Discussion – Pixel Perfect: The Sexualization of Anime

[Zenyaku-SC] Mashiro-Iro Symphony - 02 [720p h264 AAC] [47B7B5AF].mkv_snapshot_07.53_[2011.10.12_16.03.40]

I’ve kind of been dreading writing about this topic for a while now. It’s an issue that I’m sure has been done to death, and if there were an easy answer to it all, there wouldn’t be as much lingering animosity about it. But there is and perhaps always will be differing opinions of the issue, and I’m here to present mine.

You’re probably wondering what the hell I’m even talking about. Well, for this particular discussion I want to focus on two particular aspects of anime sexualization: the stigma against people who are attracted to anime characters and the argument that anime creates unrealistic expectations.

First of all, why is sex appeal even used in anime? Well, anime is an entertainment medium and like any other form of entertainment, it’ll do whatever it takes to sell its product to its target audience. Since the primary audience for anime products happens to be, you know, human beings it shouldn’t shock anyone that sex appeal is a potent marketing tool. Like it or not, our sex drive governs the majority of our decisions in life because the end goal of any animal is to spread its genes, thereby being evolutionarily fit, and we make these decisions both on the conscious and sub-conscious level.

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Why do we eat? To have energy to have sex. Why do we want money? To support our gene-filled offspring after we have sex. Why do we grow up resenting our parents and siblings? To prevent genetic depreciation by having sex with them. Why do we like our women to have “ideal” proportions and our men to be muscular? Because those are the signs that we look for in a fertile mate, a road map that has been passed down for millions of years by our ancestors.

What people would normally say is “superficial” I’d respond by saying it’s “natural.” Our ancestors didn’t exactly go on dates to get to know their mate’s personality better. Sure, our brains are bigger now, but that doesn’t the fact that we’re still animals that have to have sex to have evolutionary success. Granted, some people have a greater sex drive than others, and while I’m no expert I believe the argument is that this correlates to one’s subconscious desire to be genetically robust, which goes up and down generationally due to population density.

So where does anime stand in this animal instinct nonsense? Animation provides a preferable alternative to reality; an escape from the everyday. It’s an entertainment medium that has the advantage of being able to make hyper-idealized versions of things we’re familiar with in real life, and it uses this advantage to great effect. It takes into account what we perceive to be the best (and sometimes worst) qualities from humans, physical traits or personality traits. In this way, we can’t blame someone for being attracted to a fictional character because it’s designed to be that way. To put it modestly, anime offers a myriad of possibilities. From having a busty childhood friend to dying violently in an apocalypse, anime lets us experience it all in a safe environment because it can offer what we’ll never have, or necessarily even want, in reality.

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This leads into the idea that anime is detrimental to society because of the unrealistic standards it thrusts onto people. If you believe this is true, then I’d say that this has less to do with the nature of nature and more with how the entertainment industry is run. Similar to what I said about anime, the entertainment industry in general places its members on a pedestal, to be idolized by their target audience.

The difference between that and anime is that with anime I believe that there’s a distinct line between fantasy and reality. No one expects every real life girl to have 100+ cm bust or for every guy to have eight-pack abs and to kiss every other guy he meets. Compare this to what’s deemed “normal” by society: swimsuit models, movie stars, or even those Abercrombie & Fitch guys. How many of these people have, unbeknownst to the viewer, had plastic surgery, breast enhancement, or Photoshopped abs? The industry blurs this boundary between the ideal and the real, and yet this is perceived as more natural and normal than anime, when in truth live-action entertainment should be viewed as much more problematic and deceptive.

Of course there’s the argument “why is everyone skinny in anime?” Well, if you look at the typical body size of people in Japan and compare it to that of a country like the United States, the answer should be painfully obvious. Personally, this argument doesn’t hold water for me anyway because A) average anime characters have an “average” build rather than “skinny,” even by Western standards and B) I’ve seen a fair amount of anime in which body size is varied. On top of that, the art design used in most anime is so stylistic that there’s very little point in trying to draw meaningful comparisons to what we see in real life.

If we were to take everything presented in anime as an expectation of reality, then we’d be probably be disappointed. A lot. Sorry to say, but we will never have giant mechs, magic, or a world where everyone is sexually attractive. We can admire the world of anime, and yes I believe it’s okay to fantasize about the world of anime, too, but to have anime-level expectations in the real world doesn’t make any sense. The reason we enjoy anime as much as we do is for the simple fact that it’s so different from reality. Why would we ever want to mix anime and reality like that?

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There’s also the argument that people attracted to anime characters end up being sex offenders just because the art style resembles younger individuals. Sure, Japan has its fair share of sex offenses but so does every other country. What’s their excuse? Saying anime breeds pedophiles is like saying video games breeds mass murderers. If you believe one view is ignorant, then the other should equally be so by the same logic.

So I’ve rambled on for a while, and I probably only scratched the surface on this issue. This could easily go into a multiple part discussion (like how ecchi is related to “quality”), but for now I think I’ll just ready my flame shield. What do you all think though? Is it creepy to be attracted to an anime character and should people be demonized for it? Does anime impose unrealistic standards?

“These girls are pixels, data. How would you describe the girl you like? Protein? Calcium? The important thing is true love.” ~ Keima Katsuragi

B.W.

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9 responses to “Discussion – Pixel Perfect: The Sexualization of Anime

  1. It would be nice if one day, the picture above (pathetic manchild+perfectly “normal”) completely reversed labels in society.

  2. Amazing piece! Your Euphonium articles brought me, and now I’m staying ^_^.
    But on topic, you have some good points. That comparison pic really hit the nail on the head. Basically, people like to defend what’s popular but also conveniently mainstream and more socially acceptable, but you come across identical behaviors (in this case obsessive collecting) in other topics, and people like to rip it apart as something unnatural. People will say and do literally anything as long as they’re surrounded and backed up by other fanatics. (That’s how a lot of organized religion works actually…Ever wonder why no one holds solitary book burnings?)
    But for some differing views on anime fanservice, I remember one potent idea: The idea of consent. To cut to the chase, anime frequently portrays touching females (even children) in a manner that says ‘it’s okay’, which it certainly isn’t. It makes randomly grabbing someone more socially acceptable.
    Another matter is the constant sexualization of teens, but especially children. In short: damn f*cking creepy.
    But great article! ^^

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