The Role of Satire: Crayon Shin Chan as an Example

As Shin drops his drawers and does another “ass dance” to delight his kindergarten classmates and horrify his teachers, I’m struck by the show’s sophistication. How can an “ass dance” be sophisticated? It’s not, but the satire of Crayon Shin Chan is. Satire cuts at ideas we often fail to see, and it is, perhaps, one of the most important forms of political literature. Now, the dub of Crayon Shin Chan differs from the Japanese. It’s Americanized so the satire resonates better, but the themes remain the same.

Satire uses humor, irony, and sarcasm to point out problems in society and to point out irrational behavior. It has a long history in the West with the writings of Horace–a Roman poet that pointed our how ambitions of the Roman elite were silly– and other ancient writers. Perhaps the best-known satire is The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer. The Canterbury Tales satirizes life in the European feudal period in raunchy, bawdy, and scathing ways.  Satire often couches its criticisms in humor. After all, criticism can be hard to swallow.

Shin Chan carries this tradition with a funny but scathing look at childhood: namely how businesses market toward children and the structure of family and school life. In one episode, Shin’s favorite superhero, Action Bastard, talks about some cheap plastic toy giveaway for the kids who collect 10 or so Bastard Stickers. The stickers happen to only be on a type of hot, spicy sausage no kid would like. Shin spends the episode trying to find a way to collect the stickers without eating the sausage. The episode strikes at the heart of kid-centered marketing methods. The children’s show will make a big deal of the giveaway and hype its viewers up. Only the giveaway involves some type of collection for what turns out to be junk. I remember cereal doing this as a kid. Commercials would advertise some sort of great giveaway, such as a Nintendo Gameboy (yeah, the original), if you happen to find a special token. Of course, the odds of finding these tokens were lottery-level probability. But that didn’t stop kids from wanting that cereal.

Shin Chan points out how such marketing tactics poison childhood. Shin’s young life revolves around Action Bastard. He schedules his day around the show and Action Bastard shapes his world view. While there isn’t anything wrong with this once the surface, it injects consumerism into a child’s life at a young age. At its heart, consumerism doesn’t want people to feel satisfied with what they have. After all, content people don’t go out and buy the latest and greatest. Action Bastard is a satire of his childhood injection of consumerism. Shin watches episodes which are structured like a commercial. Each installment has Action Bastard defeating the villain-of-the-week with some new gadget or move that is available in stores. While actual advertising in television shows isn’t so blunt, it does push toys and gadgets in that way.

The push toward consumerism undermines body-image and can create runaway debt. While each of us are responsible for our spending, many of us internalized consumerist messages since childhood (Collect them all! Be the coolest on the block!). Such impulses can become automatic or irresistible. Shopping releases dopamine, which explains why shopping can produce such highs. Consumerism creates the “keeping up with the Joneses” syndrome found in American society. Car commercials like to play on that. Shin falls into the same problem with other kids on the playground. Being from a poor family, Shin often can’t have the latest Action Bastard figure or other new toy the cool kids have.

Shin Chan doesn’t limit its satire to consumerism. His parents have a stable, if dysfunctional relationship, caused by the strain of long work hours and long hours taking care of the kids. Mitzi, the mother, is a stay-at-home housewife who struggles with self-image (she has a coin jar for a boob-job) and boredom. The everyday routine of taking care of Shin and his 1-year -old sister, Himawari, grinds her psyche down. Her husband, Hiro, returns from a soul-crushing day at work (in his words) and looks for beer to unwind. He loves his family and his wife, but the grind of everyday bills and children wears at him. Mitzi and Hiro make half-serious cracks about very-late abortion of Hima and suicide. Neither are serious, but the dialogue points out how the everyday grind of work and child-rearing can wear on people. Hiro enjoys spending time with Shin and Hima. In fact, Shin and Hiro both love shows with skimpily clad and objectified women. But the inability to have breaks from the kids and work point to very real issues of modern society.

Up until industrialization, the entire family helped raise children. Grandparents would watch children in a regular basis, but now with families living far from each other, this isn’t always possible. What’s more, modern capitalism has increased human toil rather than reduced it. Okay, let me drop in a political disclaimer, I favor capitalism, but it must be tempered by socialism–public health programs, public libraries, and policies that balance income inequality capitalism inevitably creates. I am reminded of how Jesus told a rich man to sell everything, give it to the poor, and follow Him (Matthew 19:21).  Enough of that. Let’s return to the topic. Modern capitalism has increased the number of hours people work on the whole. For example, in medieval England, the serf worked half a day (about 4-6 hours) and craftsman would work 8-9 hours. However, neither would work holidays which took up one-third of the calendar year. France reported 52 Sundays, 90 rest days and 38 holidays free from work. Likewise, in Spain, holidays freed workers for up to 5 months the entire year. During the late 14th century, a time of high wages, workers only worked up to their normal yearly income. For most, that was between 120-175 days for the entire year. They averaged 1,440 hours (Schor, 1993). Americans work around 1,800 hours on average, but this is spread throughout the year rather than concentrated in blocks (harvest and planting seasons) as in medieval Europe (OECD, 2016).

Shin Chan points out how ridiculous our long workdays are through Mitzi and Hiro’s chronic exhaustion and tension. However, the family isn’t spending the money on luxuries. They spend it on survival. Society is off kilter if people in medieval Europe, with its more hand-to-mouth existence than ours, had more free time than we can have in an automated age.

