Before anything else gets said here let me be clear, I really, REALLY, like Japanese Anime.  While I won’t say that I’ve seen every show and movie ever produced, I have seen my fair share, the Dragon Ball series, Neon Genesis Evangelion, Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagan, Full Metal Alchemist, Akira, Grave of the Fireflies, and half a dozen Miyazaki films, just to name a few.  And yes, I watched most of these with the original Japanese voice acting with English subtitles.   I am a huge fan of the medium; I love the freedom that animation gives you, as you can have shows ranging in subject matter from cute little cats like Hello Kitty, to giant mecha space battles like in the Gundam Wing series.

However, after bingeing on some of the anime titles available on Netflix, (mainly Kill la Kill, Sword Art Online, and Fairy Tail), I began to notice a disturbing trend prevalent in those shows and others that I have watched in the past.  This trend is over the sexualized way in which young (i.e. under the age of 21) female characters in these types of shows and movies are portrayed.

To make this article as current as possible, I will be focusing mainly on the show Kill la Kill, which has only recently been added to the Netflix library.  For those of you who have never heard of this show, Kill la Kill is about the quest of one Ryoko Matoi, a 17 year old female student studying at Honnouji Academy, a school whose main mission is to turn their students into weapons through the use of super powered clothes (yes I’m dead serious).  Ryoko must, over the course of the series, beat the various school club leaders in order to reach the school council president so that she can find out the mystery behind her father’s murder. It is, for the most part, a highly entertaining show, with gorgeous animation, funny dialogue, and action packed fight scenes; I would recommend this show to anyone.

However—and this is a fairly big however—I have one massive problem with this show, and that is how they portray the character of Ryoko.  In order to beat the schools various enemies Ryoko, who I remind you is a 17 year old girl, must don a super powered sexy sailor battle armor uniform.  Yes, again I am dead serious.  Just to make it clear, this armor (barely) covers Ryoko’s chest, waist and very little else. Just google Kill la Kill to get a good example.

Now in the show, Ryoko’s outfit is played mainly for laughs, with funny scenes being written either around various people (i.e. fellow students (both male and female), teachers, and other authority figures), finding the outfit ‘sexy’, or shaming her about it. This, however, is the main problem: it is played for laughs. The show isn’t reprimanding behaviours like the sexualized ogling of a teenage girl or shaming based on sexuality.  Rather it is illustrating these behaviours as funny and entertaining.

So why is this allowed in animated shows?  I guess it is for two reasons: one, that these are animated characters and what happens to them doesn’t really matter in the real world, and two, that as long as it’s played for laughs, then it’s supposedly ok.  I personally think that these are lame excuses, and that there can be no justification given for these acts.  Whether the person is animated or not dose not matter as these forms of behaviors sets a bad precedent.  It shows that some people consider shaming and ogling ok when they simply aren’t, especially when it’s directed at underage girls.

I need to make a point perfectly clear; the clothes themselves are not the issue here.  Were she a real person, I would have absolutely no problem with Ryoko dressing up in this way, as she would be her own person and should be free to do as she likes. Really who are any of us, both real people and the characters in the show, to judge a person choice of dress.  The real issue here is that Ryoko isn’t able to wear those cloths and feel comfortable and safe in them. Rather she, at least in the first story arch, is either shamed or ogled for wearing the revealing dress.  Neither of those two reactionsshould be allowed, as it sets ideas and standards that are not true or acceptable.  It implies, for the person doing the shaming, that they are somehow better then Ryoko for dressing in a more ‘conservatively’ and ‘socially acceptable’ fashion.  As for the people who ogle, they imply that Ryoko is a sex object and nothing more than a thing to take pleasure—even if that makes her uncomfortable. This last point goes hand in hand with the fact that Ryoko is often drawn in very promiscuous or sexy posses, further outlining how the shows creators think of her as nothing more than a sex object.

These sorts of attitudes and behaviors need to be phased out in anime, as well as in all forms of media.  They invoke unfair social restrictions on the characters and set precedents that these forms of behavior are acceptable in real life.  It is simply wrong to make a person feel uncomfortable and ashamed, just because of what the person happens to be wearing.  It is also wrong to reduce a person to the status of a sex object as it implies that they have no worth outside of being sexy, and that the person is nothing more than a thing to take pleasure from.

