Violet Evergarden and the Lost Art of Letter Writing

Violet Evergarden AnimeI’ve never received a letter. Most likely, you haven’t either. Our digital age killed letter writing with email and social media. Is it odd that I feel nostalgic toward letters? I spent a good bit of my teen years hanging out with WWII veterans. They told me of their excitement when they received letters from their girlfriends (most married and stayed together for 50+ years). Most still had the letters with the elegant penmanship of the time.

Seriously, it seemed everyone in the 1930s and 1940s had elegant handwriting. Of course, some letters weren’t for my gaze. Where else do you think the Internet got some of it’s raunchiness?

I remember the wives’ grins as they spoke of the anticipation and worry. They spoke of elation when the letter finally arrived, and how letter writing helped them fall in love over distance and time.

So when I saw the anime Violet Evergarden, I was all in. The story takes place in an alternative world during their World War I. The country falls into such dire need for manpower that they take to training war orphans. Violet is one such orphan. She becomes attached to her commanding office, who is a father to her. But during a mission he is wounded and she loses both her arms. When an artillery shell strikes the building they are in, they become separated. Violet survives and wants to find him.

One of the Major’s war buddies takes her in and arranges for her to have prosthetic arms. The arms work much like Fullmetal Alchemist’s automail. They are beyond the technology of the time, but I didn’t find it any more jarring than automail. Well, she begins work as an Auto-memory doll, women who write letters for people.

The new job requires Violet to travel around the country (setting up the anime’s episodic structure), and it requires her to face her brutality and suppressed emotions about herself and the war.

Violet and the Letter Writing Crew

Violet and the Letter Writing Crew

As you can guess, letters shape the main structure of the anime. Much is said about the power of letters in people’s lives. And from what I’ve seen with my now-passed friends, it’s true. Perhaps the Internet and the proliferation of immediate writing has blinded us to the power of writing.

When you think about writing, it is a miracle. I can write or type squiggles that put at least a portion of my thoughts into your mind. It’s like telepathy or mind-melding. But immediacy is the problem. As Violet Evergarden suggests, it takes time to perfect a letter. My friends admitted to taking time to draft a letter. It wasn’t something they dashed off. Even when it was, the act of writing with a pen on paper forced them to sort their thoughts in ways we can’t do with our keyboards.

You’ve seen how some of my blog posts here are garbled. That’s even after I re-read and revise. Good writing takes delay, and most of our problems online would dissolve if publish buttons didn’t immediately publish. We need a time delay–like the time it takes to write a letter with pen and paper–for online writing.

Most of my articles here wait in the queue for at least a few weeks before you see them. Some wait for months. This bit of time lets me approach them with a fresh look and gives me time to reconsider some of my touchier topics. Likewise, I believe social media posts, tweets, shares, whatever should have a delay timer. Perhaps 15 minutes. After you hit the publish button, the system will wait 15 minutes before asking you if you are certain you want to publish the post. This gives emotions a chance to cool, such as waiting for a letter gives some distance between replies.

The world Violet Evergarden paints unfolds slower than ours. I don’t want to cast the past in an ideal light–it had problems we do not have now–but the slower pace would do us well. We cannot slow down and savor in our instant world. I’ve written about how anticipating can help us enjoy anime better. Well, anticipation can help us enjoy our relationships better too. Letter writing and the waiting it requires allows us to slow down. In my own life, I find absence does make the heart fonder.

Violet from Violet EvergardenAbsence allows us to overlook people’s foibles easier. They aren’t so grating. In fact, we see this a bit in Violet Evergarden. Some of Violet’s coworkers chafe with her presence, but as she travels more, they begin to miss her. They also see her internal changes more clearly. That’s the rub. When you live around people daily, you become blind to them. It’s much like how you can drive the same street for years and never notice that small book shop.

While I’m a technologist in addition to be a librarian, I believe we need to unplug and slow down more. At least, I know that I need to do so. But it takes effort. Unlike Violet’s world, we have instant choices for communication. They are not wrong of themselves, but if you are like me, you don’t use them in healthy ways. I’ve mindlessly lost many hours in Facebook, Tumblr, and the Internet at large.

Letters have an intimacy that social media lacks. Handwritten letters are human. You can see handshakes in the writing, tears staining the page, excitement in the way the pen gouges the paper. Typed letters, particularly on a typewriter (Do you know how to use one? I had to write reports on mechanical typewriters) are a little less human, but they are still friendlier than a computer-printed page. Computer-generated text is just too perfect, too sterile. It lacks many of the human errors that give items life and character.

Of course, I’m waxing nostalgic here. Typing on a mechanical or even an electric typewriter can be a pain, especially if you are a poor typist like me. But the tactile feedback is wonderful.

