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The 1964 Tokyo Olympics are considered to be one of the most significant moments in Japanese history in terms of symbolism. Having lost World War II a couple of decades prior, and having experienced military occupation by the US as a result, the Olympics were an opportunity to show the world that Japan had gotten back on its feet and climbed out of poverty. One of symbols of this transformation is the famous bullet train, which came into service in time for the Tokyo Olympics.
It’s no surprise then that the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics are kind of a big deal. While Japan no longer has issues with proving itself to be a first-world country even in a decades-long economic recession, the government still wants to further its integration in international economy, culture, and politics. The subject of 3.11 will also still be relevant, and if Japan has not “proven” to the world that they have managed to overcome that disaster by 2020, they will certainly assert it by then. However, one particularly large and visible target for cleanup is Japan’s otaku culture, and they’ve already begun their move.
As I’ve learned from a series of public lectures at Temple University’s Japan Campus (thanks to Veef for the link), one of their targets is anime and manga, given their focus on using Japanese pop culture as a form of “soft power” over the past decade. As the Tokyo Olympics get closer, just the fact that the image of Japan as a haven for illegal pornography still persists to some degree means that the Japanese government, or perhaps groups trying to influence the government, will be pushing for lasting change on what can and cannot be depicted in anime and manga. This has a very likely chance of affecting otaku culture in Japan, though the degree to which these changes will last depends on how much creators and supporters of anime and manga can push back.
Any government will naturally want to present itself and what it represents in the best light possible, though keep in mind this does not automatically mean censorship; it is possible for such behavior to only affect media that comes from the government itself. However, because Cool Japan is government-backed, this can create a contradictions. Namely, what has attracted people to anime and manga culture in the first place has been its willingness to be subversive, degenerative, and controversial, both in the context of other cultures and in Japan. Concerns over anime being not just pornography but child pornography in the US and Canada are nothing new at this point, and more recently in Japan has passed the Tokyo Metropolitan Ordinance Regarding the Healthy Development of Youths.
I think one possible scenario is that the worlds of doujinshi and industry works will separate a bit more, maybe regress back to how it was a few decades ago. These days Comic Market is a big deal for both amateurs and professionals, with fan parodies being sold right next to videos displaying promos for the latest upcoming anime. A lot of names working professionally, including Satou Shouji (Highschool of the Dead, Triage X) and Naruco Hanaharu (Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet, Kamichu!) are artists who not only work in the (relatively) mainstream industry but also still produce both professional erotic manga and erotic doujinshi. While I don’t think many creators will go away, they might very well have to pick what side of the die they fall on.
Censorship levels tend to ebb and flow, and are even a bit hard to control even as laws exist in the books. While artist Suwa Yuuji got in serious trouble in the early 2000s for publishing Misshitsu, an erotic manga that was deemed insufficiently censored, Frederik Schodt, in his classic book Manga! Manga! The World of Japanese Comics, explains how Japanese artists in the 1970s and 80s got around the censorship of genitalia through the use of creative visual metaphors through very “trains going through tunnels”-type affairs. Even the use of mosaics in Japanese pornography has changed over the years to be less prominent. Artists find ways. As somewhat of an aside I do think it’s interesting that the series Denkigai no Honya-san features a government censor as a character who is also a fujoshi.
However, although I believe that manga creators are imaginative enough to find loopholes, I think what we’ll see is a serious effort to keep things from reaching this level on the part of the industry itself and otaku as well. In many ways, this situation goes well beyond the subjects of anime, manga, games, and otaku because Japan has a very real history with censorship.
Leading up to and during World War II, dissenters could get arrested or even killed for publishing material that was seen as unfavorable to the Japanese government. This has of course changed, but just as the memory of the war continues to be an influence on the 2020 Olympics due to the connection to the 1964 Olympics and the role it had in showing how Japan had “moved on,” so too does has the danger of censorship remained in the culture of Japan.
While this might seem to contradict the fact that Japanese pornography is indeed censored, that sort of thing is often just lip-service that some take more seriously than others. After all, unlike other countries where pornography is banned, this is an adjustment to the work itself and assumes that making things less visible also draws less attention to them. There’s a strange relationship between forbidding ideas and forbidding images, because at some point one transforms into the other, and with anime and manga we’re seeing one arena in which this ambiguity comes to the forefront. This is why people from manga creators Takemiya Keiko (Toward the Terra) and Akamatsu Ken (UQ Holder) to the maids at the maid cafe Schatzkiste have discussed the subject of censorship and what it can mean.
