So what is Anime Fictophilia?

I was reading this random article as I sometimes do on fictophilia : https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2020.575427/full. It’s a pretty decent article. It skims a bit on the research and stays rather top level but it’s also easy to read and has a good rhythm. It resumes a lot of elements so that you can go on and dig deeper into the aspects that interest you if you like.

I will be even more surface level here and just resume fictophilia for you. It’s waifus and husbandos…

unrelated image here

Ok, it’s a bit more complicated but in short, it’s developing deep attachments, sometimes even romantic feelings for fictional characters that you know are fictional. And it happens a lot, especially in younger age groups or in groups that for whatever reason are discouraged from openly exploring their romantic and sexual feelings with other people.

Towards the end of the article, there is a section called “Coda: A Lost Chapter of Japanese Media Psychology” which discusses the phenomenon specifically in the context of the anime community. It also references “Otaku sexuality in Japan,” (Galbraith, P. (2015). Routledge Handbook of Sexuality Studies in East Asia, eds M. McLelland and V. Mackie (New York, NY: Routledge), 205–217.) which I managed to find at the university library.

There isn’t anything too shocking in there. Anyone familiar with the anime community has run into shipping and steamy fanfiction and occasionally someone that is really passionate about their fictional crushes. To the point of defending the honour of those fictional crushes and attacking others that don’t have the same favourable points of view.

his hair is soft flaxen gold not some lame blonde

What this article frames as unusual outlier behaviour worthy of study, is par for the course for most veteran otakus and a lot of us don’t really notice it anymore. I still thought the phenomenon was sort of interesting on some level. It is after all the epitome of a parasocial relationship (which is what I was actually looking into). Not only are we (I include myself, my harem is wide-ranging and diverse) developing real personal feelings of bonding with “someone” who does not know we exist, it’s “someone” who can never know we exist. And I was curious about the mechanism of it all.

I didn’t really find out. The post sort of implies a few reasons why someone might prefer a fictional character, like safety of expression. But in the end, it pretty much infers that we don’t really know why people fall for fictional characters. The examples are given interestingly depict people in generally happy relationships that are feeling torn between their real-life partner and their fictional crush. Something I had never really considered.

The article goes into the notion of fictophilic asexuality. Essentially, the idea that some people can direct all their sexual drive and urges to fictional characters, leaving them generally uninterested in real-life sexual interactions. It also discusses the mental paradox caused by having real feelings with real emotional implications for a subject that is not, in fact, real and how a person reconciles that. Both intriguing topics to be sure. But I think there is something unique about anime that wasn’t taken into consideration.

Namely that anime is very horny. As a medium. And I’m not even talking hentai. I just started Servant x Service which is ostensibly a pg workplace comedy about a bunch of eccentric civil servants. The main character has a ridiculous name and she took the job so she could hunt down the civil servant who allowed the paperwork and give them a piece of her mind! There is also a mild romantic subplot brewing between her and another new employee who is at once an annoying lazy slacker and an extremely talented prodigy.

I’m four episodes in. Of those 4 episodes, at least three have a main arc that focuses on how large the main character’s breasts are. Because anime is a horny medium!

But even though Servant x Service is trying to get me to pay a whole lot of attention to Lucy’s chest, it’s pretty clear that we’re never actually going to see it. She wears a turtleneck most of the time. And she doesn’t like people paying attention to her that way.

So this is what I was wondering. If I were to develop romantic feelings for this character, part of it would most likely center around her physical appearance. Humans just work that way. And so far, the show is making her cup size seem like the most important part of that appearance. But if I were to take into account her personality, I wouldn’t want to do anything that would make her uncomfortable either. So I shouldn’t put too much emphasis on her chest. Cause anime is a horny medium that is simultaneously weirdly prudish.

And that adds a layer of complexity to this whole fictophilia thing. Characters in anime are very often simultaneously sexualized and presented as very chaste by North American standards. And that can make fantasies go in odd directions.