This article is not about how much of an impression media can make, as that would far exceed the scope of the piece.  Likewise this article is not saying that anime is responsible, either partly or in full, for sexist attitudes and behaviors prevalent in many societies.  What it is saying is that there is a correlation between these real world behaviors and their animated counterparts.  As such I hope that we will see a decrease in these sexist trends in animation and an increase in more positive portrayals of female characters as it could lead to, or be indicative of, a change in real world behaviors

I seriously doubt if this will stop me from watching anime, as I do really enjoy the medium and dearly love some of the shows and movies that it has produced.  However, this does not mean that I can forgive or ignore the issues that I have discussed here as they are to disturbing and too numerous to simply sweep under the rug.  Despite this, I hope that just like how comics are slowly beginning to better treat its female characters, that anime will prove more tasteful in its portrayal of women in the future.

20 COMMENTS

  1. Not to sound like a ass but Anime has and always had content like this and Anime is never meant for kids if that is what worries you about on Netflix, I hope you are not asking for Netflix to start censoring Anime because a lot of us mature audience do understand the difference.

  2. You sir need to rewatch “that scene” from end of evangelion and also that almost raep scene from Akira. Also that fourteen year poorly dressed Yoko from TTGR mister hypocrite. I disagree, in 90’s anime shows had sex and I don’t talk about hentai but about seinen (18+ genre) wich is OK but they don’t make this anymore thanks to people like YOU! So many thanks sir (sarcastic applause)

  3. I am still trying to ascertain your gender, due to the fact that every reference and article under you has been careful to hide that fact. Would my argument depend on your gender? Yes and No, yes because I would adjust it as I would everyone else I talk to; No because you will still get the same schpeel regardless, just worded differently.

    The fact that you went after kill la kill in your article is an obvious “I took the easy way out” it’s like kicking a guy in the groin, you know the weakness, it’s obvious and it’s open. Sword Art Online is the 3rd thing to have actually made me feel emotion and I admit I cried at the end and parts in between as well, but I really bonded with the characters and when I saw that you lump it in the sexist category, I was angry because I was a fan, then I settled and read your argument and then watched the show again and tried to view it from your perspective.

    Needless to say, the ladies in sword art online are not sexy, but rather it is their past issues and their personality that make them attractive. Also since they’re mostly younger than 17, it leads me to suspect that you are a pedophile in some way, shape, or form when you begin to label them as sexy (or if you’re a man then you are really desperate and at that point I recommend okcupid.com to fix your problem.

    I have watched anime and read manga for a long time now and I have also heard the rise of the femme-nazis sparking the sexism debate, but they aren’t even being logical about their accusations. This spree of sexism accusations is being fired blindly at topics that have been known to have attractive characters, but yet nobody attacks DC or Marvel which that being said almost leads me to suspect that the people are attacking anime and manga because they in fact are over-zealous fans of Marvel/DC or they’re just not happy in life so they have to slam everything else, I don’t know.

    What I do know is that anime and manga have been this way since the first of it’s kind was conceived and this also applies to western animation as well. A vast majority (seriously all the fans could leave their homes and form a nation whose population rivals China in size) all love and cherish the fictional worlds and their unique people and we will continue to do so till the end of time. Now since you take issue with anime and manga, I would recommend you be logical and reasonable about this whole thing and just stay away. Get away from anime and manga if you don’t like it, don’t go on websites and slander a creator’s work which they have slaved to make for the people of east and west.

    In fact, shut-up.

  4. Wow! Talk about some harsh critics (with axes to grind)! I for one respect your opinion and your article.

    You are right, there are some anime that portray women as sex objects. They have been doing it for years. Do they overkill the fan-service at times? You betcha.

    Is there anything that can be done about it? Unlikely. Sex sells, whether in anime or other entertainment forms. Instead I would like to see more shows with strong female characters (both mentally and physically). There are just too many shows that feature a female character with powers and abilities that just pale in comparison to her male counterparts.

    Anyway, your article was very informative and i’m sure there are men and women who were moved by your thoughts and consideration.

  5. Interesting but I feel there is a major point that is missing in your breakdown.

    Given the show is about “powering up” a young woman by her dressing in less revealing, it was not long ago that feminism was embracing the breakdown of more conservative, Victorian era values.
    I.E. The empowerment of women.

    There is therefore a juxtaposition of a feminist and a misogynistic ideals portrayed by the writers/editors. Let’s not forget that it has become quite normal in an anime for male characters and society as a whole to depend on these scantily clad Amazons for protection.

    So it comes down to an extremely nuanced point; Is this misogyny highjacking feminism, feminism taking advantage of “sex sells” to spread an albeit watered down ideal, a deliberate carefully considered juxtaposition, or a respectful war between writers and editors of different perspectives?

