In one of the first Pretty Derby Posts, I made a joke about the main character having put on weight because she’s secretly pregnant. There was a bit more to it…you had to be there. Point is, this was a joke because a pregnancy (scare or otherwise) story line in anime is practically unheard of. In western media, you can hardly get through a teenage drama without having at least one character deal with the possibility of pregnancy or the implications of sex for the first time, yet this same issue is all but non existent in the massive slew of school age anime, even if an important romantic narrative is present.

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ok, I’m not sure what’s going on here

I realize that this probably has to do with how sexuality and youth is viewed in each respective society. Both Europeans and Americans have accepted a certain amount of rebellion in their teenagers. The age represents a search for personal identity through experimentation and a certain freedom associated with the possibilities of a starting life. As much as adults shake their heads at the wild kids in the media, we sort of want to see them that way. Relive an exciting and wild coming of age we may never have known first hand.

My understanding is that the love of discipline and respect for experience and age which marks eastern societies means that teenagers are more praised for their obedience and compliance than their verve. As such, even the most rebellious kids are expected to respect certain boundaries if they are of be admired. But still, with budding sexual interests of young men being such an ever present element, you would think a slip up would happen once in a while.

But instead, we see the same boy that was going out of his way to see into the girls’ changing room, now furiously blush at the mere thought of holding hands. It’s…really sweet, no?

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found the render here

I’m as much of a pervert as the next guy, ok sometimes more, but this self-imposed chastity is kind of charming. The story changes when it’s no longer self imposed or mixed in with such gratuitously exploitative fan service that any semblance of respect for the people involve is blown out of the water.

But even in more adult characters, we still rarely see displays of passion unless they are plot relative and often not romantic. By this I mean characters will cozy up to someone in hopes of seducing them to get an advantage rather than because they are drawn to them. Either that or the romantic encounter is one sided and borderline forced.

Even though I really do consider this lighter approach to physical love endearing, it’s rather odd when you consider that getting groped by strangers, plotting to see women naked without consent, physical attraction to children and siblings are all widely accepted themes in anime, yet a deep kiss between husband and wife is a rarity.

Image result for winter sonata anime cast
this is cute, right?

Even married couples act like they barely know each other, referring to one another with stiff honorifics and sleeping in separate beds. Again, I understand perfectly that this is due to cultural differences and public displays of affection are not as accepted, but in a country as traditionally populous as Japan, it’s pretty obvious that there’s some skinship going on somewhere.

Hmmm, seems once again I’ve created a jumbled knot of thoughts and words and have to somehow wrestle a point out of it in the closing paragraphs. Let me think… OK, my point is that there’s an unbalance.

Attraction and desire are obvious and illustrated plainly in a lot of works but there’s never any pay off. Whereas physical displays are often shown as something negative and unwanted or at the very least, incredibly embarrassing. There’s a lack of enjoyment when it comes to that particular aspect of human relationships and I find that side a little unsettling.

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why does she seem so freaked out

After all, is there anything more comforting than seeing two people that have shared a lifetime together still be totally into one another and frisky. Of the very many gifts we humans have been given, the ability to enjoy each other’s company on a primal level is one of the better ones, we should be grateful for it and celebrate it.

So I’m not necessarily advocating for more sex in anime but possibly for a more balanced approach. There’s nothing wrong with a little skinship after all. Maybe we could find a compromise. More general hugging?

As an aside, people here (Montreal) hug all the time and for no reason. I regularly get hugged at work. I work in a law firm, you’d think people would be a bit more scared of getting sued. But really, you meet someone once in passing, you’re probably going to get hugged. It’s so weird. It took me forever to get used to it. I really wish they would just pat me on the head instead, I’m the right height for that at least.

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can’t we just shake hands?

Back to…whatever this is. If you’ve been dating for years and are living together, getting all nervous about holding hands is no longer cute, maybe you can move onto stealing kisses.

Well, I guess you win this time point, you got away from me! But next time, next time, you won’t be so lucky!

