I want to have a conversation about socks. I like to keep my goals on the attainable side. No but really, I have conflicting feelings about “Absolute Territory” (絶対領域zettai ryouiki),and l want to talk them out but I can’t seem to do it. Everytime I start a conversations with: “you know about Japanese schoolgirls’ thigh high socks…” These conversations never go to plan. I’ve since stopped starting conversations this way.

But now, finally, I have a venue in which to display my wealth of information oh thigh high socks. I spent an unreasonable amount of time learning this stuff, and now you will know it too. 

Zettai Ryouiki anime
Actually it’s not really the socks

Of course, this whole concept starts of in the last place you would think, namely in Neon Genesis Evangelion. The actual expression Zettai Ryouiki was first used in Yoshiyuki Sadamoto’s comic edition for the anime as a translation for ATF “Absolute Terror Field”, which is also explained as “a holy area no one can intrude upon” in episode 18. A promising start wouldn’t you say.

 A couple of years later (in 2001 to be precise) a bunch of guys (all guys) used the term to describe the area of skin between the top of the socks and the bottom of the skirt of a character created for an online forum. It sort of stuck.

the original Zettai Ryouiki

Soon, the expression and design element was used liberally in doujin and eventually mainstream manga finally making its way to anime. Although thigh high socks had always existed, they became a much more omnipresent element, even in school uniform designs. I went to a high school with a uniform. If I had shown up with thigh high socks and a skirt short enough to show it, the nuns would have probably strangled me with them. Just saying.

Zettai Ryouiki is in fact made up of three components: socks (or stockings), skin, and skirt. It doesn’t refer to the socks themselves but to the actual ratio of these three elements. Moreover, since we otakus are a laid back, not at all detail oriented, and super respectful group, there’s also a grading system to determine which ratio is “better”.

 The most common empirical measure of the supposed ideal ratio of Zettai Ryouiki is 4:1:2.5, which is practice means this:

making math sexy, as if it weren’t already

The grading system which defines Zettai Ryouiki in 5 levels by the length of the stockings or socks was originally laid out in Anime Desho Desho? (ADD)  about 10 years ago. It basically grades sock heights from ankle to thigh high, with grades getting better and socks het longer. Only Grades A and B are considered as true Zettai Ryouiki. There is also a super secret grade S (for special not for secret) which is a combination of Grade A Zettai Ryouiki, Twintail hairstyle and Tsundere personality. I feel a little giddy and also like a bit I need a shower. 

Image result for anime zettai ryouiki grades
the dreaded ankle sock not pictured (F for fail)


“Fun” fact, this trope not limited to socks, but thigh high boots as well. An Action Girl could also trade the skirt for hotpants or maybe even a leotard, but if it doesn’t include thigh-highs and visible skin, it’s not Zettai Ryouiki.

 Japanese Wikipedia explains that Zettai Ryouiki spread beyond the otaku communities after the online otaku culture became to attract a lot of attention on mass media in the summer of 2005. Moreover, the otakus community’s severe online backlash against Banpresto, a Japanese toy company that filed 2 applications for trademark registration of the term “Zettai Ryouiki” in September of that year. By 2009, Zettai Ryouiki was considered the top fetish among Japanese men.

Capitallizing on this fact, Absolute Territory PR (絶対領域広告) is an advertising technique developed by the Japanese advertising agency Wit in 2012, which utilizes the Zettai Ryouiki of women walking in Shibuya downtown as billboard space. The agency had recruited about 1,300 women in total and practiced the campaigns for Green Day, the American comedy film Ted and others between 2012 and 2013.

Image result for Absolute Territory PR
I don’t know if this is genius or creepy

Ha, now you have to walk around knowing more about some hyper specific nerd fetish than you do about cold fusion…I assume… I just really don’t want to be the only one who doesn’t know about cold fusion.

The conflict I’m having with all this is that I like Zettai Ryouiki or rather I want to like it. As a design element I find it attractive. It’s an aesthetic I appreciate both in anime and in real life, and a fashion choice l often adopt when I can get away with it.

I also really appreciate the shift in perception. Traditionally, in most places, the thigh highs and short skirt combo were always associated not only with highly sexual connotations but unsavory ones. A hallmark of prostitutes or at least deviant temptress es. Let’s be clear, I personally have no issues with sex workers although I believe the industry has a lot of problems and should be better regu.. you know what, this isn’t the place. The look in general was always associated with your “bad girl”. Boring… I loved that anime characters of all sorts were incorporating this element into their design. No longer just the proverbial naughty girl but straight laced class presidents, innocent sweet school girls, jovial Tom boys. The implications were still undeniably sexy, but much more inclusive and fun loving.

Just try to slut shame them

So when I found out there was a movement of sorts behind this idea, I was thrilled. Fun loving fans from everywhere celebrating the addition of tantalizing touches to their favorite medium. Not shaming or judging characters for the high crime of being desirable? Sign me up! But what I found left me feeling icky and a bit sad.

I don’t think my issue here is with the actual objectification of women, let’s face no guys really fall in this trope. I wrote a whole post defending fan service, if anything I’m too tolerant of it. I think my problem is in the joylessness of it. This isn’t serious business, it’s a bit of cheeky fun. When I see something like a 25%  ratio deviation is acceptable (an actual sentence I’ve read on many sites), all I can think of is how the hell did you guys manage to strip all the sexy away from pretty girls in thigh highs and make math creepy all at once? At this point you might as well be talking about building a shed or something.

the elusive S grade

Then, there’s the grading. The implication of course being that one is better than the other. Couldn’t you have just listed characteristics of each and let people choose for themselves? For all our bluster about protecting individuality, we North Americans tend towards homogeneity in our tastes. Our beauty icons are usually just variations of 2 or 3 prototypes. Every so often we switch one out but we don’t add new ones. So everyone looks very similar. I gets very boring. That’s why I always appreciated the smorgast board of fantasies offered up in anime. There’s something for everyone and it’s very vive la difference.