    So each example may have a different answer. Sword Art Online clearly falls into one of the last two categories(at least initially); look at the carefully considered clothing- it’s not by accident that at the point Kirito and Asuna actually start having sex that her clothing becomes much more covering.

    Also related are societal norms, both within the fictional setting, the media culture and the societal culture for which the piece is made. Japan represents a stark contrast between an extremely conservative older generation culture and extremely liberal/consumerist driven younger generation.

    @Petrov: you seem to just be rather upset at what you see as an attack on something you love. And you seem to be responding to the title of the article, rather than it’s actual content. ADAM (likely a male) the writer is not attacking the medium but a really specific aspect of it, the way female character are responded to by their co-inhabitants of the fantasy world.

  6. Further comment as to this part of the article specifically

    “The real issue here is that Ryoko isn’t able to wear those cloths and feel comfortable and safe in them. Rather she, at least in the first story arch, is either shamed or ogled for wearing the revealing dress. Neither of those two reactionsshould be allowed, as it sets ideas and standards that are not true or acceptable. It implies, for the person doing the shaming, that they are somehow better then Ryoko for dressing in a more ‘conservatively’ and ‘socially acceptable’ fashion. As for the people who ogle, they imply that Ryoko is a sex object and nothing more than a thing to take pleasure—even if that makes her uncomfortable.”

    Umm- I think this reaction HAS to be in there. If anime is going to take this point at all seriously, it has to acknowledge that parts of society will react like this. What matters is how this is then addressed, and how the positive role-models in the show react vs the reactions of the “NPC” characters.

    I feel this also address a primary concern of women the world over in a post feminist, male-view majority world.

    “I have to dress this way to succeed in my job”

    This point the finger squarely at
    A) Those making judgements.
    B) The society prescribing the dress code.
    C) The fashion industry supporting and profiting from these perspectives.

    As for the creators viewing the character as a sex object I feel the issue comes from pandering to an audience or editors / living in a culture where this is expected.

    But to play devil’s advocate for a moment:
    In anime we are often shown concurrently the highly sexualised side of a female protagonist, and also their inner thoughts and feelings. How can it be said that this character is at all a sex object? Rather, is it not a mirror held up to the viewer saying;

    “This person, who you may view as a sex object, has thoughts and feelings too. (She can also kick your ass, and may very well one day save the world)”

  7. The age of consent in Japan is 13 years old. This is a harmless cartoon. As you said, and as most reasonable people know, these are animated characters and what happens to them doesn’t really matter in the real world. I think this applies doubly so for a show as ridiculous as this one. Good job choosing unofficial artwork with Ryuko looking extra embarrassed AND more revealing. I like how you concluded with a call to censor media for supposed “harmful messages” because some fictional characters, who are not portrayed positively anyway, had a fairly realistic reaction to the events of the show. All of the negative reaction to her outfit happens in the first few episodes of the show, though I doubt you even watched past that.

    Do you honestly think Kill la Kill’s cast doesn’t include positive portrayals of its (nearly all) female cast? Or does the fact that some of them wear revealing clothes somehow invalidate that?

  8. Bullshit they need to be phases out of anime.

    The show is satire.
    The show actively makes fun of tropes and makes refferences to other anime as a tool to show us its satire.

    Sexuality is powefull.
    Kill la kill aswell as other anime hold women’s sexuality on a high platform. Its a powerfull tool to embrace, its not being sexy for sake of being sexy.
    The idea that you can only see sexuality as a constriction of objectification tells me you cannot read into the character development.

    Remeber that men are also very heavely sexualized in the show aswell. However it play more into the theme of the show and not as much into the power is sexuality theme. By assimilating into the crowd and repressing our natural, pure, naked state, we become mindless and expendiable.

    Just watch Demolition D’s review, he can probely explain some of the more saterical elements.

  9. IMHO it’s wrong to impose North American feminist views on Japanese media. Japan is very conservative, strict on gender, gender roles, and expectations based on those roles.

    Ultimately what made Ryuko more powerful was owning that outfit, regardless of what people thought, right? Ryuko and Satsuki both used their sexuality as power and I’ve been in conversations where others claimed that shows like Kill la Kill and Sailor Moon are feminist because they kicked ass regardless of what they were wearing. But like I said above, I think it’s unfair to use our feminist views to study media that comes from a place with much different social structure than our own.

  10. Want some more cheese with that wine?

    If you agree with the critic. Then you might like these Anime titles; Black Lagoon, Bubblegum Crisis, Claymore, Ergo Proxy Re-l Mayer, Ghost in the shell, Iria: Zeiram the animation, Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit: Balsa, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind: Nausicaä, Revolutionary Girl Utena: Utena, Sailor Moon, The Slayers, Soul Eater.