See what I mean about Shin Chan’s sophisticated low-brow humor? The show points out other ridiculous aspects of modern life: relationships, school structure, parent-teacher relationships, NEETs, and other aspects. Satire provides a way for us to laugh at problems and, perhaps, become aware of them so we can make changes.

References

Schor, Juliet (1993) The Overworked American: The Unexpected Decline of Leisure. Basic Books.

OECD (2016) Average Annual Hours Actually Worked per Worker. https://stats.oecd.org/Index.aspx?DataSetCode=ANHRS

What Does Moe Mean?

Moe has a complex history and meaning. Most people believe it’s a certain type of anime character. Namely, cute, innocent girls with big eyes that do cute things. While moe does deal with this, it’s true definition goes beyond kawaii.

Now, some may wonder why it matters to define anime slang (moe isn’t really slang) precisely. However, anime and its associated terms have a large impact on story telling. In 2012, 60% of the world’s animated cartoons were Japanese anime (Cooper-Chen, 2012). Such a large market means anime terminology will have a widespread influence. Wherever people consume anime, moe and other terms enter people’s awareness.

Moe has roots in the 1970s and 1980s. During these decades, artists began creating characters specifically to inspire moe within people (Saito, 2017). It’s a common misconception that moe is just a name for images of cute girls. Moe is an affectionate response to fictional characters. The word comes from the verb moeru which means “to bud or sprout” (Galbraith, 2009). The verb describes how people’s feelings toward characters sprout over time. During the 1980s, marketers began to study which character designs, relationship patterns, and styles of drawing were most likely to create a this feeling of affection (Galbraith, 2009). This is why people confuse moe with a specific style of art or type of character. They are engineered to make you feel moe. Sagisawa Moe, a character from Kyouryuu Wakusei, Takatsu Moe from Taiyou ni Sumasshu, and Hotaru Tomoe from Sailor Moon S make good examples. In fact, the verb moeru combined with an abbreviation of Hatoru Tomoe to give us the word moe. Young girls with large, pupil-less eyes, glossy skin, small (or no) breasts and an innocent personality make the archetype for moe-seeking character design.

Feeling Moe

Sagisawa Moe from Kyouryuu Wakusei,

Feelings of moe vary. For some, it’s a mild sexual arousal and love for a character. For others, it is “the ultimate expression of male platonic love,” and for still others its pure love without sexual components. For many men, moe is an innocent girl that doesn’t “demand masculine excellence” and provides an outlet for nurturing that isn’t available to traditional masculinity. For women, moe is a romance without the “confines of womanhood”–childbirth and responsibility (Galbraith, 2009).

Because moe is an emotional reaction to a fictional character, it varies from person to person. However, it involves a desire for fantasy; it isn’t a desire to realize that fantasy.  Fujoshi, or “rotten girls,” provide a good example of these. Fujoshi are women who consume, produce, and reproduce romances inspired by manga and anime. They particularly focus on yaoi.

Women account for the majority of online fan-fiction like yaoi. Yaoi are stories that focus on relationships between androgynous men. People call fujoshi “rotten” because they are attracted to sex fantasies that can’t produce children. However, they embrace that categorization as positive, and most live heteronormative lives. Yaoi “erases the female in fantasy because female-male, or even female-female couples are too close to reality. (Galbraith, 2011).  Yaoi focuses on moe. In his interviews, Galbraith (2011) found moe drives yaoi, including its production and shared discussions between fujoshi. These discussions are even called moebanshi or moe talk. These discussions about favorite pairings (such as Link and Sidon, from The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, or Naruto and Sasuke) inspire more writing and conversations.  As Galbraith (2011) phrases it:

“Moe communication is about feeling out overlapping desires, or exploring one’s own desires through delving into the desires of others for the same or similar objects.”

People learn about each other through their taste in characters, settings, and situations. It’s a form of self-expression that allows people to connect through their shared moe. Moe  allows people to share deeply personal emotions through the shared feeling of fictional affection. The details behind the affection may vary, but moe still allows enough overlap to communicate.

Fujoshi see moe in everything, changing the way they perceive the world and imagine relationships between things. In Galbraith’s study (2011), the fujoshi he interviews saw how a road and a car can be a metaphor for an intimate, moe-inducing dojinshi they had read:

Hachi impulsively decided to use her surroundings as an illustration of the coupling: “Is this road moe? See, it’s virgin, freshly paved, but is doing its best with the cars on top. What if he was trying so hard to please his lover?” Megumi chimed in, “The road is a loser submissive in love with one particular car, the top, who is an insensitive pleasure seeker. In order to win his love, the road agreed to be his sex slave and is now being broken in by the top’s clients.” Tomo seemed convinced—by the creativity if not the concept—and joined Megumi and Hachi in laughter and a chorus of “moe, moe, moe.” The fantasy effectively reenchanted their world, adding a layer of potential to the mundane (the very ground under their feet!) and making the familiar other and exciting.