In the end I can’t predict what will become of otaku culture, but I think that we’ll see that it’s not as passive as is often assumed. People will fight for their right to consume and create the anime and manga that they want, and it will certainly not be a sad joke.
I’ve been reading one of Crunchyroll’s latest manga, Watashi ga Motete Dousunda (aka Kiss Him, Not Me) by Junko, which is premised around a fujoshi who loses a ton of weight after her favorite anime character dies and so inadvertently gives herself a makeover that attracts all the guys. Given the idea that the main character Serinuma Kae is supposed to be absolutely gorgeous, I find it interesting how this is expressed, because it’s somewhat unconventional for shoujo manga.
When looking at characters in manga, one can generally get a sense of who the artwork is trying to attract based on how characters’ sexual features are drawn. In manga for girls, even when a character is supposed to have large breasts, they tend not to really stand out compared to how they’re portrayed in boys’ manga. This is quite noticeable, for example, when looking at the difference between how the character Maya looks in the Survival Game Club anime vs. the manga. Another example is when a work depicts its female characters wearing unrealistic shirts that look practically painted on. You rarely if ever see this in a shoujo series.
Kae has what I would call a face that is fairly typical for beauty standards in shoujo manga, but her body is closer to what you would find in a bishoujo series, that is to say a manga for guys all about attractive ladies such as Love Hina, making her a hybrid of sorts between the two styles. Moreover, while the clothing isn’t so unrealistic so as to basically be super spandex, there are times when Kae’s figure is accentuated and her clothing clings to her chest. Again, this would not be so surprising to me if it were in a series that ran in, say, Dengeki Daioh, but Watashi ga Motete Dousunda is definitely a shoujo series, as evidenced by the fact that so much effort is made to portray the guys themselves as various degrees of angst, handsomeness, and dream-boatitude.
Watashi ga Motete Dousunda is not the only series to do this, though maybe there’s something to be said (about me or manga more generally) about the fact that the first example that immediately came to mind was another fujoshi-themed manga, Mousou Shoujo Otakukei (aka Fujoshi Rumi) by Konjoh Natsumi. Like Watashi ga Motete Dousunda, Konjoh’s series portrays its guys as tall, attractive fellows in that way you’d more typically see out of shoujo manga, but the girls, especially the character Matsui Youko, are given a kind of physical attractiveness that is more in line with guy-oriented stuff.
In his introduction to his book The Moe Manifesto (a collection of industry, scholar, and fan interviews about the subject), Patrick Galbraith makes mention of how Azuma Hideo, the “father of lolicon,” created his cute girl characters by combining the expressiveness of shoujo characters with the bodies more in the style of manga pioneer Tezuka Osamu. It could be said that Watashi ga Motete Dousunda is going for a similar effect, though of course calling it lolicon wouldn’t quite be accurate, even if one were to take into account how the definition of that term has changed over time, as it seems to be less about the intersection between youth and adulthood, and more about expressing a new type of ideal.
Hades Project Zeorymer was a run-of-the-mill 80s OVA that faded from whatever prominence it had pretty quickly. With its tough dudes, attractively voluptuous ladies, and giant robots, it was indicative of the sex and violence often associated with titles of the period such as MD Geist and Baoh. That’s why I was surprised to learn that Zeorymer originally actually began in the (in)famous bishoujo/lolicon magazine Lemon People.
To be fair, from what I know of Lemon People, it was unlike a modern adult (18+) manga magazine in that it covered a variety of genres and tried to include plot beyond who’s having sex with who how many times (though don’t be mistaken in thinking it didn’t include that material at all). The Zeorymer manga appears to have been along that vein, utilizing a lolicon aesthetic (which was itself not quite the same as it is today) for its female character designs while having an overall sf/fantasy narrative. It’s not that uncommon in general for character designs to change when adapted from one form to another, but it’s funny to think about the fact that these two characters…
…used to look like this:
I’m no expert on Zeorymer or Lemon People, so I can’t make any definitive statements, but I think that the change might say something about where the 80s OVA market was at the time, what the people making anime at the time thought would fly better among consumers, and where the limits were in that regard. Along that line of thought, I wonder if this is speaks towards a difference between a hardcore anime fan and a hardcore manga fan of the period, because it’s not just the girls who were drawn differently but characters of both genders.
In any case, enjoy how overpowered Zeorymer is in the Super Robot Wars games.