Violet Evergarden is a great anime you should watch. It’s not without problems. Sometimes it lays the emotions on too heavily. Violet’s relationship with the Major sometimes feels more like a relationship with a lover than a father, leaving you feeling uncertain which the story wants to show.  But on the whole, I enjoyed the story, but I’m a sucker for Data-like (from Star Trek: The Next Generation) characters. You should also consider writing letters or, at the least, writing a journal. A journal is just a letter to the future you. Consider ways to slow down and unplug, even if it means watching less anime online.

Christian Parental Concerns and Anime’s Fan-service

Christian parents and their anime fan-service concernsAnime’s fan-service makes many Christian parents hesitate for good reason. Many in the anime community share the reservation of parents I’ve spoke with. Fan-service is a blight on anime, and it’s a negative reflection on the anime community. It doesn’t help storytelling. Let’s look at how fan-service and Christian ideals clash and whether or not Christians can safely watch anime containing fan-service. Fan-service involves scenes and situations that shows off a character’s body. Typically, it focuses on female characters and showing their breasts, bottoms, legs, and other body parts. It can involve scenes of accidentally grabbing a breast or seeing up a skirt. Fan-service can reverse and focus on men in similar ways. Finally, fan-service involves long camera pans of technology like tanks, mechs, and other technology.

Fan-service titillates and panders to the audience’s desires. It’s used to make strong characters, usually female, appeal attainable. Upskirt views, swimsuit displays, cleavage shots, and other forms of objectification allows the audience to visually possess a character and build a fantasy around that character. Waifuism often uses fan-service as a part of its fantasy. Other types of fan-service exist, but the sexually-focused types, which are the most common, concern the parents I’ve spoken with so that is what I’ll focus upon here.

Christianity teaches against objectification and lust. In 1 Corinthians 6, Paul states sexual immorality goes against God’s intention for the human body and urges Christians to flee sexual immorality. Jesus states lustful thoughts are the same as the act of adultery (Matthew, 5:27-28) and tells Christians to remove such from their lives. However, lust is different from momentary titillation.  Titillation is a fleeting response to something like fan-service. Lust, on the other hand, is a self-focused state of mind. It is a craving that consumes your thinking and drives you to attempt to sate it no matter the consequences (only to have it return). Many today, however, believe lust involves the momentary sexual desire we feel when something sexy appeals to our senses. Lust goes further. It is a habit, a state of mind, that goes beyond the moment. Lust comes from embracing momentary self-focused desires whenever they arise. This waters the seeds of lust. Fleeing from it–because we really can’t resist them–waters a different type of seed. Lust involves seeking these fleeting moments instead of fleeing.

The end result of a male character ogling

The end result of a male character ogling

Anime’s fan-service constitutes as lust when we seek it out and dwell on it. Momentary titillation is a normal part of the human body. It’s hard to look at a good-looking person, plate of food, and other physically appealing things and not feel desire. The body is wired to want such things, and the momentary wanting isn’t necessarily sinful. It’s automatic and makes us seek things like food that we need, but when it rules our every action, that’s where lust comes in. Selfishness sits at the heart of the problem. Now, anime fan-service seems harmless. After all, fan-service is just drawings of people that do not and cannot exist. However, it creates a habit of self-focused titillation that can morph into the habit of lust.

Of course, all of this depends too. I don’t feel titillation whenever I see fan-service in a story. I feel annoyance and even anger at mishandling a character. Christianity leaves room for individual differences, but it also cautions us to be careful not to delude ourselves about our strength. Fan-service may not affect me, but it may affect you. If so, Paul would urge you to flee. It takes self-awareness and a desire to pursue other, longer-lasting types of self fulfillment. However, there is pressure from sections of the otaku community to consume fan-service and to think in selfish ways.

I want to be clear. Not every aspect of the anime community encourage lustful views or other views contrary to Christianity. Much of the community is warm and positive. Likewise, waifuism doesn’t always have sexual components to it. For many, waifuism is a way to step out of self-focus. It allows people to learn how to step outside their views and into that of another. Of course, it can also foster self-projection. Everything can be used by God to pull people closer to Him, but sin can also distort those tools too. Waifuism can encourage compassion or encourage lust.

Christian parents have their own balancing act to perform. Teens compose anime’s main audience, hence the rather tired high-school setting. Forbidding anime wholesale will only encourage the teen to go behind the parent’s back. It also prevents the teen from accessing anime’s stories that can be uplifting or help the teen through a rough patch. Anime often addresses teen-identity problems and problems in friendships in helpful ways. Fan-service can also be used as satire to point out problems within anime and how we view clothing. Nudity can also be used as a character trait–showing innocence of a character–such as Holo in Spice and Wolf.