Fujoshi stand out against otaku in a key way. Otaku are typically people who use fantasy as an alternative for things they want but cannot realize for various reasons. Fujoshi are people who use fantasy for the sole purpose of play. They don’t seek to live through fantasy. Rather, its a place to let imagination, creativity, and emotions frolic without needing to ground them in some sort of reality. The difference is subtle. Both groups focus on fantasy and seek the confluence of affection called moe. They approach the quest from different angles. Waifuism is the otaku quest for moe. Yaoi is the fujoshi quest for moe. Of course, as we’ve seen there are still other paths for finding this comforting set of emotions.

Moe and the Male Gaze

Scenes can also inspire moe, such as this from Tsuki ga Kirei

Many people accuse moe as being a part of female objectification: cute girls doing cute things for guys to watch. However, as you can see with the fujoshi, moe extends beyond the sphere of objectification. You could argue fujoshi objectify men through yaoi. But the feelings objectification creates–possession and lust–differ from moe’s feelings. Of course, objectification can overlap with moe just as kawaii culture does. Objectification’s emotions can be confused with affection. People often confuse possession and the resulting jealousy with love. As publishers seek to leverage moe–after all, it sells–we see it mix with objectification more often because the combination pulls a wider, admittedly, male audience. This makes many believe moe centers on the male gaze on women and the gaze of fujoshi on men. But this isn’t the only part of moe. Moe allows men to explore emotional aspects society doesn’t consider a part of masculinity. One Western example, My Little Pony, creates moe, and it attracts men of all ages. However, society is more comfortable with the usual objectifying male gaze than with men exploring their nurturing, protective, and affectionate sides. This familiarity causes the confusion we often see, and the focus on the small overlap of moe-seeking and objectification.

Moe’s Contradiction

On the surface, moe appears a contradiction. It has an element of innocence to it, but it also has adult desires built into it. In our above fujoshi conversation, the innocence of the road changes to a sex slave. Moe often moves along this spectrum because it is pure fantasy. As fantasy, it allows people to project what they want or explore otherwise taboo subjects. For example, Rei Ayanami from Neon Genesis Evangelion is considered a moe-inspiring character. She has an innocence to her that tugs at nurturing and protective feelings. At the same time, these feelings can shift toward sexual desire. English-language media over-emphasizes the sexual components of moe (Saito, 2017). It doesn’t always have to be sexual. Someone who grew up watching Pokemon, for example, may find themselves comforted by their favorite characters. This is moe.

Kawaii is often confused with moe because of their overlap. Kawaii, or cute, focuses on the design of characters and objects. Kawaii often creates moe, but it doesn’t always. A cute skirt, for example, may be kawaii, but it doesn’t create moe because the skirt is a physical object. However, if it would become a metaphor or a reminder for a fictional character, it could generate moe. It works in the same way as the road in Galbraith’s example. The road and its cars may create feelings of moe in the girls, but they aren’t kawaii.

Defining Moe

So we’ve come down to creating a single definition for a complex, variable set of emotions. First, moe isn’t a type of image or character design. It’s the emotion inspired by those designs. Second, moe provides an indirect way to express your feelings to others by sharing why you like a character or relationship. It’s a taste in characters, settings, and situations that comes from your experiences and preferences. With this in mind, I’ll offer my definitions:

moe (mo-eh) noun. The feeling of fondness and affection a person feels toward fictional characters or toward any setting or object that reminds the person of those characters.

moe-talk (mo-eh-tôk) noun. The mutual sharing of fondness and affection people feel toward a fictional character that creates a feeling of connection between the people involved in the conversation.

References

Cooper-Chen, Anne (2012), ‘Cartoon Planet: The Cross-Cultural Acceptance of Japanese Animation’, Asian Journal of Communication,  22 (1), 44.

Galbraith, Patrick W. (2009). “Moe: Exploring Virtual Potential in Post-Millennial Japan”. Electronic journal of contemporary Japanese studies.

Galbraith, Patrick W (2011). Fujoshi: Fantasy Play and Transgressive Intimacy among “Rotten Girls” in Contemporary Japan. Signs. 37 (1) 219-240.

Orbaugh, Sharalyn. 2010. “Girls Reading Harry Potter, Girls Writing Desire: Amateur Manga and Shojo Reading Practices.” In Girl Reading Girl in Japan, ed. Tomoko Aoyama and Barbara Hartley, 174–86. London: Routledge.

Saito, A.P. ( 2017). Moe and Internet Memes: The Resistance and Accommodation of Japanese Popular Culture in China.Cultural Studies Review, 23:1, 136-150. http://dx.doi.org/10.5130/csr.v23i1.5499

Anime as a Teaching Method

I didn’t grow up with anime. In fact, I didn’t grow up with television shows at all. Sure, I had shows I watched as a child–Voltron, Super Maro Bros Super Show, He-man. But I didn’t grow up with them as many have with anime. Anime like Naruto and Bleach grow with you. The protagonist starts as a whiny, annoying kid at the same time you are a whiny, annoying kid. As you grow into a teen and start facing the social pressures of dating, relationships, and approaching adulthood, so too does your anime hero. Finally, many anime heroes follow you into marriage and full-on adulthood.

I didn’t have that.

Now, I don’t write this to make you feel pity or to whine about this. Rather, I want those of you who grew up watching shows like Naruto to appreciate the experience.

