they mean by ““consume” anime girls the way they currently do,” which is driving a lot of the conflict, including within defender and attacker camps.
Which is inevitable! As these posts have continually pointed out, consumption and interaction with fandom and media is complex, which means everyone’s definition of how otaku are currently consuming anime girls varies, both in what they’re doing, and the implications of that.
As far as your future posts fodder goes, I think a good resource would be to examine RPF, insofar that it’s both closer and further than 2D worship to how “normals” interact with media. Even as it more closely mimics the performativity that is all social interaction, it’s considered taboo for even most geeks, so those who undertake it often have to be aware of why they continue down this path. As such, their analyses can be very precise examinations of otaku motivations.
If you can manage to access it, this book is one I’ve been wanting to read for a long time. It does have an origin in western live action female fandom communities, but it does seem to examine fandom from modes that male fandom analysis tends to lack. (That sexuality-positive angle)
Trends? Is this what make the general platform of today anime so different than say, the 80s?
And for example, if there is a person who is not from Japan, does not watch anime regularly, not considering himself an otaku, but really like them and want to make a work with style similar to anime, which bias would he use for his work?
Trends? Is this what make the general platform of today anime so different than say, the 80s?
Sure. I don’t have the expertise to say which tropes were popular then that aren’t popular now, or vice versa. I also don’t have the expertise to examine why, such as economic and historical factors. But the mechanism stands. You can’t evaluate whether or not something is socially acceptable only on a case-by-case basis, because each case, examined in isolation, tends to look fine.
And for example, if there is a person who is not from Japan, does not watch anime regularly, not considering himself an otaku, but really like them and want to make a work with style similar to anime, which bias would he use for his work?
That bias would be based on whatever that person has watched. I’m not sure what you’re asking here?
Individual consciousness in creative. Or, do the writers really believe in/advocate/or even know what they’re writing.
I’d say that a lot of them either pull all those antics for promotion purpose, or have myopic view. To know what is your bias is a sign showing that you treat your work as an art.
If you read Bobduh’s SAO write-ups, it’s his opinion that Reki didn’t realize some of the biases he was imbuing into his works.
There are also lots of authors who think they’re promoting a certain theme in their work, and don’t realize the themes that readers are actually taking away from it. Such was the case with Twilight.
So going back to your original question, I think you might consider that case of Pacific Rim. Director Guillermo del Toro used lots of aesthetic choices from the mecha and Kaiju genres from Japan, as well as some of the more Eastern associated themes, (the glorification of technology and science as heroic mythology, whereas western culture tends towards Frankenstein distrust and horror) but structured the film like a classic sports movie instead of a post-Anno mecha show. In addition, the Kaiju genre generally finds The Natural to be inevitable and indomitable, (similar to sentiments expressed in Princess Mononoke and Mushi-shi, and even Gojira) but Pacific Rim uses the mecha heroic mythology to advance the very Western ideals of Man triumphing over Nature. So you can see how Del Toro adapted his biases for a certain type of uplifting story to what he loved about the mecha and kaiju genres. That’s why Pacific Rim doesn’t feel like a mecha show brought to life, but still like a very western movie, with scifi trappings that happen to be giant robots. (The Kaiju stuff was also blended with classic western monster/mythology/adventure movies, usually produced by Harryhausen.)
I don’t have much to contribute to the discussion here, other than to point out the obviously connotation-fraught decision to put Rei on the cover of a book about otaku sexuality. I wonder if that was a deliberate choose or not.
Your feminist bias continues to make me cringe and want to leave long ranting complaints to explain why,(Or least ask you to better explain your position on things) but this was an interesting read none the less. I am going to pick this book up for myself. Maybe we can talk about it after I’ve read it?
I’m glad you didn’t leave a long ranting comment about my “feminist bias”, because I would have found that extremely derailing.
Beautiful Fighting Girl is a worthwhile read. What I didn’t mention is that it’s heavy on Lacanian psychoanalysis and that the chapters are very disconnected. Despite its relatively short length, the translator described it as “a baggy monster of a book”. But yeah, I recommend you read it for yourself and come to your own opinions.