    But oh no! the entire industry is afoul because of one genre? Moron.

  11. Thanks for posting this – I too feel that my enjoyment of these fantastical worlds is too often punctured by depictions of women that cause my stomach to sink. It’s been great to see that I’m not alone in loving these shows and feeling awful about some aspects.

    I think seeing women shown doing extraordinary/powerful means they can’t also be used by a show to needlessly titillate (sword art online was terrible for this – inexplicably exchanging an over shoulder Asuna/Kirito shot for a ’round the ass’ equivalent with no apparent context or cause…).

    I also don’t think playing cultural exceptionalism works. It’s not so much about European/American standards for treatment and depiction of women so much as progressive/regressive ones – The west still has a long way to go too, see hollywood. I just don’t see what would be lost in everything we love about these shows if they were just a bit more forward thinking? Do we enjoy some Miyazaki/Satoshi Kon films less for marginally longer skirts?

    Anyway, it’s a shame you have to start these posts with a disclaimer – defending that you see yourself simultaneously as fan and critic. I look forward to finding places where we can express and exchange our excitement about Japanese culture, whilst also being critical of it’s failings.

  12. “These sorts of attitudes and behaviors need to be phased out in anime, as well as in all forms of media”

    That’s not your (or anyone else’s) call to make if you aren’t the person(s) creating whatever media is being created.

    If you don’t like it, don’t watch it.

  13. Talking about Kill la Kill and Ghibli films like they’re the same thing = not qualified to speak about Japanese animation.

  14. While you do have a fair point, they’re going to do that no matter what. It’s Japan, after all. I won’t believe your judgement until I hear a large amount of Japanese females complaining.

  15. Trend? This has been going on in anime forever. Fan service is pretty common in some of your favourite shows as well, like NGE.

    That’s not to say it isn’t problematic. And it’s not unfair to project our sexual values onto Japan either: the country has big problems with fetishization and sexual harassment. If we can call out the Saudis we can call out the Japanese.

    But we should call out ourselves first. This isn’t exactly above and beyond what you’d see in non-animated American media, or even in animations like Archer.

  16. Wait… but wasn’t the deal with Kill La Kill to deal with abolishment of conformity and acceptance of the self? Stripping away imposed power structures and having the power to stand apart, regardless of what others think? It seemed more about accepting what is true about yourself, discarding restrictive delusions, and thriving despite the consequences of doing so.

    Imposed power structure is the school. School strength is God Robes. Conformity expressed through uniforms. Rebellion is nudity. Ryoko seeks to destroy them and does so with a giant bugger-off scissor blade. Discovers she needs to take her own power (uniform) and use it according to her own ideals (revealing clothes.) Her embarrassment was resistance to that change. Gaining confidence in being dressed as such was gives her power to fight the school (personal rebellion against conformity.) Accepting her state, and ignoring the negative opinions of others (as much as they pressured her), gave her the strength she needed to fight. In the theme, having revealing clothes allowed her to be both rebellious and strong. Others might ridicule or demean her for what she does, but it does not make her any less powerful. Accepting this makes her even stronger.

    To remove or tone down sexualisation would diminish the purpose of the show. Sexualisation is the tool to express its point.

  17. Honestly, Dargov put it best. So will say no more, but encourage anyone else reading the comments section to look at his critique of this argument.

    I REALLY hate to agree with someone who would label them self a feminist, but the “anime fan and feminist” comment actually had a very valid point: It is hard to impose a western cultural viewpoint on eastern mediums. It reminds me very much of a point that professor Lawrence M. Principe made in his lecture Science and Religion, which is that defining the terms we now call “Science” and “Religion” in a historical context is not really easy to do, because we are trying to impose 20th century terminology to 19th century ideas. Whether the difference is time or culture, defining an idea based on those terminologies will typically lead to misinterpretation or miscommunication.

  18. Come on guy’s this is just bulling around. one Kill La Kill in just weird at one look and is not as strange as some. two this is a people that can and get married at sixteen so being sexy is default being. three Sword Art Online they all started at eighteen or better the game had an age limit and by the tenth one they were two years older. four those of fairy tail are special fighters. I have not seen much on the fem down as their strongest save the old man is a woman.
    As for the other stuff this person says geee have you read the manga on them?
    I feel this person is just another who does not read or watch the source stuff and if so it’s the worst of it.

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