Growing up with anime shares similarities with growing up with folklore. Many folktales contain stories that hearers appreciate only as they grow older. Growing up with such stories helps you navigate events as you come to them. For example, Naruto experiences awkwardness toward Hinata and Sakura just as many of its viewers begin to experience that awkwardness. Experiencing this with a protagonist helps you feel less self-conscious. Knowing others go through the same isn’t the same as watching it unfold in a story where it provides possible solutions.

Stories Teach Best

Believe it or not, fiction provides the best means of learning. Characters can make mistakes and face the consequences of decisions we too may have to make.  Fiction that grows up with you helps even more. Characters will face the same challenges as you encounter them, providing timely guidance. It seems silly to say an anime like Naruto can provide guidance, but for most of human history that was what stories did. It wasn’t until fairly recently our education system developed this silly idea that learning has to be dry and mind-numbingly boring. We remember the shocking and the funny easier than facts and figures. We remember stories! The Greeks studied the Illiad and the Odyssey. The Japanese studied the Tale of Genji.

Today we segregate entertainment from learning. Today’s fiction offers entertainment and not much in the way of guidance or lessons. Although there is some great fiction that still do. Television shows, our modern version of folktales, offer tripe for the most part. Stories don’t have to moralize to teach lessons. Naruto, for example, rarely sermonizes outside of Kakashi’s lectures. Instead, the anime uses events and the actions of the characters to provide examples of moral behavior: loyalty, stick-to-itness, and the like. If you read Odyssey, you will see a similar method. Likewise, folktales teach in indirect ways, such as this short folktale:

In Wasedochi, there is a small persimmon tree that never bears any fruit. Sometime in the 1150s, there was a battle between the Minamoto and Taira families, and many warriors died. It is said that his persimmon tree was planted on top of the mound where the corpses of the soldiers were buried. Legend has it that this is why, even though the souls of these soldiers make the tree’s flowers bloom, there is never any fruit.

The tale speaks about a conflict that lasted several decades between the Minamoto and Taira families. The conflict eventually erupted into the Genpei War. The skirmishes before the war ended with dead on both sides and neither side gained anything. While samurai considered the battles and heroics beautiful, they ultimately didn’t matter. In other words, they didn’t bear fruit.

Mistakes of Modern Teaching

American teaching methods suck. They focus too much on tests and textbooks. While there is a place for textbook learning, it’s tough to retain that information. However, if a story features the information, we are more likely to remember it. This is especially true if the information helps the hero. I’m sure many of you remember Naruto’s jujitsu hand gestures. Why? Not only did you think they were cool, but you remembered them because they helped the hero. You probably remember the elemental attributes (which are based on Chinese and Japanese lore) too. And the memory comes effortlessly. For those of us who grew up watching MacGyver–yeah, I’m really dating myself here–we remember many of the physics lessons that helped him get through his jams.

We remember information based on context. Without context that matters, we can’t remember, and tests really don’t matter. Tests measure the ability to take a test. How did the world of Naruto measure performance? Through real-life application of their ninja skills. Barring ninja fights, stories provide a framework to help us learn information.

Modern teaching, at least in the United States, focuses on getting the right answer. Well, reality doesn’t typically have right answers. It has actions and consequences. Multiple jujitsu can potentially win a fight. Teaching should impart how to think instead of how to arrive at a correct answer. Again, stories provide a way of teaching this. In many stories, the thought processes of the hero is available to the reader. Even more important, these thought processes don’t always result in a victory. Sometimes there is no correct answer. But the thought processes behind a hero’s failure helps us avoid the same faulty thinking. Naruto’s thinking matures as the anime progresses. We can see his mistakes in logic and learn from them.

Fiction provides an important method for learning, one often ignored. Sure, schools analyze Shakespeare and Homer, but analyzing isn’t the same as growing up with them. Perhaps schools should consider analyzing Naruto or Bleach or Sailor Moon for lessons. Many of you grew up with these stories and already have the lessons deep within you. Examining these anime would drive home the importance of fiction as a way of educating people. History and other dry facts can be woven into the discussion. You are more likely to remember the Japanese Iga clan that way. Such a lesson would help students learn how to think rather than merely seek a right answer. Speculative writing that merges the world of Naruto with the Sengoku period of Japanese history doesn’t have a right answer, but it does teach students how to think.

The Advantage of Growing up with Anime

Growing up with anime gives you unique guidance that I didn’t get to experience. Characters grew with you close to the same pace. After all, the Naruto manga ran from 1999 to 2014. That’s 15 years. The anime ran from 2002 to the present, or 16 years as of this writing  (including Boruto). Growing up with a story like this gives you a specific framework that teachers can leverage, or you can leverage for yourself. Often, what the characters struggle with align what you struggle with. In that way, you don’t feel as isolated.

A long-running story like Naruto or Dragonball Z shapes some of your most formative years. From 10-21 or so, you are shaping your identity. Stories shape identity far better than any textbook. Heroes matter. They instill values within us, values that ingrain into our bones. I know, I am in danger of being hyperbolic, but stories really do matter that much. They shape how we think about the world. Stories teach as no other method can. It isn’t an accident that Jesus, Buddha, and other spiritual teachers used short stories to share their messages. They understood how stories worm  into our minds and souls.

As I watch Naruto and Dragonball Z now, I envy those who grew up with them. They provide great entertainment, great lessons, and great role models. They are not without their problems, nor could either be considered high literature. But they are stories that shape character, and teachers would do well to leverage stories like them.