Our lives are formed by the stories we live within. For example, we live in a world that believes in the story of resource scarcity, and it impacts how we view life. Likewise, anime and its fan-service can impact our views of the world–for better or for worse. Fan-service is designed to appeal to our base instincts rather than cultivate a more God-focused perspective. But fan-service can allow for a teaching opportunity, such as this article. I’m not a parent. I can’t offer any true advice. However, a shared interest in anime can allow parents and their children to bond and discuss issues like fan-service and the nature of lust. The stories we consume shape our thoughts. Many people downplay anime as mere entertainment, but it contains messages that we consciously and unconsciously add to our characters. We do the same with movies, books, and the stories people tell us. Anime, like all stories, has positive and negative messages. It’s up to us to decide what messages to consume and which we need to flee.

Why Does Anime Portray Men as Perverts?

Why does anime portray men as perverts?Fans of anime often ask me why anime has so many perverted men. On the surface, we can say its because of the fans or because of Japan’s sexual culture, but as usual, the true answer involves more complexity. Perverted comedy is a niche despite its proliferation online. The Internet has a tendency to take a niche and make it appear more popular than it is. Most anime I’ve seen have few perverted male characters, and when they do appear, they appear as comedy relief. So part of the reason is a perception problem. A section of the anime community focuses on these characters and stories because of their immaturity. Hormonal teens run amok online on forums and social media, but they don’t represent the majority of anime fans. From my own anecdotal experience, most anime fans in the United States are teenage girls and young women. Women dominate the anime blogging community.

Japanese Sex Culture and Perverted Anime Men

Asuka wonders why boys are such perverted idiots. People like to pin perverted male characters on the sexual repression in Japanese culture. Yet, for those of us who study the culture, we know it isn’t truly repressed, at least not in the same way as American culture. Japanese sexual culture features an emphasis on fantasy. Perverted male characters play into this fantasy by providing an outlet for actions that are taboo in the public eye. It comes back to the idea of social harmony. People don’t have the freedom to act out in ways that disrupt the harmony of society, as perverted characters do. Of course, this doesn’t stop men from groping women on subway trains or from taking clandestine panty photos. Such behavior is not acceptable. Fictional perverted men, however, provide an acceptable, humorous outlet for men who want to buck social demands. It works the same way as action heroes here in the US. Action heroes act in ways everyday men cannot, shooting or beating people who oppose them, driving fast, and saving the girl. They provide an outlet for masculine fantasies.

Japanese culture faces a decrease in birth rates in recent years as people’s interest in sexuality declines and polarizes (Ishikawa, 2015):

The number of adolescents stating that they were sexually active in 2011 was lower than in 2005 or 1999, and the same as in 1993. Moreover there appears to be a polarization among adolescents; while some become sexually active at an early age, there are others who do not seem interested in sex.

This environment impacts anime as a commercial product. In Ishikawa’s study (2015), 5% of males with stay-at-home mothers reported to have had sex under the age of 18 while those with working mothers rated at 9.1%. In either case, the rates of sexual activity among teenage males rates low. The majority don’t have sex according to Ishikawa. This is why the awkward virgin character appears more than the perverted, sexually-active male. More people can identify with him than the perverted side character who brags about his conquests. But, at the same time, the perverted character remains because it represents a persona some men wish they could be or experience. Harem anime center on male escapist fantasies.

Marriage doesn’t provide a sexual outlet, however. According to the Association of Japanese Family Plan, in 2014 married couples reported that they do not have sex more than once a month. The parent-child relationship rates as more important than the husband-wife relationship ( Ishikawa 2015). This offers a reason why perverted male characters stereotype as older men–think Master Roshi and Jiraiya–more often than teens. It provides a outlet for men who may feel dissatisfied with the focus on children within their marriages. These characters also allow them to laugh at their own sexual state by providing an absurd opposite.

I have to note that anime often features innocence as a type of perversity. For example, in Dragonball, Goku often looks up skirts. This may appear lewd to Americans, but it can be seen as a child’s curiosity instead of an expression of sexuality. Some teen characters feature this same level of curiosity and innocence. This differs from true perversity which has a lustful component and a drive for sexual gratification. Perversity has an element of curiosity. Even men who are sexually experienced retain this curiosity.

Teenage Male Groups and Attitudes Toward Sex

Kon, from Bleach, provides an example of a perverted side character.In the US, anime most often associates with teens so let’s return to that age group for a moment.  Castro-Vanquez performed a case study of a Japanese senior high school back in 2003. While the study had a small sample size and can’t be extrapolated to the general population, it revealed a few useful ideas. In the study, students fell into one of four categories:

  • Grinders – those who believed in hard work and restrained sexual activity. They believed hard work was the key to success and they spent their time studying instead of socializing.
  • Lifestylers – those who searched for their own path and had a critical view of school. These boys disliked Grinders and Sporting Boys and began to have sexual relationships.
  • Sporting Boys – these students believed in hard work and discipline. They drew sharp distinctions between masculinity and femininity, believing girls were feeble, vulnerable, and in need of protection.
  • Confident Heterosexuals – these boys focused on their sexual and social performance with girls. They viewed the loss of virginity as essential for adulthood.

