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
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
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.
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.