Anime’s Big Brother and Little Sister Complex, Examining Incest in Anime

Recently, there seems to be a glut of anime focusing on sibling incest. Known as the big bother complex or little sister complex, sibling incest has become a subgenre of romance. The level of romance varies. Most of the time, the complexes appear between siblings without any genetic ties or removed cousins. Sometimes, you have blood relatives flirting with each other but never going all-in to a romantic relationship. As you can guess, I’m staying away from hentai for this discussion. I also recommend you check out the article at Manga Therapy in addition to my analysis here. In any case, the complexes center around an attachment toward an elder brother by a younger sister, as in Oreima, or an attachment toward a younger sister by an elder brother. The attachment goes behind normal sibling behavior and into the realm of dating and romance.

When I started to research this topic after noticing just how many anime on Crunchyroll center on this lately, I had wondered if it was unique to anime. But it turns out that western Romantic literature teems with incest between siblings and cousins. Lord Byron writes about it in Manfred, and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein features an incestuous relationship between Victor Frankenstein and his cousin Elizabeth. Throughout romantic literature is a single theme: love is agony (Reed, 2012). Manfred describes his sister using this theme:

She was like me in lineaments—her eyes,

Her hair, her features, all, to the very tone

Even of her voice, they said were like to mine;

But soften’d all, and temper’d into beauty;

She had the same lone thoughts and wanderings,

The quest of hidden knowledge, and a mind

To comprehend the universe: nor these

Alone, but with them gentler powers than mine,

Pity, and smiles, and tears—which I had not;

And tenderness—but that I had for her;

Humility—and that I never had.

Her faults were mine—her virtues were her own—

I loved her, and destroy’d her!

In Frankenstein, Victor accounts of how painful his affection for his cousin is:

“Sometimes, indeed, I felt a wish for happiness; and thought, with melancholy delight, of my beloved cousin.”

He goes on:

“At these moments I often endeavoured to put an end to the existence I loathed; and it is required unceasing attendance and vigilance to restrain me from committing some dreadful act of violence [upon myself].”

Romantic period literature introduced a sibling story line we’ve seen in Star Wars. A brother and sister were separated a birth and fall for each other only to learn about their blood relationship after they become involved. Only Luke and Lea didn’t get as involved as in Romantic period stories. Anime usually involves stories where the siblings grow up with each other. Sometimes they go through a period of separation. Of course, the siblings aren’t always blood relatives, such as Sword Art Online’s Kirito and Leafa. Nor do they always develop full romantic relationships. Anime likes to flirt with sibling romance rather than fully commit as English Romantic literature does. But anime fans would readily recognize the 3 main relationships found in Romantic literature (Richardson, 1985):

  1. Erotic relationships between foster brother and sister who are raised as siblings and believe they are blood relatives.
  2. Brothers and sisters who are close and share a common fate but lack a sexual relationship.
  3. Brothers and sisters who share a sexual relationship.

The first type of relationship is the most common in the literature and fairly common to anime too. All three types involve a death of sort sort that relates to the consummation of the siblings’ romantic feelings. The death may be a physical death or an emotional death, but either way, the theme ties back to the idea that love is pain. I have to point out that anime touches on this theme in many stories too. Oreima, for example, while not a full-on incestuous romance touches on how the taboo of incest can make the feelings of affection feel painful and unnatural. Romantic writers linked pain with pleasure, considering them inseparable. Incest, with its pleasure and destruction (incest being unacceptable) represents the single theme that captures the Romantic view (Reed, 2012).

The Taboo of Incest

Among traditional societies, death was the most common form of punishment for sibling incest (Yates, 2016). Most societies, but not all, have a taboo against sibling relationships. There are times when this taboo broke down, such as during Ptolemaic Egypt. Language sometimes confuses things. People sometimes think all of Egyptian history involved incest among the pharaohs. Hawaii and Peru also confuse because of the custom of referring to a spouse as sister or brother and how the language didn’t distinguish between siblings, cousins, and unrelated peers (Bixler, 1982). Sometimes incest isn’t a matter of language. During the 2nd and 3rd centuries, it was common for lower class brothers and sisters in Roman Egypt to marry.

There are two explanations as to why the taboo is almost universal, the Freudian view and the Darwinian view. In the Freudian view, incest is a universal feeling that must be repressed. The Darwinian view considers the taboo to be a built-in avoidance mechanism because incest hurts the ability of genes to survive (Tidefors, 2010).

Despite the near universality of the sibling relationship taboo (blood relatives or otherwise), modern studies have found incest to be more common than originally thought. Some of these studies seem to contradict each other, but the problems come from the definitions used in the studies. Surprisingly, the definition of sibling incest varies–some require one or both parents in common. Others count it as among those who call themselves as a family. The definitions of sexual relationships also varies from study to study. And these definitions give us the variety of numbers we will see, but in the end, it seems sibling relationships are common enough to explain why anime and English literature feature them.

