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…
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.
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.