Anime’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
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.
The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Photography Collection, The New York Public Library. (1880 – 1890). Temple, at Shiba Tokio Retrieved from http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47d9-c954-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99
The mid-to-late 1800s marked a shift in Japanese history: the Meiji Restoration. The old guard, the Tokugawa Shogunate, with their isolationist attitudes were overthrown, and Japan began a miraculous modernization movement. When you consider the shift, it is amazing. Japan went from being primarily agriculturally-based in 1853 when Commodore Matthew Perry of the US forced Japan to open to trade to the modernized military juggernaut of World War II just 86 years later. Most of us focus on military developments during this time, but the arts also flourished. Photography entered Japan just as woodblock prints, ukiyo-e, were the main form of popular art. Ukiyo-e laid the groundwork for Japanese photograph and their lovely hand-colored work.
Photography entered Japan through Nagasaki, the only trading port where the Tokugawa government allowed foreign traders, in 1848 (Gartlan, 2006). In 1854, photographer Eliphalet Brown Jr. return with Perry and took the first known photograph in Japan (Luppino, 2009). Soon after Japan opened, other photographers invaded, and they discovered a culture open to their art. The subjects of ukiyo-e–actors, geisha, sumo wrestlers, and landscapes–became popular subjects for the new tourist photography market. The port city of Yokohama became the center of this new industry. Almost 90% of photographs exported from Japan at the time came from Yokohama (Luppino, 2009). At the time, Westerners were fascinated by Japanese culture. Photographers saw the business opportunity of providing souvenir photos for tourists and selling photo books to people in Europe who weren’t able to travel to Japan. Felice Beato was the first to capitalize on this interest.
Felice Beato, Father of Japanese Photography
Born in Corfu, Italy Felice Beato (c1825-1907) became the first photographer to specialize in war photography. We know little about his early life, but he was known as an eccentric who favored colorful language and business scheming. After learning photography from his brother-in-law James Robertson–who married Beato’s sister in 1855, Beato joined Robertson on an expedition to photograph the Crimean War between Britain and Russia. The next year, Robertson sent Beato back to photograph the war’s aftermath, where Beato started his practice of arranging corpses for emotional effect. Robertson and Beato used a secret dry-plate method that allowed them to photograph in the field. The wet-plate photography at the time wasn’t suited for weather conditions and other issues associated with war photography. Their new technique allowed them to do what previous photographers couldn’t. Robertson and Beato traveled around the Mediterranean until Beato left for India in 1858 to photograph the massacre of Indian rebels fighting against Britain. Over the next 2 years, he worked as the semi-official photographer for the British army.
In the same year, Chinese tried to stop Britain’s export of Indian opium into China, and the British retaliated by attacking and sinking most of the Chinese navy and invading China. Beato traveled with the army throughout its campaign, taking photos of the aftermath of the war. His 100 photographs are the only surviving images of China before the 1870s. After returning to London, Beato decided to travel back to the Far East and settled in Yokohama, Japan for the next 20 years where he made several hundred images of Japan. Beato’s photos ranged from Japan’s landscape and architecture to its people. Considered the father of Japanese photography, his work provided the only record of the country during the 1860s. He retained his interest in war photography: in 1871, the United States Navy appointed him the official photographer for their attack on Korea. After losing all of his money at the Yokohama silver exchange’s speculative market, he settled in Mandalay, Burma where he founded a photographic studio and sold local arts and crafts through the mail. He died in Burma in 1907 (Wilson, n.d; Gartlan, 2006).
Beato’s Influence on Japanese Photography
Felice Beato – The executioner
Beato’s studio set the standards for Japanese photography at the time, and his work shaped how Europeans and Americans viewed Japan. His work also shaped how Japan developed a new self-identity as the country transformed from a feudal society to an industrial society. Beato’s photographs helped Japan become aware of its appearance to the rest of the world. Luckily, he took Japanese culture seriously and tried to educate Westerners by adding descriptive captions below the photos. Instead of following western photographic conventions at the time, he tried to bring a Japanese aesthetic to his work. He like to photograph moments on the streets of Yokohama and arrange them in his studio when he could not (Luppino, 2009).
Beato’s studio inspired Japanese photographers to open their own studios, but the first native studios suffered from lack of resources and expertise. Shimooka Renjo (1823-1914) opened the first Japanese-operated studio in Yokohama. Uchida Kuichi (1845-1875) managed to attract the attention of Yokohama’s foreign residents but failed to get the interest of rich foreign travelers (Gartlan, 2006). However, Beato also employed many Japanese as assistants, giving them the training and connections they would need to succeed where other Japanese-owned studios failed. Beato hired ukiyo-e artists and colorists to paint photographs. In fact, Yokohama photography became associated with fine hand-colored photographs, painting details as fine as fingernails. These assistants became the pool that allowed Japanese photography to move away from foreign studios. Among these assistants arose Kusakabe Kimbei.