I was really hoping that Zettai Ryouiki was another example of fun loving appreciation of one more kink to add to the mix. Instead, I found just another depressing limitation of what we get to see as desirable.

so what do you think? Am I being a stick in the mud?

Suggested drink: Garter Belt 

  • Every time a female character wears pants – have a drink
  • Every time a female character wears ankle socks – have a drink
  • Every time a female character wears a knee length skirt – have a skirt
  • Every time a female character pulls her socks up – have a drink
  • Every time a male character has Zettai Ryouiki – finish your drink

27 thoughts

  1. late to the party but thanks for talking about semi-taboo subject; was particularly interested in girls opinion on zettai ryouiki and was surprised to read a pretty positive and fun atitude

    1. Glad you enjoyed it. Still trying to find a pair of thigh highs that don’t start riding down by lunch time…

  2. I love zettai ryouiki, like, a LOT, but I’ve never been so up-tight that I need to focus on “grading” them. I just like cute and/or sexy (cutesexy!) things, and zettai ryouiki very much falls into that category, regardless of “grade”.

    Your comments on thigh-highs being associated with overt sexuality resonated with me somewhat. I sometimes have trouble divorcing my perception of thigh-highs as being highly sexual from the reality of a character… though I do also think that this conflict is often deliberately put in place by creators! Whatever the case, I have fully embraced my delight in zettai ryouiki, and I don’t care who knows it. 🙂

    In my experience, any examples of people appearing to take things like the “ideal ratio” extremely seriously are usually tongue-in-cheek in nature, much along the lines of Who Is Best Girl conversations. Perhaps there are people out there who argue the toss with a bit more conviction and obsessiveness, but thankfully I’ve never encountered them myself!

    1. Glad to hear it, seems like much more fun that way. I’ve actually met people who get very defensive about the best girl issue.

      1. Your Best Girl is your Best Girl (or Best Boy, or Best Pony, or whatever), and no-one can take that away from you! I’d have thought people would be less into the idea of “sharing” their favourites with the filthy unwashed masses 🙂

  3. Fascinating post. I love everything about this. I knew zettai ryouiki was a thing but not that there was so much…thought behind the length and grading and such.

    “…how the hell did you guys manage to strip all the sexy away from pretty girls in thigh highs and make math creepy all at once?”

    Damn good point. Can’t we just appreciate the sight without taking out measuring tapes?

  4. Most interesting post about *cough* socks that I ever read. I wish this was a more acceptable thing to talk about in public, it would be fun. 😁

  5. Fastest Finger First was the first time I knew there was a term for this, though I knew it was a fetish and had heard about the advertising before (the strange things you pick up sometimes). Still, this was kind of educational even if I have no idea when or where this information would be useful.

  6. What the heck Irina :p The most recent time I heard this term come up was in Fastest Finger First actually. There as a quiz question about it, for some reason. Any way, enjoyed this more unusual post from you haha. It really was an interesting read 🙂

    1. Thanks! – Even though everyone has been very meh about Fastest Finger I’ actually looking forward to seeing it. Especially now that I ca answer a question

  7. I think, the first time ever heard the term was with respect to Shiraume Ume from Ben-to. I remembered that there was a term; I found the term silly hyperbole and little else. Then I’d hear it enough that I eventually remembered it as “Zettai Ryou-something”. I’m not sure when I first heard about the perfect ratio (something like Genshiken, no doubt). I probably didn’t much care. After being introduced to the way anime treats panties via shows like Agent Aika, this feels in line. Fetishising the vector and forgetting about what it points to and geeking out is oh so very anime. It’s a bit like failed meditation: trying to keep your thoughts pure but only shifting the target. From pure thoughts to pure obsession.

    Personally, my spatial perception is bad. I’d need a measuring tape, at which point the whole idea of an ideal ratio is pointless. The advertising is genius, though. I do wonder whether the campaigners worried about optimising ratio and readability. It’s also creepy, in a genral sort of way.

    1. The think people might not consider is that unless those socks are glued on, they are riding down for sure. Those poor girls probably spent all day having to pull them back up to maintain the proper ratio…

      1. Garter belts are rare, though not unheard-of, in anime. (Thy probably violate the Zettai Ryouiki!)

        I think there’s a body type joke with regards to Tooru in A-Channel, where she has troubles keeping her kneesocks up, because she’s too skinny. It’s been a while since I last saw that, though, so I can’t remember the details. It’s near the beginning of the show, though I’m not sure if it’s episode 1, 2, or 3. I don’t think it’s much later.

          1. Don’t expect too much. It’s a one-off visual gag. (Although the show’s a fun watch, I think, so you should be fine, anyway.)

  8. I agree: a cute and sexy idea in theory comes across as being creepy in practice when people take it too far. Grading rubrics tend to have that effect on many things, it seems.

    I for one am glad that not every female anime character is walking around with zettai ryouiki deployed. So what if the girl is wearing her socks and skirts in such a manner that classifies her style as “grade C” or “grade D?” Maybe she doesn’t want to put such focus on her thighs! Maybe it’ll be boring if all the girls dressed exactly the same way! Maybe it isn’t in her character to care about fashion or to be bold enough to subtly bring out sensual appeal!

    Sorry, I got a bit heated there.

    What I’m trying to say here is that you ain’t a stick in the mud.

    Thank you for sharing your opinions and for helping others learn about the history of the absolute territory.

  9. If only, math was less about algebra and more about measuring the ratio of thigh highs, the world would be a much better place…at least for otakus.

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