Grinders and Confident Heterosexuals stand at odds with each other. Grinders viewed sexuality as opposite academic achievement and success:

Q: Are you saying that having sex and academic achievement contradict one another?
A: … For example my friends, whom I attended kindergarten with, they have many girls, they are always causing problems and they are having a lot of sex. It sounds a little bit biased, but their academic abilities, and abilities in general are different. The schools, the schools they attend are not that good. They don’t restrain themselves. They do mainly sports. They play around. They have sex when they feel like … The environment where they live is just different.
(Masashi, 18 years old)

Whereas the Confident Heterosexuals considered sex as a product of manliness. Inside these 4 categories, we also see anime character stereotypes. Lifestylers and Confident Heterosexuals contain the perverted anime male character. Most perverted characters embrace their sexual drive, and some equate it with manhood.  This contrasts with innocent interest in gender differences some characters convey.

Lifestyler male characters may have an extreme interest in sex, but they also have enough fear that they never follow through with the act, such as Aito in The Comic Artist and His Assistants. The conflict appeals across the different categories and provides for humorous situations. They want to look but not touch while the Confident Heterosexual brag about what they’ve done. Because of their confidence and follow through, Confidents don’t provide the same tension in a story as Lifestylers. Female Grinders often appear as closet perverts in anime.

Girls can be perverted characters too.Speaking of female characters, for most of Japanese history, women were considered more sexual than men. The West also held this same view; however, unlike male sexuality, female sexual desire was used as a reason for repression in the West. The story of Eve and the fall of humanity from paradise cast a long shadow on female sexuality. During the European Middle Ages, female sexuality sometimes equated with demonic behavior. As for Japanese history, female sexuality simply wasn’t mentioned. Some ukiyo-e prints and sex manuals from the Tokugawa period depict women enjoying sex, but on the whole it wasn’t discussed. This silence has carried through to anime, although in shojo stories and yuri stories you’ll see more overt female sexuality. This trend is slowly changing. Female characters that own their sexuality are appearing in more anime, such as Kill la Kill.

Commentary on the Pervert

The Pervert strikes me as more annoying than funny, but then anime’s comedic characters often annoy me. Humor doesn’t translate across cultures sometimes. The main issue with the perverted male centers on how it spreads across the internet and makes some think such behavior is okay. I’ve ran into male anime fans that think its funny to look up women’s dresses and other anime comedic behavior. They miss the main point of those characters: such behavior isn’t okay. They appear in anime to provide an outlet and to show how such behavior is disruptive and tone deaf. It put it simply, they show how it is not okay to be a pervert. In most anime stories, the male pervert fails to get the girl they want and end up alone. They fail to grow and mature as the story progresses, while their counterparts do. Anime depicts perversity as a state of immaturity and of frozen time. Perverted characters remain frozen in their present, unable to move forward toward their goals. Ironically, their perversity prevents them from having fulfilling sex lives. Many anime fans who live these “fun” personas simply miss the point.


Castro-Vanquez, Genaro and Izumi Kishi (2003) Masculinities and Sexuality: the case of a Japanese top ranking senior high school. Journal of Gender Studies, 12 (1). 22-33.

Ishikawa, Yukari and Natsuki Nagata (2015). Youth Sexuality and the Modern Japanese Family.  Journal Of East-West Thought (JET), 5(4), 25-39.

Manga and Your Mind: Manga, Autism, and the Benefits of Reading

One Punch man helps those with autism.Manga is good for your brain. Yep. You’ve read that right. In fact, reading manga may give you an advantage over those, like me, who grew up reading only traditional books. Manga benefits those with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) too.

The medium requires a different set of skills than reading traditional books. Not to say traditional books are bad for your mind. It’s just that manga challenges the brain in different ways. Even Western comics like Batman and Superman don’t benefit your mind as manga does. Manga relies on images more for story telling then Western comics do. They have more images and fewer words (Rozema, 2015). The media has several layers of reading: images, words, Japanese onomatopoeia, and its own visual language. This combination means “…even proficient readers of English—who are not experienced with this level of multi-modality and have been socialized into more traditional, nonhypertext, storylines—may find manga, as we do, to be a challenging read (Schwartz, 2006).”

I’ve covered Japanese visual language and Japanese onomatopoeia. They combine to create a unique interplay between Japanese and Western cultures. Manga also has different identities and contexts that result from Japanese culture. All of which the reader needs to decipher. The immediacy of images, and the secondary nature of words, means readers can’t rely on explanations as with traditional books. It’s easier for books to explain a cultural context than an image which just shows that context and leaves it to the readers to understand it. But that gap is what makes manga good for our minds.

