The more things change, the more they stay the same. For as long as I can remember there has been a raging debate about how characters get frequently sexualized in anime. One side thinks the practice is getting old and when done excessively or gratuitously can take away from the experience of watching anime for various reasons, the other side argues that it’s an inherent part of the art and limiting it in any way would take away from the enjoyment of certain fans and amounts to censorship.
The debates rage on about underaged characters, unconcential events getting framed as funny or romantic and uncomfortable messaging while the flipside argues for freedom of speech (in anime… ), the lack of real impact of sexual content in media and the traditional importance of this type of content to the medium.
Sexy stuff is great isn’t it? It’s fun, and easy. It is the perfect fit for any form of entertainment! Because it’s super distracting. Your brain gets filled up with hormones and you can’t think of anything else. That’s probably why we always end up talking about the “sex” itself and arguing about the appropriateness of such scenes instead of just saying something like, it was boring, or creating a situation were a protagonist who is supposed to be likable and morally rigid turns into a sexual predator out of the blue for the sake of a joke disrupts that character’s evolution and goes against previously established traits muddying the narrative.
I’m sure it’s not the case for everyone but for a lot of fans I’ve spoken with, whenever they take issue with sexually explicit content, it’s not not about the sex. But it seems that as soon as we bring up anything even remotely sex adjencent, it sucks us in and that’s all people talk about.
I have a confusing relationship to the issue. By default, I’m fairly neutral. I consider explicit content to be neither a draw nor a detriment. But I have wondered why it annoys me and others so much in specific situations.
Let’s talk for a minute about Fire Force. The anime is not at all shy about using the female cast’s assets to draw the viewers. It’s had mixed results. Every single female character has at least at some point been heavily sexualized. The first ED had every episode ending on a close-up of sister’s behind clearly visible through clinging wet white dress. Hibana was basically a feisty SM fantasy who wore thight lowcut dresses to her work as a Fire Chief and although Maki fared better than most for a while she had to bend down whenever she was on camera so we could zoom in her cleavage and backside. And then of course there’s Tamaki who seems to be a basic collection of traditional fantasies.
The show has caught some flack for how it treats it’s female characters in general but that died down quickly and was never a huge issue. And then if course there was Tamaki.
Tamaki is the character that divided the fanbase and aggressively at that. The debates I saw quickly deteriorated into name shouting and snide insults so there wasn’t much information to get there. But in a show that unabashedly sexualized all its female characters why would that one make a difference?
One big factor I think may be agency and victimization. Most of the fanservice of other characters is incidental. A character bending down and we see all the cleavage, that sort of stuff. It’s not great but it’s presented as if the character doesn’t even notice. No harm no foul. Tamaki is often vocal, loud and apparently traumatized by her exposure (even if that gets continuously undermined by her own actions). This makes the sexualization seem more deliberate and preditory than it does with other characters even if she’s the only one we haven’t seen take a shower yet..??
This said, Hibana is deliberately sexualized in a way that’s openly acknowledged by the character herself, but she has agency. The sexualization is by the character’s own choice and doing. Once again fans either liked it or didn’t but no one got upset by it.
So maybe it’s about the implications of framing certain situations as acceptable or comical when they are not. That sounds possible. It might be the case for some people. Then again you have a character clearly disconnected from reality and his very serious symptoms are used exclusively as a running gag whithout any blowback, so I’m not sure viewers of the show are the pearl clutching moral police they are being made out to be.
I am not a big fan of Tamaki myself. Or rather of her characterization. I can only speak for myself but I can tell you, it has nothing to do with either sex or morality. For the record, I think garbage people or horrible situations are fine to portray in fiction. I may not personally enjoy watching it but it doesn’t make that fiction inherently bad or “wrong”. That’s not the issue with Fire Force at all.
I don’t like Tamaki’s characterization because I think it’s squandered potential. A character that could have been a very good foil and just interesting on their own has so far only been used either in service of the plot or of the visuals, whithout having been given enough time for development unlike other, similar characters.
I honestly have no issue if the production team chooses to make her a nudist for no reason and exclusively she her naked at all times but I personally would like to learn about her fears or dreams. Her motivations. Why she joined the Fire Force, what are her greatest fears. What type of person she is and how would she react faced with a tough decision. I can answer most of these questions for the majority of the recurring cast so it’s odd that I can’t about her. And that is in fact my personal issue with the character. It makes me feel like the writers didn’t want to complicate her with these.
I don’t know if the character is in fact completely fleshed out in the manga or maybe just later on in the series. And I’m really just using her as an example so it doesn’t matter. The idea is that some people may take issue with sexualized characters because of that sexualization itself or issues surrounding it but sometimes it’s completely unrelated, however as soon as we are discussing a sexualized character, that aspect seems to take over the conversation completely and everything else gets lost.
Let’s see if my comments section proves me wrong!