Wow, it’s been a while since I’ve done a treasure tropes post. These are posts in which I pick an anime or manga trope to examine. Today, I decided to look at the Kichiku.

You may not have heard the term Kichiku before, but I bet you know the trope. The expression is meant to describe a character archetype, a bit like all those deres, but it just never got as popular for some reason. Maybe people didn’t find it as fun to say. Or maybe it’s because the archetype itself is common but not necessarily popular.

I wonder how long I can keep stretching this out before I actually describe what a Kichiku is…

an entire cast of Kichiku was a rather unique approach

This is the sadistic, jerky, sometimes downright abusive guy who is cast as a romantic lead. TV Tropes tell me that this character is always male although there might be a female equivalent with a different name. The distinction between a Kichiku and your garden variety Tsundere is that this character isn’t being mean as an involuntary reaction to their feelings of affection towards someone. They are completely in control of their actions the entire time and their neither shy nor uncomfortable.

In the case of the Kichiku, hurting the other person is the point. They enjoy it. And you’re not likely to see their sweeter true self at any point, because the jerk is the true self.  And today, I want to talk about this trope a bit.

It’s a character type that’s fairly common in romance anime both heterosexual and BL but generally tends to appear in media aimed at female audiences.

Those of you who know me probably won’t be surprised to learn that I am not a fan of this archetype. It’s a bit odd. I generally like trolls and jerks in anime. I tend to enjoy characters that are not good people way more than the average viewer. But when the other characters, and presumably the author, start trying to convince me that they are actually noble or romantic and somehow justified in their behaviour, that’s when I start getting really annoyed by them. Especially as there is rarely any proof of their nobility or pure heart in the story itself. Maybe he’s just a creep, Ana…

my thoughts exactly!

Basically, if it’s a story about an abusive, unhealthy relationship with an abusive character. I’m here for it, it can be interesting. But once I start feeling like the story is trying to convince me that this is a desirable sexy relationship and there’s nothing wrong with this behaviour, I check out. It’s not my thing! And unfortunately, that’s usually what the Kichiku are. The unpleasant (to me) personality is a feature, not a bug.

From what I have read throughout the years, this archetype tends to not do too well in European and American markets but is very popular in Japan and most of Asia.

This news wasn’t exactly earth-shattering. I can easily chalk it up to cultural differences and force of habit. If you grow up with characters like this consistently presented as desirable romantic interests, you just sort of accept it. I understand that. But this archetype has become significantly less popular in the west and therefore a lot of us don’t often see it, at least not as a protagonist.

What’s interesting though, is a shift I have been noticing in the past few years, that goes against my personal prediction for the trope.

You see, I had a period when I wanted to learn Japanese. I still do but I’m lazy. For the record, I can stumble my way through a very basic conversation, order at a restaurant and ask where the bathroom is. I can get away with reading simple hiragana and katakana text, but I know like 4 kanji and I regularly need to ask people to repeat themselves or talk more slowly in spoken conversations. I’m still fairly happy with this accomplishment as the bulk of my efforts in learning Japanese has been to play untranslated Otome. What can I say, we each need to get motivated in our own ways.

Cute kids and udon is my current motivation

And it’s through this experience that I got to know the Kichiku really well. This was quite a few years ago but I remember there was one of these guys in pretty much every single game, and they were often presented as one of the juicer and more detailed routes. When you play a lot of these games, you start to get a feeling for which character the authors of the games thought would be most popular and Kichikus often top the list.

I really hated them. It’s one thing when you see them in anime or manga, it’s another when they are directly traumatizing your game self. I can safely say, I just don’t get this one. Sorry folks.

When I saw just how prevalent the archetype was in otomes, I did a bit of research and found that this was a tried and true romantic trope in Japan that had been around for a long time and enjoyed consistent popularity. That’s also when I read that this popularity did not seem to translate well and that these characters either tended to be disliked by western audiences or just changed in localization to make them more popular with regional markets.

At the time, I came up with many of the same conclusions as I listed above. Basically, different strokes for different folks. And I predicted that with time, as culture cross-influenced, the Kichiku trope would lose popularity in Asia as well. My reasoning was that volatile and somewhat abusive male romantic leads had been popular in European and American fiction for a long time as well but eventually just fell out of favour. That’s not what the public was interested in anymore. And that the same evolution would take place in Asia. Pretty straightforward thinking.