But really, what do you think guys, should we add in some more respectful consensual physical contact? Some kissing or massaging. Maybe scratching your partners back in that spot they can’t reach for themselves and the just about purr…I love that….TMI? sorry…

World's Best Back Scratch by Telephone18
awww yeah!!!  (from Telephone18)

74 thoughts on “The Surprisingly Prudish Side of Anime”

  1. Ha ha!! I actually like the prudish side of anime! It’s the same in my K-Dramas, usually their working up to, maybe, kiss but the end of the series, but it’s RARELY more than that. I, frankly, think it’s refreshing when in every North american Rom Com the 2 protagonists have normally slept together by a 1/3 of the way through the show or movie! I like something every once in a while that just has a more wholesome, 19th century kid of vibe to it!…. Minus all the peeping and nose bleeds ahead of time. 😉😂

    1. A kiss!!! I hope they’ve been married for a few years at least and should have their first child before.

  2. I wouldn’t mind seeing more intimate interaction in anime, but if I do see more of that than I might get fed up with it like I do when seeing the spineless harem MC. If the characters are teenagers than I don’t them making a big deal out of silly things like holding hands. if they’re adults I expect a lot more from them. Usually I don’t get that, but if the writing is good enough to sell me on that relationship without showing intimate interaction I’m fine with it. Who knows, maybe Japan in general think intimacy leads straight into hentai lol.

    1. yeah – I think balance may be key here. It just giving us more potential interactions which makes more different story options

  3. Anime is largely driven by ratings. This is no different than any other mass media. Also, like most other media, it is fearful of risk and real creativity is expensive.

    The primary audience is still thought of as Japanese, most creators are Japanese and so sensitivity we see is Japanese. Women have never been treated well in Japan. Today’s probably the best it has ever been. Still not great but much better than, say, the Edo period.

    When a genre is new, all kinds of exciting things happen. Exciting things still happen but are drowned out by derivative drek and popular poop.

    I cannot change the anime industry. My tiny impact is what I watch and what I recommend. I feel a personal obligation only be to review and promote the good. To the rest, only silence.

  4. I’m not a big fan of explicit sexual content in anything (I don’t object to it existing for those who enjoy, but I prefer to skip over it or watch something else) and I kind of like that anime doesn’t tend to go there (outside of particular genres and can we please have more BL that doesn’t).
    That said, I find the blush fest from hand holding and kisses excessive in a lot of stories. Mostly because given where the characters are in their relationship it just seems so silly. While in one or two high school dramas it might be cute, when we see the trope again and again and we see it in characters who should be well and truly over the blushing stage, it just doesn’t work.
    I guess I’m advocating for variety and balance in representation in narratives, like with most other content. Some is good but not everything needs it.

  5. Male romantic gestures: pat her head, pin her against the wall, grab her wrist and run…
    Female romantic gestures: hug from behind, lap pillow, make him a bento…
    Mutual romantic gestures: Sit side by side and watch something (sunsets and fireworks are favourites), anyone can fall asleep on each others shoulder, etc.

    Apparantly it’s also very romantic to realise your feelings for each other and then never see each other again (or at least go your separate ways for now, if it’s the weak version). Anime sure is fond of the Altair/Vega story…

    As Fred Heiser said, josei and seinen shows are often more forthcoming with sex, often addressing it explicilty. I’m going to advertise the strangest love triangle I’ve seen here: Natsuyuki Rendesvouz. What do you do when your crush’s dead husband wants to touch his wife using your body? A woman, her dead husband’s flowershop, her younger suitor, her dead husband’s ghost, and her young suitor’s picture books make for a really odd mix.

    1. Loved N.R.! Loved the younger gay fall for older woman plot. I fell in love with her too. That’s a sign of an excellent anime to me, when I care about characters.

      1. I liked all the characters involved, which sometimes made it hard to see what I was supposed to root for.

      1. Nothing comes to mind, but I can totally see this. Though I’d have to cut up the show and put parts into a fifties movie and parts into a late 60ies/early 70ies movie.

          1. Haven’t seen this one, but after reading a summary this does sound similar to an extent. There’s a key difference, though: She can’t see him, and doesn’t know he’s there (which makes it ten times weirder, and makes the relationship between two guys who love the same girl very interesting).

  6. I think you pretty much nailed it with the cultural difference. Personally, I am not a huge physical contact person and a lot of folks I know think that’s weird. I’ve definitely even had relationships end because the other person wanted me to be a lot more physical and I just couldn’t be. Then again, maybe I’m just weird but when I see this kind of thing in anime it makes sense.

    This isn’t to say that adults in anime are never physical or anything. I’ve seen it but more often than not you’ll see them expressing their loves with jest or just being their for each other. I guess I made my point well enough so that’s it.