Reading manga requires practice

This spread from One Piece shows the complexity of manga reading. You’ll see the Japanese sound effect is a part of the artwork of the ship panel. The art shows the chaos and the action of the ship being split in two. The left panel’s vertical reading balances the right side’s chaos and action, giving the gaze a bit of a respite. It also serves to highlight the characters. The author drew the ship’s crew far smaller than the more important characters on the left panel.This helps with the reading flow.

Because English lacks the same number of onomatopoeia as Japanese, many manga translations leave the original Japanese intact. Over time, readers learn to decipher these fonts and words and associate them with certain types of actions. This is multimodal thinking can work without needing to look up a translation or transliteration. Although this can help. Multimodal thinking happens without our awareness. It comes from an accumulation of experiences with manga. That is part of the reason why regular manga readers don’t struggle with reading the book “backward” and reading pages right to left, left to right, and horizontally across two pages. As readers get involved with the story, they learn to read the rhythm of the images and follow them along with the text without much thought behind it. Learning happens without awareness.

Manga’s nonlinear storytelling requires readers to remember dozens of subplots and characters. Many deal with different viewpoints, such as gender swapping stories, along with coming-of-age stories and genres like Boy’s Love. “Thus, it is possible that manga story lines not only afford readers a nonlinear, rich imaginative read of the world but also tap into an array of complexities in human experiences toward which young adults seem to feel great affinity (Schwartz, 2006).” Manga reading skills transfer to other multimodal media that require reading images and words together. It encourages multidimensional thinking.

Anime and Autism

The immediacy of emotions in manga images helps those with autism.

From the manga Kimi no Iru Machi. The immediacy of these images and few words convey the emotions of the story without us needing to read the story.

The multimodal nature of manga may be why it helps those with ASD. While there isn’t a single usual case of ASD, there are 2 board diagnostic criteria (Rozema, 2015):

  1. deficits in social communication
  2. restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior, interests, or activities

Manga falls under the second criteria. Its focus on images and its visual language may appeal to teens with Autism Spectrum Disorder, and many autistic people are better at processing images than words (Rozema, 2015).

Manga’s visual language focuses on emotion. The manga face follows a general template–pointed chin, small nose, small mouth, large eyes–which is distinctly manga. The face is designed for emotional exaggeration, leaving hair, accessories, and details to separate one character from the next. Many with autism struggle with reading expressions, but manga faces exaggerate and simplify expressions, making them easier to read. The fact manga faces always look like manga faces allows teens with ASD to recognize them. Then the simple design feature that identifies each character helps those teens draw distinctions among those faces (Rozema, 2015). Think: Naruto’s cheek whiskers.

Manga also provides an ocean of information to dive into. There are hundreds of stories with a vast array of characters to learn. Dragonball has more than 500 chapters of characters, settings, and storylines to learn. Manga is meant to be disposable, printed on cheap paper as it is and rapidly produced. Yet, this creates depth through its sheer quantity. And most of it follows an established visual language, which allows readers to easily slip from world to world without having to relearn anything other than the rules for that story world. This helps those with ASD enjoy a wide array of stories. Many with ASD enjoy learning and memorizing a vast body of information surrounding their interest (Rozema, 2015).

Beyond the learning benefits, manga provides a shared interest that allows people to socialize easier. Because of this, manga provides a sanctuary for those who have high-functioning ASD. Manga attracts those who aren’t inclined toward verbal language so social awkwardness is fairly common and accepted.

Reading difficulty varies across manga, but all of them use cinematic storytelling methods.

From Shokugeki no Soma. This page is easier to read than One Piece’s spread, but it follows the same principles. Manga sits between reading a book and watching a film. You’ll notice in this page the cinematic techniques–establishing place shots, character close-up, a cut-shot, and a zoom-out–used in film. The designs and expressions tell the story while the text supports those visual elements.

Multimodal skills–the ability to decipher images and words and cultural contexts–help people succeed. Globalization with its cross-cultural interaction allows people with multimodal skills to thrive because they can better reason through language and cultural barriers. These skills also allow people to better navigate the glut of information that surrounds us. They can process image information faster and with more flexibility which is important with how the Internet pervades most aspects of work and life. Manga reading makes your mind more flexible because of how it encourages you to read right to left, left to right, images, Japanese onomatopoeia, Japanese cultural details, and more. This allows you to be more open to different cultures too.

Don’t sell manga reading short. Its reliance on images for narration benefits you as images and videos increasingly take over the written word’s dominance. Of course, there will always be a place for words and prose. Everyone should learn both skill sets.


Rozema, Robert (2015) Manga and the Autistic Mind. English Journal. 105 (1) 60-68.

Schwartz, Adam & Rubinstein-Avila, Eliane (2006) Understanding the Manga Hype: Uncovering the Multimodality of Comic-Book Literacies. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy 50 (1) 40-49.


Kakegurui’s Similarities to Moby Dick

Kakegurui shares many elements with Moby DickCall me Ryōta.