But that’s not exactly what happened.

yup, things are going to get scary

If you look at mainstream media, you would think that I was right, I am a genius at predicting media trends. Go me! Everyone made fun of 50 shades and called it super creepy. Audiences, in general, spoke up about how abusive lovers were not romantic in the least and meanwhile, the most popular Korean and Japanese romances featured strong female leads with meek and attentive love interests who were attractive because they were kind and respectful. Goku anyone? (My Dress-Up Darling)

However, if you scratch a little bit under the surface, there’s a different story going on. Sure we made fun of 50 shades, but it was a cultural phenomenon. And it ushered in a new age of fanfiction, bringing the spotlight back on amateur writers crafting their own take on popular universes with more intensity than ever before. And there are so many fanfiction authors in America and Europe. Heck, more than a few of our blogging contemporaries moved on from posting in favour of exclusively writing anime fanfiction on other platforms. It’s a pretty huge community. And in Western fanfiction, abusive men cast as romantic leads are everywhere. It’s one of the most common tropes there is. So common in fact that things like stalking or flying into fits of jealousy aren’t even considered worth mentioning anymore. That’s just the default.

And it would be easy to dismiss this as some type of immature view of romance. We could say that most fanfiction authors are very young and to a young mind, those very intense emotions and reactions can look like passion… I’m not sure I buy that.

Teenagers are a lot smarter than old folks give them credit for. I know it’s a thing, we turn 30 and we suddenly lose the ability to learn new technology, condescend to everyone by starting every sentence with back in my day or just wait until you… and assume everyone younger is dumb while everyone older is senile. It’s a right of passage. Every generation does it. But ‘cmon, teenagers aren’t dumb. At least not all of them. And not to harp too much on the 50 Shades thing but Twilight, which it was based on, was super popular with younger readers but 50 Shades, from everything I have heard the more abusive of the two, had a much older audience. It’s pretty short-sighted to pretend that adults aren’t into this trope as well.

I don’t know enough about Asian fanfiction to comment on it. I do read a lot of doujin but I tend to only read original works, so these are really a lot more like independently published fiction. And often, these are professional authors that make a living from doujin rather than people writing as a hobby. A lot of doujin have gotten adapted into anime as well. So, it’s not exactly the same idea. To me, fanfiction is a way to gauge what trends are popular among readers rather than among writers.

As such, I don’t know if the Kichiku archetype is still super popular with the younger audiences there or if a move to a gentler leading man is what’s happening. Moreover, I tend to just skip and ignore any story that seems to be hinting at abusive behaviour so it’s pretty far off my radar. Maybe the trends have inversed with the trope gaining popularity here and losing some in Japan. Or maybe it’s now getting popular everywhere. I’ll have to pay better attention to it in the next few years.

But one thing is for sure, we can’t dismiss the Kichiku trope just yet. It’s going to be here for a while longer. Unfortunately for me.

17 thoughts

  1. Rin-chan, while searching for “kichiku in anime” on my browser, I found a couple links with familiar titles…

    anime[dot]atsit[dot]in/archives/9084

    anime[dot]atsit[dot]in/fr/?p=1942

    It seems your post was Google-translated & reposted in its entirety onto some kind of stolen post aggregator. They didn’t even bother correcting the typo in the title! (Which I now notice in your URL, haha.)

    Just to let you know, have a nice day.

