Well Valentine’s is done, if you’re lucky you’re still on a sugar high! Code Realize is just about to hit the ps4 market (March 30th!), and mostly I’ve been playing a whole lot of dating sims lately so I figure it’s a good time to talk about something that’s been on my mind.

I love otomes, I really do. Mystic Messenger almost got me fired. I’m not proud of it but I really should be more embarrassed by it than I am….

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unless I have to walk the dog, I’m not leaving the house!

I’m going to keep loving otomes. I’m really looking forward to the code realize ps4 release, but can we all agree that some of these tropes could use an update.

Irina! The only reason I’m not playing Mystic Messenger right now is because it would get me fired, too! *high five* Gonna have to wait until summer…  

One of my Otome gurus happens to be Shoujo (i.e. Shoujo Thoughts: Otaku Ramblings), listening to her fawn over Hakuouki or fangirl over UtaPri is not only deeply charming but has reignited my passion for Otome games. I can’t begin to explain how delighted I was that she agreed to share her thoughts on this. She keeps pretending not to be an expert but she sure sounds like one…

Without further ado – here are te less great things about dating sims:

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oh you honeytongue…

Wait a minute, that’s not romantic, it’s abusive.

If you would indulge me, let me tell you a little story. A true one:

A few weeks ago, a group of us old college buddies got together for a girls’ and Andrew night out. Both other guys in our little friend circle just recently had babies so we’re probably never going to see them again. For some context, there were 5 of us, we’re all fully grown, educated and gainfully employed adults, who have been fairly successfully surviving on our own for a few years now.

I’m telling you this, so you can understand that the women at that table, and Andrew, are by no means naive, immature or particularly vulnerable. They are confident, independent and all around great girls and Andrews. One of said great girls who I will call J (why didn’t Andrew get an initial?) has just started dating some guy, a month or so ago. They are still very much in that intense honeymoon phase. They were texting through the evening. It was cute and nauseating. At one point we started on a subject J happens to be very interested in and she set the phone aside. Within a few minutes, it started buzzing incessantly. She responded and got back to us. This time the reprieve was 1 minute. Eventually the phone actually rang and since most of us haven’t used our phones as *phones* for ages, it was a bit of a shock.

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dude, just text!

J picked up and wandered to a quiet spot to murmur something to her impatient paramour and because we are the best friends anyone could ever have, we mercilessly teased her about it as soon as she got back. Having had a few drinks, she actually took the bait and adorably red faced threw her phone in her bag. We made it all the way to the second round of appetizers and a bit over half an hour, before the boy swaggered in and stood there sourfaced glaring at us and mostly Andrew.

Nothing much happened. Andrew is almost 7 feet tall and was decidedly unimpressed with the entire situation. J got reasonably annoyed and told her boy to go back home, that they would talk later but then she explained that he was just passionate and cared so much about her. I think there may even have been some pride in her tone. I dearly hope it’s overcorrection and that she doesn’t really think  his insecurity has anything to do with her. She left almost immediately afterwards with a halfhearted excuse, never really getting the chance to enjoy the evening.

This incident was a nothing. A kerfuffle at most but it bothered me because of how common it was. Because of how obvious it was that J and the boy had been down this road before. Why would she put up with it? It was visibly not making her happy. Then I realized I had seen the exact same scenario play out in countless otomes, except in those the main character usually runs after the pathetic angsty boy and he explains he goes a little crazy because he lurvs her so much or similar nonsense and we’re supposed to think it’s romantic.

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sooo sweet!

It’s not. At best it’s super annoying. At worst, it’s the first step towards potentially dangerous behavior. It shouldn’t be encouraged much less glamorized and yet, dating sims habitually represent possessiveness as somewhat desirable.

Take a title like dandelion, which is PG-13 and clearly aimed at a younger audience. Throughout the game, several suitors will casually tell the MC (who is taking care of all these ingrates might I add) who she is allowed to talk to. She never complains or argues. She isn’t dependent on these men, in fact it’s the opposite. And this is only shown in characters who’s route your pursuing. It’s meant to be a sign that they are starting to care about you!

Every dogenzaka lab title has at least one (if not all) suitor berating you at some point, for the high crime of going out for a little while by yourself. This trope is so common that the possessive jerk is even a character archetype, and one that is presented as just appealing as any of the others.

And by the way, why is it that boys (and certain girls) are completely unable to handle themselves? You know what I mean. If you’ve played any number of these, you have at some point run into a scene where your wannabe paramour will warn you that if you keep being so gosh darn desirable, they won’t be able to control themselves. Sometimes they even skip the warning. In case everything that’s been happening over the past year hasn’t made it amply clear yet, sexual harassment is not a compliment, it’s a crime…

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and this OK because????

