Animefringe Cover Story:
Sex and the Single Anime Hero
Part 1 - What's Wrong with this Picture?
By Dave Baranyi
As is obvious from the title of this essay, my topic this time is the way that anime heroes handle the "S" word. Although this will be at worst an "R-rated" tome, those younger readers who have difficulty imagining that anyone over 20 "does it" ( and even worse, that their Parents might "do it" regularly and have fun at it "L" ) might want to approach this topic with some "parental guidance" or avoid it at all. However, this is not a discussion of "hentai" anime. What this is instead, is an extension of my "Wimps from Outer Space" essay in which I attempt to get more insight into the role of sex in anime.
My query is once again, why do anime heroes avoid sex? In so many shows the hero is deluged with gorgeous heroines whose anatomy defies gravity and whose character demands that they fall instantly in love with the hero. But the hero spends most of his efforts trying to avoid the heroines at all costs. At first glance, from our cultural-centric point of view, the answer seems obvious; anime are often aimed at a youthful male audience and so that audience must not receive the "wrong message" about social mores from the anime. But Japan is not the United States and has a different cultural reaction to sex. So what's wrong with this picture?
Let's look first at a well known anime that has had a number of shows translated into English, Urusei Yatsura. UY is about sex right from the beginning. Ataru takes on Lum in the tag game to save Earth because he sees it as an opportunity to "grab a feel". His desire for Lum quickly turns into frustration and by the time he does win Ataru doesn't want to see Lum any more. But his misunderstood declaration "Now I can get married" leaves Ataru stuck with Lum. Although Lum moves in with Ataru he doesn't seem to take advantage of the opportunity of having a willing and desirable girl co-domiciled with him. Many of the episodes in the series have to do at some point or another with Ataru's attempts to date other girls in despite having Lum around. This leads to the well known result of Ataru being "zapped" by Lum's potent lightning bolts. Now that Ataru has Lum he doesn't want her, or does he? All the other guys seem to want Lum, and if not Lum, which ever good looking girl happens to be around at the moment.
The potential of teenaged sex in Urusei Yatsura is not something just left up to Ataru and Lum. It is something that the students at Ataru's high school talk about in ways that are not much different from how high school students talk here. For example, in the show where Mendou is plagued by the "alien baby", the situation is set up right from the beginning when the students are gossiping about a student at another high school who has been expelled for getting his girl friend pregnant. Mendou quite self-righteously condemns that student. Appropriately, when the alien baby shows up it "glues itself" to Mendou which leads everyone to come to the conclusion that it is Mendou's child. After Mendou gives the alien a pile of coins to use as fuel to leave, everyone assumes that Mendou bribed the baby's mother to leave. Essentially, no one has difficulty believing that Mendou would have sex with some girl, get her pregnant, then use his fortune to buy her off.
But for all the talk however, there are no open indications that any of the students in UY are successful at their attempts to seduce each other. None-the-less, there are some interesting indications in the anime that Ataru and Lum have something more than a platonic relationship, despite the fact that Lum sleeps in Ataru's closet instead of next to him. For instance, at the end of the early episode where Kintaro first appears, we see Ataru and Lum watching TV together. Ataru is laying down with his head in Lum's lap and Lum is cleaning Ataru's ears with a q-tip. This is a very personal, "husband and wife" sort of image which is a "cultural indicator" in Japan of a very close relationship.
An even more intriguing scene is found in the episode where Lum's father is thrown out of his house by his wife because he is too selfish and self-centered. At one point in the show Lum's father is in Ataru's room with Ataru and Lum and makes a casual comment along the lines of "not wanting to get in the way of the young couple". Lum and Ataru immediately protest that "nothing has happened" and that Lum sleeps in the closet. Their expressions and protests have a certain combined aura of embarrassment and guilt that Lum's father diplomatically ignores, but it is a very familiar and well understood sight to most parents of teenagers "L".
Later in the series, Lum and Ataru get a chance to spend a weekend alone together when Ataru's mother wins a trip away for her and Ataru's father. Lum sees this as an opportunity to "play wife", as does Ataru, but Ataru sees it with fear and regret. At first Ataru spends a great deal of futile effort to try avoid his "fate" until a marvelous "super deformed" scene occurs in which Ataru receives a "revelation". Ataru suddenly realizes the obvious situation: as things stand, he tries to stay away from Lum and gets zapped by her every time he looks at another girl. But if he goes to Lum instead, he will still get zapped for looking at other girls but at least he will "have" Lum.
So Ataru enthusiastically goes up to his bedroom with Lum. Lum is equally enthusiastic about this turn of events. But this being Urusei Yatsura, things rarely turn out the way that Ataru wants. Ataru does get to "sleep" with Lum, but it is Ataru who has the "sleepless" night. It turns out that Lum unconsciously gives out electric shocks in her sleep, so she puts an insulated suit on Ataru before they go to bed. With the suit on Ataru doesn't get zapped, but he also can't touch or even kiss the lovely but not-quite-available Lum who snuggles up so enticingly next to him.
So Urusei Yatsura seems to be a bit of an exception to the rule, although it takes a fair amount of careful observation to notice the variation. The teens in UY seem normally curious about the opposite sex and spend what seems to be a normal amount of time and preoccupation on the topic.
In the next part of this essay, "What's Wrong with that Boy?" I will look into another couple of popular series in which the hero seems to be "missing" something when it comes to reacting "normally" to girls.
Sex and the Single Anime Hero - Part 2 - What's Wrong with that Boy? -->