If you’re into anime and aware of the concept of lolicon, then you probably have an idea of what the word means and the kinds of characters associated with it. Lolicon, after all, means the eroticization of very young characters, particularly female ones, right? It turns out to not be so simple, and I don’t mean in terms of “she looks 10 but is actually 500.”
I’ve been re-reading Sharon Kinsella’s Adult Manga lately (which is one of the best academic texts on manga and the manga industry), and in one chapter she writes about lolicon and doujinshi creators, as well as their relationships to professional manga In it, she gives the definition of “lolicon manga” as manga which “usually features a young girlish heroine with large eyes and a childish but voluptuous figure, neatly clad in a revealing outfit or set of armour.” It’s still pretty consistent with the current general conception of lolicon, but the “voluptuous” trait might seem a little strange.
Kinsella points out Gunsmith Cats as a lolicon title, but unlike the idea that it’s lolicon because of Minnie-May Hopkins and her child-like figure (see above), the example given is of the older-looking Rally Vincent.
Furthermore, she discusses the lolicon-esque qualities of Ah! My Goddess, but like Gunsmith Cats she isn’t just talking about the younger Skuld but also Belldandy and Urd, who, Urd especially, seem to go almost entirely against the current conception of lolicon used by people. Other titles from Monthly Afternoon (home of Genshiken!) mentioned as lolicon which seem to defy that definition further are Seraphic Feather and Assembler 0X.
Ah! My Goddess
This could be considered merely a rather broad definition of “lolicon,” but there are three things keep me from drawing that conclusion. First, according to Kinsella the influence of lolicon-style on the manga industry is somewhat acknowledged by professionals. Second, the character designs of Azuma Hideo, the “father of lolicon,” are very much in that blurry territory of the “child-like but voluptuous.” Third, is a conversation I’ve had with ex-manga editor and current Vertical Inc. editor and frontman, Ed Chavez.
According to Ed, one of the most significant lolicon characters ever is Lum from Urusei Yatsura, a character known for her sexy figure, and he also considers the origin of lolicon to actually be Maetel from Galaxy Express 999, a character notable for her mature and motherly qualities. I remember finding his categorization a little out of the ordinary, but when taking Kinsella’s words into account as well, it starts to make sense. It is that intersection of youthful but in certain ways adult, where for example the body is more developed but the face remains youthful, though neither is necessarily at any extreme.
Lum (left), Maetel (right)
Given this idea of lolicon, one of the most fascinating lines of thought to come out of this can be summarized with the following: if we go by this older definition of lolicon, even many of the fans who consider themselves vehemently against lolicon, who try to avoid it like the plague, would be categorized as lolicon fans themselves. Again, characters like Rally Vincent and Belldandy have been presented among fans for years and years now as the positive counterpoint to their respective series’ younger-looking characters, but they too now fall under the same umbrella.
Taking that into further consideration, the question becomes: given the anime of the last 20 years or so, what female characters wouldn’t be considered lolicon? It seems to encompass a large majority, where even characters defined by their mature, sexual bodies like Miura Azusa from THE iDOLM@STER and Fukiyose Seiri from A Certain Magical Index are grouped in, not to mention characters like Lina Inverse from Slayers.
Miura Azusa (left), Fukiyose Seiri (right)
I am not using this as a platform to invalidate people’s opinions, or to accuse anyone of being hypocrites. The term lolicon seems to have transformed over time, and the current generally accepted definition of it isn’t somehow less valid than its origins discussed above, though it may make for some inconsistencies in communicating, and at the end of the day Minnie May is still there. Rather, I think it shows a clear example of how words can change over time, that the boundaries by which we categorize things may not simply be about what traits are and aren’t present, but how those traits interact with each other (though that subtlety makes it susceptible to being more narrowly defined), and furthermore, how those traits are then perceived by those viewing.
In the end, Kinsella provides a quote from a senior editor of Monthly Afternoon:
The form of the manga is the same, but the themes have been changed to make them easier to read and understand for lots of people. Aah! My Godesss is a good example. It looks like otaku manga, but the content is different, the story has been changed so it can be read by a wider audience.
Could it be that, by taking the styles originally associated with lolicon, and putting them into contexts more relatable to a broader audience, this lolicon aesthetic no longer exists in that form? Where once the term referred to a broader range created by the interaction of certain traits, by having that larger readership claim one end of that spectrum, does the lolicon genre as we currently know it come into the forefront?