For instance, it’s slightly more common for fans to ship characters together in anime than to imagine themselves in a relationship with a fictional character. They have similar feelings for their ships than they do for their characters. I follow a couple of Yuri sites that just imagine the girls getting in romantic situations without ever intruding. Even though the person also has a strong affection for a character, the sexual part of that pseudo-relationship is outsourced.

In this case of course it probably has as much to do with keeping the relationship the same sex than preserving the innocence of the character. Still, I have seen some fans argue that their waifu/husbando is pure and presumably wouldn’t do such things.

My theory is that this could create a sort of fictophilic aromanticism. Where a person transfers all their romantic drives to a fictional character but keeps their sexual focus on real-life people.

These are all just random musings. Not even developed enough to be theories in fact. Still, anime fandom has a few unusual elements and I think they are worth looking at when considering things such as fictophilia.

20 thoughts

  1. I saw a television documentary some years ago which essentially claimed that, as a consequence of China’s (recently revoked) one-child policy and the female infanticide to which it gave rise, the gender balance in that country is so extreme that approximately one-third of Chinese men will spend all or most of their lives single. My understanding is that, although not as extreme, not dissimilar gender imbalances exist in South Korea and Japan. Under the weight of such social pressure, in which the prospect of any kind of meaningful, long-term romantic relationship is remote to say the least, it doesn’t surprise me at all that romantic relationships with fictional characters (that essentially serve as a means of displacing frustrated emotional and sexual energy) is a significant reality.

    Indeed, I think there is a co-relation to the whole “idol” industry as this manifests itself in East Asia. The sexualised-yet-chaste dichotomy that you mention in relation to “Servant X Service” is exactly the formula which the “Idol” industry deploys to both market itself and create dedicated fans. The sexualised component fuels the fantasy desires of horny, frustrated consumers; while the chaste component creates the illusion of “availability” and the possibility of relationship. The sight of a room full of exhausted Tokyo salarymen partying into the wee hours on the off-chance that they might briefly catch the eye of their favourite “Idol” singer (never mind the fact that she might only be 16) really isn’t a world away from the “girlfriend experience” that both sex workers and non-sexual “escorts” provide their clients. But, of course, all of this has a dark side, as Satoshi Kon so chillingly illustrated in “Perfect Blue”…

    In this context, I am interested in why “yaoi/BL” is so overwhelmingly popular with women in East Asia, and why most of the creators in this genre are women writing/creating for other women. Is this a form of “romantic fictionalisation” in which the artists/consumers imagine a fictionalised/idealised version of the (straight) men they actually fall in love/have relationships with? Is this a not unrelated form of displacement to that which occurs with those folks who have RL relationships but are also fictophiles? It’s all very interesting…

    PS: when I was a kid I had the hots for the female figure in “Battle of the Planets”…you know, the one whose knickers always flashed every time she executed a tumble/roll? I still think about her from time to time…

    1. I’m not sure about China, currently the gender spit in Japan is about 51.3% female to 48.7% male which is actually higher than average % of women in the general pop.
      There are a lot of studies on the popularity of Yaoi. I’m not expert but from what I have read there are a number of factors. One, woman’s sexuality is still considered taboo and particularly embarrassing for women to consume, it’s an escapism from the power imbalance and objectification found in traditional relationships, it’s fetishized in the same way Yuri is among non-lesbian fans and so on.

  2. This is a interesting topic. And thank you for sharing it. I have had a few fictional crushes to name a few. Princess Daisy, Princess Peach, princess Zelda. it is a topic that can be a rabbithole of sorts but it’s good to talk about it. :3

  3. INTERESTING. I don’t think I’ve ever actually “fallen” for a fictional character before. I talk about how “in love” I am with characters like Mimosa(Black Clover), Himiko Toga(My Hero Academia), and Robin(One Piece), but…….. I don’t think I actually feel much for them beyond just liking their characters and thinking their attractive. I DO care for them as characters, but……. I don’t think I’d want a relationship with them- ESPECIALLY Himiko.
    Though I’m not gonna look down on Fictophiles for it. In 5th grade; I made a plan to steal Selena Gomez away from Justin Bieber(this is back when they were first dating) with nothing more than 3 pieces of Gold I got from sifting through dirt on a School field trip. I certainly can’t judge anyone!
    I might look into this topic more. Thank you for bringing it to my attention.

