I know, I know, you HATE the word problematic. Everyone does. I get it. It’s a word that’s been way overused and misused and is almost always followed by a rant. There’s not much to love there!
And I think that because of that, we have a tendency to disregarding any point that uses the word “problematic”. We roll our eyes and think, yeah, yeah, everything is problematic. Well, I kind of do. Maybe you’re better than me.
But the thing is, just because it’s framed or presented in a way we don,t like, doesn’t mean it’s not a valid argument. Heck, even if the person making it is not credible and the argument is in bad faith, doesn’t necessarily mean that there isn’t something to it. And because we hate the word problematic, I think we shut ourselves out of a lot of potentially interesting conversations.
I’m gonna wade into some really scary waters here. Wish me luck. The loli question. Not even loli necessarily but the general sexualization of underage characters. This is one of the big ones. Anime is a sexy medium with a lot of sexualization and it generally doesn’t have any qualms about including younger characters in the fold. As such actual lolis and just generally sexualized characters that are specifically stated to be underage, is an extremely common element.
And anime critics, as well as various viewers, have been calling that element “problematic” for years. While a portion of anime fans have lashed back very vocally about it being “not problematic”. But what do either of those things mean?
You see, I think people are sometimes arguing different points and the word problematic is just getting in the way. The most common defence of the point I have seen is that enjoying sexualized animations of underage characters is absolutely not pedophilia and it is ridiculous to think an anime that features lolis or illegal age gap sexual relationships, would encourage viewers to become pedophiles.
And you know, I tend to agree. I haven’t done the research but generally, that’s just not how media influence works. I really don’t think there’s any reason to be scared that anime will turn people into pedos.
But I can see why the constant presence of the element could be a problem, under certain circumstances. It’s not just that sexy little kids are present, it’s that sexualizing them is presented as not a bad thing, even occasionally as a good thing. The cinematic language is often extremely positive and quite a few of those age gap relationships are portrayed as loving and romantic.
And where I can see that it could be a problem is that it normalizes the behaviour not for the adult portion of the audience, but for the kids. If small children constantly see children being sexualized in the media as a good or at least normal thing, instead of something to be afraid of, then they won’t necessarily see it as a bad thing if it happens to them. They might even see it as kind of cool cause it’s just like in their favourite show.
Of course, it will definitely not be all kids, it probably won’t even be the majority of kids but it is still a potential danger that has precedent and has been studied on a few levels. So lolis aren’t going to turn a grown watcher into a pedophile anymore than yaoi is going to turn them gay. In my opinion. But there is a danger that it could make children less able to recognize predatory behaviour and therefore more vulnerable to it.
And I could be wrong. Or I could be right but you could argue that the percentage is so small that it is not worth impeding on artistic freedom. Or maybe we can go into a conversation that art and entertainment have a lot of dangerous aspects to them and it is a guardian’s job to explain these properly to children so that they can interpret them in the right way. Because purging art and entertainment of all those elements would bring on a whole different range of problems that are worse. All these points are valid and in my opinion very worthy of debate.
In fact, not just worthy of debate, but I do think a serious and thought-out conversation on the subject could lead to better anime. And I like anime, so I want it to be better. But we don’t talk about it, because the word problematic is the worst.
This may be the longest tangent I’ve ever been on. I didn’t actually make my point about problematic anime at all. So here is my view on my title question. I don’t think problematic anime are “bad”, or at least not because they are problematic. They could still just be sucky anime.
Most elements in anime can be interpreted in many ways and hold some value for a part of the audience. It is more in presentation and context that problems can arise. And even then I don’t think eliminating them is the solution. For instance, I absolutely detest the abuse as a romantic trope. Seeing a character get basically raped but it’s ok cause the predator is sexy and really loves them, then they end up happily ever after. I despise that trope. Yet, even I have seen some anime that use it and are still good. That one part isn’t something I enjoyed but the rest can still be excellent.
It’s also a very sad fact that some people really do think that way. That abuse in the name of love is justified. Now we can go into the whole conversation of just how much their belief was bolstered by the prevalence of that trope across all media. But I’m not sure we gain anything by pretending it doesn’t exist. Once again, I generally think it’s the victims that convince themselves of such things at a much higher rate than the perpetrators.
So making the romantic rape trope disappear overnight wouldn’t necessarily make anime (or media in general) better. And it probably wouldn’t make abusive relationships better either. But talking about it might. Figuring out why the trope is so prevalent and why we continue to use it. What that says about the industries that promote it, the audiences that consume it and the societies that have created it. And I can fully understand if this is a conversation that you are not interested in. I get that. I wrote that society line and actually said ugh to myself. But I do think the conversations can really be productive and help us and our art grow.
And we are not going to have these conversations if we just blindly bulldoze any uncomfortable element out of the art we consume. In fact, that’s a lazy way to avoid having these conversations. Just like saying everything is problematic.
I feel like I’ve really confused my point here. I hope someone understands what I was trying to say. I guess it is that I both think that there are aspects in media and in anime specifically, that are genuinely “problematic” in that they could cause problems but I also don’t think that eliminating those elements is the way to go. Does that make sense?