I know these scenes are meant to convey passion and deep burning desire, but they are starting to look really out of touch. It would be one thing if they were an occasional feature, part of certain narratives aimed at specific fantasies but honestly, I would have an easier time naming routes in which such a scene wasn’t present. And that’s routes, not games! The inclusion of this type of event is so preeminent that we hardly even notice it anymore.

Not only is it just irresponsible to normalize (even excuse) this type of behavior. It seems super unfair to portray suitors as slaves to their hormones without a grain of self-control. It can give the impression that victims are at fault and people in general are monsters never to be trusted. That doesn’t seem like the healthiest way to approach relationships.

Also cornering is creepy AF, guys. Right??? Maybe I’m sort of dried up prune or something but it’s happened to me only once in real life, with someone I thought was attractive at that, and it freaked me out. Legit scary….

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it gets a pass as a running gag

The situation between your friend and her boyfriend makes me uneasy even in the retelling, and to echo your sentiment, I concur that possessive behavior can quickly spiral out of control as evidenced clearly by Amnesia Memories (both the anime series and otome title); Toma is basically normal (borderline wonderful) in both the anime series and game routes, especially that of Shin. Then, approximately nine episodes into the anime series… he’s not.

In the eighth episode, Toma–loving, endearing, concerned, helpful–starts to become more possessive of our nameless heroine, but considering the circumstances present in their focal world at the time, it doesn’t alert or alarm; rather, it seems indicative of care. Of, dare I say it, potential romance. I’ll be the first to admit that I was fooled. I was loving every minute of it.

Next thing I know, girl’s drugged up in a dog crate trying to SYMPATHIZE with our yandere and I’m like… heroine. Heroine, heroine, heroine. HOW by any stretch of the imagination, is this behavior permissible? HOW CAN YOU STILL HAVE FEELINGS FOR THIS LOONATIC??

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but he’s so cute when he blushes

Because, she does, my friends, she does! Especially in the game’s “good ending” for Toma, when she says that Toma is commendable for keeping his childhood promise to protect her from scary thin—HAVE YOU LOST YOUR MIND!?? HE LOCKED YOU IN A DOG CRATE AND YOU DIDN’T EVEN CALL THE POLICE. GIRL.

I don’t think that ending shall ever lose its shock value for me, and yes, I realize that the odds of a situation spiraling to the point that a man has you locked in a dog crate a slim (unless you’re into that??), but it’s incredibly telling of the phenomenon you elaborated on above. Yet, I’d qualify that we as women often associate possessive behavior not necessarily with romance, but with care.

Why is this? Is it socially conditioned? Is it inherent? Could I make an argument that it might be both? After all, is it not our parents who often impose stricter regulations in the interest of preservation and protection on their daughters compared to their sons? I know this to be true in my own life; as a daughter, I am expected to rely on them more, to rely on my husband, and they have always held lesser expectations regarding my independence compared to my brothers who are generally expected to be men and handle things on their own. My oldest brother wasn’t one to shy away from the idea of protecting me from boys who hurt me, and I won’t deny that Husband defending me in any capacity sends a shot of warmth through my heart and makes the breath catch in my lungs.

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this is actually a bad example but a nice CG

I may protest when he subtly insists on walking nearest the road traffic when we stroll, but at the same time, it’s nice to know he cares so much for me. I feel safe walking with him alone at night. I know that if someone broke into our house, he would defend us without pause. Is there not something instinctively appealing of being protected by a capable man? (Please don’t think that I’m suggesting that women can’t/shouldn’t be strong and capable as well, because that is patently untrue. Rather, I’m generalizing the appeal, you understand. Every family and their expectations are different, just as every woman’s personality and desires are different, but we all grow up with some form of social/societal conditioning, and I think that women are particularly…shall I use the word susceptible?…to this variety of influence. That is why the trope works.)

I personally see no problem with embracing the appeal of protective men, but the problem arises when otome companies and anime studios fail to recognize that there *IS* a difference between protective and possessive, and in the interest of manipulation of emotion and bringing things to the next level so to speak, they have potentially thinned that line to a frightening degree.

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someone, translate Wand of Fortune!

**** I hope you guys enjoyed this first part as much as I did!

Shoujo has published the second half of our conversation over on Shoujo Thoughts: Otaku Ramblings.  This was a lot of fun and I actually learned a few things. Let us know if there are any tropes that bug you? Or that you want to see MORE of – Rawr!

26 thoughts

  1. This is just the epitome of that Tik-Tok song that asks “why do good girls like bad boys” and all the garbage that has produced. Imagine getting this comment when this post was published that would of been quite some confusion unfortunately my time travel still has some kinks unlike the great Sebastain. Sad, but this was interesting and Shoujo how cool.

