Or: Why I Should Be Guardian of Your Modesty
Time to take a break from writing about anime women (in the strictest sense, this post is going to have a lot to do with women as well as men) and start talking about men: the “target” demographic of ecchi anime. This season’s crop of Shows I Should Find More Amusing include a pair of anime that feature the common idea of unwanted molestation of men by women. For me, the subtext of these interactions rankles. Most anime men who have women throwing themselves at them seem to react poorly. Some can shout down the unwanted attention, but there are equally many leads who end up as doormats, frequently molested by their paramores. This upsets me on two levels: One is because it relates to the dual dichotomies of sexuality (Virgin/Whore and Knight/Beast) and secondly because the subtext of these interactions points to a monolithic understanding of gender interaction that leads men and boys to believe they are supposed to value sex highly and should do their best to ensure that women not behave like “sluts”.
Let’s start with the dichotomy idea because it’s probably more useful down the line. The Virgin/Whore Dichotomy is probably familiar to some of you. It encapsulates the general concept that women are either pure and good and therefore guarded in their sexuality, or evil and selfish and therefore free with their sexuality (hedonistic). This trope equates modesty and morality in most cases, but also explains why many women with healthy sex drive in the media are portrayed as slightly deviant (Nyarko is a good example we’ll get back to in a second). But it’s not only women and girls who suffer from a broad social narrative; an application of Ozy’s Law (misogyny mirrors misandry) reveals the Knight/Beast Dichotomy on the other side of the gender coin. Knight/Beast pits men in control of their desires as protectors and saviors and opposed to men who are not in control of their desires as monsters. Some problematic myths about rape and rapists come from this duality, but they’re out of the scope of this post. If you’re interested, I highly recommend you read up on them at No, Seriously, What About the Menz? when you have some time. For the purposes of this examination, however, I want to talk about the idea of Knight and why it might cause someone like Teiichi Niiya of Dusk Maiden spend most of an anime protesting to the sexual advances from girls for whom he might have feelings.
In Dusk Maiden, we see Teiichi playing both the part of the blushing virgin and the dashing hero, which seems at first in conflict. Normally, the patriarchal concept of the “sexual marketplace” places the man in the position of sexual aggressor, because it is he who wants sexytimes. The women, then supposedly trade it for things like “emotional involvement” or “financial stability” (this, of course, bullshit). If this is the case, why, then do Teiichi and Mahiro Yasaka (of Haiyore! Nyaruko-san) back down? Aren’t they supposed to be the ones who want it? Well, when the women take the first move, the men have to button up their urges and play the part of reluctance. We rarely see a lusty woman pared with a perverted man, and so I think this tension surfaces for three reasons. First, it provides room for development. It certainly appears that Teiichi’s diminishing prudishness forms a central part of the main relationship’s evolution. But, less favorably, these interactions can also be used to define the woman as ‘evil’. Nyarko and Yuuko’s lust gives them a dark edge that subtly contradicts their expressed benign nature. Had Mahiro or Teiichi showed equal interest (equal is important. Teiichi shows SOME interest, but his reluctance adds a slightly squicky undertone to their interactions), the characterization would dissolve. Ozy’s Law is once again at work in defining the “good guys” from the seductresses by their chaste refusal. The self-control on display runs slightly contrary to the idea of active male sexuality as part of hegemonic masculinity (the idea that it’s the men with base impulses on the whole and that women have no interest in sex, but also the idea that you should like sports more than fashion or meat more than veggies).
We can approach these common tableaux on two levels. First, the idea is that while we all wink-and-nod at our harem heroes as they try not to act in an untoward manner, the message is clear that “good” boys don’t give into temptation and that’s what makes them heroes. The message is pervasive powerful. Notice how most otaku choose one waifu and that the “pure” and “innocent” ones make the most desirable targets? We value chastity in our women and understand overactive sexuality as degenerate–this is the reformation narrative of Makoto Ito from School Days and explains why he chooses Kotohana Katsura at the end from a moral point of view: the reformed beast needs a maiden, not his lusty, pregnant best friend. Not good enough? How about Akuto Sai choosing Junko Hattori even after his ascension to Demon Lord in Ichiban Ushiro no Daimao? Or Minato Sahashi’s (Sekirei) continued choice to remain celibate in the face of a growing personal army of women who throw themselves at him every day? Harem shows gravitate to the “harem ending” because of a tension between fan-wank and the desire morally to place the lead with the “childhood friend”. It’s only the newer shows like Amagami and Yosuga no Sora (I just threw up a little in my mouth. That’s how much I love you guys) that balance between routes and don’t offer up a “true” pair.
I still wonder why we so frequently pair these boys and men with women so ready to tear off their clothes. This last idea overreaches a little, but you know what? I’m having fun so, let’s go all out. I think we can build a gender-policing case that the other part of the “Knight” role is to protect women from their own sexuality. Mahiro’s fork keeps the over-affectionate Nyarko’s perversions in check, which seems like a public service given that she is a godlike being from the far side of the galaxy. The juxtaposition between Mahiro’s prudish behavior and Nyarko and Cthuko’s voracious sexual appetites furthers the otherness of the aliens even as they inhabit human forms and helps us sympathize with the lead’s assertion that despite their professed good intentions they’re up to no good. In this way, the narrative positions him between the insatiable aliens and our planet like… Well, like a White Knight. Hmmmm…..