    1. Well it’s degrees. Actually finding fictional characters attractive is the basic ,fictophilia and as far as I know, it’s very common. Then like all things, some people take it to extremes. The up side of fictophilia is that the people who are not all there aren’t likely to stalk and hurt their crushes.

  4. The more things change the more they stay the same. I had a friend who from the time she was in grade school (in the 60s) she was saving herself for John Denver (don’t even try to tell her that he was NOT “holding the pot for a friend” because you know he would never do such things). Far as I know the girl never had a date until after we not only graduated, but I married and divorced – and while she didn’t land John Denver, I’m given to understand it was a boy in a band. And only once. She basically finally test drove real sex and was not impressed so never did it again. I’m no longer in touch but last I heard she was still single and chaste, and a fan girl for music bands who actually made it into a semi-pro career photographing bands. I do think it was more unusual when I was young than it is now. Maybe. But I’m going to take a wild guess that it is because we have a lot more media to indulge in and choose from, and it seems to me there is less unsupervised “hanging out” as a group of kids/teens which allows normal relationships to develop with real people our own age without adult interference and with all the requisite drama which is where you learn about messy relationships with real people.

    Which brings me to my only concern about it. Mainly, I think it’s harmless and just a bit of fun. But I do think that it can cause harm in that someone who has this idealized fantasy mate will compare all “RL” potential mates to that fantasy, and they will inevitably fall short leading to possibly a lot of emotional issues on both sides. I was once advised to never get involved with a widow/er who was deeply in love with their lost one, because you would inevitably be compared to them and inevitably fall short – you can’t compete with someone who is dead and now on a pedestal of being flawless and you certainly wouldn’t dare critisize them. Seems to me it would be a bit like that.

    I read an article where the author was concerned that young (otaku) men were so obsessed with their fantasy wifus that they make no effort to have a RL relationship, and the result of this would be a literal drop in population. Personally I find it a little hard to believe it would ever be this prevalent or extreme as to affect the number of babies born for an entire generation but who knows? It will be fun to watch.

    I can’t help but wonder if our new contactless post-COVID society will push more people towards fictophilia?

    1. I,m so sad she gave up on sex so soon. It’s a pretty good source of entertainement and even let’s you get a little exercise. Maybe John Denver would have done better. Then again, she probably would have been devastated if sex was bad even with Denver… I didn’t think about how Covid makes real llife people less available and how that may make fictional people more appealing for some. That’s a great point

      1. More and more it seems I am hearing about (and even meeting a few) people who are simply uninterested in sex. I don’t know if it is bad experiences, or perhaps there is something hormonal or metabolic. I do agree it’s too bad, I always considered it lots of good clean fun 😀

        1. I guess it’s fine if sex is not a person’s thing but I do think it’s too bad if the reason is bad experiences.

    1. It’s a pretty common and almost natural part of personal development. But with the changing availability and nature of media, it’s also changing which is interesting to me

  5. You’re right that this is a fascinating subject. It’s also one I have an interest in and one I might address myself soon. I don’t think my fictional crushes ever went beyond the standard kind, which are pretty common (and I’d even compare them to other people’s celebrity crushes — even though said celebrities are real people, since the chance of some nobody getting with them is essentially zero anyway, it’s about the same in my opinion.) But some people really do get serious about those feelings.

    I think when said feelings interfere with real-life relationships or with other aspects of their lives, that’s when it becomes a serious problem that should be addressed. That said, it’s important to understand why fictophilia is a thing in order to address it when it is a problem, and I’m happy to see more studies like this one being conducted.

    It’s also important to note that it’s not necessarily a problem as long as those feelings are channeled in ways that aren’t harmful. God knows we all need to lose ourselves in a fantasy every so often. At least I do.

    1. Oh yeah, none of those papers frame fictophil;ia specifically as a problem except in extreme cases but that’s true of most things. It’s more of an interesting social phenomenon that is changing with the increased availability of entertainment and access to fiction. It’s sort of interesting.

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