I stopped myself! It was all over a single line anyway… There was something about Anita… Probably.
I really do appreciate reading what you have to say. I want to make sure I say that because it may not be obvious.
There is one thing I would add to all of this after thinking about it for a day or so. I think it’s worth pointing out that anime fans as they appear with online anime blogging are a very small number of the total population of fans. Many if not all of the anime fans I meet through MMOs and at cons tend to have very different opinions than the ones you have presented. Even just reading cruchyroll comments I often find a very different view of things. I find the view you have presented as well, but it’s less common in my experience. Instead of treating Japan as unenlightened I find it’s far more common to treat Japan as more enlightened. Sexism in media is treated like a joke on the level of saying your mom, or your face. The joke is a mockery, there is no real belief. Especially inside the US many fans I meet don’t seem to have much if any respect for their own culture or cultural “experts. Maybe it’s an American thing? I wonder to what degree the fact that Jack Thompson is American or the way Churches in America reacted to anime back in the 90s has effected the way American’s specifically think about these issues. All of that said, I’m no more capable of measuring these things than you are. Something to ponder maybe? I’m sure lacking respect for what is viewed as pseudo authorities is not an entirely American thing.
Especially inside the US many fans I meet don’t seem to have much if any respect for their own culture or cultural “experts.
Isn’t that part of the big backlash going on? Fans are tearing down those who they think are self-styling as culture experts and dictating things to them, whether that be “SJWs” or developers or journalists or whatnot. That’s why there’s always people in the ANN threads complaining about the reviewers not matching the “consensus of the public,” because they feel like the reviewers are experts whose displayed “expertise” doesn’t match with what they think cultural experts should be focussing on.
I think it probably is. I’m somewhere in the middle on agreeing with those fans myself. I do think a lot of “cultural experts” are really bad at their jobs, or at the very least that they are incompetent at expressing themselves in a positive way. I am not convinced anything of value has been lost by the backlash against them. Though Froggy did bring something up in this post and I am certainly willing to consider that there could be things of value lost. Any kind of revolt involves tearing away the good and the bad. An internet consumer revolt is no different. That is just a part of how they work for better or worse.
My comment is a question more than anything else and it can easily be expand on. I don’t know how many people complaining actually expect their pseudo “experts” to get better and how many are just venting about how terrible they are so that they will go away entirely. Going away entirely seems the more obvious result. I see people who want some of both. Some people are also probably just venting for the sake of venting itself. Stress relief over dealing with their concerns and being insulted for even having concerns.
Personally my hope is to see new people with interesting insights coming out to challenge what I consider to be the faulty ideas and incompetent methods these “experts” employ. What I want to see happen also depends on the situation. I personally think many ANN reviews tend to be pretty terrible. That view in particular is shared by many of my blogging friends and all of my non-blogging anime fan friends. I would like to see ANN improve if only because they are easy to find for new fans. I don’t comment on their site myself. I barely read it at all anymore if I am honest.
From my perspective this revolt of sorts is a thing that was long in the works just waiting for the right trigger to come along and make it explode. I also think anyone in media is fool for failing to realize it if they indeed did fail to realize it was coming. If I still had my old computer I could probably pull up old AIM chat logs talking with friends five years ago about how some kind of gamer revolt would happen and it would probably even mention gawker by name. I personally believe the number 1 culprit of the damage done to the media over the last 10 years(which is actually much larger than blogging about anime and games) or so really has been the media itself. 10 years ago being significant only because that is when I started paying attention. I knew something was wrong back then. That doesn’t mean I think I have all the answers for where we should go now. The question is a genuine one.
Some of it comes down to temperament, though. Certain types of people are more prone to writing large blocks of text about their media than others. By default, people who rise to the top of the blogging ring are going to be different from the main populace because, well, they have a higher ratio of time spent analyzing and writing about the stuff they’re writing about than the ones who are only consuming it.