Kusakabe Kimbei, The Most Prolific Yokohama Photographer
View of Imaichi at Nikko Road by Kimbei Kusakabe
Kusakabe Kimbei (1841-1934) left his home in Kofu at the age of 15 or 16 to work at Beato’s studio. After 18 years of working with Beato, he set out to found is own studio in 1881 where he would produce 60% of surviving Yokohama photographs, making him the most prolific photographer of the time (Newton, 2008; Wakita, 2009). While Beato had respect for Japanese customs and tried to capture Japanese aesthetics, Kimbei used photography to capture the vanishing world of traditional Japan. At the time, women across all social classes were adopting Western hair styles and dress. Kimbei preferred to photograph tradition fashion, and he resisted Western introduced poses, such as women holding interlocked hands and other romanticized poses (Wakita, 2009). Instead, Kimbei embraced the bijinga, or pictures of beautiful women, tradition in ukiyo-e and adapted the woodblock print’s compositions.
He primarily hired geisha to pose for him for several reasons. First, social class mattered, and ordinary women wouldn’t pose because of their awareness of their class and of the wide audience the photographs would reach. Geisha were more comfortable with this because of their social status and because of their profession’s visibility. They also didn’t subscribe as readily to the concerns surrounding photography during its early years. Some people thought photography would steal the model’s life-blood, or cause a man’s shadow to weaken–I’m not sure exactly why this is a concern. Some thought every third person sitting in a photograph would die or suffer a shortened life span for each sitting they did (Wakita, 2009).
Because of this, Kimbei resorted to using just a few famous geisha. In fact, we even know their names: O-en, Ponta, Momoko, Tsumako, Azuma. and Miyako. However, this association of geisha and photography led to the public viewing geisha photographs as erotic works. A story in Tokyo shin hanjoki talks about the embarrassment of young boys who were teased by other people as they tried to buy photographs of geisha (Wakita, 2009). Despite this, bijinga photos became popular. He often depicted women painting, reading, and playing instruments– the same type of scenes found in ukiyo-e. Women appeared as cultivated and traditional.
The Importance of Yokohama Photographs
Jinrikisha by Kusakabe Kimbei
Beato and Kimbei’s work, in particular, defined the period and how people thought of Japan at the time. They provided a window for the West to look into. At the time, Japan was an exotic place few knew anything about. While the Yokohama photographs catered to this audience, they also showed a country in a state of change. Old customs fell away as new, western ideas entered and mingled with tradition. Admittedly, some photographers of this period created works that would later be used to fuel the racial profiling and ranking by those in the West. On the whole. Yokohama’s wonderful hand-colored photos introduced a level of artistry that changed how people in the West considered photography.
Yokohama’s photographs helped lay the foundation for the export of anime and manga and other Japanese media. They introduced a sliver of Japanese culture that allowed people in the West to become familiar with the culture, even if at a superficial level. Over time, Japanese aesthetics, with a little Western convention to make them comfortable, became accepted. It wasn’t such a big deal to see people in kimono. This gradual trend sped up after World War II when the United States had more direct contact with Japanese culture during the occupation. However, Yokohama and the work of people like Lafcadio Hearn, who introduced the West to Japanese stories, laid the groundwork for the anime and manga we enjoy now. Yokohama photography marks the first time a Japanese-Western product was made and exported. Manga and anime are also Japanese-Western products. Yokohama photographs tell stories in their own way; again, as manga and anime does.
Whereas Yokohama photograph combines Western technology with Japanese aesthetics, anime and manga reverse this. Anime and manga pull Western aesthetics, particularly those of Walt Disney, and combine with them Japanese technology. Over time, this created its own confluence of Japanese and Western styles we simply call the anime or manga style.
Finally, behind the photographs are people. We know next to nothing about Kimbei’s geisha models, but we can see them. We know their names more than a century later. Yokohama photographs, although they were meant for tourists, provide a glimpse at the lives of people long gone. They provide a glimpse at their stories. While today we don’t think images are a big deal–they are everywhere, after all–at the time they were shocked, awed, interested, frightened, and inspired. They allowed people to save a memory or see something they would never otherwise see. The demand for Yokohama photos and their subject matter reveals the interest people in the West had for Japan. The uniqueness of Japanese culture captured the imagination of the time and catered to an interest in something “pure.” That is, untainted by industrialization and mercantilism. Yes, this was an idealization, even a fetishization, of Japanese culture, but it came from a genuine interest in learning how other people live. The reasons behind why a photograph was taken matters as much as the subject of the image.
All of this aside, the Yokohama photos are simply beautiful. I’ve included a collection of them for you to enjoy.
Gartlan, Luke (2006) Types or Costumes? Reframing Early Yokohama Photographyt. Visual Resources 22 (3) 239-263.
Luppino, Tony (2009) Koshashin” A New Collection of Early Japanese Photography Captures a Moment of Change in 19th Century Japan. Arts of Asia 39 (3) 142-149.
Newton, G. (2008). Local heroes of early photography in Asia and the Pacific. Artonview, (53), 36-39.
Wakita, Mio (2009). Selling Japan: Kusakabe Kimbei’s Image of Japanese Women. History of Photography. 33 (2). 209-223.
Wilson, Michael (n.d.) Beato, Felice. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/41130
The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Photography Collection, The New York Public Library. (1880 – 1890). Cherry Flower-Street, at Mukojima, Tokio Retrieved from http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47d9-c924-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99
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.
General Research Division, The New York Public Library. (1910 – 1919). A River Picnic in Spring. – Under the Plum Blossom. Retrieved https://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47d9-83bd-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99