  7. I think that the reason for the more explicit stuff in anime exist because it is an outlet for things that would not be culturally safe to talk about over there. Victorian England was similar-keeping in appearances was extremely important but in private everyone was writing erotica (and I mean everyone) and often it was very hardcore. But it wouldn’t be talked about in public or even among friends. More mainstream stuff however chastity.

    I think the same can be said for anime, people who want to be more acceptable will obey via the cultural norms very rigidly. However, those who want to explore things that are taboo will turn to anime, the same way the Victorians turned to literature. That is probably why there is so little of the middle ground, why you have guys trying to peek at girls changing but flush at the idea of holding hands with one.

    Often in same work, people will try to adhere to culture norms and at the same time explore the taboo, yes it is contridcitory but you will find human beings tend to be that if nothing else.

  8. Anime can be so pedophilic and full of fanservice and borderline stalking and sexual harassment, but god forbid it has consensual relationships that are healthy. Whenever there’s a sexual aspect it turns into a dramatic angst-filled series and used to have so much rape that it was unsettling. Thankfully I see that change a lot more nowadays, where even hornier titles are becoming much more in line with what is perceived as okay, and consensual, but it’s still a battle in a lot of sub-genres like BL.

    This isn’t to say that such subjects can’t be broached or shouldn’t be talked about, of course they should be but not for tillitation and be in such a majority of the content. It never made sense to me how it seemed extolled that the girls/bottoms will say No, deny, cry, and the sex continues and there’ll be lots of “I know what you really want/your body wants it” which is rape.

    On the other specter is exactly what you say, in shoujos and shounen they’re basically all asexual and have romantic feelings but nothing more, which if you’ve seen teenagers… Even teenagers in Japan get up to sexual things, just behind the parents and society. A society so repressed can’t help but have coping methods. It’s no wonder that Japan has a lot of sexual preying, their trains are notorious for perverts to do things to unwilling victims.

    Anime definitely needs a balance in how they portray sexuality of any kind, instead of it being either “everyone is a innocent baby who never even looked at another human” or “lewdest skunk slut pervert ever”. Where’s the middle-ground? I find new writers and directors are bringing those type of stories, but the big popular ones aren’t usually part of those.

    What’s funnier is that when some people compare shows there’s usually a lot more romance drama and of relationships, and sex-related even if it’s just mentioned and not shown, in western series. X-Men is a big series and at its core there’s so much relationship angst and drama that it’s funny people think X-Men is popular just because they’re superheroes.

    Either way, sorry about my big text I’m just rambling :’) If I don’t make any sense just know I’m basically agreeing with you and think we need much more representation on all fronts, and perhaps if they do that there’ll be less “herbivores” as they’ve been taken to calling the new generation because they don’t have interest in relationships nor sex.

    1. Interesting that in Kuzu no Honkai, which some consider to be disgusting and perverted, includes a nod to the problem of molestation on a train. The molester is driven off by a creative and nonviolent way, perhaps the only way a teenage girl could do it. Most teenage girls are not martial artists and desperately want to avoid a big scene. One girl rescuing another turns into a relationship.

      1. I haven’t seen Scum’s Wish yet but I always like when series address Japan’s dire problems, instead of pretending like it’s some utopia, which is blatantly lieeees. Now you’ve made me want to watch it 😛

  9. It’s always interesting isn’t it? So many series center around characters finally asking one character out or just have them hold hands and yet the experience is so satisfying most of the time because maybe it’s relatable to some of us? I have been an awkward nerd that is still working on how to talk to people in real life so the experience to me.

    Then again, I think the fact that these things don’t happen in anime series until a very specific point in the character’s relationship is so more meaningful in that anime’s story. If they kissed all the time, would it feel the same or would it just be “oh look, they are kissing again. How boring.” I’m not sure if it’s purity or just the satisfaction to it all. Anime do have some characters that kiss or have a relationship all the time, but they aren’t usually the cast that we are following.

    When it does happen to our cast though, well, damn. Imagine how surprised I was when watching Kare Kano and the character’s had a powerful and passionate kiss on episode 8 of 26. This was our main couple’s second kiss too. I was in ah of how rare that was.

      1. Watch Nana. There is plenty of sex, both casual and romantic. Even birth control pills. And consequences for not using them. Of course, this is the exception band not the rule. Even a sweet show like REC has sex. Have to look specifically fro josei and seinen. Shoujo and shounen ain’t gonna have it. They need their shows for kids to be virginal.

        1. I have. I watch Yuru camp last year as a seinen. I think the volley ball one is a seinen as well. Maybe I worded my post wrong. I didn’t mean that I’m particularly interested in more sex in anime just an occasional balanced approach?