I’m not saying we don’t need more diversity in cultural analysis writing, but that “the liberal bias” is kind of to be expected. ANN tends to hire people who have already shown the work ethic and writing samples to show that they can produce reviews on the regular, on top of their day jobs, and a good portion of those people are going to be people who, you know, studied writing or something similar for their degrees. Those who don’t have a higher risk of burning out because the love of writing wasn’t the main reason they got into writing.
Similarly, said “pseudo experts” are never going to go away because, well, people who gotta write are gonna write. And people who wanna read are gonna read what’s out there. Supply and demand.
Actually, lifesong, I think you would’ve been right to call me out on the Sarkeesian line. After writing the post, I realised that over half the examples she uses in her videos are from Japanese games >__<
I don't want to put words in Sarkeesian's mouth because she doesn't comment in particular about anime or Japanese culture, but yeah, she's not a good example of my point.
Like with anime, I think Japanese games are easier to pick on. I remember you defending Senran Kagura because critics were taking easy potshots at it and I agreed with you there. The Japanese games industry is more diverse than outsiders make it out to be. There are plenty of games for girls and plenty of non-ero games. If Senran Kagura is more open about depicting sexuality, I personally think that has more to do with differing censorship practices than Japan being "more sexist" than the US. That's the sort of thing I was talking about.
Ah, cool. I guess I should have just mentioned it straight then.
“If Senran Kagura is more open about depicting sexuality, I personally think that has more to do with differing censorship practices than Japan being “more sexist” than the US. That’s the sort of thing I was talking about.” Got you, and agreed. I think we are on the same page with that point.
I have the same general problems with otaku culture that I have with organized religion. My otakuness is a personal thing. I never discuss it outside of the internet’s anonymity. In that aspect I cannot see it as a culture, because it belongs to me. The idea that my relationship to my hobbies and interest is the same on any level as everyone else’s is more than a bit silly. My collection of experiences are mine alone, and no set of experiences effect any two people the same way.
When you add in sexuality, this conversation gets downright scary. There is no aspect of the human experience in which “abnormalcy” has a larger stigma across cultures than sexuality. Violence is more acceptable in most cultures, including the US, then sexual “deviancy”. There is a shaming aspect to this in US otaku circles, at least online. I see the self-deprecation that occurs as an attempt by people to deflect the criticism of their preferences. It is disheartening to see people turning on each other this way, as if shaming someone for liking Freezing or Queen’s Blade will somehow eliminate gendercide or even inequalities in pay at global corporations. I like strong women. I married one and hopefully, raised another. I do prefer for my heroines to stay clothed, but how much of that is because of the shame associated with the female form, even I cannot guess. I would prefer that others not try to decide this for me. There are certain cultural influences and even personal preferences at play in the creators of the works that have remarkably destructible clothing and gravity defiant breasts, but to try to judge the consumers for their interest is folly at best and bullying at worst.
There is this bizarre trend in US otaku circles (I do not know if this happens in Japan) to try assess the medium as a whole and criticize it as a whole instead of as individual works. What makes this odd, is that unlike the attacks on rock and roll fifty years ago, or even on video games more recently, is that these grand generalizations on otaku deviancy and anime depravity seem to come primarily from the otaku’s themselves. There seems to be a desire to purify anime and make it “normal,” so it can be accepted more widely in society. As anime is a sub-culture, I suspect that this comes from a desire to be “normal” themselves, but since that is exactly the kind of amateur psychology that I am criticizing, I am not going to pursue that line of thought. In the end, I think if we stuck to holding people to account for their actions and stop trying to force conformity on their interests, we will all be happier, no matter what we like.
Some of that anime generalization extend beyond critique. Fans of TV, literature, or music tend to be fans of very specific subsets of those mediums, and make no bones about their lack of knowledge outside of their specific shows/books/music genres. The closest I’ve seen to the way anime fans claim a fandom to the whole of anime are “movie buffs,” but even they tend to be more forward about having expertise only in certain types of movies. Like, fans of indie arthouse and fans of grindhouse B-movies keep to themselves for the most part, you know?
