Manga, Anime, Sexuality and Japanese Culture

I originally posted a shorter version of this on my writing blog, but I thought I'd cross post it here where there's more readers because I kind of want people's reaction to it. That is, I want people who may have more experience with this stuff to tell me where I'm wrong and where I'm right.

I've been thinking about manga and anime recently. Sex is usually handled so weirdly. It's like, people either seem to have no sexuality at all unless they're creepy perves (Bleach, Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service, Cowboy Bebop) despite everyone being highly sexualized in appearance, the sexuality is buried underneath constantly thwarted romantic lines to bubble up suppressed (Maison Ikkoku), the sexuality is amped up beyond reason but the "good" protagonists still feel kind of ashamed and embarrassed about it (Demon King Daimao, FLCL), or it's flat out porn (Hentai) where everyone just wants to have sex all the time (but often still feel ashamed and embarrassed about it, though the treatment of sexuality in Hentai porn could be a whole study in itself, which I'm sure someone must have done). Granted, these are all "light" anime (except for the porn) aimed at teenagers, but even more adult works like 20th Century Boys don't seem to portray healthy sexual relationships between consenting adults (or teens), at least between those who haven't been married for a while already. To be fair, I haven't made a study of it, and this is all anecdotal evidence based on the manga and anime I've been exposed to, but it says something weird to me about Japanese culture.

It also makes me think of the Murakami books I've read where people don't really date. It's like there's only three kinds of relationships in Japanese culture, you're either a one-night stand in a love hotel and it's pure sex, you're in some horribly complicated and constantly thwarted romantic relationship that's never actually acknowledged or consummated, or you're married and have been married for some time. Which is really strange.

Compare, for example, these various anime/manga and the American anime-influenced Avatar: The Last Airbender (the TV series, not the execrable movie which will never be spoken of again). In that show we have a number of stable relationships, chiefly between Sokka and Suki and between Zuko and Mai (broken up only because Zuko has to go off and help the Airbender, and then rekindled at the end), and there's also the ongoing flirtation/will-they-won't-they between Aang and Katara which is never portrayed as shameful, embarrassing and never has the kind of exploitative titillation you see in Anime-- Aang never catches Katara in the shower or leers over her body in a swimsuit, for example.

If there are anime or manga that portray ongoing relationships in this way, I haven't seen them. Though I admit it's entirely possible that I just haven't found the right ones.


Well, anime/manga is "broad",

Well, anime/manga is "broad", so while I'm not denying that what you posed is true, it's also like concluding that all books are--just because of one genre. It also depends on the genre that you're watching/reading.

For example, I think the relationships in Gundam Seed are organic. Yes, there'll be the anime cliche where the protagonist manages to touch the breasts of the older female mentor, but aside from that faux pas, the relationships there are stable.

Dear Boys is a more young adult growing-of-age series, so there's more high school-type relationships there (along with falling in love and out of it).

You can also try Paradise Kiss and there's flirtation and sex without that being the focus of the series.

I think the problem is that of the shows you mentioned (minus the hentai), a lot of them fall under the "shonen" category so it's trapped by the conventions of what they think appeals to the stereotypical male. A lot of the relationships you're looking for can be found in the other genres, such as "shojo", or the titles with an older demographic.

i vaguely remember this as

i vaguely remember this as being a topic that was addressed in Welcome to the NHK, which is interesting to the extent that it's manga commenting on manga culture in a lot of ways. but i haven't read any of that for a while. Also, I think the best portrait of relationships I've seen in manga is Path of the Assassin, which is just dope on a whole bunch of levels, not least of which is that a lot like the previous work by that author Lone Wolf and Cub it more or less completely eschews the cartoon sensibilities in a lot of manga. Also, and I haven't read much of this stuff so i don't know much about it, but there's a whole genre of girls manga which, as I understand it at least, plays out kind of like a western soap opera as far as the romantic relationships goes. I think what's interesting is that the stuff you're talking about is generally the kind of thing that's aimed at nerdy boys who are sexually dysfunctional, and the cultural difference you're pointing at is really only different because nerds in the west are sexually dysfunctional in a whole different way from the way they're dysfunctional in Japan and that has to do with different sets of cultural taboos. Also, i think it's notable that the whole "pervert" thing in manga and anime is generally played for laughs rather than straight, and one of the constant subtexts of it is that everybody likes what the pervs are into, and what makes the pervs pervy is that they have the gall to not be embarassed about it.

J and Charles: So yeah, the

J and Charles: So yeah, the consensus seems to be that I need to get a more well-rounded reading of Manga. I've added some of the comics you mention, and my friend Phil said I should read the girls' comic Nana, so I'm gonna check that out and see what it's like. Thanks!