Answerman Why Are Teen Sex Comedies Only Acceptable When They're Live Action?
by Justin Sevakis,
Recently an anime company was on facebook promoting an upcoming release of a fanservice heavy show set at a Highschool. The comment section got pretty toxic pretty quickly with a lot of people leaving comments along the lines of "If you watch this show or buy it you're a sick pedo that likes underage kids!" I grew up in the 80s and 90s when the teen sex comedy were a thing. Where movies like American Pie, Weird Science, Porky's, Meatballs, and Fast Times at Ridgemont High are considered classics and box office hits. These movies all had nudity and sexual situations of underage characters in highschool, but nobody seems to have a problem with them. Why is there a double standard when it comes to liking an anime with similar content and situations?
First, can I state the obvious? You're looking at comments on Facebook ads. Are you really expecting to see anything but the most judgmental, shoutiest, dimmest commentary cropping up there? You're not getting reasoned, well- thought-out opinions there, just knee-jerk cynicism and crankiness.
Anyway - for all its gains in accessibility and mainstream appeal over the years, Japanese media, and anime in general, still has something of a bad reputation for sexualizing underage characters in ways that many Westerners are uncomfortable with. Some of that is earned -- more lurid sections of otaku culture are rife with imagery that most people in Japan would find offensive, let alone the West. But it's true that people do tend to judge sexuality in anime and manga more harshly than they would live action films. A big part of that is the fading, but still present, underlying belief that cartoons are for kids.
Also, you must remember that while many American teen films ostensibly take place in high school, almost nobody in those films actually is high school age. Most aren't even college age, they're in their mid- and late-20s. The actors playing the "jocks" and the love interests are clearly full-grown adults. This is done for myriad legal reasons on the part of production (non-minors can work longer, don't require parental oversight, etc.), but the end result is that our ideas about how sexually active high schoolers should appear in movies and TV shows are, perhaps, a little skewed towards being older looking than they actually are.
Anime doesn't have that separation from fantasy: they are drawn exactly as they're intended to be. And in some cases they are indeed intended to be too young to really make it okay to be as sexy as they're depicted. But there's none of that "it's okay because this is clearly a grown 24-year-old woman playing the role" that acts as a get-out-of-jail-free card in a live action project.
There's an indie film out now called Eighth Grade, which actually does feature real eighth graders portrayed startlingly realistically. In one scene, the main character is lusting after the bad boy in her class, and there's a shot of the boy getting out of the pool in slow motion while sexy music plays. It's a hilariously absurd scene in a cringingly awkward movie, because if you're an adult, the music absolutely does NOT match the visuals: every brain cell in most viewers' heads is screaming, "OH MY GOD, THAT IS A CHILD." That unspoken expectation that sexiness would be reserved for mature adult bodies was missing, and that made it uncomfortably funny. But that film was intended to be uncomfortably funny. Sexy anime is meant to be sexy on the face of it, but that more realistic depiction of sexiness in underage characters will always make some people uncomfortable on a visceral level.
But beyond all that, anime is the non-mainstream option that people either aren't used to, or aren't AS used to, and it's the product of a different culture in a different country. It will always be judged by a slightly different set of rules, and looked at more judgmentally by people on a subconscious level. It's just how people are wired.
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Justin Sevakis has worked in the anime business for over 20 years. He's the original founder of Anime News Network, and owner of the video production company MediaOCD. You can follow him on Twitter at @worldofcrap.
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