That might be part of the issue, that anime fans continue to make themselves engage with anime as a whole, instead of accepting that it’s a medium, not a genre, and stick to, you know, the shows they like, and ignoring the rest.
It doesn’t help that certain tropes do seem pervasive across the medium due to the limited customer pool driving the industry. FWIW, I have personally lamented over the fact that I wouldn’t be able to recommend several shows I love dearly to certain non-anime viewers because some of said pervasive tropes would be deal-breakers for them. (And am currently not watching any anime because I’m in a “But I can get all of what I want in my TV in these particular western live action shows WITHOUT any of my anime pet peeves! Why settle for anime?” time right now. This happens every few years.)
First of all, let me congratulate you on the post. Really good read.
Otaku culture, if it can be encompassed as such, is generally seen as a consumer culture by the media and the market that is feed from. But from the perspective of the Otaku, the focus is more towards appreciation as an art and passion. This makes the Otaku perspective biased because art has more “Social Acceptance” and more liberty with what it shows that a product. That and I would like to add that, in my opinion, the concept of “Socially Acceptable” is not as relevant as it was before, and even less in the concealing cloths of the internet. Although it makes great news stories and scandals.
Following that statement, most Otaku might not want their medium attacked in the same way that the gaming community is attacked because they know the consequence and want to differentiate from that culture. Yet it is strikingly curious how it is easier for most to say “Hey, I’m Jhon Doe and I’m a Gamer” that “Hey, I’m Jhon Doe and I’m an Otaku”.
Some consume this medium because of escapism, most just for entertainment, I personally recommend that knowing the difference between real and fantasy is important, and not to try to compensate the lack of experience in one with the other.
I personally support the diversification of anime and the embracement of new genres and ideas that break the double standards that still exist. Japan is still THE market and the culture there has still some concepts trapped in the 1930’s.
The comments here are also very clever and well though through. There’s not much to add.
Can’t say that I’ve even once actively defend any case of heroine (accept that one time with the Clannad OVA). But I must admit that most of us has already (consciously or unconsciously) picked up a preference woman before the show goes over 1/2. The question I want to ask is: How many do that by proclaiming the character is his waifu, and how many do it by projecting himself into the protagonist first before pair the two up?
Or, is there any different between the two actions?
I think that in a lot of romcom/harem shows the male protagonist is deliberately written as weak and stupid in order to facilitate the latter option – projecting yourself into his position. It’s easy to imagine yourself making the right choices and everything going smoothly when you’re shown what *not* to do.
Since I tend to keep my opinions on these types of matters private, I don’t really understand what motivates people to discuss “who’s best girl” or “who their waifu is”, but when I observe these types of discussions they often seem facetious.
My own take is that a deep, genuine attraction to a character is something I would keep to myself and have trouble discussing openly, and if I did discuss it I would do so seriously, choosing my words with care and avoiding memes so that my expression would be understood as genuine.
I can’t understand why it’s so hard for anyone to understand attraction to 2D girls/boys. Drawings create a space much more friendly, less judgmental, less real, freer to explore sexuality since they offer some distance. We connect with drawings either way as Scott McCloud and Madarame described -through generalizing and connecting shapes with ideas and ourselves. Why is it such a surprise when we transfer the discussion in the sexual realm.
“I reject the simplistic moralising stance that otaku sexuality is perverse” – but ofc it is! EVERYONE is perverse *BGM: Aku no Hana* Joking aside, it’s the othering that’s problematic.
“Still, that doesn’t answer the central question – whether it should be socially acceptable for otaku to “consume” anime girls the way they currently do.” -I’m sure you know as a person of sciences that no research ends up with deontological conclusions and it’s for the best. It’s society and its individuals that take decisions. And as always I’m proponent of the individualistic approach on things.
