This coin is an ugly reproduction of the world’s hawtest sculpture
My English private education was very educational (see above), and one thing it taught me was that when you put a group of teenagers together under pressure, they turn to various things for support. Some take to food, or to drink, or to mind-altering substances, or to some previous habit or hobby (such as foreign animation) in a newly obsessive way. One thing that everyone will turn to is, to a greater or lesser extent, other people. In certain cases (and there will almost always be some) that means sex.
When I was feeling my way into anime, I lacked any proper frame of reference. I’ve never lived with a television, so beyond the odd DVD, live action was a closed book (so to speak) to me. And speaking of books, I tend to more or less ignore anything written after the death of T.S. Eliot, so there’d always been a fundamental gap between sex in my entertainment (or usually, on the surface, the lack thereof)¹ and sex in my environment (‘I have no comment to make at this time’).
‘Maybe,’ I thought, ‘anime will be different. After all, it’s modern, trashy, (un)popular culture. These Evangelion DVDs I’m renting have ostensibly nubile young women in skintight plugsuits on their covers. Doesn’t anime have a reputation for being cartoon porn anyway?’
I think you can see my thought process
I have since learned that modern entertainment, animated or live action, occidental or oriental, usually avoids a realistic-feeling treatment of sex – in different ways to previous eras, true, but to the same effect. Oh, I’ll grant that there are lots of bouncing breasts, suddenly-revealed panties and accidental changing-room intrusions in certain genres of anime – and hentai is of course another kettle of fire-hose orgasms entirely – but sexual encounters per se are not usually a fact of anime life.
We’re dealing not only with entertainment’s tendency to escapism, but also foreign mores (the apparent significance of the First Kiss, for example) and demographic, censorship and content problems. Not to mention the fact that harem plots are often structured around resolution at the end, and mid-series consummation would end speculation. Moving away from harem, more monogamous romances, especially for teenagers, tend to feature sex as a kind of finish line, rather than as something that happens mid-race. [But Kare Kano?] Of course, sex crops up from time to time, sometimes in a disguise (such as bloodsucking), sometimes as something narrowly averted, or seemingly offered but snatched away (viz. a recent episode of that Slice of Wolf series)² and – sometimes – as is.
I cannot think of a School Days meme or joke which isn’t played out, so have some reverse trap Hamlet instead
Perhaps this is the moment to mention School Days – hailed somewhere (I forget where) as ‘an adaption from which the adaptors forgot to remove the sex’. At times the show functioned as almost a parody of traditional harem romance (one thinks of the jarring contrast between the OP animation and the actual plot).
Certainly School Days featured sex per se. But in chronicling the sexual (mis)adventures of Ito ‘community bicycle’³ Makoto, School Days really threw the baby out with the bathwater. The characters are fundamentally flat and unconvincing, and this carries through to their physical liasions. Teenagers have sex, yes, but it’s no case of mass nymphomania. If certain shows feel odd because of a dearth of sex, School Days is the opposite, odd because a remarkable number of characters want to borrow that bicycle.
[There’s room for an interesting entry tracking Makoto’s pre-coital behaviour – at times assertive, at others being literally dragged into bed – among other things, sed . . . inreparabile fugit tempus.]
‘Last week I saw a woman flay’d, and you will hardly believe how much it alter’d her person for the worse’
Hilariously, ridiculously, I find myself turning to Gundam SEED [so many puns]. In its angst, its rather stilted storytelling (like its hero, who retreats to the autistic security of his armoured cockpit when he’s down, SEED has trouble expressing its emotions) and its often onanistic action sequences, this is the quintessentially adolescent Gundam series. And yet . . .
When Flay grabbed Kira for a spot of unbalanced-mental-state nookie there was a certain amount of unjustified shock from viewers. The key thing about this particular liasion was that it wasn’t shocking;4 two teenagers in stressful circumstances had sex. It happened, it affected motivations, conversations and indeed the mecha choreography [I kid you not!] for a number of episodes, and then, with time, the plot and characters moved on.
I’m certainly not holding SEED up as a paragon of finely written, dramatic character development. I simply found that particular occurence to be a rare instance of sex neither hidden, nor omnipresent. Perhaps the very fact that SEED is about Gundam action first and foremost, with the relationships being a sideshow, facilitated this convincing sense that the sex is just part of what’s going on. And perhaps also it has something to do with the fact that this is the quintessentially adolescent Gundam.
[To pre-empt any protests that I’m talking about mecha anime on the most romantic day of the year, I might point out that SEED chronicles events in the Bloody Valentine War. As for ‘the most romantic day of the year’, St Valentine is the patron saint of bubonic plague victims and beekeepers (among others) too. February 14th must be so depressing if you’re a single Catholic beekeeper who’s suffering from the plague.]
1. But see Donne, John. Typographical puns on ‘fuck’? In my Jaco/bethan poetry?
2. Am I the only one wishing Lawrence was travelling with a female essayist and novelist who is highly intelligent but also suffers from serious mood swings? Spice and Woolf really would rock my soul.
3. Because anyone can have a ride.
4. Unless you were a long-term Gundam fan (which I would hesitate to call myself). Gundam leads do not, traditionally, get any. And there was some issue with the time it was broadcast too, but Japanese broadcast times rarely feature in the occidental viewer’s consciousness.
This entry is part of a joint effort by the Anime Blogging Collective, covering a wide variety of topics connected in some way to Valentine’s day. For timezone reasons, there aren’t that many up yet; I shall return and link the remainder as and when convenient. Actually, I’ll link anything I find with a Valentine’s theme and some meaty content (beyond, y’know, ‘Happy Valentine’s’ and a brief explanation of the author’s plans). If you feel missed out, drop a comment and say so!
- Borderline Hikikomori has been running a series of fourteen posts celebrating that much-derided fan behaviour, ‘shipping. The Shameless Shipping season started here, and is collected here.
- Furu Anime Panikku carries a helfpul list of things to do with all that time that you have spare on February 14th, being the partnerless otaku that you are.
- Partnerless otaku may also take comfort from kaibitzin’s list of fellow sufferers.
- TheBigN ruminates on how (and if) a lack of real-life experience can affect your appreciation of romance in anime.
- Nomadotto takes on his alternate-universe self in a Valentine’s recommend-off, in a plot worthy of an anime series.
- The Mission to Deep Space’s Hemisphere lists his favourite eroge couples.
- Karura provides some helpful tips for anime romance.
- Moe Check! examines the emotional attachments we form to anime characters – and to their emotional attachments – and the perils of ship-to-ship combat.
- The gendered two-parter Tokyo Marble Chocolate has been gathering plaudits recently; on the back of this come personal reflections on it, by one male and one female. [I must emphasise personal.]
- Crusader, in his usual idiosyncratic fashion, proposes another reason to mark the 14th of February.
- While you can find a new and useful romantic taxonomy at The End of the World.
- JRoxas provides us with an insight into the Valentine’s contents of a certain Clannad character’s shoe locker.
- DeathToZippermouth examines the yawning gap between reality and harem, and comes to a surprising conclusion regarding the best type of anime universe in which to seek romance.
- CCY brings us a smattering of blog entries and forum posts from whichever corner of the internet it is that anime characters hang out, and in the process provides an interesting cross-section of the types of anime romance available.
- Otakuism’s Demian brings us an examination of the shape of love in Gankutsuou, Futakoi Alternative and Mahoraba.
- Omonomono pollutes St Valentine’s with the smears of trade. Seriously! Think of the beekeepers, man!
- Iniksbane explains why he both loves and hates romantic plots.
- Stripey weighs in on the squicky subject of taboo romance.