12 Days of Anime – Day 5: Rape Me, My Friend
There’s been a lot of rape in anime this year, especially in the fall season. It seems, though I’m too lazy to verify, that half of the currently airing shows feature rape in some way. The most notorious of these is the casual rape threats and references in Tonari no Kaibutsu-kun. Other shows this season have run the gamut from insinuations to overt depictions of rape. If we can learn one thing from this, it’s that anime doesn’t know a lot about how to approach the topic of rape.
That’s not the only rape controversy we’ve had this year. You might recall that Kokoro Connect attempted to address the after-effects of rape. Now, I was not onboard when the outrage ship sailed for KokoroCo. This wasn’t a great depiction of a sexual assault victim, but they did take the subject seriously. It is true that victims often feel that they lack control and seek to restore control via activities such as the martial arts, like Yui had. It’s also true that victims might find it therapeutic to know firsthand how vulnerable their attackers truly are. Abstracted this way, KokoroCo was not half bad.
The bigger problem with KokoroCo on this topic comes in two parts: the setup and the takeaway. The setup is that Yui has androphobia, which is the fear of men and has been another popular theme in anime of recent years. The problem with this is that phobias, as opposed to something like PTSD, carry the baggage of being overblown and irrational. There is nothing overblown about fearing people who are like the ones who attacked you, even if the response might be somewhat irrational when removed from context. Thus, they began this by marginalizing her fears.
Then the show all but resolved her problems with a single kick in the nuts. Now, credit is due for not jumping to a complete resolution, but the treatment still isn’t great. The takeaway from this is that the majority of her recovery was gifted to her by Taichi. It says she wasn’t strong enough to recover without a man’s help. First she was marginalized, then she infantilized.
It’s sad because KokoroCo had a real opportunity to deal with this in a better way. For instance, Yui could have essentially dealt with this as immersion therapy. Also, the show could have explored what happens when you put someone like that into a position they believe is relatively powerful, such as putting a female into a male body that likely has more muscle mass. Not that any of that matters greatly because KokoroCo showed in every arc thereafter that the writers had no understanding of how a character should act in virtually any situation.
The kicker to all of this is that KokoroCo’s mishandling of this issue still isn’t as offensive as Tonari’s. It’s one thing to attempt to address an issue seriously, but fail due to poor writing. It’s another to simply treat the issue as something to throw around. Tonari excuses offhand rape commentary and glorifies those who tolerate it. Unlike KokoroCo, Tonari is wish fulfillment for hapless otaku. If only they can find someone willing to give them a chance and overlook overt rape threats… Obviously it’s not their problem, there’s just not enough decent women out there. Unfortunately, after I gave Tonari a chance to right itself I dropped it.
Does Tonari have a kick-to-the-nuts scene? I hope so.