  2. I’m relatively a newbie on otome (read: completely inexperienced) but this behavior is SUPER ANNOYING.

    I absolutely love that you and Shoujo-senpai are doing a collab, it’s wonderful!

  3. I enjoy dating sims because I can get a good laugh out of them! … Dating in the real world?? Well, let’s just say I’m happy I don’t have to do that anymore! Lol! Your friend sounds like she needs to set some ground rules, STAT!!

  4. The German term for “spider monkey” is “Klammeraffe” (a literal translation is “clinging monkey”). That’s my private term for possessive people. Jealous boyfriends are a pain to deal with – sulky and silent and barely putting up with you. Every man is a rival. I don’t get how such people can stay boyfriends (often they don’t, which – I guess – makes them worse the next time?)

    I’m also an extreme introvert and have no great desire to be with people all the time. I’m told when as a child, I didn’t want to go home, my parents threatened to go home alone, with the intention of scaring me. Apparently, I just said good bye and walked off in the other direction. I’ve learned to live together with other people a little better than this eventually, but I sort of understand that I’m an extreme, and if I were boyfriend material (I’m aromantic), it would be rather hard to see how I feel about people. In a sense, I imagine the “jealousy = romantic” concept as… reassuring for people who need a lot of company to feel reassured. It’s not so much that they worry a lot; I’m the ultimate worrier myself. It’s just that for some people ending up alone seems to be the worst case scenario. For me, ending up with the wrong person is much, much worse.

    I think it may be a very basic disconnect: I don’t get it and never will.

    The Amnesia cage fiasco really did come out of nowhere (anime only viewer here). It’s the legendary pinnacle of possessiveness: beware the caring ones once they show their true feelings. I’ve seen that time and again, but never so pointed. One day we’ll get an ending where the heroine wakes up only to find herself fused to the lover via operation – they’re now siamese twins (they’ve even fused some inner organs, because anime science can). I’m egerly awaiting for that.

    1. As usual we are more or ess sympatico, except for the worrying part. It’s a shame really, these conversations would be more interesting if I didn’t just agree with you all the time.

  5. The curse of Mystic Messenger and try to catch that chat but you are in the middle of a meeting… “Uh excuse me I need to go to the bathroom” haha. Yeah work made that one hard to play.
    Otome games, it is weird that sometimes when I play I do enjoy the possessiveness of the characters. Then when it comes to real life that is something that I don’t care for at all. I guess like you said it all plays out in that fantasy, but sometimes it gets a bit too extreme (yeah dog cage, at that point thought I would have said anything to get out of it and then ran like hell to the police)
    There is a danger of not separating one self from that fantasy and then glorifying abuse as romance. Its scary and in the end should I like a character like Jumin who even in the good ending wouldn’t let me leave the apartment?
    It is like the 50 shades formula if they are rich it isn’t creepy… right?

    Again it is a weird fine line between that fantasy of having that man care about you and want you to himself and then being abusive. One thing about games is that they are over in a few hours, but in life it can go on for months.

    And now I try to sit here and think of a character that wasn’t crazy possessive. Have you played Rays Route yet? Talk about being okay with someone abusing you and that one even gets physical.

    1. I did but I originally played MM when it came out a long time ago so by the time unknown’s route was released, I wasn’t into it that much anymore, so the impact was somewhat mitigated. I think if I had played all the routes at once, I would have had a harder time with it.
      This said, Cheritz *sweet solutions for female gamers* (their actual motto), has a lot of, shall we say “creative” ideas about romantic relationships.
      I know this because I’ve played all their games… Please don’t judge me…

      1. I have played dandelion and Nameless haha. If there are others I haven’t heard of them.
        No judgement here ha. It is interesting how you can see they have the same characters and coloring and When I played Ray’s route I noticed that they had the same creepy background music as Nameless.
        And their bad routes are, yeah, dark, but I’m still the curious one over here wanting to see the bad ending ha.

  6. I think you made good points. Its just a matter of both context and understanding that human beings aren’t nice. Several points I think I should explain, though these might not be safe for work.

    First, Otome games are Japanese, a culture that considers rape merely slightly bad manners and often refuses to prosecute the rapist. Not joking about that. I know people in Japan and they gave me this straight answer. The max penalty for aggravated sexual assault in Japan (by a Japanese man against a Japanese or foreign woman) is $2500 fine and up to 2 years in prison. Judges rarely apply the full sentence, even if the victim is barely 13. Age of consent nationally is 13, after all. “And Japan offers free abortions without need for parental consent so what’s she complaining about?” That’s what the judges say as they hide the rapists bribe in a pocket. So Otome games with rape and abuse actually fits into the real world of Japan’s lack of justice and contempt for women and their rights. Japan is only cute in anime. In the real world its a nasty country with a lot of third world policies.

