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This Week in Anime
Sex in Anime is Complicated

by Lucas DeRuyter & Nicholas Dupree,

Nick and Lucas use last week's Chainsaw Man manga chapter as a springboard to discuss sex and sexuality in manga, from messy to raunchy to endearing depictions.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by the participants in this chatlog are not the views of Anime News Network.
Spoiler Warning for discussion of the series ahead.

Chainsaw Man, Fairy Tail, The Stranger by the Shore, High School DxD, Bikini Warriors, The 100 Girlfriends Who Really, Really, Really, Really, Really Love You, and Yamada's First Time: B-Gata H-Kei are currently streaming on Crunchyroll, while O Maidens in Your Savage Season, Scum's Wish, and Mysterious Girlfriend X are streaming on HIDIVE.

@Lossthief @BeeDubsProwl @LucasDeRuyter @vestenet

Hey Nick, good to be on a TWIA with you again! Before we start, corporate asked us to find the difference between these two images. Apparently, it's important, and only we can do it.
Y'know, I forgot to ask editorial what the limit for bare nipples was before we did this one, but I guess it doesn't matter now. Rev up that age gate, boss!

Also, to answer your question, obviously, the person on the left is a southpaw. Editor's note: I regret everything.

Yeah, I imagine this will be at the top of the chat, but to be super duper sure, content warnings in this one for discussions and images of all manner of sexual material, whether those be vanilla, kinky, or problematic in nature.

And you're correct, Nick! They also would have accepted one being a genuine assault indicative of destructive tendencies, while the other is the product of the complicated and nuanced human sexuality that makes Chainsaw Man my favorite manga running right now.

Six of one, half-dozen of the other. I will say, I really gotta hand it to Tatsuki Fujimoto. No other mangaka can so routinely whip my Twitter timeline into a frenzy as he can. The guy must have a really firm grasp of his audience's expectations, if you know what I mean.
Damn! We already have as many rimshots in this chat as we do—no, that joke's too easy, and I'm not gonna go blue this early in the column.
You started us off with two fistfuls of human chowder, my man.

Anyway, without spoiling too much, suffice it to say the latest chapter of Chainsaw Man brought on a very intense reaction from anyone who read it across a broad spectrum. Some folks were grossed out. Others were genuinely, morally offended enough to swear off the series entirely. I laughed so hard I nearly fell out of my chair. It was a lot.

Hey, that was topical and motivated! I won't cheapen this hallowed column by sprinkling in ejaculate illusions solely for a pun!

From my end, I was hooting and hollering as this is CSM at its best! People are complicated, messy, and human in ways that are simultaneously taboo and deeply relatable.

Also, for folks who are now Asa/Yoru haters, maybe don't throw them under the bus when this is as emotionally fraught as most sex acts between young people, or label this "the most devastating event in the series." We've been way lower, even if those instances were less anatomical.

It's undoubtedly Fujimoto in his wheelhouse. It's intentionally crude, deeply awkward, yet the exact thing you'd expect from all involved characters. While I disagree with the most distraught readers, I get why they were so upset. The scene is meant to be shocking! Not in a shock-jock "see what we can get away with" way, but in that it presents a seriously fraught, uncomfortable moment with questionable (at best) consent. It treats it with a brutally straightforward awkwardness. It's highly sexually charged yet totally unsexy, which is a combo that most mass media would never touch.
Oh absolutely! This is one of the most quietly devastating HJs that mankind has ever depicted in any artistic medium. I don't want to undermine anyone's immediate and honest response to it. If anything, I think people's reaction to the chapter is actually a solid indication of where they're at in examining their relationship to sex and sexuality.

One of my favorite elements of anime and manga is how they're more able and willing to explore human sexuality, and I'm elated every time it shows up in a work outside of needless, and usually misogynistic, fanservice.

That's the rub, isn't it? No pun intended.

Part of what makes that scene hit is that it's so explicit without being sexy. There are plenty of ecchi anime out there that have more graphic, on-screen sexual content, but it's usually in service of titillation. A lot of casual audience members are used to sex existing purely as innuendo or else as purposeful spank bank fodder. I imagine that's why I saw some folks calling Fujimoto a "gooner" for this.

Oh, come on now, gang. There wasn't nearly enough edging in that sesh for it to count as gooning, and Fujimoto clearly respects himself and his characters too much for any of them to be gooners.
I mean, Denji certainly has the potential to goon. The inclination, even! I do find the whole thing a little funny, though. Fujimoto's been pretty upfront about when he's putting stuff into his work for personal appeal, and it has a lot more to do with domineering women and very little to do with the saddest low-five imaginable.
Hey, we touched on this during our recent Waifu TWIA and Chris and my Tokusatsu TWIA, but I respect authors who put their barely disguised fetish in a work SO MUCH MORE than people chasing generic appeal to a presumably cishet, male audience!