As I watched Kakegurui, it struck me how similar it felt to Herman Melville’s book Moby Dick. Let me summarize each and then we’ll jump into how an anime about a compulsive gambler feels similar to a story about a man obsessed with a white whale.

Kakegurui follows Yumeko as she gambles through the Hyakkaou Private Academy. The academy uses gambling to determine the social standing, and ultimately fate, of its students. In typical anime fashion, the student council rules with supreme power over the school. I suspect anime does this because this type of council is far from reality. In any case, Yumeko transfers to the school and proceeds to gamble increasingly high-stakes games just for the thrill of it.

Moby Dick follows Captain Ahab in his effort to kill a mythical white whale that bit his leg off. Various whaling adventures happen on his search, along with discussions about whaling that bores the reader to death.

Kakeugurui and Moby Dick use the same story-telling structure. We don’t get to see directly into the minds of Yumeko or Captain Ahab. Instead, an outside character tells us the story. Ryota tells us Yumeko’s story. Ishmael tells us about Ahab. Because of this, we don’t get to see the inner workers of Yumeko or Ahab. This doesn’t stop us from coming to understand them, but the distance allows us to avoid the problems of the unreliable narrator.

Patrick Stewart played a great Captain Ahab.

Patrick Stewart played a great Captain Ahab.

The madness of Yumeko and Ahab depends on us not being able to fully understand it. Their level of obsession would become repetitive if we saw the story from their eyes. Ryota and Ishmael provide a filter that blunts this problem, and they provide some tension. Ryota’s perspective, in particular, ratchets the tension because he isn’t privy to Yumeko’s planning. If we watched the story from her view, we wouldn’t see tension. Gambling excites her, and she has most situations well planned. Ahab also doesn’t feel tension. He cares little for his life, so that pretty much kills the reader’s tension if the story was from his viewpoint.

Ryota and Ishmael’s filter allows us to understand what’s going on. Perhaps too much so. Ishmael spends an inordinate amount of time discussing whaling techniques. Ryota switches between explaining the nuances of a gambling game to having it explained to him. I’m not a gambler or a whaler, so both characters helped me understand the environment a bit better. Of course, both go too far in their explanations and become distracting. Ryota’s information overload distracts us from seeing the trick Yumeko does in each of the gambles. His distractions serve a purpose at least.

Yumeko and Ahab share obsessive tendencies. Ahab chases the white whale while Yumeko chases the euphoria risk gives her. Ahab pushes to the point of endangering others. Yumeko does this too, but she still has some concern, albeit little, for those she regards as friends. Some of her antics are kind, at least from her viewpoint. She seeks to share her euphoria with those closest to her. Unlike Ahab and Ishmael, Yumeko and Ryota grow rather close. This allows us to see Yumeko a bit clearer than Ishmael does Ahab. We get to understand what drives her and her more human elements from a closer perspective.

Ryota gets more involved with Yumeko than Ishmael does with Ahab.Both stories look at the darker side of the human psyche. Kakeugurui falls into the psychotic and the sexual. For example, Midari, a member of the student council, enjoys playing Russian Roulette and the thrill of gambling drives her to masturbate to climax in the girl’s restroom. Yumeko’s gambling excitement crosses into the realm of climax in various scenes too. You won’t see any characters doing this in Moby-Dick. That story is a more straightforward literary tale with its symbolism of futility (the white whale) and the classic struggle of man (which they are all male characters) against nature.

Yumeko doesn’t really struggle against anything in her story. The student council attempts to manipulate her, but she lacks a true goal other than gambling’s thrill. Student councils stand in for governments so you have the idea of the individualist vying against conformity. Only Yumeko doesn’t really vie as Ahab does against nature. She remains relatively neutral to the council outside of what thrills they provide her. She doesn’t want to take the council down as in many weird-school anime. She provides a warning about how pursuing an obsession isn’t healthy, but this theme is blunted by the fact she wins even when she loses (the thrill factor). If anything, the story portrays her gambling compulsion as exciting and even an expression of her individualism. Whereas with Ahab, his compulsion kills people.

Kakeugurui doesn’t set out to teach a moral lessons as Moby Dick does. It doesn’t show compulsion as a negative. In fact, it revels in it. The way it shows gambling’s thrill as consuming provides some moral warning. By showing gambling as a positive or a thrill for psychotic characters, you can show how such compulsions are immoral and dangerous. It equates the act with the psychotic state of mind. However, this isn’t as clear-cut as Moby Dick’s lesson. Linking the thrill of gambling with masturbation and sexual climaxes shows how intense the characters feel when they gamble, but it also muddies literary lessons. It can link those actions with the negative of compulsive gambling or perhaps the other way around, depending on the viewer.