I think there’s more to the manga and anime series Zettai Karen Children than meets the eye, possibly some kind of elaborate conspiracy taking place over a period of years.
The series is about 3 young psychic girls defending the world alongside their adult caretaker (not pictured) Looking at the character designs, I think it’s undeniable that there is at least some lolicon appeal to these characters and that the creators are well aware of this element.
However, Zettai Karen Children does not run in some otaku-pandering magazine. It’s not like it’s from Comic High or Champion Red Ichigo or even Dengeki Daioh. ZKC runs in Shounen Sunday, the home of Detective Conan, Kekkaishi, Touch!, and Inuyasha. It’s meant to appeal to young boys first and foremost, though in a way different from Shounen Jump‘s more well-known approach of commercialized battling and the like.
Shounen Sunday has a well-established track record of introducing female characters who are on equal footing with their male counterparts with the goal of introducing the concept of males and females being equal to one another to children at an early age. There’s Ran in Detective Conan, Tokine in Kekkaishi, Minami in Touch!, and Kagome in Inuyasha. Having the main characters be the girls in ZKC means that the strength of females is readily apparent.
I have trouble thinking that Shounen Sunday would just let a series with lolicon elements run in its pages without some kind of ulterior motive to change or influence people, to just let it run to attract that older otaku audience.
As Zettai Karen Children has continued, the titular girls have aged. As of now, they are junior high age and their bodies have clearly matured. First, this implies that the progression of time is desired in the series, and second, that the girls are gradually moving away from being designed to have that very, very youthful appeal.
What I think they’re actually doing is an attempt to slowly create an attraction to adult women in a group that might normally reject it otherwise. It’s using the power of the 2D complex to seize the hearts of otaku early on and then gradually wean them off of lolicon.
That’s Shounen Sunday, thinking long-term.
Kransom recently showed me this image from a 1982 issue of Animage Magazine. The image is a chart which is designed for you the reader to figure out your lolicon level. The further down the list your preferences go, the more of a lolicon you are.
I don’t expect people to recognize every character. I certainly didn’t, which is why I’m including this handy guide. From left to right:
Top Row (You’re Normal): Fiolina (Dagli Appennini alle Ande), Clara (Heidi), Monsley (Future Boy Conan), Hilda (Hols: Prince of the Sun), Lana (Future Boy Conan), Clarisse (Lupin III: Castle of Cagliostro)
Middle Row (Serious Symptoms): Aloise (A Dog of Flanders), Diana (Anne of Green Gables), Megu (Majokko Megu-chan), Becky (Tom Sawyer), Angie (Her Majesty’s Petite Angie), Heidi (Heidi)
Bottom Row (Already Sick): Lighthouse Keeper Girl (Wanwan Chuushingura), Princess of the Purple Star (Gulliver’s Space Travels), Shizuka (Doraemon), Makiko (Tetsujin 28 (1980)), Ulala (Robokko Beaton), Mayu (Space Pirate Captain Harlock)
Though it might seem unnecessary for me to repeat it, I have to restate that this comes from 1982 and a very different era of anime. This is not the modern-age pandering lolicon of Kodomo no Jikan and other similar shows. Looking at this list, the majority includes characters from shows that were produced by future Studio Ghibli staff such as Miyazaki and Takahata, as well as characters from famous children’s literature around the world such as Tom Sawyer and Anne of Green Gables, and I don’t think anyone would accuse Diana Barry of being a one-dimensional character.
Though moe is not lolicon, the generally youthful look of moe characters means that the two ideas are often associated with each other. And aside from the idea that Miyazaki and children’s literature created the lolita complex in anime fans, accusations which are not new, I think the real implication is that as much as we decry lolicon and the like for being shallow, vapid, and creepy, this shows that it came from a real source consisting of strong storytelling and visual quality. Though I might be reaching a little, I really think that the people who realized their own lolicon-ness as the result of these shows were taken in by the excellent characterization of the young girl characters present in these anime, and not because these characters hit any specific buttons. This sentiment was then carried over, becoming reduced and simplified in the same manner that resulted in the current understanding of moe, and also in a fashion to how the people who fell in love with Gundam would go on to work on their own giant robot anime years later.
It’s not my goal to defend or condemn lolicon, but rather to say that this aspect of anime fandom, like it or not, appears to be born from high-quality Japanese Animation from some of the greatest masters in the industry. In other words, even though there are shows that pander to lolicon, it was not lolicon-pandering shows which created the market in the first place.