  2. Being in an abusive relationship, full of DRAMA, seems like it would be a lot of fun – until you’ve been in one. I have, and so I have zero tolerance for it in my media because it sets off my PTSD. But I have known at least one otherwise perfectly normal and even self assured woman who was in a terribly abusive relationship and you should have seen her eyes shine and her breath quicken when she was telling us how he held her hair and pounded her head on the floor. She got off on the abuse, and she got off on the sympathetic and shocked attention it got her. That’s one thing. There is also a long, sad tradition where I grew up where girls grow up watching their dad abuse their mom, and then marry a man just like dear old dad because that is their “normal”. There is a theory that some women percieve these men as the “alpha” male and thus desireable. And while some abusive men are psychopaths who are sometimes highly successful in business, I think there are at least as many or more who are abusive because they are weak and frightened and so they abuse those they (hope) are even weaker to make themselves feel strong – so they are certainly not an alpha. So yeah, this is all Western tainted philosophy and I try to remember that East and West are different cultures – but it squicks me to see any woman willingly abused, even eagerly abused. So it falls under the “no, it’s okay, y’all live the way you wanna live, but not for me” category for me. And I’ll totally admit it is due to my own personal experiences. It irks me a little when I see it held up as “desireable” in fanfic because I do worry that it might influence some women to put up with a relationship, or even seek one out, where they are treated wrong. But, see, is that just my prejudice to say it is wrong? Hmmm. I’m going to have to that bottom line IMHO yes, it’s always wrong for someone to be treated with any level of disrespect, let alone abuse. That doesn’t mean those relationships can’t be depicted in media, because it might be quite educational for some people both that these relationships exist and that they are unhealthy. That may be a news flash for some people. But to hold them up as desireable? Not okay, again, IMHO thus I’ll avoid them but let them be out there for those who want to be titillated with this trope. I’m VERY sure there are things I find titillating or fun that they wouldn’t like.

  3. Diabolic Lovers. I HATE that show absolutely, and I am dumbfounded at what other people like about it.
    Othello. When we read it in college, I was unique in my class for not cutting Othello any slack when he murdered his wife. I was honestly very surprised at how the girl right next to me was urging me to be more sympathetic to him.
    Twilight. One love interest stalks, controls, and literally wants to eat the girl, while the other can literally fly into a murderous rage at any moment.

    I’ve heard that the top Google searches for women, in regards to their fantasies, are vampire, werewolf, pirate, surgeon (which literally takes people apart and puts them back together), and billionaire (which tends to come with a similar aggressive force of will).

    And, of course: Vegeta. Surprised the author with his popularity, including among the girls.

    As much as we praise strong, independent women, there seems to be something deep in the female psyche which yearns for a strong, aggressive male, the sort that can protect them even if they are capable of protecting themselves. Ideally, it would take the form of someone like Aragorn from Lord of the Rings, who is strong and aggressive in battle, but is kind, noble, gentle, and fights only to protect his people and his loved ones. But modern society is not entirely friendly to the masculine instinct for aggression, and so the balance becomes exceedingly difficult, resulting in wusses on the one hand and psychos on the other. Which one would a woman prefer: one that is too weak to protect them, or one that is dangerous to them, but strong?

    I recall something from a book I read where the narrator comments on how a woman might stay with an abusive man because at least she knows he will prevent any *other* men from hurting her. There may be something to that. I mean, name a Kichiku and ask yourself what would befall any other man who hurt their girl?

    So, as Eastern and Western women alike seem to be encountering a shortage of men who are both aggressive and kind at the same time, might the popularity of the Kichiku be partially in response to this?

    1. I really doubt there is anything deep in the female psyche. In fact most actual neurology courses I have taken would argue there is no such thing as a biological female psyche. There is some social conditioning of course but then you have to take into context the specific society of the woman you are looking at so it’s not something you can make sweeping assumptions about. I’m not sure where you got your information about women’s fantasies. There was a pretty extensive search done in Quebec in 2014. The most popular results were women fantasizing about having sex in romantic locations, then it was about sex in exciting and unusual locations such as outdoors. Specifics about their partners didn’t really show up in the results until much lower down and it was mostly bicuriosity, like fantasizing about having a threesome with a man and a woman or straight women fantasizing about sex with a female acquaintance, that sort of thing. I do know that domination fantasies are certainly a thing but I’ve never seen anything as specific as you’re citing. It sounds like a really funny study, I would loveto read it. What were the results for men? Mermaids?

  4. I haven’t heard the term before, but I certainly know the type. I drop shows that focus on this, like say Diabolic Lovers (see screenshot) or Wolf Girl and Black Prince on episode 1, usually. It’s this type that has me made wary of the yaoi genre, since it sometimes seems they flourish there even more than in reverse harems or shoujo romances. If they’re side characters? Or prominent but not dominant harem members? Depends on the show.