Yumeko's insanity leads to stark images. Of course, the author of Kakeugurui may not seek the teach a literary message or make any observations of human nature. Anime, after all, seeks escapism and  to make money. While it’s easy to over-think anime, Kakeugurui shares a fairly similar structure to Moby Dick as we’ve seen. The role of an outside observer allows Ishmael and Ryota filter characters readers may find difficult and even unlikable. Compulsive behavior hurts people, causing issues like hoarding, cutting, gambling, extreme collecting, extreme hand washing, and other life-inhibiting habits. Despite the muddied messages and associations, I found the show interesting. Yumeko and Ahab fascinate with their drives. Both stories are flawed enough that many people will find them unlikable. But they both explore interesting aspects of human psychology that will continue to appear in stories.

Citrus: Lesbianism at All-Girls Schools

Citrus anime title card.Citrus is the first yuri anime I’ve watched from start to finish. The story follows the fraught romance between two step-sisters Yuzu and Mei. As you can expect from anime, they share little in common. Yuzu is a fun-loving city girl while Mei is cold and by-the-books. Yuzu feels conflicted about her feelings. After all, she’s never felt attraction toward a girl, and her attraction toward her younger sister Mei troubles her. She feels the need to be a good elder sister but her love goes beyond sibling love. The pair takes steps forward in their relationship only to back off again. This is a common theme in other relationship-focused anime I’ve seen. It can annoy some viewers, but it is pretty realistic.

As I watched the show, I pondered the relationship of lesbian attraction and all-girls schools. In Citrus, it seemed such romances were common but still ridiculed. I wanted to know how much of this was fantasy and how much was based on reality.

Same-Sex Schooling and Lesbianism – Past Views

Yuzu has a bubbly personalityIn the past, people in the West debated about the line between true homosexuality and situational-forced homosexuality. Girls who don’t define themselves as lesbian may have emotional and physical relationships while attending all-girls schools. But once they leave, they fall into heterosexual relationships and show no signs of wanting lesbian relationships (Steet, 1998).

In a 1962 study “Homosexual Behavior in a Correctional Institution for Adolescent Girls,” 69% of girls ages 12-18 had been involved in homosexual behavior or “girl stuff” as the girls called any “sexually tinged relationship between two girls.” However, when they leave the institution many also left the girl stuff behind. The behavior, at least according to these past studies, doesn’t link with identity. However, women’s schools have a long literary tradition of female homosexual identity in the West. The first story traces to 1762 with “A Description of Millennium Hall.”

Lillian Faderman, a social historian, argued the modern lesbian identity dates to the Scotch Verdict Trial of 1811 where two teachers in an all-girls school—Miss Woods and Miss Pirie—were accused of engaging in “improper” displays of affection in front of their charges and corrupting morals. The teachers were acquitted because the judges didn’t want to admit to the reality of female-female sex (Blackmer, 1995).

Many girls feel like their peers assume they are lesbians just because they attend an all-girls school (Bloom, 2009). Much of this is because of how closely lesbian identity in the West associates with all-girls school literature and the Scotch Verdict.  Yet, all-girls schools are strictly heteronormative.

All-Girls Schools and Forced Heterosexuality

Yuzu and Mei were often at odds.Catholic schools dominate American single-sex schools, so the teaching of the church shapes most single-sex schools (Love & Tolsolt, 2013):

Single-sex Catholic schools align fundamentally with Catholic doctrine in that students are seen either as male or female. Furthermore, single-sex Catholic schools are institutions that perpetuate socially constructed gender differences, normalize heterosexism, and through formal and informal school curriculum, ignore students who identify as queer.

According to the Catholic Church, acting on homosexual desire is a sin. Being a homosexual is a disorder, but as long you don’t act upon the feelings, you don’t sin. The church recognizes people are born queer, but it also expects them not to act upon this nature (Love & Tolsolt, 2013). Interestingly, we see a little of this in Citrus with Yuzu. In a few scenes, she feels wrong to feel and especially act on her attraction for Mei. Although she doesn’t conceptualize this as a sin, the act of kissing Mei weighs on her.

At these schools, dances can only happen with males and females, and even then contact is regulated. The church affirms homosexual identity and denounces discriminating against it even as it condemns acting upon that identity as a sin (Love & Tolsolt, 2013).  Now this may seem contradictory, but the concept of original sin clarifies this. According to the idea, everyone inherits Adam and Eve’s sinful nature. Homosexuality comes from that nature according to the doctrine. Acting on such nature creates sin in this view. For example, you may have the love for gambling in your nature, but as long as you don’t act upon it, you don’t commit the sin. The doctrine defines how Catholic all-girl schools function.

Yuzu's friends remained supportive and fairly well fleshed out. The very reason behind same-gender schools is heteronormative. Same-sex education “rests on the premise that boys and girls will work better separately because they’ll ogle each other too much if they’re together.” Acknowledging desires outside of the heterosexual undermines one of the main reasons behind same-sex education (Savino, 2003). Some people worry that students will resort to homosexual experimentation without a heterosexual outlet, as if the heterosexual identity is the default. Savino (2003) continues: “In this model, the same-sex education system can admit lesbian behavior exists while simultaneously dismissing it as sublimated heterosexual desire!”