On that note I find this quote “And finally, Beautiful Fighting Girl touches on the interplay between fantasy play and reality. What one might desire in the realm of fiction does not necessarily correspond to desire in reality.” contradicting this one “His insistence that the objectification of anime girls is not related to the objectification of women in general comes across as rather unconvincing.”
“No, video games don’t turn you into serial killers, but somehow they always get brought up whenever a serial killer happens to enjoy them.” -Ofc they’re brought up. It’s the biases working. This sounds to me like a cyclical argument a student of mine made that homosexuals are called abnormal for a reason bypassing that the naming and connection is done by people. Ultimately it’s the question “did the egg make the hen? or vice versa?”
“…or if it simply perpetuates heteronormative gender roles through its strict delineation between seme and uke.” -there’s an awesome thing called New Wave where reversibles rule. Check est em. You’ll love her.
In context, I think the two lines make sense. As I mentioned in the post, I agree with the basic idea that fictional desire doesn’t necessarily correspond to desire in reality, but in the context of Saito’s argument, it didn’t come across as convincing because he only focused on male heterosexuality. If he made mentions of fictional objects of sexual desire besides anime girls, his argument would have been stronger.
I’m interested in this New Wave thing you’re talking about. Link?
http://www.punkednoodle.com/champloo/2013/08/04/801mmf-spotlight-bls-new-wave/ Khursten Santos is in Australia, too, as far as I know. If you haven’t contacted her yet, perhaps you should try.
[…] scope of this post and I encourage you to read a much richer take on the morale of Otaku culture in Frog-Kun post. My personal take though? “Socially Acceptable” does not really matter. If it sells, is good […]
What do you think of this?
Eh. It’s a vast oversimplification and doesn’t really engage with the issue beyond saying, “bad tropes are bad.” He also seems to think that consumers are really stupid and will always want sexist things.
I am not trying to defend this youtuber but watch this too!
[…] fanservice has become much more nuanced and ambivalent over the years (compare this old post with my recent writings on otaku sexuality), but I believe my complicated relationship with otaku culture and the aniblogging community […]
It’s pretty obvious that Japan’s otaku culture is what America’s geek culture would look like if the Gamergate crowd won.
Can’t say that was very obvious to me. Mind backing up your claim with evidence?
Otaku culture has become more insular, more exclusive, more fetishized and focused on sexist objectification in the past decade. From Idolm@ster to Vocaloid to Kantai Collection–all manufactured, patriarchal ideals of femininity by and for heterosexual men. But in the west, geek culture is doing its darnedest (not always succeeding, but trying nonetheless) to become more inclusive and egalitarian (much to the chagrin of the old guard of straight white males), with an attempt to de-emphasize (if not outright remove) the objectification and fetishization of female characters, as if they see what happened in Japan as a cautionary tale.
Not to mention that places like 4chan always seem to praise Japan for not “caving in” to “SJWs.”
[…] thinking about this critically was the exchange I had with iblessall in the comments of my post on otaku sexuality last […]
[…] all the notable theories about otaku masculinity, which would be a very fascinating chapter in a different book. Condry does get close to giving his own spin on the subject when he says that “arguably, it […]
[…] book reviews. (See, for instance, my reviews of Beautiful Fighting Girl and The Soul of […]
[…] firmly believe that these views need to be heard. Long-time readers are probably already aware of my views towards otaku sexuality, so I won’t go on about it here. For those of you interested in how Japanese ecchi fans […]
Late to this, but enjoying your blog’s essays. This one was fun, but you avoided speaking the devil’s name until late in the comments. I blame it all on “le Maitre”, the brilliant arch-fraud and bete-noir of apres-Freud psychobabble. Dammit, if only so many of his concepts weren’t so much fun to play with!
Dr. Tamaki’s work was the second theoretical work that allowed me to begin to “understand” otaku-ish desire (as well as the similarities and contrasts to fujoshi-ish desires). The first was Dr. Akiko Mizoguchi’s 2008 PhD thesis. (Thing about thesis reading.. It’s free.) The 2011 translation was really good. Intro by JKVincent exceptional. Thing is, it will give anyone’s brain a speed-bump-jolt when it hits his fave post-Lacanian stuff. Almost all of it is navigable, you just have to slow down PLUS realise that his vehicle can only drive on one side of the street. You can add his 2006 update to the pile too.