  10. Japan’s post-war sex laws were a direct result of the Occupation banning public sex and pornography and convincing Japanese people to build love hotels for the purpose instead of using alleyways like the rest of Asia. That’s also the reason they invented tentacle porn, because of serious penalties for depicting the male instrument (lol!) or female opening. They have to be censored, even in porn. Just possessing uncensored porn is a felony there. But the real thing with a schoolgirl is perfectly legal, as is compensated dating, which gets called prostitution with underaged “children” everywhere else. In Japan and the USA there is no minimum age for marriage with parental permission, a loophole in the law which is consistently overlooked when accusations are made. Sigh. Such hypocrisy.

    There ARE a few anime shows where the characters have fully adult relationships. Ai Yori Aoshi second season the protagonist and his fiance get some time together, one of the few times where best girl gets the boy. In His and Her Circumstances they also have a full relationship. In the flower shop ghost story, the hero gets possessed by a ghost in order to have goodbye sex with the flower shop widow, and its part of the plot. There are other shows like this, though they are noticeably rare, especially now. Its far more comment for a romance anime to END with a kiss on the cheek. They are allowed to broadcast ONE of those per show. Otherwise it is

    I agree that having to work around the laws which only permit very limited contact but less limited nudity and peeping on their TV shows (including animation) is one of those conceits which are completely different from the reality of love hotels and all the sex actual Japanese people are having. Keep in mind that abortion is free and requires no parental consent, in Japan, and rape is rarely considered a crime in courts if the violator is “pure Japanese” aka Nihonjin. The most they can penalize a criminal in rape is $2500 fine and 2 years in prison. And that’s rarely applied.

    According to friends who live there, Japan is a 3rd world country with a 1st world transportation system, but they don’t put such outrages on TV. Reality isn’t entertaining. Cute girls being cute is much nicer than plain girls being cold, or rape victims being abused and shunned by society if they have the nerve to publically accuse some standup serial rapist of attacking them. “If you don’t want the rape baby, get an abortion.” Not as nice a country as their media portrays, but hey, California has just as many ugly people as everywhere else but people think we’re all Hollywood and Baywatch. Not so much. TV is entertainment.

    1. that’s odd – Everyone in Canada is way better than media will have you believe.. I’m sorry I had to.
      That’s really interesting. I do know there are very marked cultural differences.

      1. Actual Canadians? Yes, I agree. Invaders from North Africa? Not so much. Seen the news in the last couple days? This open borders thing isn’t working out.
        But speaking of nice Canadians, two of the girls in GJ club are Canadians.

  11. I am trying to think back on the animes that I have seen that have at least had a bit of what I would call normal intimacy, and the one that for me springs to mind the most is the original Macross saga. There was a lot of kissing in that one, and I am not talking about a peck on the cheeks, but real kissing. And it was even a very important plot element in the series as well. There were some really heartwarming relationships between some of the main characters, but most of all there was genuine affection. As this anime dates back to the 80’s I wonder if things over time have changed.

  12. “But in a country as traditionally populous as Japan, it’s pretty obvious that there’s some skinship going on somewhere.”
    ( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°)
    I feel like the West’s version of sexuality is kinda boring for the viewer, unless they like copious amounts of musical rubbing. I think that the way that anime does it is usually way cuter…
    But hey! At some point I want some action! It’s like, just kiss her already! Good thing Monogatari is there once again with the positive representations of sexuality… Even if it’s not really shown on screen, it’s real nice to know that Araragi’s getting it on *gently* after Nise!

      1. So am I! I’m sure there’s stuff worth watching, but who’s got the time to wade through all the crime dramas and sitcoms? Anime just suits my tastes much better…
        Swords and hand lasers are way cooler than guns!

  13. I’ve thought about this a lot and there’s a lot to consider about Japanese culture. Specifically this seemingly at odds difference between the respectful, almost repressed side that favours tradition and the more explicit, anime, hentai and porn industry that thrives on being subversive, over-sexualised and exploring every kink there is. But even the anime side of things, what with the fan-service, and porn dojuin stores that take up 7 storey buildings in Akihabara and not to mention all the masturbation related accessories that tie in to it all, it’s still a very self satisfying, solo experience. A large portion of the anime that gets released, even stuff like innocent CGDCT shows (which are marketed towards male otaku) and the sports ones (marketed towards women) are designed to be enjoyed alone with all these potential offshoots into body pillows and doujins. Traditional romance has very little to do with the anime industry in Japan and its why so much anime is about the individual’s experience (the peeping, the groping, etc) rather than the intimate side.