    Second thing: Otome games SELL. They Are made to sell, which means there’s an audience who wants that content and market research supports publishing them with the ugly stuff intact. Japan isn’t the only country with that kind of ugliness in it. There’s a lot of Western lit written for women which is pretty much that crazy. Libraries were started as a place for women to exchange romance novels and dirty books, not just their technical books which men think of when they think libraries. Visit any library today and you’ll find at least half the books are well-thumbed examples of porn for women, called romance novels. In each story the fat or mousy husband is cheated on (or recently divorced) by the sultry and totally not fat or gross fortyish wife who goes after or at least flirts with the muscled and oily male underwear model (Fabio) who throws her down and ravishes her. Women’s fantasies of being desired, or being desireable enough to break all sorts of laws starting with consent is just one of those common ugly truths about adult women.

    Third thing: few people talk about the inherent mental illness of submissives, and they play a lot of rotten mental games with the men they flirt with to get into the position they want. I’ve met a fair number of women in abusive relationships who create new abusive relationships when the man wises up and leaves her to her crazy.

    So Otome games are the ugly side of female sexuality, and they sell because its a shared fantasy with lots of women feeling its both acceptable and a serious turn on. Men like James Bond movies where the women are attractive, slightly dangerous, and always willing and ready. Completely unlike reality, but a common fantasy. Bond girls don’t get all sulky and refuse him with “a headache”.

    Otome games aren’t representative of our better natures or the ideals we claim to like. This is one of those things about people which deserves to be discussed, but few can remain objective when they think their gender is under assault by someone poking at the hypocrisy with a pointed stick of logic, science, and decades of life experience. Talking about the ugliness is a great way to offend. I’m sure you have some ideas about the delusional nature of the people and their fantasies and perhaps you would comment further when time allows.

    1. I will in fact comment further when time allows but I think this may be a slightly different conversation.
      For the record, and as I’ve written here, I consider myself both a fan of otome games and an adult women and as such I may fall into some of the cathegories you’ve outlined above so my point of vu which is inspireed by my personal experiences and education will most likely differ from yours and that’s fantastic.
      The purpose of this present post was that otomes are getting more popular in the west where they are reaching an occasionally impressionable audience that may not have all the proper information and frame of reference to contextualize the content as you have, and I wanted to air some caveats. Also I wanted to chat Otomes with Shoujo cause it’s fun.

      1. And interesting too. Western interpretation of Japan’s culture makes for a lot of culture shock, and the Japanese tropes do pop up frequently in their media, even if they’re sometimes rather different from what we admit in to ourselves other countries.

  7. I could totally relate to this though not in otome games (I played just one otome game – Hakuouki – so I really can’t say much about them) but more in the books I have read. I think this ‘posessive’ trait among the male characters are becoming the norm but wow a dog crate?? That’s a new level of low. Same with the males seemingly in heat when it comes to the heroine like seriously? that’s romantic? That’s just someone with no ounce of self control!
    Pardon the rant but can’t help but agree with you!

    1. Good!!! Thank you. Just like in most things, we need a bit of diversity in romantic representations! I wouldn’t mind it so much if it wasn’t so widespread.

  8. I enjoyed reading this a lot, even as someone who has never played one of these games! I personally don’t know why this kind of thing crops up in media like this? Could it be something as simple as it’s a tried and true trope that girls like (i.e. the ‘bad boy), or is it something more insidious like reinforcing the patriarchy through dominant gender stereotypes and conditioning girls into being okay with abuse so men can keep getting away with it? Makes you think, but then again I’m not really clued up enough to talk as an authority on the subject… I look forward to reading the next part(s)!

    1. It’s a bit of a chicken and egg thing. I personally dislike possessiveness, it’s a huge turn off but at the same time, I’ve seen the behavior associated with the idea of traditional romance so much that I’ll excuse it almost immediately. Is it because I do find it attractive on some level or was I just conditioned to do so and it’s a self-perpetuating cycle? I don’t know. It’s not just in dating sims though. There are a lot of “Tsundere” characters that are considered the height of feminine desirability despite being borderline abusive to the men around them.

      1. Yeah it’s a complicated issue, especially when it comes to that whole ‘cycle’ thing, kinda scary really. Oh and I’m definitely NOT into the “tsundere” thing, though you probably already guessed that much lol

        1. I think the worst thing about the Tsundere trope is that now when I’m being a random jerk to some poor guy, he thinks I’m flirting…and that’s only true like 60% of the time…

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