But I love that Ch 167 of Chainsaw Man is provocative enough to inspire takes like that from people who are likely younger and inexperienced in emotional or physical intimacy. People in that part of their lives can have a pretty sanitized idea of what sex acts should look and feel like when the reality is often much more complicated and messy. I think it's important for people to see something closer to the reality of a thing that most societies have put on a pedestal.

Or, maybe I like seeing my comfort character struggle with a lot of the same life lessons that I had to go through as a teenager/young adult.

Oh, for sure. Part of the problem with that aforementioned feast or famine approach to sexual content is that even nominally sex-positive folks can develop a skewed relationship to the topic. It becomes something talked about in hushed tones, or else the domain of terminally online hentai addicts who wear ahegao hoodies so people will pay attention to them. When in reality, sex is a ubiquitous, varied experience, and I think a healthy media diet should reflect that. It's fine to have your physically chaste romances or spicy ecchi shows, but stuff like the sex scene in The Stranger by the Shore is a lot more down-to-earth than either.

It's romantic and intimate but funny and awkward in how it honestly depicts the main couple's first time. It's two people fumbling around each other's bodies and trying to figure out what feels right, while also including things like lube and enemas that are pretty common with the kind of sex they're having.
Oh my god! A BL anime that actually gets into the physical realities of intimacy between two men!?? This is going right to the top of my watch list!

Also, at the risk of getting on a soap box and promoting my work, a big takeaway I had from the Sex Work, Kink, Consent, and Anime article I penned for ANN a while back was how people shouldn't let pornography inform their opinions about sex. And how people, especially, shouldn't let ecchi or hentai inform their opinions about sex.

It's hilarious when shows are sold on how shameless and sexual they are, but they still stop just short of actual intercourse. Rias Gremory can have her tiddies out every episode and literally sleep naked in Issei's bed, but god forbid she has had sex before then!
Wait, Nick, are you saying that it's a double standard that misogynists want women not to have sex, but also be hypersexual to them exclusively???
Well, yes, but I also think that a lot of anime, in general, approaches sex from an extremely teenaged perspective, where it's this mythical and unknowable event that will change your life. So, even shows that do have sex as a selling point don't grasp the more intimate and mundane aspects of it. Harem in the Labyrinth of Another World and World’s End Harem are like 70% sex scenes by volume, but they still feel like adolescent fantasies made for people with little-to-no sexual experience.

Which I don't say as an attack on anybody who enjoys them but as an observation of how the material doesn't reflect a very authentic view of sex in general.

Yeah, those shows speak to the "presumed young male audience" issue that contributes to many of my frustrations with the modern media landscape. Media under the anime umbrella falls into this trap more than most.

I'll take things one step further, though. I think a lot of series with that wish-fulfillment attitude towards sex is kind of a waste of the viewer and production team's time. I don't know if people know this, but PORN EXISTS! Not everything has to be titillating. If a series includes sexual material without feeling genuine to the story, honest to the creators' lived experiences, or novel in the current media landscape, I don't think there's much value in that media.

Eh, I see that angle a lot, but I think there's room for plenty of different approaches. I'd like it if total T&A weren't the vast majority, but I don't think it's worthless or shouldn't exist.

On that note, if you're so tired of a presumed young male perspective, have I got a show for you:

I know that's a hot take from me, and, of course, I'd never suggest that a piece of media shouldn't exist. Art is more interesting when people go full tilt on an idea or do something organic to themselves instead of trying to pander to their audience. Like, the Bikini Warriors short anime series should have been a full-on hentai or engaged with the idea that these characters only exist because people purchase their figures for often salacious reasons. Instead, we got voyeurism and JPRG jokes that isekais had already done to death by the show's release in 2015.