    At least that’s what I think. I know there’s examples to the contrary to a lot of what I said but at the end of the day most anime is a product aimed at lonely people. The fact that a lot of non-lonely, coupled people (especially in the West) are watching it is probably why it seems unusual to us.

    1. There are a huge amount of romance animes released each year though. They seem to show the same tendencies.

      1. I don’t want this to sound rude but I think you underestimate how niche anime is even in Japan. Sure there’s your Detective Conan and One Piece that pull in decent ratings but even those “huge amounts” of romance anime are marketed towards a very small, frequently single, portion of the TV viewing audience. You only need to look at how ‘shoujo’ manga readers are portrayed in other anime to know that they are usually single women who haven’t experienced real relationships. To portray something more physical/intimate would be alienating for those types of people. And when they do want the physical they have the non-canon to suffice their needs.

        I’m not saying it’s right or wrong I’m just saying this is probably a large reason as to why anime is as you put it “prudish”.

        1. I guess I should have said there’s a large percentage of anime that still falls in the conventional romance genre, sorry about that. What you say makes perfect sense.

  14. I lose my shit more at handholding and kissing than actual sex in anime for some reason.

    It’s just that both have been used as a storytelling device that shows much trust and love a person has to be able to do something “embarrassing”.

    Actual sex in anime is usually smut, but hand holding is typically seen as a big deal because it signifies a huge progress in the relationship of the characters.

    However, an interesting thing about this lack of focus on physical contact is interesting because that means good writers have to develop the couple in some other way besides intimacy. Clannad, in particular, I realized after watching that at no point did Nagisa and Tomoya even KISS on screen. They got married, had a kid, but we never actually see them being close physically much, and we didn’t NEED to. The implication was enough for the purposes of the story, and I think too much physical intimacy can distract too much from the meat of the moment.

    I plan on making a post about this topic soon!

    1. Well I wouldn’t say there’s a lack of physical contact – to the contrary I have seen way more groping in anime than any other medium. It’s just not romantic…

  15. Hmm it’s definitely a totally different culture over there.
    A pat on the head there basically is the equivalent of a hug right? It used to always bug me how a girl in anime would be bawling her eyes out, and a guy would just put his hand on her head instead of holding her. Or a lot of times the guy won’t do anything, just stand near her and look at her thoughtfully or something like this. So I wouldn’t mind seeing guys take more initiative there in anime I guess.

    1. I’m sorry but I just don’t think a pat on the head has the emotional content of a hug. While obviously individuals vary a lot, humans are designed to really enjoy close physical contact with another trusted human. Patting on the head for affection is just another way of being prudish. Japanese culture is fantastically prudish in some respects. It also doesn’t value women as much as anime would have us believe. I think the groping issue is an example of this.

      I believe people are happier where hugs are more common. Just my opinion tho.

      1. I agree with Fred oon every actually important point and 100% in theory. In practice I have hugging ptsd. I was hugged 4 times today by people I barely know….i would take pats anytime. Actually the only person to ever pat me on the head was my dad
        So while I find hugs obstructive and uncomfortable I find pats deeply comforting and reassuring

        1. Yeah, well, some people don’t have strong personal boundaries and don’t appreciate those who do. In this culture it is easy to see how one person might have hugging PTSD. Very similar to how introverts hate getting constantly extroverted on.

          In my theory, hugging ought to be something special. Trusted people, high emotional content. Otherwise it it loses it’s value and the intrusion on your space become irritating.

          OTOH I grew up cuddle starved. Not even my parents and sister hugged me and I didn’t even know that non-lovers hugged until I moved to LA. The other extreme is not good either. Moderation in all things is best. Including moderately immoderate.

          1. In the past few years I get randomly hugged about 4 times for every handshake I get. I’m the jerk mind you. People here are extremely nice and the hugs are sincere and full of feeling…

            1. You are NOT a jerk. You are an individual.

              They are assuming without reason that you are a huggy person just like everyone else they hug. Who knows how many others they unknowingly discomfit by hugs as well?

              People associate a pat on the head with something you give a child they aren’t close enough to hug without setting off child molester accusations. Or a dog. You need to explain it to them otherwise. Think of it as a public service announcement. They will understand. If they don’t, they aren’t worth talking to.

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