Studies on the effectiveness of same-sex schools appear mixed. They appear to help minorities. The schools appear to remove distractions caused by the opposite gender, allowing students to be more open with each other and with their teachers, but trusting teacher-student relationships matter more (Hubbard, Datnow, 2005).


In Citrus, Yuzu worried about bullying in a few scenes. The same-sex school environment changes the nature of bullying. Girls show more relational-aggression than boys. Boys show more physical aggression. But because these are normal patterns, victimization happens when the opposite happens (Velaquez, 2010):

Among boys, victimization was associated with relational aggression but not physical aggression; conversely, among girls victimization was associated with physical aggression and not relational aggression.

Velaquez (2010) found girls in same-sex schools associate physical aggression as more negative than relationship bullying more than girls from mixed-sex schools. These schools seem to normalize the perception of physical aggression for both genders. This is likely because its seen more often with guys around than when there are all girls around. Although I have to admit that anecdotally I’ve seen more pushing and physical aggression from girls than from guys. Any behavior that deviates from the norms of peers attracts bullying, which explains Yuzu’s worry.


Mei and Yuzu together. I’ve focused on the US. This is partially because it’s the information I have and partially because anime is an international medium. A good portion of Japan’s school system was modeled after the West’s systems. Because of this, looking at US research can give us some insight as to the reality behind the same-sex school in Citrus.  Japan has a long unacknowledged history of lesbianism. Such encounters appear in various shunga and hinted-upon in Heian period literature. Yuri stories descend from these.

It looks as if the all-girls school in Citrus has some basis in reality. Same-sex schools are mostly heterosexual as an environment, but they can encourage limited homosexual relationships and experimentation. Many of these students aren’t lesbians. They could be considered bisexual, perhaps, or just situational-seeking relationships as some used to believe. So some of the side hints to this in the anime can be considered realistic.

Really, all of this just depends on the individual. When I was researching, some lesbian students found all-girl’s schools oppressive. Other interviews found them a welcome place to be themselves. Heterosexual girls felt the stigma of the literature surrounding all-girls schools. This combined with the fact they had few encounters with boy to make it difficult for them to relate to boys. The schools benefit some, and it hurts others.

As for Citrus, I found the anime interesting. Yuzu’s conflict backpedaled enough to feel realistic. Relationships don’t advance in a linear way, and the story does a good job showing that. Because it’s the first yuri I’ve watched to the end, I can’t comment how it compares. The fan-service remains standard fare for anime. You’ll see the usual accidental walk-ins during showers. Citrus shows topics like female masturbation as normal and common with how briskly it passes over them. If anything, the series felt too fast. Many conflicts and problems resolved too quickly. I was glad to see no one was an airhead. Even Yuzu had a sharp mind when she applied herself. She just didn’t have the interest to do so until she met Mei. Even the side characters felt intelligent.

The story isn’t the best (it’s uncomfortable at times), but anime lately have learned toward mediocre stories and unlikable or flat characters. The characters in Citrus suggested they have more depth than many characters in Spring’s anime line-up.


Blackmer, C. E. (1995). The finishing touch and the tradition of homoerotic girl’s school fictions. Review Of Contemporary Fiction, 1532.

Bloom, Adi (2009) Tart or Lesbian? How pupils at all-girls primaries live in fear of labels that stick. The Times Educational Supplement. No. 4841. 12.

Coren, Sidney & Luthar, Suniya. (2014) Pursuing perfection: distress and interpersonal functioning among adolescent boys in single-sex and co-educational independent schools. Psychology in the Schools 5 (9).

Hubbard, Lea & Datnow, Amanda (2005) Do Single-Sex Schools Improve the Education of Low-Income and Minority Students? An Investigation of California’s Public Single-Gender Academics. Anthropology & Education Quarterly 36 (2) 115-131.

Love, Bettina & Tolsolt, Brandelyn (2013) Go Underground or in Your Face: Queer Students’ Negotiation of All-Girls Catholic Schools. Journal of LGBT Youth. 10. 186-207.

Savino, Kathleen (2003) Thighs Are Not Attractive, Ladies! Homophobia and Same-Sex Education. Off Our Backs. 33 (11/12) 25-28.

Steet, L. (1998). Girl Stuff: Same-Sex Relations in Girls’ Public Reform Schools and the Institutional Response. Educational Studies: A Journal In The Foundations Of Education, 29(4), 341-58.

Velaquez, Ana Maria & others (2010) Context-Dependent Victimization and Aggression: Differences Between All-Girl and Mixed-Sex Schools. Merrill-Palmer Quarterly. 56 (3) 283-302.