But callouts are way less productive than spotlights, and I'd LOVE to talk about anime and manga that handle sex and sexuality super well instead!
Well, you can't go wrong with O Maidens in Your Savage Season. That show is a goddamn ride that manages to tackle a half dozen different viewpoints on sex that range from charming to romantic to intensely problematic to outright traumatizing while also being one of the funniest things you'll ever see.
Ooooooh~ A mostly woman-led cast where teenagers have an appropriate for teenagers level of interest and awkwardness about sex and there's humor to undercut the relatable cringe? Sign me up!
I mean, there's also a subplot where one of the girls wants to be a better erotica writer by getting experience, accidentally catfishes her teacher on a hook-up site, and then tries to blackmail him into banging. And that's somehow not even the most problematic story arc in the whole show. I imagine anybody upset at Denji's Five-Finger Little Death Punch wouldn't react positively. But that's the magic of O Maidens—it lets its characters be absolute disasters about all of this, yet loves them all the same.
That affection and empathy for characters go a long way in making a work about sex and sexuality feel more personal and less promotional. I'm also a sucker for any story that features characters who suck in deeply personal ways and at least come to a better place with all of them by the end of their arc.

Focusing on sexuality more than sex for a second, I adored the 100 Girlfriends anime from last year! While I'm desperate for a decent polyamorous rep in anime (or any media), the interiority and affection granted to each character were super refreshing and endearing.

Plus, it helps that the show is genuinely hilarious and that Rentaro really, really, REALLY loves women.

The women really, really love Rentaro! One of the refreshing things about 100 GFs is that the characters are mostly into any of the spicy stuff they get up to. The roles are reversed even when there's hoary old anime stuff like peeping on somebody in the bath.

It's not exactly mature, but by god, it's variety!
Not to mention that one of the women doing the peeking is the mother of another one of the women, and this is all happening adjacent to a scene where two characters crossdressing make out.

100 GFs is maximizing enthusiasm for sexuality and all the weird/fun kinks it entails, and that makes it a delight to me personally.

On the entire opposite end, if you want a show that will strangle any lingering over-romanticization of sex, look no further than Scum's Wish, a show that has at least one sex scene per episode and has maybe four instances of anyone smiling ever.
Scum's Wish is truly one of the most fraught situationships in all of anime!
It's a rough sit at times, but I love how it explores the pitfalls so many people make when they start exploring their sexuality. The characters invest so much of their self-esteem in sexual gratification or try to transmute sexual release into emotional intimacy in ways that screw it up even more. It's like watching a car crash in slow motion.
Man, I know so many people who started or stayed in toxic relationships because they thought it was better than being alone. Watching Scum's Wish probably wouldn't have inspired them to make different decisions, but I've got to give it to this anime for really digging into just about every facet of this kind of dynamic.
You also mentioned how folks can erroneously conclude sex from porn, and that's part of the premise for Yamada's First Time, where the protagonist gets her ideas about sex from mass media and decides she needs to bang 100 people in high school. The following 12 episodes mine a ton of laughs out of those expectations meeting the awkward, ham-handed reality of her first relationship.
Oh god, even in 2010 (2004, if we're counting the manga), people were picking up on sensationalized depictions of sex, warping young people's perspective on the act, and we as a society have done so little to correct course since then! While reality bums me out, Yamada does a great job taking the piss out of those impossibly sexual situations.
I also appreciate that, at least in places, it has other characters giving the main couple actual advice about this stuff. I'd argue that a lot of folks' misconceptions and intense sensitivities around this stuff stem from not talking about it in the open.
I couldn't agree more, and I also think that the insecurity people have around being bad at sex and relationships is another big factor in people developing unhealthy attitudes towards those subjects. Even as I'll be the first to admit that it's getting a little long in the tooth, that's a big part of why I like the Marriage Toxin manga. Seeing a main character (who's very heavily implied to be on the spectrum) making an effort to date and learn about himself and other people is heartwarming. And often hilarious!
I'd also be remiss (read: Steve would show up outside my door with a baseball bat) if I didn't give a shoutout to Mysterious Girlfriend X. This show takes the opposite approach and talks about sexual awakening through the most heavy-handed visual metaphors you'll ever see until it abstracts the very idea of sexual attraction into something so sexually charged and uniquely gross that it makes the handfuls of Man Mayo up top look positively tame.
Ooooh~ Good call out! I also love that we're stumbling into "characters who initially bond over a shared kink and use that as a springboard to explore other parts of romance," which is quietly a mini-genre. On that note, if you have a thing for musk, check out Sweat and Soap! Or, check it out in general since it's a pretty good read.
The point is there are a lot of different angles to tackle the topic from. It can be salacious, awkward, depressing, thrilling, touching, and a million other things. But we'll never get to have those conversations if we treat every instance of sexually charged storytelling on the same level as the Sexposition scenes from Game of Thrones. So maybe we can all take a deep breath, step back, and talk about this like adults?
If everyone spent three and a half hours discussing the nuances of sexuality and its depiction in art while also dropping low-hanging jokes about HJs, the world would be a better place!

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