Medical Studies of Incest

Sibling incest can also be between brothers and between sisters. Most of the time, they are step or adoptive siblings such as in Super Love

In a study in the 1980s, a sibling incest study in New England found such behavior in 25% of respondents and the majority of them regarded it as a positive experience. This study and others like it, shaped medical professionals’ view that sibling sexual behavior is usually harmless. This view leads many to downplay sibling sexual abuse as a problem. Other studies estimate anywhere between 2%-13% of the general population has engaged in sibling incest behavior during childhood. Again, definitions explain the strange data ranges (Yates, 2016). Researchers have drummed up a few other trends (Kokkola, 2016): most incidents happen between 13-15 years of age and consensual fondling is the most common event with 80% of respondents reporting this in various studies.

The taboo of incest along with the apparent commonness of it makes it hard for medical professionals to know what is medically normal and what is abusive. Literature and anime also normalizes what is essentially abuse. From the medical studies I’ve read, abuse comes down to a few indicators. Harmful sexual behavior usually distracts the siblings from other important developmental tasks” but defining what is harmful is still up for debate (Yates, 2016). The three indicators: large age gaps between involved siblings, the use of threat or force, and the use of bribes and other forms of manipulation. What constitutes normal sibling sexual behavior remains unclear to medicine, making it more difficult for nurses and other professionals to know when they are required to act.

Parents shape the chances of sibling incest.  Researchers have found families with parents who are victims of abuse sometimes reinforces abusive behavior between siblings–including witnessing abuse and not stopping it, such as what happens in Oreima. Parent absence results in a higher degree of bonding between siblings and that comfort-seeking can become sexual (Tidefors, 2010).

Westermarck and Childhood Friends

A common theme in romance anime is the childhood friend who has romantic interest with the protagonist who doesn’t share the same feelings. This trend in story telling comes from observation and the Darwinian view of relationships. If you remember, the Darwinian view states there are natural mechanisms against incest that are built in by natural selection. Edward Westermarck developed this idea by hypothesizing that people lack sexual attraction toward those they had lived with during childhood. Anime’s childhood friend falls directly into Westermarck’s idea. A few studies have put Westermarck’s idea into question: “…people brought up in small involuntary groups with high levels of social cohesion are less likely to be sexually attracted to each other, and less likely to act on attractions, in order to maintain the social order.” Some studies suggest incestuous marriages were encouraged in human societies when they preserved social harmony. Some cultures, like the Hoti in central Venezuela lack defined family boundaries. Incest has no meaning for them and marriages between ‘siblings’ are not uncommon (Yates, 2016).

However, more studies support Westermarck’s conclusion. A 2003 study found a correlation between the time children live together and sexual aversion in males and females. Females also report higher aversion than men. De Smet’s study (2014) was the first to study women and this aversion:

Our study is the first to indicate that, at least in women, frequently shared “sibling-typical” experiences (i.e. bathing together and sleeping in the same bedroom) with an opposite-sex sibling during early childhood (0–6 years) correlates positively with later sexual aversion…

The studies that support Westermarck’s idea suggest blood-relationship doesn’t matter as much as time spent together during the most formative years. Romantic literature mostly ignores Westermarck, but anime often follows this observation. In many–though not all–sibling romance stories, there is some type of early childhood separation, either emotional or physical, that halts the bonding process found to correlate with incest aversion. Of course, this becomes comedy fodder when a sibling or childhood friend, often the lady, wants to try to recapture this lost bonding by bathing with the guy. Westermarck explains why the childhood friend rarely becomes the protagonist’s romantic interest: they are too close. Of course, this is also a piece of the rom-com formula anime has perfected.

Anime doesn’t focus as much as the Romantic period on the idea that love is agony. If anything, anime finds love amusingly awkward, but I guess you could argue that embarrassment can be painful. Anime, like the Romantics, enjoys flirting with the sibling incest taboo. As Kokkola (2016) points out, sibling relationships disgust and fascinate. The dichotomy of comfortable bonding and understanding with the taboo against such relationships attracts many people. After all, forbidding something makes people curious. As we’ve seen, incest has deep roots in history and language. Most cultures have forbid it, and it appears humans have natural mechanisms that reduces attraction toward those we share childhood.

Candy Boy features a romance between twin sisters.

Sibling relationships aren’t unique to anime. English Romantic literature teems with it more than anime does today. It is a relatively small subgenre of romantic comedies. Sibling relationships of all stripes gains more appeal as we fragment and struggle to connect with others. Communication has become superficial and rife with problems. Siblings, on the other hand, mostly skip the awkward getting-to-know you period. They also share a closeness (usually) that many romantic couples wish they could achieve. While the Romantics viewed sibling relationships as the best representation of “love is agony,” anime views sibling relationships as a stand-in for the state of relationships today–often a forbidden place rife with problems but still containing a deep level of connection people often can’t achieve.

Of course, anime avoids the problems of real-life incest: abuse, psychological issues, and birth defects. It avoids the fact Japan forbids sibling marriage even if it doesn’t criminalize such relationships (Kokkola, 2016). Despite these problems, anime will continue to explore these relationships for as long as audiences remain interested. Sibling relationship stories will remain a part of world literature because of its built-in conflict and tension between disgust and appeal.

References

Bixler, Ray. (1982) Sibling Incest in the Royal Families of Egypt, Peru, and Hawaii. The Journal of Sex Research. 18 (3) 264-281.

Bryce, Mio (2008) Another half and/or another individual: representation of twins in manga. The International Journal of the Humanities. 5. 143-153.

Kokkola, Lyida & Valovirta, Elina (2016) The Disgust that Fascinates: Sibling Incest as a Bad Romance. Sexuality & Culture. doi: 10.1007/s12119-016-9386-6.