    Sometimes developments catch me off guard, like the nice guy who suddenly snaps, but only because he “loves her so much”. I’ll never forget Amnesia… I’d say I don’t get what’s romantic about this, but then I’m aromantic to begin with, and I don’t really get romance in the first place. In a sense romance feels like a weird mutual exclusivity contract about thing over which you have little control, in which you either silently and implicity learn not to ask too much, or you fall into a mutual blaming game. So maybe there’s a tension field inbetween the chaos that you can metaphorise with this trope? (I’m not sure I know what I’m saying here.)

    As for west vs. east on the topic; I don’t know. I feel like western romance doesn’t have the equivalent of harem anime, so there are fewer spots for the character type to make an appearance, and shows that focus on that are easier to push into a niche. And there’s the tightrope walk of trying to figure out the social implication without also kink-shaming people who get excited about that sort of stuff. It’s obvious that protrayal is not approval; and I think that implies that protraying this sort of behaviour as romantic in fiction does not mean – in a straight line – that that sort of behaviour is seen as romantic in real life. In any case, it’s a turn-off for me.

    1. I do think there is an element of kink but there might also be a pretty important element of lazy writting. Authors, especially ones that aren’t professionals and therefore might not have asmuch experience, tend to reproduce what they have read before. If they have read a lot of erotica with abusive characters then that might be the easiest for them to write and it creates a cycle?

  5. Wow, I had no idea what Kichiku meant (though I have heard the term before). I think one of the reasons this character type isn’t popular in main stream Western media is because characters like this are usually the bad guy. Not to mention that a lot of people would argue that this character dynamic is an example of an unhealthy romantic relationship and shouldn’t be advocated as a good thing. In the past characters like this didn’t bother me much, I didn’t like them, but it wouldn’t turn me off from an anime that I liked. But as I got older I disliked these characters more and more, and now when I come across an anime with a Kichiku it’s a hard No, even if their the bad guy.

  6. I don’t like romance as the main plot, and I’m very likely to drop a story no matter the medium, if it is Kichiku.

    You’re right about authors moving from fan fiction to blogging sphere, or even in the web serial sphere. In fact, I myself did the same thing. I can safely say though that my characters in fan fiction weren’t Kichiku. There was nothing noble about them.

    By the way, did you put out two posts by mistake?

  7. I identify “kichiku” with either narcissists or – worst case – psycho/sociopathic personalities. Or just plain old bullies. I’m fine with it if it is clear they’re a villain or at least an anti-hero with nasty vibes. Try to make them look like the hero and I write the show off.

    Why are these people popular anywhere? I think that there are a few of those types around and they like to see themselves as the hero. They enjoy seeing the character doing what they’d like to do themselves. Not every kichiku is a success and I suspect there are more than a few living in their parents’ basements’ fantasizing about what they’d do, if only… The deeper question is why anyone would want to hang with such people, even if they were successful..

    Well… people like to associate with powerful people. The amorality of the character makes them powerful. They get to do things that people with empathy cannot. Most of the time nobody calls them on it because they don’t want to be the next target or because they think showing empathy is a sign of weakness. If we looked at the trait in real life, I suspect there is a very disproportionately high number of kichikus in positions of wealth and authority. They crave those positions because it allows them to play their games on a large scale.

    We have a saying here that “Nice guys finish last.” The sense of power and arrogance exuded by a kichiku is attractive to many people. The abuse is seen as s sign of strength. I suspect that the stronger the average female’s ego is in a particular society, the less popular kichiku will be among them.

    It isn’t the same thing as the “All Girls Want Bad Boys” trope.

    1. Not really. The character isn’t necessarily romantic. My personal experience is through otomes so naturally that’s the context I saw him in but he can just as easily be a platonic character. No woman or romantic partner actually needs to be present for the trope to be used, but that’s rarer. I do beleive that’s what distinguishes the tropes.

  8. Curious as to what happened to How Much Anime Do You Need To Know To Write An Anime Blog. It seems to be… Gone. For my two coins you need to know more than you think but less than you suspect… Or is it the other way around…

    1. You know, I think it’s just a case of people perpetuating archetypes they have seen before. It’s like the hyper infantelized sexy girls. Youknow, they are supposed to be the sexy charater of a show but they act or have tons of traits of a little girl. And from everyone I have talked to it makes most audiences super uncomfortable and yet the charater still comes up all the time… I think it’s because people are so use to certai archetypes they just sort of end up creating them by enthropy.

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