The best of it is the (speak of the debbil) Lacan-ish idea of cathexis/re-cathexis. That you need some sexy juice to re-enchant the world, otherwise all is bleh!. Yup, it can mean the waifu pix + box o kleenex, but it would be a mistake to limit it to that. And of course, there is the problem with how the Feud/Lacan zoku language excludes female subjectivity – which is his main fail.
The second part is the BFG: here you see parallels to other post-Lacan-ish approaches, like Mulvey’s male gaze schema. She of course has spent decades saying it was a throwaway provocation and adding the female-ish gaze to consideration. It could have helped to translate it into a more civvy-friendly language, such as female character is created with agency and the backstory of female-ish characteristics is jettisoned to turn her into a powerful enigma – or a hundred other ways of saying it, that was just off the top of my head. But of course he has to use the zoku speak and the “phallus” appears. The funny thing is how many creative types read this and went hog-wild simplistic. Give de babe de bigger SWORD Naow!
The other part is the “trauma”. That is why the weird as heck chapter on Darger is popped into the work. Again, its not the sudden erotic crush on a cartoon character that causes one to run home and lock your bedroom door, but the mere shock of being emotionally and somewhat libidinally moved by a fiction that causes the urge to become a fan, figure out how the mechanism fooled oneself, look for another fix and finally become an expert on the effect – a flanneur, an aesthete of the phenom and one who will proselytize while seeking continuous new examples of the effect. Or I missed something because the parts on “hysteria” are way too psych-speak and based solely on the fine distinction of the terms used within his particular branch of the field.
This and the cathexis themes were actually what Azuma wrote AGAINST in Database. Azuma doth protest too much. The two had a great debate 2004 or 2005 or 2006 and Azuma was furious when Tamaki pushed the schmex as absolutely necessary. If Tamaki acknowledges, grudgingly that he is in over his head with female fans, Azuma erases them. See Moon on his review of BFG, – plz ignore scary scary ‘queer” title.
The closest thing to trying to understand female readership and subjectivity in the narratives comes down to Duh, asymmetry – “them wimmens have their own way of going at it”. The radical simplification is “feels” and “relationship emphasis”. See Rio Otome and Kazumi Nagaike for explorations into female-ish subjectivities that grapple with the limits of the “zoku” conceptual framework. Scopophilia is one suggested approach, Liminality as resistance, another.
Strangely enough, nothing in Kristeva seems useful. Hmmmmm….
Both Tamaki and Azuma see otaku (and fujoshi and female otaku) as responding to the pressures of narrative overload in late modern mass culture. I see the Tamaki approach, as it is part of the “secondary production” (he coined the term) “transformative works”/ fannish activities to make a story one’s own as a more proactive adaptation; “hack the spew” rather than “drown in a sea of their own confusion”. Note that even when Tamaki wrote , he knew that the fen were much better at it than the guy fans. He says as much.
Finally, both approaches need the views of The Third Man of the seminal discussions on Otaku-ology, OTSUKA Eiji. A shame that “An Unholy Alliance of Eisenstein and Disney: The Fascist Origins of Otaku Culture”. is paywalled. It is a good example of his wider complaints.
Whew, that went on… Whoops… Just sayin, Tamaki is still damn useful, within his strict limits and WHOTTHEHECK, HE INVENTED HIKIKOMORI !!!! So props to him for at least a handful of manga/anime stories and tropes.
Anyways… Thats my story and stickin to it..
Thanks bunchas for the great blog essays!
[…] yet his lack of experience is detrimental towards his overall argument. Kim Morrissey once wrote a wonderful blog post critiquing Beautiful Fighting Girl, stating that ‘the reality of otaku sexuality is, of course, more complicated than Saito has […]