Reed, Mandi (2012) The melancholy of sibling incest in British Romanticism. LOGOS: A Journal of Undergraduate Research. Fall 2012. 111-120.

Richardson, Alan (1985) The Dangers of Sympathy: Sibling Incest in English Romantic Poetry. Studies in English Literature. 1500-1900. 25 (4) 737-754.

Tidefors, Inga, Arvidsson, Hans, et al (2010) Sibling incest: A literature review and a clinical study. Journal of Social Aggression. 16 (3) 347-360.

Yates, Peter (2016) Sibling sexual abuse: why don’t we talk about it? Journal of Clinical Nursing. 26, 2482-2494.

Do Reviews Really Matter?

Some of you may have noticed that I don’t post anime reviews all that often. It’s not that I’m not watching anime. In fact, I’ve watch more recently than in recent months thanks to the Crunchyroll app on the Nintendo Wii-U. In part, I haven’t been writing reviews of these stories because I haven’t felt the drive. I’ve had various editorials to write. However, I’ve also been wondering about the worth of reviews. I don’t know about you, but I tend to read reviews after I watch something. I’m often curious if anyone else felt the same about a story or the messages as I did. Not to mention most anime fans go to the big sites like My Anime List for reviews instead of small blogs like mine. My traffic stats are conclusive–editorials just do better.

Of course, the problems with reviews aren’t limited to anime. If you look at Amazon, you will see how reviews become noise. Sure, I will glance through them before buying something, but I’ve seen how most reviews skew toward this-product-is-the-best-thing-ever to 1-star reviews because of shipping problems–which has nothing to do with the product quality itself. There are standout reviews that look into the pros and cons of the product, but I’m finding these are scarce for most of the products I buy–books mainly. Reviews are also bought or, as in the case of many self-published books, subject to Good Samaritan reviewing. Good Samaritan reviewing is when a fellow author or family member or friend gives you a glowing review without actually reading your book. Now, you might think this is good. After all, reviews tend to sell books. But the ethics of this is, well, a problem. It’s lying.

Reviews are subjective. Shipping issues for an otherwise great product can be a deal breaker for one person and a non-concern for another. When reviewing something like anime, taste plays more of a factor. Reading a review from a random writer, like myself, doesn’t really help you all that much. You don’t know how much my tastes align with yours. Now, for some of you who have been with me since JP started, you’ve gotten to know my tastes, and this will lend more weight to your decision to watch an anime or not after reading one of my reviews. But this takes time. Unless you follow a certain reviewer on MAL, one who reviews regularly, the review isn’t all that useful. The point of reviews is to find something that you would want to consume, but if the reviewer’s tastes clash with yours more often than not, then you had best follow another reviewer. It’s akin to a friend recommending a movie. The friend knows you well enough to offer something to your tastes. Unfortunately, here all I do is talk at you without getting to know you like a friend would. Yes, I know. I could take to Twitter and fix that….but I loathe Twitter. With a passion. There is just no room for nuance or a proper conversation with all the noise and limitations. Not to mention I’m just not a conversationalist like that.

Okay, back on topic. Most of the time I know if I will enjoy an anime after two episodes. There’s been few times I’ve read a review and tried the anime–you know, like you are supposed to do–only to dislike the story. That’s that thing about reviews. They are subject to a person’s filter, which may not align with your own. And that filter may also change based on how the reviewer is feeling. They may be going through a rough time and find harem comedies appealing escapism when the reviewer may normally eschew them.

Sometimes, I will purposefully seek out anime I dislike. I do the same with books for that matter. But again, reviews don’t play a part of my selection. I just scroll through Crunchyroll’s most popular anime and pick one I know I will dislike. Why? Because I want to be aware of what other people like or see why something is popular. Much of the time it is because it is sexualized fluff, but that’s a topic I’ve covered many times. As an anime and otaku culture researcher, I have to watch and study things I dislike in order to understand anime and otaku culture better.

Now, I’m not saying reviews are completely worthless. But they also aren’t critically helpful. My voice is just one of thousands of anime watchers who speak into the void. Free blog networks teem with anime bloggers reviewing episodes and stories. And there’s nothing wrong with wanting to express your thoughts. JP began as one of those review sites. My very first post was a review of Eureka Seven. That was about 7 years ago. JP didn’t really take off until I started writing editorials about history and Japanese culture. However, I’ve noticed posts about current season anime do better than mining old anime as I tend to do. After all, many of you have already seen older anime that I am only now watching such as Izetta. But then I don’t watch a lot of new stuff. My American movie tastes are back in the 1930s-1970s.

So basically I’m saying I’m not convinced as to the value of reviews. Most of the time I’ll enjoy movies that are poorly reviewed by critics more than well-reviewed films. I grew up watching Mystery Science Theater 3000, however. I have a high tolerance and a guilty affection for bad films. But also unless you follow someone for a long time, you don’t get a lot of value from reviews. Only someone who knows you can offer a film you may enjoy that you may not pay attention to otherwise. And there’s the rub. You can seek out reviews that align with your tastes, but that isn’t the same as a friend’s suggestion about something different. Starred reviews are terribly subjective. I don’t like to rate anything 1 or 5 stars just because I don’t like using the low or high end of scales. It’s a resistance within me. Few things are 5 star good or 1 star bad, yet there are other people who avoid the middle of the scale. In fact, many people seem to avoid the middle on Amazon.

So what do you think about this? Are reviews helpful? What skews or problems have you seen in review systems?

What Does Kun Mean? What Does Chan Mean?

Japanese honorifics confuse us Westerners. The closest matches we have are Mr., Miss., and other addresses. Unlike English’s polite addresses, Japanese honorifics denote social standing and relationship between the speaker and the listener. They don’t remain constant. I am always Mr. Kincaid in formal Western affairs for example. But in Japan I could be Kincaid-kun, Kincaid-san, or Kincaid-sensei depending on social context. Like Western salutations, Japanese honorifics can be used sarcastically or arrogantly. Ore-sama, for example, roughly translates to “my magnificent self”.

Dropping an honorific is a sign of a close relationship and seen as insulting if you don’t have permission. You see anime characters make a fuss about this and the use of their first name whenever this happens without their consent. The rule of thumb: when in doubt about honorifics, ask.

In anime you see –kun and –chan tossed around as much as the honorific –senpai. The other common honorific –san is used when just being polite. In most translations I’ve read, this honorific is dropped. Calling someone by their surname is considered a sign of respect or fondness here in the West (but then it can also be used sarcastically), so keeping with the Japanese practice of last-name first automatically confers polite respect in Western translations. Calling Hideki Tanashi by his last name Tanashi means we don’t need to attach the san to it. In fact, using honorifics too much in English translations can be off-putting for people.

-kun is reserved for young men. You’ll see female anime characters use it to refer to guys as a signal of endearment or familiarity. Guys will refer to men of lower rank with this honorific. In this regard, –kun replaces the old -kohei honorific of the senpei-kohei, superior and under-class, relationship. In many cases of anime, the childhood female friend will use -kun to refer to her male friend in public or use his last name without an honorific while in public. You’ll see her refer to him on a first-name basis whenever there is a love interest developing. When she slips in public, it usually makes for an embarrassing scene.

You can notice the levels of closeness between female classmates (who use -kun those most) and the male classmates by paying attention to who uses the honorific and who uses -san. Those who use the more formal -san may not like the male in question, or could be trying to cover up her feelings through polite coolness. Anime, particularly romances, focuses on social subtext. The childhood-friend character type may use -san to show her anger through her polite exterior. Of course, body language and manga/anime’s tendency to over-explain helps make the subtext clear. Remember, Japanese society emphasizes harmony, and this creates subtle ways to express feelings through the use of honorifics.

Now –chan stands as the female version of -kun but with cuter connotations. It is also a sign of closeness and used to refer to girls, pets, and small children. When attached to a nickname, such as Crane-chan, it works closer to saying “Little Crane.” -chan ties to youthfulness, smallness, cuteness, and innocence. As with -kun it shows the social relationship between characters. When a character uses it to refer to pets or objects, the honorific shows she has an innocent personality. It’s something little children do. However, -chan can be used derisively. For example, calling a prostitute by -chan can emphasize her lack of cuteness, youthfulness, and innocence.

Anime girls often refer to each other, particularly if they are friends, by -chan. Guys too may use it to refer to girls they view as cute. A guy using a girl’s first name is reserved in anime as a sign of an intimate relationship, which is why you’ll see characters titter and gasp when a slip happens in public.

chan refers to children of both genders. Considering it roughly means little, this makes sense. With animals, neko-chan can refer to a cute cat or a kitten. Finally, -chin comes from -chan and is used exclusively by close female friends to refer to each other.

As a story progresses, you can use honorifics as a way to gauge relationship and emotional level. If a character moves from using -chan or -kun to –san , to refer to another character, you know that character is upset over something. First-name basis usually gets attention from other characters, particularly if it is out of the blue. The level of intimacy it denotes, especially in public, can be seen as a declaration of love. It acts as a verbal kiss. Sometimes, a rebellious character, usually a guy, will use a first name in order to break with polite convention and express his rebelliousness.  You’ll see characters react with shock to his break with politeness as he verbally gooses them. In many anime, he eventually becomes the protagonist’s significant other.

Characters who are referred to with the -senpai honorific may sometimes reduce to a -chan or -kun when entering a relationship with an under-classmate. This doesn’t happen often, but a shift in honorifics in this way shows the development of such a relationship when the under-classmate starts to use the more familiar -kun and –chan.

For being small words, honorifics carry a lot of meaning. They reveal a character’s affection, or lack thereof, for another character. Shifts in their use helps anime viewers determine how the character’s feelings are shifting while subtext like body language help determine whether or not the honorific is used sarcastically or as a Freudian slip.

Otaku culture likes to use these honorifics. Although not as used as -senpai, many otaku use -kun and -chan. The most common error involves the use of the first name instead of the last name as is proper for Japanese honorifics. But in some cases it works just fine too. “Little Rose” and other diminutives keep the spirit of the honorific–that of affectionate familiarity. However, the use of these honorifics in otaku culture stresses their status as a subculture. In this case, honorifics denote membership more than familiarity between speaker and listener because no other subculture in the West uses Japanese honorifics on a regular basis. So even if they are not used properly in the context of Japanese culture, otaku use of honorifics still marks them as members of the community.